AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Haraguchi K.’

Ichigen koji (122)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, July 28, 2012

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

I want you to visualize the face of Haraguchi Kazuhiro (Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications in the Hatoyama administration). His face looks as if it were drawn with a crayon, and it’s not possible to trust it at all. It’s the face of a person everyone would warn you about if he lived in the same neighborhood.

Base people have base faces. Villains have the faces of villains. Yamaoka Kenji (Ozawa Ichiro’s closest political associate) has the face of a con man. From Koshi’ishi Azuma to Sengoku Yoshito and Kan Naoto, the people in the Democratic Party look perfectly suited for those prisoner’s uniforms with the horizontal stripes.

– Tekina Osamu, non-fiction author and philosopher

*****
The following short video has a clip recalling that Hatoyama Yukio said he would retire from politics after the next election, and then abruptly changed his mind. After the scenes with Mr. Hatoyama, it contains two quotes by Haraguchi Kazuhiro. The first is:

It’s heart-rending for us to vote aye on a motion of no-confidence from the opposition, but it is the best way now to prevent 100 years of regret.

The second is from a day later:

To begin with, casting a vote for a motion of no-confidence from the opposition is heresy, and that way no longer exists.

A man I knew well, now deceased, was one of those who encouraged Mr. Haraguchi to pursue a political career. Had he been buried instead of cremated, I’m sure he’d be spinning in his grave.

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Almost pointless

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, July 5, 2012

None of this is worth critiquing. It’s just like a comic book. It’s not possible to say that those who would leave everything up to Mr. Ozawa are “representatives of the people”.
– Ishiba Shigeru, former Defense Minister and LDP policy chief

TELL it as a generic story and the citizenry would rise as one with a hearty cheer, carry the protagonist on their shoulders, and storm the seat of government to take control.

A national legislator with a knack for retail politics turns his back on the monolithic party that nurtured him and strikes out on his own. He publishes a book with his vision for the country. The introduction has such an arresting image that people are still moved by it 20 years later. He forges a coalition of eight small parties that brings down the monolith, which brings down his coalition the following year. He forms a new party and joins the monolith in another coalition, but leaves again when he sees he can’t change them from the inside out. He merges his party with the primary opposition party, molds them into a credible force, and teaches them how to win elections.

Three years after that opposition party has taken control of government in a landslide victory, most people either dismiss them as incompetent amateurs or despise them. Now coopted by the establishment, the party leaders decide to break one of their critical primary election promises and join forces with the other establishmentarians, including the remnants of the monolith, to force through an unpopular piece of legislation.

The protagonist strives to change their minds. When that proves impossible, he leaves the party before it can punish him for the crime of insisting they keep the promise they’ve broken, taking about 50 allies with him. He reads a statement to a news conference with a declaration of principle so clear that even his enemies cannot object to the integrity of its content. It says, in part:

The people who lay aside their promises with the public are trashing the people who would defend those promises. When the former punish the latter, they have it all backwards.

Now tell the same story and insert the name of Ozawa Ichiro as the protagonist and listen to the cheers turn to jeers. An Asahi Shimbun poll found that only 17% of the public supported the passage of the consumption tax increase during this Diet session, yet an FNN poll revealed that only 11.1% of those surveyed had any expectations for the new party Mr. Ozawa is expected to form as a result of his opposition to the hike. (It will be the fourth new party he has created.) More telling is that 73.2% of the respondents disagreed with the statement that Mr. Ozawa is opposed to the consumption tax increase because he’s putting people’s lives first — the slogan of the DPJ, the party that’s doubling their tax rate.

After 20 years of Ozawa observation, people have concluded that for him the word “principle” is code for finding an excuse to amass power and money. Some remember that he was all in on a bureaucracy-inspired consumption tax increase during the Hosokawa administration when he floated a plan to raise it to 7% and allocate it to welfare expenditures. Some remember that he was also all in on breaking the political promise to prevent a different tax increase at the end of 2009. The DPJ said it would abolish the “provisional” gasoline surtax (it had been provisional for more than 30 years), thereby reducing taxes by JPY 2.5 trillion. When the Hatoyama government compiled its first budget that fall, Mr. Ozawa as party secretary general insisted that the tax be maintained and the revenue diverted to the general account. In those days, his demand was their command.

Finally, some people remember that 19 years ago to the month, Mr. Ozawa led another 50 Diet members out of a different ruling party, that one the LDP. (It was 54, to be exact.)

If anyone in Japan is saying anything positive about these Ozawa-events and those to come in the foreseeable future, they’ve been drowned out by the Tokyo equivalent of Bronx cheers.

An explosion less destructive than loud

It hasn’t helped that Mr. Ozawa can’t get his own ducks in a row. Neither could the New York Times, as they wrote incorrectly:

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda suffered another setback on Monday when the largest faction of his governing Democratic Party quit in protest over a proposed tax increase.

The Ozawa faction might have been the party’s largest with an estimated 100 members, but only 52 of them volunteered to jump ship, two of those changed their minds at the last minute, and one more won’t join the new Ozawa party. Some of his allies abstained from voting and stayed in the party, while a third element actually voted for the bill.

As one Twitter wag put it: “That group is nothing more than a party at a karaoke box.” The numbers are short of the total needed to submit a no-confidence motion in the lower house, even with the support of his allies from different parties.

Rather than serve out front and take the heat as prime minister himself, Ozawa Ichiro prefers to establish in that position metrosexual figureheads whom the female public is more likely to find appealing. His first was Hosokawa Morihiro (whose reputation in the Diet derived from his blue blood, family wealth, and perpetual quest to shag yet another staffer), and his last was Hatoyama Yukio, the man who reminded Nakasone Yasuhiro of melted ice cream.

Mr. Ozawa seemed to be grooming Haraguchi Kazuhiro, the internal affairs minister in the Hatoyama Cabinet, for that role in the future, and told him he would be a key man in a new party. Mr. Haraguchi was quite the toady two years ago, frequently stopping by the great man’s office to lick his boots and receive political instruction. He also fired an early shot at Prime Minister Kan Naoto’s back from within the party just before the Tohoku disaster extended the latter’s political life by three or four months.

But understanding that it won’t be easy to win election as a DPJ member the next time around, and next to impossible as a member of the New Ozawans, Mr. Haraguchi not only refused the offer, he dissuaded other people from bolting the party. In their gratitude, the DPJ “severely cautioned” him for abstaining from the consumption tax vote, rather than vote against it. Meanwhile, they threw out 37 members who voted against the bill and resigned from the party (you can’t quit, we cast you into the wilderness!), suspended for two months the party privileges of 18 people who voted against the bill but stayed in the party, and suspended for six months the privileges of former Prime Minister and party founder/bankroller Hatoyama Yukio, who also cast a nay vote. (Mr. Hatoyama’s explanation for his decision captured the absurdity of the situation. He said he couldn’t vote for the bill because “my face is on the cover” of the party’s manifesto that contained the promise not to raise the tax for four years.)

Mr. Ozawa is telling people that his current objective is to put together a Japanese version of the Olive Tree coalition of smaller parties to create a Third Force in politics. The original Olive Tree ruled Italy on and off from 1995-2001 and consisted mostly of various shades from the sinister side of the political spectrum, including social democrats, communists, and greens. The term was coined by Romano Prodi, a former “leftist Christian Democrat” who became prime minister. In 2001, the Olive Tree’s only self-identified centrist party was known as “Democracy is Freedom – The Daisy”.

It is not clear why Mr. Ozawa describes the goal in terms of the Italian group, considering that his coalition of eight parties with Hosokawa Morihiro as prime minister predated the Olive Tree by a year.

Barren

Be that as it may, that tree will produce little, if any, fruit. Instead of creating and leading a bandwagon of his own, he’s jumping on an existing one that doesn’t want him aboard. The parties he wants to aggregate into a coalition are the regional groups that have captivated the popular imagination and — the part Mr. Ozawa likes —- win elections by large margins. They include Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru’s One Osaka, Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi’s Tax Reduction Japan, and Aichi Gov. Omura Hideaki’s Aichi is Top of Japan (yes, I typed that properly). Others mentioned as partners are a possible new party created by Tokyo Gov. Ishihara Shintaro and the vanity New Party Daiichi of Suzuki Muneo, known primarily for holding the record for days spent behind bars by a Diet member. That Mr. Suzuki is the only one who might be interested captures the absurdity of this situation.

From Matsui Ichiro, the One Osaka secretary general and Osaka governor:

“There are many areas of incompatibility with their manifesto and our policies, so we will not join with people in a political group who would implement that manifesto.”

He’s referring to the DPJ manifesto and the DPJ’s failure to adhere to it, which is the nominal reason for the Ozawa revolt.

Kawamura Takashi and Omura Hideaki are thought by some to be likely recruits. Mr. Kawamura is on good terms with Mr. Ozawa, and the three met publicly in Tokyo one day after the stunning Kawamura/Omura election victories in February 2011. Mr. Kawamura was sympathetic (he also left the Democratic Party), but said he has no plans to form an alliance now.

“He had no choice, because the DPJ broke its election promise. ..I would like to talk with them about their thoughts on tax reduction and eliminating nuclear power, but first we’ll work together with Mr. Ishihara and Mr. Hashimoto.”

Ishihara Shintaro was more direct. Here he’s quoted by the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Ishihara also said Thursday in a radio program of Nippon Broadcasting System: “Nobody expects anything of Mr. Ozawa’s new party. I’d never [tie up with it] even if I had to die.”

And Omura Hideaki hasn’t said anything in public about Mr. Ozawa that I could find. He’s limited himself to criticizing the DPJ-LDP-New Komeito “collusion” to increase taxes. “I hate that kind of practice,” he said. Mr. Omura much prefers an alliance with One Osaka, and said their respective platforms are “80%-90% identical”.

The natural alliance for these groups is with the Watanabe/Eda-led Your Party, whose views on an Ozawa alliance are similar to those of Ishihara Shintaro.

