Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Eda K.’

The wild bunch

Posted by ampontan on Monday, November 26, 2012

* The Japan Restoration Party and Your Party reached a broad agreement on common policy. But after (Japan Restoration) reached a policy agreement with the Sun Party, their policies of eliminating nuclear power and creating a governmental revenue agency have fallen away. We no longer know whether they are positive or negative toward the TPP. (Your Party President) Watanabe Yoshimi always says the spirit of a party is its policies.
– Kakizawa Mito, Your Party MP

* I’ve been asked why I left Your Party. Regrettably, Your Party cannot achieve reform…Your Party wants to pursue its own course. They want to be different than the other parties. That’s not how you change the world.
– Sakurauchi Fukimi, former Finance Ministry bureaucrat and current upper house member, who shifted from Your Party to the Japan Restoration Party

IT’S been just 10 days since the process of electing a new lower house in the Diet and installing a new government in Japan began, and three weeks remain before the election. Yet this has already become the wildest, most freewheeling, most confusing, and most exhilarating election campaign I’ve seen in any country. More has flown by the past week than the several months of UFOs that get airborne over America during a presidential election campaign.

One reason is the astonishing state of flux in the political world. Eleven MPs have left the ruling Democratic Party of Japan since the Diet was dissolved. The party had 423 members in both houses when they took power three years ago, but have lost a total of 102 since then. They would not have a majority in the lower house today. That is both due to their multitudinous failures and the result of political karma for slapping together a smorgasbord of a group with very little in common except the desire to oust the old Liberal Democratic Party. How many other parties in the world contain both serious socialists with terrorist connections and Thatcher worshippers? The DPJ does.

But in a few instances, they did share a general policy consensus. Lower house MP Nagao Takashi recently left the party with the intention of switching to the LDP. He is in favor of amending the peace clause of the Constitution, which the DPJ opposes. He wrote on his blog:

I was always alone.

Another reason for the excitement is that the Japanese public is extraordinarily engaged. There are much fewer political ads on television here than in the U.S. (the smaller parties can’t afford it, for one), so most of the politicking is retail. All the candidates give street corner speeches, sometimes standing right there on the sidewalk, and sometimes on the back of flatbed trucks or temporary platforms.

The heckling of the speakers is said to be intense this year, and the outgoing ruling party, the Democratic Party of Japan, is bearing the most of the public dissatisfaction. Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko has been buffeted with shouts of “Liar!” and “Fake manifesto”” during his street speeches.

In Saitama, current economy, trade, and industry minister and former chief cabinet secretary (during the Fukushima disaster) Edano Yukio tried to beautify the DPJ performance after three years in office, but admitted they were not sterling. He was answered with shouts of, “You were terrible”, and “Cut the crap!” (ふざけるな).

Former social democrat and current DPJ MP and terrorist moll Tsujimoto Kiyomi also got an earful throughout an entire speech in Osaka when she begged the public not to forsake the Democratic Party.

Concerns are even being raised in some quarters that the younger voters will adopt a “burn it all down” approach and cast their votes for the newer third force parties rather than the established parties. If so, they would be following a trend that’s been underway in local elections throughout the country for several years. It might be that this is the year the fire goes national at last.

Mr. Noda and LDP President Abe Shinzo blast away at each other in every speech to an extent unusual for Japanese elections. Mr. Noda challenged Mr. Abe to a debate Japanese style, which the LDP chief initially refused. He’s since changed his mind, however, and something is being arranged to be broadcast on an Internet channel. UPDATE: The LDP suggested the Niconico video channel, but the DPJ is backing off. One reason speculated for their hesitancy is that Niconico allows viewers to upload comments in real time during the broadcast, and they’re worried they’re not going to like what the viewing public has to say.

Indeed, it’s so crazy it’s impossible to keep up with it all, which is another factor causing concerns. There are 14 parties contesting the election, and it’s not easy to keep up with the shifting alliances and party memberships. It could very well be that the public won’t wind up with the decisive politics it seeks, at least for this electoral cycle. (There’s no voting for the upper house, and the membership there will remain static until next summer.) The extent of the success of the so-called third forces could keep the situation fluid for the foreseeable future.

The problem facing Ozawa Ichiro is a case in point. Mr. Ozawa formed a party in July called the People’s Lives First Party in English, or Kokumin no Seikatsu ga Daiichi in the original. All Japanese ballots are cast by write-in vote. That means the voters have to write in the name of the party they choose in the proportional representation phase of the voting, and all parties have their preferred abbreviations.

His party prefers the word Seikatsu, or lives. Because the party is still so new, however, some party leaders are worried the voters will write in Kokumin, or people, which is the term used for the People’s New Party that was the last coalition partner of the DPJ.

Even a local party executive in Mr. Ozawa’s home prefecture of Iwate thinks the name still hasn’t penetrated fully there, but sighs and says it’s too late now. One newspaper interviewed an older resident of Rikuzentakata in the prefecture, who cackled:

I’ve always backed Mr. Ozawa, but he keeps changing parties and I can’t remember their names. But I certainly won’t mistake it for the Democratic Party of Japan.

Bickering among the challengers

Emblematic of all this glorious chaos is the running battle being waged between the Japan Restoration Party of Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru (and now Ishihara Shintaro) and Your Party, the first national reform party.

This is not their first rift, as we’ve seen before. Earlier this year, Your Party President Watanabe Yoshimi wanted Japan Restoration to merge with them. Believing he and his party held the upper hand, Hashimoto Toru refused and suggested they join him instead. The upshot of that was mutual huff. It was exacerbated when three Your Party members bolted to join the Osaka group.

With too much to lose from poor relations, however, the two parties patched up their quarrel and were discussing areas of policy agreement to work together in the election. But then Mr. Hashimoto announced on television last Friday that he had called Mr. Watanabe and Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji and asked them “to make the bold decision to create a single group in some form.” He followed that up on Saturday with the explanation that while Japan Restoration wants to win an outright majority, it would be more realistic to achieve that with Your Party seats. He added, “Mr. Watanabe’s decision will be a major step toward political realignment.”

The Osaka mayor made the proposal for several reasons. First, he does not think his party will be able to field a full slate of candidates to give his party a chance to win a majority. Second, the two parties are competing against each other in 18 election districts in eight districts, which is suicidal. Both would siphon off votes from the reform-minded electorate, making it easier for an establishment party to pick up the seat.

Mr. Watanabe dismissed the proposal out of hand. He complained that they had changed their position on eliminating nuclear power after merging with Ishihara Shintaro’s Sun Party.

We are not satisfied with the agreement between Japan Restoration and the Sun Party. Working with the Sun Party has somehow obscured their principles and policies. Haven’t they become somewhat desperate?

He added:

The word ‘reform’ does not appear in their policy agreement. They have not written about their resolve to fight.

In fact, he made any discussion about an alliance conditional on Japan Restoration dumping Mr. Ishihara and the Sun Party.

What are we supposed to say after they ask to work together now that they’ve merged with the Sun Party: “Oh, really”? That won’t cut it. No discussion about working together will proceed until they divorce the Sun Party.

Said Eda Kenji:

Our policies have to align on abandoning nuclear power, preventing the consumption tax increase, participating in the TPP, and prohibiting all corporate and group donations.

Japanese political observers suspect that apart from the desire to stand firm on their policies, Your Party is taking a hard line because they think they’re stronger in the greater Tokyo region than Ishihara Shintaro’s Sun Party. Their strength is in Tokyo and Kanagawa, where Yokohama is located.

In retribution for their stance, Ishihara Shintaro told fellow Sun Party member Sonoda Hiroyuki to call both Mr. Watanabe and Mr. Eda and tell them their agreement to work together in the election for Tokyo Metro District governor was off. (It’s scheduled on the same day as the Diet election to fill the remainder of Mr. Ishihara’s term.) That further irritated the Your Party leaders. Said Mr. Watanabe:

Breaking an agreement that we put in writing with one phone call doesn’t sit well with me…Holding discussions with them at this point is probably pointless.

Japan Restoration Party officials are none too happy either. Said Secretary-General Matsui Ichiro:

Just because they became established as a party first, does that mean Japan Restoration has to concede everything to them?

Another Japan Restoration exec who remained anonymous considered the Your Party statements to be a type of declaration of war. He thought they were being self-serving, and pointed out that Japan Restoration had a larger political organization despite being the newer body.

Affairs then took a turn for the absurd when Hashimoto Toru gave it one more try in public to convince Your Party to work together and avoid competing in the same districts:

We can make the final judgment on working out (who runs in which district) with (the) rock scissors paper (game). I will not insist on making an issue of my position as the acting president of Japan Restoration.

Retorted Mr. Watanabe:

Who could permit something that stupid? We haven’t selected the sort of candidates for our party that can be decided by rock scissors paper.

