AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Tanigaki S.’

The ABCs of Japanese politics

Posted by ampontan on Monday, October 29, 2012

Hasegawa Yukihiro is a long-time newspaperman and non-fiction author of books about politics and government. He wrote a string of four Tweets yesterday. Here they are:

* The basis for the statements coming from the Democratic Party of Japan is the Finance Ministry path itself. This has thrown into relief the fact that the DPJ is not a party of reform. The ministry turned its back on the party long ago, and is treating it coldly.

* It seems as if (Prime Minister) Noda will squat in place (without calling an election). The Finance Ministry has turned its back on him, too, and there’s no telling what they’ll do next. Noda himself understands that much, but he still can’t do anything. He told Watanabe Yoshimi (Your Party head) that the Finance Ministry did him in. Why is it that newspapers can’t print this story? Watanabe talked about it openly at a news conference.

* The Finance Ministry uses and disposes of politicians all the time. This is the A of the ABCs for observing Japanese politics. They did the same with Yosano Kaoru and Tanigaki Sadakazu. Since the Meiji Restoration, they’ve believed they are the royal road in Japan.

* The essence for considering oneself a Third Force in Japanese politics is to break up the centralization of authority and the system of bureaucracy. (In real terms, that means breaking up the system of Finance Ministry control.) Without this, there is no point in talking about who is going to align with whom and do what.

And that is all you need to know about how Japanese politics works.

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Some numbers

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, September 5, 2012

TODAY was a busy day with several errands, so I didn’t have the time to finish a post. Sankei Shimbun/Fuji TV released the numbers for their 1-2 September poll, however, and a quick look at those will do nicely as a substitute.

Q: What did you think of South Korea President Lee Myung-bak’s visit to Takeshima?

Can accept it: 8.2%
Cannot accept it: 88.2%
Other: 3.6%

Q: Should President Lee Myung-bak withdraw his statement to the effect that the Emperor should apologize if he visits South Korea?

Yes: 90.1%
No: 6.2%
Other: 3.7%

The South Koreans are trying to reassure themselves that the recent Japanese attitude is to be attributed to “right-wingers”. If that’s the case, the entire country is about 90% rightwing.

Q: Should the government take economic and financial measures against South Korea?

Yes: 59.8%
No: 32.2%
Other: 8.0%

Q: Do you think the forced repatriation of the Hong Kong activists who landed illegally on the Senkakus was appropriate?

Yes: 57.5%
No: 38.2%
Other: 4.3%

A no answer means they should have been prosecuted and jailed. A yes answer means pragmatism.

Q: What do you think of the Noda government’s plan to purchase the Senkaku islets for the government?

Agree: 73.4%
Disagree: 15.5%
Other: 11.1%

Q: Do you support the Noda Cabinet?

Yes: 26.6% (previous poll, 29.1%)
No: 62.6% (60.9%)
Other: 10.8% (10.0%)

The South Koreans are also trying to reassure themselves that Prime Minister’s behavior was an attempt to perk up his poor poll numbers. So much for that idea. I suspect the Japanese public would expect the same behavior in these circumstances — at a minimum — from any prime minister, so the numbers reflect domestic concerns.

Speaking of trying to boost one’s poll numbers, it’s widely assumed both in South Korea and Japan that President Lee’s visit to Takeshima and his comments about the Emperor were designed to goose his and his party’s popularity. He was sitting at 17% this time last month, and one South Korean newspaper poll had him picking up 9 percentage points as a result.

In other words, he’s climbed to Mr. Noda’s dismal level of support.

The things politicians do for a little — and I do mean a little — cheap popularity.

Other results reveal why Tanigaki Sadakazu is likely to be removed as LDP president in the upcoming party election. This is important because the LDP chief, whoever it is, could well be the prime minister before the year is out.

Q: Which of the two party leaders do you think is more suited to be prime minister?

Noda Yoshihiko: 45.2%
Tanigaki Sadakazu: 21.3%
Other: 33.5%

Don’t forget that Mr. Noda’s approval ratings were only 26.6%

Q: Which of the two party leaders do you think has greater leadership ability?

Noda: 42.5%
Tanigaki: 24.5%
Other: 33.0%

But here are the most important numbers of all:

Q: If a lower house election were held now, for which party would you cast your vote in the proportional representation phase?