But one of the national parties is interested in working with the New Ozawans: the Social Democrats, Japan’s version of the flannel-headed death spiral left who’d have had their own perch in the Italian Olive Tree house. Said party head Fukushima Mizuho:

“The Noda Cabinet has ignored the people and ignored voices within the DPJ, so the bill has come due with a large defection. I’d like to form a policy alliance with Mr. Ozawa and the others based on opposition to the consumption tax increase and nuclear power, if we can.”

All of this is an excellent illustration of the Japanese proverb Taizan meido shite, nezumi ippiki 大山鳴動して鼠一匹 (The mountain rumbles and brings forth a mouse.)

When a political mountain rumbles and produces a litter of mice that consists of a handful of long-time loyalists, first-termers beholden to the mount for their seat, and the likes of Suzuki Muneo and Fukushima Mizuho, it is proof that the mountain has been downgraded to a molehill.

The only fruit on this tree.

The political platypus that is the Democratic Party is splitting up into something that will be more internally manageable. Most of the remnants will resemble the American Democrats — Third Wayers at the moderate end, and people who realize that being part of a smaller, more openly leftist party isn’t a viable career option at the other. But as the weekly Shukan Bunshun suggests, it will be hell to join the new Ozawa party, and hell to stay in the DPJ. Many of the splitters and splittees both will be looking for work after the next election.

*****
This Ozawa-DPJ timeline from the Jiji news agency might help put the recent events into focus.

2003
September: Dissolves Liberal Party into the Democratic Party
December: Becomes acting president of the Democratic Party
2004
May: Withdraws candidacy just before the election for DPJ president after the resignation of Kan Naoto, as well as other offices within the party.
June: Forms the Isshinkai study group in the party
November: Assumes role of deputy party president at the request of party president Okada Katsuya. (He or his acolytes later conducted an anonymous note/backstabbing campaign against Mr. Okada in the 2009 party presidential election that Hatoyama Yukio won.)
2005
September: Refused request of party president Maehara to become acting party president. (Ozawa = oil, Maehara = water. They mix just as well.)
2006
April: Wins election for party presidency after resignation of Maehara Seiji.
2007
November: Cuts a deal with LDP Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo for a coalition government (reportedly because he thinks the DPJ has no one capable of serving in government and they need the training). The pre-Ozawa DPJ leadership rejected the deal. He quits the party presidency in a tear-stained press conference and returned three days later. Now, four years later, the same people who rejected the idea of a coalition government have entered a de facto coalition with the LDP and New Komeito to pass the tax legislation, an arrangement that Mr. Ozawa objected to.
2009
March: Aide arrested in connection with violation of political funds law involving money from Nishimatsu Construction. The DPJ had just taken the lead in national polls for the first time ever in January. They lost the lead immediately after the arrest.
May: Resigns party presidency, becomes acting party president
September: Becomes party secretary-general when the Hatoyama administration took office.
2010
September: Loses to Kan Naoto in party presidential election.
November: Forms Hokushinkai for young party members.
2011
January: Indicted for violation of political funds law.
February: Party membership suspended; stories circulate that he will be thrown out if convicted.
June: Does not appear in Diet to vote for no-confidence motion the opposition submitted against Kan Naoto, after he encouraged it. It was likely to pass until what is now the core DPJ leadership cooked up an arrangement the night before to keep Hatoyama Yukio on board.
August: Supported Kaieda Banri for party president after Mr. Kan resigned. Mr. Kaieda lost.
December: Starts new policy study group
2012
April: Acquitted of political funds law violation.
May: Ruling appealed.
June: Votes against consumption tax increase.
July: Leaves party

*****
Some politicians write their own books (Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson), and some just put their name on the cover. We now know that Profiles in Courage was written by a committee chaired by JFK. Ted Sorenson did most of the actual work, but didn’t receive the Pulitzer Prize. Both Bill Ayers and Michelle Obama have said that Ayers wrote the first Obama book. (His speechwriter wrote the second.) Now we find that other than the famous introduction, Ozawa Ichiro’s Blueprint for a New Japan was also written by committee. One of the authors was a then-unknown Takenaka Heizo, later to become the mainstay of the Koizumi Cabinet.

*****
Here’s a blast from the past, written in 2008:

An extremely influential LDP politician who headed the party’s upper house members, Murakami Masakuni was one of the Gang of Five who controversially selected Mori Yoshiro in secret to replace Obuchi Keizo as prime minister after the latter’s stroke. Though he resigned due to a financial scandal (and is now in jail), Mr. Murakami is said to still wield significant influence behind the scenes.

The Sunday Mainichi (weekly) attached a brief interview with Mr. Murakami to the end of its piece about Hiranuma Takeo, in which the former “upper house don” gave his predictions for the next two years. Here they are:

“In two years the LDP-New Komeito coalition will not be in power. The next election will see a shift in the LDP’s strength relative to the opposition DPJ, resulting in an Ozawa Administration. The DPJ won’t have the numbers to form a government by themselves, but they will ally with Hiranuma’s new party for an anti-LDP, anti-New Komeito government. Once it is out of power for two years, the LDP will break up.”

Saying that the LDP would break up if it were to spend two years in the opposition is the easy prediction. Here’s the prediction Mr. Murakami won’t make: The Democratic Party of Japan would break up before it spent two years in power.

First, there are too many incompatible groups within the party for it to survive a disposition of the spoils and the determination of a uniform party policy. People have kept their mouths shut until now for the sake of party unity. They’ll stay open loud and long once they’re in a government together.

Second, we have the example of Mr. Ozawa’s previous experience at governing—albeit behind the scenes—with a coalition consisting of eight oil-and-water groups during the Hosokawa-Hata administrations. They lasted a combined total of 10 months.

If either an Ozawa Administration or the DPJ itself sticks around longer than that, chalk it up to the favors of Lady Luck.

There you have one of the few political predictions I’ve ever made on this site: The DPJ would break up as a unit two years after taking power.

And so it has. I was off by nine months.

Not that it was particularly prescient. It was obvious. All anyone had to do was look.

*****
Only one musical performance could serve as a theme to this sequence of events, and that’s Sakata Akira’s version of Summertime. (It’s seasonal, too!) It also might wake Gershwin from the dead. Watanabe Kazumi, who has made many discs of his own, is playing guitar. I have an old Sakata comedy/music LP on cassette tape. This video offers but the merest glimpse of his strangeness in all its over-the-top glory.

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Ichigen Koji (22)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, June 17, 2011

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

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

– Eguchi Katsuhiko

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

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

Prediction

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, May 26, 2011

REPORTS are now circulating that LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu is planning to introduce a no-confidence motion against the Kan Cabinet soon after 1 June. He has refrained from submitting one before now to allow Mr. Kan to attend the G8 summit. Meanwhile, former DPJ Prime Minister Hatoyama is exhorting MPs of his own party to show courage and resolution, which is taken as a hint he hopes they vote for the motion. To be sure, courage and resolution will be required for more than a few in the party to vote aye. Passage of a no-confidence motion will require a new general election in which some of those legislators will surely lose their seats.

Mr. Hatoyama has also met with former party president Ozawa Ichiro and Koshi’ishi Azuma, the chairman of the DPJ caucus in the upper house, to discuss their gripes with the current government.

For his part, Mr. Ozawa and several of his allies are ramping up their criticism of Prime Minister Kan. Mr. Ozawa himself said he was “angry” at the government’s post-earthquake conduct. DPJ MP Haraguchi Kazuhiro, Internal Affairs and Communications minister in the Hatoyama Cabinet, has resumed his call for the removal of the Kan Cabinet that he suspended after the Tohoku earthquake/tsunami. (His first public statements urging that Mr. Kan be toppled were in an interview he granted to the March issue of the monthly Gekkan Nihon.) He hinted that were the motion to pass, requiring a new lower house election, he would be unable to campaign in support of the DPJ. If the rumors of a new Hatoyama-funded party are true, he and other disaffected DPJ members could find a comfortably feathered nest there.

It is never wise to make any predictions about Japanese politics, so we’ll wait and see whether Mr. Tanigaki introduces the no-confidence motion, and who decides to vote for it.

But you can take this prediction to the financial institution of your choice: If such a motion is introduced, not to mention approved, fly-by members of the Western media and commentariat will consider it a prime space-filling opportunity to fulminate against the dysfunctionality of Japanese politics at the national level. They will offer clichéd platitudes about petty partisan squabbling and indulge in political cosplay by wrapping themselves in the Japanese flag to lament the absence of a dedication to the greater good during a national emergency.

What their readers outside of Japan will not understand, however, is that had Mr. Kan been the head of government in their own country and performed as he has over the past year —- and especially these past two months — these glorioskies would be baying for his blood 24/7. Indeed, were Prime Minister Kan not a man of the left, some of them would be marching in the streets holding amateurish banners festooned with misspelled words, swastikas, and Hitler-moustachioed caricatures.

In their hearts, they know I’m right.

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The revolution in Japan

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, March 3, 2011

In short, the central power had taken to playing the part of an indefatigable mentor and keeping the nation in quasi-paternal tutelage.
– Alexis de Tocqueville on France’s pre-revolutionary Bourbon governments

Today we are in the midst of a cultural U-turn away from a Hamiltonian meritocratic-elitist, centralized-power society to a more Jeffersonian Main Street focus, with state and local governments as the primary powerbrokers.
– Salena Zito

This is a citizens’ revolution
– Kawamura Takashi

THE REVOLUTION that’s been smoldering for years at the grassroots level in Japan like a smoky mound of autumn leaves has finally blossomed into flame. Ever decorous, the Japanese are not heaving crates of tea into Tokyo Bay, nor have they stormed the Imperial Palace or the Diet Building. This civil war is being conducted with civility.

Yet after the votes were counted the so-called Triple Election held last month in the city of Nagoya and Aichi Prefecture, they were just as surely carrying the heads of the politicos on stakes through the streets as if they had used the French National Razor to detach and dump them in straw-lined baskets.

