AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Ichigen koji (143)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, August 18, 2012

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

(Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru’s) One Osaka has the power to change Japan. We should borrow their strength to reform education and amend the Constitution.

– Former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo

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Posted in Education, Government, Quotations | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

All you have to do is look (14)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, August 11, 2012

The front gate of Kashima High School, in Kashima, Saga.

There has been an educational institution on this site since 1669. Kashima High considers its own origins to be a school founded under a different educational system in 1896.

Yesterday it was the site of the 7th Prefectural English Debate Contest, in which teams of high school students debated a proposition in English. (I was one of the judges.)

Imagine your high school self participating in a formal debate in a foreign language. I can’t. Yet all of the students in this largely rural prefecture conducted themselves superbly. As one of the other judges commented after watching one debate, “both of those teams were so good they could have beaten us.”

Posted in Education, Photographs and videos | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Ichigen koji (135)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, August 10, 2012

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

There was a demonstration in Hong Kong on Sunday in which 100,000 people protested the national education system. Naturally the news in Beijing criticized the Hong Kong demonstration. What was interesting was that they said “The national education system is in the global mainstream”, while adding, “The people opposed are afflicted by the congenital syphilis of colonization and Westernization.” It won’t be long now before our national education in the global mainstream develops the ability to criticize the government.

– A Tweeter writing in Japanese under the name of Cheung YM

Posted in China, Education, Quotations | Leave a Comment »

All you have to do is look (12)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, August 9, 2012

The opening ceremony for the 94th National High School Baseball Championships at the Hanshin Koshien Stadium in Hyogo. It is an elimination tournament, which means that the eventual champion will have won every game starting at the prefectural championship round.

(Photo by Jiji news agency)

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Ichigen koji (123)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, July 29, 2012

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

* This is not the time to be saying, ‘The students are bad, the teachers are bad, the board of education is bad, the parents are bad.’ Everyone has to conduct themselves properly.

– Koshi’ishi Azuma, head of the Democratic Party delegation in the upper house, and former primary school teacher and official in the Japan Teachers’ Union, on the suicide of a junior high school student who had been bullied by his classmates.

* That statement beggars belief. A precious human life has been lost. There must be a thorough inquiry to determine the problem and the responsibility, and prevent a recurrence. This seems to me as if Mr. Koshi’ishi’s statement is to protect his colleagues at schools and the board of education, and to cover up the problems with the Japan Teachers’ Union, whose education in human rights is extremist.

– Yagi Hidetsugu, professor at the Takasaki City University of Economics and director of the Organization to Revive Japanese Education

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New directions in Japanese politics

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, July 11, 2012

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

– Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, 28 June, in Osaka

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

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

Vouchers

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

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

University professor/author/blogger Ikeda Nobuo was impressed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personnel expenses

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

Arts subsidies

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

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

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

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

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

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

The political class

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

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

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

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

Ward officers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bring ‘em on!

Your Party

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

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

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

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

He added:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Head ‘em off at the pass

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

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

Mr. Watanabe again:

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

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

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

Nagoya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The beasts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the cow jumped over the moon.

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

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

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

Not working is good for the economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Japanese nanny state

From a generic media report:

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

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

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

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

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

Said Komiyama Yoko, health minister:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Maybe.”

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

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

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

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

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

The Seamoon is back

Generic media report (GMR):

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

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

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

International edition

From another generic report:

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

Here’s what Ms. Lagarde knows about taxes:

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

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

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

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

The absence of humility manifests in many different ways.

China

Still another generic report:

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

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

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

The absence of humility manifests in many different ways.

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

There’ll be some changes made.

Afterwords:

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

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

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

Also:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in China, Education, Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Conspiracy of quietness

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, June 28, 2012

The champions of democracy in the eighteenth century argued that only monarchs and their ministers are morally depraved, injudicious, and evil. The people, however, are altogether good, pure, and noble, and have, besides, the intellectual gifts needed in order always to know and to do what is right. This is, of course, all nonsense, no less so than the flattery of the courtiers who ascribed all good and noble qualities to their princes. The people are the sum of all individual citizens; and if some individuals are not intelligent and noble, then neither are all together.
-Ludwig von Mises

SOME people insist that proper governance demands certain absolutes. As shown by the hullaballoo that arose with the Arab Sprung, some of those same people would insist democracy is one of those absolutes. Mises knew better, and the results of the recent Egyptian election won by Mohamed Morsi demonstrate why:

Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood told supporters last month…

“The Koran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader, jihad is our path and death in the name of Allah is our goal,” Morsi said in his election speech before Cairo University students on Saturday night.

And:

“Today we can establish Sharia law because our nation will acquire well-being only with Islam and Sharia. The Muslim Brothers and the Freedom and Justice Party will be the conductors of these goals,” he said.

The same people secure in their certainty that democracy is an absolute value would certainly be absolutely enuretic if forced to live under a legal system that chopped off hands for theft, stoned women to death for adultery (women are guilty until proven innocent and need four male witnesses to confirm they’ve been raped rather than been adulterous) and flogged and/or executed homosexuals. The same legal system treats unbelievers as second-class citizens. One aspect of that treatment is that believers are given the benefit of the doubt if there is a conflict in court testimony.

Transparency of government is also considered to be an absolute by some, but that is no more an absolute than is democracy. It is desirable in many instances, but less so in others. Legislation passed by the Diet last week contains examples of both.

Nukes

Japan amended its Basic Law on Atomic Energy on the 20th, the first major change in in the law in 34 years. The primary objective was to rework the regulatory regime for nuclear power, but that wasn’t the only one. The law also now states that it has:

“The objective of protecting the lives, health, and assets of the people, and contributing to environmental preservation and national security.”

The “national security” part is new. It is so new, in fact, that it wasn’t included in the original bill approved by the Noda Cabinet. The clause was inserted because the opposition Liberal Democratic Party requested it; both the LDP and their New Komeito partners had already submitted their own bill with similar language. Mr. Noda and the DPJ went along, and there are no reports of serious objections.

None of the three main parties of the National Political Establishment (NPE) thought this required much debate in the Diet, more than a superficial explanation, or the obligation to tell the public about it at all. The Diet has a website on which pending legislation is posted, but the contents of this bill didn’t go up until the 15th, less than a week before it became law.

The bill passed after little debate in the lower house and only three days of debate in the upper house. It was not reported by any of the five primary national newspapers. The story was broken instead on Thursday by the Tokyo Shimbun, later reported in the Chunichi Shimbun (of Nagoya), and briefly mentioned in the Mainichi Shimbun. The nation’s two largest newspapers, the Yomiuri and the Asahi, covered the passage of the bill itself, but neither (as far as I could determine) specifically mentioned this change.

