AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Abe Shinzo’

No cigar

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, September 1, 2012

TAKENAKA Heizo, the man responsible for cleaning up the post-bubble banking problem and launching the privatization of Japan Post, and Nakada Hiroshi, former Diet member and Yokohama mayor, serve as advisors to the most important politician in Japan today: Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru.

The two men published a collection of dialogues last fall called Nippon on Daimondai 30 (The 30 Major Issues Facing Japan). Here’s Mr. Nakada speaking about one aspect of the post-earthquake/tsunami Tohoku restoration:

The land that was covered in water and thoroughly ruined as a result of the earthquake and tsunami will require an enormous amount of money to be restored for agricultural use. I helped clean up the land at Rikuzentakata (Iwate) recently. At a glance, it looks like all the rubble has been cleared away, but that’s because all the large debris, such as collapsed houses, cars, and logs, have been removed. But up to 20-30 centimeters below the surface of the farmland, there’s an enormous amount of glass and plastic shards and other material buried there. It was also covered in salt (from the seawater), so the soil needs to be improved. The radioactivity has to be removed in some places too. The state of the land means that it isn’t possible for individual farmers to clean up their fields, even if they spent the rest of their lives doing it. It would be the height of stupidity to tell the small farmers, who are aging, to stick with agriculture.

At any rate, it would take an immense amount of money to provide assistance to the individual farmers, so the state should look after their interests, sovereignty should be restricted, and the land should be nationalized. Then, large agribusiness companies should be created to conduct agriculture on a large scale. They could employ the older farmers, who would earn more money than they do now. They also wouldn’t have to worry about who would take over the family farm. This is a major opportunity.

He’s right. It is a major opportunity, and all of his observations and ideas are excellent, with one exception: the first sentence of the second paragraph. Everything he thinks should be done can be done and done better without nationalizing the land and the government getting in the way.

The time for the conversion to large agribusinesses is long overdue, and some large companies are starting to get involved in the sector already. (The railroad company JR Kyushu grows six different crops on leased land.)

The same objectives could be accomplished by facilitating the formation of agribusinesses and letting them purchase the land.

It’s curious that Mr. Nakada would suggest this, because he is seen as an advocate of small government (as is Mr. Takenaka). He also understands the critical importance of limiting the power of the national bureaucracy at Kasumigaseki. Nationalizing the farmland would increase that power rather than reduce it.

Very close, but no cigar.

Afterwords:

* Rumor has it that both of these men will join the new political party that Mr. Hashimoto and One Osaka are about to create. There are also rumors that Mr. Nakada will run for a Diet seat in the election expected by the end of the year, but he denied it on Twitter yesterday.

*One plank in the One Osaka platform is to make the appointment of deputy ministers (usually bureaucrats) and ministry bureau heads the responsibility of politicians. That might sound geeky to people unfamiliar with the issues, but it is an essential first step in resolving all 30 of the major problems.

* The government of Abe Shinzo backed measures to promote agribusiness, but Ozawa Ichiro saw that as a major opportunity too — to promise the farmers individual government subsidies, roll back the Abe measures, and thereby contribute to a DPJ election victory. Such a farsighted statesman he was.

*****
It’s the weekend, and that means it’s time for some fun. Offbeat Thai rapper Joey Boy knows all about fun. Well, that and how to put pretty girls into his videos. This one is triple fun.

Posted in Agriculture, Business, finance and the economy, Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Ichigen koji (150)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, August 25, 2012

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

Mr. Koizumi was a master of language. A sense of tension disappeared with Mr. Abe, dreams disappeared with Mr. Fukuda, and intelligence disappeared with Mr. Aso. Reality completely flew out the window with the spaceman, Mr. Hatoyama, and it disappeared without a trace with Mr. Kan. That is the power of language.

– Inose Naoki, deputy governor of the Tokyo Metro District, and a non-fiction author

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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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Hashimoto Toru (2): The company he keeps

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, March 28, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hara Eiji: Another METI vet and bureaucracy-bashing author

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

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

Suzuki Wataru: Economics professor

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

The belle of the ball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local party time!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s my idea of win-win.

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

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Rankings first to worst

Posted by ampontan on Monday, January 9, 2012

THE results of two recent public opinion polls tell us more about the Japanese perceptions of their political leaders than anything you’ll read in the English-language media.

The first is from Nikoniko News, which sponsored an online poll for two weeks in October asking people to rank their selections for the best prime ministers since Mori Yoshiro in 2000. They broke down the responses by sex, which reveals some eyebrow-raising differences. The caveats: It was an Internet questionnaire survey and it had a small sample size, as the baseball statheads like to say.

* Name your favorite prime ministers since 2000. Multiple answers are accepted.

Males

1. Koizumi Jun’ichiro: 55.3%
2. There weren’t any good prime ministers: 24.9%
3. Aso Taro: 15.7%
4. Abe Shinzo: 5.4%
5. Fukuda Yasuo: 2.2%

They liked Mr. Koizumi when he took over, they liked him throughout his term, and they’d vote for him tomorrow. Funny how some people like to pretend he never existed.

The respondents who chose him said they liked his guts, charisma, ability to act, and leadership.

Those men who didn’t like anybody typically said that Diet members act only to look after themselves.

The totals for Mr. Aso are higher than one might expect. His supporters liked him because he “worked for Japan”.

One respondent said about Mr. Abe: I can’t see any problems with him. He was just crushed by the media.

The guys don’t seem to care much for the three Democratic Party prime ministers, do they?

Females

1. Koizumi: 51.8%
2. Nobody: 36.4%
3. Aso: 6.0%
4. Noda Yoshihiko: 2.9%
5. Kan Naoto: 2.5%

That Kan Naoto slipped in, albeit with just 2.5%, is surprising, if only because most media reports said he was particularly unpopular among women. Their comments:

Koizumi: Leadership / Brought the abductees back home / Stayed true to his beliefs despite what others said or thought

None: They’re all half-baked / It’s hard to tell with the media criticism / If Japan had a good prime minister, we wouldn’t have all this debt. (Can’t fault that one)

Aso: Sound foreign policy / Did a good job despite media bashing

Noda: Sincere / Tranquil

Kan: Didn’t run away from the Tohoku disaster / Didn’t give up in the face of criticism

Worthy of note: Most of the commentariat criticized Mr. Kan for running away from taking responsibility for any of the serious issues. (One of his nicknames was Nige-Kan; nige(ru) means to flee or run away.) Yet the women who liked him thought he was a stout-hearted man.

Meanwhile, the Sankei Shimbun announced on 1 January the results of a poll on leadership conducted in cooperation with Macromill, an online market research company. Here are the questions:

* Regardless of the time period in which they were active, name one person you would not want to have as a leader, and your reasons.

1. Hatoyama Yukio
2. Kan Naoto
3. Ozawa Ichiro

It’s a hat trick for the DPJ!

4. Watanabe Tsuneo, chairman of the company that publishes the Yomiuri Shimbun. Guess which newspaper is unlikely to run these results.
5. Noda Yoshihiko

* Of Japan’s 33 postwar prime ministers, select the person you thought was the worst leader.

1. Hatoyama
2. Kan
3. Uno Sosuke (Prime minister for three months in 1989, was in charge when the first consumption tax was instituted, was outed by a mistress (expensive nightclub hostess mistakenly identified as a geisha) who said he treated her rough and didn’t give her enough money.

The reasons:

Hatoyama: Wishy-washy / Ignorant waffler / How could anyone get any work done under a leader like that? / Changed his mind day to day (literally: Spoke, slept, woke up, said something different) / Spaceman / Never could understand what he was talking about / Weird / Casual liar

Kan: An unexpectedly ridiculous politician / Dreck / Thought only of himself / Untrustworthy / Never seen such an idiot / First time I’ve ever seen anyone so half-assed (ii kagen na yatsu) / Unaware of his own (lack of) ability / Slapdash from first to last

Ozawa: Out only for himself / Dishonest / Unmanly (N.B.: That never occurred to me before, but they have a point.) / Dirty / Sloughs his crimes off on his underlings / Shady

Apart from Kan Naoto’s name popping up in the Niconico women’s poll and the relatively good showing of Aso Taro, little of this is surprising, and most of the attributes of the prime ministers were already apparent before they took office.

Maybe people just enjoy fooling themselves.

*****
All they brought was love in their khaki suits and things, but it was enough to win the top ranking in the UK.

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Instructions

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 28, 2011

THE United States is displeased with Japanese behavior in financial markets, reports Reuters:

The report…criticiz(ed) Tokyo for its solo yen-selling interventions in August and October that followed a joint Group of 7 action in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake.

“The unilateral Japanese interventions were undertaken when exchange market conditions appeared to be operating in an orderly manner and volatility in the yen-dollar exchange rate was lower than, for example, the euro-dollar market,” the report said.

“In contrast to the post-earthquake joint G7 intervention in March, the United States did not support these interventions,” the Treasury said, adding that Tokyo should pursue reforms to revive its domestic economy rather than try to influence the exchange rate.

Isn’t that last sentence rich? One of the reasons for the yen appreciation is that the Americans are using a weak dollar to revive their own domestic economy. Who do these foreigners think they are, anyway?

There’s a reason Japan intervened:

Japanese exporters have complained that the ultra-strong yen puts them at a competitive disadvantage. The yen was trading at just under 78 to the U.S. dollar on Wednesday morning, about 3 percent weaker than it was on October 31, when Tokyo aggressively intervened to cap the rise.

That should read, “the ultra-strong yen puts them at an ultra-strong competitive disadvantage”. The exchange rate is forcing Japanese manufacturers to shift production overseas. The effect that will have on domestic employment and the economy should be obvious. Indeed, the yen has appreciated by more than 30% against the dollar since the fall of 2008 — just three years. Had those figures been reversed, the Internet would have collapsed from the pixel overload generated from the North American continent warning that the sky was about to fall.

The article notes the Americans also had sharp words for the South Koreans.

In short, the United States expects the Japanese and the South Koreans to act in the best interest of the United States rather than in the best interest of Japan and South Korea. The U.S. also expects Japan to conform to its expectations if it is to participate in the TPP.

Meanwhile, there was a report in Japan yesterday that the government will conduct serious talks with China and South Korea next year about a trilateral free trade agreement. Japan will also step up purchases of Chinese government debt, and the Chinese will facilitate Japanese yuan investment in China and Japanese corporate issues of yuan-denominated bonds. That shouldn’t be surprising:

* China is Japan’s largest trading partner.

* China is the country with the largest number of overseas Japanese subsidiaries.

* China in particular, and the rest of East Asia in general, is the primary focus of international expansion for Japanese SMBEs.

That’s not to mention such subsidiary elements of bilateral ties as the 70,000 Chinese students in Japanese colleges and universities.

The report did not seem to have the desired effect, however:

“This report does not make it more difficult for Japan to intervene,” said (a senior Japanese government) official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic. “We are committed to doing whatever is necessary.”

Did the Americans notice that Prime Minister Noda visited India after leaving China? One could almost hear the NHK radio announcers and guest commentators drooling yesterday over the potential for the contracts to improve the Indian infrastructure.

It would behoove the United States to wise up and realize they no longer have the leeway to push their luck. In today’s climate, copping that Attitude isn’t going to win them friends or keep the ones they have. It’s getting old, faster than some people might think.