The editorialists of the Asahi Shimbun wrote that they were surprised by the results, but if they’re serious, it suggests a level of obtuseness remarkable even for an out-of-touch establishment. In every national election since 2005, the voters of this country have spelled out their preferences so clearly only a political illiterate could fail to have read the writing on the wall. Koizumi Jun’ichiro used the votes of local Liberal Democratic Party members to storm into office in 2001 on pledges of privatization, reform, and ending the collusion between the bureaucracy and his own party. He began with public approval ratings in the 80s and ended five years and five months later at 70%, one year after winning a two-thirds supermajority in the lower house in a 2005 election called specifically for a verdict on his plan to privatize Japan Post. After the LDP reverted to its wicked old ways, the voters finally took a flyer on the opposition Democratic Party and their promises of a bright new political order. But it was only a matter of weeks before the DPJ exposed themselves as sheep in wolves’ clothing, and now it’s their turn to be torched.

It’s easy to see why national politics causes Japanese observers to be distressed and the inexpert foreign journalists to be dismissive–when they bother to pay attention. The political class has been neutered in domestic affairs by a bureaucracy that actively competes for power, and in foreign affairs by the United States, which still treats the country as its fiefdom three generations after the end of the war. This arrested development is compounded by a Westminster system of government not conducive to developing executive abilities. The result is that governance is nominally in the hands of people whose only expertise is waging an ever-shifting and amorphous battle for political advantage through plots hatched in the private rooms of expensive traditional Japanese restaurants

The difference at the subnational level, however, is as stark as the contrast between the mud and the clouds, as the expression has it, and it’s no longer hidden. Here’s an excerpt from a roundtable discussion published last month by Gendai Business Online. Three of the participants were former Finance Ministry official and now professor/journalist Takahashi Yoichi, professor/blogger Ikeda Nobuo, and newspaper editor Hasegawa Yukihiro.

*****
Takahashi: In an election now, parties other than the DPJ and LDP, such as Your Party, for example, would take votes. But that will be difficult unless they crush the big parties in some way.

Hasegawa: I want to point out one mechanism for smashing them: The revolt at the local level. (What’s happening in) Nagoya, Akune, or Osaka is at bottom the same. The frustration felt by the average citizen, the frustration at the public sector—that’s become a (form of) energy, and the impulse to destroy the current system is the backdrop to it.

Ikeda: The things being done by Nagoya Mayor Kawamura (Takashi) are rather disjointed, but I strongly sense the frustration at the regional level and the people’s expectations for them. That even someone like Hashimoto Toru (the governor of the Osaka Metro District), a strange person who has become so prominent, can be so enthusiastically supported, shows just how fed up the people are with the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy.

It’s become very difficult for one government to govern 130 million people. There are 300 million people in the United States, and while the federal government has a certain amount of authority, local governments have a lot of power. We’ve reached the limit for (the ability of) Kasumigaseki to completely rule 130 million people, as in Japan. To use what Mr. Hashimoto said as an example, it’s the Big Business Disease. It’s gotten so big that the mechanism is no longer mobile.

Ikeda: From the perspective of a person in the Kansai region, the center of culture is the Kansai. They probably wonder why Kasumigaseki has to have a say in everything. With that power, it would be interesting if they were to do something like declare their independence.

*****
That discussion appeared days before the elections in Nagoya and Aichi, after which the more perceptive editorialists at the Mainichi Shimbun wrote: You could feel the earth move.

The election

The rumpled, folksy, and ambitious Kawamura Takashi resigned after five terms in the lower house of the Diet to become a candidate in the Nagoya mayoralty election of 2009. Mr. Kawamura was primed to channel the intense dissatisfaction with local government that has been building for years, predating the Tea Party movement in the United States. In addition to the universal arrogance and avoidance of accountability by the politicians, it was fueled by oversized legislatures, slush fund scandals, and research fund expense accounts spent on personal entertainment rather than the study of issues. Within the past decade the public has forced local legislators throughout the country to provide receipts for the use of their research fund allowances, and everyone saw how quickly and drastically expenditures declined—often by as much as 70%-80% compared to years when no receipts were required.

Kawamura Takashi on election night

Mr. Kawamura ran on a platform that he dubbed a citizen revolution. He won with a record number of votes in Nagoya elections by promising a permanent 10% reduction in local taxes and the formation of volunteer citizens’ groups with elected members, called neighborhood councils. These groups would have a say in determining the allocation of city funds in their districts. To this he later added halving the annual city council salaries of JPY 16 million (roughly $US 195,000)—a substantial amount individually as well as in the aggregate, considering that Nagoya, a city of 2.26 million, has 75 city council members. In contrast, the slightly larger city of Chicago has 50 aldermen, and the similar-sized city of Houston has to make do with 14 (soon to be 16). The mayor made a point of stating that politicians should be the first to suffer in bad economic times. He also went first—cutting his own salary to JPY eight million from more than 27.5 million.

The events that played out in Nagoya for more than a year contain enough drama for a film script, though the movie is a familiar one throughout Japan. The city council was not about to line up behind the new mayor’s program, but passed the tax cut only after a newly formed citizens’ group threatened a petition drive to recall them. When the group lost its focus a few months later, the council rescinded the permanent tax cut and limited it to one year. Mr. Kawamura reintroduced legislation to make the reduction permanent, but the council rejected it by a vote of 73-1, claiming they had already discussed the issue enough.

That’s when the cold war turned hot. The mayor launched a petition campaign to recall the city council against almost impossible odds—the signatures of one-third of Nagoya’s voters were required in one month—but defied expectations by succeeding after more unanticipated drama. When the recall election was officially announced, he resigned and declared his candidacy for reelection, in effect taking his case directly to the voters. Both elections were to be held on the same day as the regularly scheduled election for the governor of Aichi Prefecture, where Nagoya is located.

Employing savvy political instincts, Mr. Kawamura convinced the most popular local politician of the opposition LDP, Omura Hideaki, to resign his lower house Diet seat and run for governor. Mr. Omura was a former Agriculture Ministry bureaucrat who rose quickly in the party ranks after turning to politics, earning an appointment as deputy minister of Health, Labor, and Welfare. His campaign was based on another idea that is gathering momentum in Japan. That is a form of devolution and regionalism that involves the reorganization of territorial political units at the subnational level into larger entities with more authority. A large body of opinion nationwide favors the provision of greater power to the regions through the restructuring of the prefectural system into a province/state system. Mr. Omura calls his idea the Chukyo-to Concept, which would create a larger entity unifying Nagoya and Aichi with the neighboring prefectures of Mie and Gifu.

It’s important to know that both Nagoya and Aichi are a stronghold of the ruling Democratic Party. The area is the home of Toyota, and labor unions have a strong political influence. Aichi has 15 directly-elected seats in the Diet, and the DPJ won them all in their 2009 landslide. Mr. Omura lost his single-district seat in that election, but was returned to the Diet through proportional representation.

Both major parties recognized the Kawamura/Omura campaign as an existential threat. The DPJ was the more desperate of the two; their standard bearers have been pummeled in local elections throughout the country for the past year, and they were desperate for a victory before local elections are held throughout the country in April. The new allies ran on a program of tax reduction, while the DPJ at the national level is trying to convince people that a significant tax increase and record high budgets will be the salvation of the country.

Omura Hideaki on election night

Meanwhile, the LDP asked Mr. Omura to leave the party when he declared his candidacy and ran an officially sanctioned party candidate against him. The DPJ liked their chances in the governor’s race because their organization in Aichi, based on the Toyota unions, is the second largest local prefectural organization in the country after Tokyo. They also expected the two LDP candidates to split the vote.

The DPJ backed Ishida Shigehiro for Nagoya mayor, and he also received the official endorsement of the ruling party’s coalition partners, the People’s New Party, and their former coalition partners, the Social Democrats. He also had the unofficial support of the LDP.

The results of the Triple Election were obvious an hour after the polls closed, all the more remarkable because votes in Japan are counted by hand. Kawamura Takashi was reelected mayor with 73% of the vote in a field of four. He received three times as many votes as the runner-up. Exit polls showed he was the choice of 78% of DPJ supporters, compared to 21.1% for the official DPJ candidate. He also received votes from 78.9% of the independents, significant in a country where the most reliable poll suggests more than half of the electorate are non-aligned.

Omura Hideaki took a skoche under 50% of the vote for governor in field of five, but his was the second-highest total ever in absolute numbers. The DPJ was correct in assuming that the two LDP candidates would split the party’s vote, but that made the results even more difficult to digest—the official LDP candidate finished second, while the DPJ candidate finished third. In fact, exit polls showed that 46.1% of the LDP supporters backed their party’s designated candidate compared to 42.8% for the apostate Mr. Omura. In contrast, 53.9% of the DPJ supporters crossed party lines to vote for him, while only 27.7% stayed with the ticket. New Komeito, which is still informally allied with the LDP at the national level, backed Mr. Omura.

Finally, in a straight up or down vote, 71% of the voters chose to support the mayor and recall the city council. Nagoya is what is known as a specially designated city, which means it has authority similar to that of a prefecture. It was the first time the electorate of a specially designated city recalled their city council. The new election will be held on March 13, and already Mayor Kawamura has formed a local party to back his own slate of candidates.

The dismal swamp of local politics

Aikawa Toshihide, a journalist who specializes in local government, explains in Diamond Online why serious reform is required to resuscitate what is all too often government in name only at the subnational level:

“In Japan, the system of centralized authority in which the national government (the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy) butts into everything and controls all the money has long been the norm. It has therefore become customary for the chief municipal officers, employees, and legislators of local governments to conduct their work while looking in the direction of the national government (the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy), and not the people. Local government exists in form only, and the conduct of governmental affairs under national guidance is unchallenged. The tripartite structure of the executives, employees, and legislators has left the people behind.”

The executives and the legislatures of local governments are elected separately, unlike the parliamentary system used at the national level. Thus the ideal is for the two branches to operate in a system of checks and balances, such as the national government in the United States. In practice, however, Mr. Aikawa notes that the result more often is collusion between the two branches.

That’s illustrated by an Asahi Shimbun questionnaire survey conducted this January of 1,797 prefectural and municipal legislatures. The response rate was 100%. They found that in the four years from January 2007 to the present, 50% of the legislatures neither amended nor rejected a bill submitted by the executive. Further, 91% of the legislatures submitted no legislation of their own. Finally, 84% of the legislatures do not reveal the votes of individual legislators on bills. One-third of the legislatures fell into what the newspaper called the three noes category—they answered no to all three questions.

