AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Yamaguchi N.’

Collision course

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, April 24, 2012

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

Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi in Tokyo

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

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

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

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

Added New Komeito chief Yamaguchi Natsuo:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But he quickly added the real reason:

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

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

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

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

Weapons

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

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

And the next day:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Golly, what a coincidence!

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

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

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

Not a rhetorical question

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

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

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

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

Part of the problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kasumigaura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drunken sailor watch

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

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

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

Prodigy

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

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

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

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

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Posted in Government, Politics, Social trends | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Ichigen koji (58)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, September 15, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Add to: Facebook | Digg | Del.icio.us | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Yahoo Buzz | Newsvine

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

Quick hits on the Noda Cabinet

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, September 3, 2011

“Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko’s personnel choices for his first Cabinet are a safety-first lineup that emphasizes intraparty reconciliation, as were his selections for party officers. After some soul-searching, they realized the loss of the government’s momentum was due to the party’s internal disputes. But an introspective approach that places priority on the party’s internal stability makes it difficult to see a path to Japan’s recovery during this national crisis.”
- Front page editorial in the Nishinippon Shimbun, which generally supports the Democratic Party of Japan

“It’s a mosaic Cabinet into which pieces of different colors and shapes have been forcibly jammed.”
- Yamaguchi Natsuo, New Komeito president

“It’s a Cabinet designed to prevent intrigues and prevent an internal party revolt.”
- Fukushima Mizuho, Social Democratic Party president

“It’s a Cabinet with internal party balance, just like in the old days of the Liberal-Democratic Party.”
- Oshima Tadamori, vice-president of the Liberal-Democratic Party.

“The Cabinet’s directly connected to the world of business and finance.”
- Shii Kazuo, Chairman of the Japanese Communist Party, referring to Mr. Noda’s immediate visits to the heads of the country’s three largest business organizations, including Keidanren. (Members of the Kan Cabinet visited Rengo, the trade union organization, instead.)

“Posts were handed out as rewards, and the Cabinet is straight on the path to tax increases.”
- Watanabe Yoshimi, president of Your Party

“The composition is good, isn’t it? (Prime Minister Noda) was quite mindful of everyone.”
- Ozawa Ichiro, former Democratic Party president

“If this Cabinet is unable to meet the people’s expectations, the Democratic Party of Japan does not have the ability to be responsible for government. This is a do-or-die Cabinet.”
- Watanabe Kozo, senior advisor of the Democratic Party of Japan

*****
“Though Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko stresses that he is the son of an officer in the Self-Defense Forces, he appointed Ichikawa Yasuo, a novice in defense and security matters, to the post of Defense Minister. I am unable to understand the intent behind this appointment.”
- Abiru Rui, Kantei correspondent for the Sankei Shimbun. Mr. Ichikawa has a degree in agricultural civil engineering, and once served in the Agriculture Ministry. He is also a member of Ozawa Ichiro’s faction.

“I am a novice in defense and security matters, but that represents true civilian control.”
- Ichikawa Yasuo, Defense Minister in the Noda Cabinet

“That (statement) merits immediate dismissal from the Cabinet, and it also calls into question Prime Minister Noda’s discernment.”
- Ishiba Shigeru, former Defense Minister in an LDP government

*****
Mr. Noda’s Cabinet selections have impressed the news media as being singularly unimpressive. Journalist Kakutani Koichi went so far as to suggest that people of such little consequence were chosen because it would be easier to shunt them aside if the prime minister were able to create a grand coalition with the opposition parties. The Cabinet includes:

Azumi Jun as Finance Minister. Mr. Azumi was an NHK announcer before becoming a politician and has no discernible qualifications for this post. In fact, he has never been a full Cabinet minister before, yet was given one of the three most important portfolios. He is, however, a dependable partisan attack dog. The Nikkei share price index fell 146 points shortly after his appointment was announced.

Gemba Koichiro as Foreign Minister. Mr. Gemba has been a professional politician since the age of 26 and has no discernible qualifications for this post, either. He is in favor of reinterpreting the Constitution to allow for collective self-defense. He opposed the efforts of Kan Naoto and Sengoku Yoshito to reopen discussions of reparations payments to South Korea by reminding them that the issue had been resolved by the 1965 treaty between the two countries when Japan paid the South Korean government the equivalent of $US 800 million.

Hachiro Yoshio as Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry. Mr. Hachiro also has a degree in agriculture and is a veteran of the Socialist Party, which speaks eloquently to his qualifications for his new job. He is also a member of a Diet group (mostly from the DPJ), who urge friendly ties with North Korea and think the problems with that country’s nuclear missile program can be resolved by closer ties with South Korea. Mr. Hachiro is opposed to participating in the discussions for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a regional trade agreement, which Mr. Noda supports. The prime minister retained in his Cabinet another prominent TPP opponent, Agriculture Minister Kano Michihiko.

Add to: Facebook | Digg | Del.icio.us | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Yahoo Buzz | Newsvine

Posted in Government, Politics, Quotations | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Who’s calling whose bluff?

Posted by ampontan on Monday, May 30, 2011

A FEW DAYS ago, I wrote that the passage of a no-confidence motion in the lower house of the Diet would require the dissolution of the body and a new general election. That wasn’t entirely accurate, because Article 69 of the Constitution specifies that the Cabinet has to resign en masse unless the prime minister calls an election within 10 days. On that choice could hinge the course of Japanese politics — and post-earthquake society — for the foreseeable future.

No-confidence motions have passed four times under the current Constitution, the last in 1993 for the Miyazawa Cabinet. Each of the rebuked prime ministers has chosen to dissolve the lower house and hold an election. The political media thinks there’s a real possibility this one could pass too, even though it would require a rebellion by an estimated 80 of the 308 members of the ruling party in the lower house. That’s why Prime Minister Kan Naoto is reportedly threatening DPJ MPs that he too will choose an election rather than go quietly into that good night.

The word “threat” is an unusual one to use for a prime minister’s dealings with the nominal allies of his own party, but it’s a bon mot here. A senior member of the opposition LDP told one newspaper their internal polling shows they’d pick up from 100 to 150 seats in an election. That would be a bloodletting on a scale similar to the previous lower house election (and the 2010 American Congressional elections). The lower figure alone would be enough to give the LDP the most seats in the chamber.

Whether or not those numbers are accurate, the polls and polling results for the DPJ have been dismal for some time. Some local members are running for office by running away from their party ID. Therefore, a DPJ member voting for a no-confidence motion might be voting himself out of a job, particularly the first termers who arrived in the 2009 landslide.

That’s why Ozawa Ichiro, now working to bring down the prime minister of his own party, is telling those delegates — many of whom owe their seats to his expenditures of time and money on their behalf — that it’s still not physically possible to hold an election in the earthquake/tsunami damaged Tohoku region. Therefore, he says, Mr. Kan is bluffing; resignation is his only real choice. (There are also reports the DPJ leadership is quietly canvassing local governments in the Tohoku region to see if they can conduct an election.)

That’s also why LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu told reporters he wasn’t in favor of holding a lower house election, even though his party and New Komeito would be the ones to introduce the no-confidence motion. He’s purposely flashing his cards to the DPJ MPs to signal that their seats are safe with him.

Because this is a parliamentary system and party disloyalty is a hanging offence, both Mr. Kan and party Secretary-General Okada Katsuya have promised to lay their vengeance upon their fellows who vote for the motion, or even play hooky on the day of the vote. (Let’s put aside for now how the party would deal with, say, 70 rebellious members voting for a failed motion. How will they throw them out and survive?)

The prospect of being a party-less Diet member appeals to no one; they’d have to find their own cash spigot instead of feeding at the party trough. That would explain the rumors of the Hatoyama Brothers forming a new party. If money indeed walks, they have enough between them to shoe in golden slippers any pol who wants to walk to a new home.

Who’s next?

But who would replace the prime minister after he was relegated to the ashkan of history? Freelance journalist Itagaki Eiken thinks he has an idea.

Mr. Itagaki once covered the Kantei for the Mainichi Shimbun, so he knows his way around Nagata-cho. He’s also become a semi-shill for Ozawa Ichiro and has a taste for conspiracy theories involving David Rockefeller, so a salt shaker needs to be kept handy when reading his columns.

This time, he’s focused on former Defense Minister Maehara Seiji, who would have been a logical candidate anyway had he not resigned earlier this year, ostensibly over accepting political contributions from a Korean national born and living in Japan. Mr. Itagaki also thinks the Americans have made it known to Tokyo they want to see Mr. Maehara come on the September state visit instead of Mr. Kan. (The former takes a harder line against China and is not averse to amending part of the Constitution’s Peace Clause.)

Before Maehara can become prime minister, however, Mr. Itagaki says he will have to dispose of some political baggage. He cites other examples from the past: Sato Eisaku passed on his geisha mistress to political ally and widower Kanemaru Shin (later known for keeping the LPD’s stash of gold bullion in a safe at home). Nakasone Yasuhiro relinquished his mistress, the proprietress of a nightclub, to a trusted aide.

Outside women do not seem to be Mr. Maehara’s problem. Also, as this previous post notes, the campaign contributions from the zainichi woman were not significant, she was a family friend, and if she uses a Japanese name, aides wouldn’t have known her ethnic background. Many people suspected at the time this was merely a face-saving offering to allow him to resign without more damaging information being revealed. Mr. Itagaki echoes the stories that appeared in weekly magazines about campaign money from gangsters and ties to North Korea. He adds that one story is so explosive it could cause collateral damage to Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko and Reform Minister Ren Ho, but concludes it’s not too late for Mr. Maehara to tidy up his affairs.

New Komeito Party Head Yamaguchi Natsuo says this is the week the players start calling bluffs and putting their cards on the table. We’ll soon find out who’s holding the aces and how likely it is that nothing can be a real cool hand.

Afterwords:

Yesterday the voters of Mito in Ibaraki elected Takahashi Yasushi mayor. Mr. Takahashi is an independent backed by the LDP. The election was supposed to be held last month, but many city functions are shut down until 30 June to deal with the earthquake damage. Mito managed to hold an election, but the problems in the Tohoku area are more daunting.

My previous post on Maehara Seiji is dated 9 March, two days before the Tohoku quake. Even then, Yamaguchi Natsuo was saying the Kan Cabinet was in “an endless state of collapse”, and Tanigaki Sadakazu was mulling a no-confidence vote. The disaster is the only reason they still have Kan Naoto to kick around some more.

Over the weekend, I ran across a website for an organization overseas purporting to present foreign affairs analysis. (I forget the name.) They claimed that one of the reasons Mr. Kan was in trouble with Japanese voters was a political contribution from a zainichi man he met for a round of golf.

This is bologna made from the worst quality tripe. The prime minister acknowledged the contributions, said he didn’t know the man was Korean (possibly true), and the slight ripple created by the story had smoothed over within days.

In short, they’re peddling air-based preconceived notions about Japan and Japanese society as professional analysis.

Science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon once said that 95% of everything is crap. That’s still a pessimistic exaggeration, but not in regard to the pronouncements about Japan from journalists/academics/think tanks.

*****
Who’s going to draw the bad card?

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

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

Now what

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, April 28, 2011

In the several elections held since the beginning of the 21st century, the (Japanese) people have continued to shout, “Affairs cannot be entrusted to the bureaucracy,” and “Grow out of bureaucracy-led politics”.
- Sakaiya Tai’ichi

In the past, they would change the era name to stop ongoing natural disasters, but isn’t a change of government what’s needed now?
- Kan Naoto, 23 October 2004, on his blog after visiting Ehime and Kochi to view typhoon damage

SUNDAY was election day for the second and final round of sub-national elections. Even Prime Minister Kan Naoto atypically admitted the results represented a defeat for his ruling Democratic Party. His assertion that none of it was his fault, however, was all too typical.

Part two consisted primarily of balloting for chief municipal executives and assemblies. Politicians at this level in Japan are less likely to have a formal party affiliation; 60% of the winners in the assembly elections do not belong to a party, and those who do tend to be associated with the smaller parties. Nationwide, the rank of municipal seats by party before the election started with New Komeito, followed by the Communists, the Liberal-Democratic Party, and the DPJ. That ranking is unchanged after this election, and the DPJ’s gain in their aggregate seat total was marginal at best.

At the top of the tickets, DPJ party candidates went head-to-head with opposition candidates in 10 elections for chief municipal executive and lost seven. One of their victories was the reelection of the incumbent mayor of Oita City. This was the fourth such sub-national election for the DPJ since their founding, and these results, combined with their dismal showing in Round One, demonstrate the ruling party of the national government is losing ground with the electorate rather than gaining.

The defining action by the party that demonstrates its current predicament was a non-action—they failed to contest a by-election for the lower house Diet seat a DPJ member vacated in a futile campaign for Nagoya mayor in February. That failure was the focus of post-election commentary in Japan. Said the Nishinippon Shimbun:

“Conspicuous from the first round of elections was the party’s losses due to uncontested elections, and their cooperation with the LDP and other parties to back candidates. While this exposes the weakness of their local organizations, which are incapable of developing candidates of their own, in many cases they also avoided running candidates in elections they thought they would lose. The DPJ has a heavy responsibility for failing to face the voters and offer policy and electoral choices, despite being the ruling power in national government.”