The Tokyo Shimbun quoted the explanation of LDP lower house member Shiozaki Yasuhisa, chief cabinet secretary in the Abe cabinet. I thought the second and third sentences were instructive:

“The possession of nuclear technology is significant from the perspective of security…There also must be an understanding of the technology of atomic energy from the perspective of security to defend Japan….(Objections) are the arguments of people who don’t see what they don’t want to see.”

He added that no objections were raised about the proposed amendment during the discussion among the three parties.

Yoshino Masayoshi, a lower house MP from the LDP said:

“Its significance is as a security measure to protect against the use of nuclear material for terrorism or other uses. There was no thought of converting it to military use.”

No, I don’t believe it either, but the whole point is to keep people guessing, isn’t it?

Japanese bureaucrats and politicians are known for their skills at parsing language in legislation to do exactly what they want to do, regardless of the legislation’s intent. Books have been written about it, including one called Bureaucrat Rhetoric. For example, changing the text of legislation from “Ministry XXX is required to YYY” to “Ministry XXX must make every effort to YYY” ensures that YYY will never be done. How nuclear technology can be used for “national security” requires no explanation or rhetorical tricks.

While there has been little or no media comment about the bill, the people who want to stay informed knew soon after the Tokyo Shimbun article was published. It doesn’t take long for links to circulate on Twitter, and they started circulating the same day.

Whatever shortfall there’s been in Japanese media commentary has been offset by the thrills offered by the South Korean media. The Joseon drama queens enjoy this sort of Japanese fable in the way some people enjoy monster movies. Not only do both scripts provide the same horrific excitement, both stories are clearly based on science fiction with no connection to life as we know it. Screaming as loud as they can in the theater just adds to the fun.

Reader rab sent in an English link from the Joongang Ilbo. Here’s one passage:

“The revision Wednesday is raising speculation that the move would act as a threat to regional security in Northeast Asia, including Korea, and could lead Japan to build nuclear weapons.”

See what I mean about science fiction? No, lovies, even if Japan were to wise up and build nuclear weapons, the threats to regional security in Northeast Asia are the nuclear powers of China, North Korea, and Russia. The speculation being raised is that the Japanese NPE is at last taking steps to uphold its primary responsibility and defend the nation against serious threats from the Chinese hegemons asquat what they consider to be the center of the universe, and the military clique running North Korea in nominal service to the Emperors Kim. (The Japanese understand the latter arrangement. They did it themselves as far back as the 8th century.)

Chinese behavior from North Korea through the Senkakus to the South China Sea leaves no doubt about their intentions. Conditions in the United States leave substantial doubt about that country’s capacity and willingness to defend Japan in accordance with its treaty obligations, particularly in smaller incidents that advance Chinese interests incrementally.

If Japan were to build nuclear weapons, it wouldn’t be a threat to regional security. It would strengthen regional security.

The Joongang quoted one Japanese politician:

“Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, however, denied the suspicion. He told reporters yesterday that the bill “emphasized the peaceful use of nuclear power plants.””

Their source was the Tokyo Shimbun article, which contained other politicians’ comments that they couldn’t find the space to print. For example, this one from Eda Yasuyuki, a New Komeito member of the lower house.

“There are provisions in the nuclear reactor regulation law for safeguarding nuclear material during transport. The technology for nuclear fuel can also be diverted to military use, and there are safeguards (inspections) in IAEA regulations. These are related to Japanese national security, so this was specified in the law as the ultimate objective.”

Mr. Eda is in favor of giving the right to vote to foreigners who are permanent residents (read: zainichi with Korean citizenship) and opposed to amending Article 9 of the Constitution, the peace clause. While it is fair to wonder what the change in language really means, such speculation must also account for the unlikelihood that someone with Eda Yasuyuki’s beliefs would sit still for nuclear weapons.

It is also curious that Japan’s Communists and Social Democratics, the parties most likely to object to weaponization, have kept their lips zipped about the news. The former publishes a daily newspaper called Akahata that puts about a dozen articles on line every day, but they haven’t mentioned it at all. Neither has the SDPJ, which supports a position of unarmed neutrality similar to that of Costa Rica (the Swiss are armed to the teeth). They also objected to providing sidearms for self-defense to Self-Defense Forces sent overseas. A trip to their website shows a photograph of people resembling minor characters in a Kubrick film complaining about nuclear power, but nothing about a potential diversion to nuclear weaponry. Are they part of the conspiracy too?

Some people who could be expected to complain did complain. From the Joongang:

“The Diet’s latest move has stirred criticism from civic groups and scholars in Japan.”

They didn’t specify the complainers, but their source article in Japan identified them as The Committee of Seven for World Peace:

“The possibility that this opens the way for real military use cannot be denied….”

Yes, I agree, “civic groups and scholars” does sound more serious than the reality, doesn’t it?

Here’s another gem from the Joongang article:

“We are closely monitoring Japan’s move,” said an official from Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. “It’s too early to make a hasty conclusion that Japan has started to arm itself with nuclear weapons.”

Foreign ministry bureaucrats aren’t so thick as to raise that subject on their own after the modification of a few words in a bill, but journos everywhere are thick enough to ask that question.

The Chosun Ilbo also carried an article with similar delectations. They were worried this could elicit a “domino reaction” for nuclear weapons in Northeast Asia. Whether this meant they thought China, Russia, and North Korea would manufacture more than they already have, or that the only other country in Northeast Asia without the bomb — South Korea — would feel compelled to protect themselves from the nuclear barrage that Tokyo is sure to unleash on Seoul any minute now, they didn’t say.

Perhaps that explains why it was revealed less than a week after this news broke that the South Korean government has decided to sign a military agreement with the Japanese very soon:

“The pact — named the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) — calls for the two countries to exchange intelligence about North Korea and its nuclear and missile programmes, Yonhap news agency said. It cited a government source for its information. A foreign ministry spokesman declined to comment.”

In passing, note that the final sentence of the linked AFP article is incompetent, irrelevant, immaterial, and inacurrate, but that’s what happens when the pixel-stained wretches get a great notion to write about Japan and Korea in the same piece.

Speaking of points, we should also note that the Chosun article (which I read in its Japanese version) did present one point of interest. They combined the news on nuclear power law amendment with the observation that the Diet amended another law with military ramifications. Here’s additional information:

“The Upper House of Japan’s Diet June 20 passed legislation that shifts control of the nation’s space policy and budget, and opens the door to military space development programs with an emphasis on space-based missile early warning.