During the period surveyed, the executives submitted on average 414 bills to legislatures, and 82% of the legislatures either rejected or amended three or fewer of the bills.

Former Diet member and Yokohama Mayor Nakada Hiroshi speaks from experience:

“Most people probably look at the Diet and get the impression that discussion gets nowhere. When local chief municipal officers and legislatures have competing agendas, the stalemate in the assembly is 10 times worse. Conditions are now such that our only chance to pursue reform is for the executives to charge head first into the legislatures, as Mr. Kawamura has done.”

While Mr. Nakada does believe the system of checks and balances is important, he thinks the problem of the legislatures is greater than being unable to see the forest for the trees:

“It’s as if they’re talking about the shape of the knots and criticizing the way branches are cut.”

Yokohama has 92 city council members, the most of any Japanese city, and Mr. Nakada thinks that number could be slashed to 10. He also thinks that to conduct city business, there should be an increase in staff, a larger budget for research expenses, and a shift to the Westminster system for local governments of a certain size. Most municipal assemblies in Japan convene only four months out of the year.

Nagoya, meanwhile, has 75 city council delegates from 16 municipal election districts with from two to seven delegates representing each district. Winning elections requires a political organization and party support, so there are few independents. Many of the council members have emerged from labor unions or political families, while some were former aides to Diet MPs, a practice not uncommon in Japan. The key to remaining in office is party loyalty.

That explains a very low pre-Kawamura voting rate for elections in Nagoya and Aichi–usually near 40%. The turnout for the 2005 mayoralty election was 27.5%, while that for City Council in 2009, when Mr. Kawamura was at the top of the ticket, was still less than 40%. Post-Kawamura, the turnout for all those elections has been greater than 50%.

The Kawamura philosophy

Into this stagnant backwater stepped Kawamura Takashi, promising at first a tax cut and greater citizen control over budget expenditures, and then upping the ante to halving the salaries and eliminating the pensions of City Council members. He is no more an opportunist than any other professional politician, because his political objectives do have a philosophical foundation. He thinks people should be engaged in politics with a volunteer spirit, and he does not hide his disdain for the professionals who turn it into a life-long occupation:

“Legislators and government officials are public servants. I want to stress that as the starting point for politics.”

As for the remuneration received by the political class:

“Taxpayers really have to struggle. It is truly unacceptable for the people who live off of taxes to enjoy a luxurious lifestyle.”

As the Tea Partiers in the United States look to their national history for inspiration, Mr. Kawamura intends to revive an even older idea in Japan:

“I want to have a citizens’ revolution of the type created by Oda Nobunaga, who enabled the everyday person to engage in commerce through the policy of rakuichi rakuza.”

The latter term is usually translated as “free markets and open guilds”. It refers to the 16th century policy of eliminating market taxes and the monopolistic privileges of trade associations. That policy was implemented by regional warlords, or daimyo, to concentrate authority in castle towns and attract merchants and craftsmen to increase wealth and production.

The first recorded instance of the elimination of market taxes occurred in 1549 in what is now Shiga Prefecture. The first example of eliminating trade association monopolies, which had a greater impact, occurred in 1576 in what is now Fukui Prefecture. These measures were most closely associated with Oda Nobunaga, but they were continued and extended nationwide by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and his successors. There were inconsistencies in application, as with any human endeavor, but the result was the creation of a market economy centered on castle towns rather than noble houses and religious establishments due to the granting of patronage.

Mr. Kawamura also wants to cut the municipal corporate tax to attract people and companies to Nagoya. He explained his reasoning in an interview in the 4 June 2010 edition of the weekly Shukan Asahi:

“Tax cuts are necessary because reform alone means that the leftover money is just redistributed within the government. Cutting taxes is the only way to make government more efficient. Lower taxes means that the budget will have to be cut, and that includes privatization of public services.”

He points out that city council members work only 80 days a year, and claims the tax revenue loss will amount to only 1.4% of the total budget. For this work, they receive a nominal salary of JPY 16 million, though others say the total is closer to JPY 35 million when all the benefits are added. Political parties also give each member five million more.

One City Council member claims that her take-home pay amounts to only JPY 390,000 a month after the deductions for income tax and contributions to three separate pensions. Legislators in other local governments have similar complaints, though none as extreme as hers (and she doesn’t explain why a third pension specifically for legislators is required). She complains that the salary Mr. Kawamura has in mind would be better suited for legislatures that meet in the evening, as in some European cities. Now there’s an idea!

On the ground

The disgruntled in the political class sometimes complain about voters that fail to grasp issues in the way they should be understood, but it would difficult to make that claim in Nagoya/Aichi. That battle was engaged for more than a year, so it should be obvious from the election results that the people want what Mr. Kawamura is offering. As support for the first Democratic Party government plummeted nationwide, falling from 70% to less than 20% in eight months–and faster and lower than that for the successor government of Kan Naoto–the mayor’s approval rating stood at 63.6% after six months in office and 61% after a year.

One reason is his demonstrated mastery of retail politics. In addition to cutting his own salary to the level he wants the council members to receive, the mayor gave up his official automobile and leases a minicar for JPY 14,700 a month. When traveling outside the city, he books a regular or reserved ticket on trains. He’s also more accessible than most Japanese politicians, showing up unannounced to civic events. After he attended a traditional festival last year and circulated among the crowd, one of the organizers marveled that it was the first time one of the mayors showed up in the 15 years he had been involved with the event.

He’s also found more ways to save money besides tax and salary cuts and the elimination of the JPY 42.2 million pension for council members. Slush funds are endemic at the subnational level of Japanese government, and the usual practice is for companies doing business with local government to submit phony bills. A percentage of the money used to pay those bills is funneled back to the government, and recent exposes have uncovered the use of those funds by civil servants for all sorts of fun and games, including drinking parties and softball team uniforms. The investigation into the Nagoya slush funds had been closed, but Mayor Kawamura reopened it in August 2009 and dug up JPY 39 million more.

After City Council backtracked and converted the permanent tax cut into a one-year only measure, Mr. Kawamura resubmitted legislation for the permanent cut the following month:

“Limiting it to one year is not a tax reduction, it’s a benefit payment…Many people say that tax reduction is “Kawamura Populism”, but that isn’t so. It is tax reduction that is politics.”

City Council Chairman Yokoi Toshiaki retorted that the city had floated JPY 45 billion in bonds to cover the revenue shortfall, and that council members’ were already the lowest of the nation’s five largest cities. The council rejected the bill 73-1.

At that point the combatants stopped taking prisoners. The mayor’s response was to create a political group called Tax Reduction Japan. They began to circulate petitions to recall City Council in August. It was surely no coincidence that the same month, the DPJ, LDP, and New Komeito council members concluded it would be a good idea to reduce their own salaries to JPY 13.93 million from 16.33 million.

Few thought the petition drive would succeed. The law required 366,124 valid signatures to be collected in one month. The legal definition of a signature for a petition in Japan includes a voter’s full name, address, date of birth, and seal. The list of signatures is disclosed to the public, which might cause some voters who support specific delegates to refrain from signing. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications reports that 59 petitions have been filed to recall legislatures, which resulted in 33 referendums and 28 actual recalls. No recall election had ever been held in cities with more than 200,000 voters.

Declared an LDP member of the Nagoya City Council:

“They can’t possibly collect that many signatures. The local media is saying the same thing. They’ll just self-destruct.”

Had he read the poll numbers, he might have held his tongue. When the drive started, the mayor was supported by 83% of DPJ backers and 67% of independents.

Morokuma Shushin, the leader of the DPJ caucus in the Nagoya City Council asked the party to revoke its endorsement of the mayor:

“We’ve put up with one thing after another, but the mayor’s anti-party act was the last straw.”

The mayor fired back:

“What anti-party act? The DPJ’s council caucus was the one responsible for the anti-party act. I’ve been working to achieve the campaign promises that the party endorsed, but they joined with the LDP and New Komeito to oppose them. This is an impossible situation, so recall is the only option.”

Okamoto Yoshihiro, the leader of the LDP caucus, stepped up the rhetoric:

“I’ve consistently called for cooperation, but that’s not longer possible in this situation. The mayor’s methods are violent, and I’m concerned.”

Down and dirty

His concern was not misplaced. The petition drive ignited a fire among the city’s voters, and the group submitted 465,000 signatures early in October, well more than the amount required. The establishment was so concerned, in fact, they tried to prevent the election from happening. It took the Election Commission six weeks to review all the signatures, and they threw out more than 100,000 because they maintained the strict rules for collectors weren’t followed. Those rules require that signatures be collected by either an official representative of a group or a person named a delegate by a representative. Of the signatures submitted, roughly 110,000 did not have the name of a designated delegate as the collector, which meant they had to have been collected by a representative. The Election Commission decided it wasn’t possible for one person to successfully fish for that many signatures. They declared the signatures invalid, which meant that the petition no longer had the amount required.

Supporters of the recall immediately called foul and questioned the commission’s impartiality. Nagoya has 16 separate district commissions, one for each election district, and one commission overseeing the entire city. The City Council approves all the members, and the commission for the city has four members. Three of them are former City Council delegates, one each from the DPJ, the LDP, and New Komeito. (The fourth is a retired school principal who isn’t a politician.) They receive a salary of roughly JPY 35,000 a month and are required to attend a biweekly meeting.

The people who circulated the petitions insisted it was indeed possible for one person to collect that many signatures, as they set up stations at sites with heavy pedestrian traffic and often received more than 2,000 a day. Staffers in the Election Commission office itself told the media those signatures wouldn’t have been ruled invalid in the past, and the school principal, the only non-politician among the commissioners, agreed. The other three commissioners, led by the chairman—the New Komeito veteran—initially held firm. They even floated the possibility of asking each of the signers to identify the person who collected their signature—a time-consuming process that would permit other disqualification techniques–but after an appeal was filed, the signatures were ruled valid on 15 December.

