AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Shii K.’

Ichigen koji(254)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 9, 2012

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

(Hashimoto Toru) is forcing on us a philosophy of the supremacy of competition using the politics of fear that are dictatorial. I think we should raise the banner of counterattack against Japan Restoration in all sectors…This is a problem not only for Osaka, but Japanese democracy….The other parties are pathetic. They want the votes of Japan Restoration supporters, so the Democratic Party, the Liberal-Democratic Party, New Komeito, and Your Party are all casting come-hither eyes. It’s suicidal.

- Shii Kazuo, the chairman of the Communist Party of Japan, speaking in Osaka

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Ichigen koji (58)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, September 15, 2011

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

The Nikkei Shimbun quoted the responses of the leaders of the five major opposition parties to Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko’s inaugural speech in the Diet this week. Here they are.

That method was straight out of the past. The bureaucrats wrote it.
- Tanigaki Sadakazu, Liberal Democratic Party

There was no explanation of any specific approach on their part as a government. I felt that it left something to be desired.
- Yamaguchi Natsuo, New Komeito

My impression was one of flowery language connected by bureaucratic boilerplate.
- Watanabe Yoshimi, Your Party

An examination and soul-searching of the DPJ’s response to the earthquake/tsunami and nuclear accident is needed.
- Shii Kazuo, Communist Party

It was a bureaucratic composition with no central axis. It was like the LDP before the change of government.
- Fukushima Mizuho, Social Democratic Party

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Mr. Shii goes to America

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, May 11, 2010

HOW DID YOU SPEND Golden Week? Many Japanese took advantage of the concentrated holiday period from 29 April to 5 May to travel abroad. Last year, 1.03 million Japanese went overseas in May, which represented a 19% plunge from the previous year, the largest decline since concerns over the SARS epidemic kept people at home in 2003.

Nothing keeps those adventuresome young Japanese women home, however—the Japan Travel Bureau estimates that 24.4% of women in their 20s visited a foreign country during Golden Week this year, compared to 12.78% of men the same age.

Shii Kazuo

One of the many Japanese who grabbed their passports and hopped a plane or ship was Shii Kazuo, Chairman of Japan’s Communist Party, who spent the better part of the last fortnight in the United States. Mr. Shii thus became the first head of the JCP to visit the main kennel of the running dogs of capitalism since 1922. While there, he attended the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Conference, hung out with the Swedes at a UN disarmament conference, and addressed the legislature of the state of Vermont. That last one’s not as odd as it might seem. The state’s been sending Bernie Sanders to Congress for the past 20 years, making him the only self-identified socialist in the national legislature. (The other ones masquerade as Democrats to get themselves elected.)

All work and no play makes Kazuo a dull boy, so he also found time to take in a Broadway musical and visit a meeting of an NGO, where he hummed along while the others sang, “We Shall Overcome”.

Mr. Shii has wanted to visit the United States for some time, but until the late 1980s they kept stamping nyet on his visa applications because he told the truth about his Communist Party membership. This time, however, he wrote a personal letter to Barack Obama and got a reply in addition to his visa approval. He held the Presidential epistle aloft for reporters and said:

The American government has torn down the wall of anti-communism!

Ah, but that’s because the Berlin Wall got torn down first. After all, the Soviet Union and its “We Will Bury You” mentality were still alive and pretending to be well in the 1980s. Everyone’s gotten a lot more relaxed now that the political philosophy succumbed to its internal contradictions and its repeated failures wherever it was tried. There are other factors as well. Here’s one. Here’s another.

Asked for his impressions, Chairman Shii said the US had a “unique vitality”. That’s a common response for a tourist in an exciting new country—foreigners visiting Tokyo for the first time often say the same thing. Then again, one of the reasons America has a unique vitality is that it isn’t a communist state. Journalist/humorist P.J. O’Rourke, who visited many Eastern bloc countries behind the Iron Curtain, once wrote they were all “crap-in-your-pants ugly” and “dead from the dick up”. He also observed that communism was to life what pantyhose was to sex.

