AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Takenaka H.’

Ichigen koji (255)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 10, 2012

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

Isn’t it a problem with people, rather than with the form or the system? If we select a politician with leadership ability, the bureaucracy will obey.

- A veteran (unidentified) Democratic Party member on why it should be easy to control the Japanese bureaucracy.

If it were a question of do as I say, it would have been done a long time ago.

- Takenaka Heizo, a veteran of the Koizumi Cabinet who fought the Finance Ministry for five years

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

A revealing dialogue

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 3, 2012

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

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

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

Tanaka: There’s a limit to naïve innocence.

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

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

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

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

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

Tanaka: This will tarnish your twilight years.

Ishihara: I won’t let that happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Afterwords:

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

Posted in Mass media, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The real losing dogs

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 28, 2012

SEVERAL years ago, novelist Sakai Junko coined the expression makeinu, or losing dog, to refer to single people over the age of 30.

The term has other useful applications, however. Is that not the perfect descriptor for a left-of-center political party that loses the confidence of left-of-center newspapers? That’s exactly what happened to the Democratic Party of Japan. This article by the Asahi Shimbun is several months old, but it explains very clearly one of the most important reasons the party lost the trust of the Japanese public, and lost it almost immediately after they took office.

Among the Democratic Party of Japan’s many pledges when it came to power was to loosen the hold that bureaucrats had on policy issues and put politicians in charge.

Yet it never challenged the Finance Ministry, the bastion of the nation’s bureaucratic hierarchy.

In reality, the Finance Ministry has gained more clout under successive DPJ administrations, winning over prime ministers Yukio Hatoyama, Naoto Kan and now Yoshihiko Noda.

One of the key persons appearing in the story is former Budget Bureau chief Katsu Eijiro, who I’ve mentioned several times on this site.

In late September of 2009 (N.B.: one month after the DPJ took power), Kan (Naoto), who was national policy minister, was irritated because the government had not been able to decide on a basic budget policy due to a lack of revenue for the DPJ’s campaign policies.

Which everyone knew would happen even before the election, but then I interrupt.

Katsu, chief of the Budget Bureau, appeared. Kan asked when the basic budget policy should be drawn up if the budget was to be compiled by the end of the year.

“The DPJ has a grand manifesto,” Katsu said. “If you issue a sheet of paper and tell us to compile the budget based on the manifesto, we will follow the instruction.”

Kan was visibly relieved. “That makes it easy,” he said.

The meeting effectively put Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii, not Kan, in charge of compiling the budget under the first DPJ administration.

Fujii, 79, is a former Finance Ministry bureaucrat. He became a Diet member after Hatoyama’s father, who was an administrative vice finance minister, advised him to go into politics.

“I don’t think politicians can make correct judgments on details of the budget,” Fujii said. “The Finance Ministry has a tradition encompassing more than a century. What is expected of politicians is to make decisions.”

Fujii was instrumental in installing Noda as senior vice finance minister under him.

Doesn’t that tell you all you need to know? Well, most of it, but not quite all:

Heizo Takenaka, who battled with the Finance Ministry over the initiative in budget formulation when he served as a Cabinet minister under Junichiro Koizumi, said tax increases, not spending cuts, benefit the Finance Ministry.

“The Finance Ministry derives its power by allocating money from a fat pocketbook,” he said.

Twas ever thus, in every country, but particularly in Japan. That’s why the relationship between the bureaucracy and the political class is always an issue here. Ending bureaucratic control of the government is one of the primary issues that has motivated the regional parties.

You know what they say about reading the whole thing? Read the whole thing.

Posted in Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Wet cement

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 21, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what he said at the time:

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

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

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

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

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

* Hashimoto and Your Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Omura and Kawamura

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Hashimoto and Omura and Kawamura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matsui Ichiro offered a blander rationale:

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

But wait!

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

But wait again!

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

* Hashimoto and Ishihara

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Begin discussions to achieve a state/province system

3. Implement measures to support SMBEs and microenterprises.

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

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

This is a compromise for both men.