Meanwhile, in mid-September the governor of Aichi announced he would not be a candidate for reelection. On 6 December Mr. Omura told a news conference he would resign his Diet seat and run on the Kawamura platform. Two days later, the LDP asked him to leave the party. The recall election was formally declared on 17 December. On 21 January Mr. Kawamura delivered his coup de théâtre by resigning with more than two years left in his term and declaring he would be a candidate to replace himself, thus setting up the Triple Election to be a popular referendum on his policies.

Nationalizing the election

Nagoya and Aichi became the political equivalent of California during the Gold Rush. The two major national parties dispatched their heaviest hitters to campaign for their own candidates against the Kawamura-Omura team. DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya, a native of neighboring Mie, visited frequently, though his presence had the opposite of the effect intended. Commented a DPJ MP from Aichi:

“More than half of Mr. Kawamura’s supporters are DPJ supporters. Every time Mr. Okada criticized Kawamura, they moved farther from the DPJ. The national party issued an order forbidding people from supporting him and kept party MPs from attending a function for him on the 24th. Not only that, but at the national level, Prime Minister Kan is calling for a tax increase. We can’t wage a campaign that way.”

The DPJ also sent three Cabinet ministers, to little effect: the photogenic Ren Ho, Justice Minister and former upper house president Eda Satsuki, and then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito. The appearance of Mr. Sengoku, however, was a typical error in party judgment. First, he is the symbol of the government’s mishandling of the incident in the Senkaku Islands with China. Second, it came as no surprise that a man of the left whose behavior was an insult to parliamentary courtesy every time he opened his mouth in the Diet would be the one to compare Mr. Kawamura to Adolph Hitler. Godwin’s Law is just as applicable in Japan as it is elsewhere, however. The public failed to see how a direct appeal to the people by resigning and running again and getting more votes than the other candidates made Mr. Kawamura Hitlerian.

Dropping by from the opposition LDP was party head Tanigaki Sadakazu, MP Kono Taro, a high-profile member who is the Minister of Reform in the party’s Shadow Cabinet, and former Koizumi ally Katayama Satsuki.

The Osaka Ishin no Kai campaign in Nagoya

The election also attracted allies to the cause. The shoot-from-the-lip and wildly popular enfant terrible Hashimoto Toru, governor of the Osaka Metro District, led a group of 100 people to Nagoya to campaign for Mr. Kawamura. Mr. Hashimoto, perhaps the most visible politician outside of Tokyo supporting regionalism, was returning a favor. The Nagoya mayor visited Osaka in April to campaign for Hashimoto backers in the Metro District’s legislative election.

The blowback

The DPJ was appalled by the result. Internal Affairs Minister Katayama Yoshihiro was the point man leading the party’s attack squad:

“To resign as mayor and run again in the subsequent election just to create interest is perverse.”

And:

“The idea of forming a ruling party that agrees with everything the executive submits is different from the system envisaged (with checks and balances). There are undeniable concerns it could lead to dictatorial politics.”

He had plenty of ideas about what he would have done instead:

“Mr. Kawamura climbed out of the ring, joined the spectators, and criticized the people in the ring. If it were me, I would have persuaded the City Council instead of working for its recall”

And:

“If I were the head of a local government, I would do everything in my power to reform government to direct the savings into reducing the enormous debt that local governments carry. Reducing taxes in spite of this debt is dubious from the perspective of long-term fiscal operations.”

He also suggested in a roundabout way that the popular movement was really a contagious disease.

The chairman of the DPJ’s Election Campaign Committee, Ishii Hajime, took a different tack:

“It was an election in one area, and rather than a battle between parties was something that occurred in Nagoya, a unique place. The result is not a decisive blow…it was a bit like a typhoon that’s hard to understand…it was a wonderful performance in the Kawamura Theater.”

The new DPJ Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio tried to a leaf from the failed Obama playbook:

“We haven’t sufficiently communicated to the public what we’ve done since the Hatoyama administration.”

He refused further comment on the matter.

The losers in the race were just as bitter. After seeing the results, Yokoi Toshiaki said he would accept the people’s verdict, but refused to say any more: “I am no longer a council member.” He had worked in the campaign asking people not to sign the recall petition. Mr. Yokoi left with this parting shot:

“Can we call it democracy when a mayor has the authority to make final decisions?”

The losing DPJ mayoralty candidate, Ishida Yoshihiro, cried at his post election news conference and claimed he had been made to play the heel for the city council.

Others with less directly at stake had a clearer picture of what had happened. Here’s Shimoji Mikio, the secretary-general of the People’s New Party, part of the ruling national coalition:

“This result is more serious than simply being defeated in an election. We share the harsh recognition that it is a rejection of the coalition government of the DPJ and the PNP, and that we should rework our strategy.”

Even more to the point was Osaka Mayor Hiramatsu Kunio:

“It calls into question the raison d’être of the existing political parties.”

Your Party

Of more interest than the sour grapes of the DPJ and the LDP deadheads, however, is the approach of Your Party. These reformers would seem to be soulmates of Mr. Kawamura and Mr. Omura, as their platform is based on cutting government expenditures and devolution. The party was formed and is led by the outspoken LDP renegade Watanabe Yoshimi and the cool and cerebral Eda Kenji. Mr. Watanabe was initially interested in forming an alliance with Osaka Gov. Hashimoto in 2009. Mr. Eda, however, counseled against it. The governor is unpredictable, follows his own agenda, and does not fit the image of sober responsibility the party wants to present.

Mr. Watanabe actively supported the Nagoya recall, however, and visited several times to help collect signatures in the petition drive. He dropped broad hints that if the recall were successful, his party would run candidates in the City Council election allied with Mr. Kawamura. He also made it clear that he hoped they would support the Your Party candidate for Aichi governor, Yakushiji Michiyo. Ms. Yakushiji ran on a platform of cutting the governor’s and delegates’ salaries by 30%, bonuses by 50%, and personnel expenses by 20%, and the party leader visited Aichi seven times to campaign for her. She did not, however, support the call for a tax reduction.

Once Mr. Kawamura recruited Mr. Omura of the LDP to run for governor, however, Your Party has been less enthusiastic. Mr. Eda had always kept his distance; he thought it was irresponsible to call for a tax cut while ignoring the city’s debt and its reliance on subsidies from the national government to meet its budget. After the election, Mr. Watanabe said he thought the Kawamura-Omura alliance would be short-lived, as they came from different political backgrounds.

Kawahara the man

What of the man who pulled off what the media immediately dubbed a hat trick? He’s a natural politician with a knack for connecting directly with the people. Mr. Kawahara campaigned in Nagoya on a bicycle wearing the cap of the local Chunichi Dragons baseball team to cover his perpetually unkempt hair. City officials say he’s appeared at public events three times as often as his predecessors. He understands instinctively the advice former Alabama Gov. George Wallace gave Jesse Jackson when the latter ran for president in 1988: “You’ve got to keep the grass down where the goats can get at it.”

Before turning to politics, Mr. Kawamura worked in the family business, a small enterprise dealing with used paper. He has attributed his ideas about public finance to the experience gained in a business sector where price competition is fierce.

He’s also a regionalist who makes a point of using the Nagoya dialect in public interviews, though that’s not what he calls it. He asked the quasi-public national broadcaster NHK to replace the word “dialect” with the word “language” when referring to Japan’s many regional linguistic variations. “It’s discrimination against the regions and a mistake to call a region’s language a dialect. The language of Tokyo is not the standard language (標準語), it is the language of common use(共通語). They should call it the Nagoya language instead of the Nagoya dialect.”

He cites his approach as the reason for his success:

“People have at a minimum understood that I’m working from a citizens’ perspective. The awareness of the citizens is steadily changing. I think it’s important in itself that they’ve become more interested in municipal government.”

The mayor has been a reformer from the start of his career, winning election to the Diet as a member of Hosokawa Morihiro’s New Party. Mr. Hosokawa later became prime minister in the early 90s at the head of an eight party coalition that was the first non-LDP government since 1955. After the New Party folded, Mr. Kawamura finally came to ground in the DPJ. His popularity transcends party, however, as he easily kept his seat in the 2005 Koizumi LDP landslide. He’s always had designs on the executive branch, becoming something of a joke in DPJ circles by his attempts to run for party president. He tried to become a candidate in three separate DPJ elections, but couldn’t round up the minimum of 20 members needed for a formal recommendation.

He says he’s still interested in becoming prime minister, though the Asahi Shimbun is openly skeptical of that claim—he’d have to resign again and run for the Diet—but it might be for the best that he’ll probably never get the job. In an international context, his views on other issues would overshadow his vision for domestic affairs. For example, he was a member of a committee to verify the facts of the comfort woman issue and the Nanjing massacre. He “tends to deny”, as it some have it, the responsibility of the Japanese government.

His name appeared on the full page ad in the 14 June 2007 edition of the Washington Post protesting the US lower house resolution about the comfort women and demanded its withdrawal. In 2006, as a member of the opposition, he submitted a formal request to the government to reinvestigate and verify the “so-called Nanjing Massacre”. He asked the government to rectify its views about the grounds for the assertion in school textbooks that Japanese troops killed citizens and prisoners. His position is diametrically opposed to the sleep-on-a-bed-of-nails types in the left wing of his party.

In answer to a question in the Nagoya City Council on 15 September 2009, he said “It (Nanjing) occurred during the general conduct of hostilities. I have a sense that a mistaken impression was conveyed (by the government). The government must properly verify and correct that impression for the sake of Japanese-Sino friendship.” His stand was all the more remarkable because Nagoya and Nanjing have a formal sister city relationship that almost ruptured because of his views.

He is opposes voting rights for permanent residents and supports amending Article 9 of the Constitution, the so-called Peace Clause. Yet unlike most people in that philosophical camp, he was opposed to the adoption of the law for the national anthem and flag in the late 90s.

The future

When asked by the media what happens next, Mr. Kawamura said: “The operation for the Normandy Landing starts now.” His Tax Reduction Japan group hopes to run about 40 candidates for the 75 seats at stake in the City Council election. He also plans to campaign for them, which bothers some people who think it’s improper behavior for an elected official to play politics on the public’s time. One has to admit that sense of indignation is a refreshing contrast to the American attitude, to cite one example. Few complain when the President gasses up Air Force One and flies around the country to stump for his favored candidates in local elections.

