AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Watanabe Y.’

Interview with Watanabe Yoshimi

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Watanabe Yoshimi

WATANABE Yoshimi, the president of Your Party, the first of the Third Force reform parties, gave an interview published in the press last week. Here it is in English.

What is your strategy for victory in the lower house election?

WY: The key to victory is whether we can segregate the candidates of the so-called Third Forces and avoid going head-to-head against each other in election districts. An inability to do that will create the worst result, which would be crushing each other.

You’re competing with the Japan Restoration Party in some districts.

WY: We took our time to select good people and meet our target of 70 candidates. In those places where we couldn’t reach a compromise, we have no choice but to go head to head.

You weren’t able to merge with the Japan Restoration Party.

WY: We reached a broad agreement with the party in policy discussions, but the gulf between us is too wide to allow a merger. As soon as they merged with (Ishihara Shintaro’s) Sun Party, the opposition to nuclear power disappeared. Civil service reform is the A of the ABCs for both Your Party and the Japan Restoration Party, but this has also disappeared. Won’t the people wonder what happened and view this suspiciously?

What are the points at issue in the lower house election?

WY: We intend to fight on the policies of growth without a consumption tax increase, small government, and regional devolution as opposed to centralization. Governance by the bureaucracy in Japan has resulted in a deflationary economy. The political class is no longer the control tower of governance. National strategy has been left entirely to the vertically divided central government bureaucracies. We will restore the Japanese economy by creating a real control tower and implementing a competitive growth strategy.

You’re calling for a suspension of the consumption tax increase and converting the tax to a revenue source for local government.

WY: Allowing an increase in the national government tax will facilitate bureaucratic governance. The dependency on central government will become chronic. That’s why we want to make that tax a local government revenue source. The starting point for this debate is a new state/province system with regional autonomy.

How will you achieve “zero nuclear energy”?

WY: Nuclear energy is the extension of the electric power supply system based on regional monopolies. If each of the utilities can achieve mutual adaptability, we can secure enough energy at peak periods without nuclear energy. We will promote the deregulation of power generation and the separation of the generation and supply systems through the entry of new companies into the industry. More consumers will choose their power sources. That way, nuclear power will gradually fall away.

What will the framework of government be after the election?

WY: That all depends on the outcome. If the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito become the largest bloc, they will probably have to create a coalition with the Democratic Party to supplement their own forces and create a stable government. That’s because gridlock would still exist in the upper house. It is very likely that the system of three-party collusion will be maintained.

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Ain’t that peculiar

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 29, 2012

Iida Tetsunari and Kada Yukiko

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

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

NOW ain’t that peculiar?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Japan Future Party is the classic unholy political alliance.

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

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

Former Prime Minister Kan Naoto knew the score too:

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

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

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

I really need one of those eye-rolling icons.

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

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

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

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

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

More Peculiarities

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

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

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

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

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

That really would be peculiar.

Afterwords:

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

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

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

*****

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The wild bunch

Posted by ampontan on Monday, November 26, 2012



* The Japan Restoration Party and Your Party reached a broad agreement on common policy. But after (Japan Restoration) reached a policy agreement with the Sun Party, their policies of eliminating nuclear power and creating a governmental revenue agency have fallen away. We no longer know whether they are positive or negative toward the TPP. (Your Party President) Watanabe Yoshimi always says the spirit of a party is its policies.
– Kakizawa Mito, Your Party MP

* I’ve been asked why I left Your Party. Regrettably, Your Party cannot achieve reform…Your Party wants to pursue its own course. They want to be different than the other parties. That’s not how you change the world.
– Sakurauchi Fukimi, former Finance Ministry bureaucrat and current upper house member, who shifted from Your Party to the Japan Restoration Party

IT’S been just 10 days since the process of electing a new lower house in the Diet and installing a new government in Japan began, and three weeks remain before the election. Yet this has already become the wildest, most freewheeling, most confusing, and most exhilarating election campaign I’ve seen in any country. More has flown by the past week than the several months of UFOs that get airborne over America during a presidential election campaign.

One reason is the astonishing state of flux in the political world. Eleven MPs have left the ruling Democratic Party of Japan since the Diet was dissolved. The party had 423 members in both houses when they took power three years ago, but have lost a total of 102 since then. They would not have a majority in the lower house today. That is both due to their multitudinous failures and the result of political karma for slapping together a smorgasbord of a group with very little in common except the desire to oust the old Liberal Democratic Party. How many other parties in the world contain both serious socialists with terrorist connections and Thatcher worshippers? The DPJ does.

But in a few instances, they did share a general policy consensus. Lower house MP Nagao Takashi recently left the party with the intention of switching to the LDP. He is in favor of amending the peace clause of the Constitution, which the DPJ opposes. He wrote on his blog:

I was always alone.

Another reason for the excitement is that the Japanese public is extraordinarily engaged. There are much fewer political ads on television here than in the U.S. (the smaller parties can’t afford it, for one), so most of the politicking is retail. All the candidates give street corner speeches, sometimes standing right there on the sidewalk, and sometimes on the back of flatbed trucks or temporary platforms.

The heckling of the speakers is said to be intense this year, and the outgoing ruling party, the Democratic Party of Japan, is bearing the most of the public dissatisfaction. Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko has been buffeted with shouts of “Liar!” and “Fake manifesto”” during his street speeches.

In Saitama, current economy, trade, and industry minister and former chief cabinet secretary (during the Fukushima disaster) Edano Yukio tried to beautify the DPJ performance after three years in office, but admitted they were not sterling. He was answered with shouts of, “You were terrible”, and “Cut the crap!” (ふざけるな).

Former social democrat and current DPJ MP and terrorist moll Tsujimoto Kiyomi also got an earful throughout an entire speech in Osaka when she begged the public not to forsake the Democratic Party.

Concerns are even being raised in some quarters that the younger voters will adopt a “burn it all down” approach and cast their votes for the newer third force parties rather than the established parties. If so, they would be following a trend that’s been underway in local elections throughout the country for several years. It might be that this is the year the fire goes national at last.

Mr. Noda and LDP President Abe Shinzo blast away at each other in every speech to an extent unusual for Japanese elections. Mr. Noda challenged Mr. Abe to a debate Japanese style, which the LDP chief initially refused. He’s since changed his mind, however, and something is being arranged to be broadcast on an Internet channel. UPDATE: The LDP suggested the Niconico video channel, but the DPJ is backing off. One reason speculated for their hesitancy is that Niconico allows viewers to upload comments in real time during the broadcast, and they’re worried they’re not going to like what the viewing public has to say.

Indeed, it’s so crazy it’s impossible to keep up with it all, which is another factor causing concerns. There are 14 parties contesting the election, and it’s not easy to keep up with the shifting alliances and party memberships. It could very well be that the public won’t wind up with the decisive politics it seeks, at least for this electoral cycle. (There’s no voting for the upper house, and the membership there will remain static until next summer.) The extent of the success of the so-called third forces could keep the situation fluid for the foreseeable future.

The problem facing Ozawa Ichiro is a case in point. Mr. Ozawa formed a party in July called the People’s Lives First Party in English, or Kokumin no Seikatsu ga Daiichi in the original. All Japanese ballots are cast by write-in vote. That means the voters have to write in the name of the party they choose in the proportional representation phase of the voting, and all parties have their preferred abbreviations.

His party prefers the word Seikatsu, or lives. Because the party is still so new, however, some party leaders are worried the voters will write in Kokumin, or people, which is the term used for the People’s New Party that was the last coalition partner of the DPJ.

Even a local party executive in Mr. Ozawa’s home prefecture of Iwate thinks the name still hasn’t penetrated fully there, but sighs and says it’s too late now. One newspaper interviewed an older resident of Rikuzentakata in the prefecture, who cackled:

I’ve always backed Mr. Ozawa, but he keeps changing parties and I can’t remember their names. But I certainly won’t mistake it for the Democratic Party of Japan.

Bickering among the challengers

Emblematic of all this glorious chaos is the running battle being waged between the Japan Restoration Party of Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru (and now Ishihara Shintaro) and Your Party, the first national reform party.

This is not their first rift, as we’ve seen before. Earlier this year, Your Party President Watanabe Yoshimi wanted Japan Restoration to merge with them. Believing he and his party held the upper hand, Hashimoto Toru refused and suggested they join him instead. The upshot of that was mutual huff. It was exacerbated when three Your Party members bolted to join the Osaka group.

With too much to lose from poor relations, however, the two parties patched up their quarrel and were discussing areas of policy agreement to work together in the election. But then Mr. Hashimoto announced on television last Friday that he had called Mr. Watanabe and Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji and asked them “to make the bold decision to create a single group in some form.” He followed that up on Saturday with the explanation that while Japan Restoration wants to win an outright majority, it would be more realistic to achieve that with Your Party seats. He added, “Mr. Watanabe’s decision will be a major step toward political realignment.”

The Osaka mayor made the proposal for several reasons. First, he does not think his party will be able to field a full slate of candidates to give his party a chance to win a majority. Second, the two parties are competing against each other in 18 election districts in eight districts, which is suicidal. Both would siphon off votes from the reform-minded electorate, making it easier for an establishment party to pick up the seat.

Mr. Watanabe dismissed the proposal out of hand. He complained that they had changed their position on eliminating nuclear power after merging with Ishihara Shintaro’s Sun Party.

We are not satisfied with the agreement between Japan Restoration and the Sun Party. Working with the Sun Party has somehow obscured their principles and policies. Haven’t they become somewhat desperate?

He added:

The word ‘reform’ does not appear in their policy agreement. They have not written about their resolve to fight.

In fact, he made any discussion about an alliance conditional on Japan Restoration dumping Mr. Ishihara and the Sun Party.