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

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

7. Urge China to take Senkakus dispute to ICJ.

8. Prohibit corporate and group donations to politics.

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

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

Said Mr. Ishihara after the deal was cut:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Afterwords:

* Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko said this week:

I will not participate in a competition to lean rightward.

This is the self-described conservative speaking.

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

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

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

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

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

* Said LDP Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru:

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

He’s right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ichigen koji (230)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 15, 2012

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

A symposium was held at Southern Methodist University in Texas about reform in Japan. Former American Ambassador Thomas Schieffer and I delivered the keynote addresses. Why did Japan stop the reform process, even though it was successful? Why do politicians say that gaps in society have widened, even though they have shrunk? Why aren’t these most basic of questions asked in Japan?

- Takenaka Heizo, the Koizumi privatization guru

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Ichigen koji (181)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, September 25, 2012

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

The candidates in the Democratic Party (of Japan) presidential election conducted a televised debate. What’s going on here, I thought. As a party, they have the responsibility for conducting governmental affairs, yet they were criticizing each other as if they belonged to different parties. I can only hope their administration ends soon, and the sooner the better. They have absolutely no understanding of the responsibilities of the ruling party.

-Takenaka Heizo, jack of all trades in the Koizumi Cabinet

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Ichigen koji (171)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, September 14, 2012

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

The general budget requests for next year’s budget have already exceeded JPY 100 trillion. That’s an abnormal situation: A facile tax increase and a facile increase in expenditures. This has now become a trend that was easily predicted. Who will be able to stop this?

- Takenaka Heizo, former jack-of-all-ministers in the Koizumi administratoin

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Ichigen koji (139)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, August 14, 2012

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

Most of the people in the existing political parties are thinking about the next election. The young people involved with One Osaka are thinking about the next age. The people have an intuitive sense of this major difference.

- Takenaka Heizo

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New directions in Japanese politics

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, July 11, 2012

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

- Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, 28 June, in Osaka

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

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

Vouchers

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

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

University professor/author/blogger Ikeda Nobuo was impressed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personnel expenses

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

Arts subsidies

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

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

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

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

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

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

The political class

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

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

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

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

Ward officers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bring ‘em on!

Your Party

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

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

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

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

He added:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Head ‘em off at the pass

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

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

Mr. Watanabe again:

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

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

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

Nagoya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The beasts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the cow jumped over the moon.

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

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

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

Not working is good for the economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Japanese nanny state

From a generic media report:

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

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

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

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

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

Said Komiyama Yoko, health minister:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Maybe.”

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

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

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

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

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

The Seamoon is back

Generic media report (GMR):

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

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

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

International edition

From another generic report:

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

Here’s what Ms. Lagarde knows about taxes:

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

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

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

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

The absence of humility manifests in many different ways.

China

Still another generic report:

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

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

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

The absence of humility manifests in many different ways.

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

There’ll be some changes made.

Afterwords:

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

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

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

Also:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in China, Education, Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Almost pointless

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, July 5, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An explosion less destructive than loud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barren

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The only fruit on this tree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Teamwork

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 24, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Profile in Courage

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

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

Mr. Noda thinks he is exhibiting Churchillian courage:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The internal opposition

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

Ozawa Ichiro, the man who would be kingbreaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Land of 1000 Coincidences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The external opposition

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

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

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

He had to ask?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okada Katsuya can’t bear to look

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Your Party leader Watanabe Yoshimi explains what that means:

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

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

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

The Real Opposition

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hashimoto Toru explains

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

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

Mr. Hashimoto was pleased as punch:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phoning it in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Collision course

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, April 24, 2012

THE political and social forces in Japan are now arrayed and moving on a course that makes a noisy electoral collision inevitable. How the forces sort out post-collision isn’t possible to determine, but one thing is certain — the collision will be just one of the major engagements in an ongoing war.

Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi in Tokyo

That much is clear now that we’ve seen the evisceration of the work of Koizumi Jun’ichiro after he steered Japan to the course of reform. The reactionary Politburocrats included the old guard of his own party, the bureaucratic establishment at Kasumigaseki seeking to reclaim sovereignty over policy, and the chancers of the Democratic Party snouting around for any excuse to rise to the level of Politburocrat Nouveau. They accomplished their work in less time than the five years Mr. Koizumi spent in office.

Last week, the Men of System demonstrated again how they operate. The ruling Democratic Party lacks an upper house majority, so it was unable to prevent the opposition from censuring two Cabinet ministers: Maeda Takeshi of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport (for political misbehavior) and Tanaka Naoki of Defense (for being a doofus on the job).

Upper house censures are non-binding, so the two men can technically stay, but the opposition parties are refusing to participate in negotiations until they’re removed. Said LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu:

“As long as those two stay in office, there will be no progress on the bill to combine social security and the tax system.”

Added New Komeito chief Yamaguchi Natsuo:

“We cannot respond to any parliamentary proceedings in which they have jurisdiction.”

Everyone understands that it’s a chabangeki farce staged to gain political advantage. Mr. Tanigaki and most of his party already back a consumption tax increase, and the ruling Democratic Party intends to use only 20% of the revenue from the increase for social security. A larger amount will be allocated for public works projects. Just like the old LDP.

The DPJ understands the farce better than anyone because upper house censure was a weapon they created to gain political leverage after they and their allies took control of that chamber in 2007. They censured then-Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo in 2008 for reasons that were trivial then and which no one can remember now.

But when the plastic sword was used to smack them around, Prime Minister Noda and DPJ Secretary-General Koshi’ishi Azuma decided they didn’t like the idea after all. Both men are protecting the censured miscreants, and Mr. Noda won’t remove them from office. Said Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu last Friday:

“The prime minister’s policy is clear. He wants them to fulfill the responsibilities of their job.”

Both men of course realize that’s beyond the capabilities of Mr. Tanaka, but they have appearances to maintain and the Ozawa wing of the party to mollify.

Their display of plastic backbone has caused some consternation in Japan’s real ruling class, however. That spurred one of their agents in the DPJ to give the prime minister his marching orders.

That would be Fujii Hirohisa, the former head the Finance Ministry’s Budget Bureau — Dirigiste Central — also the former secretary-general in Ozawa Ichiro’s old Liberal Party, the first finance minister in the DPJ government (for all of three months), the head of the Tax Commission in the Cabinet Office, one of the DPJ’s Supreme Advisors, and (if the rumors are to be believed) a daytime drinker.

Mr. Fujii and his comrades worry this will delay their objective of raising the consumption tax to European social democrat levels. Therefore, Mr. Fujii called on the prime minister to “remove the thorns”, because:

“The two of them have definitely done something wrong.”

But he quickly added the real reason:

“Whenever the prime minister makes a decision on what to do, the basis for everything is to pass the consumption tax increase by any means necessary.”

Now what is Mr. Noda to decide to do? He wants to project himself as a man of vision with the unwavering resolve to gouge the public and maintain the system do what is best for Japan. He also reportedly hates being called a Finance Ministry puppet.

On the other hand, Mr. Fujii has been molding Mr. Noda since the DPJ formed its first government, when the latter was the deputy finance minister in both the Hatoyama and Kan administrations. The prime minister is also aware that the Finance Ministry is capable of using the various means it has developed for staging de facto internal coups d’etat.

In other words, look for Messrs. Maeda and Tanaka to start cleaning out their desk drawers, soon rather than late.

Weapons

Kasumigaseki in general and the Finance Ministry in particular have developed a substantial armory over the years to maintain their citadel. For example, all the national dailies have now published several editorials supporting a consumption tax increase. Most of them used nearly identical phrases, probably because they all received the nearly identical Finance Ministry briefing. The most enthusiastic member of the print media has been the Asahi Shimbun. They ran an editorial on 31 March titled “A consumption tax increase is necessary,” which included this content:

“With the rapid aging of society, we must provide even a small amount of stability to the social security system and rebuild the finances that are the worst among the developed countries. The first step requires that we increase the consumption tax. That is what we think.”