He wasn’t the only one who jumped on that comment — all the establishment parties piled on as well, only too happy to find some tool to hammer the Osaka mayor. But Hashimoto Toru never sits still for hammer blows:

Critics (of that comment) have no sense of language. Rock scissors paper was not meant to be taken in a literal sense. It was instead a strong message to become unified. People incapable of understanding at least that much would make me uneasy and fearful if they were involved in conducting the affairs of national government.

This does not necessarily mean Japan Restoration is in a weaker position. Ikeda Nobuo, who is often quoted around here, thinks Your Party is weaker and fading. A recent poll taken in Tokyo (which we’ll get to in a minute) supports that view.

Regardless, this dispute, plus the silliness with Kawamura Takashi and Tax Reduction Japan moving away from both of these parties to tie up with the likes of Kamei Shizuka (and perhaps Ozawa Ichiro) can only make things easier for the DPJ and the LDP.

Meanwhile, in other news:

* Japan Restoration has reached an agreement to not run candidates against New Komeito candidates in nine districts, and will perhaps even support them. They still do not have an outright majority in the assembly in Osaka, so they need New Komeito’s cooperation to get anything passed locally. That sort of arrangement is unremarkable in politics, and would be here, too — were not New Komeito allied with the LDP.

* Speaking of the LDP, Hashimoto Toru is taking them on, too:

The Takeshima problem began when South Korea declared the Syngman Rhee line in the Sea of Japan. After that, South Korea built structures on the islets. The ones who did not prevent the steady and repeated Korean efforts to maintain effective control was the LDP. Is it so important for them to shelve their responsibility while calling for the name of the Self-Defense Forces to be changed to the National Defense Forces? And that’s not all — their coalition partners New Komeito are also opposed. That’s just incoherent.

* Three members of the Ishihara family are running for Diet seats in this election. Father Shintaro is running for a proportional representation seat in the Tokyo bloc, son Nobuteru of the LDP is running for an eighth term in his Suginami Ward district in Tokyo, and #3 son Hirotaka (48) is running Tokyo District #3, which includes Shinagawa and other areas. Hirotaka already served one term in the Diet, which he won during the 2005 LDP landslide. He lost that seat in the2009 DPJ landslide.

* Shinhodo 2001 released its weekly poll on 22 November. It’s conducted only in the Tokyo area, but politicians find it a useful guide. Here are some of the results:

Who is the most suitable leader for Japan?

1. Ishihara Shintaro: 15.0%
2. Hashimoto Toru: 12.8%
3. Noda Yoshihiko: 12.2% (tied with:
3. Ishiba Shigeru: 12.2% (LDP Secretary-General)
5. Abe Shinzo: 12.0%

The low numbers should not be a surprise. This is a frequent question in the poll, many possible answers are offered, and the respondents choose only one. The only person I’ve seen score over 20% was Koizumi Jun’ichiro after he stepped down from the premiership and before he retired.

What party will you vote for in the proportional representation phase?

LDP: 24.0%
DPJ: 13.2%
Japan Restoration: 10.2%
New Komeito: 3.8%
Your Party: 1.4%
Undecided: 40.1%

There’s the indication that Your Party might be fading. The latest Kyodo poll has Japan Restoration in second place now, with the DPJ down to the 8% level. The former party has gained ground in that poll since their merger with Sun Party, while the LDP and DPJ have slid.

What form would you like the new government to be?

LDP alone: 28.2%
Third force combination (Japan Restoration, Your Party): 26.0%
LDP/DPJ coalition: 20.0%
DPJ alone: 10.8%

No one can predict what the final form will be, but I think it’s safe to say we’ve seen the last of a DPJ-centered government for a while.


A post written by Francisco Toro at the Latitudes blog at the New York Times on Hashimoto Toru’s impact on this election, called The Rise of the Green Tea Party, is surprisingly good for that newspaper. Fancy that; somebody at the Times at last decided to do some research about Japan before writing about it. But having them do enough research was too much to expect, alas:

The gray-suited world of Japanese politics isn’t known as a hotbed of excitement, but insofar as next month’s general election is generating any buzz at all it’s because of one man: Toru Hashimoto, the plain-talking 43-year-old mayor of Osaka. An outsider with a hard-nosed reform agenda centered on cutting spending, Hashimoto has pioneered a new kind of Japanese populism. Call it the Green Tea Party.

After his 2008 landslide election to lead the 8.9 million people of Osaka, Hashimoto set out to do what no Japanese politician is supposed to get away with: rocking the boat. This took the form of a cost-cutting crusade, which pitted Hashimoto against some of the city’s sacred cows.

The only way to deal with this is to be blunt: Anyone who thinks the Japanese politicians aren’t allowed to rock the boat, that the electorate doesn’t love it when they do rock the boat, that Japanese politics is an unexciting “gray-suited world”, or that this election wouldn’t have generated any buzz without Hashimoto Toru, is not qualified to write about Japanese politics. All of that is very wrong, and it should be evident to even the casual observer.

Listen to this tune by Okuma Wataru’s group all the way through, and see if you don’t think it makes a perfect theme song for this election.

Posted in Politics, Social trends | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The end of the LDP

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, April 4, 2012

When your ideology has become rigid, you have checked your brains at the door. If you want proof of that, just look at today’s liberals. Their ideology has been extinct for years and they are walking around like the living dead, trying to preserve the welfare state and the vision of Lord Keynes while the whole world crumbles around them.
– Former leftist/liberal Roger L. Simon

SOME people are born with numb skulls, while other people have to shovel away at the irrigation ditches for years to get all that water onto the brain. No one works longer or more assiduously to obtain a black belt in cretinhood than the world’s political class, as a glance at any newspaper on any day in any country will demonstrate. Japanese politicos share the same defective DNA, but only their parents know whether the members of the established political parties here are congenital lackwits or shed all those IQ points after years of keeping their foreheads to the whetstone.

During his 5.5 years in office, Koizumi Jun’ichiro led the politicos by their nose on The Shining Path to landslide elections and real structural reform of government. A lower house election called specifically as a referendum on privatizing Japan Post rewarded his government with a historical mandate and solidified the prime minister’s poll ratings at 70%. It was one of those happy but rare occasions when the popular will intersected with sensible reform to exclude the entrenched parasitic interests. It should all be as obvious as a wet mackerel in the face.

There is never a reason for a government to own a bank or an insurance company, and there is no longer a reason for them to own post offices in the age of e-mail and private sector express delivery companies, and everyone knows it. To be sure, it’s possible that the victory was due in part to a gratitude vote: Sheer delight by the electorate because a politician actually asked for their opinion and staked his career on it. From the time he stepped down in 2006 until he left politics in 2009, Mr. Koizumi consistently topped the list of polls asking the public who they thought would make the most suitable prime minister. That’s too long to be called an afterglow.

The Democratic Party ran the classic bait-and-switch scam when they promised reform pre-election to gain control of government. One of their “reforms” was to stick a finger in the electorate’s eye and roll back the changes at Japan Post. While the DPJ couldn’t be expected to catch the plot if they ran that finger over the pages and mouthed the words, some members of Mr. Koizumi’s Liberal Democratic Party should have been unwilling to step into the mudboat. It turns out there are — three.

The LDP held a general meeting on the 27th and gave their formal approval to a proposal they worked out with New Komeito to amend the Japan Post law, thus neutering their signal policy achievement of the past decade. They and the DPJ will submit that proposal to the Diet. Instead of forcing the government to divest itself of Japan Post stock by 2017, the new law requires the government to “endeavor” to sell the stock “quickly”. There you have the perfect example of how reform is deboned by the butchers in the government and bureaucracy. If the law stands, they’ll still be “endeavoring” to sell the stock when all the girls of AKB48 are grandmas.

LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu signed the original Cabinet resolution calling for privatization in 2004, so he was for it before he was against it. Last week, however, he said:

“The DPJ continues their indecisive politics, but we will present a serious resolution.”

That’s not inbred stupidity. He had to cultivate it.

Koizumi Shinjiro, the former prime minister’s son and successor to his Kanagawa Diet seat, was one of the three people to object to the party’s decision. He objected in particular to Mr. Tanigaki’s…statement, for lack of a better term:

“To say that (the DPJ’s) indecision is unacceptable, but that this proposal is decisive, is irrational.”

Suga Yoshihide was more statesmanlike:

“(Seven years ago) we had a great debate in the party and concluded that this country will be in trouble without structural reform. We won a major election victory on the Japan Post issue. Retreating from this principle is unacceptable.”

But more to the point was the party’s former secretary-general, Nakagawa Hidenao:

“It is the beginning of the end of the party.”

LDP General Council Chairman Shionoya Ryu seems to have a hearing disability in addition to being beef-witted. After the meeting voted to accept the proposal, he declared:

“It’s unanimous.”

But it wasn’t, and the opponents threatened to vote nay when it comes to the Diet floor. In a post-conference briefing, Mr. Nakagawa blasted the party for changing a policy ratified by popular mandate without another election. “If that’s how we’ll do it,” he said, “we’re the same as the DPJ.”

Now that’s a low blow.

The interview continued:

Q: The people supporting the amendment said, “The Koizumi reform era is over,” and “Times have changed.” What do you think?