DPJ (Current government): 17.4%
LDP (Primary opposition party): 21.7%
One Osaka: 23.8%

And One Osaka is still not officially a party yet (though that will change by the end of the week).

Japanese domestic politics is on the verge of a paradigm shift. It is not a question of if, but rather of when. This is an example in which the cliched campaign boilerplate of the Democrats in the United States is actually applicable for once: The Japanese public really is sick and tired of being sick and tired. To modify another cliche, they are (calmly) mad as hell, and they aren’t going to take it any more.

The English-language news media won’t understand it, the Chinese and the South Koreans won’t like it, and broadly speaking, most Japanese won’t give a flying fig about what any of them think.

*****
The name of the group is Boom Pan. The name of the song is Surfing Tuba. Yes, it is surf music with a tuba.

The Boom Pan promo blurb on their website says:

“A Mediterranean surf rock tuba-driven power trio, seasoned with dueling guitars and alcohol-soaked wedding party ecstacsy”

You’ve been warned!

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Ichigen koji (156)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, August 30, 2012

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

The adoption of the resolution in the upper house censuring Prime Minister Noda, driven primarily by the Liberal Democratic Party, is absolutely ridiculous. It has no meaning whatsoever. Why are they causing such a big fuss? (Party President) Tanigaki says that the government has reached the limits of its abilities to respond to the challenges Japan faces, but it is really is just a call to quickly dissolve the lower house. The Noda-Tanigaki summit meeting should already have produced a promise to dissolve the lower house.

- Tahara Soichiro, journalist

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Quick hits on yesterday’s lower house vote

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, June 27, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru was pertinent, as usual:

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

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

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

And hasn’t all that led to this?

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Teamwork

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 24, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Profile in Courage

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

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

Mr. Noda thinks he is exhibiting Churchillian courage:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The internal opposition

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

Ozawa Ichiro, the man who would be kingbreaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Land of 1000 Coincidences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The external opposition

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

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

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

He had to ask?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okada Katsuya can’t bear to look

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Your Party leader Watanabe Yoshimi explains what that means:

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

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

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

The Real Opposition

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hashimoto Toru explains

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

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

Mr. Hashimoto was pleased as punch:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phoning it in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ichigen koji (111)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 17, 2012

一言居士

- A person who has something to say about everything

The Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party have agreed through discussions to raise the consumption tax. As expected (LDP head) Tanigaki’s demand for a Diet dissolution and a general election are gone with the wind. The results of these discussions show that the LDP has joined Noda’s DPJ on the road toward a tax increase, and so they are helping him extend the life of his government. The LDP is now no longer an opposition party, but a wretched group that is devoted to becoming part of the ruling party.

The LDP went into the opposition after its 2009 defeat, but it seems to be over for them now.

Meanwhile, the Noda DPJ has completely abandoned its manifesto and has clearly become the #2 LDP. This development is extremely easy to understand.

At any rate, there will be a general election by next summer. It will give the electorate a clear choice: either the Noda + Tanigaki “DPJ-LDP”, or other groups.

Both the LDP and the DPJ are on the same page with their aversion to dissolving the Diet. Tanigaki, who insisted on a dissolution, has become a clown. Their fear of a dissolution is proof that they think they’ll lose. But the hands of the clock have moved, and they can’t be turned back.

So at this rate, the consumption tax will rise, electric bills will rise, companies will move overseas, and the economy will grow worse. Overseas interests will buy up the few remaining blue chip companies, they will be managed by foreigners, the number of regular employees will decline, and they will be staffed entirely by temporary employees. New university graduates will have just as much difficulty finding a job as their European counterparts.

The next election will be the last chance to put a stop to this.

The strength of SMBEs is their extraordinary ability to develop new products. That should allow them to survive, but foreign capital will become aware of them and buy them up. People will suddenly notice that the company president is Chinese, and there are many Chinese everywhere you look. That will become the new normal.

A lot of people say they hate political crises, but this is really about the lives of the salarymen. To say “enough of the political crises”, as if it were someone else’s affair, is a symptom of the terminal stage of the “boiled frog syndrome”. You suddenly become aware that you’ve been boiled.

I cordially request those people who say they don’t know anything about the “boiled frog syndrome” to boil until they turn a bright red.