The JCP chairman’s kind words for the United States may not just be the impressions of a tourist or the flattery of a visiting politician, however. The Japanese Reds have been rehabilitating their view of America for some time now. At their January 2004 party conference, they approved the amendment of the Miyamoto Kenji Doctrine, named after a previous chairman, to eliminate the clause that cited American imperialism and Japanese monopoly capital as the “two enemies”.

The Miyamoto Doctrine of the 1960s itself marked a change of direction for the party because it made favorable references to democracy and freedom, two concepts not usually associated with Marxism.

Mr. Shii has changed his own tune, too. He has lately toned down the criticism of American monopolistic capitalism and replaced it with more favorable encomia. During the most recent party conference in January this year, he said:

We have respect for the great history of the U.S. (for its revolution and democracy)

At the conference, he also cited the letter Karl Marx sent as head of the International Workingmen’s Association in 1864 to Abraham Lincoln to congratulate the latter on his re-election as president. He quoted this passage:

…where hardly a century ago the idea of one great Democratic Republic had first sprung up, whence the first Declaration of the Rights of Man was issued, and the first impulse given to the European revolution of the eighteenth century…

What gives? He’s not running for office, because he’s already a member of the Diet.

The Sankei Shimbun speculates he might be trying to create a softer, more realistic image as part of a process to make the party acceptable as a partner in a future coalition government. The idea is that a more realistic stance will appeal to the growing number of independent voters, which account for about half the electorate.

Every Japanese political party apart from the DPJ and the LDP has been touting itself as a “third pole” (i.e., third force) in politics, especially those that have been formed within the past year. They all can’t be third poles, however, least of all the JCP, whose support in public opinion surveys shifts between the narrow range of 2% to 4%. That’s substantially less than the current support figures of about 10% for Your Party, which was created just last August.

The party enjoyed a surge of membership after the global economic crisis of 2008, but it was not able to translate that into additional Diet seats in the August election. They managed to maintain their previous total of nine seats, while their share of the vote slid to 7.0% from 7.3% in the previous election of 2005. It had been as high as 11.3% in 2000.

That might explain why Mr. Shii and the JCP are trying to present a more realistic front. Even after fears of a global economic collapse, trends are not moving in their direction. If you can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em…right?

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Two drunks in a bar

Posted by ampontan on Friday, February 19, 2010

The central contradiction in modern liberal politics is that Otto von Bismarck’s entitlement state for cradle to grave financial security is no longer affordable. The model has reached the limit of its ability to tax private income and still allow enough economic growth to finance its transfer payments.
- WSJ Editorial

TELL ME if you’ve already heard this one: two drunks were talking in a bar about how to come up with the money to buy another bottle…

Well, OK. They might not have been drunk, and they weren’t in a bar, but they were looking for ways to make other people pay for their drinks.

The two men batting ideas back and forth were Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio and Japan Communist Party Chief Shii Kazuo during a conversation in the Diet. According to the JCP, Mr. Shii said:

The retained earnings of big corporations are blunting Japanese economic growth capabilities.

See why people thought the story was about two drunks in a bar? Nobody sober would listen to any Communist Party member talking about economic growth or how it relates to corporate internal reserves.

It’s also difficult to imagine a sober man giving Mr. Hatoyama’s answer.

I’d like to examine the appropriate taxation of retained earnings.

It’s difficult to imagine because there is no appropriate taxation of retained earnings. A company’s internal reserves are what’s left after its profits have already been taxed. Would they tax someone’s bank account because he was saving the money instead of spending it?

Another possibility is that Mr. Hatoyama was sober and just indulging his fraternalist habit of saying whatever he thinks will please the person he’s talking to at the time.