The poor DPJ showing was the signal for the resumption of moves to find some way—any way—to get rid of Prime Minister Kan. The key word is “resume”; were it not for the earthquake and tsunami, he would already have been disposed. The downside to this good news is that replacing Mr. Kan might be akin to a lothario ditching a girl who gave him the crabs and winding up dating a girl with chlamydia.

First the electoral truth, and then the consequences.

OSAKA

Momentum continued to gather for Osaka Ishin no Kai, the regional party led by Osaka Gov. Hashimoto Toru, as their candidate Inoue Tetsuya defeated the incumbent mayor of Suita, who was supported by the DPJ and two other parties. It was Mr. Inoue’s first election campaign.

DPJ Diet member Tarutoko Shinji resigned his position as chairman of the local party federation to take responsibility for the party’s poor showing in Osaka this month. Mr. Tarutoko’s strategy was to confront Gov. Hashimoto (a switch from 2009, when the party went out of their way to kiss his posterior), and that nothing turned out to be a real uncool hand. Some party members now want to rethink their support of Osaka Mayor Hiramatsu Kunio, a Hashimoto critic, in his re-election bid this fall.

In the 17 cities of Osaka Prefecture, New Komeito and Your Party elected all of their candidates. The DPJ elected 46 of 56, or 82%, (down from 95% four years ago), and the Communist Party 63 of 73, or 86% (down from 96% four years ago). Eight candidates from local reform parties were elected in three cities, including the Ryoma Project x Suita Shinsenkai.

AICHI

Former LDP lower house MP Niwa Hideki regained the seat he lost in 2009 in Aichi #6, defeating freelance reporter Kawamura Akiyo of Tax Reduction Japan by a margin so large city employees should be congratulated for taking the time to finish counting the votes. TRJ, led by Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi, was hoping their tsunami of a victory in February would carry them into the national legislature, but in this campaign they didn’t generate a ripple. Name recognition, a wish for post-disaster stability, and Ms. Kawamura’s inexperience may have been factors. (The two Kawamuras are unrelated—different kanji for the kawa.) The LDP focused its attention on this election, and party head Tanigaki Sadakazu came to campaign several times. Mr. Niwa also had the de facto support of New Komeito. This is the race the DPJ was too chicken to run in.

The results for the TRJ were so poor Mr. Kawamura confided to an old friend in the DPJ several days before the election that it would have better to give it a pass. Nevertheless, he made some progress on his agenda in Nagoya despite the election results. His party offered a bill to permanently halve the salaries of city council. The LDP and the DPJ countered with a bill providing for a temporary salary cut with a neutral third party determining the amount. None of them had the votes to get their bills passed, so they compromised by passing a bill for a temporary 50% reduction with no time period specified. Mr. Kawamura seems to have gotten the better end of the deal for now.

AKUNE

Events in Akune, Kagoshima, over the past year have received prominent coverage nationwide. Akune is a small city, and most of its revenue goes to public employee remuneration. Former Mayor Takehara Shin’ichi had strong public backing for his plan to pay city council members on a per diem basis instead of straight salaries. When the council refused to pass his legislation, however, he started governing by decree and the public turned against him. He was recalled in a close vote a few months ago, and lost the campaign to replace himself by another close vote. But when the new mayor reinstated the old salary system, Mr. Takehara’s supporters succeeded in having the entire city council recalled.

The new election for the 16 council members was held on Sunday, and both factions ran 11 candidates. The anti-Takehara group, mainly city council veterans, campaigned on a promise to end confusion in government and won 10 seats, while the pro-Takehara group of amateurs won six seats on a platform of reducing the number of assembly members, reinstating the per diem pay system, and cutting the fixed asset tax. The group of veterans also received about 1,000 more votes in the aggregate.

The winners will still have to mind their Ps and Qs, however. The candidate who received the most votes was Takehara Emi, the former mayor’s sister, who was part of the faction calling for downsized government.

TOKYO

The DPJ lost six of eight de facto head-to-head elections among mayors and ward heads in the Tokyo Metro District. The party also must have been discouraged by Murata Nobuyuki’s failure to gain a seat as a delegate to the Meguro Ward assembly. Mr. Murata, a freelance journalist, is the husband of DPJ national poster girl and reform minister Ren Ho. His candidacy developed no traction despite an early declaration. Neither Mrs. Murata’s speeches on his behalf nor her photograph on his campaign posters helped. There were 55 candidates for 36 seats. Mr. Murata finished in 42nd place with 893 votes, 457 votes shy of a seat.

Another Tokyo election of interest was that for the chief municipal officer of Setagaya Ward. The winner was Hosaka Nobuto of the Social Democratic Party (Japan’s loony left), who campaigned on an anti-nuclear power platform. The mass media thought his victory was Very Important News Indeed and treated it as such.

What they found less worthy of reporting was that the local LDP party organizations failed to agree on a single candidate, so two candidates split the LDP vote in the ward. The party organization for the Tokyo Metro District backed Hanawa Takafumi, while the organization for Setagaya supported Kawakami Kazuhiko. Mr. Hosaka received roughly 84,000 votes, Mr. Hanawa 78,000, and Mr. Kawakami 60,000. Had there been a single LDP candidate, the news from Setagaya on election night might have been Not Very Important At All.

Nagata-cho

Sakaiya Tai’ichi once held high positions in the predecessor of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. He is now a freelance writer, commentator, and harsh critic of the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy in general, the Finance Ministry in particular, and the Bank of Japan and the domestic banking industry to boot. It would be impossible to improve on his summary of the DPJ government since taking power:

“The DPJ boasted that by eliminating waste from the budget they could squeeze out JPY 7 trillion in fiscal resources. They offered such new policies as the child allowance, the elimination of expressway tolls, and subsidies to individual farm households. The people were doubtful, but they expected the party to do something new. That’s why they won 308 seats in the 2009 lower house election.

“But the people were betrayed. The new DPJ government immediately became captives of the bureaucracy, and amakudari flourished. The ministers merely read out by rote the texts the bureaucrats had written for them. The budget reviews were broadcast live, but because the Finance Ministry had drawn up the scenario, they cut out only JPY 700 billion. That’s about the same total the LDP came up with when they were in power.

“Their promise to reduce civil servant salaries by 20% was an utter lie. In addition, their ignorance and lack of information in foreign policy and defense matters was exposed with the Okinawa base issue, as well as with the Senkakus and the Northern Territories.

“That’s why the DPJ has continued to lose elections since 2010. They defended 54 seats in the July 2010 upper house election and lost 10. They lost a by-election for a Hokkaido lower house seat that October, and also lost the elections for governor of Wakayama and mayor of Fukuoka City and Kanazawa. This year they’ve been defeated in local elections in Aichi and Nagoya.”

Mr. Sakaiya left out one other complaint, but Osaka Gov. Hashimoto Toru finished it for him:

“The DPJ has to distance itself from public employee unions. I think popular sentiment when they took control of government was for a change in the public sector.”

The expression Uma no mimi ni nenbutsu—Buddhist sutras in a horse’s ear—would seem to be applicable.

The Kan administration’s post-earthquake behavior is just one of several reasons for the party’s electile dysfunction, but as the most recent demonstration of that dysfunction, it’s a convenient place for politicos to pitch a tent—even for those who are supposed to be their allies. Shimoji Mikio, secretary-general of the People’s New Party and technically part of the ruling coalition, gave the party some excellent advice:

“That the Kan administration’s response to the disaster is not understood by the people is reflected in the election results. Their continued election losses make even clearer the people’s lack of trust in the government. They should reevaluate their approach to policy and organization in light of these results.”

More sutras for the horse.

Sunrise Party Japan leader Hiranuma Takeo also found their approach to organization wanting:

“The government has created more than 20 councils to deal with earthquake relief and Fukushima, but their duties overlap. The people are scornful, so we must change the trend of politics.”

No one was more scornful than Keidanren Chairman Yonekura Hiroaki, who said on the 26th:

“The leadership’s erroneous instructions were the source of the confusion (after the earthquake).”

Referring to the Cabinet’s boast that it had declared a moratorium on their travel overseas to deal with the recovery efforts, Mr. Yonekura said:

“A Cabinet that does its job properly should stay at home and take charge of affairs, but if people incapable of properly performing their jobs do us the favor of leaving, I wouldn’t care.”

Exposed

It might well be a waste of energy to hold Mr. Kan and the rest of the DPJ leadership in contempt. They seem at times to be living on another plane of existence. A Fuji-Sankei poll last week asked those surveyed if the prime minister had demonstrated leadership in dealing with Fukushima. The answers:

Yes: 13.4%
No: 79.7%

The losers of an election in a democracy are supposed to accept defeat gracefully. They are expected to acknowledge that the people have spoken and accept their verdict. The standards for accepting responsibility in Japan are higher still—those in positions of authority are expected to resign. Indeed, the head of the Aichi federation of DPJ parties, lower house member Maki Yoshio, said after the elections: “I will resign the position because I don’t want the voters to think this is a party of people who don’t take responsibility.”

Contrast that with the behavior of the party’s national leaders. Election campaign committee chairman Ishii Hajime offered his resignation at first, saying:

“The DPJ was defeated in the election and it was beginning to seem as if no one would take responsibility.”

But party Secretary-General Okada Katsuya said that wouldn’t be necessary:

“The results are better than the last time. Resigning by itself is not a way to take responsibility.”

So Mr. Ishii withdrew his resignation.

For his part, Kan Naoto has exasperated many because he wouldn’t recognize the concepts of accepting responsibility and gracefully accepting the will of the people if they walked up and bit him:

“Different people have said that (the DPJ) lost because our response to the earthquake was bad, but that’s not right. Our response to the earthquake has been sound.”

In fact, he has his own view on what constitutes the responsible course of action. When asked if he would resign, he said:

“Abandoning my responsibility is not the path I should take.”

He can’t say “Après moi le déluge” because there’s already been one in the Tohoku region.

It gets worse:

“That I am in this position (at this time) is fate. The people have a quite favorable opinion of what we’ve done so far.”

People who would be national leaders must realize everything they’ve said or done will be exposed, but Mr. Kan hasn’t made it there yet. When confronted with his blog post quoted at the top of this article, this is the best he could do:

“I can’t say right away whether I wrote that or not.”

The prime minister isn’t the only DPJ leader to have failed to notice it is no longer possible to hide one’s public past in the information age. Reporters asked Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio about poll results showing the public was extremely unhappy with the government’s handling of Fukushima. Mr. Edano’s usual response to these questions is that there are ups and downs in individual polls, and that he won’t respond to each one; i.e., the ones that make his party look bad. He should have stuck with that line instead of what he actually said this time:

“It’s natural that criticism would be harsh (but) I don’t think public opinion polls accurately reflect public opinion.”

He might as well have written Kick Me on a piece of paper and taped it to his backside. Before the day was out, reporters had dug up other Edano comments about polls made on the record in the Diet:

“Looking at the public opinion polls, most people think Health Minister Yanagisawa Hakuo should resign.” (March 2007)

And:

“Looking at the public opinion polls, it is clear the people are opposed to the (Aso Cabinet’s) stimulus fund proposal.” (January 2009)

Enough already

It’s inevitable that political prey this weak will attract predators. But the only way to deal with people who act as if it is their fate and their mission to cling to office and make things worse is a Constitutional coup. The many plotters in this instance aren’t bothering to conceal their intentions. For starters, the Asahi Shimbun reported that destroyer-of-worlds Ozawa Ichiro met with People’s New Party head Kamei Shizuka, another veteran backstage manipulator, on Sunday evening “to exchange opinions about the political structure for disaster recovery”.

Ha ha ha!

On Monday, DPJ Diet members close to Mr. Ozawa launched a petition drive to convene a party meeting and hold an election to recall Mr. Kan as party president. Some suspect the real intent is to convince Mr. Kan to resign, as the petition would require the signatures of one-third of all DPJ Diet members. Said Kawauchi Hiroshi, the ringleader of this particular plot:

“Prime Minister Kan has no management ability. At a time such as this, the absence of a true leader will cause real trouble.”

Some politicians are accused of having lapdogs. Ozawa Ichiro has a lap pit bull, Yamaoka Kenji, one of the most obnoxious and nasty politicians ever to cast a shadow in a parliament building. Mr. Yamaoka convened a meeting this week of a group whose stated intention is knocking off Mr. Kan. The lineup was predictable: Boss Tweed’s daughter, former Foreign Minister Tanaka Makiko; politicians allied with former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio; and Haraguchi Kazuhiro, an Ozawa acolyte who served in the Hatoyama Cabinet.

About 50 or 60 people attended, an impressive showing of rebels for a party in power. In this case, however, it falls short of the 80 DPJ MPs needed to pass a no-confidence motion in the lower house, and it’s just about half the DPJ pols the media assumes are allied with Mr. Ozawa. Because everyone involved is aware of the numbers, they took the unusual step of calling on New Komeito to join them in forming a new coalition government. (That would give them a two-vote majority in the upper house, where the current government now falls short.)