- Newspaperman and author Hasegawa Yukihiro

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, China, Foreigners in Japan, Government | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Hindsight and vision impairments

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, June 12, 2012

THE expression Moto no Mokuami refers to a situation that has returned to its original inauspicious state after having improved for a time. It derives from a story more than 400 years old about Mokuami, a blind man whose voice closely resembled that of a warlord. The warlord died when his son was too young to assume the duties of his position, so — in accordance with the warlord’s will — Mokuami was brought to stay in his darkened room to impersonate him as a man on his sickbed. When the son came of age, the death was announced and Mokuami became John Doe again.

That’s an excellent way to describe what’s happening in the opposition Liberal-Democratic Party, the former governing party for most of the past 50+ years. What has become known as the Period of Rapid Growth occurred during the early part of their rule under their management, and part of that growth derived from rebuilding the national infrastructure.

There’s more than one way for all good things to come to an end, and one of them is maintaining and expanding a good thing until it becomes a bad thing. In this case, essential infrastructure projects devolved into bridges and roads to nowhere, fueled by the ties that had arisen between the construction industry, the bureaucracy, and national legislators who were de facto lobbyists for either or both. Enough pork was distributed to cause the entire population of the Ummah to go into cardiac arrest.

Eventually public disgust at the excesses, the abuses, and the criminality spurred movements for reform, even within the party. That culminated in the election of Koizumi Jun’ichiro as prime minister in 2001. It was significant that he owed his election to local party members around the nation, rather than those who forgot the national interest after coming to the national capital to serve it. One of the Koizumi reforms was a reduction in national government expenditures on public works during his administration.

Politicians can’t be counted on for much, but a Japanese politician can always be depended on to ignore the lessons of history. Thus, on 1 June, not quite six years after Mr. Koizumi left office, the LDP approved a bill to “strengthen the national infrastructure” and submitted it to the lower house of the Diet. If it does not pass, it will become part of their next election manifesto.

The proposal calls for the expenditure of JPY 200 trillion on construction projects over the next 10 years. Since the public sector is already floating away on money made of lighter-than-air gases, this is to be paid for by helium-filled government bonds.  The party’s goal of halving the deficit for the primary balance will be postponed. Not to worry — the LDP assures everyone that the measure will whip deflation soon, if not sooner.

People such as newspaperman/author Hasegawa Yukihiro have written books explaining that the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy dispatches people every day to the offices of Diet MPs to peddle legislative proposals that will benefit their individual ministries, while sending other people to the news media to provide the raw material for stories to justify those proposals. The implied threat is that the ministry will cut that media outlet out of the information loop if it fails to run the story. They seldom have to bring the hammer down, however. Anything that lessens the burden of meeting the daily content quota is fine with the media.

So it was no surprise that shortly after the LDP put together its bill, articles appeared in the nation’s newspapers reporting that the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport is concerned about the state of the nation’s infrastructure built during the Period of Rapid Growth. The Ministry says the assumed lifespan for bridges in 50 years, and 8% of the more than 150,000 bridges (of at least 15 meters) nationwide are now that old. Wouldn’t you know it? In 10 years (the duration of the LDP proposal) that figure will rise to 26%, or about 40,000 bridges.

Those articles contain all sorts of statistics beyond the ability of the average journo to ferret out on their own. Such as: The incidence of crack repair in those bridges rose from 680 in 2008 to 1129 in three years in the Tokyo area. Roughly 260,000 problems needing attention have been discovered on highways in the Tokyo area since 2002, but 97,000 were still not fixed by 2009. Water lines are also rotting out, with work needed on 120 kilometers of supply lines in and around the capital. It was thoughtful of the ministry to add that complete repair would take 200 years at the current rate of work.

This seems to have been a national effort. At the same time, an article appeared in the Nishinippon Shimbun based in Fukuoka City citing the same needs, with a focus on bridges in Kyushu. That article added the delay in bridge repair was particularly pronounced for structures managed by municipalities. It was thoughtful of the newspaper to add that local governments are faced with financial difficulties and can’t pay for it themselves.