What are we supposed to say after they ask to work together now that they’ve merged with the Sun Party: “Oh, really”? That won’t cut it. No discussion about working together will proceed until they divorce the Sun Party.

Said Eda Kenji:

Our policies have to align on abandoning nuclear power, preventing the consumption tax increase, participating in the TPP, and prohibiting all corporate and group donations.

Japanese political observers suspect that apart from the desire to stand firm on their policies, Your Party is taking a hard line because they think they’re stronger in the greater Tokyo region than Ishihara Shintaro’s Sun Party. Their strength is in Tokyo and Kanagawa, where Yokohama is located.

In retribution for their stance, Ishihara Shintaro told fellow Sun Party member Sonoda Hiroyuki to call both Mr. Watanabe and Mr. Eda and tell them their agreement to work together in the election for Tokyo Metro District governor was off. (It’s scheduled on the same day as the Diet election to fill the remainder of Mr. Ishihara’s term.) That further irritated the Your Party leaders. Said Mr. Watanabe:

Breaking an agreement that we put in writing with one phone call doesn’t sit well with me…Holding discussions with them at this point is probably pointless.

Japan Restoration Party officials are none too happy either. Said Secretary-General Matsui Ichiro:

Just because they became established as a party first, does that mean Japan Restoration has to concede everything to them?

Another Japan Restoration exec who remained anonymous considered the Your Party statements to be a type of declaration of war. He thought they were being self-serving, and pointed out that Japan Restoration had a larger political organization despite being the newer body.

Affairs then took a turn for the absurd when Hashimoto Toru gave it one more try in public to convince Your Party to work together and avoid competing in the same districts:

We can make the final judgment on working out (who runs in which district) with (the) rock scissors paper (game). I will not insist on making an issue of my position as the acting president of Japan Restoration.

Retorted Mr. Watanabe:

Who could permit something that stupid? We haven’t selected the sort of candidates for our party that can be decided by rock scissors paper.

He wasn’t the only one who jumped on that comment — all the establishment parties piled on as well, only too happy to find some tool to hammer the Osaka mayor. But Hashimoto Toru never sits still for hammer blows:

Critics (of that comment) have no sense of language. Rock scissors paper was not meant to be taken in a literal sense. It was instead a strong message to become unified. People incapable of understanding at least that much would make me uneasy and fearful if they were involved in conducting the affairs of national government.

This does not necessarily mean Japan Restoration is in a weaker position. Ikeda Nobuo, who is often quoted around here, thinks Your Party is weaker and fading. A recent poll taken in Tokyo (which we’ll get to in a minute) supports that view.

Regardless, this dispute, plus the silliness with Kawamura Takashi and Tax Reduction Japan moving away from both of these parties to tie up with the likes of Kamei Shizuka (and perhaps Ozawa Ichiro) can only make things easier for the DPJ and the LDP.

Meanwhile, in other news:

* Japan Restoration has reached an agreement to not run candidates against New Komeito candidates in nine districts, and will perhaps even support them. They still do not have an outright majority in the assembly in Osaka, so they need New Komeito’s cooperation to get anything passed locally. That sort of arrangement is unremarkable in politics, and would be here, too — were not New Komeito allied with the LDP.

* Speaking of the LDP, Hashimoto Toru is taking them on, too:

The Takeshima problem began when South Korea declared the Syngman Rhee line in the Sea of Japan. After that, South Korea built structures on the islets. The ones who did not prevent the steady and repeated Korean efforts to maintain effective control was the LDP. Is it so important for them to shelve their responsibility while calling for the name of the Self-Defense Forces to be changed to the National Defense Forces? And that’s not all — their coalition partners New Komeito are also opposed. That’s just incoherent.

* Three members of the Ishihara family are running for Diet seats in this election. Father Shintaro is running for a proportional representation seat in the Tokyo bloc, son Nobuteru of the LDP is running for an eighth term in his Suginami Ward district in Tokyo, and #3 son Hirotaka (48) is running Tokyo District #3, which includes Shinagawa and other areas. Hirotaka already served one term in the Diet, which he won during the 2005 LDP landslide. He lost that seat in the2009 DPJ landslide.

* Shinhodo 2001 released its weekly poll on 22 November. It’s conducted only in the Tokyo area, but politicians find it a useful guide. Here are some of the results:

Who is the most suitable leader for Japan?

1. Ishihara Shintaro: 15.0%
2. Hashimoto Toru: 12.8%
3. Noda Yoshihiko: 12.2% (tied with:
3. Ishiba Shigeru: 12.2% (LDP Secretary-General)
5. Abe Shinzo: 12.0%

The low numbers should not be a surprise. This is a frequent question in the poll, many possible answers are offered, and the respondents choose only one. The only person I’ve seen score over 20% was Koizumi Jun’ichiro after he stepped down from the premiership and before he retired.

What party will you vote for in the proportional representation phase?

LDP: 24.0%
DPJ: 13.2%
Japan Restoration: 10.2%
New Komeito: 3.8%
Your Party: 1.4%
Undecided: 40.1%

There’s the indication that Your Party might be fading. The latest Kyodo poll has Japan Restoration in second place now, with the DPJ down to the 8% level. The former party has gained ground in that poll since their merger with Sun Party, while the LDP and DPJ have slid.

What form would you like the new government to be?

LDP alone: 28.2%
Third force combination (Japan Restoration, Your Party): 26.0%
LDP/DPJ coalition: 20.0%
DPJ alone: 10.8%

No one can predict what the final form will be, but I think it’s safe to say we’ve seen the last of a DPJ-centered government for a while.

Afterwords:

A post written by Francisco Toro at the Latitudes blog at the New York Times on Hashimoto Toru’s impact on this election, called The Rise of the Green Tea Party, is surprisingly good for that newspaper. Fancy that; somebody at the Times at last decided to do some research about Japan before writing about it. But having them do enough research was too much to expect, alas:

The gray-suited world of Japanese politics isn’t known as a hotbed of excitement, but insofar as next month’s general election is generating any buzz at all it’s because of one man: Toru Hashimoto, the plain-talking 43-year-old mayor of Osaka. An outsider with a hard-nosed reform agenda centered on cutting spending, Hashimoto has pioneered a new kind of Japanese populism. Call it the Green Tea Party.

After his 2008 landslide election to lead the 8.9 million people of Osaka, Hashimoto set out to do what no Japanese politician is supposed to get away with: rocking the boat. This took the form of a cost-cutting crusade, which pitted Hashimoto against some of the city’s sacred cows.

The only way to deal with this is to be blunt: Anyone who thinks the Japanese politicians aren’t allowed to rock the boat, that the electorate doesn’t love it when they do rock the boat, that Japanese politics is an unexciting “gray-suited world”, or that this election wouldn’t have generated any buzz without Hashimoto Toru, is not qualified to write about Japanese politics. All of that is very wrong, and it should be evident to even the casual observer.

*****
Listen to this tune by Okuma Wataru’s group all the way through, and see if you don’t think it makes a perfect theme song for this election.

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Wet cement

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 21, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what he said at the time:

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

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

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

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

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

* Hashimoto and Your Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Omura and Kawamura

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Hashimoto and Omura and Kawamura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matsui Ichiro offered a blander rationale:

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

But wait!

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

But wait again!

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

* Hashimoto and Ishihara

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Begin discussions to achieve a state/province system

3. Implement measures to support SMBEs and microenterprises.

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

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

This is a compromise for both men.

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

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

7. Urge China to take Senkakus dispute to ICJ.

8. Prohibit corporate and group donations to politics.

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

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

Said Mr. Ishihara after the deal was cut:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Afterwords:

* Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko said this week:

I will not participate in a competition to lean rightward.

This is the self-described conservative speaking.

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

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

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

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

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

* Said LDP Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru:

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

He’s right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Big bluster and the big bang

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, November 18, 2012

Left, nay; right, aye

(They are) people who brought forth self-interested proposals using our common property, such as “the new public commons” and “from concrete to people”. Those ideas are now so tattered no one will ever be able to wear them again.

- Ushioda Michio, member of the Mainichi Shimbun editorial committee, on the Democratic Party of Japan

ONE of Japan’s sports traditions is the national high school boys’ baseball championship at summer’s end. Teams play a single-elimination tournament for the right to represent their prefecture in the national round, and the prefectural winners play a single-elimination tournament to determine the national champions.

One tradition within that tradition is for the players of a losing team at the national championships to scoop dirt from the playing field to take home as a souvenir. The Yomiuri Shimbun observed a similar scene in the lower house of the Diet on Friday when Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko dissolved the Diet for an election next month. Several members, particularly first-termers from the ruling Democratic Party, pocketed the blue and white (actually plain) wooden sticks they use to cast their recorded votes. They know they’re not likely to use them again.

Big bluster

Speaking of baseball, one ancient observation about the game is that it doesn’t build character, it reveals it. The same can be said of politics, although it might be better to say that politics exposes character — or the lack of it.

Mr. Noda’s speech to the Diet dissolving the chamber was an exposure that revealed he never transcended his only defining characteristic before he became Finance Minister — big bluster. Every day for more than 20 years, he stood outside his local train station and delivered a political speech haranguing the commuters as they headed off to work. We’ve seen before that the content of those speeches bore no relation to his actions once he entered national government. The speech he delivered on Friday was just another page from the same script. It was a minor marvel of political surrealism.

He began by congratulating himself for a heroic performance in facing up to a difficult job, an assessment shared by 17% of his fellow citizens. He blamed most of the difficulties on the pre-2009 Liberal Democratic Party administrations, which suggests that someone’s been translating Barack Obama’s speeches into Japanese. He did not mention that the annual budget deficits of the DPJ governments are 500% higher than the 2007 Abe/Fukuda deficit, and roughly double the annual deficit when Koizumi Jun’ichiro took office in 2001. That suggests he borrowed the excuse for the same reason Mr. Obama created it.