Nakagawa: I don’t know who said that, but the recent history of our party includes an extremely important administration that lasted five years. After that, we had a series of very short administrations, and then became the opposition party. In that sense, we brought about today’s circumstances because we didn’t value our first principles, so we will continue to bring about the same circumstances in the future.

On the outside looking in, Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji didn’t say it was the end of the party, but he did say the party’s reversion is complete. The word he used for reversion was “atavism”.

Mr. Eda’s objections were practical as well as philosophical, noting that the problems were the obligation for JP’s financial companies to provide universal service and the government’s financial stake. He said that any attempt by the companies to enter new business sectors before the stock is sold would violate most financial regulations around the world, and the governments of those countries would object. (Good luck in the TPP negotiations.) He stated the obvious when he said that government ownership means fair competition in the banking and life insurance sectors is unlikely. He also knows the shares are unlikely to be sold. Where else is the government going to come up with the domestic cash to buy those deficit financing bonds?

He concluded:

“Your Party is of course opposed to this bill, which is a change for the worse.”

More than being the beginning of the end or a textbook example of political atavism, however, it would be more accurate to say that the three parties have now congealed into a largely indistinguishable mass of foul-smelling sludge that fills the moat around the Castle of Vested Interests. When the people leading the revolution of the regions against the center blast the “existing parties”, they’re talking about those three.

It is as if they were 18th-century barbers drilling holes into their own skulls to release the vapors. Now hear this: LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru announced the LDP would consider voting for the DPJ’s consumption tax increase if the DPJ dumped Ozawa Ichiro. In a rare display of common sense, Deputy Prime Minister Okada Katsuya told him to mind his own business.

Taxation is a policy matter, and a politician has to look at the numbers — all the numbers, including the Finance Ministry’s secret money stash — to decide. The membership standards of a political party, no matter how lax, are unrelated to policy issues, and should not be a factor in another party’s collective position on any policy issue.

The three political stooges will eventually run the Nagata-cho Choo Choo off the rails, soon or late. The only solution is for the passengers to detach as many of the cars from the locomotive as possible before that happens. It’s a matter of life and death.


One month after the DPJ formed a government, then-Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio appointed Saito Jiro to head Japan Post. Mr. Saito is a veteran of the Finance Ministry, and was his era’s equivalent to Katsu Eijiro today.

Mr. Katsu was sent over by the Finance Ministry to serve as an aide to Prime Minister Noda. Many consider him to be the PM’s puppeteer and the man brainwashing the Cabinet into ever-escalating consumption tax increases. The size of the government doesn’t matter to the ministry as long as the size of the tax revenue is to their satisfaction. His fellows in the Finance Ministry hail him as a star bureaucrat of exceptional skill and talent.

Mr. Saito served in a similar capacity during the first non-LDP administration of Hosokawa Morihiro. He teamed with another backroom string-puller: Ozawa Ichiro, the man Mr. Ishihara wants the DPJ to dump. In those days, Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Saito came up with a scheme to introduce a 7% social welfare tax. The public didn’t like that either.

When Mr. Hatoyama appointed Mr. Saito to serve as Japan Post head several years after he had left the Finance Ministry, the prime minister tried to deflect the outrage by saying he had been out of the public sector so long his perspective had changed. With Mr. Hatoyama, there were so many eye-rolling moments the nation turned swivel-eyed.

Eighteen years later, Ozawa Ichiro is trying to bring down the Noda government for doing the same thing, with the same sort of Finance Ministry allies, that he himself tried do during the Hosokawa government.

The person who recommended Mr. Saito to Mr. Hatoyama was Kamei Shizuka, the head of the People’s New Party, then the DPJ’s junior coalition partner. The PNP is a single-issue party formed to turn back the Japan Post privatization. Mr. Kamei tapped Mr. Saito because he thought it would please Ozawa Ichiro.

Mr. Kamei used to be one of the bigger enchiladas in the LDP. He is said to have been the ringleader of the LDP machinations to bring down the Hosokawa administration, which was a coalition of eight small parties. He coaxed the Socialist Party to leave and join an LDP coalition by playing on their dislike of Mr. Ozawa’s dictatorial habits. He disliked them too, and he sometimes referred to Mr. Ozawa as a “fascist bastard”.

Kamei Shizuka last week left the governing coalition because he’s opposed to the tax increase. He’s conferring with Tokyo Metro Governor Ishihara Shintaro and others about forming a new old guy party. Earlier this week he talked about working out a cooperative arrangement between the new party and the fascist bastard himself, Ozawa Ichiro.

If Japan weren’t a civilized country, these people would wind up hanging from meathooks.

UPDATE: When China moves in the right direction, and that direction is the opposite of yours, that’s a sure sign you’re in trouble with a capital T.

China’s state banks make money “too easily” and their monopoly on financial services has to be broken if cash-starved private enterprises are to get access to capital when they need it, state media cited Premier Wen Jiabao as saying on Tuesday.

Wen’s comments, carried on China National Radio, come days after Beijing gave the go-ahead for financial reforms in Wenzhou — known as the country’s cradle of private enterprise — that will encourage private investment in local banks…

Private investors in Wenzhou will be encouraged to buy into local banks and to set up financial institutions such as loan companies and rural community banks, the State Council said in a statement posted on the government’s website last week.

Then again, Sakamoto Ryuichi composed The End of Asia more than 30 years ago, and that hasn’t happened yet. Recreations of renaissance music haven’t ended after several centuries, either.

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

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

Disorganization men

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, February 22, 2012

ANY politician’s criticism of the behavior of the slugs in a different political party should always be discounted to offset the inherent bias and seeking of competitive advantage. Sometimes, however, that criticism is so apt and insightful it crystallizes and defines serious problems, particularly when something approximating wise policy or urgent action is required.

Eda Kenji, the secretary-general of Your Party, is often apt and insightful, and, somewhat more often than the other seat-warmers, offers criticisms that tend to stem from legitimate concerns rather than advantage-seeking. His criticism of the behavior of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (and the media) last month is one example. It’s unlikely the problems he addresses will ever be succinctly expressed in English by the journalistic or academic seat-warmers, if at all. Here it is.

The Democratic Party of Japan has suddenly come up with a proposal to reduce the number of Diet seats determined by proportional representation by 80, and to reduce the single-seat, direct election districts by five. (They swallowed the Liberal Democratic Party plan whole.)

Eda Kenji

That came despite the decision of Prime Minister Noda (also the DPJ president) and Deputy Prime Minister Okada (Katsuya) to remove the word “proportional” from the plan for the 80 seats to be cut, as was originally presented in the party manifesto, and leave it at just “80 seats”. This was done out of consideration for the smaller parties to facilitate discussions between the ruling and opposition parties. (N.B.: The leverage, if not the survival, of some of the smaller parties depends on PR seats.)

This happens all the time with the DPJ, so it’s probably a waste of time to bring it up again, but this party has no grasp whatsoever of elementary principles, whether for decision-making or organizational management. It’s not the place to use such grand words as “governance”, because anyone ranked number three or below in the party can overturn the statements of those ranked number one or number two.

That’s right — with this DPJ government, we have absolutely no idea who has responsibility, or where and how decisions are made. Indeed, it is an unforgivable organizational collapse, in which the senior party members keep saying whatever they like whenever the mood strikes them, but no one puts it together into something coherent. People on the outside do not know who or what to believe.

Come to think of it, there are people in the party whose job it is just to talk. I recently spoke with a reporter assigned to cover those people. “Really,” he complained to me, beyond disgusted, “all they do is talk. They think if they say something, the people around them will naturally start moving. That’s why all they do is talk and don’t do anything”. In short, they’ve never worked in the real world, so they don’t know the ABCs of how an organization operates.

Another example is the issue of the reduction of Diet members’ salaries. Deputy Prime Minister Okada ostentatiously brought up that possibility soon after he was appointed to his position. It was immediately dismissed by the party’s secretary-general and acting secretary-general as “Mr. Okada’s personal opinion”. Mr. Okada then made a telephone call to the secretary-general to apologize. That goes beyond the question of whether this is a functioning political party or a government. There is no politician in the Democratic Party who understands organizations.

Really, people! Could you please try, just a little, to put yourself in the position of those who are commanded to hold discussions about the policy to unify social welfare and taxes (the tax increase proposal)? Even the DPJ is calling this policy a preliminary proposal, or something like that. The DPJ is presenting uncertain proposals that have yet to be formally approved by the Cabinet — and it’s doubtful they have the resolve to see through even those proposals formally approved by the Cabinet. Are we supposed to take what they say seriously and hold real discussions?

And it’s about time for the mass media to knock it off, stop taking up for the DPJ, and demanding that we at least participate in discussions. Enough! The people we’re dealing with do not have normal feelings or responses. Rather than that, can’t you say something like, “The opening of the Diet session is later than usual this year. Why can’t the DPJ government open the Diet session earlier during this time of national crisis, when we face a mountain of difficulties”? Or, “The ruling and opposition parties should fully discuss social welfare and taxes under the watchful eye of the people”?