The Kasumigaseki team also consists of what are called goyo gakusha, i.e., academics who are Purveyors to the Government Household. Thus, Kyoto University Prof. Fujii Satoshi (who moonlights by writing columns for the Nikkan Kensetsu Kogyo Shimbun, a daily newspaper for those in the construction industry) strongly supports the bill. He claims it would boost GDP by JPY 400 trillion, end deflation, and save tens of millions of lives that might be lost in natural disasters.

Off with the rose-colored glasses

E-nuff. Few economists anywhere agree on the extent of the multiplier effect of government stimulus, but only government stand-ins think it’s that high. (Many think the multiplier effect is actually negative.) If GDP were to rise by JPY 400 trillion, it would translate to 8% annual economic growth, only slightly lower than the 9% achieved from 1953 to 1965 and considerably lower than the 4-6% of the 70s and 80s. That would also eliminate the primary balance deficit.

Hey, what’s that up there in the sky? Can’t you see it hovering just above that roof? Yeah! It’s a pie!

Those academics not on the payroll point out that adding supply in a sector beyond the requirements of demand is unlikely to end deflation, infrastructure improvements will not save that many lives because most people die in their homes during disasters (when the house collapses or burns to the ground), and stimulus of this sort is not “quality GDP” that benefits the real economy over the long run.

Others realize that pork of this sort is unlikely to win the LDP votes as it did in the old days. It would be more likely backfire by repelling independent urban voters who remember the stench and voted for the LDP only to support the Koizumi reforms. The one thing the politicos will gain is a reliable source for buying tickets to their fund-raising banquets. Now that they can pay for the campaign, all they have to do is find someone to vote for them.

Not everyone in the LDP likes it either. Some mid-tier MPs complained that the legislation ignored the government’s fiscal problems, and that the idea was out of synch with the times. LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu admitted that some people might see it with a gimlet eye, but he insisted the fiscal deficits were caused by social security programs and not public works investment.

Give him credit for being half-bright. The fiscal deficits are caused by government spending on everything it spends money on in excess of its revenue, and big fiscal deficits are caused by big spending far in excess of its revenue over many years.

New Komeito, still the LDP’s nominal partners, criticized the measure for being excessive. They agree that infrastructure repair is needed, but their proposal calls for only half of the expenditure over the same time period. Members of that party also knew the committee that drafted the bill was headed by Nikai Toshihiro, a former Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry, and the head of the old Transport Ministry. They wondered why they were supposed to support a bill shepherded into the Diet by a man widely considered to be tucked in the construction industry pocket.

If this is the best they can do after being in the opposition for three years, the LDP is just as much in the dark as Mokuami, and just as likely to be sent home. Most of their benefactors died a quarter of a century ago.

Afterwords:

* Prof. Fujii also argues that excessive structural reform harms social welfare levels, is opposed to regional devolution and the TPP, and thinks eating earwigs is good for digestion.

* Speaking of social welfare, there is an interesting Twitter conversation (to the extent that Twitter conversations are interesting) containing suggestions that social welfare should be kept at current or higher levels to maintain social order.

Some people stopped thinking too soon — had they kept going, one of the conclusions they’d have reached is that the apprentice system for the trades should be restored.

*****

The Beach Boys wished they all could be California girls. I wish they all could be Tokyo girls.

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Ichigen koji (102)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, May 13, 2012

一言居士

- A person who has something to say about everything

Unless the Noda Democratic Party swallows whole the tax increase proposal of  the Tanigaki Liberal Democrats and dissolves the lower house (for a general election), it will only create a synergistic effect of unpopularity for both the Tanigaki LDP and the Noda DPJ. The lower house will have to be dissolved next year anyway (when its term ends). Will that dissolution occur when the synergistic effect is at its maximum? That might be even more invigorating for everyone. It would give (Hashimoto Toru’s) One Osaka enough time to get ready.

- Hasegawa Yukihiro, author and member of the Tokyo Shimbun editorial board.

DPJ Secretary-General Koshi’ishi Azuma and other party members are now coming out in favor of holding a double election next year,  when the current lower house term expires and an upper house election will be held as scheduled by law.

Others, however, such as LDP upper house member Yamamoto Ichita, one of the last of the party’s Koizumians, notes that Prime Minister Noda, Deputy Prime Minister Okada, and Finance Minister Azumi are suggesting they are open to modifying the DPJ tax hike plan. Mr. Yamamoto is appalled, because he thinks this is a sign that (a) they will swallow the LDP plan whole, and (b) that will lead to a grand coalition without a Diet dissolution.