Another reason, however, is that most members of the opposition LDP outside of the mudboat wing want nothing to do with an Ozawa Ichiro plot. They would prefer not to work with the Ozawa group if the latter were to submit a no-confidence motion. If the LDP were to submit their own no-confidence motion, however, an aye vote by a DPJ member would mean expulsion from the party. Therefore, the idea is to get inside the LDP’s collective head and threaten them with the loss of their former coalition partner.

Do they know something no one else does? New Komeito head Yamaguchi Natsuo has already said Mr. Ozawa should resign from the Diet altogether. Urushibara Yoshio, New Komeito’s Diet Affairs Chairman, told his LDP counterpart not to worry:

“They used the New Komeito name without asking us about it. We’re not in lockstep (with Ozawa).”

While the people want the Kan Cabinet gone, that isn’t the group they want to replace them. They lost what little confidence they had in Mr. Kan long ago, but they lost their confidence in the likes of Mr. Hatoyama, Mr. Ozawa, and the rest of the DPJ before that.

Here’s a comment from one person identified as a “long-time Nagata-cho observer”:

“The LDP and New Komeito dislike and reject Prime Minister Kan and Mr. Ozawa in equal measure. Many in the DPJ also dislike Ozawa. If a no-confidence motion were to pass, it might cause a political realignment that would shut out both Kan and Ozawa.”

Compatible with that observation is another scenario involving Nishioka Takeo, the president of the upper house. Serving in that role requires the resignation of their party membership, and Mr. Nishioka was an Ozawa ally in the DPJ. He’s been calling for the prime minister’s resignation for several weeks, and finally said he would have to make a decision of his own if Mr. Kan doesn’t quit. By that, people assume he will ask the opposition to submit a censure motion in the upper house, which would likely pass. Such a motion is not legally binding, but the Kan Cabinet would find it impossible to govern if the opposition decided to boycott the Diet until they resigned.

One writer speculated another ungainly platypus-like coalition might result: LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu as prime minister and former DPJ Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito as deputy prime minister. Though Mr. Sengoku is from the same leftist turf where Kan Naoto grazes, he has a low opinion of the prime minister. After being brought back to the Cabinet as a deputy chief cabinet secretary to handle the recovery/reconstruction effort, he has openly criticized Mr. Kan’s conduct of post-earthquake affairs and the many organizations that he’s created.

Everyone would have to hold their noses, but that arrangement might work as a time-limited grand coalition with the LDP, New Komeito, and the anti-Ozawa faction in the DPJ to handle the recovery without having either Mr. Kan or Mr. Ozawa involved. The LDP has the experience, Mr. Sengoku is an intelligent and capable man, and no exchange of money between Mr. Ozawa and the construction companies would occur in addition to what already is being passed under the table.

How does Mr. Kan view these moves? There are now rumors that he wants to reshuffle the Cabinet and include some Ozawa and Hatoyama allies to forestall a DPJ revolt and prolong his political life.

History will judge Kan Naoto harshly as prime minister, to the extent that he is remembered at all. The longer he stays in office, the harsher that judgment will be.

*****
Mustt Mustt is the title of a qawwalli that translates as “lost in intoxication”. The Indian singer has something else in mind, but that’s as good an explanation as any for the pride the Kan Cabinet takes in being dazed and confused.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

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

Life its own self

Posted by ampontan on Friday, March 18, 2011

LIFE its own self continues….

Yesterday’s post quoted Katie Benner of Fortune speculating about Japanese government debt. She wrote, “If those insurers don’t have to make massive payments, they probably won’t have to liquidate assets like JGBs.”

They will have to make massive payments, but they might not have to liquidate assets to do it. At a press conference on the 17th, Suzuki Hisahito, the chairman of the General Insurance Association of Japan, said he expects the payouts for earthquake insurance in the Tohoku quake to exceed the previous record high of JPY 78.3 billion (just under $US one billion) paid after the Kobe earthquake. He offered a rough estimate of several hundred billion yen.

Mr. Suzuki explained the insurers are liable for everything up to an amount of JPY 115 billion. The government and the private sector insurers will split the liability equally for benefits exceeding that amount. Further, the government will be liable for 95% of the amount if the combined payout of the government and the private sector exceeds JPY 1.9250 billion.

One factor contributing to a much higher payment, apart from the scale of the disaster, is that public awareness of earthquake insurance rose after the Kobe quake. Mr. Suzuki thinks the payments won’t have a serious impact on the insurers’ business. The government and the insurers had aggregate reserves of JPY 2.919 trillion as of the end of 2009, JPY 1 trillion of which is the private sector portion. The chairman thinks those reserves will be cover the claims.

The insurance companies might have to liquidate some assets, but that would come after the payout to restore the reserves.

New Komeito

New Komeito is a political party aligned with Soka Gakkai, a group of lay Nichiren Buddhists, though their funding is separate. They don’t care for suggestions that the party is the group’s political arm, but that’s what most people in Japan think. Unlike Western parties with a religious orientation, they favor social welfare policies with aspects similar to those supported by social democrats. (The part of their Wikipedia entry that suggests otherwise is incorrect.)

I hold no truck for mixing politics and religion, but since becoming party chair in September 2009, Yamaguchi Natsuo has often spoken with uncommon good sense. He’s done it again: Now he’s proposing that all Diet members cut their salary by one-third for a year and allocate the funds to rebuilding the country.

They won’t starve

Meals on wheels

During a news conference on the 16th, Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yuko asked that people outside the Tohoku region not get carried away with panic buying and hoarding. He repeated the request later and said the government would consider coercive measures to prevent it.

The accompanying photo was taken on the afternoon of the 16th as a deliveryman wheeled in one of two loads of 29 cases of instant meals to the DPJ’s private chambers in the Diet building. Each case carries 12 packaged meals.

One newspaper deliberately ripped off the prime minister’s comment to Tokyo Electric officials and asked, what in the world is going on here? A DPJ employee on the site explained, “It’s not hoarding. One supporter of a party executive said he wanted us to use them and sent them over. We’re thinking of some way to send the food to the stricken area.”

The next sentence in the newspaper report was a reminder of how few campaign promises the DPJ has kept.

As for the food itself, reporters spied two types of yakisoba with sauce. The DPJ doesn’t seem to know the expression about sauce for the goose being sauce for the gander.

Labor intensive

The United States deployed 280,000 soldiers to invade Iraq, a total accounting for 11% of their armed forces. The maximum American military deployment during the occupation was 171,000 people in 2007, or 6.9%.

In comparison, about 100,000 of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces are involved in the relief effort, or 42% of the country’s military manpower. Adding the support personnel brings the total to 180,000, or 75% of the overall strength.

Lieutenant Commander Philip Francis Queeg Prime Minister Kan Naoto made the decision on troop deployment. First he settled on 20,000 people on the 12th, but it grew to 50,000 later in the day. By the evening of the 13th, the total had swelled to 100,000. Ministry of Defense sources say they were never consulted.

Better things to do?

The media finds it curious that The Man Who Would Be Boss, Ozawa Ichiro, has been keeping a low profile this week. Mr. Ozawa, currently suspended from the DPJ he once led for his recent indictment over a political funding scandal, represents a lower house district from Iwate, one of the three prefectures hardest hit by the earthquake. His current district is Iwate #4, located inland away from the area where the tsunami hit. When districts were larger before the Diet reorganization, however, he represented two cities with 373 confirmed deaths and more than 1,000 missing as of the morning of the 16th.

He hasn’t been to the district since the earthquake—he certainly has the money to rent a helicopter—nor has he said anything in public. The last update to his website was on the 11th, the day of the earthquake, inviting people to a fund-raising party in April. Some are wondering if he’s doing what he does best—political scheming. He held a meeting of loyal MPs on the 10th, the day before the quake, and told them to get ready for an election because the lower house would be dissolved soon.

An Ozawa aide objected that of course his boss is concerned, but he’d only get in the way if he visited the area. He plans to visit after the situation has stabilized.

If the aide had anything to say about the lack of a website update, it wasn’t reported.

Update: He posted a blog entry on the 18th, and it wasn’t very constructive. Mr. Ozawa wrote, “This crisis situation is as serious as the postwar period of devastation.”

It’s serious, but it’s nowhere near that bad. The devastation now is primarily in three prefectures. Then it was spread throughout the country. That sounds suspiciously like a man who wants to turn a natural disaster into political capital.

He’s back

The people upset with the DPJ’s disaster response (and there are many) have one consolation—at least Sengoku Yoshito is no longer the chief cabinet secretary. The person in that job has the primary responsibility for providing information to the public. Let’s count our blessings: detested for his insulting demeanor when dealing with opposition politicians and the media, detested for his attempt to shirk responsibility for the government’s mishandling of the Senkakus incident, detested for copping an attitude from the sokaiya gangsters he once defended…so detested Mr. Kan had to can him when the upper house censured him after only six months in office. Imagine what the news conferences over the past week would have been like if he were conducting them.

He was also detested for behaving as the de facto prime minister behind the scenes because he thought Kan Naoto wasn’t up to the job. Well, we can cut him some slack on that one.

But he’s back! One of Mr. Kan’s aides resigned, and he was replaced by Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujii Hirohisa. It was thought the 78-year-old ex-Finance Ministry bureaucrat and finance minister with a rumored taste for the daytime grape couldn’t physically cope with the work involved in coordinating disaster relief, so Mr. Sengoku assumed his duties.

By all accounts he’s an intelligent and capable man apart from his repellent personality and political behavior, so he’ll probably be effective in providing some much-needed organizational skills to his disorganized party mates. His new job won’t require much direct contact with the public, media, or opposition politicians, which is the way they’ll like it. Now let’s hope he learned his lesson from hiding the Coast Guard video showing the collision with the Chinese fishing vessel. Unfortunately, people who throw their intelligence around the way bullies throw their weight around are not often susceptible to re-education.

It surpasseth understanding

Here’s the headline and first paragraph of a news article yesterday:

Away from north, much of Japan lives in eerie normalcy

OSAKA / Television stations here on Thursday were broadcasting golf tournaments and game shows, supermarket shelves were packed with plentiful products and fancy foods and department stores buzzed with content customers carrying bags of recently purchased goods. This port city in the heart of Japan’s second largest metropolitan area of Kansai 400 kilometers southwest of Tokyo seems little affected, perhaps even willfully oblivious to what’s going on in the northeast of the country, where the drama at the critically damaged Fukushima nuclear power continues to unfold.

Is it so difficult to understand that it isn’t “eerie” to behave normally when everything about you is normal? Normality includes television returning to its regular schedule, supermarkets in a prosperous country being “packed with plentiful products”, and people going shopping. Does the author expect everyone to curl up in a corner and moan?

The suggestion that people are “willfully oblivious”—on no basis other than a hyperactive imagination–has no business in a news story. As for using the word “drama” to describe a life-or-death situation, the English-language media have been doing that for nearly 40 years. By now it’s futile to expect them to learn the distinction between the stage and life its own self.

This attitude would be unremarkable for most news media outlets–after all, to them 380,000 people in shelters is “nearly half a million”. But it’s incomprehensible for this one—the newspaper publishing the article was the Jerusalem Post.

If any people should understand the importance of going about the business of life its own self in the face of adversity, it should be the Israelis. Yet even some of them are mystified by the refusal to indulge the emotions. It’s as if the journos half expect some Japanese to walk up to them and say, “Greetings, Earthling, we are visitors from a far-off solar system. Let’s exchange opinions about popular foods.”

I listened to NHK on the car radio while attending to an errand this afternoon. The program they regularly broadcast at that time on weekdays encourages people to send e-mails or faxes to express their opinions on current events, which are read by the announcers. (I’ve never heard a call-in show in Japan.)

This week, people have been offering each other encouragement. Today, one woman from Gunma sent this message: I don’t have time to cry. I’ll put that emotion off for some other time. It’s important now to live, and to keep a smile on my face.

Let that be a lesson for us all.

******
A tribute to the man who wrote the song:

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Posted in Military affairs, Politics, Popular culture | Tagged: , , , , | 14 Comments »

Absurd

Posted by ampontan on Monday, January 31, 2011

“There is no time to wait for the wobbly and unsteady Democratic Party to acquire the ability to be responsible for government through on-the-job training and for a two-party system to mature…At this rate, there will never be any reason whatsoever for entrusting the government to the Democratic Party.”
- Yosano Kaoru
, Minshuto ga Nihon Keizai wo Hakai Suru (The Democratic Party Will Destroy the Japanese Economy), published in 2010

The treasury says the national debt
Is climbing to the sky
And government expenditures
Have never been so high
It makes a fellow get a
Gleam of pride within his eye
To see how our economy expands
The country’s in the very best of hands
- Johnny Mercer, “The Country’s in the Very Best of Hands”

THE WORD politicians themselves are using to describe the government of Prime Minister Kan Naoto is “absurd”. Nishioka Takeo, the president of the Diet’s upper house, called on Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito to resign earlier this month. After taking one look at the lineup of the new Cabinet in which Mr. Sengoku was replaced, Mr. Nishioka called it “absurd”.