***
Mr. Omura wanted to step right up and start cutting taxes, but Mr. Kawamura says the timing of the City Council election and the start of a new fiscal year will prevent real action until 2012. The Aichi governor now agrees, saying that the earliest his administration will be able to get that measure through the prefectural council is December, with the reduction to take effect in 2012.

***
The Nagoya mayor might have to spend more time promoting his idea of local committees with elected citizen volunteers to review tax expenditures. So far, only 8.7% of the electorate has voted in these elections, leading one observer to suggest that the program is suffering from incomplete combustion. Others point to the greater citizen interest in the recent elections, and think the past year has been the first step in a process that will flower over the long term as more people realize just how much political power they have.

There are signs that’s already happening. The city recently held a seminar for potential City Council candidates to explain the election procedures, and 150 people showed up to listen. Four years ago, 98 attended.

***
Mr. Kawamura wants to create alliances with other like-minded chief execs of the type he’s already formed with Osaka Gov. Hashimoto. The latter was so excited by Mr. Kawahara’s victory that he immediately proposed a 30% cut in the salaries of Osaka Metro District legislators. Some local opponents who still don’t understand the concept of popular will derided this as an imitative performance. One Metro District delegate from New Komeito said he wanted to oppose the measure but couldn’t because of the upcoming election in April.

The mayor also told the Asahi Shimbun he was looking for suitable candidates to support for governor in neighboring Mie Prefecture and a by-election for the lower house Diet seat in Aichi district #6.

Nationwide

This was already a national movement before the Nagoya/Aichi elections. Five municipal executive officers in Saitama Prefecture, including the mayor of Saitama City, have formed a group called Saitama Kaientai also calling for devolution and smaller government. A group of city council members in Matsuyama created the Matsuyama Ishin no Kai. The leader says they’ll hold off on formally making it a political party until they see what happens with legislation at the national level designed to facilitate greater local autonomy. The Kyoto Party was formed in that Metro District last August on the principles of shrinking the legislature and the delegates’ benefits, and reducing bond issues by 10% a year to eliminate them entirely in 10 years. They’re upset that the Kyoto City Council unanimously rejected a bill on 31 January to eliminate some seats. The Chiiki Seito Iwate is taking devolution a step further, asking that Iwate Prefecture cede authority to individual municipalities.

The Japanese public nationwide does appreciate the potential abuses of local parties. A Yomiuri Shimbun poll taken at the end of January found that 53% of the respondents were opposed to parties created by local executives, with 31% in favor. However, 64% of the respondents also said that local legislatures did not reflect the will of the people, and 57% said they were not functioning as a check on the executive branch.

In Tokyo, the DPJ-led national government last week proposed eliminating the JPY 6,000 yen per diem allowance for special officers of both houses of the diet when it is in session, such as the vice-president of both chambers. Their idea has been approved by the other parties. This is seen as a concession to the results of the Nagoya/Aichi election and to the nationwide local elections next month.

That will be much too little, much too late for the Kan administration, however. The DPJ party organization of Aichi adopted a resolution asking Mr. Kan to get lost. Everyone in the country knows DPJ party affiliation will be the fast track to oblivion in those elections if Mr. Kan is still in office. They’re already having problems finding people willing to run as DPJ candidates. Party Secretary-General Okada Katsuya was recently rejected by the man he wooed to run for governor of Mie—Mr. Okada’s home prefecture, which shares a border with Aichi.

Unpleasant omens

The Triple Election’s revelation that lower taxes, devolution, and smaller government are a winning formula in Japan has also generated some ominous developments.

Lower house MP and Former Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Haraguchi Kazuhiro convened a new policy group in the Diet dedicated to more regional autonomy and ties with local chief executives. He filed the papers to create a group called the Nihon Ishin no Kai, intending it to become a political organization of local government chief executives and legislators modeled after Mr. Hashimoto’s group in Osaka. He also blatantly ripped off their name, which in turn was a deliberate imitation of the Meiji Ishin (known in English as the Meiji restoration), a period in Japanese history that connotes national rebirth and renewal. At the same time, Mr. Haraguchi created the Saga Ishin no Kai for his home prefecture. He told reporters: “The central government’s doctrine of fiscal supremacy must not be permitted to place the onus of deficits on the regions.”

Nothing good will come of this

This is ominous because nobody thinks Mr. Haraguchi is clever enough to have come up with the idea on his own. He is seen as a cat’s paw for the Shiva of Japanese politics, Ozawa Ichiro, the destroyer of worlds who will not go gently into that good night. One of Mr. Ozawa’s journalistic mouthpieces, Itagaki Eiken, is now conveying the threat that Mr. Ozawa might convince his allies to vote for a no-confidence motion against Kan Naoto within the next month or so. The passage of such a motion would require a new lower house election. The Ozawa strategy seems to be to co-opt the popular movement in Japan by reinventing himself as a tax-cutting proponent of small government and ride that pony to control of the government. He is well known for his Japanese-language pun that the advantage of campaign promises is that they can be replastered.

The Japanese are taking this threat seriously, even though Mr. Ozawa personally voted to pass the DPJ budget this week. (Sixteen legislators associated with him were absent for the roll call, however.) Mr. Haraguchi is a metrosexual of the type he’s always preferred to use as a front man (cf. Hosokawa Morihiro and Hatoyama Yukio) to offset his own charmless personality and unpopularity with the public.

The most unsettling omen, however, may be that Kawamura Takashi took Mr. Omura to Tokyo to pay a courtesy call on Mr. Ozawa the day after the Nagoya/Aichi election. It has since emerged that Ozawa ally and lower house MP Matsuki Shizuhiro was a frequent visitor to Nagoya during the campaign to help Mr. Kawamura with strategy. An Ozawa-Kawamura alliance is not what the people of Nagoya voted for—indeed, more than half of the public wants Mr. Ozawa out of the Diet altogether. If Mr. Kawamura or Mr. Hashimoto of Osaka were to openly join hands with Ozawa Ichiro, it would seriously dent their popularity. (The Nagoya mayor is already pushing it–his political group has endorsed 10 candidates in the Tokyo municipal elections, all of whom are associated with Mr. Ozawa.) Further, the only guaranteed accomplishment of a government in which Mr. Ozawa has a prominent role would be another year of political turmoil followed by an ugly demise. Rule without the consent of the governed is not a winning proposition in Japan either.

It’s also starting to look as if an alliance with Ozawa Ichiro isn’t a winning proposition even in his local power base. In the election for mayor last month in Rikuzentakata, Iwate—Mr. Ozawa’s home prefecture—the candidate backed by Mr. Ozawa lost, though Mr. Ozawa personally campaigned for him

A revolution whose time has come

The current leaders of this revolution may reveal themselves to be flawed vessels, but the people will no longer allow their voice to be ignored. Theirs is a genuinely spontaneous and popular movement driven by years of anger and disgust at the politicians’ performance and a growing understanding that elections have consequences. If the electorate is betrayed by one champion, they have already shown they will discard him and find another. The voters ditched the LDP when they turned their back on reform, and they’ve done the same with the DPJ when they found out that party wasn’t what it claimed to be. What they demand now is real governmental reform, devolution, and lower taxes, and they are no longer in the mood to settle for less.

There is no clearer proof than the election last month in Akune, Kagoshima. We’ve seen before that circumstances in Akune were remarkably similar to those in Nagoya. Upset that administrative expenses ate up most of the city’s budget, Mayor Takehara Shin’ichi wanted to put City Council on a per diem allowance and reduce other public expenditures. The people backed him through two elections, until he unwisely chose ignore the council and act as a dictator. He created so much turmoil they finally recalled him and voted him out of office by a narrow margin. Had he followed Mr. Kawamura’s strategy of simultaneous elections, however, he might still be in office today. Mr. Takehara’s backers finally succeeded in bringing council recall to a vote last month, and the voters chose to throw out them out too. The referendum on recall passed with 55% approval, four percentage points higher than the margin by which Mr. Takehara was defeated. He and his supporters plan to run nine candidates in the new election next month for 16 seats. One reason the recall succeeded is that the new mayor restored the council members’ salaries and took them off the per diem allowance initiated by former Mayor Takehara.

*****
Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come, and the idea whose time has arrived in Japan is the revolt against the elitist political class in government and the bureaucracy, and the support of decentralization and smaller government. In all of those elections, the voters were lectured for months about the reasons they shouldn’t support the insurgents, but the voters chose to ignore the advice.

We live in an age of revolution. Two leaders have been toppled in the Middle East, a third is about to go, and none of the rest sleep soundly at night. Americans have been marching in the streets for nearly a year, and they continue to do so after the pivotal election of November. There is even talk of a jasmine revolution in China, which has so upset leaders in that country that they’ve forbidden foreign journalists to cover demonstrations in Shanghai and Beijing that haven’t happened yet.

What emerges from any of those revolutions is unlikely to be better than what they had before they started. Democracy in the Middle East will mean the choice of governments that are no one’s definition of liberal. The stark ethnocentric nationalism of the Chinese ensures that country will not be a positive force in international relations regardless of the leadership, perhaps for decades. And there is nothing at all liberal about the illiberal ugliness of the American “liberals”, as we’ve seen from their behavior in Congress last year and at the state level in Wisconsin and Indiana right now. The American left will never change.

In Japan, however, the electorate has now taken matters out of the politicians’ hands and set the parameters for debate. Theirs is now the national political agenda. They are beginning to realize that they have the handle and the politicians have the blade. When their revolution comes to fruition, it is likely to be the most successful, and the most peaceful, of our age.

Afterwords

* The Asahi Shimbun ran an English-language article worth reading about the possibility that the inevitable earthquake of a political realignment might occur before the cherries finish blooming. Though it is informative, it still requires several grains of salt to digest. The Asahi is a newspaper of the left, so holding up conservative boogeymen for their readers is one element in their narrative. It remains to be seen how many MPs will willingly follow the toxic Ozawa Ichiro or the fossilized Kamei Shizuka, either from the LDP or the DPJ. Your Party might have made a wise choice in keeping their distance from Mr. Kawamura, and they would stand to benefit from the public’s revulsion with an Ozawa New Party.