Finding a willing listener for a change, Mr. Shii then suggested the maximum tax income tax rate and preferential treatment of securities should be revised to boost the tax on those with high income. Why? Because of a growing income gap among the people.

Comrades! Incomes have to be redistributed to reduce inequality!

A sober man would say: Redistribution of the wealth from those who have a lot of it to those who don’t have as much acts as a brake on those people who have demonstrated their capability to improve society for everyone, even if only by offering consumers what they want. Limiting their behavior deprives society of these benefits.

The prime minister was still a bit woozy when he talked to the media later. He said:

It’s not my intention to say anything specific, but because it was a plan by the Communist Party, I did say I’d like to examine it. It’s natural to want to adopt a good plan, regardless of the party that proposed it…I didn’t say (we’d be) forward looking, or backward looking, just that I’d like to examine it.

Is that man ever going to learn to stop shoveling after he digs himself a hole?

At a press conference the next day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi tried to scrape off the bottom of the prime minister’s shoe with a fib instead of a stick:

It’s a topic in the arena of general debate over the tax system. We’re not going to isolate only that for examination…I don’t think the prime minister said we were going to examine it. Wasn’t his response that we must examine the tax system in general?

Minezaki Naoki, Deputy Finance Minister, contradicted him with a stick of his own:

While it is a topic for the Tax Commission, the handling of the topic is still pending.

Six months in office and they still can’t get their story straight.

As for Mr. Hatoyama, it must be all those years he spent in the opposition. It still hasn’t dawned on the prime minister that people listen when the head of government talks. The next day, he allowed:

It’s a subject for consideration, but nothing has been decided yet.

But Okamura Tadashi, the chairman of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said:

What are you two drinking?

No, that’s not what he really said. It’s what he thought when he curbed his tongue. What he did say was:

As a general idea, it’s inappropriate from the standpoint of a corporation’s international competitiveness.

The Nikkei Shimbun added in an article of its own that it would have a negative impact on hiring and salaries.

But if there’s one thing big business has learned in the days of big government, it’s how to go along to get along. Mr. Okamura continued:

There’s going to be a broad reform of the tax system, so if it was mentioned as one category for examination, we have no choice but to simply accept it as such.

By the numbers

Companies retain earnings for three reasons. First, they use them to expand their business using their own resources, rather than using borrowed money they have to pay to borrow. That results in wealth creation–additional taxable income. Second, they can pay them out as dividends, when they are ordinarily taxed again. High dividend taxes are conducive to higher retained earnings. The lower the tax on dividends, the more dividends are paid from retained earnings. Third and finally, the internal reserves can be saved in the company.

Higher taxes on dividends or retained earnings reduce economic growth. They don’t expand it.

The problem as Mr. Shii sees it is that Japan has reduced dividend taxes 10% since 2003 and currently exempts the first JPY one million in dividends from taxes (about $US 11,000), but corporate internal reserves are at relatively high levels. Instead of taxing those reserves, however, a more rational solution would be to remove the structural impediments on investment.

There’s another reason large Japanese companies have more retained earnings these days. The government made repatriation of funds from overseas subsidiaries and other operations tax exempt in 2009. That resulted in a JPY two trillion (about $US 11 billion) increase in money coming into the country last year instead of being retained abroad, according to another article in today’s Nikkei Shimbun.

That’s JPY two trillion more to be used for expansion or dividend payments than they normally would have had.

That’s what people mean when they say lower taxes make the pie grow bigger. A bigger pie means more tax revenue. Isn’t that the point of the exercise?

Japan could maintain the tax code amendments that promote growth. Or it could tax those profits again, after they’ve already been taxed once; increase the taxes on dividends, which is double taxation to begin with; or restore the tax on repatriated corporate profits, ensuring those profits stay overseas instead of being returned to Japan.

But that’s only if it listens to two drunks in a bar talking about how to find the money to keep drinking.