“The raft of legislation, based on the Bill to Amend the Law of Establishment of the Cabinet Office that was sent to the Diet on Feb. 14, enables the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office to take control of the planning and budgeting of Japan’s government space program. It also removes an article in a prior law governing the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the nation’s equivalent to NASA, which had restricted JAXA’s ability to pursue military space programs.

“Prior to the legislation, JAXA had been de facto controlled by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), and was overseen by a MEXT committee called the Space Activities Commission (SAC), leading to criticisms of regulatory capture.

“At the same time, JAXA’s space development has been restricted to an extremely narrow “peaceful purposes only” policy, which meant the agency was unable to develop specifically military space programs…”

And:

“The passing of the law ends a process that began nearly a decade ago by politicians looking for ways to leverage Japan’s space development programs and technologies for security purposes, to bolster the nation’s defenses in the face of increased tensions in East Asia.

“On top of an increasingly confident China, Japan faces a potentially belligerent and unstable North Korea just across the Sea of Japan. Since 1998, North Korea has consistently flouted and broken promises, norms and international laws in developing and testing nuclear weapons and missiles.

“JAXA will now be permitted to develop space programs in line with international norms, which are governed by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. The treaty allows military space development, but not the deployment of weapons of mass destruction in orbit…

“METI…is interested in promoting dual-use Earth observation and reconnaissance satellites and an air-launch space access system, according to the ministry.

“Suzuki said there also is strong bipartisan political support for Japan to develop and launch its own missile early-warning system to support the nation’s small fleet of Aegis destroyers for upper-tier defense, and its PAC-3 systems for lower-tier defense.”

So it would seem reasonable to conclude that the generation which was spoon-fed pacifism is giving way to people who have too much common sense to swallow that swilliness in the Occupation Constitution about entrusting national defense to the “peace loving peoples of the world”, in league with those of the older generation who were too smart to swallow it to begin with. Here’s one quick example of the latter: When Fukuda Yasuo was serving as chief cabinet secretary a decade ago before becoming prime minister, he alluded to Japan’s potential to develop nuclear weapons at a news conference, but had to walk it back the next day. Fortunately that was walked back only in public.

There’s a reason they call weapons “The Great Equalizer”. If the slow shift continues toward eliminating the peace clause of the Constitution, independently developing legit self-defense capabilities, recognizing the world’s realities, and rejecting the (primarily overseas) ideal vision of Japan as a ship-in-a-bottle model for world pacifism, it won’t be long before Japan is once again a “normal country”.

National defense is one of the few legitimate reasons for a strong central government to exist, and the primarily responsibility of all who serve in it. The means used for that defense — as long as they are limited to defense — need not be endlessly gummed over by the media and public. The people who need to know and want to know, both in Japan and the nearby countries, now know.

On the other hand

Some conspiracies of quietness are detrimental to the conduct of national affairs. While the news media couldn’t keep its collective hands out of its pants with the controversy over the consumption tax increase and the ramifications that will have for national politicians, the NPE slipped a few other bills through with few people noticing.

On the 21st, the Diet passed a law with multi-party support to “revitalize” theaters and concert halls, on the justification that doing so is the responsibility of national and local governments. Public sector funds already are used to support museums of art and natural history, and some claimed that the other facilities have not performed the role “originally expected of them”.

No, I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean, either.

This law encourages both governments to provide financial subsidies to create the “required environment” because these facilities foster the performing arts and artists. The Agency for Cultural Affairs will later develop a policy for the “assignment of specialists in the theater arts and conducting theater management”.

Not only is this indefensible in isolation, it was passed at the same time as legislation requiring citizens to pay more for the upkeep of government through the normal purchasing activities they conduct to live. Little did they know what they’re really paying for. Meanwhile, over in Osaka, Mayor Hashimoto Toru and his One Osaka organization/party are making the case to eliminate or reduce subsidies to the arts, an objective they have successfully accomplished in several cases. Not coincidentally, national polls show that One Osaka maintains a rate of support that is roughly half again the aggregate rate of support for the ruling Democratic Party and the opposition Liberal Democrats and New Komeito.

In addition to the bill’s philosophical indefensibility (for anyone but statolatrists), it is clearly in opposition to the will of the people. Then again, if the popular will were a consideration, the NPE would never have passed the consumption tax increase, or would have held a referendum/lower house election first.

Among all that dealmaking, yet another decision was taken with no public debate on matters that directly concern the public. The DPJ withdrew its plan to combine public nursery schools and kindergartens (to save money) in favor of a of New Komeito plan to enhance the current system. There seems to have been no public input on this decision whatsoever.

The point here is not whether the DPJ or the New Komeito plan is better; either would probably work well. Rather, it was that a decision was made with little public awareness that an issue which concerns the education of their children was being discussed. Do you wonder why I think the news media is lazy?

A few months ago, LDP lower house pol Aisawa Ichiro tweeted that he was a major force in the adoption of a bill by the Diet to provide government support for athletics to turn Japan into a Great Power in Sports. Mr. Aisawa thought this was wonderful.

That’s another one no one knew anything about.

(I sent a reply to his Tweet asking why additional expenditures in this area were necessary in light of the government’s fiscal deficits. He didn’t answer, but either he or his staff added me to the list of people he follows.)

A hint for the likely explanation for the passage of the three of bills in the form they took and the manner in which they were passed is found in the official title of the government ministry with responsibility for all of them: The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

The bills for concert hall funding and sports superpower promotion in particular will provide easy money for things people do anyway to give useless bureaucrats in useless jobs in useless agencies a way to spend their daily cubicle time instead of finding gainful employment. That is less clear for the nursery school/kindergarten bill, but one does detect the flopsweat odor from bureaucrats terrified at the idea of getting cut out of the action.

Factoid

The Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group now has a Japanese government bond portfolio worth JPY 49 trillion and a private sector loan portfolio of JPY 46 trillion. It is the first time the former amount has exceeded the latter for that entity.

Has it occurred to the NPE that the government gavage requiring financial institutions to gorge on all that money of the mind prevents them from lending their available funds to the private sector, which could then create more jobs that are better paying, more stable, and more productive, thus providing Leviathan with more tax revenue and eliminating the need to increase taxes?

Of course not.

*****
Well, dip me in chocolate and feed me to the high school girls’ archery club. Maybe government interference in the arts is a blessing after all. Aren’t they darling?

Posted in Arts, Business, finance and the economy, Education, Government, Mass media, Military affairs, Politics, Science and technology, South Korea, Sports | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

Smokin’

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, April 7, 2012

A FIRE at the Umeda Station on the Midosuji Line of the Osaka Municipal Subway two months ago burned down a storage shed. The fire department’s investigation revealed that smoking was the likely cause. Any subway fire can have serious consequences, but that’s a busy station in the heart of the metropolis with several connections to other lines. The Osaka Municipal Transport Bureau then banned all smoking on the subway premises for everyone.