(Update: A few hours after writing the above I read Itagaki Eiken’s latest blog post, and perhaps the Asahi wasn’t exaggerating after all. He’s threatening a government of Ozawa Ichiro, Kamei Shizuka, and Hiranuma Takeo, with the support of Ishihara Shintaro. That’s not conservative, that’s Pleistoscene. He also says that Mr. Haraguchi is a “jewel” to be shown the ropes and saved for later. Jayzus whippin’ goldfishes! Uglier still, all but Mr. Ishihara are Diet members, so they might be able to arrange it without a general election. That would be an old coot coup d’etat within the Diet, and it just might bring people out on the streets.)

* Lower house member Sato Yuko, once an aide to Kawamura Takashi before she ran for and won a Diet seat, told the DPJ on the 3rd she will leave the party to join the mayor’s local group. She gave several reasons for her decision, one of them being Prime Minister Kan’s lack of leadership. Unfortunately, she also cited the DPJ’s suspension of Ozawa Ichiro’s party privileges.

* One has to wonder about the IQ and job qualifications of some people in the news media. The vernacular Nishinippon Shimbun thought the voters in Akune who chose to recall the City Council were “confused”. One of the headline writers among the boys and girls who play newspaper at the Japan Times topped off the Kyodo feed on the Akune election with the declaration that the voters were “wishy-washy”. It should be obvious even to those of less than median intelligence and an attention span longer than the average TV commercial that the voters in the city know what they want and aren’t afraid to express it.

* Last month, 65 local governments told the Kan administration they will not financially contribute to the national government’s child allowance scheme. That’s an expensive and ill-advised bit of pork whose liability the DPJ wants to partially shift to local governments because the country can’t afford it. In other words, the regions are no longer lying down for the central government.

* Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio became the first member of the Kan government to hold an open news conference whose participation was not limited to the kisha club reporters. This is being hailed as the beginning of the end of the kisha club system, a back-scratching affair in which the government was allowed to partially control the news flow by allowing some media outlets a partial monopoly. While that was a positive step, it also comes about 30 years too late—no one in the Internet age thinks limiting the flow of news to the professional journalists’ guild will result in significantly greater openness. There has always been a de facto samizdat press in Japanese weekly magazines, and no one in the Anglosphere pretends any longer that the supposedly mainstream media is either open or evenhanded.

*****
This is the Year of the Rabbit in the Oriental zodiac, but it will be the Year of Political Fireworks in Japan. Nobody does fireworks better than the Japanese.

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The same old song

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, January 25, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

(end excerpt)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s Mr. Fackler’s explanation:

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

He quotes then-Internal Affairs Minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Afterwords:

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

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

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A comedy tonite!

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 23, 2010

GOOD EVENING, ladies and gentlemen, thank you, thank you, oh, it’s so nice to be back in town and see you all again! We’re thrilled that you could make it because we’ve got a really big show lined up for you this evening.

Our special attraction tonight is that zany comedy troupe, the stars of stump, TV screen, and the Internet, those kings and queens of hectic hey-hey who’ve been adding to their Guinness record of 563 straight pratfalls without a net, that weird and wacky gang from Nagata-cho, I’m pleased as punch to present…the Democratic Party of Japan!

Now let’s hear it for our first guest, the current Deputy Secretary-General, Tochigi’s own, Edano Yukio!

“I didn’t realize that the ruling party would be so busy. We talked carelessly about political leadership, and now we’re in trouble. What I want more than anything else is the time to leisurely think about and discuss matters.”

Interlocutor: What about the suggestion by some that you institute income restrictions to limit the amount of the government child allowance paid to parents with higher incomes?

“To say that we should apply income restrictions because our support is falling is a kind of populism.”

Folks, listen, we’re just getting warmed up! Would you believe this DPJ party member’s story about Okada Katsuya, DPJ Secretary-General?:

“Mr. Okada asked Ozawa Ichiro to attend an ethics panel, but he didn’t meet him. When someone asked him why he didn’t meet him and discuss the matter with him in person, he said, ‘I called his office several times, but he never came to the phone.’”

Shout from the audience: Who was that lady I saw you with last night?

Interlocutor: That was no lady—that was Ren Ho!

Veteran DPJ Diet member:

“Her reputation in the party is terrible, even though they’re boosting her as the queen of the policy reviews. She tailors her statements to whoever seems to have the most power at the time, whether it’s Kan or Ozawa. Some people think she behaves like a high-class geisha.”

Younger MP:

“I don’t know whether it’s out of habit or what, but during drinking parties with the other MPs, she often (physically) touches us, on the back and elsewhere. She’s very good at that sort of thing, but she also can be a frightening middle-aged lady (おばさん). When some freshman MPs didn’t attend the policy reviews, she called them up and yelled, ‘Why aren’t you here?’”

Ladies and gentlemen, you remember the late and great Rodney Dangerfield, the man who never got any respect. Well, our next guest makes Rodney seem like the picture of probity and gravitas! It’s Old Smiley himself, Kan The Man Naoto!

(Hisses)

Nay, nay, I kid you not!

You remember Mr. Kan had to beg the Chinese to have those hallway sofa summits with Chinese President Hu Jintao because they wouldn’t agree to hold a formal meeting? Instead of sitting down, looking him in the eye, and talking with him man to man, he read Mr. Hu a memo!

Shout from the audience: Who’s on first?

Interlocutor: No, Hu’s on the couch!

No, seriously, he gets no respect! A source in the prime minister’s office told a weekly magazine about his response to some polling data:

“What? We’re doing the policy reviews, but our polls aren’t going up? Something’s wrong here!”

Hey, he gets so little respect, I’m tellin’ ya, it’s almost as if it were a conspiracy! (Straightens tie, twists neck.) A member of the current Cabinet told the weekly Shukan Gendai:

“He’s completely lost his capacity to govern. He was quite confident that the Russian President would not visit the Northern Territories, but he did. He blew up: ‘What’s this? I had information that he wouldn’t come.’ He got the information from Mr. Sengoku.”

Audience heckler:

“During the prime minister’s days as a leader of student activists, he was known as a ‘Fourth Row Man’. If you’re in the fourth row of a demonstration, you won’t get arrested when you run into the riot police…Now he tries to hide behind Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito, the man they call The Shadow Prime Minister.”

(The ushers lead LDP lower house member Hamada Kazuyuki from the hall.)

Interlocutor: And he gets even less respect when he goes overseas. When he spoke at the UN General Assembly in late September, three-fourths of the audience in attendance walked out when he took the podium!

Here’s a Jiji report about part of his speech:

“Prime Minister Kan gave an address to the UN general assembly on the development of small island states. Referring to his support of sustainable development for small island states confronting the threat of natural disaster and climate change, he declared, ‘We want to continue to be powerful supporters.’

“The Prime Minister emphasized his awareness of the urgent challenge faced by the international community for small island states overcoming their vulnerability. He described the support Japan would offer, and used as an example the help given to Haiti after its devastating earthquake in January. He also said that Japan would be providing support for disaster prevention, training personnel, and providing infrastructure.

“He said that rising sea levels threatened the existence of these states, and declared his intention to provide support for developing countries, including the small island states.”

Blogged an aide to LDP lower house member Nakagawa Hidenao:

“Mr. Prime Minister, the small islands you should protect first are the Senkakus!”

Now folks, it’s time for the Senkakus Shtick, which is destined to go down in the annals of comedy history–way, way down–to rank alongside the equally rank Futenma Follies of Hatoyama Yukio!

The government was ready to face the Chinese challenge. Said Sengoku Yoshito:

We’re going to have to confront this problem with China sometime. Japan lacks a sense of crisis, so this will be a good test case.

Interlocutor: And by Jingo it was! Just look at this report from the Asahi!

Katsuya Okada, secretary-general of the ruling DPJ, said, “The response by the Koizumi government led China to believe that ‘Japan’s position as a nation ruled by law is only for show.'”

Those within the prime minister’s office were concerned that immediately deporting Zhan would have led to domestic criticism that the government was “weak-kneed.”

An aide to Kan said such a decision “might have sent a message to China that even if a problem occurred near the Senkaku Islands, that would be the extent of Japan’s response.”

Interlocutor: Not only were they weak at the knees, they were weak at the hips!

Hold it, hold it, I know what you’re thinking! It’s true that Mr. Kan tried to warm up the audience with his famous Goofy impersonation. Before going to the U.S. on the 22nd of September, he asked his staff if the Chinese sea captain couldn’t be quickly released. Then he asked if it were possible to take some extralegal measures. You know, like the kind Koizumi took! But then he took charge! Here’s what he told Sengoku Yoshito:

“Take care of this while I’m in New York!”

And here’s what Sengoku Yoshito told Justice Minister Yanagida Minoru:

“You take care of this. (よろしく!)”

Interlocutor: And boy, did they!

Hey folks, I gotta tell ya, these are warm, loving, caring people, just wonderful human beings, but you won’t catch them talking about all the charity gigs they do. Take the Chinese fishing boat captain. His mother died on the day he was arrested. Now, you’ll never hear anyone in the Cabinet come right out and say it, but they did leak to the media the Chinese government request that they release the captain for humanitarian reasons.

It’s Chinese custom to hold memorial services for the deceased 19 days, 29 days, and 39 days after their death. The Chinese signaled the Kantei that it would mean a great deal to the nation and the family if they sent the captain home in time for the 19th day memorial service on 27 September. They also said it would be another great gesture if he could be there for the PRC National Day on 1 October. So respectful of Chinese patriotic feelings! But we wouldn’t have known about their civilized and compassionate response if Toshikawa Takao of Gendai Online hadn’t written about it.

Do you know how self-effacing they are? They didn’t want to steal the limelight for themselves, so they gave the prosecutors all the credit for the decision to release the Chinese captain! Isn’t that touching?

Wait, wait, that’s not all. There won’t be a dry eye in the house when you hear this. There are now reports from China that the captain’s mother wasn’t dead after all! Can’t you imagine how the skipper felt when he came home and discovered that she was still alive? That must have been a special reunion!

