AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Strange crew

Posted by ampontan on Friday, May 13, 2011

People use the slogan “From bureaucratic leadership to political leadership” as if it were something of value, but if you believe that slogan, then as a country Japan’s level is merely that of the DPJ politicians. In the year and a half since (the DPJ) has taken power, we’ve seen that we’ll wind up in a terrible mess if we entrust Japan to their policies.”

– Terashima Jitsuro, Japan Research Institute president and foreign policy advisor to former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio (of the DPJ) in the 21 May edition of Shukan Gendai

EVERY politician must dream of becoming The Great Unifier, whether by the brilliance of his leadership, the magnetism of his personality, or the iron of his fist. As a report yesterday suggests, the dream has come true at last for Prime Minister Kan Naoto. The calves, lions, and fatlings all lay down together in Nagata-cho united in their loathing of Mr. Kan and discussed how to dispose of the frumious bandersnatch of Japanese politics. That a crew so motley could meet and hold a civil discussion about anything is enough to make a cynic invest in the stock of plowshare and pruning hook manufacturers.

Nishioka Takeo and Kan Naoto

But first, a word about their sponsor. We’ve seen before that upper house President Nishioka Takeo’s criticism of Prime Minister Kan Naoto’s handling of events since 11 March has been caustic enough to peel the lacquer from a miso soup bowl. Here’s just a taste: When the prime minister announced the creation of the Reconstruction Design Council as the primary body to develop policies for rebuilding the Tohoku region, Mr. Nishioka wondered aloud to the news media, “How many councils will he create before he’s happy?” (We don’t know the answer, but the running count is already more than 20.) He’s been scattering dark hints that he would either initiate or abet moves to unseat Mr. Kan as prime minister, and yesterday he seems to have taken the first step by creating a council of his own. This one is composed of representatives from most of the major parties in the country and is called the Council Seeking Reconstruction Funding without a Tax Increase. (The bandersnatch stacked the deck in the Reconstruction Design Council to ensure that it would recommend higher taxes.)

Said Mr. Nishioka at a news conference:

“In this severe national crisis, we must again doubt whether (Kan) has the qualifications to serve as prime minister. I am opposed to a tax increase to deal with the disaster. Conditions will be harsh enough for the Japanese economy in the foreseeable future as it is. I have no idea where the idea of a tax increase, regardless of the form it takes, came from.”

The council issued a statement after its first meeting:

“The plan to raise taxes to fund reconstruction will cause incalculable damage to the Japanese economy for more than 10 years. It will not be possible to achieve reconstruction by destroying the economy.”

Their preference is for the government to float Disaster Bonds and have the Bank of Japan purchase the entire tranche.

The group has quite a lot of company when they criticize Mr. Kan for his seat-of-the-pants approach to policy and a preference for political performance over substance. Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito was no sooner brought back into the government to deal with the reconstruction than he started grumbling to the media in private again about the prime minister’s lack of ability. Said one DPJ executive off the record to a reporter: “Prime Minister Kan is a more frightening man than Ozawa Ichiro.”

That last statement might not be as extreme as it sounds. The former Destroyer of Worlds isn’t frightening many people these days. The news media expected the man to wheel his heavy artillery on Mr. Kan and begin his offensive this week, but some of his shells turned out to be duds. Yamaoka Kenji, Mr. Ozawa’s political torpedo, announced the formation of a different group to knock off the prime minister about a fortnight ago, but a day later the head of a construction company testified he had delivered cash payoffs to Mr. Ozawa’s political fund management group to ensure his company a piece of the public works pie. Mr. Yamaoka boasted that he would be able to round up 100 members for his group’s meeting, but only about 60 showed up. While that’s an impressive number of people for an intra-party revolt, they would need roughly 20 more to pass a no-confidence vote in the lower house, assuming all 60 would vote for it if a motion were introduced. Factor in the failed challenge of Mr. Ozawa to Prime Minister Kan in the election for DPJ president last September, and it’s beginning to look as if most of the man’s sand has fallen to the bottom of his hourglass.