Last week, the assistant station manager at the Honmachi Station on the Yotsubashi Line lit up in the station manager’s kitchen/lounge at 7:40 a.m. before he was due to go on duty at 8:30. It set off fire alarms, delaying four trains by a minute each and inconveniencing about 1,000 passengers.

Smoking on the job is prohibited for all Osaka city employees at their workplace, and they’re subject to disciplinary action if caught. But when do unionized public sector employees face serious punishment for anything in any country? In fact, only one Osaka municipal employee had been disciplined for smoking before — a primary school teacher was docked a month’s pay in 2010 when he was caught tubing it on school grounds.

But now Hashimoto Toru is the mayor. On the day of the incident, he said the punishment would be severe. Two days later, he elaborated on what he meant by severe:

“I want him to think that dismissal is the standard.”

When it was pointed out this would be the first time such a harsh punishment would be meted out in Osaka, and the employee might take formal action to recover his job, the mayor replied:

“I don’t care if he takes it to court.”

How about that? A lot of people in the United States, to name just one country, would be thrilled by the approach of holding public sector sponges to private sector standards (not to mention salaries). The usual suspects would be appalled, and there are plenty of those people here too. But I suspect there won’t be much sympathy in general for the assistant station manager.

Those same usual suspects might be expected to amuse themselves with meta-snark about Mussolini making the trains run on time, but since Mr. Hashimoto isn’t a classical fascist/statist of the left, only among the circles of the secular holy ones will there be the pleasing vibrations of indignation.

There’s a desperate need for people in the advanced countries to get back to the basics on every level of their lives, both individually and as members of society. One place to start is an insistence that employees follow reasonable work rules established for public safety.

*****
The trains in Japan really do run on time, as do the buses. That doesn’t mean it’s a regimented society. It’s just a manifestation of the commonly accepted idea that doing your job and doing it well is the A of the ABCs. Some years ago, a group of workers from General Motors visited a Toyota plant here. When asked for their impressions, one of the Americans said, “These people work too hard!” Sure — by GM shop floor standards. From what I’ve seen of the insides of Japanese factories, people work at a normal pace. Is it a surprise then that Toyota is still a going concern while GM would have gone belly up had the government not stepped in?

*****
The Japanese are also serious about teachers setting an example, which was the reason the Osaka primary school teacher found his paycheck lighter after being caught in the act. In my American high school, on the other hand, the physics teacher used to walk around in the halls with a pack of cigarettes (Winstons) in his shirt pocket. He was also an assistant coach on the football team. Meanwhile, a student getting caught smoking in the boy’s room would be subject to a three-day suspension on the second (or perhaps third) offense.

*****
Just before summer vacation last year, I was talking to one of my university students outside of class. She’s from Okinawa, and she was anxious to get home because everything there is more relaxed.

That was a bit unexpected, because Saga is not the picture of urban bustle. There’s even a word in the local dialect for the default, take-it-easy attitude (nonbiraato). I asked her if she thought the pace was all that hectic here.

“Oh yes. In Okinawa, even the buses don’t run on time.”

My wife laughed out loud when I told her.

*****
That assistant stationmaster at Honmachi had to have been a fool for a cigarette.

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Sunrise in the land of the rising sun

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, April 7, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(end translation)

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

DPJ’S GOVERNING FIASCO: Party never challenged Finance Ministry

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROTFLMAO.

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

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

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Ichigen koji (66)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 1, 2011

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

The leftist mood is still the mainstream among Japanese intellectuals. It is extremely interesting that the closet leftists were flushed into the open by the nuclear power plant accident. The schema that “the government and Big Capital worked in collusion, and the nuclear power interests gluttonously devoured the privileges”, and the offered solution of deluded proposals to abandon all nuclear power in favor of natural energy, show they haven’t progressed in the slightest from their 60s vision of unarmed neutrality.

While Japan’s left wing is still dominant in academia, they wound up on the losing side and have had no influence whatsoever on real politics. Their final descendants are the anti-nuclear faction. By no means, however, does the right wing have a philosophy that has surpassed theirs. Marxism has poisoned Japanese intellectuals for such a long time that proper social science has never developed. Waiting for the baby boomer generation to withdraw from the scene is perhaps the only way to remove that poison.

– Ikeda Nobuo, university professor, author, blogger

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Japan’s political kaleidoscope (8): The new, the old, and the Noda

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, September 6, 2011

PLENTY of people were saying plenty of interesting things last week with the start of the Noda Cabinet. Here are some of them.

The Asahi Shimbun

It wasn’t what the Asahi said in an English-language article that was remarkable. Rather, it was the fact that they — Japan’s preeminent newspaper of the left and Kan Naoto’s only reliable water carrier — were the ones to say it. It started with the headline:

Noda, Finance Ministry Speak as One on Tax Hikes

The first sentence:

Having an advocate of tax hikes as prime minister is a dream come true for Finance Ministry mandarins who have long championed an increase in the consumption tax rate.

The body of the article contains a good description of how the bureaucracy in general, and the Finance Ministry in particular, becomes entwined in the political process. Now for the finish:

Senior Finance Ministry officials asked Noda to appoint either former Secretary-General Katsuya Okada or former Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku as finance minister because both men support tax increases.
Eventually, Noda picked Azumi Jun, handing him his first Cabinet portfolio.
“Noda chose a lightweight minister without losing any sleep over the matter because he served as finance minister himself,” a DPJ lawmaker said.

That last sentence is clever for the plausible deniability it provides. Did they mean Mr. Noda isn’t losing any sleep because he is capable of acting as his own finance minister, or because he was a lightweight finance minister himself who subcontracted policy decisions to the ministry. I suspect the latter.

I don’t recall much of this from the Asahi when Kan Naoto, the preceding Finance Ministry puppet and tax hike promoter, was in office, but perhaps I disremember.

Please note that I’m still having trouble with the link function. I just sent a note to WordPress. The article should be easy to find, however.

Hasegawa Yukihiro

It’s worth reading anything by Mr. Hasegawa, an award-winning book author, columnist, and member of the editorial board of the Tokyo Shimbun. Here are some excerpts from an article in Gendai Business Online commenting on Noda Yoshihiko’s use of the term “no side” after winning the DPJ presidential election.

The phrase comes from rugby and is (or at least was) used by the referee to signal the end of the match. I’ve read that it’s obsolete, but being from a country that doesn’t play rugby, you could fool me. Japanese politicians often use it in this context to call for party unity.