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

The moribund diet of Japanese politicians

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, May 30, 2009

A FEW WEEKS AGO, an observant reader passed along a link to one of those blind-leading-the-blind articles about Japan that appeared in an overseas newspaper. The author, a non-Japanese who lives in this country, declared in the text that Japanese politics were “moribund”.

Mr. Japan Hand apparently doesn’t follow Japanese politics too closely. If he did, he would have already seen the following statements—direct quotes all—by politicians that have appeared in the past fortnight. They’ve been discussing the possibility of reapportioning the Diet by reducing the number of seats. Keep in mind this issue isn’t even on the political front burner—it’s just one of the many ideas being batted around with reform in the air.

The recent debate seems to have been jump-started by firebrand reformer Watanabe Yoshimi and ex-bureaucrat Eda Kenji, who recently published a book presenting their ten-point program to remake Japanese government. One of those points calls for slashing the number of lower house members to 300 (by eliminating the 180 proportional representation delegates) and the number of upper house members to 100 (by eliminating the 142 proportional representation delegates).

Suga Yoshihide

Suga Yoshihide, (Koga faction) the deputy chief of election campaigns for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, offered a more modest proposal during a speech to a local party meeting in Saga:

“(Our party platform) should include the reduction of at least 50 Diet seats from the 480 in the lower house, about 10%.”

Mr. Suga’s reasoning was that municipal mergers and other governmental reforms have lowered the number of seats in legislatures at the sub-national level throughout the country. He wants to use this plank as a weapon in the coming electoral battle with the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, which in part will be fought over which party is the more credible reformer. As Mr. Suga is known to be close to Prime Minister Aso, the proposal is not to be taken lightly. He added:

“The winds are not blowing in a favorable direction for the LDP. We should first show our resolve to make sacrifices, and then make a point of insisting during the campaign that we cannot entrust the government to the DPJ.”

Hatoyama Yukio

New DPJ Party President Hatoyama Yukio then saw Mr. Suga’s bet of 50 and raised him 30 during a Tokyo press conference:

“I have proposed that the number (of lower house seats) be reduced by about 80. It might be included in our next party platform. Fifty is not enough.”

To be fair, he’s just restating a previous DPJ proposal. Their platform for the 2007 upper house elections included a plank that called for eliminating the same number of the 180 proportional representation seats in the lower house.

Koshi’ishi Azuma

Koshi’ishi Azuma (Yokomichi group), one of three DPJ acting presidents (with Ozawa Ichiro and Kan Naoto) and chair of the party’s upper house caucus, then made the following suggestion at a press conference:

“It isn’t possible to lower the number of lower house seats by 80 while increasing the number of upper house seats. We must embark on a course of reduction.”

Remember that he’s on the same team as Mr. Hatoyama. But no sooner did he offer this tasty morsel than he snatched it back:

“A decision won’t be reached (about including the idea in the next platform) until we hear the opinions of the other opposition parties.”

In other words, he’s all hat and no cattle. The “other opposition parties” include such DPJ allies and fellow travelers as the People’s New Party, the Social Democrats, and the vanity parties of Suzuki Muneo The Scandalous and Tanaka Yasuo The Lecherous. Most of those parties would evaporate without proportional representation seats, so it’s a safe bet that Mr. Koshi’ishi won’t even seek their opinion. (The party could afford to take a strong stand in 2007 when it was numerically much weaker. They’re certainly not going to kick their bedfellows out from under the covers now that they’re close enough to power to smell it. At least not right away, anyway.)

If the two major parties keep raising the stakes, they might wind up at Watanabe Yoshimi’s position of eliminating the proportional representation seats altogether. But that won’t happen until after an election and a political reorganization. Both of the primary parties still need the smaller parties for the upcoming election, and most of the politicos are waiting to see how that shakes out before taking any drastic new steps.