The presidents of both houses of the Diet traditionally resign their party memberships before assuming office. Mr. Nishioka was a member of the Democratic Party of Japan—Mr. Kan’s ruling party.

Another reshuffled Cabinet card was Kaieda Banri, who moved from the Ministry of Economic and Fiscal Policy to the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. His former slot in the deck is now occupied by Yosano Kaoru, who resigned from the opposition Sunrise Party to take the position. Quitting parties is getting to be a habit for Mr. Yosano. Before last year’s upper house election, he resigned from the Liberal-Democratic Party to form the Sunrise Party. Mr. Yosano owes his Diet seat to the LDP because they placed him on their proportional representation list. He lost his bid for reelection to the seat in Tokyo’s District #1 in 2009. The winner was Kaieda Banri.

That’s the same Yosano Kaoru quoted at the top of this post.

When reporters asked Mr. Kaieda about this thoughts on the new Cabinet lineup, he answered, “Life is absurd.”

There was little enthusiasm for the changes even in the ruling party. Said a DPJ member of the Saitama prefectural assembly after the new ministers were announced: “Even today I was asked at the train station, ‘Just what is the DPJ doing?’”

Kamei Shizuka of the People’s New Party—yes, they’re still in the ruling coalition—addressed a DPJ party conference on the day before the Cabinet changes were announced, and put it in their faces:

“The DPJ is now a disgrace. I am sincerely anxious for you to rouse yourselves.”

One of Mr. Kan’s three themes for his administration is “ending the absurdities”, which tells you all you need to know about his political tin ear. He’s given no sign of either stepping down or calling an election any time soon, however.

*****
Mr. Kan’s Cabinet reshuffle may be absurd, but it was that or vacate the premises. One of the several reasons the upper house censured Mr. Sengoku was his attitude and intemperate language during Question Time in the Diet. (That’s why Mr. Nishioka wanted to see him gone.) Watanabe Yoshimi of Your Party described it as “impertinence, intimidation, and evasion,” to which he later added “bluster and prevarication”.

How can the nation be in the very best of hands when they've got them on their hips? (Sankei Shimbun photo)

The upper house also censured the generally well-liked Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Minister Mabuchi Sumio because his ministry is responsible for the Coast Guard, and he had to take the fall for the YouTube release of the Coast Guard video of the Chinese banditry in the Senkaku islets. While the censures are not legally binding, the opposition refused to discuss legislation with the ruling party with those two men still in the Cabinet, and the opposition has more seats in the upper house.

Another reason for the realignment was that the prime minister is desperate to juice his flagging popularity among the electorate. (He is said to be particularly unpopular among women.) An indication of his standing with the public was the ratings for his live appearance on the television program Hodo Station (News Station) on 5 January. The program usually pulls in an audience of 13% to 14%, and averaged 14.7% for the four weeks prior to his appearance. Those ratings often rise slightly when a sitting prime minister shows up. Then-Prime Minister Abe Shinzo picked up a 16.7% share.

Mr. Kan could manage only 6.9%.

But it’s not his fault! Said the PM at the DPJ party conference earlier this month:

“What we have done so far was not wrong. We have carrried out our job with resolution, but the problem is that we’ve failed to fully convey what we’ve done.”

If you think that sounds as if he’s channeling Barack Obama, here’s more: To remedy the situation, he’s considering a televised address to the nation, after the style of American presidents.

It had better be a good speech. The latest Shinhodo 2001 poll has his rate of support at 28.8%, with 67.0%–a cool two-thirds—opposed. Just a skoche under half of the respondents want a lower house election now, at 49.6%, while 41.8% were content to let it ride.

Here’s why the DPJ falls into the second camp. The 16 January edition of the weekly Sunday Mainichi features a simulation by two university professors of a lower house election. The magazine admits it’s a speculative endeavor because candidates for several constituencies have yet to be decided by some parties. That caveat notwithstanding, they project the DPJ to lose 124 seats from their current total of 306 to fall to 182. They think some of the DPJ party stalwarts could be at risk, including Hatoyama Yukio and Sengoku Yoshito, and that most of the Ozawa-backed candidates who won for the first time in 2009 should think about other employment. The LDP would regain its position as the party with the most seats at 212, a pickup of 96, but that’s still short of the 241 needed for a majority. The magazine suggests they would have to create a coalition with both New Komeito and Your Party (+25) to form a government.

Former Yokohama Mayor Nakada Hiroshi observed that Cabinet reshuffles to boost electile dysfunction are a perverse part of Japanese political culture. He’s also concerned that the use of the censure weapon in an upper house controlled by an opposition party could get out of hand and turn the Diet into a political battleground. Mr. Nakata has a point, but in this case the DPJ were hoist by their own petard. They were the ones who created the weapon after their 2007 upper house election victory.

Now the DPJ wants to introduce Diet rules that would prevent upper house censure motions from causing Cabinet members to lose their position. Fancy that.

The new lineup

A common observation is that the DPJ, which proclaimed itself the standard bearer for new politics, has become a throwback to the bad old days of the LDP with a leftward tilt. Five of the 17 Cabinet ministers are affiliated with Rengo, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation.

One criticism of the old LDP was its faction politics. During its heyday, five major factions functioned as parties within the party. The DPJ criticized that approach, but in 2008, Keio Professor Kusano Atsushi argued in Seiken Kotai no Hosoku (The Law of the Change of Government) that the formation of factions was inevitable in the DPJ.

The new Cabinet suggests he was prescient. Six “groups” in the DPJ have two members each. Former Prime Minister Hatoyama’s group has only one. No one affiliated with former party President and Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro was appointed. All the members have won at least five terms in the lower house, similar to an older informal rule of thumb used by the LDP.

The absence of Ozawa allies suggests there might be something to the rumors that Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku are ready to purge him. The Asahi Shimbun gossips that they’ll dump him if a citizen review panel forces his indictment. UPDATE: Mr. Ozawa was indicted. (The appointment of only one Hatoyama affiliate—the man who launched and bankrolled the party, and its first prime minister—might also be a sign they’re ready to have Mr. Hatoyama leave along with him.)

The game

They say you can’t tell the players without a scorecard, but in this case, a scorecard won’t make much sense without knowing the game they’re playing.

People often cite the system of 1955, when two conservative parties merged to create the LDP and dominated politics for the rest of the century, as Japan’s primary political problem. Others, however, such as Watanabe Yoshimi of Your Party and Nakagawa Hidenao of the LDP, point to the statist system implemented in 1940 as explicated by Prof. Noguchi Yukio. That system instituted a total mobilization for the war effort and concentrated power in the central government under bureaucratic control. In that system, it makes no difference who the prime minister is. (Prof. Noguchi also thinks that the consumption tax would have to be raised to at least 20%–European VAT levels—to pay for social welfare programs.)

The Kan worldview

On 25 December last year, Kan Naoto met at the Kantei for three hours with a group of long-time friends who included Shinohara Hajime, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, and Kataoka Masaru of the old Shakai Shimin Rengo (Socialist Citizens Federation). It is thought they gave the prime minister a pep talk, urging him to stay the course to achieve a citizen revolution. They might have suggested Mr. Kan remember his lifelong political motto of “Deal with one problem and then move forward on all fronts.”

We already know the prime minister is a devotee of the ideas of Matsushita Keiichi, who looks forward to the dissolution of the nation-state and its replacement by supranational institutions above and local institutions below. Another aspect of the Kan philosophy is found in Prof. Shinohara’s book Shimin no Seijigaku (The Citizens’ Political Science), which holds that modern legislative democracy is unresponsive. Instead, Prof. Shinohara thinks policy should be determined by a random and compulsory (yes, compulsory) sampling of public opinion, followed by a time-limited debate in so-called “planning cells”. This would include even central government policies for science and technology.

That vision was shared to a certain extent by Hatoyama Yukio, who in his first Diet speech in October 2009 called for the creation of new values in a society that would enable greater participation by regional NPOs and citizens in issues involving public services. The DPJ favors greater support of NPOs with public funds.

Americans are familiar with the potential abuses of taxpayer-funded support of NPOs, as exemplified by the activities of the nefarious ACORN in the United States, which was forced to disband. Other Japanese point out that the Shinohara model resembles the Russian system of soviets (soviet being the word for “council”), originally worker and soldier councils thought to be a grassroots effort to promote direct democracy.

During the DPJ Party Conference held earlier this month, the delegates expressed the opinion that they had to return to their roots and differentiate themselves from “neo-liberals”.

Player transactions

Sengoku Yoshito traded for Edano Yukio

The widespread assumption that Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito was the real power in the government prompted Kan Naoto to grumble to associates that he, and not Mr. Sengoku, was the prime minister. It was also widely assumed Mr. Sengoku took on so much responsibility for the operation of government because Mr. Kan was a constant threat to walk smack into the proverbial lamppost on the street.

As we’ve seen, however, the problem with this arrangement was that Mr. Sengoku’s behavior in office was so repellent people were fed up with him in just a few weeks.

He was traded straight up for Edano Yukio, the party’s acting secretary general, another former labor lawyer with ties to radicals. Mr. Sengoku will take Mr. Edano’s old job, and will also serve as the head of a party committee dealing with pension reform and whatever euphemism they’re using for raising taxes.

People thought Sengoku Yoshito was Kan Naoto’s puppeteer, and they think he operates the strings for Mr. Edano too. As far as it is possible to speculate about such matters, the most common view is that Mr. Sengoku is trying to take control of the party. He seems to be waiting for his chance to cut Ozawa Ichiro adrift, and the latest rumors have him trying to elbow aside the real party secretary-general, Okada Katsuya.

Here’s one DPJ MP on the selection of Mr. Edano as chief cabinet secretary:

“He was the secretary-general when we lost the upper house election last year. Should we forget his responsibility for that in just six months? I don’t understand it…none of the people have any expectations for this Cabinet.”

That was former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, speaking of his own party while on a visit to India.

Okazaki Tomiko released outright

Okazaki Tomiko is another rodent who fled the sinking ship of the Socialist Party and scampered up the gangway to the Democratic Party vessel. She is opposed to Japan’s national flag and anthem. In July 2001, her political group illegally received funds from foreigners, including the director of the North Korean-affiliated schools in the country—a North Korean citizen–and a South Korean citizen who operates a pachinko parlor. The most controversial aspect of her career, however, was this:

That’s Ms. Okazaki participating in one of the weekly Wednesday comfort women demos at the Japanese embassy in Seoul in March 2005. She called for a Japanese embassy car to take her there.

They didn’t find some token make-work position for her in the Cabinet, either. She was named the chair of the National Public Safety Commission, which administers the National Police Agency. In other words, she was the head of the government agency in charge of maintaining public safety.

Politicians have the same right to free speech as anyone else, but they’re expected to exercise it with common sense and an awareness of their position. When a member of the Japanese Diet participates in a demonstration with Xs over the Japanese flag, it suggests an absence of common sense and self-awareness. Consider also what it suggests about Kan Naoto, who appointed her knowing about her background.

Ms. Okazaki’s immediate problem was that despite the ease with which she showed up for an anti-Japanese demonstration in Seoul, she couldn’t manage to drag herself to her office in Tokyo after North Korea shelled the South in November. Also, documents related to international terror investigations put together by the NPA somehow wound up on the Internet, and she made no effort to find a way to prevent the problem from recurring in the future.

She lasted just four and a half months in office.

Signed Yosano Kaoru to a free agent contract

Yosano Kaoru is the bad penny of Japanese Cabinet members. He’s now been a part of every Cabinet since Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s last one, with the exception of Hatoyama Yukio’s brief spell. He so often shows up when a Cabinet is on its deathbed that he became known as “the gravedigger” in the LDP.

He holds three portfolios in the Kan Cabinet: Minister for Economic and Fiscal Policy, Social Affairs and Gender Equality (which includes responsibility for the population decline), and Comprehensive Reform of Social Security and Taxes.

“Comprehensive reform of taxes” means promoting the Ministry of Finance position of raising taxes instead of cutting spending to fix the country’s budgetary problems. He’s long been known as the MOF bat boy. Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji was an aide to former Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro when Mr. Yosano was the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary. Mr. Eda says he pushed the Finance Ministry line within the government more than even some ministry employees. Hashimoto wanted to reform the ministry by dividing up their responsibility for fiscal and financial service oversight, but the ministry was opposed. Mr. Yosano argued their case most strenuously. (A new agency for overseeing the banking, securities exchange, and insurance industries was created in 2000 after Hashimoto left office.)

Says Mr. Eda: “His entry into the Cabinet is the decisive factor in making this a Finance Ministry government.” That means, he explains, a tax increase government directed behind the scenes by the Finance Ministry.

He wasn’t alone in that opinion. Fukushima Mizuho, head of the Social Democrats, said much the same thing using many of the same words.