The mass media has begun their program of “tax increase mind control”, but they’re attacking the wrong points.

Add to: Facebook | Digg | | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Yahoo Buzz | Newsvine

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

White collar hit men

Posted by ampontan on Monday, January 9, 2012

ONE reason people overseas fail to see the reasons for the dysfunction of Japan’s political system at the national level is the difficulty in comprehending the strength and influence of the bureaucracy, which considers itself to be permanent ruling class. Here are two views on one aspect of that problem. The first is by journalist Suda Shin’ichiro, which appeared in the 18 January edition of the biweekly Sapio.

It’s well known that the Finance Ministry officials responsible for dealing with the mass media are sent to deliver individual briefings (“lectures”) to opinion leaders with a certain amount of influence in forming public opinion, such as television commentators. The objective of these briefings is to convince them of the necessity for raising the consumption tax.

This has become more evident of late. As a producer with an important Tokyo-based network says:

They haven’t tired of developing a pro-tax increase group, and they’ve begun to pressure television producers to prevent them from using commentators who are critical of tax increases.

To be specific, the name at the head of the list they’re told not to use is Koga Shigeaki, former Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry official. The producer continues:

Mr. Koga is their sworn enemy. Politicians with the support of the Finance Ministry are making it a condition for their television appearances that Mr. Koga not be invited.

The Finance Ministry seems to be in something of a rush. To pacify the Democratic Party Diet members, they’ve fastened on the idea of vote differentials. Explains one mid-level DPJ MP:

Prime Minister Noda said he will take the issue of the tax increase to the public after the legislation passes, but before it goes into effect. Some party members who favor tax increases have begun to argue it’s not possible to dissolve the Diet and hold a general election unless the unconstitutional condition (differences in voter weight in election districts across the country), frequently cited by the Supreme Court, is resolved.

They’re calculating that public opinion will simmer down and they won’t be at such a disadvantage if they can use this situation to put off the election as long as possible. The Finance Ministry is likely encouraging them in this belief.

It doesn’t seem possible that buying time will get the electorate to swallow the tax increase and settle down. But even if the DPJ, which has fallen for the con, loses the next election, it would present no problem at all for the ministry. The Liberal Democratic Party is also calling for a 10% tax increase.

(End translation)

Furthering the discussion on his blog is Your Party Secretary-General, Eda Kenji:

I’ve raised in the Diet the question of what Katayama Yoshihiro, former Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications, calls the Finance Ministry’s “mind control”. Their assault in waves is something out of the ordinary. I got a real sense for the terror of it when I was involved with Finance Ministry reform during the Hashimoto administration.

Even then there was talk about Finance Ministry efforts to prevent television appearances by people such as Koga Shigeaki. But operations on that level are not so surprising. That’s child’s play for the Finance Ministry bureaucrats.

It’s often remarked that the trio of Finance Minister Azumi, Vice-Minister Katsu, and Deputy Vice-Minister Kagawa are on a “tax increase pilgrimage”. They’re making their explanatory pilgrimages to opinion leaders in many circles, including key people in the financial industry, academia, and mass media, in addition to politicians in the ruling and opposition parties. They pay particular attention to people asked to give commentary on television or in newspapers.

In a sense, it’s natural for the Finance Ministry to promote tax increases. One would have to question the insight of the so-called analysts who would fall for that sort of persuasion. They haven’t approached me, a dyed-in-the-wool member of the anti-tax increase faction, at all.

The problem is that their efforts go beyond that level. In my case, the Finance Ministry sent people out on pilgrimages to attack and slander me. Those bureaucrats even had a manual. Their stories of course filtered into the mass media, which thrives on such rumors.

If a person is going to assertively promote reform against the wishes of the Finance Ministry, they must be prepared for those attacks and stay clean.

(End translation)

After all that, it’s time for a palate cleanser and a burst of sunshine on a winter’s day from the original Nenez.

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

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

Ichigen koji (75)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 23, 2011

– A person who has something to say about everything

The past four days have been spent in yet another incomprehensible political show, a performance known as the policy review…Where is the meaning in the Government Revitalization Council, which no legal basis, conducting nonsense such as this, when it has no authority to issue warnings to ministries or agencies, and there is no Cabinet resolution stating that its conclusions should be given the maximum consideration.

It’s time to end these performances in which a lot of tax funds are used to rent a hall at Sunshine City in Ikebukuro. The council should soberly conduct its business every day in a government-owned building and work to eliminate whatever waste they can by following up the progress on the previous policy reviews. Really, this policy review itself is a waste. What they should do is review the policy reviews themselves.

– Eda Kenji, Secretary-General of Your Party.

Add to: Facebook | Digg | | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Yahoo Buzz | Newsvine

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

Jiji on the Noda cabinet

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, November 19, 2011

THE Jiji news agency’s public opinion polls have the most value for gauging popular sentiment in Japan for several reasons. Unlike the other major news media polls, they’re conducted by targeted door-to-door interviews rather than by random digit dialing. That means they incorporate more fully the younger demographic that uses only cellular telephones. They’re also conducted by Jiji’s marketing survey unit, which will not be profitable and viable for the company unless it produces accurate results — unlike those individual outlets in the print and broadcast media that grind a political axe. Further, Jiji does not always release their results, even though they conduct the polls monthly. They only appear when they contain significant information.

Jiji released the results of their last one, taken from 11-13 November. That period coincided with the start of the sharp reaction to Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko’s uninspired performance as a pawn in the human chess match of TPP negotiations. It does contain significant information. Here are the Jiji figures for Cabinet support:

Support: 35.5% (down 6.7 points from previous month)
Do not support: 36.0% (up 9.2 points from previous month)

While the result is within the margin of error, this is the first national poll to show greater non-support for Mr. Noda than support. His support is also well below the 40% level, which is the first sign of trouble for a Japanese prime minister.

As always, the secondary numbers are worthy of note. Respondents were allowed multiple choices to state their reasons for either approval or disapproval. Here’s the leading reason for the support of the Noda Cabinet:

There is no other suitable person: 13.8%

Approval of his policies didn’t make it into the top three.

Jiji also polled for party support. Here are the results:

LDP: 12.8% (down 2.6 points)
DPJ: 12.6 (up 0.5 points)

This is the lowest percentage of support Jiji has recorded for the LDP since it went into the opposition in September 2009. In other words, the voters think there ain’t a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties. The LDP is not benefiting from the public’s rejection of the DPJ.

They also think the rest aren’t worth wasting a dime on:

New Komeito: 2.5%
Your Party: 1.5%
Communists: 1.4%
Social Democrats: 1.1%
People’s New Party: 0.2% (see what I mean when I said their support was fractional?)
Sunrise Japan: 0.1%

And the most important number of all:

Do not support any party: 66.4%

Since 2005, Jiji polls have shown that “independent” is the default political mindset of the Japanese public. One or two months before an election, the electoral tides start shifting in one direction (that was one reason for the timing of the Hatoyama/Kan leadership switch in 2010), and then recede to their normal level after the election.

It’s clear that the global rift between the people and the political/governmental/social elites, created and continually widened by the latter, extends to the Japanese archipelago.

UPDATE: Commenting on these poll results, Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji reminds his blog readers that he predicted the decline to the 30% level before the end of the year, and a further decline to the 20%-25% level — or lower — next spring when the 2012 budget is being debated in the Diet. He adds:

At this rate, we’ll see a fourth DPJ prime minister by perhaps next summer…as long as the “all talk and no action”, “do as the bureaucracy says” DPJ government stays in power, this (pattern) will be repeated.


They’re called universal truths because they apply everywhere at all times, whether Britain in 1911, or Japan (and the United States, and the EU, and — yes — China) today.


“When a dead body is rotting, it does not diminish; it swells. Ignorance of this elementary truth is at the back of nearly all our political blindness. When we speak of a decaying people or a dying institution, we always have somehow the notion of their dwindling; of sparser and sparser tribes gathering on their mountains, of meaner and meaner buildings arising in their skies. But it is not so that social bodies really rot. They rot like physical bodies, being horribly distended from within by revolting gases demanding egress. Institutions, like corpses, grow larger and larger as they grow more and more shapeless. A dying monarchy is always one that has too much power, not too little; a dying religion always interferes more than it ought, not less. Our own country is really in this state of swollen decay, and the test of it is this: that every function of the State has grown more formless and more vast. Every power, public and private, has been stretched long past all sane definition and we live under a government of entangled exaggerations. It is a government that has all the practical effects of anarchy. Indeed, it is something worse than chaos; a warring polytheism. It is a conflict of incalculable autocracies, under any of which at the moment we may fall.”

