Japan from the inside out


Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 16, 2011

Politicians these days are the kind of people that make me want to bang my forehead against the desk.
– Roger L. Simon, novelist, screenwriter, and blogger

HERE’S a quick sketch penciled on a leaf from a notepad:

Last week, the upper house of the Diet, effectively controlled by the opposition parties, censured two members of the Noda Cabinet: Defense Minister Ichikawa Yasuo and Consumers Affairs Minister Yamaoka Kenji. Mr. Ichikawa took the hit because a deputy compared Japanese and American policies regarding the Marine air base at Futenma on Okinawa to rape. The defense minister also admitted that he didn’t know the details of a 1995 incident in which three U.S. soldiers raped an Okinawan schoolgirl. He voluntarily reduced his salary in atonement.

Mr. Yamaoka was rebuked because he accepted donations from a health food company accused of running a pyramid scheme. He later returned the donations.

While upper house censures are non-binding, the opposition is unlikely to attend any sessions if the two men remain in office. New Komeito head Yamaguchi Natsuo has already said as much.

The response of the English-language media is typified by this sentence in Bloomberg:

The censures, which came on the Diet’s last session of the year, threaten to undercut Noda’s efforts to focus on reviving an economy damaged by the March earthquake and nuclear disaster and burdened by the world’s largest debt.

Sengoku Yoshito, the first chief cabinet secretary in the Kan government, was livid. He said:

Employing this same strategy every year is tantamount to claiming there has been an infringement on supreme authority, and besmirches party politics.

He added:

A system that allows the upper house, which can’t be dissolved, to inflict heavy blows on the Cabinet, is extremely peculiar. Politics will come to a standstill if it becomes normal for the opposition to declare that they won’t attend Diet deliberations (after a censure).

A reasonable person who reads this account with only this information might well assume that the LDP and the other opposition scum were playing politics and blocking the essential work of a nation facing the crisis of a disaster recovery while hobbled by an extreme overhang of debt.

Now here’s a painting with oils on a large canvas to provide a more accurate depiction:

* In 1995, two Marines and a Navy enlisted man rented a van and kidnapped a 12-year-old Japanese girl. They beat her, duct-taped her eyes and mouth shut, tied her hands, and took turns raping in her in the back of the van. The swabbie says he only pretended to do the deed because he was afraid of one of the grunts.

The existing Status-of-Forces-Agreement allowed the Americans to refuse to turn over the three men until they were indicted by a Japanese court. The Japanese, and particularly the Okinawans, were enraged, and with good reason: rapacious American servicemen are not uncommon in the Ryukyus, and the U.S. always protected their own by dragging out the legal process.

The land area of the Okinawan islands totals 877 square miles, on which is based 70% of the American military presence in Japan. American military installations occupy slightly more than 10% of all Okinawan territory. They include one Air Force base, one Navy aviation facility, and two Marine aviation facilities. In comparison, Rhode Island–the smallest of the 50 American states–has nearly twice the land area of Okinawa at 1,545 square miles.

The Americans again took their time before handing over the three men, which resulted in the largest anti-American demonstrations since the security treaty was signed in 1960. The incident was the impetus for the Hashimoto administration and subsequent Japanese governments to negotiate for more than a decade the move of the Futenma base to a different part of the island, with the Japanese picking up most of the tab. Hatoyama Yukio’s hollow unkept promise to move the base either outside the country or outside the prefecture was the final FUBAR that brought down one of the most short-lived Cabinets in Japanese history.

Then-Rear Admiral Richard C. Macke was appalled at the stupidity of the three men, who finally did serve Japanese jail time. For the same price as the van rental, he observed, they could have bought a prostitute instead. That earned him a forced discharge from the service and the removal of two of his four stars, which lightened his monthly retirement check by $US 1,500.

After his release from prison, one of the three rapists complained that he was forced to perform “slave labor” assembling electronics products. That sort of rent-seeking by that sort of person isn’t a winning strategy in this part of the world, and so he was ignored by all except the usual Adullamites with an anti-Nipponism outlook.

Ichikawa Yasuo started his career as an agriculture ministry bureaucrat. He resigned and later won two elections as a delegate in the Ishikawa prefectural assembly. One year after the Okinawa rape, he was elected to the Diet for the first time.

If he is not aware of the details of the case, he’s not qualified to run a pachinko parlor, much less sit in the Diet. That Noda Yoshihiko thought he was qualified to be the defense minister tells you all you need to know about Mr. Noda’s political acumen and qualifications to serve as prime minister.

* During the Fukuda Yasuo administration, when the Democratic Party was in opposition but held the most seats in the upper house, they devoted their energies to obstructing legislation and appointments to bring the government down. Illustrative of the party’s tactics, and indeed, the party itself, was their response to Mr. Fukuda’s appointment of Watanabe Hiroshi as deputy governor of the Bank of Japan. Hatoyama Yukio was DPJ secretary-general at the time, and he thought Mr. Watanabe was an excellent appointment. His view was echoed by Maehara Seiji, former party president and later defense minister, and the aforementioned Sengoku Yoshito.

Yamaoka Kenji

But Party President Ozawa Ichiro, the destroyer of worlds, saw this as another excellent opportunity to create a crisis. His political torpedo, Yamaoka Kenji, left a message on Mr. Watanabe’s answering machine telling him that “the party” was opposed to his appointment, with the unstated suggestion to take a hike. He never spoke to Mr. Watanabe directly.