*****
“The use of the expression “no side” is straight from the Liberal-Democratic Party politics of a generation ago.

“In those days, Kasumigaseki (the bureaucracy) handled all the policy questions. Policy was essentially identical to that which they created, so the politicians in Nagata-cho promoted themselves using traits unrelated to the core of policy, such as decision and execution, or tolerance and compassion. It could even be said they had no other way to compete than to emphasize their capacity to execute policies or their broad-mindedness.

“People understood that politics of that sort was a failure, so the Democratic Party championed the cause of disassociation from the bureaucracy and political leadership during the general election two years ago. The politicians said they would retrieve policy from the hands of the bureaucracy. In the end, however, they were ensnared by Kasumigaseki, and their effort at eliminating the reliance on the bureaucracy failed. We’re now in the third DPJ government with the Noda administration, and there’s nothing else to say but “no side”….

“….The “no side” politics are unlikely to be successful because politics that are carried piggy-back by Kasumigaseki no longer functions. Kasumigaseki has gotten too big. It micromanages everything in the private sector (literally, every time [the private sector] raises or lowers its chopsticks), and maintains a system of skimming off taxes through amakudari. There will be no revival for the Japanese economy.

“The recognition that the root cause of the economy’s stagnation is the system of Kasumigaseki leadership has begun to spread throughout the population due to the bitter experience of the Tohoku disaster and the Fukushima accident. In Nagata-cho, they are beginning to realize that perception is growing.

“Many Democratic Party MPs are in a mouth-to-mouth feeding relationship with Kasumigaseki, and the politicians have noticed they’ll be at risk in the next election. While Noda won the DPJ election, many within the party are still opposed to a tax increase.

“The euphoria following the selection of the new party president had an immediate feel-good effect, but the Diet members will shortly return to reality. The turbulence will reemerge with a vengeance as soon as a serious effort is made to pursue a policy of higher taxes.

“What’s more, that day will soon arrive. They’re now at the stage of formulating a third supplementary budget calling for an increase in core taxes as a funding source for Tohoku reconstruction. They also plan to present a bill by next March to raise the consumption tax to fund social welfare. In short, the debate begins in the fall.

The thaw

The first of the highly publicized governmental policy reviews held by the DPJ in November 2009 was one of the most transparent political dog-and-pony shows ever staged. The idea was that the politicians would put the bureaucrats’ feet to the fire by grilling them about questionable policies. They would end the wasteful enterprises and use the money to fund their campaign promises.

It didn’t take long to find out that the reviews were scripted — literally — by the Budget Bureau of the Finance Ministry, complete with recommendations on which policies to cut. It was a convenient way for the ministry to strengthen its control relative to the other ministries. Further, the recommendations of the review panel had no force in law. Some of the programs ostensibly cut, such as one for the Education Ministry, were quietly restored into the budget of a different ministry a few months later.

The panel did have some good ideas, however. One of them was a freeze on building new housing for national civil servants, other than reconstruction in the event of an emergency. (This is often a job perquisite in both the public and private sectors.)

But it seems there’s been a late summer thaw. Construction began on 1 September of an 800-unit apartment block in Asaka, Saitama. Whatever debate was conducted about lifting the freeze hasn’t been reported, and there’s no indication the Government Revitalization Council was involved.

Each of the apartments has a living room, dining room, kitchen, bath, and three extra rooms. The rent and deposit are free, courtesy of the taxpayers. The cost of the project has been estimated at JPY 10.5 billion. Despite a location next door to the Asaka municipal offices, only national civil servants are eligible to live there. It’s prime real estate 10 minutes on foot from the train station.

The housing accommodations for national public employees are under the jurisdiction of the Finance Ministry, so the Finance Minister had to give his authorization to end the freeze and begin construction. Based on the timing, that means the person who approved the project in apparent contravention to government policy was the new prime minister, Noda Yoshihiko.

How thoughtful of him to let us know.

If the government was serious about ending wasteful government expenditures, all these properties would be sold and no new ones built. The private sector has no problem handling housing construction. The public sector has the problem of funding rent-free accommodations for its employees with public funds.

Eda Kenji on the polls

Mr. Eda is the secretary-general of Your Party. Here are excerpts from two blog posts last week:

“It was predictable to an extent, but all the polls conducted over the weekend showed the support rate for the Noda Cabinet at roughly 60%. The highest was the Yomiuri at 65%, and the lowest was the Asahi at 53%. Interestingly enough, the rate of support in the newspaper polls was highest at those papers leaning to the right, perhaps because Mr. Noda leans to the right himself. (Note: Does the motivation for the first Asahi article make more sense now?)

“This high support is likely the result of the effect of the Aida Mitsuo poem (about the dojo fish), Mr. Noda’s personal modesty, and the good feelings about the Cabinet selections made with party unity in mind. The polls also probably reflect the reaction to the fact that Mr. Kan was so terrible.

“Nonetheless, I think the people of Japan are really kindhearted. (To use the analogy of the traditional wedding present of cash), the amount of the present for a third wedding and honeymoon in two years shouldn’t be the same as it was for the first….If this continues, I am deeply apprehensive about the disappearance of a sense of tension from politics and the politicians. Most politicians are risk-averse opportunists. They’ll look at the going rate for wedding presents. If the Cabinet is a failure, they’ll think all they have to do is replace the head….At any rate, when the yearend budget formulation is finished, the rate of support will have plummeted and the government will again be on the verge of collapse….

“…Meanwhile, some in the LDP are saying it will be difficult to combat the Noda Cabinet and its initial support rate. Well, of course it will be. The LDP has joined with the DPJ as two of the parties in the three-party agreement, they’ve laid out a course of tax increases to pay for reconstruction, and they’re on board with a 10% consumption tax increase for social welfare schemes. With the difference between the two parties on these issues so small, no wonder the LDP finds it difficult to attack.”

A note on polls

Some in the Western media have reported that the new Cabinet has received “strong voter support”. If this is the best they can do when filling space, they should consider syndicated horoscopes instead. The support is nothing more than a first impression, it’s skin deep rather than strong, and since the polls are conducted by random digit dialing, no one knows whether the respondents are voters or not.

One doesn’t have to have a long memory to recall that Kan Naoto had even higher ratings in June 2010 when he displaced Hatoyama Yukio and shut Ozawa Ichiro’s supporters out of the Cabinet. As summer turned to fall, however, he lost more than 40 points in one newspaper poll in two months over his government’s mishandling of the Senkakus incident. Mr. Noda’s numbers are only a tad better than those of the LDP’s Fukuda Yasuo when he took over in 2007, and he lasted just a year.

Besides, there’s no reason to pay serious attention to what the foreign media writes about Japanese politics until they demonstrate that they understand most Japanese prime ministers aren’t “leaders” as understood in the Western sense, but the principal spokesmen for the decisions of their party.