And the next day:

“It is important to come to a prompt decision without evading a tax increase.”

Another column appeared on 6 April with the title: “Politics and the consumption tax increase – stop the excuses”. It contained this passage:

“While you’re saying “first”—such as first reduce government waste, or first let’s end deflation, or first dissolve the lower house for an election — Japan will become insolvent.”

The Asahi insists the voters can have their say after the tax increase has been safely passed. That’s the same strategy foreseen months ago by ex-ministry official and current reformer Takahashi Yoichi.

As a newspaper of the left, the Asahi might be expected to favor higher taxes and stronger central government, but perhaps they have a more compelling reason. That would be explained by another news report that the Asahi tried to hide in an overlooked part of the paper, but which the rival Yomiuri Shimbun gave more prominent coverage on 30 March.

It seems that a tax audit revealed the Asahi failed to report JPY 251 million in corporate income over a five-year period that ended 31 March 2011. They were required to pay substantial penalties.

Golly, what a coincidence!

On the other hand, the bureaucrats are not picking on just the Asahi. All the newspapers and their reporters are being audited, which is a process that can take from several weeks to several months. The reporters treat their sources, anonymous or otherwise, to food and drink, and we all know that expense accounts are there to be padded. Tax officials are even said to be visiting the eating and drinking places listed on the returns for confirmation. Both the Asahi and the Yomiuri already had to refile their taxes in 2009.

The Asahi insists their editorials are unrelated to the audits, and they might have a point. There are about 20 people on the paper’s editorial committee, and all of them support a tax increase. Most of them once covered the Finance Ministry as members of the ministry’s kisha club, a system that combines short leashes with exclusive access. And many of them are also graduates of the University of Tokyo, which is the institution of choice for the Finance Ministry’s recruitment.

It’s natural to assume that the members of the old boys’ club would think alike, but a tax audit certainly helps to focus their thinking.

Not a rhetorical question

Fortunately, irresistible forces are headed straight for these immovable objects. Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi, one of the squad leaders in those forces, launched his political juku in Tokyo on Saturday. He told his 200 students:

“I want to change the mechanism of this country, in which taxes are not reduced by even one yen.”

Mr. Kawamura is screening and preparing candidates for the next lower house election by using the same juku mechanism employed by Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and Aichi Gov. Omura Hideaki. There will likely be an alliance of some sort between those local parties and Your Party at the national level. Their message is the largely the same.

Delivering that message on Saturday as the first lecturer was former METI official turned bureaucratic reformer Koga Shigeaki. Mr. Koga rebuffed requests to run for governor of two prefectures to serve as Mr. Hashimoto’s senior advisor, and he also has connections with Your Party. He told the juku students something that everyone in Japan apart from the Politburocratchiks understand: The current system of governance is dead, and the creation of a new system starts with civil service reform.

Part of the problem

The experience of Koga Shigeaki illustrates one of the many reasons that Japan’s Democratic Party has become part of the problem instead of the solution. He was selected as an aide to then-Reform Minister Sengoku Yoshito in the Hatoyama Cabinet, but that appointment lasted only a few days. Kasumigaseki wouldn’t stand for it, and Mr. Sengoku is not one to stand on principle when his place in the power structure is at stake. Indeed, the former lawyer confronted Mr. Koga with a semi-gangsterish threat (likely picked up from his former clients) during the latter’s Diet testimony on reform at the request of Your Party.

Try this for a thought experiment: Imagine that the cities of Chicago and Los Angeles, and their respective states of Illinois and California, are governed by local parties calling for radical governmental reform. One of the primary planks of that reform is putting a leash on the public sector. Three of those four chief executives were once members of the two major parties. The deputy mayor of New York is a colleague, and the mayor is a sympathizer.