Afterwords:

The article about India states that the Japanese approach to that country began with Aso Taro. It actually started with Abe Shinzo, who outlined the idea in the book he published before becoming prime minister.

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Central bonkers

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, December 1, 2011

A half-century experiment in draping steam­ship anchors around the necks of the productive class and expecting them to run a four-minute mile has ended in failure. The confiscation of rights and property, the moral impoverishment of generations caused by the state’s usurpation of parental obligations, the elevation of a credentialed elite that believes academia’s fashions are a worthy substitute for knowledge of history and human nature, and above all the faith in a weightless cipher whose oratorical panache now consists of looking from one teleprompter screen to the other with the enthusiasm of a man watching someone else’s kids play tennis–it’s over, whether you believe in it or not. It cannot be sustained without reducing everyone to penurious equality…

To which some progressives respond: You say that like it’s a bad thing.
– James Lileks

WERE dunking stools still an accepted means of punishment, most of the world’s lawyers, politicians, and journalists would never spend a dry day in their lives, such is the level of contempt in which they are held by the public. (Higher level academics skate, if only because they have so little impact on anything outside of campus life.)

A recent addition to the members of these unhelping professions are those in positions of authority at financial institutions and central banks. The negative interest of the public is being compounded daily now that the politicos and banksters have joined forces in a tag-team match to apply a choke hold on the people who are supposed to be on the same side. As in professional wrestling, their acting is every bit as bad as that of the hams in the ring, and the fix is just as much on.

Europe and the EU are being run as if it were a Goldman-Sachs subsidiary. The financiers did such a boffo job of disguising Greek and Italian debt in 2002 to enable it to join the monetary union, the EU returned the favor by placing a G-S alumnus in charge of the Italian government. They didn’t need no steenkin’ elections, either.

Notes the Independent:

It is not just Mr Monti. The European Central Bank, another crucial player in the sovereign debt drama, is under ex-Goldman management, and the investment bank’s alumni hold sway in the corridors of power in almost every European nation, as they have done in the US throughout the financial crisis. Until Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund’s European division was also run by a Goldman man, Antonio Borges, who just resigned for personal reasons.

In the United States, a Government Accounting Office audit revealed this year how the Federal Reserve behaves when no one is paying attention. Said the Socialist Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders:

As a result of this audit, we now know that the Federal Reserve provided more than $16 trillion in total financial assistance to some of the largest financial institutions and corporations in the United States and throughout the world…No agency of the United States government should be allowed to bailout a foreign bank or corporation without the direct approval of Congress and the president.

The interest rate on those loans was 0%.

Incidentally, that last sentence demonstrates how little even Mr. Sanders has been paying attention. The Fed isn’t a government agency — it is a banking system whose stock is owned entirely by the member banks. The confusion is understandable, however: Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, for example, is the former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He worked with former Goldman-Sachs exec Henry Paulson to implement the American economic stimulus that’s worked so wonderfully.

That audit also showed that Goldman-Sachs received $814 billion in interest-free loans from the Fed, by the way.

Meanwhile, Japanese politicians are getting mightily cheesed off by the Bank of Japan and its governor, Shirakawa Masa’aki. Some Diet members from several parties have formed a group to amend the Bank of Japan Law. They conducted a symposium on 24 November and held a news conference afterwards. What they’re worried about is the BOJ’s response to deflation, but what we should be worried about is that they think inflation is the answer.

That noted fiscal and monetary policy expert, former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, spoke at the news conference and said one of the changes he wants is for “inflation targets” to be introduced. He thinks the BOJ should be required to achieve a certain rate of increase for specified prices.

As the European debt crisis starts to descend on the U.S. and Asia, it is extremely likely this will accelerate the appreciation of the yen and deflation.

Mr. Hatoyama reported that when he was prime minister, he personally asked the BOJ governor to introduce inflation targets, but Mr. Shirakawa ignored him. He added:

I don’t think we can eliminate deflation at this rate.

Another former prime minister, Abe Shinzo of the LDP, said after the symposium that “maximizing employment” should be included in the BOJ mission in addition to price stabilization. Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi said the Cabinet and the Finance Minister should be given authority, subject to Diet approval, to remove BOJ top executives.

Watching the political/financial face off creates a sigh of regret similar to that involuntarily generated after one tunes in to a Yankees’ – Red Sox baseball game: If only there were a way to ensure that both teams would lose.

Hatoyama Yukio still blathers on about an East Asian version of the EU to the few people who stumble on his wavelength, but he’ll never figure out that what he thinks is the solution is the problem he’s warning about. The structural differences in East Asian economies and polities ensure that the failure of an East Asian entity would be worse than the failure in Europe.

And why would people think that forcing the central bank to create inflation is a good idea? It’s understandable that Mr. Hatoyama would want to smudge over the memory of his one and only budget as being the highest and most debt-reliant in Japanese history, but locking inflation targets into law locks in a de facto increase in taxes and a de facto decrease in the value of money. Events of the past three years alone should have been enough for anyone to recognize the impotence of central banks, and that no financial or government institution is capable of acting with precision. Evidently, shuffling between sitting atop a mountain of money as large as the Hatoyama family fortune and sitting in the bowels of the Diet deprives a body of its eyesight and common sense.

Mr. Abe wants the bank to boost employment? Here’s how to boost employment: create a climate that encourages the private sector to boost capital investment. If there’s anything Japan’s politicians should have learned over the past 20 years, it’s that central bank actions won’t contribute to improving employment, or whatever polite U-digit fictions that governments use nowadays for employment statistics.

Mr. Watanabe’s proposal seems to be yet another demonstration that Your Party rates highly on their problem-identification ability, but struggles to receive a passing grade with their problem-solving ability. A political mechanism for removing BOJ officers is a good idea in theory, but putting that in the hands of the Finance Ministry puppets or veterans who serve as Japan’s finance ministers, or the Diet MPs, whose negligible knowledge of economics and finance is supplemented by teams of Finance Ministry bureaucrats operating as Kasumigaseki lobbyists, is a bad idea in fact.

But these are not normal circumstances. There’s an excellent reason Mr. Watanabe and the rest of the politicians are out for the Shirakawa scalp — if the Bank of Japan governor hasn’t been lying, he’s incompetent.

Addressing charges that the BOJ’s quantitative easing has been insufficient to create the inflation the politicos are looking for, Mr. Shirakawa stated in a September news conference that the effect of quantitative easing to stimulate the economy can’t be appropriately measured, and added:

The ratio of the Bank of Japan’s monetary base to GDP is 24.6%, exceeding the 17.4% for the Federal Reserve and 11.5% for the ECB….Japan exceeded the 17.4% ratio in 2002, (showing that) we began monetary easing earlier than the FRB.

Takahashi Yoichi quickly whipped out this graph comparing the ratio of the monetary base to GDP between the United States and Japan as proof that the Bank of Japan governor is wrong. It shows that Japan is falling behind in the race to create more money of the mind.

1 January 2000 is the date used to set the value of 100 as the index for the graph. One possible reason for Japan’s higher level throughout most of the decade is that people here more frequently use cash for transactions and settlements than in the U.S. and Europe, though that’s always been the case.

The graph also shows, however, that the U.S redline in money supply starts to skyrocket with the financial crisis of 2008. Why anyone thinks Japan should try to keep up with that misery maker is beyond comprehension.

Another blogger used official statistics to create this chart of the monetary base alone. Japan is blue, the U.S. is red, and Europe is green.

But Mr. Shirakawa is sticking with his story:

Bank of Japan Gov. Masaaki Shirakawa said Tuesday the comprehensive credit easing policy introduced by the central bank in October 2010 has not yet sufficiently fed through to the real economy due to low growth expectations among firms and households. “The powerful credit easing has generated extremely easy financial conditions for firms and households,” but the policy’s effect on the real economy is “not enough,” Shirakawa said at a parliamentary session.

That’s because companies and households are not investing and spending money amid low growth expectations, Shirakawa said.

And that’s because companies and households are not going to invest and spend money until the government and central banks get out of the way.

As the Seenow website points out:

Of course, the failure of modern-day Keynesian policies, the basis for Shirakawa’s asset purchase program, is the assumption that increasing the supply of something will lead to an increase in demand. That might be true for iPads if the increase in supply was accompanied by a decrease in price, but it doesn’t hold for credit, especially when excess credit is a primary cause of economic malaise.

Unlike governments and central banks, households and businesses – which are required by law and the fundamentals of sound stewardship to live within their relative means or suffer the consequences – understand the need to deleverage, to reduce their exposure to debt. More debt is simply not the solution for too much debt and it should not take a degree in economics from the University of Chicago to understand that.

Once upon a time — almost a century ago, now — the wiser heads did understand that. They realized the best solution was usually to just stand there instead of doing something. Human nature means that booms and busts will always be with us, but a policy of non-interference allows the poison to work itself out of the system, soon rather than late.

But even the wiser heads have gotten dumb and dumberer over the years. The elites of finance and politics will continue to make themselves part of the problem instead of the solution, and they will find a way to make themselves comfortable in the rubble after the inevitable collapse. The rest of us won’t have time for schadenfreude. We’ll be too busy fending for ourselves.

*****
It’s more entertaining to watch this Taiwanese dawg give away bank notes instead of the credentialed elites. True, that part of the video lasts only a few seconds, but the background scenery before and after more than makes up for the brevity.

Those homiez who don’t care for rappers can turn the sound down, because that’s not the point. Unless of course, you understand Chinese — rumor has it that the lyrics are rather trashy.

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Four wasted years

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 11, 2011

JIJI is reporting that Health, Labor, and Welfare Minister Komiyama Yoko said after a Cabinet meeting this week the government plans to introduce a bill during the regular Diet session next year to combine the country’s separate pension systems — one for salaried employees and the other for public employees and teachers at private sector schools.

They still haven’t got it together enough to submit their proposal at the start of the session, but she says they’ll come up with something in time for a vote. Leave it to the DPJ to add their distinctive touch combining the incompetent and surreal. She added:

“We’re thinking of basing it on the bill that was introduced in 2007.”

That bill to unify the two systems was offered by the Abe Shinzo government. It ran into trouble later that year after the DPJ became the leading party in the upper house in the July 2007 election, and Fukuda Yasuo had become prime minister.

The LDP and DPJ had differences of opinion on the structure of the unified system, but another obstacle was the DPJ insistence that all the revenue from the consumption tax be allocated to fund the pensions. The LDP wanted to have the public continue to pay premiums. (Note the distinction between the Big Government DPJ, which prefers to play lord of the progressive manor and dispense the benefits centrally from taxes, while the Somewhat Smaller Big Government LDP wanted people to pay into the system directly. One creates a sense of dependency, and the other creates a sense of personal responsibility.)

Further, the DPJ insisted that the consumption tax rate not be raised. In contrast, Prime Minister Fukuda said that raising the consumption tax might be unavoidable under the DPJ proposal.

The LDP finally abandoned the legislation in 2009 in the face of DPJ opposition. The DPJ took control of the government after the August 2009 election, when they ran on a platform that included a promise not to raise the consumption tax.

Here we are four years later, and now the DPJ will base its new bill on the 2007 LDP bill — when they get around to it — and are getting ready to ram a consumption tax increase down people’s throats, even though they were dead set against it when Mr. Fukuda suggested a tax increase would be inevitable.