Takahashi Yoichi, a former official in both the Koizumi and Abe administrations, provides additional evidence in Gendai Business Online. When Takenaka Heizo shifted positions from Mr. Koizumi’s Financial Services Minister to Internal Affairs Minister to push the privatization of Japan Post, Mr. Yosano took his place. He argued within the Cabinet for rolling back government policy investment reforms, another Finance Ministry position.

Mr. Takahashi says he often debated with Mr. Yosano when the latter backed ministry efforts to debone reforms:

“Yosano is said to be an expert on policy, but he offered no policy-based arguments against my explanations. He only mentioned the names of people responsible for specific policies in the Finance Ministry and said we should do as they say. His statements were rather unlike that of a minister in charge of financial services.”

Mr. Yosano has also claimed there is no hidden surplus of funds in the Finance Ministry, but that nothing has manifested into something every year at yearend since 2006, and that something now totals JPY 40 trillion in the aggregate.

Here’s the delicious part: This politician who advocates a sharp rise in taxes to pay for social welfare spending, has no plans to cut spending or modify social welfare programs to make them more inexpensive, and fights governmental reform is referred to as a “fiscal hawk” in the Western media.

Absurdity squared

Mr. Kan’s selection of Mr. Yosano in the Cabinet is just the sort of move a dullwit would think is clever. The prime minister may even have thought the selection of a former enemy would been seen as a coup. The Asahi said Mr. Kan believed it would be the key to breaking the political deadlock. Three strikes and you’re out.

The prime minister had remarkably kind words for his former foe:

“I recognize that he is a politician with whom we have a great deal in common when it comes to the issues of the soundness of national finances and social welfare.”

But when Yosano Kaoru left the Liberal Democratic Party to form the Sunrise Party with Hiranuma Takeo, a high school classmate more than half a century ago, he told Reuters:

“We are fighting against the DPJ outside of the LDP. We intend to act as a brake. None of us is thinking about becoming the ruling party.”

In an April 2010 interview with the Asahi Shimbun, he said:

“This slovenly DPJ government must not be allowed to continue.”

And:

“I have doubts about the DPJ policies overall, their political methods, and their use of the bureaucracy. It is unusual among the world’s democracies for a party to lack such clarity in the decision making process as the DPJ.”

During the same interview, he defined political leadership:

“Chart a general course and take responsibility for it. Take responsibility for your statements. That’s political leadership.”

Speaking to the Nikkei Shimbun about government pensions in 2005, he said:

“The DPJ follows the Swedish model. They’re trying to pull us toward a society in which the people are liable for 75%. It is clear they will rely on taxes, which will result in a large tax increase.”

In 2009, he called the DPJ party manifesto “almost fancy,” said it resembled “works of illusionist paintings”, and was “something like artificial bait for the election.” He also said the DPJ’s pet policy of child allowance payments “would not be fully achieved unless the consumption tax rate was raised to 25 percent or higher.”

He maintained that attitude through the 14th of this month, when he said at a press conference:

“The certainty of the effect of the (child allowance) policy was not fully explained when it was introduced…my spirit of criticism remains.”

He changed his mind in the intervening five days. On the 19th in an interview with Fuji TV, he said:

“I have little sense that it is unnatural”

Fujii Hirohisa named bench coach

The Hatoyama Cabinet’s first Finance Minister, Fujii Hirohisa (78) was brought back as the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary. He is the former head of the Finance Ministry’s Budget Bureau, and his appointment is an unmistakable signal to both the ministry and those hoping to reform Japanese government by curbing its influence.

He left the Hatoyama administration after little more than three months for “health reasons.” Those weren’t specified, but it might have been a sore back from being pushed out the door by former friend and ally Ozawa Ichiro. There were also rumors he had to carry a stash of liquor in his official vehicle to help him make it through the day. Perhaps Mr. Kan finds him a kindred spirit.

Other transactions

Sengoku Yoshito assumed the Justice Ministry portfolio when the former minister Chiba Keiko finally resigned after losing her upper house Diet seat last July. He was replaced by Eda Satsuki, who years ago started out in the same party as Kan Naoto: the Socialist Democratic Federation. He is known to be an opponent of the death penalty in a country whose electorate consistently polls from 60% to 70% in favor of capital punishment.

It was rumored that party poster girl Ren Ho was thinking of jumping the Kan Cabinet mudboat and running for governor of the Tokyo Metro District, but she chose to stay on board. Her puny 8.8% support rating among Tokyoites from among a hypothetical slate of candidates in a Shinhodo 2001 poll might have been one of the reasons.

Also staying put is Agriculture Minister Kano Michihiko. This is Mr. Kano’s second time in that post (the first was in 1989 during the GATT Uruguay round discussions). He is viewed as an ally of the Agriculture Ministry bureaucracy. As such, he is opposed to the prime minister’s proposal to join the TPP. Many thought he would be replaced for that reason, but now he most surely will join with ministry bureaucrats and the national agricultural co-ops to try to block entry into the TPP.

If you’ve gotten the idea by now that Kan Naoto has no idea what he’s doing, I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise.

Absurdity cubed

Political commentator Yayama Taro was a long-time LDP supporter who backed the DPJ in the 2009 election because he saw them as the only way at the time to push forward with reform of the bureaucracy and government. His views have changed again:

“Prime Minister Abe of the LDP was the one who began to attack this disease, and Watanabe Yoshimi took up the baton as Reform Minister. They were unable to separate the adhesion between the politicians and the bureaucrats that has lasted 60 years. The DPJ won a massive victory in the 2009 election using the slogan, “Disassociation from the bureaucracy”.

“The resolution of this problem required the establishment of a National Strategy Bureau, a governmental reform council, and putting fiscal policy under the direction of the politicians. While implementing reform, they would establish a cabinet personnel bureau to evaluate civil service personnel.

“It should have been the work of the Hatoyama administration to pass the required legislation, but Finance Minister Fujii Hirohisa said a National Strategy Bureau wasn’t necessary and an office would do. Deputy Prime Minister Kan headed the office. He later became Finance Minister and was completely brainwashed by the ministry. He has not been interested in disassociating from the bureaucracy since becoming prime minister.

“Yosano is the politician the Finance Ministry bureaucrats have relied on the most. Based on his ideas and what he’s said, some have even referred to him as a Finance Ministry plant. Now he’s the Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister and Fujii is the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary. There are no laws securing the political disassociation from the bureaucracy. These personnel choices are simply to enable tax and social welfare policies in accordance with Finance Ministry specifications. The specifications for both policies were proposed by Yosano during the Aso administration. If the DPJ thought those policies were acceptable, they should have been adopted a long time ago.”

One economic news website quoted a politician whom the identified only as a former member of an LDP government:

“I have no idea what that person (Kan) wants to do. Even when he talks about the Heisei Opening of Japan, it has no backbone, and I can only view it as playing with words. The Cabinet reshuffle was just a switch from Mr. Sengoku to the Sengoku henchman Mr. Edano. The entry of the “lost bird” Mr. Yosano in the Cabinet has brought criticism rather than acclaim. A key will be how they change their methods of conducting the Diet. During the extraordinary session last fall, they adopted the fewest amount of bills as a percentage of proposed legislation in history.”

Coalition partner Kamei Shizuka was asked at a news conference on the 19th what he thought about the Cabinet and the prime minster’s policies about taxes, social welfare, and TPP. He answered:

“To present policies that you cannot achieve is not politics.”

As we’ve seen, one of those policies he might not achieve is participation in TPP. A total of 110 DPJ MPs affiliated with Ozawa Ichiro has formed a group to oppose Japanese participation, even though Mr. Ozawa has said he supports a free trade agreement.

Does even Mr. Kan know what he’s going to do? He just got back from giving a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he said that Japan will make a decision on its participation in TPP by June.

Before they worry about opposition either from inside or outside the party, the Cabinet still has to get on the same page. Kan Naoto says the issues of pension reform and the consumption tax are separate, but Yosano Kaoru says they must be considered together. Mr. Yosano’s stance on social insurance differs from the tax-based approach of the DPJ manifesto. The DPJ still does not have a common policy for a system for health care for the late stage elderly, despite their opposition to the system that came into effect during the Fukuda administration.

At a news conference on the 24th, Fujii Hirohisa was asked about Mr. Yosano’s statement that the age of eligibility for pension payments should be raised to 70:

“That’s his personal opinion. That question hasn’t been raised in a formal discussion.”

Absurdity in the fourth dimension

Mr. Kan is a recent convert to tax increases, at least in public. Speaking as the Finance Minister in the Diet on 21 January 2010, he said:

“First, there is the debate over the consumption tax, but as both the prime minister (Hatoyama) and I have said repeatedly, the current coalition government will not raise the consumption tax for four years….I think the primary reason the tax hasn’t been raised is the lack of trust by the people. They believe if they allow a government spending so wastefully is allowed to increase taxes, they will use the money wastefully.”

He also gave an opinion on when the discussion of a tax increase should begin:

“When we have so completely eliminated government waste that we could stand on our heads and not get a nosebleed…If we were to raise taxes at the present stage, when waste has not been sufficiently eliminated, we’d just repeat the same mistakes.”

Since he made that statement, there has been no sale of government assets, no effort to uncover the special accounts and hidden reserves in the bureaucracy, no effort to reduce personnel expenditures (they’ve put it off until 2013 at the earliest), only the most half-hearted of efforts to reduce government programs, a record-high budget with a record-high deficit, and a new proposal for an even higher budget.

The scorecard

The Cabinet reshuffle had no effect on market trading. Said Segawa Tsuyoshi, an equity strategist at Mizuho Securities:

“That it has absolutely no impact on stock prices demonstrates the relationship between politics and the market.”

In other words, the markets expect nothing from this bunch.

Kamei Shizuka visited the office of the Chief Cabinet Secretary as the official representative of the DPJ’s coalition partner to ask for an explanation of the prime minister’s Diet speech. He was angered when he discovered that Mr. Edano was not there, and the deputy secretary Fukuyama Tetsuro agreed that he should have been. Said Mr. Kamei:

“Don’t hold it against us if we leave the coalition.”

Mr. Edano belatedly showed up to provide an explanation, but Mr. Kamei was not mollified:

“They are incapable of consideration for other parties in their coalition. Politically, they have no idea what to do.”

One Western commentator observed that the DPJ is finding out that governing is different than campaigning. The real problem, however, is that they still haven’t found out, and the people in charge likely never will.

They’re certainly unlikely to find out in time for the 1,402 sub-national elections scheduled for April. DPJ-backed candidates have had their clock cleaned in several local elections after the government’s mishandling of the Senkakus incident with China, and their prospects are growing dimmer.

Yet at a party conference earlier this month, here’s what the prime minister had to say about DPJ support for those elections.:

“I’ve been in political parties that had no money for a long time, but this is the first time I’ve been in a party that can use all these funds for its activities. Shouldn’t I generously use the money that’s required (to compete)?

“All these funds” refers in part to the subsidies each political party receives out of public funds. The amounts vary based on their Diet representation. Those are the views of the man the foreign media hailed as a “fiscal hawk” when he assumed office last June on his fiduciary responsibility for taxpayer funds.

******
If Mr. Kan thought he would be showered in glory for the brilliant maneuver of including an opponent in his Cabinet, he was mistaken. An Asahi poll found 50% of voters opposed to Mr. Yosano’s selection.

On the 19th Oshima Tadamori of the LDP, the new minister’s party two parties ago, said Mr. Yosano had signed a pledge during the previous election in which he promised to resign from the Diet if he acted against the LDP. He’s now part of the DPJ caucus, but still in the Diet.

Said his old high school running buddy and co-president of the Sunrise Party, Hiranuma Takeo:

“It’s too bad that he’s leaving…When we formed the party, Mr. Yosano said that if we entrusted the government to the DPJ, Japan would be finished, so we had to bring it down. I wonder what’s going to happen with that.”

When Mr. Yosano gave his first speech as a member of the Cabinet in the Diet last week, he was heckled by members from both the LDP in the opposition and the DPJ in government. Would you dislike someone more if he was an enemy, or if he was a traitor?

After the speech, LDP MP Koizumi Shinjiro said:

“This is like a marriage proposal without a wedding ring. They won’t make any headway without sincerity and trust.”

And DPJ MP (and former Foreign Minister) Tanaka Makiko said:

“I do not sense any enthusiasm.”

Left unprotected

Sengoku Yoshito saw as one of his primary duties the prevention or amelioration of the inevitable Kan Naoto blunders. His departure from the Cabinet thus presented the country with the unlovely prospect of Mr. Kan fending for himself. The prime minister’s only political skill is the bullying of opponents—a skill no doubt honed by all those years of arguing politics in drinking establishments. His sense of the appropriate is also different from that of most people. (That is not photoshopped, by the way.)

It’s only been two weeks, and already we’re going to have to shift to a second hand to get enough fingers to keep up with the blunder tally.

His temper has earned him the nickname Ira-Kan, which translates nicely to the Irascible Kan. At a recent news conference he was asked whether he would call an election to have the people revalidate the party’s promise to cut waste before boosting the consumption tax. He glared, turned away from the questioner, and gave no answer at all.