Mori Yoshiro

Former Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro, one of the Big Cheeses of the zombie wing of the LDP, confirmed the old saying about blind squirrels and acorns by pointing out the obvious:

“It would be great if the Communist Party did us the favor of disappearing, but the people who want to reduce the lower house to 300 should go to New Komeito, get their approval, and bring it back to us….We might not need 180 proportional representatives, but the Communist Party and New Komeito will fight it tooth and nail. I wonder if the folks who are saying those things are capable of girding their loins to do battle with New Komeito.”

Mr. Mori is probably alluding to the capacity for harassment of both New Komeito and their backers in Soka Gakkai, the lay Buddhist group. They can be very unpleasant when aroused. Eliminating those seats would decimate New Komeito, the LDP’s junior partner in the ruling coalition.

He also brought up Ozawa Ichiro’s effort to convince the late Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo to do away with some proportional representation seats in 1999 when the LDP was governing in a coalition with the Liberal Party, Mr. Ozawa’s vehicle at the time.

“Mr. Ozawa tried to forcibly eliminate proportional representation districts. Basically, he hates New Komeito. Calling for the seats to be reduced without knowing about those circumstances, and then saying we won’t lose to the DPJ, is a truly stupid idea.”

And yes, Mr. Ozawa does hate New Komeito. It’s no coincidence that the DPJ made loud noises last year about grilling former party leader Yano Junya in the Diet after he filed a suit against Soka Gakkai, claiming that they tried to force him to stop working as a political commentator.

Some are suggesting that the DPJ might try to seduce New Komeito into changing partners. It’s possible, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on that idea, even considering the anything-goes default position of Japanese politics.

Shii Kazuo

That leaves the Communist Party of Japan. Here’s what JCP Chair Shii Kazuo said at a press conference when he got wind of the downsizing plans:

“The idea is that if there are two parties in the Diet, then other parties won’t be necessary. That is undermining democracy from its foundation.”

When it comes to undermining the foundation of democracy, the Communist Party is the go-to source to learn all about it. Remember all those Democratic People’s Republics they used to have? And they’ve still got one in Pyeongyang!

The last one is from LDP party executive Ishihara Nobuteru, who has also served as party policy chief and twice as Cabinet minister, once in charge of governmental reform:

“My thinking is roughly the same as that of former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro. It would be best to amend the Constitution in 10 years, create a unicameral legislature by combining the upper and lower house, and use (districts with multiple representatives).

So, a serious competition is underway about how many seats to slash from the Diet—not if—and the debate over the past week to 10 days has included the possibility of neutering several smaller parties and eliminating one of the houses altogether.

And some people are getting paid to write that Japanese politics is moribund?

Bonus Communist Party quote!

Mr. Shii also chimed in on the topic of whether the government has the authority to order pre-emptive military strikes against foreign countries:

“Using the activities of North Korea to tread onto dangerous territory is to create a vicious circle of military response. It would destroy the Constitution and destroy world peace. We absolutely will not approve of it.”

One of the Japanese equivalents of the proverb “Birds of a feather flock together” roughly translates as “Mix with crimson and you’ll turn red.”

How appropriate, considering the circumstances.

Now try this one: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

Bonus political joke!

The DPJ and one of their splinter group allies, the People’s New Party, have been holding negotiations over how to deal with one of the electoral districts in Kanagawa. Both parties have promising candidates they want to run in the district, but they don’t want to go head-to-head, and neither wants to back down.

New DPJ President Hatoyama Yukio, known in some quarters as “the man from outer space”, announced that the parties had reached an agreement and the DPJ candidate would be the one to run.

This angered their PNP friends, who said that no decisions had been made and that the two parties were still negotiating.

Right after the disagreement became public, leaders from the two parties met for a conference. The DPJ side included such heavyweights as Kan Naoto and Okada Katsuya, but Mr. Hatoyama did not attend.

When the discussions began, PNP representative Kamei Shizuka observed:

“Looks like only the earthlings showed up today.”

A DPJ-led government promises to be hugely entertaining!

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