And that will lead to even more support for One Osaka.

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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 (98)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, April 11, 2012

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

Whether it is the result of confrontation or discussion between the DPJ and LDP, a Diet dissolution and general election in June is probably unavoidable. What will the issue in that election be? It will undoubtedly be Prime Minister Noda’s consumption tax increase, but what is LDP President Tanigaki doing? During the campaign for the 2010 upper house election, Mr. Tanigaki said, “As a responsible opposition party, we must resign ourselves to a consumption tax at the 10% level.” Yet now he is complaining about a consumption tax increase and demanding the Diet be dissolved. His opposition to a consumption tax increase is nothing more than a procedural argument: the DPJ said they would not raise the consumption tax during their (four year) term. The once-dominant party is now driven only by political crisis. How they have fallen.

The DPJ is calling for reform that integrates social welfare with the consumption tax, but they will introduce a bill only to raise the tax, divorced from a pension scheme. If the bill passes, no means have been created for accepting the increase in revenue. At first, it will most likely be used to offset the fiscal shortfall. If that happens, it would be just as the Finance Ministry planned it.

- Yayama Taro

Earlier this week, the LDP said that one part of their next election manifesto would be a call to raise the consumption tax to 10% “for now”.

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On the way down

Posted by ampontan on Friday, March 2, 2012

Tush!
Fear not, my lord, we will not stand to prate;
Talkers are no good doers: be assured
We come to use our hands and not our tongues.
- Shakespeare, The Life and Death of King Richard III

THE soaring support for reform-minded local political parties and groups in Japan, personified by Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, is paralleled by a sharp slide in backing for the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. They too talked the reform talk, but were incapable of walking the walk without pratfalls and belly flops. Any prominent party member could be selected at random to represent their failure, but Maehara Seiji, former Foreign Minister and current DPJ Policy Research Chair would be an excellent candidate for poster boy as any.

The Iu Dake Bancho

Mr. Maehara became prominent as a relative foreign policy hawk and domestic moderate in a party infused with a large element of ex-Socialists, teacher unionistas, and other variegated leftists. After the DPJ was steamrolled in the 2005 lower house election by the Koizumi-led Liberal Democratic Party, they chose Mr. Maehara to replace Okada Katsuya as party president. They just as quickly dumped him the following year after he attempted to manufacture a political crisis based on an e-mail that was found to be bogus.

A harsh critic of then-party President Ozawa Ichiro, he was viewed by some in the LDP as a man they could work with. He showed up for meetings of a short-lived study group created by former Prime Minister Koizumi, who cited him as a potential PM. Though people wondered whether he might form an alliance with disaffected LDP reformers, it never materialized. He knew the DPJ was his shortest route to power and a prominent place on the public stage.

When the DPJ took control of government in 2009, Mr. Maehara was named the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport. To demonstrate that the party would end the old LDP practice of turning on the money spigot for legal vote buying with pork barrel construction projects, he announced the suspension of work on the Yanba Dam, a controversial project in Gunma. That suspension was controversial itself, however, because many people in the region actually wanted the dam built, and he didn’t waste any time consulting with them before making up his mind. (Among the dam’s intended uses is supplying water to the Tokyo megalopolis.) The final approval to resume construction was recently announced by a successor at MLIT, but not after a substantial amount of time, money (such as penalties for cancelling construction contracts), and party credibility was squandered. Mr. Maehara was loudly against restarting construction until he was for it just before the resumption order was issued.

That and several other incidents marked him a talker instead of a doer. Exhibiting their wicked talent for wordplay, some in the Japanese news media, most notably the Sankei Shimbun, began referring to him as the Iu Dake Bancho (言うだけ番長). In fact, the newspaper coined the term just for him, but played the journo game by pretending that other, unidentified people were saying it. Before long, other identified people were doing just that.

To explain: Bancho was a term for a minor government official centuries ago, but in the 20th century it came to be used to refer to the leader of juvenile delinquent gangs of junior high or high school age. Iu means to speak or to say, and dake means “only”. The phrase was inspired by a comic book series that ran from 1967–1971 called Yuyake Bancho (Sunset Bancho) created by Kajiwara Ikki.