Observing the DPJ after their victory in the upper house election of 2007, former LDP Secretary General Ibuki Bunmei said the party was behaving like a grade school boy with a loaded pistol.

So, the DPJ has shot their wad, and all they have to show for it is four wasted years and three prime ministers full of proverbial bullet holes.

If anyone can think of anything positive these time-servers, hacks, and mendacious leftoids have done for the country in that time, the comment section is all yours.

*****
PS: I forgot to include the category of “juvenile airheads”. Former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio in September commended Prime Minister Noda for avoiding the practice of impromptu news conferences began by Koizumi Jun’ichiro. He said:

I think I had to resign (after less than a year) because I held so many (impromptu) interviews. It looks like Noda has learned from my mistakes.

No, Honest to God, as my Great Uncle Julius used to say, those words actually came out of his mouth.
*****
From the ridiculous to the nearly sublime

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Point and counterpoint

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, September 8, 2011

OE Kenzaburo, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994, has launched a petition drive to end the use of nuclear power in Japan.

During a news conference to publicize the petition, he said:

Restoring economic life is indeed an urgent issue, but we are extremely apprehensive at the expression of opinion that holds it is necessary to resume the operation of the nuclear power plants. Is it the case that we should give priority to economic activity (and ignore) the danger to life?

In response, Prof. Ikeda Nobuo wrote:

If he is giving priority to life rather than economic activity, why doesn’t Mr. Oe call for the prohibition of automobiles? Not a single person has died from the radiation emitted from the Fukushima accident, but automobiles will kill 5,000 people a year (in Japan). I would like to see him start a movement to ban all automobiles based on the prestige from his Nobel Prize and the principle that we should not be in thrall to economic rationality and productivity.

Further, more than 110,000 people die every year from smoking. Health and Welfare Minister Komiyama Yoko has called for a target price of JPY 700 for a pack of cigarettes, but the Finance Ministry is opposed. How about supporting the Health Minister rather than create a commotion about nuclear energy, which has caused little real damage?

This is probably beyond the capability of Mr. Oe to understand, but the world operates on the tradeoff between the economy and life. Eliminating all risk would mean prohibiting automobiles and airplanes and alcohol and cigarettes. We would also have to stop all power generation using coal and oil….

…The people who hobbled postwar Japan were the perennial opposition that championed an emotionalized sense of justice. They presented no plan for securing energy to replace the nuclear power they want to abandon. That is a mistake, and Mr. Kan Naoto gave us a very good idea of how frightening that should be if they were to take power.

Oe Kenzaburo

The figure of annual automobile fatalities he provides, by the way, is the minimum. Some years the number approaches twice that amount. Prof. Ikeda also points out that support for Mr. Oe’s position in Japan is concentrated among the elderly, which is an underlying point in the last paragraph.

It is not by coincidence that the generation of people such as Mr. Noda, at age 54, and Abe Shinzo, about to turn 57, are more comfortable with both nuclear power and the responsibility for handling national defense. The generation whose growth was stunted by postwar attitudes is passing from the scene. That should lead to “the end of the postwar regime” that Mr. Abe called for.

Finally, the Oe initiative will be given significant coverage by the media (for a day, anyway) because he is a Nobel laureate, but that will cut very little ice in Japan itself. The Japanese are already familiar with his political and social ideas.

The title of Prof. Ikeda’s blog post was “Sayonara, Oe Kenzaburo”.

Addendum:

Here are some additional facts worth noting about cigarettes and taxes.

* The tax was raised by JPY 3.5 per cigarette just last October.

* The idea of this tax is to earmark the revenue for recovery expenditures.

* Ms. Komiyama is an officer of a multi-party group of Diet members that aims to sharply limit smoking.

* Japan Tobacco Inc. is the company that sells cigarettes in Japan.

* By law, 50% of JT stock must be held by the government.

* The Finance Ministry has jurisdiction over JT and the stock owned by the government.

* Three former Finance Ministry bureaucrats are now officers of JT. That is exactly what people mean when they talk about amakudari.

* Also criticizing the cigarette tax proposal were Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu and — wait for it — Reform Minister Ren Ho. The Finance Ministry seconds bureaucrats as senior aides to both of those ministries.

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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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Frankenstein’s monster in Japan

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, July 3, 2011

The reason people voted for Kan (in last year’s DPJ presidential election) was because they didn’t want to vote for Ozawa, but we wound up really getting screwed.”
– DPJ Senior Advisor Watanabe Kozo in a meeting with New Komeito

IT’S TIME to draw conclusions from the fact that national governments throughout the world are now part of the problem rather than the solution. Those with the eyes to see will realize that the governments run by people who assume they’re the first rather than the last resort are functioning in the way classical liberals have always known they would. That is to say, they are dysfunctional. Consider the following examples.

* Greece is asking for a second bailout after the first in May 2010 and their austerity measures turned out to be yakeishi ni mizu, or water on a hot stone. Everyone expects them to default even after a booster injection of cash, and a second austerity program with more tax increases has the middle class out on the streets. The problem lies more with the Greek polity than with a specific government, but the public sector has become a work-free zone whose employees receive pre-retirement annuities and call them salaries. They’re just as likely to be found at the beach as at work, or actually working for pay off the books. The government allows it to happen, and the ETA for the default is by 2014:

“A new study by Open Europe breaks down the liabilities between the public and private sectors. Foreign financial institutions currently own 42 per cent of Greek debts, and foreign governments 26 per cent, the rest being owed domestically. By 2014, those figures will be 12 per cent and 64 per cent respectively. European banks, in other words, will have shuffled off their losses onto European taxpayers.

“Of course, the outstanding debt will have have risen substantially in the mean time: from €330 billion to €390 billion. Then again, as Eurocrats remind us every day, it’s remarkably easy to be generous with someone else’s money.”

* Ireland had what is officially being called a “credit event” but is a de facto default of Allied Irish Banks, the last financial institution not under government control. The Irish ceded their right to political self-determination to the EU last year for a bailout to save the banks. Instead of a new bailout, the government is negotiating with the EU to reduce interest rates, but the talks are stalled on the insistence of the EU that the country raise its 12.5% corporate tax rates. Here’s one Irish observer:

“Given the political paralysis in the EU, and a European Central Bank that sees its main task as placating the editors of German tabloids, the most likely outcome of the European debt crisis is that, after two years or so to allow French and German banks to build up loss reserves, the insolvent economies will be forced into some sort of bankruptcy…

“In other words, we have embarked on a futile game of passing the parcel of insolvency: first from the banks to the Irish State, and next from the State back to the banks and insurance companies. The eventual outcome will likely see Ireland as some sort of EU protectorate, Europe’s answer to Puerto Rico.”

Another possibility is that the Chinese will charge in as the white knights. They’ve already heavily invested in Greek infrastructure and Hungarian government bonds, and now say they will support the Euro.

* Great Britain has promised to spend as much on the EU bailouts as it saved through the aggregate domestic spending cuts put in place by its coalition government of Wet Tories and the LibDems, a party that Tony Blair marveled was positioned to the left of Labor, led by a man whose name has become a national synonym for “stonkingly silly”. Government spending in April and May was up 4.1% year-on-year, while government borrowing was up 5.7% year-on-year — despite tax increases in the form of VAT, fuel duties, income taxes, and National Insurance. An estimated 750,000 British civil servants, including teachers, struck symbolically for a day because the government wants them to pay more into the pension and work longer before they get it.

* Barack Obama was elected by campaigning on ending the war in Iraq, which he opposed in 2002. Now he’s committed to keeping troops there until 2015, at a minimum. During his infamous “halt the rise of the oceans” speech, he also said his would be an administration that ended a war, but he began an illegal (in American terms) military operation in Libya this year. The response by the American House of Representatives was to reject one motion to authorize military action and reject a second motion to defund the military action.

The president waved the same magic wand over his promise to close Guantanamo. His and the preceding governments’ stimulus measures have been so ineffective, he now wants to increase the debt limit and raise taxes. He appointed a man who cheated on his taxes twice as treasury secretary — the same man who recently warned that government would have to be downsized unless taxes were increased on small business. He also promised a post-racial society and appointed a racialist as attorney-general. Race riots have broken out in several parts of the country on a scale unseen in 40 years, some fomented by flash mobs organized on social networking sites.

*****
Reasonable people might object that these recent difficulties notwithstanding, any government is better than a cat. That’s how the Japanese of an earlier era expressed the idea of “it’s better than nothing”.

Events are proving them wrong in Belgium, which just set a record for a country in the modern era to have no government (13 months and counting). In brief, one group of parties refused to accept the results of last year’s election and chose not to form a coalition government. The former ministers still have the same portfolio, but there is no parliamentary majority, no legislative program, no party discipline, no new government interventions in the economy, no new quasi-public agencies, no new taxes, and few new regulations. Happily, everything outside of government continues to function normally, so the economy is projected to grow by 2.3% this year.

That brings us to Japan, whose situation is an amalgam of all those above. Not only are the executive and legislative branches barely functioning, their operation is subject to the erraticisms of a man of unabashed amorality who has taken the nation aback by his attempts to retain power at the expense of his Cabinet, his party, and the devastated Tohoku region. For the first time in my memory, the Japanese print media is running articles by psychiatrists speculating on the topic: Just what is this man’s problem anyway?

And just what is going on in Japan?

*****
The Kan Naoto Cabinet was a zombie government before the earthquake/tsunami of 11 March. Absent the disaster, it already would have collapsed. The prime minister had shown himself incapable of handing either domestic or foreign affairs, public support was at roughly 21%, and talk was circulating in Nagata-cho about a no-confidence motion. Post-disaster, the opposition realized cooperation was the order of the day and resigned itself to another two years of a Kan government.

Incompetents are incapable of rising to the occasion, particularly those incapable of standing erect to begin with. Rather than being part of the solution, Mr. Kan and his government became part of the problem. It would take a household full of digits to count the examples, but here’s the latest: After the Hyogo earthquake in 1994, the Socialist/LDP coalition appointed someone to take charge of government recovery efforts in three days. It took the prime minister more than three months before assigning that responsibility to Matsumoto Ryu, a limousine leftist who has never demonstrated the ability to manage a shaved ice stand, much less a national effort that will require the coordination of several Cabinet ministries and the cooperation of the opposition. He was already in the Cabinet at the Minister for Environmental Affairs, a portfolio often given to women appointed to serve as window dressing, and the Minister for Disaster Relief. His only noteworthy accomplishment in the latter role since the March disaster was to get out of the way while other people tried to get on with the work.

Mr. Matsumoto immediately wrapped his mouth around his foot by declaring at a meeting that since 11 March, he “hates the DPJ, hates the LDP, and hates New Komeito”. (He is an ex-Socialist who found refuge and political viability in the DPJ.) When asked if that was the sort of magnanimous spirit designed to win the selfless cooperation from other politicians during a national crisis, he replied that he was trying to show his mission was to take the side of the people in the affected areas.

But everyone had lost their patience with Mr. Kan long before that, including members of his own party. One month ago, senior members of the ruling Democratic Party crafted a lawyerly document the night before the Diet was set to pass a no-confidence motion in his cabinet. Passage would require almost 25% of the party’s representation in the lower house to vote for it, and they were going to get it. The hyper-discipline required of political parties in the parliamentary system meant that would have destroyed today’s Democratic Party, as the dissidents would have either been thrown out or walked.