The prime minister then hailed the great reforms achieved since the DPJ took control of the government three years ago. If you give the man on the street a week, perhaps he’d be able to think of one. He dismissed the Koizumi 2005 lower house landslide as a single-issue election, and said this election will be conducted on the basis of overall policy and the direction of the country. What he chose to ignore is that the single issue of Japan Post privatization represented the most important issue in Japanese domestic politics — breaking up the old Iron Triangle of politicians, the bureaucracy, and big business. Mr. Noda’s DPJ chose to turn back the clock, halt the privatization process, and place a Finance Ministry OB in charge of the operation.

And speaking of turning back the clock, the prime minister used that phrase while warning that the LDP would take the country back to the political Stone Age. One wonders why he thought it was convincing. He and those bothering to listen knew one reason the people gave up on the DPJ long ago was that their behavior was even worse than that of the old LDP.

He also attacked those who share the growing interest in amending the Constitution and ditching the pacifist peace clause. While the prime minister allowed that “sound nationalism” is necessary, it must not degenerate into “anti-foreigner rhetoric”. Unmentioned was that few people think Hatoyama Yukio’s claim that the Japanese archipelago was “not just for the Japanese”, bestowing permanent resident non-citizens the right to vote in local elections, and giving public assistance to a group of private schools run by a Korean citizens’ group affiliated with North Korea constitutes “sound nationalism”, if they had any idea what that means.

What perhaps drew the most derision was his rationale for dissolving the Diet that he presented during Question Time on Wednesday: He had promised to do so if certain legislative conditions were met, and he didn’t want to be considered a liar. If being thought a liar was so horrible, came the chorus of the media and the reading and thinking public on the Internet, why did he and his government break all of their promises in their 2009 election manifesto — starting with the promise not to raise the consumption tax?

The strangeness continued at the news conference following his speech. Mr. Noda criticized the LDP for their reliance on people from multi-generational political families. LDP President Abe Shinzo, for example, is a third-generation pol whose father was foreign minister and maternal grandfather was prime minister.

Of course Mr. Noda did not mention the first DPJ prime minister, Hatoyama Yukio, who (with his brother) has one of the longest political bloodlines in the Diet. He is the fourth-generation politico in his family — his great-grandfather was a Diet member in the 19th century.

The DPJ seems to be serious about this, though it is unlikely to have much of an impact on the electorate’s choices. Mr. Hatoyama got in trouble with his party for abstaining from a vote against the consumption tax increase, though he ran on a manifesto promising no consumption tax increase in four years. While he says he is willing to stay in the party he bankrolled with his mother’s money, he also thinks the DPJ could refuse to certify him as a party candidate. Mr. Hatoyama says he’s heard rumors that because Koizumi Jun’ichiro won acclaim for refusing to back former PMs Nakasone and Miyazawa in 2005, the party could give the same treatment to him.

How like the DPJ to misunderstand the difference. Mr. Koizumi made that decision based on the ages of the other two men (both were well over 80). But considering that Hatoyama Yukio was just as unpopular as Mr. Noda is now, and he might very well lose his seat anyway, the party could be looking for a way to present a candidate with a better chance of winning.

They’ve taken this strange step one step further. DPJ member and former 64-day prime minister Hata Tsutomu (in a different party) is retiring from his Nagano constituency as of this election. His son Hata Yuichiro is a DPJ upper house MP and the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport in the current Noda Cabinet. He wanted to resign his upper house seat and run for his father’s lower house seat, but the DPJ told him they would refuse to certify him.

In other words, he’s worthy of a Cabinet post and an upper house badge, but unsuited for the lower house. There’s no guarantee, incidentally, that the person they do certify for that district will even be from Nagano. (Meanwhile, LDP Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru told them to knock off the performance politics.)

Big bang

The Japanese like to create unique names for events, and the wags have created a few for this one. It’s variously been referred to as the suicide bombing dissolution, the narcissism dissolution, and the flight-from-being-called-a-liar dissolution

Someone close to Ozawa Ichiro in People’s Life First Party said, “This is the ‘kill everybody’ dissolution.” By that he meant the prime minister took the step to forestall a dump Noda move in the party, knowing the DPJ would lose a lot of seats. He added, “This will kill all of us, too.”

But LDP head Abe Shinzo looked forward to it:

We in the LDP and the people have waited three years for this day. We are going to boldly confront them with policy.

My favorite comment came from Fukushima Mizuho, the head of the Social Democrats:

This dissolution was a coup d’etat by the prime minister. The social security reform and the dissolution were arranged by the DPJ, LDP, and New Komeito. The people weren’t consulted.

No, socialist activist lawyers masquerading as social democrats don’t know much about constitutional democracy or electoral politics, do they?

The most pertinent observation, however, came from Your Party chief Watanabe Yoshimi. He thinks this could be Japan’s political Big Bang.

The Japanese electorate has for years told the political class what it wants very clearly, and held them responsible when they don’t listen. They went big for small government, privatization, and reform in the 2005 Koizumi landslide. When the LDP turned its back on the Koizumi path, the exasperated public gave the opposition DPJ power in the 2009 landslide. Within months they were exposed as inept charlatans, and now all that land will slide on them.

You wouldn’t know it by reading the Anglosphere media, but voters in Japan spontaneously created their own combination Tea Party and Hope and Change movement long before either arose in the United States, both more ruthless than their American counterparts. They are quick to support the people who say what they want to hear, and just as quick to withdraw that support when they don’t walk the walk.

It’s a funny old world. All eyes were on the American presidential election this month, and few eyes will be on the Japanese election next month. The vote in Japan is of much greater interest, however. It will be a more compelling display of democracy in action than the one held in the United States.

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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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New directions in Japanese politics

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, July 11, 2012

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

- Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, 28 June, in Osaka

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

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

Vouchers

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

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

University professor/author/blogger Ikeda Nobuo was impressed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personnel expenses

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

Arts subsidies

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

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

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

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

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

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

The political class

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

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

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

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

Ward officers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bring ‘em on!

Your Party

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

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

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

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

He added:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Head ‘em off at the pass

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

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

Mr. Watanabe again:

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

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

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

Nagoya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The beasts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the cow jumped over the moon.

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

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

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

Not working is good for the economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Japanese nanny state

From a generic media report:

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

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

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

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

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

Said Komiyama Yoko, health minister:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Maybe.”

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

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

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

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

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

The Seamoon is back

Generic media report (GMR):

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

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

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

International edition

From another generic report:

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

Here’s what Ms. Lagarde knows about taxes:

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

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

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

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

The absence of humility manifests in many different ways.

China

Still another generic report:

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

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

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

The absence of humility manifests in many different ways.

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

There’ll be some changes made.

Afterwords:

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

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

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

Also:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Watanabe Yoshimi on political alliances

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 6, 2012

A coalition government would be the best (way) to prevent an election being fought on the issues of a consumption tax increase and the restart of the nuclear power plants.
– Sengoku Yoshito, chief cabinet secretary in the first Kan Naoto cabinet and current backroom DPJ heavyweight

THE biweekly Sapio interviewed Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi about his views on potential alliances between his party, the successful regional parties, and a new party that might be formed by Tokyo Metro Gov. Ishihara Shintaro. The premise of the interview was that the ruling Democratic Party and the opposition Liberal Democrats and New Komeito have formed a de facto coalition to pass the consumption tax increase. The magazine referred to this coalition as Tax Increase Assistance Association, a deliberate play on words using some of the kanji from the name of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association, a body formed in 1940 by disbanding the political parties and merging them into one central organization with the bureaucracy and military leadership. The interview appeared in the 18 July edition.

Q: Tokyo Metro District Governor Ishihara Shintaro is showing signs of responding to the One Osaka group by forming a new political party. Will Your Party, One Osaka, and a new Ishihara party create a third force in Japanese politics?

Watanabe: I’ll be paying attention to the policies of a new Ishihara party. Gov. Ishihara’s true values have been those of a right-leaning conservative politician for many years. In contrast, while Mr. Hashimoto does support the group singing of the national anthem, he is not necessarily a politician that leans to the right. I have the impression that his thoughts and beliefs are very restrained. You can get an idea of his thinking by looking at the instructors in foreign policy and security at his political juku, based on One Osaka’s eight statements of principle. They selected people who aren’t hawks, such as Okamoto Yukio and Kitaoka Shin’ichi.

I wonder how far Mr. Hashimoto and Mr. Ishihara would be able to work together on foreign policy and security. To begin with, the stance of One Osaka is opposition to the consumption tax increase and their proposal that the tax should be made a revenue source for local government. I have not heard Mr. Ishihara express an opinion like that.

Q: People are saying that Sonoda Hiroyuki, the Sunrise Japan party secretary general and the driving force behind a new Ishihara party, has called on One Osaka and Your Party to form an alliance.

Watanabe: The next election will certainly be fought on the issues of the tax increase and the restart of the nuclear power plants. We’ve said that there are things to do before raising taxes, and things we must do before restarting the plants. Sunrise Japan probably supports the restart of the plants, and thinks the tax increase is necessary, putting them close to the LDP. Even if Mr. Ishihara created a new party with people of that sort and became its head, it wouldn’t create an opposing force to the LDP and DPJ.

Q: You could not create a third force with a new Ishihara party?

Watanabe: I haven’t heard that Mr. Ishihara is opposed to a tax increase or restarting the power plants. Without agreement on those…

Q: Both Your Party and One Osaka promote the deregulation of power generation. You’re in agreement with Gov. Ishihara on that point.