After the moniker appeared again in the paper’s 22 February edition, Maehara Seiji lost the plot. He prohibited Sankei reporters from attending his twice-weekly news conferences and covering in person the party affairs for which he has responsibility.

The Sankei published their side of the story earlier this week. Here it is.

*****
The Sankei Shimbun has used the expression Iu Dake Bancho to refer to the behavior of DPJ Policy Research Committee Chair Maehara Seiji. The phrase is modeled after the comic Yuyake Bancho. We also had in mind the incident with the fake e-mail that occurred in 2006 when he was the DPJ president.

There have been 16 articles in the final editions of this newspaper using that phrase in regard to Mr. Maehara. The first was on 15 September 2011. The passage read, “In the background, there is distrust of Mr. Maehara, who has been referred to as the Iu Dake Bancho. Soon after his appointment (to his current post), he proposed during a visit to the United States a reexamination of the three principles for the export of weapons. That led to criticism within the party that he shouldn’t be allowed to act arbitrarily on his own authority.”

In an article on 30 September, when Mr. Maehara proposed to increase by an additional JPY two trillion the amount in the government’s plan for non-tax-derived income to fund the Tohoku recovery, we wrote “It is possible that if the target amount is not achieved, the inglorious term of Iu Dake Bancho will become permanent.”

When Mr. Maehara was the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport, he froze construction on the Yanba dam in Gunma. When the decision to resume construction was announced on 24 December, we wrote, “It is unlikely he will be able to refute being mocked as the Iu Dake Bancho, after finally agreeing to the resumption after opposing it until just before it was announced.”

The Yukan Fuji, some weekly magazines, and some regional newspapers have also used the expression in addition to the Sankei Shimbun.

*****
The Sankei didn’t mention that they publish the Yukan Fuji, but they also didn’t mention the phrase had been picked up by the competing Yomiuri Shimbun, nor did they specify Shukan Shincho as one of the weekly magazines.

The newspaper also used the phrase in the headline for an 8 November article that began like this:

“Policy Research Committee Chair Maehara Seiji was not present during the conference of the secretaries-general of the DPJ, LDP, and New Komeito, though he had worked to coordinate policy with the opposition parties until then. The discussion among the three policy chiefs about the period of redemption for reconstruction bonds was difficult, and DPJ Secretary-General Koshiishi Azuma lost his patience and assumed the leading role in the talks. There was a marked difference in negotiating skills between the LDP and New Komeito on the one hand, and Maehara Seiji on the other, who quickly accepted their proposals with little debate. He worked very hard in the three-party conference to rebound from his reputation as the Iu Dake Bancho, but the situation was such that the authority for other ruling party/opposition party discussions in the future, including that for increasing the consumption tax, had to be taken from him.”

The last straw article in the Sankei on the 22nd quoted a senior LDP official as saying, “He will not lose the stigma of being known as the Iu Dake Bancho.” The next day, Mr. Maehara confronted a Sankei Shimbun reporter in the Diet building, said “I want to talk to you,” and escorted him to his office. Here’s the Sankei’s version of that talk:

“Why do you always write Iu Dake Bancho whenever something happens? I want a formal written answer from your newspaper in the name of the chairman. Without that answer, I will not recognize your coverage of the policy discussion meetings…I get a dark feeling just from reading your articles. This is on the level of childish bullying and the ‘violence of the pen’. I won’t recognize you at news conferences or permit your coverage until I get an answer.”

After reporting to his superior, the journalist returned to ask Mr. Maehara to specify in writing what sort of answer he wanted. “I’ll think about it,” was the answer.

If Mr. Maehara thought he was going to get any sympathy, he was mistaken. What little support he received in his own party was subdued. The Asahi Shimbun — whose political views are the polar opposite of the Sankei — wrote:

“All news companies, the Asahi Shimbun included, oppose excluding specific news organizations and demand an explanation. Mr. Maehara avoided a clear statement by refraining from discussing the specific content of reporting.”

One reason for the lack of sympathy was that a lot of people thought the shoe fit. Said a journalist:

“There have been innumerable occasions when Mr. Maehara made a statement that was just talk, such as his suspension of construction for the Yanba Dam. There’s really nothing to be said if people call him Iu Dake Bancho, but to get upset at that heckling isn’t very mature.”