– G.K. Chesterton (1911)

Add to: Facebook | Digg | | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Yahoo Buzz | Newsvine

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

Your Party’s Diet reform proposal

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, October 16, 2011

JAPAN’S Your Party has become something of an enigma. Since their formation in February 2009, their agenda of serious political, governmental, and civil service reform, coupled with their refusal to compromise that agenda by forming an alliance with one of the larger parties, has won them a level of recognition and approval that often places them third in public opinion polls for party preference. (The first two are the ruling Democratic Party, and the former long-term ruling party but now primary opposition party, the Liberal Democrats.)

They have benefited from the public’s disillusionment with the DPJ, as shown by the increase in their representation from one to 11 in last year’s upper house election. One of their new upper house MPs is Eguchi Katsuhiko, a long-time associate of Panasonic founder Matsushita Konnosuke, former president of the PHP Institute, and active in civic affairs for many years. Another is the stylish and handsome 43-year-old Matsuda Kota, who became fabulously well-to-do after launching Tully’s Coffee in Japan, building a 300-store chain, and selling a majority stake in the company eight years later.

Here’s the reason for the enigma: Their insight into the structural problems of Japanese politics and government is unmatched in the political class. They have refused to water down their reform objectives, and they have rebuffed feelers to enter the government as coalition partners of the DPJ. Yet despite their solid analysis of the problems, the solutions they offer range from the merely acceptable to the awful.

This week, their secretary-general, Eda Kenji — an intelligent man who is one of the few people in modern Japanese politics to have maintained a Diet career as an independent before forming the party with Watanabe Yoshimi — briefly explained their program for reforming the national legislature on his website. While the premise is, as usual, dead on, he followed it with self-interested hypocrisy so blatant it’s astonishing that Mr. Eda thought anyone would fall for it. Here’s most of it in English, with my comments.

A sweeping reform of the election system is required to achieve equality in the value of votes and large reduction in the number of seats in the national legislature.

Japanese courts have ruled that the disparity in the number of people represented by individual Diet members was too large in the last election. That means there’s supposed to be a redistricting, if the parties can find the time, the willingness, or the ability to get around to it. Further, Japan has 722 national legislators in the bicameral Diet, almost 200 more than the 535 in the United States, despite having less than half the population.

Three hundred of the 480 of the lower house members are elected on the winner-take-all system in single-seat constituencies, and the rest are selected by proportional representation from party lists in 11 electoral blocs. Those who run in the single-seat districts can also appear on their party’s PR list. One of the perversions of the system is that it allows an incumbent to retain a Diet seat through PR even if his constituents turn him out of office.

In the upper house, 146 members are elected from the 47 prefectural constituencies, with multiple delegates chosen for each of the prefectures. The other members are PR members chosen from each party’s national list.

The ruling DPJ promised to reform this system in its 2009 campaign platform, as did the LDP in its upper house election manifesto last year.

Your Party has pledged to reduce the seats in the lower house by 180 to 300 and by 142 in the upper house to 100.

A capital idea!

When the Constitution is amended in the future, further large reductions will be achieved by creating a unicameral legislature.

This idea leaves me cold, even with the potential for downsizing. The advantage of a second body is that it can perform an important check-and-balance function — if it is properly structured. For example, U.S. Senators were originally chosen by either state legislatures or state conventions. That was a superb mechanism for governmental devolution and decentralization until the 17th amendment to the Constitution converted the selection of Senators to statewide popular vote. One reason was that people of the era thought that the Senate had become a rich man’s club. That’s a classic example of a solution making a problem worse — it’s still a rich man’s club, and since the rise of the centralized national government, state governments now have no way to prevent Congress from forcing them to assume unfunded mandates.

Giving Japanese prefectural assemblies the power to select upper house members would bring about immediate and drastic change for the better in the way the national government conducts business.

There are also several ideas floating around to modify the functions of the two bodies. One of those ideas is to provide the lower house with the function of formulating the budget, and giving the upper house the function of account settlement at the end of the fiscal year.

I’m also not sure about the need for 100 members. There are 47 prefectures; two from each should suffice.

There must not, however, be superficial reform of the type in which there is an increase by six and a decrease by six, or an increase by six and a decrease by nine.

Of course everyone can get behind this. But now watch Mr. Eda go off the rails.

We believe reform must be based on a proportional representation system that faithfully reflects the popular will, rather than the current predominately single-district system in which there are many “dead votes”.

The political system functions only when there is a rough agreement on direction in which to proceed. If a large group is traveling on a road that breaks off into five directions, one path must be selected, not the median point of the five.

As we’ve seen from the DPJ-led coalition that took power in 2009, mini-parties that reflect the will of only a sliver of the population — the Social Democrats and the People’s New Party — become tails wagging the dog. The DPJ promised reform, the PNP is a single-issue party opposed to reform, and the SDPJ lives in an ether of its own creation. Neither of the junior partners got what they wanted, and the SDPJ left the coalition, but then reform for the DPJ was only a cosmetic to begin with.

Most Western European coalition governments seem to be a bland porridge of center-left groupings with slight variations in the proportion of the ingredients. Few, if any, British seem to be happy with their coalition government, which is a marriage of political forces just as absurd as the original Japanese coalition.

Both the Americans and the British have winner-take-all systems. There are no serious complaints about that in the former, and the voters of Great Britain just trounced a proposal for a PR system in a national referendum. Few people in those two countries buy the concept of “dead votes”. The right to hold a political opinion does not imply the right that it be taken seriously.

As for the idea of a system that represents the popular will, the problem in those countries is not that single-issue splinter parties can’t be heard, it is that the major parties ignore the popular will as clearly expressed by the voters in elections. That problem also exists in Japan, but proportional representation hasn’t done anything to change that.

Now for the hypocrisy:

We are not saying this for partisan interest as a way to ensure the survival of smaller parties. This is also the mainstream thinking at the Japanese Political Science Association and the Japan Association of Electoral Studies.

Whenever anyone says, “We are not saying this for XXX,” bet your sweet bippy that’s exactly why they are saying it. Your Party doesn’t want to lose its PR legislators and have to survive on winning elections outright.

The Social Democrats make the same claim. Indeed, their president, Fukushima Mizuho, has never won a single-district seat, and she knows she never will. Proportional representation is her only ticket to a Diet seat.

This actually represents a change from Your Party President Watanabe Yoshimi’s original position. He supported the elimination of PR on the condition that redistricting be conducted first.

Finally, citing the positions of the two political associations is irrelevant. Even if they supported a winner-take-all system, Mr. Eda’s preference for PR would still not change.

In the current system that combines both single-seat districts and proportional representation, 80 new MPs known as the Koizumi Children were elected in 2005, and 140 new MPs known as the Ozawa Children were elected in 2009. This fluctuation is too large. Even though these legislators have been tutored for four years at taxpayer expense, they disappear in the next election.

Excellent! Turnover of that sort shows that Japanese democracy — at least at the ballot box — is healthy and vibrant. A semi-permanent political class funded by taxpayers is the ideal only for the members of the semi-permanent political class and those striving for membership in the class.

It is time for the major parties — the Democrats and the Liberal Democrats — to cast aside their partisan interests, show some generosity, and make concessions for creating a system based on proportional representation.

People are so disgusted with the current system that a few commentators have now floated the idea of a complete ban on political parties. If the major parties were really interested in casting aside their partisan interests, they’d dissolve. That’s not going to happen, of course, but frustration with parties unresponsive to even their primary supporters has become so extreme and widespread, former President Jimmy Carter’s chief pollster Patrick Caddell has described sentiment among the voters in the U.S. as “pre-revolutionary”.

Is it not worth remembering that political parties are not mentioned in either the Japanese or the American constitutions? It isn’t for the people to sacrifice their interests for the sake of the political class, but for the political class to sacrifice its interests for the sake of the people. Unfortunately, they are as likely to relinquish their taxpayer-funded subsidies and other perquisites as shrimp learning how to whistle.

Your Party has now revealed itself to be part of the problem rather than part of the solution. It’s a shame, but it is what it is.

Fancy that. I was away from the news yesterday, so just found out this morning that the DPJ and the LDP decided to postpone discussions reducing the number of proportional representation MPs in the face of objections from the smaller parties. They will give priority to redistricting instead.

The only way to end after all this glumness is on an upbeat note: Dangdut and healthy young women!

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

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

Ichigen koji (57)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, September 11, 2011

– A person who has something to say about everything

The Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry Hachiro Yoshio has resigned over his comments (that the area around the Fukushima nuclear power plant resembled a “death town” and his joke to reporters in Tokyo after his return that he was going to “put some radiation” on them). These statements call into question his qualifications as a human being even before his qualifications as a politician, so of course he had to resign.

The seriousness of the problem, however, is that Prime Minister Noda’s personnel decisions, based on maintaining harmony within the party, are evidence that he is thinking only of the party and not the people or the country. His assertion that he would appoint the appropriate person to the appropriate position is nothing more than his specialty of lip-service politics. In fact, it is a superb piece of evidence that what was once called (intraparty) factional balancing results in the consideration only of maintaining party peace and order.

(It is in fact) the appointment of amateurs — a Defense Minister who publicly stated that he was an amateur, and a Foreign Minister and Finance Minister that everyone in Nagata-cho knows to be amateurs.