Watanabe: The deregulation of power generation is part of our agenda. We think Tokyo Electric Power should be liquidated, and the assets that can be sold should be sold off on the premise that the generation and transmission operations will be separated. Discussions might move forward if he goes so far as to make that argument for complete deregulation. Mr. Ishihara says he is going to launch a new party. I’m at the stage now where I can’t make a judgement until the party has been formed and I hear what policies they will pursue.

Further, the extremely strong ties in the Ishihara family are very well known. His children respect their father, and the father is concerned about his sons. Mr. Ishihara’s eldest son is the secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, and his third son was defeated in an election running as an LDP candidate. Considering that, I wonder if he would really launch a new party that would interfere with his sons. If the intent of the new party is to be a supplementary force to the LDP, then we wouldn’t be able to work with them. It is necessary to take the measure of the new Ishihara party policies and their political course.

Q: But One Osaka has invited Mr. Ishihara to lecture at their political juku, and Mr. Hashimoto and other senior party members are holding discussions with former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo of the LDP. Aren’t One Osaka and the LDP coming closer together?

Watanabe: Perhaps the thinking of the people at One Osaka is that if none of their senior members, such as Mayor Hashimoto or Osaka Gov. Matsui, enter national politics, the only people from One Osaka who will be in national politics are first term council members. One might imagine that they could have exchanged opinions with Mr. Ishihara and Mr. Abe about who would be suitable to play a leadership role in uniting the Diet members.

If that is the case, it would be a problem if all of a sudden, their leader in the Diet was still an LDP member. But Mr. Ishihara seems to be thinking of using Sunrise Japan as the core of his new party, and Mr. Abe does not seem to be interested in leaving the LDP.

In that regard, I think One Osaka’s strategy and organization will now begin to take shape. What’s important is that the DPJ and the LDP have gotten on board the current governance mechanism of centralized authority led by the bureaucracy. Both Your Party and One Osaka say that governance mechanism should be changed. We would be finished in the instant we joined hands with an existing party. That’s why we will not become a supplementary force to an existing party.

*****
They’ve got the ABCs down, now to work it out as far as the XYZs. Uehara Hiromi playing piano is as good an image as any of the political ferment in Japan today below the level of the National Political Establishment. Watch and listen to her bang her right fist into the keyboard at about the 2.30 mark, slip in a bit of salsa, and then go roaring off in several other directions.

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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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PR synergy

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, June 9, 2012

PUTTING a half nelson on Kasumigaseki, the control tower of the administrative state, is essential if Japan is to end the armlock of the bureaucrats on politicians and the machinery of government.

Difficult as it might be to imagine for people outside the country, the electorate considers this a serious issue and pays attention. Your Party, the sole reform party at the national level, was founded by Watanabe Yoshimi when he bolted the LDP because of their refusal to pursue civil service reform during his term as the Cabinet minister in charge of reform. One of the primary reasons the Democratic Party won the 2009 general election and took power was their promise to break the bureaucratic stranglehold and ring in real leadership by the political class. Specifically, they promised to end the practice of amakudari, in which bureaucrats in golden parachutes float down into executive positions in semi-public corporations they once were responsible for regulating.

Three months into their term, it was apparent to everyone that the DPJ was only talking the talk; once the poll results were counted, they started walking backwards. One of their first steps was to create a new definition for amakudari that vitiated any real reform. (The manipulation of language to “debone” regulations and legislation has been refined into an art form by Japanese bureaucrats and their political allies.) Instead of eliminating or sharply downsizing the entities that are hotbeds for the practice during their briefly ballyhooed policy reviews, they entrusted the process to the Finance Ministry. That’s the rough equivalent of appointing the National Wolf Association to be the official organization for selecting henhouse guards. While in the opposition, Prime Minister Noda stumped on the street corners, bellowing through his bullhorn that he and his party would rid the nation of the “termites”. Once in office, he turned mute. Even the Asahi Shimbun, predisposed to volunteer as surrogate DPJ banner wavers, has given up on the party .

Freelance journalist Wakabayashi Aki spent a decade working in one of those organizations affiliated with the Health Ministry. Blowing the lid off this behavior has been the focus of her work after she blew the whistle on her employers and left the public payroll. She’s written several books about it, including one titled The Backstabbers of the Democratic Party.

This week she discovered a brief article in the Mainichi Shimbun that she passed along on Twitter. Here’s the first paragraph of the article:

A survey by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications of the practice of amakudari among national civil servants in management and executive positions found that it fell to about 40% of the level from the last year before the DPJ took power in FY 2008 (1,236 people) to FY 2010 (462 people). The decision of the Hatoyama government in 2009 to prohibit amakudari recommendations and to introduce public solicitation for executive positions at independent administrative agencies has had a certain effect.

Ms. Wakabayashi had opinions of her own about this certain effect:

Do not be deceived! In real terms, it has not declined at all. The only thing that has declined is “amakudari” as defined by the Democratic Party. In fact, there has been a sharp increase in the number of (former bureaucrats) assuming executive positions (at those entities).

The news media likes to pretend that its prime directive is to afflict the comfortable (and comfort the afflicted). Why then did they mimeograph and distribute a story from a government ministry, no less?

Michael Deaver, Deputy Chief of Staff for President Ronald Reagan, knew the answer to that one:

“The media I’ve had a lot to do with is lazy. We fed them and they ate it every day.”

And we all know they ate it raw.

*****

The excuses offered by Mr. Hatoyama in the Asahi article at the link are another example of his thinly sliced, gold-foil wrapped premium bologna. He didn’t know what the Finance Ministry would do? His father was a Finance Ministry official, his grandfather was prime minister, and he spent 23 years in the Diet with the most extensive of political connections due to his family background and wealth.

And he didn’t know? If we assume he’s telling the truth (not an assumption I’d care to make), now you know why he lasted such a short time as prime minister.

*****

Trumpeter Hino Terumasa puts a half nelson on the Miles Davis tune. Brother Motohiko is playing drums.

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Political kabuki in Japan

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, May 31, 2012

FOR reasons beyond understanding, Americans have glommed onto the word kabuki and applied it to political situations to describe debate/discussion/behavior/bloviation that is little more than a theatrical performance, in which the actors play to exaggerated stereotypes to disguise either a predetermined outcome or their real motives. The Brits use it much less frequently in that context, and when they do, they tend to add a word at the end by calling it political kabuki theater.

That sort of behavior has as much in common with kabuki as real kabuki has with vaudeville. The plays themselves have every bit the drama and meaning as most of Shakespeare, and the earliest ones are about the same age. To expect the average journo or commentator to understand that, however, would be to credit them with more erudition than the flybaits whose careers they follow.

The Japanese also have their own equivalent of what is referred to as political kabuki, of course. In fact, no one does it better. They just don’t call it kabuki. An excellent example is the stylized drama that’s been playing on the political stage for the past month over the issue of restarting the Oi nuclear power reactors in Fukui. It’s nearing resolution, and it now seems this kabuki will be more productive than those staged overseas. It centers on putting the arrangements in place for the eventual resumption of nuclear power production nationwide.

Recall that for other reasons beyond understanding, Japan’s political tachiyaku, Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, chose to elbow his way to the front of the anti-nuclear power parade in Japan. It is beyond understanding because it is almost certainly an exercise in populism, even though his popularity is such that a populist appeal wasn’t necessary.

Hosono Goshi holds forth (Asahi Shimbun)

His position has infected even those of his senior advisors and political allies who have long track records of adult behavior. Your Party, the only serious reformers among the national political parties, became Hashimoto allies because they share the policies of regional devolution and bureaucratic reform. But they too have started running the anti-nuke voodoo down, and their new approach is even more confounding because their secretary-general, Eda Kenji, is a sensible man who was once a star bureaucrat in the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, the ministry responsible for the oversight of the nuclear power industry.

Another former METI hanagata is the bureaucratic reformer Koga Shigeaki, who is now a Hashimoto senior advisor. He recently appeared on television to charge that Kansai Electric might engage in deliberate “nuclear terrorism” by sabotaging their own thermal power plants as a weapon to get the nuclear plants back on line.

Mr. Koga must have developed a taste for plywood — he’s still chewing the scenery, though he has toned it down a bit. Asked by reporters to explain that statement, he said:

“I wanted to say that they were threatening to create a situation in which there would be a power shortfall, based on the premise of restarting the plants. When Kansai Electric and METI cry “blackouts, blackouts”, that is terrorism.”

And:

“I used the word terrorism because neither Kansai Electric nor METI formulated measures even though they knew last summer there would be a power shortage this summer.”

This approach by One Osaka and its allies might have found support at the national level were Kan Naoto — who “loves” wind power — still prime minister. Fortunately, the DPJ finally found an adult member of their party to serve in that position, and Noda Yoshihiko wants to get the nuclear plants back on line as soon as possible. Current METI chief Edano Yukio, Mr. Kan’s chief cabinet secretary during the nuclear accident, has the sugarplum dream of being prime minister himself, so he’s found himself some new chums in the METI bureaucracy.

The immediate problem is the anticipated 15% power shortfall this summer in the Kansai region — home to Panasonic, Sharp, and other major manufacturers — if the Oi plants are not restarted. It will take six weeks to get them back up to speed, and time is running out.

The government doesn’t need permission from anyone to permit nuclear power generation to resume, but that would leave them open to the charge of ignoring the concerns of the public and the local governments involved. Thus they have begun executing a program of eggshell-walking and convincing local government leaders and citizens’ groups that it is safe to press the nuclear button.