Eguchi Katsuhiko, an upper house member from Your Party, knows Maehara Seiji well because the DPJ policy chief graduated from the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management, which Mr. Eguchi was instrumental in organizing and operating. He said:

“It’s extremely unfortunate. Mr. Maehara looked up to Mr. Matsushita as a teacher, but that’s not how he would have done it. Instead, he would have invited the critic in and listened to him….If he wants to become prime minister, he shouldn’t get so concerned about every bit of criticism.”

LDP Diet member Fukaya Takashi wasn’t sympathetic either:

“False and childish reporting is unforgivable, but it’s not really in error for Mr. Maehara, who has a habit of saying all sorts of things and then finishing in a fog…If you think about citing examples, they’re too numerous to count.”

Mr. Maehara has been interested in exploring an alliance with Hashimoto Toru’s One Osaka party, but his petulance made that less likely to happen. Said new Osaka Gov. Matsui Ichiro:

“Well, he goes back on his word in an instant, so what do you expect people to say? He probably gets angry, but a complete refusal to allow coverage is excessive and unbecoming…If you’re going to say something, it’s a good idea to do it. It’s best not to say things you aren’t going to do.…If he’s got something to say, he should fight back on Twitter, like Mr. Hashimoto.”

Speaking of Hashimoto Toru:

“I don’t understand the reason for it, but if it were me, I’d have the reporter come in and we’d run each other down. If he said something bad about me, I’d give it back to him…I think there’s a certain line (for the content of reporting), but being critical is their job, and without it people in authority would become dangerous.”

A similar incident with Mr. Hashimoto presents a revealing contrast, both in how they dealt with media members who displeased them, and also in how people respond in different ways to the same behavior from different people depending on their perceptions of those people.

On 9 February 2008, then-Osaka Gov. Hashimoto was invited to appear on a live local NHK broadcast with the mayor of Osaka, the former governor of Tottori, and a university professor. He told NHK when he accepted the invitation that he had official business that day in Tokyo, and would be late for the start of the program. He confirmed that they understood more than once. When he showed up 30 minutes after the program started, announcer Fujii Ayako commented, “Well, he’s a little late, he arrived about 30 minutes late.”

In Japan, late is rude unless you have a good reason and let people know in advance. Mr. Hashimoto didn’t care for the comment because he made sure to tell them ahead of time. At a post-program news conference, he also revealed that NHK badgered him to change his work schedule for their benefit. He announced that henceforth, he would no longer appear on NHK programs, though he would respond to their reporters’ questions. Ms. Fujii was reassigned to Tokyo. The incident remains largely unknown.

*****
Some observers think Mr. Maehara is wobbling under the pressure because Noda Yoshihiko may not last much longer as prime minister, and he’s one of few remaining people the party can put forward as a plausible successor. That’s assuming the party stays in power much longer and has the authority to put forward any successor. It’s no longer a secret that Mr. Noda and LDP chief Tanigaki Sadakazu held a secret meeting Saturday, like two mudboats passing in the night. The news media assumes they discussed a deal for a Diet dissolution and lower house election in exchange for an LDP promise to pass the DPJ’s consumption tax increase. Mr. Noda would not survive that election. There’s also speculation the DPJ would use the poll as an excuse to ditch Ozawa Ichiro. The bargain Mr. Sadakazu might be offering is: Get rid of Ozawa, and then we’ll form a tax-increase coalition government with what’s left of the two parties.

I suspect the problem lies elsewhere, however. Maehara Seiji’s ambition to become prime minister is not a new phenomenon, so if his knees were to get wobbly by approaching the throne, they already would have done so. The Sankei isn’t the only target of his petulance, either. He also bounced a reporter from the Hokkaido Shimbun from a recent news conference by telling him, “What you wrote differed from the facts. Please leave at once.”

After the 2009 lower house election, everything was coming up roses for the DPJ. Mr. Maehara was expected to play a prominent role in national politics. That role was likely to include a spell as prime minister. Now, fewer than three years and multiple malfunctions later, the roses are blighted and the public is ready to dig up the bushes. Indeed, former DPJ President Ozawa Ichiro met with some of his younger supporters in the party last week and told them that Hashimoto Toru had stolen their reform thunder. He added, incorrectly, that it was not too late for them to snatch it back.