The document was a brief, vague statement of Mr. Kan’s agenda that his predecessor, Hatoyama Yukio, was led to believe implied an early resignation. That was enough to defeat the motion and keep the party together.

By keeping their zombie government alive, however, the DPJ leadership created the Nagata-cho version of Frankenstein’s monster. Almost everyone, including the news media, assumed Mr. Kan had agreed to step down. One of the few who didn’t make that assumption was the prime minister himself. He immediately announced that the document — which he refused to sign by appealing to Mr. Hatoyama’s sense of camaraderie — had nothing to do with his resignation. Since then, he has never specified when he will step down, and keeps modifying the vague conditions he set for his own departure.

Party leaders took turns hinting that they’d remove him from the position of DPJ president if he didn’t leave voluntarily, but he ignored them. Six members of the DPJ’s leadership have tried to talk him into setting an early date for his disappearance, including Secretary-General Okada Katsuya, Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio, and Mr. Edano’s predecessor and back-room string puller Sengoku Yoshito, but he dismissed them all. He has work to do, he told them. They started negotiations to pin him down on a time frame, but instead of meeting their requests, he added another condition: The passage of a bill to reformulate national energy policy. Its primary feature is to require the utilities to purchase renewable energy generated by others at exorbitant prices. Negotiations with the opposition parties on the content of the bill haven’t begun.

Defense Minister Kitazawa Toshimi, who is supposed to be one of the prime minister’s few friends in politics, became so frustrated he proposed that the DPJ change its method of selecting party president by entrusting the vote to all party members. They have a vote in the current system, but the votes of Diet MPs are given greater weight.

DPJ executives met again with the prime minister to discuss his resignation, but he again refused to specify a date because he said there was no guarantee the opposition would cooperate in the upper house for the passage of the second supplementary budget, the enabling legislation for the deficit-financing bonds, and the renewable energy program. Kyodo, however, quoted an anonymous party leader the next day saying that the prime minister would resign before mid-August. They thought he would hold a news conference last week to name the date. He didn’t.

Sengoku Yoshito, who has never been impressed with Mr. Kan’s abilities despite a shared political philosophy, remarked that keeping the prime minister in office was like kichigai ni hamono — giving a sword to a lunatic.

Okada Katsuya then took it upon himself to negotiate with the LDP and New Komeito to get a signed document outlining their conditions for cooperation. (That’s more than the DPJ usually brings to discussions.) Both parties agreed to vote for the second supplementary budget and the bond measures, as well as a 50-day Diet extension, on the condition that Mr. Kan set a date for departure and the new prime minister pass the third supplementary budget.

When the prime minister saw it, he banged the table, shouted that the upper house members of the LDP couldn’t be trusted, and threw out the document. His bullying was successful in winning an extension until the end of August without a commitment to resign.

Quitting

It is a mystery why anyone thought that Kan Naoto would willingly resign, much less in June. Indeed, soon after double-crossing his co-founder of the Democratic Party, he became insufferably smug in public, telling one reporter that if people didn’t want to see him around anymore, they should hurry up and pass the bills he cites as his conditions for leaving.

It is no secret that becoming prime minister has been his ambition since he was a young man. He has put an enormous amount of effort and persistence into achieving that ambition, starting from the days when he won election to the Diet as one of four members of a long obsolete party called the Socialist Democrats. Why would anyone think he would go down without kicking and screaming all the way?

And that’s not even to mention the report in the weekly Shukan Gendai that he was bawling his eyes out to DPJ Vice-President Ishii Hajime, telling him, “I don’t want to quit.”

Finally, Mr. Kan said at a press conference on the 27th that the three bills (budget, bonds energy) were conditions for his resignation, but once again failed to specify a date. In fact, the prime minister said the energy legislation is the paramount of the three bills, i.e., it is more important than the budget for the Tohoku recovery or the means to pay for it.

Some think this is yet another Kan policy lurch, which occur with every new moon. For example, he seems to have forgotten about the TPP free trade negotiations, especially now that his expression of willingness to participate served the purpose of impressing the APEC leaders before their November summit.

Koike Yuriko, former Defense Minister and the Chairman of the LDP’s General Council, said:

“About this renewable energy legislation — he seems to have received a briefing from the bureaucracy about it on 11 March, but I’ve heard he wasn’t interested in the subject at all at that time. I suspect his interest was suddenly kindled after his talk with Son Masayoshi (of Softbank).”

On the other hand, whoever’s been writing Mr. Kan’s “e-mail blog” says he has considered energy reform to be essential for 30 years. There is reason to believe him, at least this once. Based on the posts at his Internet blog, he wants to drive everyone batty with windmills.

Here’s a post dated 21 August 2001:

“We should set targets for limiting air pollution caused by dioxins and other substances, and for the percentage of power generated by wind to establish a policy of creating a ‘nation based on environmentalism’. This should spur advances in technical development and capital investment in the related fields.”

10 September 2001:

“If we set targets for limiting the concentration of dioxins 10 years in the future, it will generate substantial demand for the replacement of incinerators. If we set a target of having 10% of all electricity generated by wind in 10 years, investment in this sector should increase.”

24 August 2007:

“In Japan, the power companies can only purchase the power generated by wind and other clean energy sources at rather low prices. This is perhaps rational from the power companies’ perspective, but from the policy perspective, it isn’t a policy at all.”

13 November 2007:

“Germany is promoting the purchase of power generated by wind, solar, and other clean sources at higher prices, and clean energy now accounts for 10% of all power generation.”

30 November 2007:

“For electric power, wind and solar power…For use in vehicles, biodiesel or bioethanol fuel. I’d like to create a headquarters for that purpose, but that is unlikely at the present.”

During questioning in the Diet after the earthquake/tsunami, he expressed a desire to switch to renewable energy. He reportedly told aides, “Tokyo Electric has neglected wind power, which I really love.” (おれの大好きな風力発電)

It is difficult to imagine anyone using that language — especially a person who invested so much time in the overseas sales of Japanese nuclear power technology.

But then, we’re not talking about a man who brings clarity to policy issues. He offered a mythomaniacal proposal for having 20% of Japan’s energy produced by natural sources in 2020 at the recent G-Whatever summit without having told anyone in Japan about it first. Said a DPJ MP who wished to remain anonymous:

“The sharks in government and industry will spy a new interest in natural energy, and get in bed with the government. It would simply exchange nuclear power interests for natural energy interests.”

Paging Son Masayoshi.

Some are critical of the legislation the prime minister thinks is critical because its primary component is to have the government set prices that utilities must pay to purchase the surplus energy generated by businesses and private homes. These prices, as we’ve seen before, are more than triple the unit price for the power generated by nuclear plants. The utilities will of course pass the expenses on to the consumer.

Others wondered why he would make this a priority given that there are ghost towns in the Tohoku region still filled with stinking rubble, with evacuees still living in shelters, and with little money being distributed, though the government has the mechanisms to handle all of that now if it chose to employ them. Is this man even qualified for his job?

Meanwhile, the government’s National Strategy Office leaked their initial draft of the government’s reform of energy and environment strategy. The primary elements of the strategy include energy conservation, renewable energy, electrical power systems, and “the world’s safest” nuclear energy. The last part was written into the draft by a bureaucrat from the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry dispatched to the office to work as an aide.

Lest we forget:

* This office was originally intended to be a bureau that served as the DPJ government’s policymaking headquarters, thereby wresting control of policy from the bureaucrats and giving it to politicians. Along with the rest of the party’s promises, its status was downgraded almost immediately after the DPJ took control of the government.

* METI has jurisdiction over nuclear power plants in Japan.

* On the night the no-confidence motion against the Kan Cabinet was defeated in the lower house, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito and former Defense Minister Maehara Seiji (members of the same faction in the DPJ), held a banquet in Tokyo for Truong Tan Sang, tapped as the next president of Vietnam. Both Mr. Sengoku and Mr. Maehara (along with Prime Minister Kan), were instrumental in successfully selling Japanese nuclear power technology to the Vietnamese last year, but the Fukushima accident postponed the export of that technology. The media was not allowed to cover the banquet or their meetings (though a photo was released), but Mr. Maehara appeared on television on the 5th and said:

“Mr. Truong told us that he has no intention of altering the nuclear power agreement. It is important to enhance the safety of nuclear power and sell the technology overseas.”

The Democratic Party paid for the banquet.

For its part, the LDP has already refused to negotiate a reworking of energy policy or help pass the legislation without a new governmental structure in place; in other words, a new prime minister and Cabinet.

Mr. Kan’s prioritization of energy policy, while knowing that the LDP isn’t interested, that members of his own party are still promoting nuclear energy, and that the supposed policymaking headquarters of his party is still pushing nuclear energy through bureaucratic subterfuge, has brought an unsettling new element into the political situation.

Who’s ready for an election?

When the bottom fell out for Mr. Kan’s four predecessors, they chose to resign. All of those men — Abe Shinzo, Fukuda Yasuo, Aso Taro, and Hatoyama Yukio — were reared in political families and were familiar with the national political culture since childhood. All of them understood the concept of noblesse oblige, and all of them have money, networks of supporters and friends, and other things to do, either in politics or out.

Kan Naoto comes from an ordinary background, has no family money, few friends or political supporters, and no sense of honor or shame. His name has been mud since last year. If freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, he has the freedom to chose a different strategy when confronted with the same circumstances. Witness his public betrayal of Hatoyama Yukio. He has also had associates circulate a rumor that many people find all too believable.

In substance, it is this: On either 6 August (the date of the Hiroshima bombing) or 9 August (the date of the Nagasaki bombing), he will announce that he thinks Japan should follow the lead of Germany and Italy and renounce the use of nuclear power. He will then dissolve the lower house of the Diet for an election and run on that single issue. He would hope that the Japanese electorate votes in the same way as the Italian voters who nixed nuclear energy by a tally of more than 90%. He would also hope that the overseas media wets its pants in delight.

Speaking of having nothing left to lose, a look at the poll numbers is instructive. The support for the Kan Cabinet is down to 23% in the Fuji Sankei and Kyodo polls, and 21% in the generally more accurate Jiji poll. In other words, the prime minister has lost all the bounce from the goodwill extended during the disaster and the closing of the Hamamatsu nuclear plant in Aichi. Those numbers have reverted to the pre-disaster figures. The Nikkei poll finds that 42% think he should leave as quickly as possible and another 18% by the end of August, while only 16% want him to stay indefinitely.

The Fuji Sankei poll asked those surveyed positive or negative responses to the following statements. Here are the positive replies.

The prime minister’s leadership abilities: 8.0%
The prime minister’s economic measures: 11.0%
The prime minister’s conduct of foreign relations and security matters: 13.0%
The prime minister’s response to Fukushima: 13.5%
Finally, the reliance on nuclear energy should be reduced: 68.4%

Mr. Kan has long been envious of the success of Koizumi Jun’ichiro — that should be me! — and in particular Mr. Koizumi’s bold dissolution of the lower house in 2005 to hold a single-issue election on the issue of postal privatization. He won in a landslide.

The prime minister’s aides suggest the public would agree it was reasonable to conduct an election on that issue, despite any difficulties in the prefectures most affected by the earthquake/tsunami. The local elections held nationwide earlier this year were postponed in the Tohoku region until 22 September at the latest. When a prime minister dissolves the Diet, an election must be held in 40 days. Forty days out from 9 August is 18 September, the last Sunday before the 22nd. Japanese elections are usually held on Sundays.