Need I mention that this would be topics #1, #2, and #3 in the American mass media 24/7, and that the Journolist-coordinated efforts to slime them all would be rank even by their standards?

(Of course, this is only a thought experiment. California is actually heading 180° in the other direction.)

Japan has the oldest and most dynamic of the modern anti-elitist reform movements of the world’s major democracies. It’s the one with the greatest chance of success, and it’s also possible to make the case that it is the most positive in outlook. (The French just gave 18% of the vote to Marine LePen, though in their defense the Eurabia concept was idiotic even by Eurocrat standards.)

Predictions are usually a waste of time, but here’s one you can hold me to: The English-language media in general, and the FCCJ lackwits in particular, won’t bother to notice what’s happening in Japan until they find themselves ankle-deep in the muck after the bloodletting of the next general election, and some well-coiffed and -dyed heads will be adorning the tops of pointed stakes. The media will then be “surprised”.

And then they’ll launch a slimeball fusillade. Take it to the bank.

Kasumigaura

Yes, this is a national phenomenon. It’s happening again, this time in the city of Kasumigaura, a largely agricultural town of 43,600 in Ibaraki Prefecture.

After the city was created in 2005 through the merger of two smaller municipalities, the residents expected to benefit from the economies of scale. They really should have known better. Instead of one unified municipal office, the new city officials created two, one in each of the constituent entities. One of them required the construction of a new building. They also separately maintained their former methods of collusion for deal-cutting: one controlled by the civil service, the other organized by private sector industry.

It got worse after the new city’s second mayor took office in 2007, when he was unopposed in the election. Opposition quickly materialized after the city council voted themselves a 40% pay raise. A citizens’ group was organized, and they ran Miyajima Mitsuaki for mayor in the next election. He upset the incumbent by a 276 vote margin.

The problem, however, was that there was little turnover in city council members. Four are reformers, 11 are in the flybait class, and one is a fence-sitter. In one year and eight months, City Council has rejected 32 of the mayor’s initiatives, including the rollback of the salary increase, other salary cuts, and a bill to provide free medical care for children through the third year of junior high school. (That last is an idea common to many of the reformers in local government. There are several possible explanations for this mixture of welfare statism into what is primarily a small government philosophy, but it does suggest they are not ideologues.)

The mayor therefore announced last week that he and the citizens’ group will start a petition drive to recall City Council. They’ll have a month to come up with 15,000 signatures. It won’t be easy, but Mr. Kawamura overcame the same hurdle in Nagoya, and his hurdle was much higher because of that city’s larger population. I wouldn’t bet against them.

*****
It bears repeating that the next lower house election will not be the last battle of the war, regardless of the result. The reformers at the regional level have found their voice and their allies are not going to go away. Meanwhile, the Politburocrats are stocking the moat with as many alligators as they can breed.

The current system of governance requires that the bureaucracy oversee the process as the Cabinet formulates a bill and the ruling party examines it before it’s submitted to the Diet. Defying the wishes of Kasumigaseki requires a thorough knowledge of policy and some serious spine, neither of which is a hallmark of the political class anywhere. The civil servants devote a lot of time to anticipating objections to their favored policies and formulating arguments against those objections to feed to the politicians.

One advantage of the reformers is that people such Your Party’s Watanabe Yoshimi and Eda Kenji, Hashimoto advisors Koga, Sakaiya Taiichi, and Hara Eiji, as well as advisor to both Takahashi Yoichi, have extensive knowledge of policy and Politburocrat tactics, and took a clear public stand long ago.

Another man who combines both is Takenaka Heizo, a Cabinet member throughout Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s entire term of office, and the man responsible for producing the Japan Post privatization package. Mr. Takenaka has said that victory will require 10 years of continuous guerilla warfare.

In short: Japan is in the midst of the most civil Civil War a modern democracy has ever seen.