He was also asked what he thought about the general perception the new Cabinet is a group put together to raise taxes. He answered:

“It’s unfair to be judgmental and change the subject of discussion.”

When the opposition suggested it would not participate in DPJ-led discussions about social welfare reform, he got judgmental himself.

“If the opposition parties do not actively participate in discussions about social welfare reform, it is no exaggeration to say that will be an act of treason against history.”

See what I mean about his only political skill?

That’s when he lost New Komeito. The DPJ has been hoping to tempt the opposition party into the coalition and thereby solve its problems in the Diet, but his statement seems to have ended any chance of that. Said party head Yamaguchi Natsuo:

“That’s a rather presumptious choice of words, isn’t it? The prime minister has a responsibility. What does he think he’s doing, challenging the opposition like that?”

The prime minister most recently stepped in it when he was asked about rating agency Standard & Poor’s downgrade of Japanese government bonds, partly because they thought the DPJ didn’t have a coherent strategy for dealing with national debt. Mr. Kan, a former Finance Minister, replied using the word utoi, a word seldom used by prime ministers. The word has several meanings depending on the context. One is that he hadn’t heard the news, and another is that he doesn’t really understand the subject very well because it doesn’t have much to do with him.

He was immediately called on his word choice by the opposition, the media, and his wife (during an event in Kyoto). Mr. Kan explained that he meant he hadn’t been given any information about the news at the time, which is a) probably untrue, but if true means b) his Cabinet is inept at gathering and managing information. The news had already been out for an hour.

Everyone else suspected the other nuance, in part because of the financial illiteracy he demonstrated when Finance Minister. He made a statement in the Diet that revealed he had no idea what the multiplier effect was. He also admitted to giving up on Paul Samuelson’s standard textbook Economics after the first 10 pages.

Mr. Kan was forced to explain at a news conference that his latest blunder didn’t mean he didn’t know government bond ratings from hot pastrami. Yosano Kaoru defended him, however:

“That is not a problem about which the prime minister should make a statement. It was proper for him to use the word utoi.”

In other words, interpretation #2. One wonders whom Mr. Yosano thinks should deal with the problem—the Finance Ministry bureaucrats in Kasumigaseki?

But that was not Mr. Kan’s position in May 2002 when the rating of Japanese government bonds was downgraded during the Koizumi administration. He publicly slammed the prime minister and finance minister and sarcastically asked whether they knew of the ramifications of the change. The Japanese media quickly dug up this old quote and dubbed it the “boomerang effect”.

No excuses for this absurdity

And how have the members of the English-language news media who cover Japan reported the Cabinet reorganization story? They played mimeograph machine for the government’s (or the Finance Ministry’s) briefings by filing articles under their own bylines that almost unanimously described Yosano Kaoru as a “fiscal hawk” and claimed the new Kan Cabinet was committed to “tax and pension reform”. And they think the Japanese media practices convoy journalism?

Rick Wallace in The Australian even went so far as to say this about Mr. Yosano:

“Perhaps the closest thing to a deficit hawk in a country where governments routinely live beyond their means…”

If Wallace is interested in seeing what a Japanese deficit hawk looks like, he might try some of the books by Nakagawa Hidenao, Eda Kenji, or Watanabe Yoshimi. If reading written Japanese is not his forté, he can always try this. I’d also suggest he look at the deficit totals in the annual budgets for the past 10 years to see who’s supported living beyond the country’s means and who hasn’t, but all that research might give him vertigo.

Lisa Twaronite, meanwhile, seems committed to getting it wrong, despite reading this post, which she commented on. She had this to say:

“Yosano, known as a fiscal conservative, has called for raising Japan’s 5% consumption tax to help chip away at Japan’s mountain of public debt.”

…thus bringing an entirely new dimension to the term, “conservative”. At least she briefly mentioned the reason Sengoku Yoshito was censured, which was more than Rick Wallace could do.

In an admirable display of corporate loyalty, the BBC took its correspondent’s word for what was happening:

“Our correspondent says the changes also bring to the fore ministers who support reform to tackle Japan’s massive public debt and the trade liberalisation sought by business leaders.

“The appointment of a veteran fiscal hawk, Kaoru Yosano, as economic and fiscal policy minister is being taken as a signal that Mr Kan is serious about reining in the costs of Japan’s rapidly ageing society.”

In contrast, the People’s Daily of China wrote last 24 December:

“The Cabinet of Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Friday approved a draft budget which hit a record 92.40 trillion yen (1.11 trillion U.S. dollars) for fiscal year 2011.The figure is marginally higher than the initial budget for 2010, which stood at 92.30 trillion yen, as the government seeks to raise spending on key policies amid rising social welfare costs.The budget will include more than 44 trillion yen (530.11 billion U.S. dollars) from issuing new government bonds, a second straight year when bonds have exceeded tax revenue as a source of income. The swelling budget is believed to be contradictory to Kan’s pledge to cut spending to restore the nation’s fiscal health.”

When the People’s Daily reports on Japan are more accurate than those of the BBC, it’s time for some people to reevaluate their assumptions about contemporary journalism.

Assuming any of these people are not European-style social democrats and actually are interested in a functional definition of fiscal conservatism, they might consider this by columnist Robert Samuelson:

“If we ended deficits with tax increases, we would simply exchange one problem (high deficits) for another (high taxes). Either would weaken the economy, and sharply higher taxes would represent an undesirable transfer to retirees from younger taxpayers.”

They might also look into how other countries have accomplished spending reductions, as Dan Mitchell explains here.

What can you expect?

After reading those reports, it will come as no surprise that the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan is “facing difficulties”:

Georges Baumgartner, current president of the FCCJ and a veteran reporter for Swiss Radio and Television, expressed his frustration with the lack of news in Japan that would interest people elsewhere. “It’s quiet, like a little country like Switzerland,” said Baumgartner, who has been reporting from Japan since 1982. Japan is “blocked and paralyzed by the politicians and bureaucrats who don’t have the political will and courage to restructure the country to give a chance to young people. There is no new energy. . . . There are days that you can’t sell any story to your editors back home.”

Any journalist who thinks Japan is a quiet country with no news of interest is unqualified for his position on the face of it. True, they do have to please their editors back home, the ones responsible for turning their business into the smokestack industry of the information age. Then again, Baumgartner thinks the FCCJ is “a little island of freedom in Japan”, a presumptuous and arrogant bit of horsetootie that might explain why his organization has become irrelevant. (Let’s play journalistic poker. For every story someone can cite that the Japanese press has ignored, I can call and raise that bet with stories the New York Times et al. have ignored.)

If the FCCJ were populated by people nimble enough to hop off their bar stools and conduct serious research, they might have taken the approach on this story adopted by Takahashi Yoichi in Gendai Business Online:

“It is a restructure of a government facing its final days.”

And:

“(Yosano) is called a fiscal hawk because he parrots the Finance Ministry line. The objective is a fiscal balance, and the means is a tax increase.”

And:

“The new cabinet is a lineup of people whose arguments support continued deflation and tax increases. Prime Minister Kan says the economy will improve with a tax increase. Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano says the economy will improve with a rise in interest rates. Fujii Hirohisa favors a higher yen and “fiscal restructuring”. If these people put their ideas in practice, the DPJ really will destroy the Japanese economy, as the title of Mr. Yosano’s book had it.”

Afterwords:

* Mr. Yosano now says he thinks the consumption tax should be “more than 10%” by 2015. Watch for closer to 20%, assuming the same or similar people are still in charge.

* Another avenue the journos choose not to explore is Standard & Poor’s record of credit ratings. For example:

“Investors snapped up the $340.7 million CDO, a collection of securities backed by bonds, mortgages and other loans, within days of the Dec. 12, 2000, offering. The CDO buyers had assurances of its quality from the three leading credit rating companies –Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Group Inc. Each had blessed most of the CDO with the highest rating, AAA or Aaa. Investment-grade ratings on 95 percent of the securities in the CDO gave no hint of what was in the debt package — or that it might collapse. It was loaded with risky debt, from junk bonds to subprime home loans. During the next six years, the CDO plummeted as defaults mounted in its underlying securities. By the end of 2006, losses totaled about $125 million.”

S&P downgraded Japanese government bonds, but they’re maintaining their top AAA rating on U.S. debt despite the huge American deficit and phalanx of foreign creditors.

******
The country’s in the very best of hands.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Posted in Agriculture, Business, finance and the economy, Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Japan’s political kaleidoscope (6): Heigh ho, silver lining!

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 16, 2010

The reason the left loses is, paradoxically, because of its periodic successes: once in power the mask slips, they cannot control themselves, and so the people ultimately recoil.
- Michael Walsh

LAST SUNDAY, the voters of Japan again unsheathed their terrible swift sword to lay vengeance upon and smite down the latest cohort of a political class that believes what it says is more important than what it does.

After eying the results, the broadcast media in Japan and the print media overseas chose to believe the sky is in danger of falling. In a matter of months, the Democratic Party of Japan showed that it still isn’t ready for prime time and probably never will be as presently constituted. Yet the bien pensants are in anguish because they didn’t win an outright majority.

Some nattered that the loss will hinder the DPJ’s effort to rein in Japan’s massive government debt. One outlet even said it would “create obstacles for much-need fiscal reforms”. And who do they think was responsible for the ultra-redlining of debt levels with a 33% boost in the amount of deficit-financing bonds to cover a budget increase for programs only they wanted and no one needed? The record-high budget with record deficits and record deficit-financing bond totals passed when Prime Minister Kan Naoto was Finance Minister, and was written with his input. The preceding Aso administration also has a lot to answer for, but at least they had the excuse of following the same clueless path as the United States. Isn’t it time for the overseas media to keep its big government / Keynesian stimulus / tax increase agenda overseas and limit the wreckage to their own countries?

Some asked rhetorically if anyone can govern Japan. Maybe they should knock off the rhetoric and ask Koizumi Jun’ichiro straight up about how he managed for five years and left office with popularity ratings of 70%. Just because Hatoyama Yukio was more empty schoolgirl uniform than empty suit and hangover seems to be the default state for Mr. Kan’s sobriety doesn’t mean the people are ungovernable because they coughed out both of them like hair balls.

Some also worry that the “twisted parliament” (i.e., gridlock resulting from the DPJ’s loss of upper house control) bodes ill for the country.

Why should they worry? It’s great news. The election results were a red letter day for politics in Japan, which should be apparent even to realistic DPJ supporters.

To find out why, let’s push the reset button.

Track 01

Many people are using Prime Minister Kan’s ill-timed discussion of a consumption tax increase as a facile excuse for the defeat. Well, that was one reason—of many. Other contributing factors included rank incompetence, breaking their word as expressed in the party platform, and the political acumen of an empty catsup bottle.

Yet, despite more negative factors that can be counted on the fingers of both hands, and the voters’ readiness as demonstrated over the last three national elections to punish politicos who don’t pay attention, some people claimed to have been surprised by the result. They must not have been paying attention either.

Then again, neither were the pollsters. Most pre-election polls forecast the DPJ would take roughly 50-54 seats, with the opposition Liberal Democratic Party winning from 40-45. The DPJ wound up with 44 and the LDP with 51.

To be sure, some circumstances did conceal or delay trends. According to this previous analysis of Jiji polls over the past five years, a majority of the Japanese electorate is independent and tends to break for one party or the other four to six weeks before an election. Everyone was thrown off stride by the resignation of former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio and DPJ Secretary General Ozawa Ichiro six weeks before the election. New Prime Minister Kan’s open humiliation of the unpopular Mr. Ozawa delighted the public and led to a sharp but ephemeral bounce in the polls. In retrospect, it’s clear that the brief interlude of poll sunshine for Mr. Kan was due to gratitude for removing the Ohato duo rather than a vote of confidence in the new prime minister himself.

Also, the voters’ interest in the election took longer than usual to build, but rapidly picked up momentum at the end. Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji thinks the public did not become engaged until Japan was eliminated in the World Cup. He also said the intensity level at the end of the campaign was higher than he had ever seen it. The crowds of people that listened to his speeches at train stations were so large and animated they created obstructions that angered station personnel.

That bears some resemblance to the American presidential elections of 1968 and 1976. Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter held comfortable leads in those contests coming into the final stages of the campaign, but there was a massive, last-minute swing in voter sentiment that almost tipped the elections to Hubert Humphrey and Gerald Ford. Some hold the latter two would have won had the elections been held a few days later. Mr. Eda also thinks his party would have picked up two or three more seats had the election come three days later, and that’s probably true for the LDP as well.

Nevertheless, it was the first national referendum on a new DPJ government that had been tested and found wanting as stewards of the government. Most of them seem incapable of running a fried octopus stand at a summer festival, much less a Cabinet ministry. The task of any administration is to get things done and to make things work in the public sector, and they failed at both. Though once hailed as major policy wanks who were finally ready to lead the nation, the spectacularly unprepared DPJ accomplished less in its first Diet session than any previous government in the postwar period, and what they did accomplish amounted to little more than bribing voters with their own money.