Speaking anonymously to the media, the prime minister’s aides even suggest he would recruit “assassins” to run against pro-nuclear DPJ Diet members in individual districts, in the same way that Mr. Koizumi recruited people to run against LDP members opposed to postal privatization.

Many DPJ members would be defeated, but that would not necessarily mean the defeat of the larger issue. A formal study group has been created in the Diet among those who favor a shift to renewable energy. It consists of 206 members of several parties. Among them are the LDP’s Nakagawa Hidenao — a Koizumian who has long been interested in hydrogen — and Shiozaki Yasuhisa. Both served as chief cabinet secretary in LDP governments. The group also includes People’s New Party President Kamei Shizuka, Social Democrat head Fukushima Mizuho, mid-tier DPJ members aligned with Ozawa Ichiro, and Endo Otohiko of New Komeito. Many of these people have either separated themselves from Mr. Kan or are his opponents.

In short, as freelance journalist Uesugi Takashi notes, for this issue Kan Naoto is the leader of the anti-Kan faction. An election victory for the anti-nuclear power group could result in a major political realignment that forces him from office. Having achieved that result, however, he would surely go willingly, having established (in his own mind) his place in history.

Most Nagata-cho sources who speak off the record say it is “very possible” the prime minister would call such an election. He is, after all, capable of any number of cockamamie schemes. When he was pushing for a 70-day extension in the Diet session, Mr. Kan told aides, “If we have 70 days, no one knows what’s going to happen.”

Senior members of the DPJ are aghast at the prospect, and one can detect the realization behind their words that Kan Naoto — the man who once insisted his preference was for mature debate in the Diet — is certainly capable of carrying out a threat he has yet to publicly make or deny, but which everyone is discussing. They’ve gotten together for several meetings and agreed on the necessity of a Kan Naoto resignation. Mr. Kan again ignored them.

Said Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko, whose prospects as the successor of Mr. Kan would evaporate in such an election:

“It is not possible to dissolve the Diet now. It must not happen.”

Note that second sentence. Doesn’t seem too sure, does he?

Hosono Goshi, the new minister in charge of the Fukushima cleanup:

“I don’t think Prime Minister Kan has that intention in mind.”

He doesn’t think. Sengoku Yoshito is sounding a similar note:

“He hasn’t gotten that weird yet.”

But:

“There are many things we must address as a nation. There must not be a lower house election.”

Said DPJ Secretary General Okada Katsuya:

“It’s a summertime ghost story.”

He added that Mr. Kan could even resign before August if the three bills pass. He also does not think single issue elections are a good idea. No surprise there — he was the DPJ whipping boy in the 2005 elections.

Koshi’ishi Azuma, the head of the DPJ delegation in the upper house, says the prime minister got the 70 days he wanted, but people won’t support him after that. If he chooses to stay 100 days to half year, he is “not qualified as a person to be the prime minister”. He also thought the DPJ would suffer “a meltdown” of its own if Mr. Kan stayed until the end of August.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio helpfully says that reform discussions with the opposition will move forward when Mr. Kan leaves. He’s not necessarily anxious for that to happen before the end of August, however. Mr. Edano has been bingeing on funds from the “secret” discretionary account allocated to his office at a pace much higher than that of his predecessors in the LDP. Chief cabinet secretaries are given JPY 100 million (about $US 1.24 million) at the end of every month, and Mr. Edano (as well as Mr. Sengoku before him), has spent almost all of it. Mr. Edano insists he’s using it for Tohoku relief, but since he doesn’t have to account for it, everyone else assumes he’s using it for DPJ election efforts, perhaps his own. If Mr. Kan stays until the end of August, Mr. Edano will have been given access to an additional JPY 300 million after the failure of the no-confidence motion.

And oh yes, Hatoyama Yukio still trusts him to resign.

The last word belongs to Your Party President Watanabe Yoshimi:

“His tenacious obsession for authority is his own renewable energy.”

Along comes Kamei

Mr. Kan’s attitude seems to be borrowed from a James Cagney gangster movie: Come and get me, coppers! He has slightly reshuffled his Cabinet with the advice and counsel of PNP head Kamei Shizuka. There was a misstep at first when Mr. Kan named Mr. Matsumoto as the minister in charge of recovery (Kamei’s reaction: Matsumoto? Who’s he?), but they regained their footing.

No longer a sweetheart of mine

He also named Hosono Goshi as the minister responsible for dealing with the Fukushima accident. Because the number of ministers is limited by law to 17, he had to drop one, and he made the obvious choice by demoting Reform Minister Ren Ho from her ministerial post to serve as his personal aide. The Kan Cabinet isn’t doing any reforming anyway, and Ren Ho, whose real world experience consists of being a model and TV host, was only decoration to begin with.

The classic Kan behavior of a dullwit who thinks he is clever became manifest again when he and Mr. Kamei talked LDP upper house member Hamada Kazuyuki into joining the Cabinet as internal affairs parliamentary secretary in charge of the reconstruction.

Accounts suggest that Mr. Hamada’s motives for going to work in the Kan Cabinet to help in the reconstruction effort, knowing that he would be tossed from his party, were altruistic. That is not true for the effort made to recruit him. Mr. Kamei reportedly approached 10 LDP members in the upper house, opening with the line, “Do you really want to stay in the opposition?” An approach was also made to Maruyama Kazuya, who turned them down.

The idea was to make it easier to pass legislation without negotiation through the upper house, where the DPJ does not have a working majority, either alone or in coalition. Another factor is that when Mr. Kan is not involved, the cooperation among the DPJ, the LDP, and New Komeito has been smooth. That negates the influence of Mr. Kamei’s single-issue splinter party.

This is not Mr. Kamei’s first involvement in political black ops. He’s the one who detached the Socialists from the eight-party coalition government of Hosokawa Morihiro, the first non-LDP government since 1955, and created an LDP-Socialist coalition. His line then: “Aren’t you tired of that fascist bastard Ozawa Ichiro?” He and the fascist bastard get along quite well now, incidentally.

This move will probably backfire on the Kan-Kamei team, however, because the LDP and New Komeito are now unlikely to cooperate with the DPJ as long as Mr. Kan is in office. The cooperation achieved in extending the Diet session by 70 days ended after fewer than 10.

Others in the DPJ were aware this would happen, and wondered what the prime minister was thinking. Said Finance Minster Noda:

“This has created extremely harsh circumstances by hardening the opposition’s attitude. The thing for us to do is go to their front door and bow our heads (in apology).”

DPJ Policy Research Committee Chairman Gemba Koichiro:

“It is no mistake to say that the hurdle just got higher for negotiations between the government and opposition.”

DPJ Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Azumi Jun wondered why so much difficulty had to be caused over just one official. Another DPJ member chimed in to add that if they were going to go fishing in the opposition for members, what is the point of coming home with one minnow?

Another factor angering the DPJ was that once again, the prime minister didn’t tell anyone what he was doing beforehand, with the exception of Mr. Kamei and Ishii Hajime. Sengoku Yoshito used the phrase tachikurami shita when he heard the news. That’s an expression to describe the brief sensation of dizziness people get when they stand up too quickly.

There was even a report of anti-Kan slogans written on pieces of paper and hung on the walls of the party’s office for officials in the Diet Affairs Committee inside the Diet building itself. One is the Japanese expression hyakugai atte ichiri nashi (100 evils and no benefits), supposedly signed by Sengoku Yoshito.

It has at last reached the point with the DPJ of trying to choose which is worse — a prime minister who elicits that reaction among his own party, or a party unable to do anything about him except create calligraphic graffiti.

Kan Naoto met with the DPJ’s Diet members on the 28th and claimed that the next election would be about energy policy, a position almost no one in the country agrees with. According to the Asahi Shimbun, he was jeered by some of those present.

*******
Higano Harufusa operates the Higano Clinic for psychological counseling in Tokyo. Here’s his professional opinion about the prime minister:

“He’s tough, not in the good sense of the strength to withstand blows, but in the bad sense of being dull. He enjoys it when Dump Kan talk starts circulating, because that makes him the center of attention. He’s not the type to quit unless there are many other contributing circumstances.”

Said Iwami Takao of the weekly Sunday Mainichi:

“In a half-century of political journalism, I’ve learned that the post of prime minister is a frightening one. I’ve seen many crises arise over a prime minister’s continuance in office, but never one in which a prime minister stays after announcing that he will resign. But the post of prime minister is also one in which a politician can hold on for quite a while if he wants to.

“Politicians like the expression mushin furitsu (derived from a Confucian analect used to mean that public officials can’t accomplish anything once they’ve lost the people’s trust). Mr. Kan, however, seems to think it’s unusual that people don’t trust him. This prime minister is starting to become abnormal.” (正常さを失いかけている。)

*****
Littering the English-language sector of cyberspace like so much digitized fecal matter are the assertions/opinions/propaganda of professional journalists, academics, and bloggers that a government led by the Democratic Party of Japan would be just the change that Japan was waiting for. That this was fatuous nonsense was just as apparent before the lower house election of 2009 as the claim that Barack Obama was a man of exceptional intelligence and superlative leadership qualities. Some of the poor sods actually believed it, but the gullible will always be with us. Some of them are parroting what other people told them as a way to fill space or appear relevant. For the rest, it was a convenient method for sugarcoating Social Democracy. (There are also a few who combine the first and the last categories.)

After almost two years, the DPJ has given Japan not one, but two prime ministers of unparalleled incompetence. The party itself is incapable of governance. It has introduced no reforms of significance, nor passed any serious legislation that was a national priority. They are still in thrall to the bureaucracy. They produced back-to-back budgets with the highest deficits in Japanese history, funded by the largest amount of government debt, even before the Tohoku disaster. The Chinese and Russians, immediate neighbors and the two largest malevolently aggressive states in the world, treat them with the back of their hand.

The party’s largest single faction is nominally under the direction of Ozawa Ichiro, whom the rest of the party would gladly heave if it wouldn’t threaten their majority in the Diet. Both the more centrist Ozawa faction and the leftist faction centered on Sengoku/Edano/Maehara loathe the prime minister. The latter group put him in that position, supported him through a no-confidence motion, and now can’t get rid of him. They are reduced to wishing, hoping, and taping pieces of paper to the walls of their offices.

Kan Naoto’s closest confidante is now Kamei Shizuka, who turned down an offer to become deputy prime minister and settled for the title of special assistant. Mr. Kamei has everything the bien pensants told us was bad about the LDP — hushed up money scandals, skills more suited to Byzantine plots than governmental administration, and the philosophy of a social conservative whose core beliefs are 180 degrees opposite from those of the man he serves. His mini-party was formed to neuter the best political idea of the decade in Japan, achieved through rare political insight and courage — the privatization of Japan Post. He is the foremost Japanese example of the reason Friedrich Hayek refused to identify himself as a conservative — they are too often too ready to make common cause with statists.

It is only in the field of political commentary that people would retain their platform or reputation after revealing themselves to be shills, ignoramuses, or ignoramus shills. But all journalistic outlets in print, broadcast, or the Net need content to fill the space regardless of its stupidity. Some of those outlets are happy to push the same agenda.