Drunken sailor watch

The Prime Minister’s Office unveiled its new website earlier this month, which they created as a portal site to provide comprehensive information on policy. That’s a fine idea, but the Jiji news agency reported the redesign of the old site required an expenditure of JPY 45.5 million (almost $US 560,000 on the nose).

What? You didn’t hear the detonation on the Internet?

A lot of people thought it could have been done for 10% of that amount, and some said they would have been happy to take the job at that price. They also said they wouldn’t have created a site with text that was unreadable for those using Apple’s Safari browser and without the kanji errors on the page for children.

Prodigy

Piano prodigy Okuda Gen appeared on television again Sunday night. Now ten years old, Gen has been playing piano since the age of four and giving concerts since the age of seven. He’s composed 50 pieces of his own. He likes all sorts of styles and plays classical music well, but is a particular fan of jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. On Sunday, he performed as an equal with an adult drummer and bassist.

The boy is remarkably self-assured for his age, even without his musical ability. It seems unlikely at this point that he’ll acquire the problems that usually attend children such as these when they enter The Jungle of Puberty.

But the most astonishing part of Gen’s story is that he started playing because he thought he would like it. Neither parent is involved with music, and they say he’s never taken a music lesson.

Here he is at age eight. Pull your socks up.

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Ichigen koji (99)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, April 19, 2012

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

One experience I’ll never forget. Soon after I became the Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications (October 1005), I tried to reform the way that local government bonds were issued (by municipalities and prefectures).

Though I call it a reform, it wasn’t anything special — I just wanted to do something that everyone else takes for granted. When companies float bonds to procure funds, the rate they pay will of course differ for Company A, which has strong revenue and earnings, and Company B, whose performance is weak. The risk of lending money to Company A is low, so the interest earned will be low. In contrast, the interest will be higher for Company B.

But when cities and prefectures issue bonds (in Japan), the solicitation is done through a financial institution selected by the national government, and the interest rate for procuring the funds is the same for every city and prefecture.

People who hear about this for the first time are probably surprised. This is the very definition of government-led collusion. It’s terrible, and it is probably enough for the Fair Trade Commission to issue an order prohibiting it.

As the Minister for Internal Affairs, I was responsible for fiscal matters related to local governments. I tried to stop it immediately. But not only were the bureaucrats opposed, many local governors and mayors were also upset. If the collusion fell apart, all of their problems would be exposed.

- Takenaka Heizo, Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s privatization guru

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21st century Class A war criminals

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, March 17, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kan Cabinet: Class A War Criminals?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sunday Mainichi quoted a journalist:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Showdown at the hypotenuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shiva’s second coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now for the bad:

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

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

Now for the ugly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noda Yoshihiko: a chip off the old blocks

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

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

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

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

Yes, he said kawaii.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International exchange

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

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

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

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

Said Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osama at a news conference:

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

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

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

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

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

Seetell asks several excellent questions:

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

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

Here’s one Seetell missed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Na Nu Na Nu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anachronisms

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

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

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

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

Afterwords:

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

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

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

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

But the lyrics have other applications as well:

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

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

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

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Posted in Government, International relations, Politics, Social trends, Taiwan | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Ichigen koji (48)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, August 23, 2011

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

The leadership of both the Democratic Party and the Liberal Democratic Party is showing signs of a real intent to raise taxes. Even if they raise taxes, tax revenue will not increase if they continue to ignore deflation and sound macroeconomic management. The most important consideration is that taxes not be increased during a severe economic downturn. The politicans who can understand what the bureaucracy tells them are referred to as policy experts. Only a mere handful of politicians are capable of refuting those arguments and developing their own conceptions.
(16 August)

Political warfare is the only conspicuous aspect of the Democratic Party presidential election. What is important is policy debate. But before that, what is required is the identification of the reasons the Hatoyama and Kan Cabinets betrayed the expectations of so many people for a change in government.
(19 August)

- A two-for-the-price-of-none special from Takenaka Heizo

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Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Politics, Quotations | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

 
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