The prime minister has given priority to the household circumstances of the Democratic Party to appoint amateurs, even to posts that form the foundation of the state. It represents the reversion to bureaucracy-led politics, the establishment of a state governed by the Finance Ministry, and a course toward a tax increase.

All of this happened within days after the inauguration of the Noda government, but it is best that the people, which had hopes for that government, awaken to these facts as soon as possible.

– Eda Kenji, Secretary-General of Your Party

Add to: Facebook | Digg | | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Yahoo Buzz | Newsvine

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

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.


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.

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

Posted in Agriculture, Business, finance and the economy, Education, Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

No, no one is happy

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, August 28, 2011

WHEN the two major parties in the United States run insipid, incompetent, and indistinguishable candidates for office, the public and the media sometimes dismiss them as Tweedledum and Tweedledee. That appellation would be insufficient for the five candidates in tomorrow’s Democratic Party presidential election, which will determine Japan’s next prime minister. There is no similar expression for a group of five noodniks. Perhaps Wynken, Blynken, and Nod could be added to the aforementioned Ts.

Some might suggest Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Gummo, and Zeppo as a possibility, but that wouldn’t be a good fit. The five Marx Brothers were legitimately funny. The five DPJ candidates are a joke that no one in Japan is laughing at.

Your Party Secretary General Eda Kenji offers his thoughts on the candidacy of Economy, Trade, and Industry Minister Kaieda Banri, who is backed by former party President Ozawa Ichiro and former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio. Mr. Kaieda is best known for being left to twist in the wind by Kan Naoto over the issue of restarting idled nuclear reactors, and breaking down in tears in the Diet last month when an opposition pol said “Boo!”

“It is likely this man has neither beliefs nor policies. I wasn’t interested in the progress of the DPJ election, but I just can’t help hearing about it when watching the news. When I heard the details, I couldn’t keep from writing about it.

“Ordinarily, the possibility of this man becoming prime minister would be zero, but he was selected as the figurehead through Mr. Ozawa’s Ultimate Process of Elimination (willingness to listen to instructions + better than the other possibilities). Once he snapped at the post of prime minister that was dangled in front of his eyes, necessity compelled them in the direction of this midget.

“This is not a politician who will ask what should be done after becoming prime minister. He is simply a politician whose ultimate objective itself is to become prime minister. A person of that caliber who has become prime minister through this process does not understand how wretched a prime minister he will be.

“Is it possible for a human being to be this servile? He’s accepted the Ozawa group’s objectives and will reevaluate the Ozawa suspension from party activities, revisit the (recent) three-party agreement, and will not form a coalition government — in other words, he will reject the course of the current party leadership. He once favored participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but now will “carefully consider” it out of clear deference to the farm bloc within the party. He followed the METI bureaucracy line of rejecting out of hand the abandonment of nuclear energy, but he withdrew that rejection after being told to do so by Mr. Hatoyama. He’s just switched from following METI bureaucracy instructions to following Ozawa/Hatoyama instructions.

“A Kaieda administration will be a rewind to the Ozawa power and patronage politics of 20 years ago…the ultimate choice is between Kaieda the Lowest and Maehara the Worst. I can only say that this is a tragedy for today’s Japan.”

The balloting will be held tomorrow, and at this point Mr. Kaieda has the most guaranteed votes based on the number of signatures gathered to support his candidacy. There is speculation in other quarters that he will probably not be able to win an outright majority on the first ballot. The same source also speculates that Maehara Seiji, last week’s flavor of the day, might come in third behind Agriculture Minister Kano Michihiko. If that happens, he thinks, candidates #2 – #5 might form an anti-Ozawa alliance behind Mr. Kano. No one seems to be talking about Noda Yoshihiko any more.

Equally as distasteful as a Kaieda puppet candidacy is the rejection of the three-party agreement that enabled the passage of the second supplementary budget and other bills that greased the skids for Kan Naoto’s departure. Here are two reasons:

1. Japanese politicians of different parties have finally figured out how to negotiate among themselves to get legislation through the upper house when no party/group has an outright majority. In other words, the political process has matured, even though the maturity resulted from the search for a way to neuter Kan Naoto. The rejection of the three-party agreement will put gridlock right back on the agenda.

2. The Ozawan-Hatoyamanians insist on upholding the party’s 2009 political platform. The three-party agreement rolled back some of the legislation that platform produced. Keeping political promises is ordinarily a fine thing to do. When keeping those promises, however, means the outlay of money that doesn’t exist to buy votes legally through the child allowance, free highway tolls, and individual farm household subsidies despite the enormous expenditures required for a national emergency and two straight budgets with deficits that are double tax revenues, it is a criminally insane thing to do.

American Democrats have the amusing habit of playing “Happy Days Are Here Again” at their party conventions every four years (but not, I suspect, in 2012).

Everything about this clip, however, reeks of Japan’s Democrats, including the coalition of two incompatible groups of pirates.

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

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

An interview with Watanabe Kozo

Posted by ampontan on Monday, August 22, 2011

READER Marellus recently asked if I would handicap the field for the Democratic Party election to replace Kan Naoto as president, and therefore prime minister. I demurred, because (1) I avoid predictions as a rule (the rule being that predictions are usually journalistic space filler), (2) Most predictions are wrong, (3) Most people can’t get the past or the present right, especially about Japan, and (4) Even veteran Japanese politicians and pundits hesitate to make such predictions.

DPJ Supreme Advisor Watanabe Kozo gave an interview to Linda Seig of Reuters on Friday which elucidates not only that problem, but a few others as well, albeit unwittingly. The interview is also worth examining as a snapshot of conditions within the DPJ, but the poohbahs at Reuters used only about 5% of the information for the weekend appearance of this bagatelle, which few outlets picked up. A much longer version appeared in Japanese. Here’s most of that version in English. (Note: Most, but not all, of the ellipses were in the original.)

Q: It seems that Finance Minister Noda is the favorite in the DPJ presidential election.
W: Now Kano (Michihiko, Agriculture Minister) has gotten the upper hand.

Q: Why?
W: It’s extremely regrettable, but Noda is the Finance Minister, so he can no longer oppose a tax increase….With the aging of society, we need to create funding sources for social welfare. There’s also the reconstruction of the Tohoku area after the earthquake and the nuclear accident. It’s common sense that there has to be a tax increase. Embarrassingly enough, many Diet members in the party are opposed to a tax increase (thinking of the election). The Finance Minister is not in an advantageous position.

Q: It seems as if Mr. Noda is toning down his remarks, saying that he would think about the timing of a tax increase.
W: We don’t know yet. It’s not a question of whether a person is unacceptable or acceptable. At first, the atmosphere was such that there was little opposition to Mr. Noda, but that has dissipated. It might be because they are irresponsible, but politicians are a jealous lot. The people who have served more terms than Noda aren’t interesting. But the older veteran MPs have started to support Kano.

Q: What is former party President Ozawa Ichiro up to?
W: Ozawa has about 50-70 votes. He still hasn’t made up his mind. Kaieda, who quarreled with Prime Minister Kan, is actively trying to curry favor with Ozawa and run in the election.

Q: Former Foreign Minister Maehara hasn’t made a definitive statement.
W: He is the most popular among the people. He’d win if there was a direct national election, but he’s still unsure because of problems with financial donations and other issues…Maehara and Noda won’t run against each other. Just one of them will run.

Q: Maehara has a cautious approach to a tax increase and a forward looking approach to ending deflation….In policy terms, he seems to be closer to Mr. Ozawa than Mr. Noda.
W: That doesn’t make any difference. Ozawa isn’t motivated by policy. He’s always looking to protect his authority and grow stronger. He can’t be bothered with people who won’t serve as his retainers. I’m the only person who can get along with him without becoming his retainer, and that’s why the mass media comes to me….Maehara has a philosophy and he’s not the simple sort that will become a retainer. Kano won’t either. He’s sober and subdued, but a fine man. He isn’t motivated merely by personal interest.

L-R: Kan Naoto, Watanabe Kozo, and Ozawa Ichiro pretending that they like each other. Note the amount of liquid remaining in Mr. Kan's glass and the expression on his face.

Q: From the people’s perspective, Mr. Kano is the exact opposite of Mr. Maehara. He’s understated, older, and people don’t understand his policies. I wonder if the party will select a person like that.
W: It’s not the party. Politics is a world of jealousy. He’s less conspicuous than Noda or Maehara, he’s older, and he’s served more than 10 terms, so people won’t get jealous.

Q: Noda and Maehara say a grand coalition is necessary.
W: That’s a misunderstanding. The mass media uses the term grand coalition, but in that sort of arrangement, both parties provide an equal number of ministers and deputy ministers to the Cabinet. What they’re talking about now is cooperation on common areas of policy…There are more than 100 LDP members who lost the last election and who think that a dissolution of the Diet can’t come a moment too soon. A grand coalition won’t emerge from the discussions of party leadership alone.