The obvious exception was Koizumi Jun’ichiro. His successor Abe Shinzo tried to do the same, and did have some success (as the next excerpt shows). But Mr. Koizumi was an act nearly impossible to follow, and the primary audience was a news media more irritated than a pack of gunpowder-fed junkyard dogs after five years of success and popularity by someone who wasn’t a European-style social democrat. Kan Naoto tried too, but because character is one of the prerequisites for leadership, he was unlikely to succeed from the start.

Okazaki Hisahiko

Mr. Okazaki was once ambassador to Thailand, and he writes on diplomacy and foreign affairs. Here are some excerpts from a piece that appeared in the Sankei Shimbun.

I have hopes for the Noda Cabinet

“After it seized power, the DPJ offered only those anti-establishment arguments that are the critical elements of their defining characteristics, were uncontrolled in their self-indulgence, and were rebuffed at every turn. They learned from those lessons, and their promise to change the planks of their party platform for the three-party agreement is the most concrete example….They tested the most childish ideas of postwar liberalism, such as anti-Americanism and an approach to Asia, and they learned how unrealistic that is…

“They get the sequence backwards when they ask for experts’ opinions after something has happened. They should be listening to opinions regularly, and when something happens, they must decide. Their subordinates are already busy, and the excessive workload of selecting and convening the members of a commission is too heavy….

“If they’ve learned the lesson that the people have suffered and had to bear heavy burdens since they’ve taken power, it will be a positive for the two-party system in the future. Most important, I think, has been the generational change….In the DPJ, the generation of radical student demonstrators has left the scene, and they’ve moved on to the next generation.

“The LDP has also changed during this time. Prime Minister Abe Shinzo stepped down due to illness, having amended the three laws regarding education, established the legal framework for a national referendum (for amending the Constitution), and came right to the point of permitting the exercise of collective self-defense. The party responsible for frustrating the end of the postwar regime was not the DPJ, however, but the LDP. Since it’s been in the opposition, the LDP has firmed its support for recognizing the exercise of collective self-defense as party policy…

“With the new administration, they should not be so niggardly as to worry about the DPJ recovering its reputation and the effect that would have on the next election. If there is an offer to cooperate on policy, it would be best for them to humbly accept it and cooperate. It’s more important to deal with the crisis in Japan of the continuing (political) vacuum.

“I returned from a banquet in a taxi on the night the DPJ held their presidential election, and even the other passengers were saying how relieved they were that it went well. No one knows what’s going to happen in the future, but those were the voices of relief that the days of Hatoyama and Kan, who used the nation of Japan as the subject in a vivisection experiment for amateurs, are over.”

Takahashi Yoichi

The relentless Mr. Takahashi is a former Finance Ministry bureaucrat, author, journalist, and university professor. He is not as sanguine about Mr. Noda as Mr. Okazaki:

“Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko wrote the book The Enemy of Democracy when the DPJ was still in the opposition. In it, he said:

26,000 former national civil servants have taken amakudari jobs in 4,700 (public) corporations, and JPY 12.6 billion of hard-earned tax money flows to these amakudari corporations annually. No matter what budgets we formulate, we will be unable to overcome our economic crisis until this gimmickry is ended.

And

The facile recognition of an increase in the consumption tax represents the suspension of thought, and it ends the elucidation of such gimmicks as the wasteful use of the special account.

“The people’s hopes in these words were betrayed. The DPJ was unable to compile a budget or effectively utilize the Finance Ministry or the Bank of Japan because they did not reform the civil service system. That meant their plan to assert political leadership went nowhere. What I look forward to is to the extent to which the Noda administration will reform the civil service system.”

—————-
The aforementioned Eda Kenji thinks it’s impossible for the DPJ to reform the civil service system because they depend on public union support.

Kono Taro

Mr. Kono presents himself as a small-government classical liberal, but he’s not quite there yet. Here’s a sentence from a recent website post:

We’ve attacked the ruling party by saying, for example, that the child allowance was just an example of doling out of baramaki, i.e., lavish entitlements (which it was) and we made them stop. But I cannot say the LDP has explained how it will support child-rearing.

And neither does it have any business supporting child-rearing. They can explain that government can best support child-rearing by creating an environment in which the economy thrives and allowing parents to handle child-rearing by themselves. In other words, by butting out.

Mr. Kono would do well to examine the tax proposal by former ambassador to China and Utah Gov. Jon Hunstman, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination in the U.S. Mr. Huntsman is no small-government classical liberal, but he’s got the best idea for tax reform presented by any of the candidates. From The Wall Street Journal:

The heart of the plan lowers all tax rates on individuals and businesses. Mr. Huntsman would create three personal income tax rates—8%, 14% and 23%—and pay for this in a “revenue-neutral” way by eliminating “all deductions and credits.” This tracks with the proposals of the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson commission and others for a flatter, more efficient tax system.

That means economically inefficient tax carve outs for mortgage interest, municipal bonds, child credits and green energy subsidies would at last be closed. The double tax on capital gains and dividends would be expunged as would the Alternative Minimum Tax. The corporate tax rate falls to 25% from 35%, and American businesses would be taxed on a territorial system to encourage firms to return capital parked in overseas operations.

Mr. Huntsman would repeal two of President Obama’s most economically debilitating creations, ObamaCare and the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law. Mr. Huntsman has it right when he says, “Dodd-Frank perpetuates ‘too big to fail’ by codifying a regime that incentivizes firms to become too big to fail.” He’d also repeal a Bush-era regulatory mistake, the Sarbanes-Oxley accounting rules, which have added millions of dollars of costs to businesses with little positive effect.

Mr. Huntsman says he’d also bring to heel the hyper-regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration and the National Labor Relations Board, all of which are suppressing job-creation.

In addition to the foregoing, Mr. Kono should consider restoring the policies to promote agribusiness that were begun under the Abe administration and ended under the Hatoyama administration. There was quite a bit of unused farmland in Fukushima Prefecture, to cite one example, even before the nuclear accident. The DPJ chose to offer baramaki in the form of individual farming household supplements to take advantage of the disproportionate representation of agricultural regions in the Diet for electoral purposes.

Both Japan and Mr. Huntsman would also do well to heed the success of Russia, which introduced a 13% flat tax a decade ago. That resulted in a string of annual budget surpluses that started in 2001. They had a deficit of 3.6% of GDP in 2009, not the best of years for government budgets, but were back into surplus last year.

While he’s at it, Mr. Kono might also take a tip from Gouverneur Morris, who wrote much of the American Constitution:

If the legislative authority be not restrained, there can be neither liberty nor stability. However the legislative power may be formed, it will, if disposed, be able to ruin the country.