Or has it? Nishioka Takeo has been an Ozawa Ichiro ally for many years. As did Yamaoka Kenji, he followed Mr. Ozawa out of the Liberal Democratic Party and into the New Frontier Party…and then into the Liberal Party…and from there into the Democratic Party, when Mr. Kan was party president. It’s possible his coalition of the unlikely could represent an attack on a different flank by a loyal general. Further, Mr. Nishioka was one member of the New Liberal Club in the old LDP, created by members of different party factions in 1976 for a “reform of conservative politics” after the Tanaka Kakuei scandals. If he’s still into conservative politics after all these years, that could be another factor behind his opposition to Mr. Kan, who in American terms would be a New Left baby boomer.

Though Mr. Takeoka’s open revolt is “extremely unusual” behavior for the president of one of the houses of the Diet, as the media has it, his alliance with Mr. Ozawa might tempt one to dismiss it — until you see the names of the people who’ve signed up. Fair warning: Reading them too fast might cause vertigo. To break it down by party:

DPJ: Matsubara Jin
LDP: Nakagawa Hidenao
Your Party: Watanabe Yoshimi
New Komeito: Toyama Kiyohiko
Social Democrats: Abe Tomoko
People’s New Party: Kamei Akiko

Hiranuma Takeo of Sunrise Japan couldn’t make it to the meeting, but he put his name on the record as a member. The only major party not represented is the Communists, and they make it a practice to maintain their purity by never getting involved with anything as grubby as political maneuvering.

Now for the stories behind those names. If there is a Japanese version of paleo-conservatives, Hiranuma Takeo would be at the top of the list. Matsubara Jin rejects the idea that the Nanjing Massacre and the comfort women were the result of systematic planning and coercion. (Remember, he’s in the same party with Kan Naoto and Sengoku Yoshito, who think Japan’s position should be one of perpetual atonement.) Mr. Nakagawa is the elder statesman of the Koizumian reformers in the LDP. Mr. Watanabe believes so strongly in systemic reform that he left the LDP to form his own party, which now usually ranks third in the generic polling of party preferences. Both he and Mr. Nakagawa call for the downsizing of government, in both its political and administrative sectors. Combine the worst aspects of the world’s Socialists and the world’s Greens and you get Japan’s Social Democrats. The People’s New Party is a splinter group of anti-reform conservatives that are still part of the ruling coalition.

The cherry on top of this sundae is Toyama Kiyohiko, the youngest of the group and in his first term in the upper house. He received a PhD in Peace Studies from Miyazaki International College, where more than 80% of the professors are non-Japanese and all second-year students spend their second semester abroad. He taught at the same school before he entered politics. The title of his doctoral thesis was War and Responsibility: The Emperor and the Debate over War Responsibility in Japan during the Occupation. (We all know that the college experience offers a large palette of choices for wasting one’s time, but are there any as grandiose and empty than a doctorate in peace studies?)

Ozawa Ichiro has created coalitions from some extraordinary combinations of people during his career, but getting those people in the same room to work for a common purpose is probably beyond his capabilities even at the height of his powers. For them to have agreed to talk turkey in the first place, they must be Very Extremely Concerned about the possibility of Kan Naoto remaining in office.

To be sure, nothing at all could come of this, but here’s something that might. As the presiding officer of the upper house, Mr. Nishioka has the legal authority to “maintain order, adjust its proceedings, supervise its business, and represent it”. He also assigns bills to committees for deliberation and sets time limits for speeches (which is why there are no filibusters in Japan).

The opposition is in the majority in upper house. Mr. Nishioka has already hinted he might ask the opposition to submit a censure motion. As a another DPJ source explains:

“Prime Minister Kan does not have to legally resign after a censure motion passes, but Mr. Nishioka might not press the bell to open the upper house session, citing ‘the weight of the house’s decision’. If that happens, the prime minister will have reached a dead end. Mr. Nishioka is the man Prime Minister Kan fears the most.”

With so many combustible elements floating around, how long will it be before someone finally strikes a match?