Maehara Seiji knows he is on the way down without having reached the top. He also knows it might be quite some time before he gets that close to the top again.

Afterwords:

* You can almost smell the DPJ flop sweat. This week they announced they’d be doling out JPY three million apiece to their first term Diet members for “activity money”. Most of them are associated with Ozawa Ichiro’s group, which is opposed to the party’s plan to increase the consumption tax. They’re calling it activity money, but it’s really a bribe to keep them from bolting.

The funds will be distributed to 108 MPs, for an aggregate amount of JPY 324 million yen (almost $US four million).

One wonders how much of that money is derived from the public subsidies to political parties, or, if it isn’t, whether the party would be willing to spend that kind of cash if they hadn’t received the subsidies to begin with.

Americans have a system, by the way, in which people can check a box on their income tax forms to voluntarily contribute $3.00 (from the government) for generic political campaigns, without adding to their taxes. More than 90% leave the box unchecked.

* Former LDP Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro is very anxious to negotiate an election with the DPJ in exchange for a tax increase. Stupid is as stupid does.

*****
Here’s the Yuyake Bancho himself!

The same people you misused on your way up
You might meet up
On your way down.

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Ichigen koji (80)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, December 13, 2011

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

The most recent FNN/Sankei poll showed disapproval of the Noda Cabinet at 51.6%, a 14.5 percentage-point jump in a month, and an approval rating of 35.6%, a 6.8-point decline. This is the first of the major media RDD polls to show a thumbs-down majority.

Said Watanabe Yoshimi, Your Party president:

The Noda Cabinet has bought into the abnormal beliefs of the Finance Ministry and is running hell bent for leather on the tax increase track. Hasn’t their shallowness been exposed?

Said Motegi Toshimitsu, the LDP Policy Research Council chairman:

We still have a “learner’s permit” Cabinet. The prime minister’s leadership or message to the people are nowhere to be seen.

And LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu:

I suspect the feeling of most people is that (the Cabinet) lacks the ability to appropriately deal with important problems.

The numbers for party preference in the same poll:

Liberal Democratic Party: 19.7% (down 1.2 points)
Democratic Party: 18.0% (down 1.4 points)
Your Party: 8.8% (up 3.0 points)
New Komeito: 3.3% (down 0.1 point)
Social Democrats, led by one of the top 100 global thinkers for 2011: 0.6% (down 0.6 points)

Said Kishida Fumio, the LDP Diet Affairs Committee chairman:

It is natural that we cooperated in the three-party conference (with the DPJ and New Komeito) and the recovery effort…but we must graduate from the three-party conference to draw a distinction between ourselves and the DPJ. The time for that will come next year…There are many issues on which we cannot cooperate with the DPJ, even if we wanted to, such as the Constitution, education, and foreign affairs and security. Some legislative proposals absolutely must not pass, such allowing foreigners to vote, and permitting collective bargaining agreements for public employees.

Meanwhile, the Asahi poll was also released. The disapproval numbers exceeded those for approval for the first time in that poll, but did not exceed 50%.

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Ichigen koji (74)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, November 19, 2011

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

Koizumi Shinjiro, the director of the LDP’s Youth Division (and the son of the former prime minister), strongly criticized LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu for such statements as “It is not good for Japan to excessively cooperate with the United States while omitting China and Asia.” He stressed that the Japan-U.S. relationship should be the axis for both the Japanese economy and diplomacy. This is a good point. The TPP is of no great significance economically, but it is of great diplomatic significance as a Japanese-American economic alliance promoting economic integration with Asia on a Japanese-American axis.

- Ikeda Nobuo (The emphasis was in the original)

The LDP removed the younger Koizumi from his post as chairman of the lower house Rules and Administration Committee because he did not support a motion against the TPP.

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Ichigen koji (67)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 4, 2011

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

(The prime minister) did not mention either the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) or the Futenma air base, and he said nothing about the consumption tax. He conveyed no message of what it is he wants to do.

- LDP upper house member Yamamoto Ichita on Prime Minister Noda’s policy speech in the Diet

Prime Minister Noda is using a low profile to sell himself. LDP President Tanigaki is restrained in his public statements. Neither leader of the two major parties is conveying a strong message.

- The Asahi Shimbun

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Ichigen koji (58)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, September 15, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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