Q: Will whoever wins the DPJ election stay in office until September 2012?
W: The lower house term has two years left, but the party members will officially take part in an election in September 2012. The idea that’s gained strength is to give the job to Kano, elect a popular politician in September 2012, have them serve a year, and then dissolve the Diet.

Q: Japan will face many problems in the next year. Isn’t it impossible to obtain the cooperation of the LDP, which is seeking a Diet dissolution, without a coalition?
W: Everyone agreed on the second supplementary budget for reconstruction, including the Communist Party. Since then, the LDP has also agreed on Diet legislation for dealing with the destruction. But behavior unrelated to partisan interests is limited to those recovery measures. There will probably be no cooperation for reforming taxes or unifying them with social welfare.

Q: Will conditions for the DPJ election remain fluid?
W: We won’t know until the very end. At this point today, even I don’t know who it will be. But to boil it down, the main candidates are Kano, Noda, and Maehara.

Q: Who of those three…
W: I don’t know….it could turn out to be a two-man race between Kano and Noda or Maehara.

Q: Will there be a political reorganization after the next election?
W: They say the split is anti-Ozawa and pro-Ozawa, but Ozawa doesn’t have any power now. That’s why I don’t think there’ll be a reorganization.

Q: Will the next DPJ president’s administration be a short one?
W: Another election will be held in the fall of 2012. If he (the party president) implements good policies, he could win reelection and continue.

(end interview)


* Since that interview, Maehara Seiji has moved closer to declaring his candidacy. It was reported elsewhere last week that his group/faction within the party was pushing him to run because he is “popular”, and he could therefore dissolve the Diet and win a general election.

That wish-upon-a-star faith in Mr. Maehara’s popularity is an excellent illustration of the vapidity of the generic DPJ pol. His popularity is entirely superficial at this point, akin to picking out the best-looking guy from among a group of PR photos scattered on a table. His performance as party president when the DPJ was in the opposition and in two Cabinet posts suggests that he lacks the gravitas for the two roles he must fulfill: one as national leader and the other as leader of a party that is in a philosophical shambles. (Maehara/Edano group member Sengoku Yoshito will try to hold it together for him, but that was beyond Mr. Sengoku’s abilities for the Kan Cabinet.) His public support could evaporate just as quickly as that of Hatoyama Yukio and Kan Naoto.

* The Western media will describe Mr. Maehara as a “defense hawk”, which he is — in regard to China. In regard to North Korea, his hawkdom quotient is roughly at Jimmy Carter levels. His past dealings with that country might come back to bite him. The nature of those dealings is still unclear, but the opposition is sure to make the effort to clear things up.

* Another excellent example of DPJ party members living in a room full of mirrors is the idea that they could go with the boring Mr. Kano for a year, replace him with someone “popular”, and then win an election. Really, are these people still in short pants?

Sensible policies clearly explained and forthrightly implemented by people who act confidently win elections.

* Mr. Kano was also the agriculture minister in an LDP Cabinet when he was a member of that party, long ago and far away. He is widely considered to be in the pocket of the Agriculture Ministry (a zokugiin, for those familiar with the Japanese term). He is opposed to joining discussions for the TPP, which was one of Kan Naoto’s flavor-of-the-month initiatives.

Despite knowing of that opposition, Mr. Kan retained him in a Cabinet reshuffle that occurred after he made the TPP proposal. The DPJ a reform party? Ha ha ha ha ha!

* A veteran Japanese journalist wrote an opinion piece last week speculating that Ozawa Ichiro might support Sengoku Yoshito (based on vague remarks made by Mr. Ozawa at a fund-raising party).

* Yet again, a politician says that he thinks a tax increase is “common sense”. In the real world, common sense would demand that politicians CUT SPENDING before raising taxes, but we’re as likely to find a politician with common sense living in the real world as was Diogenes to illuminate an honest man with his lantern in broad daylight.

The members of Your Party certainly have a flair for analogy. Describing the prospective field of candidates for the DPJ election, Secretary-General Eda Kenji compared them to a mop-up pitcher in baseball sent in to eat innings and finish up the game after his team no longer had a realistic chance of winning.

Upper house member Eguchi Katsuhiko of the same party compared the election to a battle for promotion among company section chiefs. “Whoever wins will not have the ability to be of use to the people.”

The shared ambition of the DPJ Diet members, with an emphasis on the verb phrase:

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

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Wanted: A difference-maker when it makes no difference

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, August 20, 2011

A RECENT blog post by Eda Kenji, the Secretary-General Your Party, speaks for itself. Here it is in English.

It is probably irresponsible of me as a politician and citizen to say that I’m not interested in the election for Democratic Party president. That election will determine this country’s next prime minister, after all.

Regardless of who becomes the next party leader and prime minister, their Cabinet support rate will fall to the 20% level in a matter of months. The collapse of the next administration is already visible, so it is pointless to be interested.

As I’ve pointed out several times before, structural factors in this Democratic Party render it incapable of political reform no matter who leads it. This is not something that has finally become apparent two years after the DPJ took power. Here’s what I wrote two years ago, before the election. It was self evident at the time.

There is a great deal of unease about the Democratic Party — If they throw that much money around in pork, will our country’s future be secure? Can they really achieve the governmental reforms they claim in their manifesto, such as reducing the number of public employees and their salaries, even though they depend on public employee unions? Because there is even less internal party unity than in the LDP, will bureaucracy-led politics grow even worse? Can they create a uniform policy for foreign affairs and security? The concerns are endless.

Most of these concerns also apply to the LDP, but to continue, the DPJ has neither managerial ability nor the ability to mobilize organizations. What they say sounds wonderful, but they’re at a loss as to how to achieve those policies. I’ve written before that this is particularly true for graduates of the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management.

Nevertheless, most of the responsibility for the annual change in prime ministers lies with the mass media. Yet the incorrigible print and broadcast media still continue with this hagiography of “the favorite to become the next prime minister” and “the most popular” without examining the past of these politicians. What is that all about? And will the people still respond to that?

I am truly worried now that this nation will self-destruct.


Of course it was self-evident at the time, just as it was self-evident early in 2008 what would happen in an Obama administration. (It wasn’t as evident in either case that it would happen so rapidly, but the speed of the modern age requires an internal recalibration.)

It’s understandable that Japanese would be concerned about the annual turnover of prime ministers, but more than a few Americans would be envious instead.

Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko, often mentioned as a strong possibility to become the next prime minister, is a Matsushita graduate. Upper house member Eguchi Katsuhiko of Your Party, one of the people responsible for establishing the institution, remembers Mr. Noda from his days as a student there. While he likes Mr. Noda personally, he says that he didn’t benefit from his studies as much as he could have. Mr. Eguchi says that the finance minister’s support of a tax increase shows that he is too amenable to the Finance Ministry bureaucrats.

Had he learned anything at the Matsushita Institute, the lesson of Matsushita Konosuke would have been burned in his brain: ‘It is the role of politicians to reduce taxes.’

He also wonders how Mr. Noda’s opposition to voting rights for foreign residents, support for collective self-defense, and favorable attitude toward Yasukuni shrine visits can be reconciled with his party’s left wing.

The answer is they can’t. The DPJ tried years ago to hammer out a statement on a common philosophy, but gave up. They agreed to ignore each other’s views for the purpose of seizing and keeping power.

Add to: Facebook | Digg | | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Yahoo Buzz | Newsvine

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

The soda pop government

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, August 14, 2011

IT’S a tossup which is worse: Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko’s pledge that he will call for a grand coalition government of national salvation if elected DPJ president, or the ill-disguised squeals of delight by the rapid response team in the English-language media. Their reports on the story appeared on the wires as quickly as the August 1945 news that the Japanese Tenno had agreed to accept the provisions of the Potsdam Declaration.

Here’s part of what AFP had to say:

Japan’s finance minister, tipped as a candidate to become the country’s next premier, proposed to form a government of national unity to spearhead the country’s recovery from natural disasters.

“The ruling and opposition parties must have heart-to-heart discussions with each other. That’s the bottom line,” Yoshihiko Noda said in a political talk show on the TV Tokyo network aired on Saturday.

“We’d rather form a national salvation government. That’ll be a coalition. Otherwise politics won’t move forward,” he added.

Pfui. The ruling and opposition parties have already had successful “heart-to-heart” talks with each other for the second supplementary budget, the legislation for enabling the issue of deficit-financing bonds, and a revision of the national energy strategy. The opposition parties have blocked no serious proposals for recovery. They have tried to put the scotch on extraneous measures unrelated to the recovery, most of which involve the DPJ spending more money that the government doesn’t have.

Saying no to bad ideas is a very good way to move politics forward.

The idea of a national salvation coalition does sound superficially wonderful and heart-cockle warming, especially to those who see the Coca-Cola ® ad campaigns of the past 40 years — saccharine without the saccharin — as the perfect place to live. The objectives of both those enterprises are the same, after all: ephemeral sugar highs.