On 19 May, the prime minister dispatched Hosono Goshi, the Cabinet minister responsible for nuclear energy, to explain the new safety standards to the Union of Kansai Governments. That’s a group consisting of the governors of seven Kansai prefectures. (The governor of Nara chose not to join.) The union was formed in October 2010 to coordinate region-wide emergency medical services and disaster response, among other work. But more important, it is a vehicle to promote regional devolution, one of Mr. Hashimoto’s primary objectives. The seven prefectures have a combined population of almost 21 million people.

Hashimoto Toru helped create the union when he was the Osaka Prefecture governor.  He’s now the mayor of Osaka City, which is not an official member, but what are rules to a big enchilada?

In fact, he was responsible for the union’s rejection of the new nuclear safety standards presented by Mr. Hosono at the 19 May meeting. He dismissed them by saying they weren’t standards, but merely “anti-tsunami measures”.

The Second Meeting

It took but a fortnight for the government to come up with some revisions — golly, that was fast — and present them to another meeting of the Union of Kansai Governments yesterday. Mr. Hashimoto wasn’t present because he had to attend an Osaka city council session, but Union Chairman Ido Toshizo, the governor of Hyogo, stayed in contact with him by telephone to keep him informed of the discussions and to write down his instructions.

Here’s what happened: Mr. Hosono told the meeting that the government will soon present new safety measures to the Fukui governor (Oi is in Fukui). If they suit the governor’s fancy, Prime Minister Noda will “take the responsibility” for making the decision on restarting the reactors himself, early in June. One of the two METI vice-ministers and a ministerial aide will be stationed at Oi to make sure everything is tip-top. There will be stronger “provisional safety standards” for the “limited” restart of the reactors, and those standards will be reviewed for further improvement after the establishment of a new atomic energy regulatory agency, which the DPJ government finally got around to bringing up in the Diet. The chief municipal officer of Oi-cho, where the reactors are located, has already signaled that he will give his blessing to get those turbines moving again. In essence, the plan leaves everything up to the national government.

Now break out the popcorn and watch the political kabuki.

Mr. Hashimoto earlier hinted that he would be amenable to “limited operation”. When Gov. Ido conferred with him by phone during the meeting, the mayor said he would agree this time on the condition that the words “provisional” and “limited” were inserted in the statement.

Osaka Gov. Matsui Ichiro, the mayor’s primary political ally in the region, asked:

“Will the restart be approved using existing guidelines even though the government’s safety standards are not thorough and complete?”

Mr. Hashimoto asked:

“If the safety standards are provisional, then plant safety itself is provisional, isn’t it? Why will the reactors be restarted without waiting for the establishment of the nuclear regulatory agency?”

Some of the other governors were just critical, but here is their official statement released as soon as the meeting ended:

“We strongly seek an appropriate and limited decision (from the national government) on the premise that this decision will be provisional.”

In other words: Thanks for letting us save face while we go along with letting you restart the plants.

When asked what “limited” referred to, Mr. Ido said it included both the safety standards and the resumption of nuclear power generation.

The Facts of Life

What happened between 19 May and 30 May to change everyone’s mind? Nobody’s saying, but it likely involved what regional business leaders were telling the politicians in private, and which was just revealed in public earlier this week by the Nikkei Shimbun, the country’s primary business and financial daily.

The Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry took a quick survey from the 21st to the 25th of 73 large regional companies to determine the effects of a 15% power cutback this summer. 70% said it would cause serious problems, and 56% said their profits would suffer. Only 29% said that it would be possible to achieve a 15% reduction in power use. Most (32% of the respondents) said the best they could achieve was a 5%-10% cutback. That was roughly the level of savings Kansai Electric’s large consumers managed last summer. More than a few said they would have to reduce working hours altogether, increase the number of days they would close, or move shifts to later at night.

What everyone already knew was that many companies in Tokyo started relocating offices and plants in other parts of Japan (and the world) to ensure stable energy supplies for their business. They also knew that the oil imports required to offset the loss of nuclear power was deuced expensive.

So, as one wag on the Internet put it, the “Union of Kansai Yakuza Gangs” has now shifted its position from “there will be enough power even without the nuclear plants” to “there will be enough power if we save energy” to “there will be enough energy if we have rolling blackouts and receive power from other parts of the country” to “OK, but it’s only provisional”.

It’s also curious that Hashimoto Toru, the Twitter Machine Gun who fires off 20-30 tweets a day to spray his opinions on the public at large and kick his opponents in the groin, has been observing radio silence of late. Some have concluded that he has been quietly reassessing his position.

Does anyone doubt that once the Oi nuclear reactors go back on line, they will stay on line unless there’s a historically immense shift of tectonic plates in the immediate area? Does anyone doubt that when the Oi reactors go back on line, the other idled plants nationwide will eventually follow?

Thus, mere days after the overseas Split Wood Not Atoms sect rejoiced because Japan was now “nuclear free”, those smiles have been flipped into frowns.  Reuters quoted Greg McNevin, a spokesman for Greenpeace International as saying:

“We have consistently said that none of the safety or emergency measures that have been called for by experts in the community has been completed.  Our consistent position is that this is being rushed.”

Silly boy. One of the defining elements of kabuki theater is mie, in which the actor assumes an extravagant, stylized pose. Greenpeace seems to think their own mie have the mojo to work on the Japanese stage. But none the several Japanese-language articles I read quoted his (or any other foreigner’s) comments, and an audience that doesn’t exist can’t applaud. Text message to the Greenies: Becoming a real kabuki actor requires years of apprenticeship and study.

*****

All of this brings up several interesting questions. Does this represent the first defeat for Hashimoto Toru in his confrontation with the national establishment? Does this face-saving agreement mean that the establishment and Mr. Hashimoto are accommodating themselves to each other? Is the Osaka mayor cooperating with the DPJ government that he pledged to bring down? Will his objections actually result in more stringent standards for nuclear power operation?

Is Mr. Hashimoto in fact not anti-nuclear power at all, but using that provisionality as one string on his anti-establishment guitar, with the added benefit of greater safety?

We’ll find out eventually what went on backstage. We always do.

*****

With serendipitous synchronicity, a Japanese blog post floated up yesterday in which the author described a visit to observe the work underway at the Hamamatsu nuclear power plant. That was the first one to be shut down after the Fukushima accident. There were legitimate concerns about its safety, and work to improve plant resistance to natural disasters had already begun.

It never stopped, even though the reactors did. The blogger wrote:

Construction is proceeding on a wall that rises 18 meters above sea level and surrounds the entire facility. An emergency generator and a nuclear reactor cooling pump are being installed in a structure 20 meters above sea level in which seawater cannot penetrate. Technical developments in 30 categories are being incorporated in the work, which will result in the strongest anti-tsunami measures of any plant in the world. This is more comprehensive than I had imagined.

The wall is two meters thick, 1.6 kilometers long, and its foundation extends from 10 to 30 meters underground. The construction work will be completed in December.

It seems not to have occurred to some people in Japan that nuclear power plant operation might be forever suspended.

*****

It also never occurred to Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi to stop being so tiresome. Here’s the statement he released after the agreement:

The safety standards are ridiculous, there is still no regulatory agency, there are no stress tests under the new safety standards, there is no crisis management system based on the premise of an accident, there are no plans for the disposition of the spent fuel, there is no private sector insurance for compensating accident victims, and it is not possible to cite a reason for approving the unsafe time-limited operation! Is this right?

Now that’s political kabuki. At least he didn’t insert multiple exclamation points at the end of every clause.

Absent from the discussion is that any destruction which might occur at Oi is premised on tsunami damage (not earthquake damage) and that estimates of fatalities in a tsunami large enough to damage the plant run as high as 10,000. Some have suggested that Mr. Hashimoto might have recognized the contradiction of demanding absolute safety for the plant without demanding measures to prevent tsunami damage.

*****

Paddy Regan, the director of the MSc course in radiation and environmental protection at the University of Surrey, Guildford, wrote an article that appeared in the Telegraph of Britain. It starts this way:

Three places: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima. And three more: Banqiao, Machhu II, Hiakud. Most people react with horror to the first trio, while the second three locations usually draw a blank look. In fact, the latter were the sites of three major hydroelectric dam failures: in China and India in 1975, 1979 and 1980, which were directly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands. In contrast, the death toll directly associated with radiation exposure from the three best-known civil nuclear accidents is estimated by the World Health Organisation to be conservatively about 50, all associated with Chernobyl.

He continued:

The Italian foreign ministry, for example, recommended that its citizens flew out of Tokyo to avoid potential radiation exposure in the first couple of weeks following the Fukushima leak. While the radiation levels in the Japanese capital rose significantly above normal, they remained lower than the typical average background radiation levels in Rome, leading to the bizarre situation of individuals being relocated to places with higher radiation levels than those they were leaving.

It also contains information that seems beyond the ability of the Hysterians to comprehend:

And a pervasive myth has taken hold that even tiny amounts of radiation are unsafe. In reality, this cannot be so, as humans have evolved in an invisible sea of naturally occurring radioactivity. Much of this arises from radioactive forms of potassium, uranium and thorium; remnants of the Earth’s formation more than 4 billion years ago. Human bodies are bubbling with radioactivity, with around 7,000 atoms decaying each second due to radioactivity from potassium-40 and carbon-14.

Afterwords:

* Some Americans do understand the stupidity in the use of the term political kabuki, as this article demonstrates.  It’s a good explanation of why the coinage is inapt and includes the pertinent observation:

“If a former theater critic such as Frank Rich can’t be trusted to use it properly, who can?”

Alas, the five reasons he asserts — not suggests — for the American creation of the phrase were pulled straight from his backside.

* Though kabuki is now high art and a living tradition, its origin is attributed to female drama troupes who became popular because their performances included erotic scenes and provocative dances. They were also often prostitutes, and fights frequently broke out among the spectators for reasons that require no explanation.

As Brother Dave Gardner used to say, Ain’t that weird?