The nation is desperate to have Kan Naoto gone, but he doesn’t give a flying fut. He loves the attention. Why even bother with an election in September? Indeed, it’s been revealed that he is thinking about a visit to China for a summit meeting around 10 October. If he were planning to leave soon, what could he possibly discuss with the Chinese? Some people wonder if he intends to keep this up until 2013, when the current lower house term ends, or even beyond. He’s now become so abnormal that the normal are no longer able to understand what he intends to do.

Unlike Belgium, Japan has a government, but it is not better than a cat. The government it does have is led by a Frankenstein monster that his own party created. It is so bad — there is no other word — that had Japan been in the same situation as Belgium, more progress might have been made on the Tohoku recovery and reconstruction.

For a year or two before the earthquake/tsunami, credentialed space-fillers who know less about Japan than they do about the Sumerian calendar were warning that the country was becoming irrelevant.

But as it says in Ecclesiastes — you know, the Bible — the race is not always to the swift, nor favor to men of ability. For validation, one need only look at the Kantei in Tokyo.

Every day that Kan Naoto remains in office is one day closer to the time when Japan really does become irrelevant. He’ll guarantee it.

*****
You unlock this door with the Kan of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas; you’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.

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Irregular

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 19, 2011

“The statesman, who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals, would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.”
– Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, 1776

ONE criticism often leveled at Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party when it was in power, and at the Koizumi government in particular, was that its policies resulted in a rise in irregular employment. That criticism was one weapon in the arsenal of the Democratic Party when it was in the opposition. The labor unions that provide the party with their largest organizational support also provided the ammunition.

Here’s the English-language version of a post from Kan Naoto’s blog, dated 21 December 2005:

“Yesterday I listened to labor union executives talk about the problem of irregular employment, which they have been grappling with for many years. There has been a sharp increase in irregular employment, including part-time work, labor seconding, and temporary work. The number of irregular workers in the labor force has reached 15 million, or 30% of the total. This increase has been particularly steep among young people who have just left high school or college, the so-called freeters.

“Many of those with irregular employment work for low wages. Even those who work full-time are treated as if they are part-time employees. The income of single mothers is often below that of the poverty level. There are people who make billions of yen trading stocks on the Internet. But what are we to do about today’s situation, when many people have incomes less JPY 3 million, or less than even 2 million? This is an important issue that the Democratic Party must deal with.”

So how has the Democratic Party dealt with this important issue since it took power and it became time to walk instead of talk? The government helpfully publishes a labor force survey, and here are some of the statistics they offer on the percentage of irregular workers.

33.4%: The July – September quarter in 2006, the end of the Koizumi government
35.5%: The highest percentage on record, for FY 2007, when Abe and Fukuda were in office.
33.0%: The January – March quarter in 2009, during the Aso government
34.1%: The July – September quarter in 2009, the end of the Aso government
34.9%: The October – December quarter in 2010, the second quarter with the Kan government in charge
35.5%: The January – March quarter in 2011, matching the record high, with the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima (the earthquake/tsunami region) excluded.

One can understand why Mr. Kan’s preferred policy option was to use the rhetoric of class warfare. That’s a lot less work than studying the nexus of human behavior, psychology, and money, commonly known as economics, and realizing there is next to nothing any government can do to move those statistics in a positive direction without a multitude of negative repercussions.

How much more psychologically comfy it is to ignore the other problems created by the ramifications of the preferred political solution (unemployment, higher prices, less business competition) than to admit the assumptions of a lifetime are just as screwy now as the day one became infatuated with them. Besides, what better way is there to work off grudges than to get even with the stand-ins for the source of them?

Working single mothers everywhere bring home a slice or two short of a rasher of bacon, but most of them are working single mothers because that was their choice. Almost all of the people who are both single and mothers are classified in that particular category for two reasons: Divorce — and the majority of divorces, by a large margin, are initiated by women — or childbirth without marriage.

The official explanation for people unable or unwilling to repair the leaky faucets of their lives is “bad luck”.

The soupçon of the population standing with a basket under the money tree in the Internet stock trading orchard after scarfing down a picnic of pâté de foie gras and grinding their designer heels into the noses of the workers are able to fire up their barbecues with rolled-up banknotes because that was their choice. Well, to an extent, anyway: profits of that type in financial markets are guaranteed to no one. But they still chose to intensively study stock market investment, to invest a substantial amount of their time during the day every day to follow the market and economic news, and to invest their own money in an enterprise with no guarantee of future success, even for those with past success.

The official explanation for people who decided to use their time in productive ways instead of flipping open their cell phones every 30 minutes with elaborately decorated fingernails is “privileged”.

At this point, it’s worth repeating the question first asked by Thomas Sowell: Is the person who has spent years in school goofing off, acting up, or fighting — squandering the tens of thousands of dollars that the taxpayers have spent on his education — supposed to end up with his income aligned with that of the person who spent those same years studying to acquire knowledge and skills that would later be valuable to himself and to society at large?

Books have been written about the changes that technology wrought to the industrial structure, the pointlessness of politicians thinking that meddling in the micro will improve the macro, as well as the futility of examining individual statistics out of context.

The least we can do here is recognize that the government’s current silence about these statistics demonstrates that the DPJ wasn’t talking about a change of government as a way to change the ratio, but was instead talking about a change in the ratio as a way to change the government.

Afterwords:

More on freeters from a few years ago.

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Simultaneous silliness or coincidence?

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, February 10, 2011

To take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress
– The editorial policy of The Economist

The folks at The Economist…seem to operate under a kind of distributed version of the divine right of kings — always asking whether the rulers rule wisely, seldom asking whether they have the right to rule at all, and never asking whether and how much we actually need them. That’s why The Economist is the in-house newsletter of The Establishment.
– Kevin Williamson

MORE INFORMATION is now available to more people than ever before, and more people have become more knowledgeable about events and conditions in parts of the world that were once difficult to visit, much less understand. In such an environment, one might assume the accuracy and pertinence of the content provided by the mass media would be exponentially higher than before.

So much for logic. The most significant change technology has wrought on the mass media is to accelerate the dissemination of errata and vapor-based opinion.

For example, was The Economist’s Tokyo correspondent delusional or desperate for content and up against a deadline?

“(J)ust as Mr. Kan seemed likely to follow his predecessors into the dustbin of history, he has put together a package of proposed reforms more radical than anything attempted during two decades of economic malaise. Even Junichiro Koizumi, the prime minister from 2001-06 who dazzled outsiders and quit while on top, did not attempt anything so bold.

“…(F)or the first time since Mr Koizumi, a prime minister is articulating a vision of Japan’s place in the world, as well as a response to a rising China.

“…If he cannot get politicians’ support for his reforms, he should, like Mr. Koizumi, go over their heads and appeal to urban voters fed up with cossetting farmers and others…”

These marvelous reforms presented by a man with one foot on the dustbin of history and his toenail dragging are the suggestion that Japan might–or might not–participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks for free trade. The claim that the prime minister “put together” these reforms, or is articulating a response to a rising China, is hazardous to the health of the magazine’s readership. Laughing too hard and too suddenly might cause a cerebrovascular accident. The only thing going over anyone’s head is the reality of conditions in Japan flying over an oblivious foreign correspondent. Let’s take the last first and mention the most recent Shinhodo 2001 poll numbers for the Kan administration:

Support the Kan Cabinet: 22.2%
Opposed to the Kan Cabinet: 70%

If an election were held today, which party would you vote for?

DPJ (Mr. Kan’s party): 14.8%
LDP: 27.2%
Your Party: 6.8%

Japan’s opposition parties would be thrilled to have the prime minister call for an election and appeal to urban voters.

Here’s what Japanese freelance writer and blogger Miyajima Tadashi wrote about this article, translated into English.

*****
“The Economist is irrationally hopeful about the increases in the consumption tax and TPP participation proclaimed by the Kan administration. As I’ve said before, there is no one so stupid among the Japanese reform wing as to be irrationally hopeful about the Kan administration. In particular, I would like to hear the reasons why we should be hopeful about the Kan administration’s participation in the TPP, considering their efforts to renationalize Japan Post.

“The British media and the self-proclaimed reformers of the Japanese intelligentsia viewed the Abe administration harshly for some reason, yet are indulgent with the Kan administration (as they were at the start of the Hatoyama administration).

“While the Abe administration was criticized for allowing the so-called postal rebels to return to the LDP, all of them had to sign a pledge to support Japan Post’s privatization. It did not halt the flow of privatization. In contrast, the Kan administration is promoting the renationalization of Japan Post. Indeed, they all opposed the privatization. After criticizing the Abe administration and voting for the DPJ in the 2007 upper house election, and being irrationally hopeful about the Hatoyama administration, the self-proclaimed reformers of the Japanese intelligentsia noticed the shift away from reform and became irrationally disappointed.

“To be blunt, these people are cabbage heads. They were accomplices in crushing reforms, and then became indignant when the politicians switched to the anti-reform course.

“The intelligentsia who are self-proclaimed reformers should recognize their mistake in crushing the Abe administration, which had aggressively promoted agricultural and other reforms. Yet they’ve learned nothing and now have irrational hopes for the Kan administration. One can only think they are deliberately playing the good cop as a way to crush reforms.

“The British media completely ignores the real reform wing in Japan and with great bias pays attention only to the intelligentsia who are self-proclaimed reformers. Bill Emmott, the former editor of The Economist, was irrationally disappointed in the renationalization of Japan Post when it was an inevitable result of the change of government. Even Mr. Emmott, who is familiar with Japan, had irrational hopes for the DPJ government for some reason (and later, irrational disappointment). For that reason, it is likely the information sources of the British media are heavily weighted toward the intelligentsia who are self-proclaimed reformers.

“The Economist thinks Prime Minister Kan should follow Mr. Koizumi’s example and call an election to seek approval for the TPP policy and other measures. This is another incomprehensible delusion that treats the voters of Japan as idiots. Prime Minister Koizumi was victorious in the “Japan Post election” because the privatization of Japan Post was one of his long-held beliefs, and he had already established a track record for reform…

“That’s why Prime Minister Kan will not produce Mr. Koizumi’s results through imitation and newly coined slogans. Even before the question of policy content, the impotent Kan administration does not have the ability to pass difficult legislation, and voters, regardless of their political perspective, see no reason to support them. Another aspect real reformers absolutely cannot support is that despite the government’s incompetence, the only measures they have promptly enacted are those based on a left-wing ideology, such as those involving issues with a specific political perspective on history, and policies that protect their hard-core base of support–labor union interests.

“The people who would vote for this pasteboard-thin Kan DPJ are the lightweight intelligentsia who call themselves reformers. I don’t know about Britain, but the average voter in Japan is much wiser about politics than the witless intelligentsia.”

(end translation)

*****
Mr. Miyajima hits most of the high points, but neglected a few because he was writing for Japanese readers. He is probably unaware that strong support for free trade, particularly in agriculture, is part of The Economist’s DNA. They were founded in 1843 to oppose the Corn Laws that limited corn imports and placed high tariffs on the corn that was imported. Not being a regular reader of the magazine, I don’t know their position on the agricultural subsidies British farmers receive from the EU.

But he, and not The Economist, is aware that the Abe administration had implemented reforms to facilitate agribusiness on a larger scale, critical to the success of an open agricultural market. The DPJ campaigned on a promise of higher subsidies to individual farm households. It is one of the few promises the DPJ has been able to keep.