Here’s a closer look at what a grand coalition would mean, with the caveats that Mr. Noda hasn’t been selected yet, and that his backers might not be able to achieve a grand coaltion even if he is.

* The proposal is a de facto DPJ admission that they are incapable of handling the Tohoku recovery themselves. This will not be news to the Japanese public.

* The opposition parties do not need to be part of the government for effective recovery measures to be implemented. The last time this idea fizzed to the surface, Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji objected that mechanisms already exist through which the opposition parties can provide input at the highest level.

The reason these mechanisms haven’t worked is that the DPJ government has been incapable of bringing concrete, specific proposals to the table that it can guarantee the party will support as its final position. The reason it is incapable of making these proposals is that it is incapable of creating a sustainable consensus within the party to support any particular policy or position.

In other words, the ruling party of government can’t agree internally on what it wants to do. This too will not be news to the Japanese public. The DPJ never has been able to reach an internal consensus on anything other than doing what is required to achieve and retain power.

* The DPJ spewed like Vesuvius when it was in the opposition and the LDP brought in its second replacement prime minister (Fukuda Yasuo) without a lower house election. The spew reached exospheric levels when they brought in their third (Aso Taro). Now they’ll have to justify their continued existence as the party of government despite doing exactly what they pilloried the LDP for — and despite support ratings lower than those recorded for the LDP governments.

Thus, forming a coalition government allows the DPJ to avoid the decimation of a lower house election.

But the word decimation does not do justice to what would be an election debacle. That word originated in the practice of the Roman Army to punish mutineers by killing one of every ten soldiers. The unlucky 10% were selected by lot and clubbed to death by the other grunts.

There’s no Latin derivative for killing (metaphorically) anywhere from one-half to two-thirds of an army’s loyal soldiers, i.e., the current DPJ representation in the lower house, for the failures and incompetence of the General Staff.

* It would be manna from heaven for the ruling elite. The three parties can implement the tax increase of the Finance Ministry’s dreams without having to get serious about reducing government expenditures, and no single party will get stuck with the responsibility.

They will offer the excuse that the national crisis makes a tax hike unavoidable. They will ignore the serious proposals offered by more than a few politicians and commentators that would pay for the entire recovery using funds the government already has on hand.

* A grand coalition government will make it impossible to throw the bums out. It would probably last for two years, when the legally mandated term of the lower house expires and the next regularly scheduled upper house election must be held. A tax increase is so unpopular that the mere suggestion of it by Kan Naoto last summer turned a likely upper house election victory into defeat.

A tax hike implemented by a grand coalition followed by a double election in two years effectively disenfranchises the electorate.

* The overseas media seem to be unaware that the LDP is not the only upper house opposition party. The DPJ has negotiated with New Komeito, the Communist Party, and Your Party to successfully pass several bills that the LDP opposed. One of them was an extension of the unaffordable child allowance earlier this year, which the three putative coalition partners recently agreed to scrap starting next year.

The text in the latter part of the AFP article insinuates that the LDP are being killjoys in the upper house by queering all the glorious enlightened plans of the DPJ. That is true — up to a point. Rather than blocking legitimate measures for recovery, they have opposed unrelated measures, such as the child allowance. They balked at the budget or bond proposals because they included the funding for the unnecessary expenditures.

Most of those schemes needed to be thwacked, if not choked until they turned blue. For example, the DPJ still plans to establish a Human Rights Commission based on the Canadian Star Chamber knockoff that effectively functions to limit human rights.

To be sure, the AFP reveals its orientation by describing the DPJ government as “centre-left”. That’s the media weaselword of choice for leftist governments that don’t nationalize lemonade stands or stitch a hammer and sickle patch into the flag.

The approach of many in the DPJ leadership could be characterized as a Japanese version of what Stanley Kurtz refers to as Midwest Academy socialism in the United States. Kan Naoto, Sengoku Yoshito, and Edano Yukio fit this general description. Hatoyama Yukio slurped down the milquetoast version.

And the AFP is again trying to refry the beans of “centre-left” fiduciary responsibility by pasting the label of “fiscal hawk” on Noda Yoshihiko. They said the same thing last summer about Kan Naoto, and we know how credible that was. Mr. Kan would have been incapable of explaining the difference between “fiscal” and “monetary” before he became Finance Minister and his Finance Ministry tutors explained it to him in remedial one-on-one classes before the workday began.

Who other than the industrial media would define a “fiscal hawk” as a person or party responsible for two consecutive budgets with record high deficits and record high deficit bond flotations, and who proposed to double the consumption tax rate to pay for it all?

A definition of fiscal hawkery that fails to include talon-sharp spending slashes means that someone needs a new dictionary, and it ain’t me. But don’t expect to read that in the papers anytime soon.

Speaking of what you’re not reading in the papers, here’s what Noda Yoshihiko said at the same time he brought up the idea of a coalition. AFP and the others thought it wasn’t fit to print.

We will confront the opposition parties and achieve the government/ruling party policy of raising the consumption tax in stages by mid-decade. We must not back down from that.

He added:

Some argue that the timing isn’t right, and that taxes shouldn’t be raised when economic conditions are so difficult, but we’ve been dithering by insisting that certain conditions must be met. This must be done at some point by someone.

Ah, so. In short, Mr. Noda is saying:

* There will be no backing down from the government/ruling party agreement to raise taxes. The LDP and New Komeito should do us the favor of agreeing with the government and forming a grand coalition to cover our butts for a tax increase.

* It doesn’t make any difference what shape the economy’s in. We’re going to raise taxes anyway.

Meanwhile, Mr. Noda said on an NHK broadcast today that Japan’s deflation was caused by a supply-demand imbalance, and that demand was insufficient. He thinks the demand resulting from the Tohoku reconstruction is an excellent opportunity to end deflation, but is oblivious to the effect a sharp consumption tax increase will have on demand.

Did you notice how the “finance minister” fell for the old broken window fallacy that disasters have economic benefits? His Finance Ministry tutors evidently didn’t tell him about Frederic Bastiat.

That’s Noda Yoshihiko — fiscal hawk and founder of the national salvation government. Don’t spit that soft drink out of your nose!

Once again, those interested in reading the AFP article have enough information here to find it with the search engine of their choice. Links belong to the legit.

The idea of a grand coalition makes me bubble up with such happiness I feel like hippity-hopping over to the nearest vending machine. Ain’t the kids cute ‘n funky now? Those with sharp eyes will spot an excerpt from the start of it all 40 years ago.

And isn’t it odd they think it’s still possible to distinguish Monopoly money from the Real Thing?

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

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Mass media, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Ichigen koji (41)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, August 13, 2011

– A person who has something to say about everything

Recently, during the filming of a television program, (political science professor) Fukuoka Masayuki said something that surprised me…It was edited out of the broadcast, but here’s the jist of it.

“When I said to a senior Finance Ministry official whom I know that (Finance Minister) Noda was just your puppet, he replied, ‘No professor, he’s not a puppet, he’s a “pah-na-pet”.'”

– Eda Kenji, Secretary-General of Your Party, on Noda Yoshihiko, one of the front-runners in the DPJ presidential election, the winner of which will succeed Kan Naoto as prime minister (if he leaves).

Puns are a forté of the Japanese, and the Japanese language provides a wealth of opportunities for them. Here’s the explanation of this one.

* While there are native words for “puppet” in Japanese, the English word is also commonly understood.
* The word “pet” is used the same way in Japanese as it is in English.
* “Na” is a grammatical particle attached to the end of one class of Japanese adjectives.
* “Pah” is an adjective meaning “soft-headed, weak, or feeble-minded”. Its use is often accompanied by the sudden extension of all five fingers of a loosely-closed fist next to the head.

Add to: Facebook | Digg | | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Yahoo Buzz | Newsvine

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

Ichigen Koji (19)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, June 13, 2011

– A person who has something to say about everything.

“Too many of the politicians of past and present, particularly the all-mouth politicians of the Democratic Party, are incapable of recognizing just what experience and knowledge they have of the national government.

“That’s why, with no embarrassment, they elbow their way forward and express interest in the elections for party president. Being intelligent, clever, or capable of formulating policy are by no means enough for serving as prime minister…It requires the ability to move the bureaucratic organization, which is like a very large corporation. It also requires crisis management ability to protect the lives and the property of the people during national emergencies. It is not a post for people who do not have that experience or who have not been tested by fire…

“…In the past, the Liberal Democratic Party had an unwritten rule that to become prime minister, a person had to serve as Cabinet minister in two of the three primary posts — Finance Minister, Foreign Minister, and Minister of International Trade and Industry — and one of the three leadership positions in the party. Of course that had both advantages and disadvantages, but in a sense it was one part of the ‘education of the sovereign’.

“Am I the only one who thinks that today’s Democratic Party politicians seem to treat the national government, and even the post of prime minister, as a plaything of their personal interests?”

– Eda Kenji, secretary-general of Your Party

Add to: Facebook | Digg | | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Yahoo Buzz | Newsvine

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