Taxing

Some claim the decisive factor was Kan Naoto’s readiness to talk about an increase in the consumption tax and his subsequent incoherence on the subject. The analysts at NHK offered this explanation on Sunday night. So did many in the English-language media, but we’ve long ago passed the point where they should be taken seriously. After all, they’re now saying the public voted against a higher consumption tax while trumpeting polls saying the public is willing to pay it.

While the consumption tax issue itself was a factor, it also served to remind people of the reasons they were unhappy with the DPJ to begin with. People seem to have forgotten that the Hatoyama Cabinet’s approval rating was in the high teens at the end of May.

Here’s a more coherent explanation: Mr. Kan and his party lost credibility because after talking for more than a decade about politicians exerting control over the government, they ceded control to the bureaucrats shortly after taking power while deboning reform of Kasumigaseki and Nagata-cho. It was suicidal to swallow whole the Finance Ministry’s excuses for their objective of tax increases and the Ono Yoshiyasu theorem that tax increases help economies grow. The people gagged on them both.

Add to that the record budget with the record float of deficit-financing bonds while pushing greater government expenditures through a child allowance and other giveaways…The sheer incompetence in handling the Futenma issue…Backtracking on the pledge to eliminate the gasoline surtax and highway tolls…Filthy Ozawa money and illegal Hatoyama Mama money blamed on the Lords’ loyal retainers…Ozawa Ichiro’s mid-campaign criticism of his own party’s officials…Slips, blunders, petty dishonesties, attitudes, the failure to overcome the giddiness of their September victory and the failure to find a voice of reason or a sense of leadership.

What they did have was a sense of entitlement combined with the expectation that people just shut up and listen. Here’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito on 5 July:

It would be best if the media itself were to do us the favor of having a proper position on the consumption tax, government finances, and social security issues.

But why would anyone expect tolerance for free speech and a free press from a former Socialist?

Mr. Kan is clutching at the tax straw himself. He said to aides this week:

I caused a lot of trouble for the party by suddenly bringing up the issue of the consumption tax, which led to this result. I am seriously reflecting on my errors.

His real problem was an ignorance of anything related to the economy and government finances, yet presenting himself as an expert because he could recite half-digested knowledge from the Finance Ministry and other home tutors such as Mr. Ono. He actually claimed to have bested economist Takenaka Heizo, Mr. Koizumi’s financial services minister, in a debate while he was in fact asking him for help on the QT. He pretended to know what he didn’t know while parroting the last things he heard to impress his audience. The Sufis call this “unloading”.

Other people were willing to entertain other theories. Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro was asked about the appointment of Saito Jiro to head Japan Post last fall. That was widely viewed as a capitulation to the bureaucrats and an abandonment of the attempt to reform civil servant employment practices before it began. Mr. Haraguchi responded with some tongue calisthenics:

I can’t say very strongly that I can completely deny the appointment had a negative effect.

He also defended the choice, but people weren’t listening when he got to that part of the sentence.

Some people couldn’t look beyond their own front yard. Kina Shokichi, the famed Okinawan roots musician and airhead extraordinaire, lost his reelection campaign. He said:

There was a strong feeling that the people of Okinawa were betrayed by the government in the move of the American base at Futenma.

As usual, Fukushima Mizuho of the Social Democrats had an idea. As usual, it didn’t make any sense:

I think the biggest reason was that all the people thought the DPJ had begun cold, unfeeling politics.

Leave it to an adult–Yonekura Hiromasa, the head of Keidanren—to put it in perspective:

The people watched the DPJ for the eight months before the Kan administration began.

Now combine that with the observation of Kono Taro, the LDP’s acting secretary-general:

The upper house election was an own goal for the DPJ. The LDP didn’t even touch the ball.

Mr. Kono, an LDP reformer, used the occasion to issue a warning to his own party.

It would be absolutely unacceptable if this marked the end of (internal) reform.

Good news

Here’s the good news. This presents an excellent opportunity for the politicians to show they’re capable of doing the jobs they’re paid to do, and it will be the DPJ’s second test of adulthood after flunking the first. They failed to reach their target for an outright majority in the upper house, and since their remaining coalition partner, People’s New Party, won no seats at all, they’ll be unable to pass legislation without help.

With the exception of the budget, both houses of the Diet must approve all legislation. If the upper house rejects a lower house measure, the lower house can still pass it with a two-thirds supermajority. The DPJ doesn’t have one. Even if the lower house passes a budget, the enabling legislation, such as that required for deficit financing bonds, must still pass the upper house.

Will they be able to cobble together a new coalition? Here’s what the primary opposition leaders think of the idea. First, Watanabe Yoshimi of Your Party:

A coalition is the same as a marriage. Pretty words alone aren’t enough. The DPJ rejected our bill to reform the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy. After doing something like that, we won’t be able to join them even if they ask us.

During a television interview the night of the election, he said it was the party’s intention to act as gatekeepers. If they see legislation they like, they open the gate. If they don’t care for the bill, the gate stays shut.

New Komeito’s Yamaguchi Natsuo:

(The voters) have just held up a red card to the DPJ. It would be unthinkable to join a partner like that.

He’s got another reason, too–both parties detest each other. Here’s Kan Naoto in the April 2004 issue of the monthly Bungei Shunju:

The LDP and New Komeito coalition are not a coalition, they’re a fusion, a fusion party…New Komeito is a religious party…the LDP is like a house that’s been eaten by termites. There’s nothing to prevent its collapse.

New Komeito is unlikely to have forgotten that Mr. Kan thinks they’re termites. Nor did they care for this speech earlier in the campaign from Sengoku Yoshito:

There’s a half-baked party of charlatans called New Komeito. What do they mean, “The party of peace”? What do they mean, “The party of welfare”? Once the order comes down from someplace, 50,000 votes move in three days. What sort of malarkey democracy is this?

Next on the list is Tanigaki Sadakazu, head of the LDP. His answer about the possibility of a coalition was brief:

Zero.

This across-the-board refusal means several things. First, the DPJ can forget about the yogurt-weaving part of their agenda, and that will be one substantial benefit for the nation already. It also means that the DPJ will be forced to do some things it has never shown itself capable of in the past—serious negotiation, self-control, and compromise. Like many on their side of the aisle, gesture politics is a large part of their game. Now they’ll have to stop playing with mudras in front of the mirror and form ad hoc coalitions for each item of legislation they propose. If they develop that skill, everyone wins and they reclaim their reputation. If they don’t, the next lower house election will come before their term expires, and the voters will give other people a chance to pay attention.

It’s by no means certain that they will change their thought process. The party could have behaved responsibly and offered to do the same thing after their 2007 upper house victory, but chose instead to use their position to foment mini-crises as a way to blow the LDP out of office. After they got their wish and finally formed a government, their performance was so miserable the voters turned the tables to put them behind the eight ball. It’s enough to make one believe in karma.

For the sake of discussion, let’s assume the party finds some MPs to back an increase in the consumption tax to 10% before they take an axe to government spending. That seems unlikely considering the impact tax talk had on the election, but let’s entertain the possibility. Some of those MPs are going to have to come from the LDP in the upper house. But not everyone in the LDP is on board with their party’s own platform admitting the possibility of a rise to 10%, and neither is the Ozawa Ichiro group in the DPJ. If a tax increase were to pass, it would again allow voters to give other people a chance to pay attention. Or, it could spur the Koizumians in the LDP or the Ozawans in the DPJ to walk, thus accelerating the inevitable political realignment into philosophically compatible groups.

Opposition parties will introduce serious measures of their own to reduce civil service expenditures and the number of Diet members. The DPJ supports those moves, according to their manifesto. But the DPJ’s largest organizational support is derived from labor unions, especially public sector unions, so they’ll have to make a choice. If the government is downsized, everyone will benefit. If the DPJ blocks those measures, the voters will be waiting for them next time around.

It’s all good!

Gemba Koichiro of the DPJ thinks there’s some room to maneuver on civil service reform. He said:

Your Party’s thinking and direction is identical to ours. We might have room for compromise.

Sengoku Yoshito disagrees:

Some sections (of the platforms) use the same language, but I’m not sure we could get together on the specifics. I’m not optimistic.

But then Mr. Sengoku works for the union.

There is a wild card. Desperate to gets its Japan Post bill enacted, the PNP has asked the Social Democrats in the lower house to informally cooperate with them. Since there are two vacancies in the lower house, the DPJ, the PNP, and the SDPJ together could reach the two-thirds threshold for a supermajority in the lower house. The SDPJ said they’d talk about it amongst themselves, but were otherwise noncommittal. That party is on shaky ground nowadays—they won only two PR seats in the upper house, and there’s talk of dumping Ms. Fukushima as party leader. Will they return to the coalition? We’ll have to see, but they might do the PNP this one favor. If that bill passes, it will provide plenty of ammunition for politicians in the next election. Those who think otherwise might take a hint from current political conditions in the U.S.

The near future

Watanabe Yoshimi jumped on the bully pulpit and isn’t letting go of the mike:

It’s necessary to dissolve the lower house and hold a general election as early as possible to normalize the Diet gridlock. Local elections will be held nationwide next spring, so it would be best to hold them together.

Tanigaki Sadakazu agreed:

It’s necessary for the lower house be quickly dissolved and ask for the trust of the people.

What should Mr. Kan do? Here’s Mr. Watanabe again:

Three years ago (after the last upper house election) when the LDP lost its position as the leading party, they said the Abe administration should step down. I’m telling them the same thing.

The DPJ used to claim that Cabinets should bend to the most recently expressed will of the people. Taking power seems to have created short-term memory loss syndrome in the party, however.

Mr. Watanabe has other plans too:

We’ll present bills in rapid succession.

Watanabe Yoshimi

His party was thrilled with their election results because they picked up 10 seats in the upper house to bring their total to 11. A Diet member needs 10 co-signers to submit a bill, so they’ve cleared that hurdle. Unlike the DPJ, Your Party members actually have the capability of putting together legislation on their own, and they have several bills ready to go. They’ll surely use this new weapon to publicize their policies, and as the newest television darlings, they’ll surely receive the publicity.

Your Party and the LDP also want to bounce Upper House President Eda Satsuki for what they call his outrageous Diet management. That role requires him to give up his party affiliation, but he’s a DPJ man. The LDP is particularly irritated because they wanted to dump a no-confidence resolution on Hatoyama Yukio. (It would have lost, but it would have forced the DPJ to vote for him, perhaps keeping him in office for the lower house election.) Mr. Eda squelched that, as well as other opposition measures.

Said Mr. Watanabe:

It would be a good idea for the opposition parties to unite and stop this DPJ high-handedness…A change is natural. The opposition parties will work together to choose a new president.

The LDP agreed, but New Komeito doesn’t want to go along. Even though the opposition outnumbers the government, New Komeito says it wants to maintain the principle of having the president come from the party with the largest number of members. Others say that New Komeito might be keeping their options open for a possible coalition down the road. And Mr. Watanabe says he will press the issue.

The DPJ’s future

Several alternative realities could manifest on the material plane for the ruling party, and all of them would be for the greater good.

A Kyodo poll after the election showed the support rate for the Kan Cabinet plunged to 36.3% from the 61.5% figure tallied last month. 52.2% are opposed.

Barring a Kan Naoto-led Era of Good Feelings in Nagata-cho, which would be out of character, the Cabinet’s numbers will continue to head south. Mr. Kan was chosen to manage the election at a minimum, and he choked in the clutch. His return to the minor leagues would seem to be a matter of time.

On election night, despite the national vote of no confidence and the DPJ’s long insistence on obeying the most recent expression of popular will, Mr. Kan appeared on television and said that dissolving the Diet and holding a new election was the farthest thing from his mind.

Not only was Mr. Kan unable to manage an election, he was unable to manage his emotions. His hands shook, his fingers were restless, and he kept touching things on his desk, licking his lips, and drinking water. Those looking for grace or strength under pressure didn’t see any. The photo in my local newspaper the next morning showed him on the verge of tears, and a similar photo already festoons the cover of one of the weeklies.

What, me worry?

Typical of the DPJ, however, everyone thought everyone else was just doing fine. In a round robin show of support, Mr. Kan said that Messrs. Edano and Sengoku should continue in their jobs, and the other two took turns saying the same about the others. The three men met the morning after the election and agreed that keeping their jobs was just the ticket. That leaves them open to the charge of failing to take responsibility, which is a particularly heavy one in Japan.

Mr. Kan in particular seemed to be having a problem with cognitive dissonance. Speaking on the consumption tax:

I don’t think it was a rejection of the debate (consumption tax) itself. My explanation was insufficient…It’s unfortunate that our idea of just moving forward with debate was clumsily and prematurely conveyed to the people.

That reminded more than a few people of Hatoyama Yukio’s comment regarding his own resignation: “The people stopped listening.” In other words, we’re doing the right thing, but can’t get the yokels to pay attention.

Mr. Sengoku came up with a novel spin on the situation on the 12th:

I think we will writhe in agony, but by passing through it Japanese politics will mature.

Thus equating the DPJ with Japanese politics and confirming the observation that self-absorption remains a serious problem in the party. And there was this from Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko:

I take the people’s election results seriously.