And Morris wasn’t a classical liberal — he believed in a natural aristocracy.

The high yen

The sharp appreciation of the yen hasn’t been all bad for Japanese businesses. Japanese companies are shopping till they drop in corporate supermarkets overseas now that prices are at bargain levels. According to M&A originator and executor Recof, their purchases of overseas firms from January to August alone were valued at JPY 3.8842 trillion, already more than last year’s JPY 3.7596 trillion. They amounted to JPY 465.8 billion in August, double the amount for July. The buying is on a pace equivalent to that of the second-highest year, 2008, when JPY 7.4256 trillion was spent to snap up overseas corporations. Recently Kirin Holdings bought a large Brazilian beverage company, and Asahi Holdings now owns an Australia/New Zealand-based liquor manufacturer.

It’s all in the name

Here’s the first sentence from an AP article yesterday:

Typhoon Talas dumped record amounts of rain in western and central Japan on Sunday, killing at least 25 people and stranding thousands as it turned towns into lakes, washed away cars and set off mudslides that buried or destroyed houses.

Forget the AP’s frustrated novelist prose — What is this “Typhoon Talas” of which they speak, which isn’t a name a Japanese person would come up with? Here in Japan, it’s Typhoon #12.

It turns out to be the creation of the Typhoon Committee of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, and the World Meteorological Organization, a revealing bit of nomenclature itself.

While those bodies need a way to quickly differentiate the storms, how is their function enhanced by names they don’t need and no one other than they or the news media use?

An article on the Discovery News site explains about the lists of names:

The two lists most Americans are familiar with cover the Atlantic and East Pacific. But there are also lists with culturally appropriate names that cover the Central North Pacific, Western North Pacific, Australian Region, Fiji Region, Papua New Guinea Region, Philippine Region, Northern and Southern Indian Ocean.

In other words, it would be news to Discovery News to discover that Talas isn’t “culturally appropriate” for Japan, the only country affected by WNP #12.

The article concludes:

As to whether using human names is the best approach: “That actually is an issue that comes up,” said Read (director of the National Hurricane Center). “Is there a better way to do this?”

Yeah. The way the Japanese do it.
*****
Sounds like an Okinawan/Indonesian blend to me.

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Gun fun in Japan

Posted by ampontan on Monday, August 15, 2011

LAST WEEK, we had a post featuring high school students competing in a calligraphy performance contest and a manga contest. Not all of the competitions for kids in Japan are so artistic, however. Some are just an excuse for having a ton of goofy fun and laughing until your stomach hurts.

Take for example the All-Japan Water Survival Contest held at the end of last month in Yoshinogawa, Tokushima. That was an organized water pistol shoot-‘em-up with rules. The junior gunslingers were split up into gangs of five each, which had an eight-minute showdown on a 20-meter-square court with obstacles placed inside. The idea was to shoot at the round paper targets they wore on their heads, but of course a miss was as good as a hit. The winners were the team that tallied the most head shots. The players could use the obstacles for cover, and having five team members meant they could employ pincer attacks to gang up on someone and squirt themselves silly.

About 250 people took part in the event sponsored by the local Yamakawa-cho JCs to promote outdoor sports. It also seems as if it would be a healthful way to promote the application of some old-fashioned masculine instincts. Among them were nine teams of primary school students, and the last men standing from that group were an outfit of desperadoes called the Buriburis. The team captain, a sixth-grader said:

It felt good to get drenched and it was a lot of fun. I want to do it again next year, too.

Shoot, anyone who’s ever been a boy knows exactly what he means. And if they wanted any practice beforehand, they could have joined the Wakuwaku Yuki Shooting Competition held in Nanyo, Yamagata last August. Instead of water pistols, they used rubber band guns made by hand from waribashi (splittable chopsticks).

This was part of a Saturday recreational program for local kids that sponsors monthly events. Participants came from Nanyo and nearby Nagai. The employees of the hall where the program is conducted taught them how to make the guns.

For targets they used the city’s promotional characters, the Nanyo Public Relations Groupe Arcadion. (To see what the Groupe looks like, try this Japanese-language website.)

Said one of the participants:

The gun was hard to make, but it was a lot of fun because the rubber bands flew farther than I thought they would.

Yeah! Wow!

Hey, look out! Here’s a clip of the Japan Rubber Band Gun Maestro firing off some clips during a television appearance…with his bazooka, machine gun, and gatling gun.

Did you notice that sign for the Japan Rubber Band Gun Shooting Association? You betcha they exist. They’ve even got a Japanese-language website with national championship rankings and everything!

The only problem I can see would be having to pick up all those rubber bands after you shot your wad.

In addition to having a good time, another benefit of the second contest would be for children to acquire the manual and mental dexterity required to make the guns.

I wonder…Would either of these events be possible in the United States today, or would some of the self-righteous find a way to drape a large wet blanket over them?

*****
Shoot ‘em ‘fore they run, now.

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‘Tis the season for Koshiens

Posted by ampontan on Monday, August 8, 2011

THE summer edition of the national high school baseball championship got underway at Hanshin Koshien Stadium in Hyogo this weekend. That is a very big deal in Japan: NHK broadcasts every game of the tournament live, nationwide, without commercials. One of the classic scenes of daily life is the family get-together during the mid-August O-bon holidays with the eating, the drinking, and the attention of the males alternating between the people in the room and the games on television. The format of an elimination tournament adds an element of spice to the drama — the losers go home, while the championship team will have been undefeated, starting with the first game of the local prefectural round.

All the games are played at Hanshin Koshien Stadium in Hyogo. The park was built in 1924 specifically to serve as the venue for the summer tournament, which dates from 1915, and the smaller spring invitational tournament, which debuted the year the stadium opened. So closely is the park associated with the championship that the event is referred to simply as Koshien. Ask someone whether their high school has ever been to Koshien, and they’ll know immediately what you mean.

In fact, the term Koshien is now applied to other summertime high school competitions, including events that have nothing to do with sports. One of these is the Calligraphy Performance Koshien, staged on 31 July in Shikokuchuo, Ehime. Though it is based on calligraphy, it was conceived in the 21st century — this year’s competition was only the fourth. Teams of 10 calligraphers use brushes and ink on sheets of paper four meters high by six meters wide to render artistic and/or philosophical messages as they dance to music that accompanies their performance.

Representatives from 15 high schools around the country participated in the finals, and the squad from Oita High School in Oita City, Oita, won for the second straight year. This year, most of the participating schools created works based on the theme of earthquake/tsunami recovery. In addition to the normal criteria used to evaluate calligraphy, the teams were judged on the degree of completion of their work, the movements of the team members as they brushed on the characters, and their dance routines.