Afterwords:

Before you assume that the aversion to a tax increase reveals these people to be irresponsible populist rabble-rousers, let me bring to your attention an article by Your Party Secretary General Eda Kenji in the June issue of Voice titled, “Raising Taxes Isn’t Necessary! They Could Find 20 Trillion Yen Tomorrow”. (The entire reconstruction has been estimated to cost roughly JPY 40 trillion.) The subhead reads, “The stupidity of the DPJ: Doing as they’re told by the Finance Ministry without listening to the people”. The issue just appeared this week, and I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. Mr. Eda is a former official in the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, and an aide to former Prime Minister Hatoyama Ryutaro. If he thinks JPY 20 trillion yen is available for shaking from the trees (and he’s not the only one), I’m inclined to believe him.

One of Your Party’s advisors on economic matters is Takahashi Yoichi, who is plugging the idea of 100-year government bonds bought by the BOJ. After all, he says, this is a once-in-a-century problem. He also recently published a book titled, A Consumption Tax Increase Isn’t Necessary! Both the print and the broadcast media are giving him plenty of opportunities to make his case.

*****
Memo
To: The Anglosphere punditocracy
In re: The new openness in Japanese politics under the DPJ

You know how some of you spoonfeeders are trying to convince your readers that the DPJ’s openness in providing information on the earthquake/tsunami is a real change from the bad old days of the LDP?

You know how Prime Minister Kan testified in the Diet last month there wasn’t a meltdown at Fukushima?

There was a meltdown at Fukushima.

You know how the government finally classified the nuclear disaster as a Level 7?

Mr. Kan knew it was a Level 7 several weeks before that, but didn’t change the rating.

You know that egg all over your faces?

Since you’re not going to wipe it off with a public admission, do yourself the favor of wearing some yellow and white clothing to coordinate the colors.

*****
Meanwhile, the Kan Cabinet wants to increase the size of the Cabinet by three members next month to deal with reconstruction. One of the ministers is expected to be responsible for reconstruction, and another will be assigned to deal with Fukushima. Really, how many councils will he have to create before he’s happy? They could cut the Cabinet by a third and nobody would miss them.

There’s a lot more going on with all of these subjects, but it takes time to organize and digest all the information.

*****
A strange brew for a strange crew

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6 Responses to “Strange crew”

  1. toadold said

    It seems there is growing disgust with the left in both Japan and the US. They said they would be less corrupt and less partisan, and that has turned out to be a major lie. The left is seen as retarding the potential for technological, scientific, and all other forms using human capital. They all seem to hate the country that they live in though they love the money that they make their and won’t leave for Cuba or China. There is quite the potential for strong economies in a number of countries that is being held back by intellectually bankrupt elites from the 19th century…..Harsh words to follow.

  2. 21st Century Schizoid Man said

    Those who are eager to take a lead almost always turn out to be just eager to take a lead and nothing more. Gem is gem because it is rare.

  3. Marellus said

    Ampontan.

    You should read Martin Armstrong.

  4. Ha! Hatoyama’s favorite necktie was yellow and white!

  5. toadold said

    21st Century Schizoid Man puts a finger on the problem with Republics eventually the power attracts the corrupt and the corrupt and poisonous fill the government so badly that good people don’t want to associate with it.
    We want Lucius Cincinnatus and we end up with Napoleon. Instead of Washington we get Kan and Obama and hope we don’t get a Caesar or Shogun as a follow up.
    The Texas State legislature is as corrupt as any other but it is only in session once every two years. The rest of the time the legislators have to mix with the peasants to earn a living. It is hard for them to build dynasties and become “professional” legislators. Could a national legislature be restricted to a six month session?
    ———-
    T: Thanks for the note.

    Two points
    1. The Diet is usually in session twice a year, though the second part is called an “extraordinary session”. It doesn’t last much longer than six months in all, if that. In fact, a fight has broken out because Kan wants to end this session at the earliest possible time in June as a way to extend the life of his Cabinet.

    2. The Illinois legislature is also part-time, and that was the cradle for the Obama-nation. He was also an adjunct law professor at the same time as he was voting “present” in Springfield.

    – A.

  6. toadold said

    Ah, Cook County Illinois, the Afghanistan of America….wait, I do Afghanistan an injustice.

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