Being a staunch advocate of free trade, however, does not explain The Economist’s circus-level hyperbole over a proposal Mr. Kan is merely mouthing on behalf of the Finance Ministry and Keidanren. They call it “the boldest reform in decades”. Placing it in that temporal context is accurate considering that the Nakasone government in the 1980s privatized the national rail system—before Britain privatized theirs—and the phone company—a year after Britain privatized theirs. It’s also been a couple of decades since the large-scale retail store law was revised to effectively end the old Japanese system of retail distribution and allow the creation of American-style shopping malls. Unlike the Kan proposal, however, those were deeds and not words.

Yet less than a decade ago, Koizumi Jun’ichiro put all his chips on the privatization of Japan Post and won big. In addition to being the nation’s postal service, Japan Post is also the world’s largest bank and sells life insurance. Meanwhile, Britain still hasn’t privatized Royal Mail, and Mr. Kan thought the de facto renationalization of Japan Post with a former Finance Ministry bureaucrat in charge was just hunky-dory.

The Economist is excited about a proposal for which a decision has been delayed until June, and for which the prime minister is serving as a messenger rather than a leader. Any of the accomplishments cited above are beyond the capabilities of Kan Naoto and his party. Indeed, in last month’s Cabinet reshuffle he couldn’t even replace his agriculture minister, who is opposed to the TPP.

In addition, the magazine ignores the Kan government’s shocking botch of national security issues in the Senkakus incident and its capitulation to the bureaucracy. This is reform?

Meanwhile, another article appeared on the same topic in the Asia Times this week by Daniel Leussink that concludes, “This is more Koizumi than Koizumi”.

Golly—what a coincidence!

Stranger still are the headline and the first two paragraphs, which proclaim that Mr. Kan is actually a “fundamentalist”:

“The biggest mystery in contemporary Japanese politics is perhaps the reason why a party that was voted into power in 2009 on a pledge to improve the lives of ordinary citizens has come to stand for economic fundamentalism. That has been the unexpected outcome of the one-and-a-half-year rule by Minshuto, the Democratic Party of Japan.

“Its sudden metamorphosis into a party that chases this kind of fundamentalism has best been illustrated by the full weight that its coalition government has thrown behind new free-trade policies and an overhaul of the tax and social security systems.”

The biggest mystery in contemporary journalism is how so many people who know so little about Japan manage to get paid to write about the country.

Another mystery is how an “overhaul of the tax and social security systems” that would result in hefty increases–eventually to European VAT levels–in the consumption tax, removing tax deductions to promote social theories, raising income taxes on those with higher incomes (above roughly $US 150,000) and raising the death tax, in part to pay for its new and unnecessary social welfare and legal vote-buying schemes, can be described as “fundamentalism”.

What is not a mystery is the reason for Mr. Kan’s turnabout–survival in office.

Had Leussink taken the trouble to pick up a Japanese newspaper last week, he would have read that Gemba Koichiro, the Chair of the DPJ Policy Research Committee and Minister for National Policy, explained the reason the party was voted into power. Mr. Gemba said it would be just fine for the DPJ to drastically revise its 2009 election manifesto without calling for a new election because the manifesto wasn’t the reason the people voted for them to begin with. (Here’s a hint: Disgust with the LDP for abandoning the Koizumi reforms of the economy and governance.)

Most of the article is an unexceptional review of others’ views pro and con on the participation in TPP talks, tilting slightly against free trade, with a brief summary of what would be expected of Japan:

“If Japan were to negotiate more free-trade partnerships, it would be forced to remove tariffs on food produce from the agricultural sector…The TPP is a tariff-free partnership. Subsidies would have to be faced (sic) out within a decade.”

The United States is part of this partnership, but Leussink does not mention whether that country will also have to “face out” its $US 50 billion in agricultural subsidies.

He also flirts with conspiracy mongering by running with this quote from an academic:

“The hidden purpose of Koizumi’s structural reforms was to assist the US government in its demands.”

The professor in question, Kaneko Masaru, is a self-described “al-Qaida economist” and a long-time foe of Koizumi and basic market principles. He thinks any benefits from deregulation and IT are “an empty dream”.

It’s curious that two articles with the incredible claim that Kan Naoto is out-Koizumi-ing Koizumi appeared at almost the same time. There are three possibilities. First, the authors might have simultaneously come up with the same weird idea independently of one another.

Nah.

Second, Leussink might have ripped off The Economist and added his own peculiar spin. After all, the employees of The New York Times in the U.S. and the Asahi Shimbun in Japan have a hard time resisting the temptations of plagiarism.

Perhaps.

Third, it might be that an aversion to doing their own research led both to cooperate in the attempted vivification of a political scarecrow. We already know that Kasumigaseki in general, and the Finance Ministry in particular, plants stories in the Japanese media to manipulate public opinion. The combination of English-fluent bureaucrats and an incurious English-language media has the potential for a marriage made in purgatory. It would be a shame for Mr. Kan to be tossed out so soon after selling out to Kasumigaseki and Keidanren. The least they can do for him is a little carnival barking in the direction of an indolent press.

Leussink shows that he is at least listening to them:

“But despite the economic growth that Koizumi’s policies generated, wages were stagnating or declining, the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry said.”

As if anything else could be expected from the bureaucratic elite speaking of a governmental privateer.

Unlike Koizumi Jun’ichiro, Kan Naoto has achieved nothing other than a sequence of poorly performed pratfalls. Though I support free trade in general, and this proposal in particular if the negotiations are not one-sided and Japan is allowed time to restructure before opening its agricultural market, I would suggest we wait until he actually does something before indulging in hagiolatry. But since it looks as if he will not be prime minister when the scheduled TPP decision comes in June, and his party may even have been turned out at the polls by then, that would be superfluous.

Afterwords:

I watched some televised excerpts of Mr. Kan’s performance during question time in the Diet yesterday with the leaders of the LDP and New Komeito, and it was compelling. The opposition tastes blood in the water and hammered the prime minister in an uncharacteristically charged atmosphere. No one took Mr. Kan seriously, and he had trouble looking at his questioners when offering his excuses. It must be crushing for a person to realize that he has failed so completely after less than a year at a job he had coveted for more than 40.

*****
Hope and change, or I hope there’ll be a change?

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The same old song

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, January 25, 2011

TO CONTINUE with the theme of yesterday’s post, here’s another illustration of how the Japanese mass media is every bit as lamestream as their Anglosphere cousins. The following is an excerpt from a Yomiuri Shimbun editorial on 22 January.

*****
Prime Minister Kan has undertaken a radical change of course from his party’s position of excluding the bureaucracy under the name of “political leadership”. His approach to policy reconciliation among the various ministries and agencies is to allow the participation (in discussions) of undersecretaries and bureau chiefs from the bureaucracy in addition to Cabinet ministers, deputy ministers, and parliamentary secretaries. With his reexamination of the party’s platform for the 2009 lower house election, this represents an unavoidable course correction for the call of “political leadership” (N.B.: as opposed to bureaucratic leadership) that was the watchword for the change in government.

Smiling from start to finish, Prime Minister Kan spoke to the ministry undersecretaries in the Kantei conference room on the morning of the 21st. He told them: “I’m working with all of you to build a good country, so I want you to express your opinions without reserve to the ministers, deputy ministers, and me.”

When it was in the opposition, the Democratic Party harshly criticized the practice of bureaucratic leadership for the formulation and reconciliation of policy proposals. Their 2009 party platform clearly specified that the proposal, reconciliation and determination of policy was to be conducted through political leadership exercised by the Cabinet ministers, deputy ministers, and parliamentary secretaries. The Hatoyama administration pursued a policy of excluding the bureaucracy through such measures as the abolition of the council for undersecretaries and the establishment of a council for the Cabinet ministers, deputy ministers, and parliamentary secretaries (or seimu sanyaku in the Japanese shorthand).

The abolition of the council for undersecretaries, which had the role of reconciling the content of important policies for which more than one ministry was responsible, caused turmoil in the administration of government, however. Some officials in the Cabinet objected to such Hatoyama administration proposals as the revision of the National Civil Service Law and the bill to reform Japan Post just before their adoption, resulting in a delay of their adoption. The bureaucracy was not informed of some of the decisions taken by the Seimu Sanyaku Council, and the adverse effects of this repeatedly affected all the ministries.

In his instructions on the 21st, Prime Minister Kan said, “I want to create a positive, cooperative relationship between undersecretaries and politicians. There are several problems in our conduct of politics today, including self-reflection, taking things to extremes, and insufficiency. Politicians also understand that affairs will not proceed (toward resolution) if they think they alone can handle everything.” He thus recognized the flaws of conventional “political leadership”.

(end excerpt)

*****
Mr. Kan’s speech to the undersecretaries might sound familiar to those who follow Japanese politics. It is in effect nearly identical to the speech given by Aso Taro of the LDP to the same meeting of undersecretaries when he became prime minister in 2008, little more than two years ago. Said Mr. Aso: “In my Cabinet, the bureaucracy will not be the enemy. It is important to employ the bureaucracy skillfully.”

As Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi remarked, “That signaled his intention to leave all the decision-making to the bureaucracy.” In the same way, Mr. Kan’s ingratiating address signals his intention to throw in the spoon (which the Japanese throw instead of the towel) on civil service reform.

Real change in the way the government operates was the reason the DPJ unseated the LDP in the 2009 lower house election. (It was the reason Koizumi Jun’ichiro was, and still is, so popular.) Instead of a real change, however, the DPJ morphed into a pre-Hashimoto Ryutaro version of the LDP, albeit with a leftist orientation. As another commentator noted, the Kan pep talk is indicative of the degree of DPJ guts.

Who needs a teleprompter when they gave me this cribsheet? (Sankei Shimbun photo)

Mr. Kan’s remarks also represent a denial of his lifelong political philosophy. He has long advocated encouraging greater citizen input into policy decisions, which he specifically contrasted to policy formulated by the bureaucracy and rubber-stamped by the politicians. But most observers knew that Mr. Kan had thrown in the spoon before this. It was apparent from watching his first speech to the Diet as prime minister last summer. He reverted to the old LDP practice of reading aloud from what the bureaucracy calls tanzaku, or strips of paper. Each ministry produces a piece of paper on which is written a few sentences for the prime minister to say, and they’re stapled together to create the text of the speech. Recent prime ministers had stopped using the tanzaku, but Mr. Kan chose parrothood.

This issue might be difficult to understand outside of Japan, but it is without question the most critical one in the country’s governing process today. Here it is again: the bureaucracy in this country considers itself to be the permanent ruling class. As I’ve mentioned before, one bureaucrat-turned-reformer politician said that on his first day at the Agriculture Ministry, he was told his job was “to make the monkeys dance”.

The bureaucrats do not see their role as offering policy options at the request of the politicians. They actively formulate their own policy proposals and hawk them to MPs every day in the Diet office building like a squad of colporteurs. Among those who most strongly advocate bureaucratic reform are the journalists who have served on governmental blue ribbon panels and witnessed their behavior at first hand.

If you think I’m exaggerating, perhaps you should read this article by Martin Fackler in the New York Times. It was published on 24 March 2010, when Hatoyama Yukio was still prime minister. Long-time friends might wonder why I offer a link to the Times—I usually limit links to reliable sources—but there are two reasons:

1. It is an accurate description of the problem.
2. It is the most surreal example of journalistic incompetence I’ve ever read.