The party’s initial acceptance of the Watanabe appointment notwithstanding, Mr. Ozawa imposed his will, the party then imposed its will in the upper house, and Mr. Watanabe did not get the job. In other words, he was subjected to a Japanese-style Borking.

Mr. Yamaoka has never served as a Cabinet minister, but after all these years of loyal service to Mr. Ozawa, he decided his CV needed some ornamentation. The extra salary and the perks were also probably an attraction. He was pacified with the consumer affairs portfolio, which is a Cabinet-level ministry only because of an ill-advised Aso Taro attempt to sell himself as a man of the people. He also is the minister for North Korean abduction issues, which shows how seriously the DPJ government views that problem. Now that Mr. Yamaoka was at last in an exposed position, the opposition saw their chance to use some of the dirt they’ve collected on the Ozawa crew. He was really censured for playing the role of a Democratic Party slimeball and for his Ozawa connection, thus reinforcing the linkage of Ozawa and dirty money politics in the popular imagination.

* Sengoku Yoshito’s comparison of the censures to “an infringement on supreme authority” loses quite a bit in translation. The Japanese phrase he used was 統帥権干犯, the identical expression critics in the Imperial Army used when Japan signed the 1930 naval arms limitation treaty. The treaty balanced the capital ship ratio for Britain, the U.S. and Japan at 5:5:3, while many in Japan wanted it set at 10:10:7. The essence of Japanese phrase is that the treaty was an infringement on the Emperor’s (then) supreme authority over the military, rather than the Cabinet.

In other words, by comparing the upper house opposition to pre-war military imperialists, Mr. Sengoku shows that Godwin’s Law is also applicable in Japan.

Then again, Sengoku Yoshito knows quite a bit about political standstills resulting from upper house censures. On 11 June 2008, the upper house, let by the DPJ and its allies, filed and passed a censure motion against Prime Minister Fukuda. It was the first censure of a prime minister under the current postwar constitution. It was passed just before the G8 summit with the intention of (a) humiliating him, and (b) forcing him to dissolve the lower house of the Diet. (He resigned instead and was succeeded by Aso Taro).

The ostensible reason for the censure was Mr. Fukuda’s handling of domestic issues, but that was just a convenient excuse. Seven months before, Ozawa Ichiro had hammered out a deal with Mr. Fukuda for a grand coalition government, a plan that was shot down by the non-Ozawa leadership in the DPJ. That led to a three-day minidrama in which Mr. Ozawa stalked off in a huff and returned in tears.

The same forces came together to censure Prime Minister Aso Taro in July 2009 and began to boycott Diet proceedings. The DPJ had filed a no-confidence motion against the Cabinet in the lower house, but it was voted down by the LDP majority. The point of this chabangeki was not that Mr. Aso had done something inexcusable; rather, it was to force the LDP to rally to his support instead of switching to a different prime minister for the lower house election that was due before the end of the summer anyway.

Indeed, it has only been a year since the upper house censured Mr. Sengoku himself, but unlike the excuses offered by the DPJ when they were in opposition, the LDP, New Komeito, and Your Party had plenty of good reasons: He takes pride in his obnoxious and belligerent behavior to the opposition; before taking office he bragged about how he would deliberately use lawyerly obfuscation to deflect questions on the Diet floor. There was also his responsibility for the Kan Cabinet’s mishandling of the Senkakus incident with the Chinese, in which the government tried slough off responsibility on the Naha prosecutors and refused to release videos to the public showing the behavior of the Chinese “fishing boat” skipper.

So, now that the precedent they created for frivolous hack attacks and besmirching party politics has come back to bite them for their own incompetence and venality, the Democratic Party has finally located the high road of statesmanship on their map. In fact, Mr. Sengoku even wonders if there’s any real reason to have an upper house to begin with.

To be sure, there is one important political element behind the censures. The Democratic Party is an inherently dysfunctional organization consisting of socialists/social democrats in one wing and the modern equivalent of the LDP’s Tanaka Kakuei (i.e., Boss Tweed) faction on the other, leavened by some Third Way types from Hosokawa Morihiro’s old New Party (Noda Yoshihiko, Maehara Seiji). Both Mr. Ichikawa and Mr. Yamaoka are Ozawa allies, which is the only reason Mr. Noda recruited them to begin with. The semi-constant threats of Drama Queen Ichiro and his minions to split the party if they don’t get their way create an inherent instability. The censure forces the socialist/social democrat wing of the party to back them, even though they can’t stand Ozawa and whatever it is he pretends to stand for these days, or finally get off the pot and dump them.

In addition to plain old incompetence, that instability is one of the primary reasons the DPJ government’s handling of the Tohoku recovery has been so catastrophic, surpassing even their failures to deal with the economy, Futenma, and Chinese hegemonism. The upper house censures have no bearing on the ability of the government to proceed with recovery and reconstruction — they showed months ago they lack even the most rudimentary of administrative abilities. A censure is a slap on the wrist compared to what they deserve. The sooner the Democratic Party ceases to exist in its present form, the better off everyone will be.

If Mr. Simon is anxious to deliver himself from the temptation of serious forehead banging, he should postpone any plans he might have to visit to Japan. After observing the local political fauna, he’d return home with welts from temple to temple.

Time to chase the crazy baldheads out of town.

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