The Tokugawa Shogunate, still in its early days, banned women from performing in the dramas, but their parts were taken by men who also sold their favors.

Maybe a case can be made for the legitimacy of the term “political kabuki” after all.

* Enough of the Ersatz brand, here’s some of the hard stuff. It’s a short, edited version of a performance of Kanjincho (List of Contributors). The story is based on an older Noh play, was originally performed as a kabuki drama in 1702, and assumed its current form in 1840. Reading the plot summary at that link will give you an idea how shocking it must have been in the context of Japan’s vertical society at the time.

No erotic scenes or provocative dances though. Sorry.

Posted in Arts, Business, finance and the economy, Politics, Science and technology, Traditions | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Sunrise in the land of the rising sun

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, April 7, 2012

NOTHING is stronger than an idea whose time has come. Sakaiya Taiichi, the senior advisor to Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, spoke to the Your Party convention in February. The speaker and his audience share a common purpose, and both know that the time for their ideas has come. This is what he said in English.

*****
Your Party is different from the other parties. It was not born in the Diet, but was born from a citizens’ movement — the first one in the postwar era. There might have been some in the Meiji period, but it’s a rare thing. Most parties are created when several MPs get together in the Diet. Most of those parties fall apart.

Your Party began when Watanabe Yoshimi advanced his own policies and started a citizens’ movement by himself. Mr. Eda (Kenji, party secretary-general) was in synch with that. It is a party of democracy that you should be proud of.

It happened again at the end of last year. Diet members scrambled together to form groups and receive the public subsidies given to political parties. They have no political views, ideology, ideas, or concept of what the state should be. Both the Liberal Democrats and Democrats are parties for creating political crises, trifling with the people and causing them misfortune. They leave policy to the bureaucrats, and never think about Japan the nation.

Postwar Japan had many splendid conceptions. One concept was in foreign affairs, in which it would stand with the Western powers, and become a small country in military affairs and an economic giant. The option to become a military power did not exist during the American occupation, so that is what happened. The second concept was economic: The (political) system of (19)55 (when the LDP was formed), bureaucracy-directed policy, the cooperation of the business world, and large scale mass production.

They thought that even if no one had any political views, all they had to do was defend these concepts. That continued until the 80s. After that, however, the times changed: The Cold War ended, and large scale mass production reached its limits. Despite that, however, no one still had any political views or a concept of the state. All they did was create political crises.

Then Watanabe Yoshimi became a minister in the Abe Cabinet, and continued to serve in the Fukuda Cabinet. He lasted longer than usual (laughter). He began to talk about something different — civil service reform. That earned him the enmity of the bureaucracy, but the amendment to the National Civil Service Law passed. I created the draft of that amendment in the advisory council.

But even though that amendment was passed, nothing changed. The bureaucrats are unyielding. The president of the National Personnel Authority did not appear in the Diet. In the end, the (Civil Service System Reform) headquarters revolted, and Deputy Chairman Koga was fired. Even though the law was passed, nothing happens. The reality is horrendous.

Watanabe Yoshimi is a rare politician. He thinks about the concept of the state. Those politicians have been extinct for a long time. Even if there are some drawbacks, the policies are truly great. This year — This is It! This is the year of decision. The one I uncovered was Mr. Hashimoto (Toru). The circle of reform is growing. This year is the year of decision.

Why will this be the decisive year? It will be an extremely difficult year for both the Japanese economy and the global economy. Thus, there are four parts to the agenda. One is a state/province system with regional authority. There are three forms of government administration: the nation, the prefectures, and the basic self-governing bodies. The Osaka Metro District concept would convert that into two levels. We must not mistake the state/province system as a model for merging prefectures. We must change the nation.

(After creating that system) the regions must not say anything about the affairs the national government will handle — specifically, foreign affairs, defense, and the currency. Meanwhile, the national government will not say anything about the affairs the regional governments will handle. That is how it should be.

Second is civil servant reform. Civil service is not a job, it is a form of status. Until the 80s, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare was a small government office. Both the health ministry and the labor ministry accepted only seven people each with a humanities background for the elite job track. At the same time, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry were large ministries and accepted 26 people each. But now the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare is a large ministry with oversight for 25% of the national income. The agriculture ministry has jurisdiction of no more than 1.8% of GDP.

Anyone can be a bureau chief in the health ministry. The agriculture ministry has no work. If you ask, what about transferring the career agriculture ministry bureaucrats to the health ministry, that would be absurd. It would be like entrusting the old Kishu domain (present-day Wakayama and part of Mie) to the people of the Satsuma domain (present-day Kagoshima). It isn’t a job, it’s a form of status.

Organizations and personnel must be based on the principle of functionalism, and selection must be based on ability and incentive. The organization of any body that defends its status will inevitably crumble.

Third is a growth agenda. Japan today is facing its third defeat. Defeat is not losing a war. Even if it loses a war, a nation will not collapse. True defeat is the collapse of an ethical view and the system.

The first defeat was the Bakumatsu period (at the end of the Edo period). The values of the Edo government were stability and equality. They purposely did not build a bridge over the River Oi (in Shizuoka). They sought stability and equality by preventing people from crossing the flow, and making the movement of people difficult. That’s when progress became important with the arrival of the Black Ships (Commodore Perry).

It goes without saying that the second defeat was in the war. Now Japan is in third period of defeat. The sense of ethics is in turmoil.

Now it is seen as a good thing to receive social welfare benefits. In Osaka, even if the primary school teachers scold their students by saying, “If you don’t study, you’ll have a hard time later,” the students retort, “I’ll get welfare payments, so I’ll be all right.” They say 10% of the junior high school students can’t do multiplication.

Mr. Hashimoto’s proposal is to conduct a relative evaluation of the teachers. Five percent of the teachers will be given the lowest grade of a D. Teachers who get Ds two years running will have to be re-trained. If they do not improve after re-training, they will be asked to leave. How many teachers receive the lowest grade under the absolute evaluation system now? It’s only 0.15%. That’s one-and-a-half people in 1,000. There’s maybe one in a school.

In Osaka, where the teacher evaluations are strict, the teachers’ union says the teachers there have three times the neuroses of teachers anywhere else. It’s a scam. The same statistics cite the cause of the neuroses. The primary cause is trouble with other teachers in the teachers’ lounge.

The fourth is creating an open Japan. That’s true also of the TPP. What did we do during the Meiji Restoration? The policy known as “The return of the lands and the people from the feudal lords to the Emperor.” In short, civil servant reform, giving up the status of samurai. That was the second year of Meiji (1870). Next, they cheerfully opened the country. (N.B.: The term Mr. Sakaiya invented for this idea, which he frequently uses in speeches, is suki suki kaikoku.) The Tokugawas grudgingly opened the country. In the brocade pictures (nishiki-e) of the times, foreigners are depicted as devils or tengu (monster-spirits). That changed.

The next thing they did in the Meiji Restoration was economic reform. In the new currency law of the fourth year of Meiji, the monetary units were unified as yen and sen. They started using paper money, and it became possible to create credit. In the Bakumatsu period, according to the calculations of Oguri Kozukenosuke, annual tribute accounted for only 40% of expenditures. Now, of the (government’s) JPY 104 trillion in expenditures, including quarterly adjustments, tax revenues account for JPY 42 trillion. Exactly 40%.

Annual tribute was only 40% of expenditures. Oguri Kozukenosuke worried that annual tribute would have to be tripled. That vanished in an instant with the start of the Meiji period and the new paper money under the new currency law. A deflationary economy has to be converted to an inflationary economy. In a deflationary economy, the past governs the future. There has to be nominal growth of about 3%.

The next thing they did in the Meiji period was eliminate the domains and create the prefectures. In other words, the state system. After that followed education reform. In Japan at that time, 40% of the boys and 25% of the girls learned reading, writing, and arithmetic at the terakoya, the Buddhist temple schools. It was the leading country in the world for education. Even in Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution, only one in four boys went to school. There was only one educational institution in all of Europe that admitted girls.

They eliminated all the terakoya and created schools. That’s because the objectives of education changed, from stability to progress. Educating people suitable for large-scale mass production was required. That idea still remains today. That’s why they taught that individuality and originality was a bad thing. They called all individuality a “defect” and originality was chastised as garyu (not following conventional methods).

Of course basic education is important. Ten percent of first-year junior high school students can’t multiply. That is the responsibility of the teachers, and they should be fired. Attending Board of Education meetings is a part-time job for teachers once a month. A view of education as a whole is not possible. The people who think that’s fine are the education ministry bureaucrats supported by the status system.

Teaching is also a form of status. There are many English teachers incapable of English. On the other hand, they have teachers who’ve come back from living in the United States teaching social studies. That’s all they have a license for. Next to the teachers fluent in English are the English teachers who can’t speak English at all, and the teachers back from the United States teach about the Japanese Diet, of which they know nothing.

We must change this absurdity with systemic reform. The drawback of reformers is their tendency to splinter without limit. That’s causing a lot of trouble right now in Osaka (laughter). The conservatives are surprisingly united. This reform is good, that reform is bad, only about 20% can agree on each issue. As a result, the unfortunate situation will continue.

That’s why, even if there are problems to a certain extent, we must agree that it (reform) is better than what we have now. Persons of good character are not capable of reform. Have you ever heard anyone say that Oda Nobunaga was a person of good character? (laughter) The requirement for reform depends entirely on the ability to achieve breakthroughs. Watanabe Yoshimi has that ability.

This is it. This is the year of decision. Let’s put aside our small differences and unite behind the big things we agree on. This year, please work so that we can increase our number to 300 (in the lower house of the Diet).