But not that seriously:

We will make a start by calling for cooperation from other parties on a drastic tax reform, including the consumption tax.

Instead of paying for their own mistakes with their jobs, they’re going to make the people pay for their mistakes with their assets. Not a word on drastic spending reform.

But there’s another aspect to the situation. Acting party Secretary-General Hosono Goshi said this about Mr. Kan:

He’s only been in office a month. We shouldn’t replace the prime minister three times in a year.

He’s got a point, but wouldn’t it be better to let him writhe in agony at home, where there’s plenty of cold beer in the refrigerator, instead of subjecting the public to it?

It’s possible they’re just being realistic and waiting until the party presidential election in September, now slated for the 5th. Mr. Kan will surely have to survive a challenge from the Ozawa forces, if not Mr. Ozawa himself. Others might think Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya is starting to look good right about now.

Mr. Kan has kept Justice Minister Chiba Keiko in office even though she lost her election in Kanagawa, which some see as a sign he realizes he’s finished. Ms. Chiba was willing to resign, but Mr. Kan talked her out of it. Mr. Sengoku’s excuse was that it would provide “continuity in government”. As one Japanese wag put it, the role of the Kan Cabinet has been downgraded from election management to office management. In other words, another group of incompetents blocking progress have been unmasked and will soon be kicked to the side of the road.

The joker in the deck

If by some miracle Mr. Kan’s Cabinet stays somewhat intact after September, they still might find themselves out of power due to a sudden reduction in the number of DPJ Diet members.

Even though Kan Naoto was the DPJ leader during the negotiations to bring Ozawa Ichiro and his Liberal Party into the DPJ, the two men do not get along. TV commentator Tahara Soichiro said that when they appeared on his program at the time to discuss the merger, they wouldn’t speak to each other in the studio. Mr. Tahara had to act as a go-between.

The impolite fiction of party unity receded further into the distance when Mr. Kan told Mr. Ozawa to pipe down soon after taking office and stacked Cabinet and party positions with Ozawa foes. The latter then attacked DPJ leadership for bringing up the consumption tax increase during the campaign. It’s entirely possible that he lashed out at Mr. Kan from spite, and to purposely sabotage the DPJ’s chances for his own ends.

The relationship between Edano Yukio and Mr. Ozawa is even more venomous. When the former replaced the latter as party secretary-general, Mr. Ozawa cut their only meeting short after two minutes. He also neglected to pass on to Mr. Edano critical information required to conduct the election campaign, such as which candidates needed financial assistance from the party.

Since the election, Mr. Ozawa has maintained a strange silence and has not appeared in public. The prime minister has sent several messages asking for a meeting, but Mr. Ozawa isn’t returning his calls. The idea, it seems, is to slowly put the screws to him.

Writing in a labor union newspaper, Takashima Hoshimitsu, the DPJ secretary-general of the upper house caucus and an Ozawa supporter, said:

It’s certain that the Kan administration has abruptly come to a dead stop.

According to a mid-level DPJ MP close to Mr. Ozawa:

Edano Yukio and the rest are dead meat. To use a line from the popular comic, ‘You’re already dead.” (The comic is Hokuto no Ken, or Fist of the Big Dipper.) They’ll self-destruct sooner or later, so there’s no need to go to the trouble of criticizing them.

Said another Ozawa acolyte:

We’ve already taken steps for the party presidential election. It will be impossible for Kan to be reelected without a vote.

That should be one interesting election. A member of the Maehara Seiji group, part of the hard-line anti-Ozawans, said:

We’ve got three arguments ready.
1. Politics and money and Ozawa
2. His strategy to run two candidates in multiple member districts failed.
3. His criticism of party executives in the midst of campaign harmed party unity.

There’s a rumor from a journalist with ties to the Ozawa camp that he’s resumed conversations with Tanaka Makiko, the former LDP defense minister and daughter of Kakuei, Mr. Ozawa’s political tutor, about serving as prime minister. The two already discussed it when Hatoyama Yukio quit. She told him she wasn’t interested in managing the election, but to come back later.

Her presence might attract some current members of the LDP into a coalition. In fact, there are also rumors that LDP elders Mori Yoshiro and Koga Makoto met with Mr. Ozawa recently. Several Ozawa group members confirm that Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Koga met in Kyushu during the campaign.

To add another ingredient to this unlikely cocktail, a review panel in the Tokyo prosecutor’s office said yesterday that the original decision not to take Mr. Ozawa to court for campaign funding violations was inappropriate.

No matter what happens with this most motley of crews, it will turn out for the best regardless of how bad it looks at first. I’ve said before that the Nagata-cho toilet needs a few more flushes, and this will likely present the opportunities. Any group that Mr. Ozawa leads is going to be in the media crosshairs, and they will not stand at ease until he is gone. The combination of Mr. Ozawa and Ms. Tanaka, headstrong drama queens both, would further accelerate their departure from political leadership positions. Regardless of who wins or loses the party presidential election, the inevitable rupture of the DPJ draws closer, leaving the labor unions and the lawyers of the limousine left to their own devices and the creation of a boutique agenda party. A graft with the LDP mudboaters would grease the skids for that greasy group too.

The only downside to the current political situation will be the steps taken in the short term to delay the day of reckoning. Over the long term, it’s a process of purification with nothing but upside.

Numbers of interest

* Few people are talking about it, but the DPJ won more votes than the LDP:

PR districts
DPJ: 18.45 million votes
LDP: 14.07 million votes

Direct election districts
DPJ: 22.75 million votes
LDP: 19.49 million votes

The LDP’s strategy of focusing on single districts trounced the Ozawa strategy. This should put to rest the belief that Mr. Ozawa is an election wizard. His record in big elections is again back to 50/50.

* The only parties to win seats in direct voting were the LDP, DPJ, Your Party, and New Komeito. The other parties won seats through proportional representation.

* Kyodo exit polls showed only 28.8% of independents voted for the DPJ, down from 51.6% in 2009. Independents account for a majority of Japanese voters.

* Several LDP members who lost lower house seats in 2009 won seats in the upper house, including some Koizumians. They included Inoguchi Kuniko, for whom Mr. Koizumi campaigned twice, Katayama Satsuki, and Sato Yukari. Another returnee is Fukuoka Takamaro, who campaigned on the slogan, “Jobs, not handouts”.

* One of the ex-LDP losers, however, was Sugimura Taizo, who became a media sensation after winning a seat in the 2005 Koizumi landslide. No one expected the young, unemployed office worker who registered as an LDP PR candidate in position #35 to win, but Mr. Koizumi’s coattails were very long that year. Mr. Sugimura quickly earned a reputation as a doofus after he babbled about looking forward to eating at the exclusive restaurants where Japanese pols hang out to eat, drink, and hatch their strategies. He was bounced from the Diet last year after moving to Hokkaido, but this year the geriatrics of the Sunrise Japan Party recruited him to run under their banner for reasons that defy logic. He lost again.

* 17 women won seats, or one out of every six female candidates. That’s more than in 2004 but down from 26 in 2007. Their 17% election rate is also down from the 28.6% in 2007. The gorgons in academia, the Japanese version of the Guardianistas at the Japan Times, and the self-appointed wonderful ones will complain, but the only people who care are those who think equality of results trumps equality of opportunity. What little gender had to do with the winning or losing might have worked to their benefit. The DPJ’s Ren Ho capitalized on her good looks and favorable publicity to overcome her lack of experience at anything other than talking in public and posing seminude for photos to reap an impressive number of votes.

Wakabayashi Aki

In contrast, the less attractive but more capable Wakabayashi Aki, a former bureaucrat and journalist who exposed the blunders of the bureaucracy and the DPJ’s policy reform in three books, lost her election as a PR candidate for Your Party. Had the DPJ really been serious about their policy review instead of just using it as TV entertainment, she would have been a much better choice for the panel than Ren Ho.

Incidentally, a sign that someone turned on the light switch at DPJ headquarters is the statement yesterday that they would consider allowing other parties to participate in their policy reviews. That will make it much more difficult for the Finance Ministry to write the script and for the DPJ to slip snipped programs back into the budget later when no one is looking, which is what happened the first time.

* Interest group influence was down with the exception of the labor unions. When voting in the PR phase, voters can either write in the candidate’s name or the party’s name. An indication of union strength was that roughly 80% of the PR votes cast for the DPJ were for the party rather than the candidate. Of the 16 PR seats won by the DPJ, 10 were taken by former Rengo executives. Mr. Edano made sure to visit them and express the party’s gratitude.

* Vote totals were down for those candidates backed by the interest groups associated with doctors, dentists, truckers, pharmacists, the construction industry, and the association for families of the war dead. Those backed by the nurses’ group polled better, as did those backed by Zentoku, the national association of postmasters. The latter group naturally backed the PNP, but the party was skunked in the seat count and failed to win a million votes nationwide.

Afterwords:

* Tanaka Makiko

The current issue of the weekly Shukan Bunshun has excerpts of a remarkable political stump speech/rant delivered by Ms. Tanaka in her home district. She was for years a member of the LDP, left the party to serve as an independent, and then joined the DPJ last year. She doesn’t seem to have much use for any of them, however.

The term dokuzetsu (poison tongue) doesn’t do it justice. She said the people still in the LDP were “garbage” now that the only ones with popular appeal have left, and she congratulated herself for being the first to leave. She described those who did bolt the LDP as “the Sunset Party” (the Sunrise Party), “Kame-chan” of the PNP (The first kanji in Kamei Shizuka’s family name is “turtle”) and “the bald guy with a head like a scallion who used to be Health Minister” (Masuzoe Yoichi). She dismissed the LDP leadership as “Tubby Mori, Oshima What’s-his-name, and Ishiba What’s-his-name”.

Ms. Tanaka didn’t spare the DPJ. She called Hatoyama Yukio an “elitist who’s always talking about discrimination”, and said the current Cabinet was “packed with nothing but lawyers from the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University”. She also took a shot at “the Policy Review Minister who goes around in a white suit” (Ren Ho), but as soon as it turned out she had some dodgy accounting for her office expenses, Kan Naoto hushed everything up by ending the Diet session because it was time for an election.

The crowd ate it up. (Don’t I keep saying that the Japanese love nails that stick out?) But Ms. Tanaka doesn’t have the temperament required of a political leader. She’d be a firecracker as a political commentator or a blogger, however. Koizumi Jun’ichiro could also be wicked, but he was funny. Ms. Tanaka is just cruel for cruelty’s sake. If she ever did manage to wind up as prime minister, her term in office would be nasty, brutish, and short.

* Politicians aren’t the only ones who need to grow up.

Pollsters

All except Jiji use random digit dialing, which is less accurate than more targeted methods. If any of the major polls focus on likely voters only, they aren’t talking about it. Jiji polling suggests more than half of all Japanese adults are independent, but a Kyodo exit poll showed they accounted for only 17.2% of the people who wound up voting.

Print media

The headline of the cover on the 18 June Shukan Asahi, after Kan Naoto took over as prime minister:

DPJ Poised to Take Majority in Upper House / DPJ Reform Resumes

Their 23 July issue had a photo of Mr. Kan near tears with the headline:

Japan will collapse if Kan doesn’t leave

The Internet

The late Watanabe Michio, father of Your Party’s Yoshimi, observed that television is the number one means for a politician to promote himself to the public. Number two is weekly magazines, there are no numbers three and four, and number five is newspapers.

Were he to reprise that today, he might put the Net at number 6. Meanwhile, TV and the Net are probably running neck and neck at number 1 in the U.S., and no one else counts anymore. People in Japan have yet to realize that such media outlets as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Newsweek have lost their influence and preach only to the converted. In fact, Newsweek will be lucky to survive much longer.

Television

Everybody’s irritated with the way Japanese TV covers politics, but one of the more unfortunate events of the last election was their failure to treat the Spirit of Japan Party as the equal of the other parties during televised debates. TV limited participation to those parties who had five or more representatives in the Diet, which left the SOJ out in the cold. That meant they won no seats, though nationwide they did get about half the votes of Kamei Shizuka’s People’s New Party, which had both television coverage and the strong backing of an interest group.

That’s unfortunate because the party leaders have both legislative experience in the Diet and executive experience at the local government level–something the national government desperately needs. They’ve had significant success in rebuilding shattered public finances without automatically reaching for the tax lever.

Said party leader Yamada Hiroshi:

We didn’t have as much time to prepare as the established parties, and we had no organization.

They were organized just three months ago. Another factor was the number of new parties, all of which were led by people with an established national profile. Only Your Party out of this group developed any traction.

Mr. Yamada says they will continue to work with an eye on next year’s local elections. Let’s hope they survive—they’re a little too close to people like social conservative Hiranuma Takeo for comfort, but the opportunity to offer their views and experience on managing government with common sense would elevate the national discussion.

And to close, here’s the best political cartoon I’ve ever seen. It has nothing to do with Japan specifically (though it’s applicable in general), and it comes from a surprising source, but it deserves a larger audience.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Posted in Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 117 other followers