Here’s Mr. Fackler’s explanation:

Since ending the Liberal Democrats’ nearly unbroken 54-year grip on power in last summer’s election, Mr. Hatoyama’s Democratic Party has proclaimed its top mission to be changing the way the country is governed by a process that is commonly called “escaping the bureaucracy.” The aim is to make Japan’s political system more responsive by ending more than a century of de facto rule by elite career bureaucrats at Tokyo’s central ministries, and empowering democratically elected politicians instead…(T)he ministries…long ran Japan with backroom decision-making.

He quotes then-Internal Affairs Minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro:

“The bureaucrats created a very centralized system that has become out of date, and unable to react to the world’s changes…We need a system that serves the people, not the bureaucracy and entrenched interest groups.”

One of Kasumigaseki’s favorite weapons is leaking information to the media. Mr. Fackler further quotes Mr. Haraguchi’s explanation of how the bureaucrats whispered potentially damaging stories about the DPJ to the press after he reassigned some civil servants against ministry wishes. That’s the same MO they used for scuttling the Abe administration’s attempt to privatize the Social Insurance Agency in 2007, responsible for national pensions. The final nail in Mr. Abe’s coffin was hammered in when the agency let it be known that the records for the pensions of millions of people were lost during the conversion from a handwritten system to a computerized system a decade before Mr. Abe took office. His government bore the brunt of citizen anger.

The reason this ranks as journalistic incompetence, however, is that Mr. Fackler’s paean to the DPJ was nonsense on the day he wrote it. The Japanese closely watching DPJ efforts to reform the bureaucracy knew that Mr. Hatoyama had thrown in the spoon as early as December 2009, three months before that article was published and only three months after he took office. That’s when stories in the weekly and monthly print media began to appear about the DPJ betrayal of their promises for government led by the politicians. That month, even then-DPJ Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro criticized the government of his own party for allowing the Finance Ministry too much input in formulating the budget. The policy review touted in the article was orchestrated and scripted by the Finance Ministry’s Budget Bureau–information that was available to the Japanese public shortly after the first one was televised.

It wasn’t that many people were surprised. Mr. Hatoyama’s father, himself the son of a former prime minister, started his career in the Finance Ministry before turning to politics. One element of the Democrats’ plan to place policy formulation in political hands was the creation of a National Strategy Bureau to be led by elected officials. Then-Finance Minister Fujii Hirohisa—the former director of the ministry’s Budget Bureau—convinced the government to downgrade it to an “office”. None other than Kan Naoto was put in charge, and he soon complained that he didn’t have enough work to do there. (It was later revealed he spent a lot of time playing go on his computer when he did show up at the office.) Mr. Fujii is now back in the Cabinet again.

One of the most delicious parts of the Fackler article is this quote from Karel van Wolferen—yes, Mr. Oldie-But-Goodie himself:

“A half year of Hatoyama has produced more change than an entire year of Obama.”

Let’s reframe that: It is as if a commentator had praised President Obama in July 2009 for having kept his promise to withdraw American military forces from Afghanistan and shut down the detention facility at Guantanamo for good.

University of Tokyo Professor Yamauchi Masayuki is given the last word:

“(T)he changes they are making will not be easily undone.”

Now take another look at that excerpt of the Yomiuri editorial above.

What likely happened is that the Hatoyama administration, already doomed when the Times article appeared, was hunting for some positive press overseas to counteract the bad publicity they were getting at home for changing their tune on civil service reform. Members of the Japanese media are among the few that still take the New York Times seriously, and the DPJ probably hoped the story would filter back to Japan through the back door. The party could have easily fed the reporter the information in bite-sized chunks, made Mr. Haraguchi available for an interview, and even suggested tame professors for additional quotes.

If Martin Fackler’s still interested in this issue, by the way, I’d be happy to recommend a few books in Japanese to get him up to speed on what’s really happening. He should be able to find someone to read them and provide him with an English summary.

Of more pressing concern to the Japanese electorate, however, is the need for a reliable information source. The Yomiuri—the newspaper with the largest national circulation—obviously doesn’t meet those qualifications. Instead of selling journalism, they’re recording secretaries making their customers pay for mimeographs of ruling class PR handouts.

Meanwhile, what will Kan Naoto do now that he’s sold all the way out? Here’s a hint from the prime minister’s e-mail message distributed yesterday:

“The priority for me now is working to counteract the new social risk of isolation…Looking at the causes of suicide, very few people commit suicide because of poverty alone. They are poor and also don’t have any friends. They don’t have any family to turn to. The combination of isolation and poverty drives people to suicide.”

Leave it to a self-castrated political eunuch to make his priority a problem that politics will never solve.

Afterwords:

A long-time reader of the site is employed by a major Japanese mass media outlet. A few years ago, he wrote in to say that Karel van Wolferen adamantly refused to interact with anyone in Japanese when he was interviewed for a Japanese television program. Make of that what you will.

*****
Still the same old song, isn’t it?

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The awareness gap

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, September 5, 2010

HERE’S a quick reprise of part of a post from a fortnight ago:

In Yoron no Kyokkai (The Distortion of Public Opinion), Sugawara Taku writes:

All the data indicate that the Liberal Democratic Party’s post-Koizumi agenda was a mistake. Public opinion rejected the readmission of the postal privatization rebels to the party and urged the Abe administration to correct their course. It was clear that the 2007 LDP defeat in the upper house election was not due to the Koizumi structural reforms. The data show that the idea that Aso Taro was a popular figure among the people was laughable. The party took a direction opposite to that indicated by the data, so their defeat in the general election (of 2009) was completely in accord with predictions.

Fujisawa Kazuki is employed at a foreign capital-affiliated investment bank in Japan, is the author of Why Do Investment Professionals Lose to Monkeys?, and has a popular Japanese-language blog. This week, he offered his thoughts on Mr. Sugawara’s book. Here they are in English.

******

Until the Democratic Party of Japan achieved a change of government by winning the 2009 lower house election, the mass media was tenacious in its Koizumi/Takenaka bashing. They claimed the people revolted because the Koizumi-Takenaka structural reforms led to greater (income) gaps and battered local economies. The author’s data, however, show that a revolt against the Koizumi-Takenaka course was not the cause of the Liberal-Democratic Party defeat. Rather, the opposite was the case. He concludes that the people continued to support the structural reforms, and the loss resulted from the rapid restoration, starting with the Prime Minister Abe, of the old LDP that protected vested interests.

I agree completely, and think the media’s bashing of the structural reforms is extremely odd. At the height of their attacks, they conducted public opinion surveys that showed Koizumi Jun’ichiro was far and away the favorite when people were asked to name the person most suited to be prime minister. They published these results in small articles in the back pages of the newspaper.

The reason for the continued decline in support for the Democratic Party of Japan is their insufficient enthusiasm for the reforms and politics that are obsequious to the vested interest class. Support for Your Party surged in the upper house election because they’ve picked up the Koizumi-Takenaka baton and championed structural reform.

I think the assertions of the author hit the mark, and that gives rise to an important question: Why did the mass media bash the Koizumi-Takenaka structural reforms to that extent? I still don’t know the answer to that question. They never bashed those reforms when Mr. Koizumi was prime minister, so why did they start the groundless criticism so soon after he left office?

The appeal of this book is the author’s objective analysis of the statistical data. He also takes a dispassionate look at the influence of the Internet. Sadly, he draws the conclusion that the Internet has little impact (in Japan), and I think that’s largely accurate.

My blog has a large amount of traffic, and I like to think it could be called a part of the micro-media. Nevertheless, I have to say it has no influence at all compared to television and newspapers. The impact of the alpha bloggers is even less than that of a late night program that few people watch. The viewer totals of even the most popular programs on Nikoniko Doga (an Internet video site) are barely in the tens of thousands.

There is some dynamism in parts of the Internet media, but those parts are still extremely small. I think there is still room for large growth, however, and that the Internet has great potential.

(End translation)

Afterwords:

Long-time readers know I’ve been saying the same thing for several years about the prefererence of the Japanese voters for large-scale reform and the popularity of the Koizumi program. It’s gratifying to know there’s supporting statistical evidence, but the conclusion should have been obvious.

For example, Mr. Koizumi dissolved the lower house and called a general election to force the upper house to change its mind over their rejection of his plan to privatize Japan Post. He threw several veterans out of the party for their opposition to the plan.

Were the people on board? Oh, yes–His party won the second-highest postwar majority in the lower house, and he left office a year later with a 70% approval rating. He bequeathed those numbers to his successor, Abe Shinzo.

At the urging of Mori Yoshiro and other LDP mudboaters, Mr. Abe invited those bounced from the party to return. Some of them did. His poll numbers took an immediate 20 percentage-point hit.

Really, anyone who doesn’t see this just doesn’t want to look.

Earlier this week, I referred to an interview with Hokkaido University Prof. Yamaguchi Jiro in Sight magazine. Prof. Yamaguchi served as an informal advisor to the DPJ’s Ozawa Ichiro. He says the reason for Mr. Ozawa’s low approval rating is that he too failed to understand the public’s preference for Mr. Koizumi’s structural reforms and the reasons for the DPJ’s 2009 election victory. The public has had it with the old LDP style of politics.

Mr. Fujisawa also seems to be missing a few things, perhaps because he hasn’t been cured in the brine of the American media/political environment.

The full Koizumi package was structural reform, part of which included the destruction of the old LDP and its Iron Triangle with the bureaucracy and big business. But it also included smaller government, privatization, and encouraging private sector/individual initiative.

The Japanese media is just as infused with left-of-center thinking as their counterparts in the Anglosphere. They were on board with the part of the program that involved the removal of the LDP, but not the part about giving power to the people. Their real agenda emerged when Mr. Koizumi left office.

Meanwhile, the negligible impact of the Japanese blogosphere on events results from several factors. The American (or English-language) blogosphere has successfully disintermediated Big Media and destroyed their monopoly on setting the parameters of discussion. That hasn’t happened here yet. Too many people still cede the presumption of credibility too often to Big Media.

It also doesn’t help that much of the Japanese blogosphere is boring as hell, particularly the visual media. There’s no awareness of the need to be entertaining or to attract an audience. The video presentations I’ve seen are too long and a deadly combination of the amateur and the pretentious. People aren’t interested in tedious sermonettes or panel discussions with too little content consuming too much time.

One popular American blog has on its masthead a quote from H.L. Mencken: “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” The Japanese Internet could use a lot more of those buccaneers, as well as people who understand they’re supposed to differentiate themselves from the competition. NHK will always have the edge in soporific discussions, and Beat Takeshi’s TV Tackle will always present slicker infotainment. They can’t do what the Internet can, however–guerilla warfare.

Also, the synergy that’s been created in the Anglosphere sector of the Internet has yet to emerge here, perhaps because too many bloggers think they have to imitate the Big Media model. Mr. Fujisawa says he has achieved micro-media status, and that might be the problem. He and some others have staked out their own small patch of commentator/hyoronka turf, but haven’t created the horizontal connectivity that can take a story viral and blow a hole in the Establishment’s credibility.

There are Japanese capable of doing that. Most of them, however, spend their time writing books or articles in monthly magazines, and none of it appears online. A couple of weekly magazines are starting to get the idea, but all of this is still happening in the dead tree medium.

It’s time to draw the blades and start slashing. Lord knows there are plenty of targets that need some stout whacks, if not complete beheading.

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