(end translation)

*****
Meanwhile, here is one of the most astonishing newspaper articles I’ve ever read anywhere, and that it appeared in the Asahi Shimbun is more astonishing still. The Asahi is the newspaper of the left in Japan, and the DPJ is the major party to the left of center (with quite a few members quite left of center). Here’s the headline. Note the past tense:

DPJ’S GOVERNING FIASCO: Party never challenged Finance Ministry

It’s a condensed version of everything I’ve been reporting on for the last three years. They’re writing off the DPJ.

It’s difficult to find a passage to quote because every sentence is a dagger thrust. Let’s stick to this:

Successive DPJ administrations have failed to make meaningful spending cuts. Despite rounds of budget screening, the three budgets compiled by the party effectively ballooned to record levels on an initial basis.

You know what they say: Read the whole thing. Also note the background of former Finance Minister Fujii Hirohisa and his opinion about the respective role of bureaucrats and politicians.

That’s the same Fujii Hirohisa who was the secretary-general of Ozawa Ichiro’s Liberal Party before it merged with the DPJ, and who doesn’t know what happened to the party’s public subsidies that it was supposed to return to the Treasury when it folded. (Some in the print media suspect it wound up in Ozawa Ichiro’s safe before being spent to buy real estate for his political funds committee.) That’s the same Fujii Hirohisa who appeared on a Sunday political talk show one day before Hatoyama Yukio made his first speech to the Diet as prime minister in 2009 and admitted the party had no intention of keeping all the promises in the manifesto. They would just keep enough of them to keep the people so happy they would return them to office four years later. They didn’t, they didn’t, and they won’t.

Remember all those so-called journalists who wrote about the “fiscal hawks” of the DPJ?

ROTFLMAO.

*****
The lead story in the 12 April edition of the weekly Shukan Bunshun is titled, Farewell, DPJ. They report the results of their polling that asks voters the question, “If a lower house election were held today…” (It’s becoming a cottage industry.) While they have the LDP doing better than in other surveys, they think the DPJ would lose close to two-thirds of its seats. They also think all three DPJ prime ministers — Hatoyama, Kan, and Noda — stand a good chance of losing their seats. (Hatoyama’s been on thin ice in polling for a while.)

*****
Get ready, people — the train is coming.
Oh, yes it is.

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Hashimoto Toru (2): The company he keeps

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, March 28, 2012

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

SOME people in Japan were suspicious: Was Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru just blustering with his declaration of intent to capture the Bastille of Japanese politics at Nagata-cho and implement his revolution from the inside out? That concern is now a very unlikely scenario — to prepare potential candidates for a lower house election, which rumor has it could come as early as June, he opened and begun operating on Sunday a political juku to prep potential candidates running either under the banner of One Osaka, his local party, or as allied forces. Backing down now would seriously wipe out the credibility of a man who’s riding The Big Wave.

Nagata-cho, here we come. Hashimoto Toru announces that One Osaka intends to field candidates in the next lower house election.

The word juku is often mistranslated as “cram school” in English, inspired by those exemplary Western educators who think Japanese children study too much. (Kumon is one of those jukus, and its system was adopted some years ago in a few of the lower southern states in the U.S. as a way to help laggard students.) This, however, is a juku in the original sense of the term — a private facility for the instruction of one’s “disciples”.

Mr. Hashimoto announced his intention to eventually accept 400 students for intensive training, of which 300 will become candidates, and of which he hopes 200 will win election. That’s a bit short of a lower house majority, but with even half that number, nothing happens in the Diet without him. That’s also before the totals of Your Party and other regional parties are factored in.

An article in the 10 February weekly Shukan Asahi (Hashimoto opponents) presented the argument that it won’t be possible for One Osaka to field 300 candidates. They quote one veteran pol as saying that it costs about JPY six million for a campaign, either for a single-district seat or a proportional representation seat, and the party doesn’t have the national organization, money, or bed of existing votes to pull it off. He thinks that even 200 is a pipe dream.

Someone the magazine claims is close to One Osaka is quoted as saying that even Mr. Hashimoto knows its an impossibility to run that many candidates, but he’s using that as a ploy to get the national government to approve his Osaka Metro District plan.

An anonymous source affiliated with New Komeito in the Osaka area suggests that many of his local supporters are ready to back him in local elections, but because they are affiliated with other parties, they will revert to their former allegiances in a national election.

Elsewhere, LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru declared, “They can’t take 100 seats. 30-40 is the reality.”

The magazine appeared on newsstands at beginning of February. Since then, he received 3,326 applications for admission to his school, and after a review of their essays, 2,262 students were accepted. The 400 selected for more intensive study will come from that group.

Some of the applicants were said to be sitting Diet members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. Now who can blame them? They didn’t learn anything about politics, the popular will, and keeping promises where they are now.

The funding for elections might be a problem because One Osaka is not a national political party with a minimum of five Diet seats. Therefore, it receives no public subsidies, and candidates will have to pay their own way. They’re already paying JPY 120,000 for the tuition to meet five times between now and June, when the winnowing takes place.

If you can tell a person by the company he keeps, Mr. Hashimoto is clearly a respectable but radical reformer. Several of the teachers already work with Your Party and have often been mentioned on this site. (In fact, there are tags for most.) Here’s a list:

Sakaiya Taiichi: Former head of Economic Planning Agency, non-fiction/fiction writer, chief Hashimoto advisor, professor emeritus at the juku

Nakata Hiroshi: Former lower house member and Yokohama mayor, member of the Spirit of Japan Party

Okamoto Yukio: Former diplomat, now foreign affairs commentator and independent businessman, former aide to Prime Minister Koizumi, has served on board of several companies, including Asahi Beer, and served as Mitsubishi auditor

Koga Shigeaki: Former Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry official, author of three books, and the man who became the symbol of the national victimhood when the DPJ betrayed its promises to get the bureaucracy under control.

Hara Eiji: Another METI vet and bureaucracy-bashing author

Takahashi Yoichi: Former Finance Ministry official, devised the original plan for Japan Post privatization under Takenaka Heizo’s supervision, now a commentator, advisor to Your Party, and university professor.

Yamanaka Toshiyuki: Former diplomat, now works in human resource training

Suzuki Wataru: Economics professor

Kitaoku Nobuichi: Professor specializing in foreign affairs and diplomatic history, former personal advisor to Prime Minister Koizumi.

The belle of the ball

Winning big is the best way for a politician to win friends, influence people, and become a supersized enchilada himself, and that’s just what Mr. Hashimoto does. Since his initial success as Osaka governor, many politicians flocked to the political alpha male in the hope some of his shine would reflect off them. Three years ago Masuzoe Yoichi, then the Health Minister in the terminal LDP governments and viewed by some as the last great hope for the LDP reformers, tried to coax the governor into an alliance. Some viewed him as an ineffective political organizer/operator, which subsequent events have borne out. Mr. Hashimoto seems to have understood that right away, and deflected his interest.

He’s also attracted the attention and approval of Tokyo Metro Gov. Ishihara Shintaro, who’s defended him against charges of dictator tendencies:

“People call him a dictator, so perhaps everyone’s a little daunted by him. But that’s just arbitrary. Unless a person with the power of ideas directs affairs from the top down, nothing gets done. It’s the same way here (in Tokyo).”

Mr. Ishihara’s only beef seems to be that the Osaka Metro District plan calls for the creation of an “Osaka-to” in Japanese. That’s a throwback to the Tokyo governor’s emergence into the public eye more than 50 years ago as a literary sensation writing best-selling fiction and non-fiction. (He was also a Vietnam war correspondent on special assignment.) He objects to the use of “to” (都), which he insists should be applied only to national capitals. (He has a point; one meaning of the Japanese reading of the word is “seat of government”. Then again, Osakans have always had a big idea of themselves.)

While Mr. Hashimoto welcomes the attention and is respectful of his elders, he’s also done a good job of deflecting the talk of an alliance with the Tokyo governor. Mr. Ishihara is discussing the formation of a new political party with Kamei Shizuka, an anti-Japan Post privatization non-reformer and paleo-conservative in the Japanese sense, whose party is still officially a junior coalition partner with the DPJ government. Mr. Hashimoto politely gave them the stiff-arm:

“There has to be a certain agreement on policies, such as opposition to tax increases and devolution from central authority.”

Mr. Kamei is not interested in the second of those policies mentioned. He’s part of the problem, not part of the solution.

The Osaka mayor has also developed a close professional relationship with Nakata Hiroshi and Yamada Hiroshi of the Spirit of Japan Party (more here). Both were appointed special advisors to the city after Mr. Hashimoto’s election, and Mr. Nakata is teaching at the juku. Asada Hitoshi, the chairman of the Osaka Prefectural Assembly and the policy chairman for One Osaka, attended a banquet for the Spirit of Japan Party in Osaka. Mr. Asada thanked them for their help in creating the Ishin Hassaku, or One Osaka’s policy framework, and added, “We share a sense of values.” Replied Mr. Yamada:

“We have great hopes for what’s happening in Osaka…We hope to be able to create a third political center by gathering people who share their view of the state and history.”

Former LDP Secretary-General Nakagawa Hidenao, the most prominent of the Koizumians left standing in the party, invited Mr. Hashimoto to Tokyo to participate in a study group and offer his opinions on devolution. Said the mayor:

“The people think that nothing will happen unless the Kasumigaseki social system is changed.”

But he was preaching to the converted. Several younger and mid-tier LDP members are attracted to the mayor’s movement, and there are also rumors of more private contacts with LDP member Kono Taro. The son of a former prominent LDP pol himself, Mr. Kono claims to be an advocate of small government, but sometimes skates onto very thin ice. (He thinks international financial transactions should be taxed and the funds given to multinational public sector do-gooders. He still hasn’t figured out that the global warming bologna was a scam.)