The creation of the Oita High champs was based on the theme of compassion (思いやり) and they used the form of a mid-summer greeting card (shochu o-mimai) as their motif. Said the team captain:

We can thank the people around us for our consecutive victories. We wondered what we could do to help the people in the area, and decided to encourage them with our calligraphy.

The students of the calligraphy club at Mishima High School in Shikokuchuo came up with the idea as an event to attract people to the local shopping district. Their inspirational spark fired everyone’s imagination, they were invited to appear on television, and then the rest of the country got into the act.

See you in the funny papers!

You don’t even have to ask — of course there’s a Manga Koshien for high school students. That’s the term commonly used to refer to the annual High School Manga Competition, which was held this past weekend in Kochi. This year’s event was the 20th, and the winning team came from Tochigi Girls High School, which inked it out with 24 other schools in the final round.

In this competition, the teams are given the same topic and have to create a comic on that topic immediately. They do this twice — the topics for the Saturday preliminaries and the Sunday finals are different.

The topic for the final round this year was “The 100th Manga Koshien”. The Tochigi girls came up with a comic depicting the 100th anniversary event, which in their imagination offered a prize of JPY one million (100 man en in Japanese), had 100 judges, but very few schools participating because of the population decline due to the low birth rate.

The head of the judge’s panel, Makino Keiichi, said:

Some (judges) thought that was a negative concept, but it is (in the spirit of) manga to depict things honestly.

Said Oki Ayano, one member of the winning team:

It was a good idea to deal straightforwardly with a social issue. I’m really happy.

The cartooning champs said they’ll donate their JPY 300,000 award to the Tohoku relief effort.

Consider what these two events have to say about the health and cultural dynamism of the Japanese. Who else would have thought to combine the elegance of the centuries-old art and discipline of calligraphy with pop music dance routines and turn it into an extra-curricular activity for high school students? Consider also that the winning Manga Koshien high school team was aware of a contemporary social issue, had the wit to come up with an idea based on that issue on the spur of the moment, incorporated it into the general outline presented to them, and had the guts to put it on paper as their entry in the championship round.

Now consider how seriously to take those people who enjoy talking and writing about the malaise in Japan.

*****
Here’s the Oita High School team strutting their stuff in the paint at the first Calligraphy Performance Koshien four years ago. Notice the touch of placing the seal on the lower left-hand corner of their work at the end. Baby love!

Dang, I got to find a way to get me to Ehime next summer!

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Ichigen Koji (22)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, June 17, 2011

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

“Noda, Maehara, and Haraguchi (of the Democratic Party) are all graduates of the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management, but they learned nothing of Matsushita Konosuke’s thought. They were merely enrolled there, or else just passed through the MIGM tunnel. They certainly didn’t study Mr. Matsushita’s political philosophy. Theirs is nothing more than the earnest wish to advance in the big corporation that is the Democratic Party of Japan Co., Ltd. If it were possible, I’d like to ask them what they think Mr. Matsushita’s political philosophy was, or what his view of humanity was. Their answer would probably be, “…”. They have not made the Matsushita philosophy or political philosophy a part of their lives. That’s why I, who was involved for 15 years with the establishment of MIGM, do not want them to publicly state that they are graduates of that institution.”

– Eguchi Katsuhiko

Mr. Eguchi was a close associate of Matsushita Konosuke, the founder of Panasonic. He was elected last year to the upper house of the Diet as a member of Your Party.

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An explanation or an excuse?

Posted by ampontan on Monday, June 13, 2011

FREELANCE journalist Itagaki Eiken has some observations on the authorities’ handling of events after the Tohoku disaster:

“Immediately after the Hanshin Earthquake, I published the book ‘Restoration Day for the Home Ministry’. It was based on interviews with senior members of the former Home and Local Autonomy ministries. Here are the recollections of one of those men:

‘After the war, GHQ made it a policy to purposely weaken Japan’s governance. Symbolic of their policy was the elimination of the Home Ministry. That Ministry had two functions: first, it provided services to residents, and second, it was the axis of state governance. As part of its second function, it had the Special Higher Police (Tokko), which terrified the citizenry by arresting people for thought crimes.

‘The GHQ was alarmed by the Home Ministry’s strength after they discovered that the ministry was disseminating GHQ orders throughout the country in just 15 minutes. They decided to break it up to remove it as a threat.

‘Since then, combined with Article 9 of the Constitution that renounces war and forbids the maintenance of military forces, the country has been unable to fully manage national crises. That weakness was exposed after the Hanshin earthquake.

‘Unless there is a government office such as the Home Ministry that can act as a headquarters for the centralized issue of orders and control following a disaster, a recovery will be next to impossible.’

Mr. Itagaki adds the following comment:

“Most politicians, starting with the Cabinet and Prime Minister Kan, lack an awareness of crisis management. What’s more, it is regrettable that very few politicians are capable of the adaptable, timely, and appropriate exertion of political power (the power to mobilize people, hardware, and money) when there is a national crisis.”

At first glance, some might think that blaming one’s shortcomings on the Americans is a convenient excuse for crisis mismanagement. After all, the Allied occupation ended a long time ago.

The argument of the veteran bureaucrat has some merit, however. Consider his assertion that the problems stem from a combination of the breakup of the Home Ministry with the Constitution’s Article 9. These and other factors contributed to the creation of a psychological climate that resulted in a certain passivity that some critics call heiwa boke — addled by peace. The people responsible for dealing with both the Hanshin earthquake and the Tohoku earthquake/tsunami were born, reared, and educated in that climate.

The Home Ministry wasn’t the only organization capable of managing a crisis in those days. In the book Hoshigarimasen Hoshigarimasu, the late novelist and dramatist Inoue Hisashi compiled excerpts from the in-house histories of national newspapers, the national railroad, NTT, NHK, large banks, and other entities, in which they described how they maintained their operations throughout the most difficult parts of the war. The daily American bombing caused disruptions and hardships much more serious than those of the Tohoku earthquake, yet they all continued to function using the available resources until the surrender.

National character doesn’t change so drastically absent the action of powerful agents acting for change, welcome or not. The desultory amenities of Modern Life alone did not sap the essential elements for crisis management from the class responsible for it.

But just as the nation that was Imperial Japan no longer exists, neither does the partially enervated world that followed it. The people whose outlook was formed by that era will shortly give way to younger generations, as Kan Naoto has been talking about so enthusiastically over the past two weeks. Whether they will recover the vigorous resourcefulness of their ancestors when faced with a crisis or sink deeper into heiwa boke remains to be seen.

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