Another LDP member in the Hashimoto corner is former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. Mr. Abe recently spoke at an Osaka symposium for a private sector group called the Organization for Reviving Japanese Education. Attending was new Osaka Gov. Matsui Ichiro, Mr. Hashimoto’s partner in One Osaka. Their common objective is to reshape the current educational system, and at a post-conference meeting with reporters, the governor said they were on the same page. Mr. Matsui also said that the schools’ opposition to the amendments of the Basic Education Law passed during the Abe administration means that the popular will is not reflected in the school curriculum.

The most important of Hashimoto’s allies, however, is the reform Your Party. (Reports of their activities often grace these pages.) Party head Watanabe Yoshimi was interested in joining forces when Mr. Hashimoto arose as a political figure (a year or two before Your Party was formed), but was said to have been restrained by his party co-founder and Secretary-General, Eda Kenji, due to concerns that the Osaka mayor was a loose cannon. If that was true, the leash is now off. Said Mr. Watanabe:

“We must work to ensure as a party that this movement (One Osaka) spreads nationwide.”

He says the policies of One Osaka and Your Party are nearly the same, and adds that they have plans to form a joint policy study group and a political alliance nationwide. Those policies include the reorganization of local governments into a state/province system, the creation of an Osaka Metro District, and the idea that the new sub-national units receive all the consumption tax revenue. Mr. Watanabe has created a catchphrase to crystallize the ideas of his party’s policies, which is “giving the ‘three gen’” to local governments. Gen is the final syllable of the words kengen (authority), zaigen (revenue sources) and ningen (people).

L-R: Gov. Matsui, Mayor Hashimoto, Mr. Watanabe, Gov. Omura. The shape of things to come?

Further, Your Party executives as well as others in the party responsible for the candidacies in single-seat districts will study at the One Osaka political juku with the party leadership’s blessing. That includes about 20-30 people from Osaka, Kyoto, and Hyogo. Your Party plans to run 100 candidates in the next lower house election, and they’ve settled on about 70 so far.

The Shukan Asahi also quoted a Your Party source as saying that Mr. Watanabe and Mr. Hashimoto have reached a private understanding that the former would be “the first prime minister”. They suggest that Mr. Watanabe thinks control of the Diet is in their aggregate grasp.

The Osaka mayor is also an official international phenomenon — he’s attracted the attention of South Koreans. That’s only natural: national elections will be held in that country in April and December this year. KBS-TV sent a crew to hop over to Osaka for interviews. Commenting on the Korean interest, the mayor said:

“I look forward to the emergence in South Korea of new politicians who aren’t beholden to vested interests.”

Asked by a Korean reporter about his political juku, he answered:

“We must create politicians who aren’t under the thumb of vested interests. If South Korea can get excited about the same thing, I’d like to see Japan and South Korea move in same direction.”

The Japanese media spoke to one of the KBS reporters after the interview, and he told them:

“There’s quite a lot of reporting on Hashimoto in South Korea. After actually meeting him, I sensed his strong intent for reform.”

Critical to the success of any politician is his capacity to appeal to people who don’t agree with all his positions, but are on board for the most important of them — in this case, governmental reform. For example, Mr. Hashimoto supports amending the Constitution to permit the Japanese to maintain military forces for self-defense. Chiba Mayor Kumagai Toshihito also supports amending the Constitution, but for the opposite reason — he wants to prevent Japan from becoming involved in any conflict. Nevertheless, he said:

“The structure of the local governments where we live is an important issue, but one that has not attracted much interest. That it became the primary issue contested in the Osaka election is epochal…We of the “government ordinance cities” (cities with authority similar to that of prefectures) strongly seek the transfer of authority from the prefectures. I don’t agree with all of the opinions in Mr. Hashimoto’s Osaka Metro District concept, but our intent to change Japan from the regions is the same.”

Local party time!

Hashimoto Toru is the most visible manifestation of the ferment of regional politics in Japan, but he is by no means alone. This time last year, all eyes were on the newly elected mayor of Nagoya, Kawamura Takashi, and the governor of Aichi Prefecture, Omura Hideaki. Their victory in a February 2011 triple election might have been more impressive than the Osaka result because the Kawamura — Omura alliance is between men originally of different parties. Also, their tax-cutting, small-government message was accepted by people in a region that has been a stronghold for the tax-raising, big government DPJ. (This is the national headquarters of Toyota, and there are plenty of labor unions.)

Mr. Hashimoto actively lent his support to the two men and their respective regional parties last year, and members of One Osaka came to help campaign. (It should not be overlooked that this revolution is occurring in Osaka and Nagoya, Japan’s second- and third-largest cities.) It’s expected that the three men will form an alliance for a national election, and while that will probably happen, there are some differences in viewpoints between them.

For example, Kawamura Takashi’s party is called Genzei Nippon, or Tax Reduction Japan. He favors sharp cuts in taxes (which he has partially achieved in his first year in office). Though Mr. Hashimoto has criticized the Noda Cabinet’s plan to raise the consumption tax, and he is allied with the anti-tax increase Your Party, he has also criticized the Kawamura approach. That criticism provides a fascinating glimpse of his philosophy:

“The awareness I would like to see is not transferring work or duties from city hall to the ward offices, but transferring decision-making authority from the mayor to the heads of the ward offices. The ultimate objective is, ‘We don’t need a mayor’.”

He’s also said that he would be cool to a formal alliance with them unless Mr. Kawamura makes some adjustments, including his campaign for tax cuts:

“At the current stage, let’s stop talking about tax increases, or reducing taxes, or opposing tax increases. It is nonsense in our present state for politicians to be expressing an opinion about either tax increases or cuts. If society as a whole is going to create a system of mutual support, it’s natural for the members of society to assume the liability for an appropriate share. First, we should identify what sort of social system we want to create. Whether or not the residential tax should be cut is a minor matter that should be discussed at the end of the process.”

Mr. Hashimoto has presented this view on several occasions. If he’s serious, that would represent a drastic departure from the political status quo anywhere, much less Japan. He’s talking about bottom up government with the political class last.

The Aichi governor and Nagoya mayor have a plan for the administrative reorganization of their own area, which they call Chukyo-to. (Ishihara Shintaro won’t like that to either.) While they’re working on common ground, Mr. Hashimoto believes they need to do some more thinking about the concept, and he has the sense that they aren’t clear on exactly what they want to accomplish. Representatives from Aichi and Nagoya have had meetings on the Chukyo concept, but they have yet to present a plan for changing the current form of the administrative bodies, such as breaking up Nagoya (The Osaka plan calls for eliminating the administrative entity that is the city of Osaka and creating self-governing wards in the region.)

Mr. Kawamura says, however, that he spoke to Mr. Hashimoto by phone and explained that their plan calls for the merger of Aichi and Nagoya, but that the framework will take into account regional considerations. That will include maintaining the form of a city of Nagoya. Nevertheless, he wants to maintain their alliance.

Complicating this somewhat is that Your Party’s Watanabe Yoshimi has his own plan for the region, which would eliminate Nagoya and its current 16 wards and create seven new regional districts. Each of these special districts would have a chief municipal officer and a legislature. As with the Osaka Metro District concept, the idea behind the Watanabe plan is to eliminate redundant government systems. It would reduce the number of city workers by 20% and save JPY 50 billion. Mr. Kawamura thinks the people of Nagoya would not support it, and Mr. Omura thinks the Watanabe plan lacks specifics.

Meanwhile, both men have decided to establish a political juku of their own. The first was Mr. Omura, who announced his at the end of January:

“I want the three major metropolitan areas of Tokyo, Aichi, and Osaka to form an alliance and change Japan.”

His idea is to present candidates for the four Tokai prefectures of Shizuoka, Aichi, Gifu and Mie. Mr. Omura announced yesterday that he had received 751 applications, and after reviewing their documents, 678 have been accepted. About 80% are from Aichi, and include company employees, national and local civil servants, and local government council members. One of the speakers will be Takenaka Heizo, the Koizumi privatization guru, and another will be one of the elder statesmen of Japanese journalists, Tahara Soichiro.

Oddly, Mayor Kawamura didn’t like the idea at first. He told reporters, “I cannot agree with how they’re going about it.” That didn’t change his relationship with the Aichi governor, however. He still supports the Chukyo-to concept, and said, “There is no change in our friendship.”

But Mr. Kawamura suddenly changed his mind — you know what they say about imitation and flattery — and plans to set up his own political science class to start next month. His reasons:

“I want to communicate my thinking to the next generation. It is also for the next lower house election.”

The curriculum at his school will focus on taxes and national defense issues, and he will ask Hashimoto Toru and Omura Hideaki to send over some teachers. He expects to run Genzei Nippon candidates in the next lower house election in the five lower house districts in Nagoya.

He’s sticking to his tax cutting pledge, too. Despite Mr. Hashimoto’s criticism, it’s easy to like his approach.

“To improve the people’s lives, we must not raise taxes. Rather than tax revenue, we must raise (the people’s) income…the revenue source for tax reduction is governmental reform.”

It’s not often mentioned in the media, but Mr. Kawamura would have special committees established in each district of the city to have the residents determine how they would spend the tax revenue in their area. While taxes would be cut, it would give — you got it — power to the people to decide how they want to spend the money.

Now this is the kind of debate I can get behind. One man is opposed to immediate tax increases absent reform and says let the people decide what they want first, while the other man says the issue is raising income rather than taxes and tax reduction should be achieved by cutting government.

That’s my idea of win-win.

Coming next: An overview of other Hashimoto policies and a first look at his critics. Here’s a taste — He’s backing an idea proposed by the man being interviewed.

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It’s dango time

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, January 10, 2012

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

Here it comes!

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

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

Also:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s dango time!

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

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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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