Everybody’s tryin’ to get into the act!
– Jimmy Durante

“I must say I think Prime Minister Kan has dealt with this (Senkakus) issue — it’s a difficult issue — in a very statesmanlike fashion. It, I think, shows a vision and an appreciation of how important it is for a peaceful diplomatic process to be conducted on issues like this.”
– Kurt Campbell, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs

And now ladies and gentlemen, here’s the star of the show, that bouncy and blustering blend of evasions, tough talk, and feigned politeness, the master of wit and repartee, that wascally wabbit himself, the one, the only, Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito!

Interlocutor: People are complaining about all the misstatements and gaffes coming out of the Cabinet, but he’s got their backs:

“The (opposition) asks us a lot of detailed questions that they didn’t tell us in advance, and it’s hard to answer them accurately. If a minister is asked about something outside the range of their (responsibility), they haven’t prepared all the data, and it isn’t in their heads.”

Interlocutor: Well, what part of their body is it in, then? Ha ha ha!

The poll numbers for the Cabinet are falling through the floor, but he’s been the Rock of Gibraltar for his fellow cutups. Just this week, he said:

“In the not too distant future, the people will praise the policies, acts, and results of the Kan Cabinet.”

And never a thought for himself, that man—he’s always on the job. Reporters asked him earlier this month whether he would visit Okinawa to see the Futenma air base for himself. Wouldn’t a few days in the tropics be great this time of year, even on a business trip? It would do him a world of good. But he can’t tear himself away from his desk:

“If you (in the media) didn’t bring up the problem of crisis management, I could go anytime, but I can’t move because I have to be in the 23 wards of Tokyo 24 hours a day.”

Don’t let that gruff exterior fool you folks, he’s really a paragon of courtesy. He’s got the greatest respect and deference for our Chinese neighbors. And he shows that regard by using highly honorific language when he speaks speak of them. Don’t you remember how politely he referred to them in September, even though he was very disappointed in their behavior?

“I don’t know about 20 years ago, but it was my understanding that (China) had changed quite a bit—the judiciary had become independent and the relationship between government and the judicial system had become more modern. But they haven’t changed much at all.” (あまりお変わりになっていなかった)

Or how hopeful he was of positive developments after the government returned the 14 crew members to China along with their ship. Notice the respect he pays to the average Chinese fisherman:

(14人と船がお帰りになれば、違った状況が開けてくるのではないか)
“If the 14 sailors and their ship return (to China), that will likely create a different set of circumstances.”

It must be that Socialist background and his sense of solidarity with working men and women everywhere! He did it again when he confirmed that a Chinese survey ship was near the Japanese Shirakaba gas fields in the East China Sea:

(周辺にいらっしゃることは確認している。)
“(We’ve) confirmed (the ship) is in the area.”

Interlocutor: That’s more respect than Kan Naoto gets!

There’s more! Not only does he hold the Chinese in high esteem, but with true Japanese humility he elevates others by lowering himself and the members of his group. Here’s what he said about the political neutrality of civil servants:

“The Self-Defense Forces are also an instrument of violence, as well as a type of military organization. Therefore, based on our prewar experience, their political neutrality in particular must be ensured.”

He quickly caught himself and changed that to “an organization of power”, but boy, did that start a motherbruiser of a pie fight in the cheap seats! Even some of his detractors, including blogger Ikeda Nobuo, rushed to his defense by suggesting that he was paraphrasing the sociologist and political economist Max Weber, who held that the state should have a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.

Others objected that Vladimir Lenin had a taste for the phrase too, not to mention a taste for violence. Old Ilyich used approximations of it several times, including, “The state is an organ or instrument of violence exercised by one class against another …”

But just as Mr. Sengoku was there to defend Kan Naoto when the going got tough, the tough prime minister got going and stood up for the chief cabinet secretary:

“He read communist party-type books in the past. He told me himself that the phrase ‘instrument of violence’ appeared in them. That’s not what he really believes. I recognize that he made a mistake in his choice of words.”

Interlocutor: So it was Lenin and not Weber after all!

But really, trust me, he’s a serious guy with the people’s best interests at heart. This February, when he was still the minister for national strategy, he talked about the goals of his party:

“Our objective is to create a government that the civil servants and the people will be thankful for. The basic concepts are ‘disclosure’ and ‘explanation’.”

Ladies and gentleman, we all know it’s impossible to follow an act like that, but if anyone can, it’s the recently reshuffled Minister of Justice, the Clown Prince of Comedy, Yanagida Minoru entertaining an audience in Hiroshima on the 14th! Heeeeere’s Minnie!

“All I did was remember two answers that have gotten me through Diet testimony: ‘I will refrain from commenting on specific cases,’ and ‘We are dealing with the matter appropriately based on law and evidence.'”

Interlocutor: I say, didn’t he run that joke into the ground? Opposition pols checked the Diet records and came up with six examples of the first and 14 examples of the second in his testimony.

Naw, he’s more than a one-hit wonder. He told another joke to the same Hiroshima crowd that was too hip for the room. It went over the heads of everyone in the media:

“I haven’t been involved with legal matters even once over the past 20 years.”

For an encore, the government brought back the old Alphonse and Gaston routine. Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku said they wouldn’t fire him. People’s New Party head Kamei Shizuka said the gags had been the staple of the LDP baggy pants ministers of national comedy back when Henny Youngman was picking flies out of his soup! Then Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku changed their minds. But the Justice Minister said he would stay–to implement his agenda!

And then he changed his mind and quit the next day!

His loyal fan club following still has a crush on him, though. An executive with the Hiroshima branch of the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Union—he got where he is today because of union support—said:

“Because I know Mr. Yanigida, I think that was just his way of making a joke, though it wasn’t a good thing to say.”

But the DPJ topped that punch line. Sengoku Yoshito announced he would hold a double Cabinet portfolio and take over the job as Justice Minister for the time being!

Well, that about wraps up our show for tonight, ladies and gentlemen, we do hope you enjoyed yourselves. Thanks for being such a wonderful audience! We’d like to take you home with us! And good night Mrs. Karabashi, wherever you are!

No laughing matter

Most journalists make reasonable allowances for the fact a man is a politician, but there are some like me who don’t. While the condition may be mysterious, and the cause not singular, to me mad is mad. It has several times struck me, in meeting directly with “power,” that if I heard a man speaking like this, while riding on a trolley, I would assume he was an outpatient.
– David Warren of the Ottawa Citizen

It’s only taken a few short months for the audience to head for the exits at the DPJ revue yet again, and that’s got everyone in show business worried. A JNN poll over the weekend in the Tokyo area found that support for the DPJ was down to 18.4%. Meanwhile, support for the LDP, the Tar Baby of Japanese politics (Tar Baby jes’ sit there and don’t say nothin’) has climbed to 30.0%. Those are roughly identical to the relative numbers in 2006 just before Abe Shinzo decided to let the postal rebels back into the LDP.

Support for the Kan Cabinet was at 26.6% and disapproval at 66.2%. A Sankei-Fuji poll taken at the same time had the numbers at 21.8% and 59.8% respectively. 84.6% are not impressed with Mr. Kan’s leadership. One reason Mr. Yanagida had to walk the plank was the concern that the opposition would pass a censure motion in the upper house. 63.2% now think it would be appropriate to submit a similar motion for Sengoku Yoshito.

Last week, Ozawa Ichiro met with his allies who are first term lower house members to warn them that Prime Minister Kan might dissolve the lower house and call an election out of desperation. He thinks the election could come as early as February.

His statement was carried by several news outlets, but only the Asahi reported that Mr. Ozawa said he was troubled by the political climate. He thinks there’s been a breakdown of party politics and sees similarities with the situation in prewar Japan.

But Mr. Ozawa has always been more drama queen than comedian. The state of the Japanese demos cannot at all be compared to the prewar days, and the military has no political influence to speak of. State Shinto and Imperial Japan no longer exist.

It’s not a failure of party politics—it’s a failure of the politicians. More specifically, it’s a failure of the entire political class and a demonstration of the Peter Principle, which holds that the members of a hierarchy rise to the level of their incompetence. Publilius Syrus, who was something of an improvisational comic himself, observed in the 1st century BC, “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.”

Likewise, it takes no skill or competence for opposition backbenchers to stand in front of a microphone and run themselves up while running the government down when the country is at peace with itself. Now that they’ve served in the front benches of the Diet, however, it’s clear that most of the people in the Hatoyama and Kan cabinets aren’t qualified to sit in the national legislature, much less be in government. The Japanese are facing the same crisis of government that people in the West are dealing with, but in their own context. The country’s citizens have discovered that anyone can serve in the Diet when the sea is calm. Subsequent elections are likely to demonstrate the consequences of that discovery, though with Japan’s proportional representational system, the ringleaders in each party will be placed atop the PR lists and sneak back into the Diet through the back door anyway.

Another problem is that the people might not be given a chance to vote anytime soon. There’s talk of a grand coalition between the DPJ (sans the Ozawa element), the LDP, and New Komeito. Yosano Kaoru, a former Cabinet member in LDP governments and the co-leader of the Sunrise Party, met with Prime Minister Kan last week, and the media speculated that a coalition was the topic of conversation. It didn’t help that Mr. Yosano had to play the wiseguy and say it was just a friendly visit.

Former DPJ Cabinet minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro, a cast member of the Ozawa Ichiro puppet show, also hinted at the possibility when he told the weekly Shukan Post in an interview appearing in the current issue that “many” people “probably” favor a grand coalition. That’s not what the polls say—one released last week found only about 10% of the respondents supporting that option. Another trial balloon being floated was the formation of a grand coalition for three years, after which time the current Diet term would expire and a joint upper/lower house election could be held.

That would be the ultimate in political failure. The successful functioning of such a coalition would require negotiations between the parties to get anything accomplished. (About the only thing they would accomplish is an increase in the consumption tax to have the people pay for their fiscal failures.) Negotiations are a process they already could be conducting in the Diet if they weren’t more interested in slipping whoopee cushions under each others’ chairs. If the opposition in the upper house voted down the enabling legislation required for the budget early next spring, the DPJ would have to call for a new election anyway.

A grand coalition really would smack of prewar politics, particularly the Imperial Rule Assistance Association, a government organization that subsumed the bureaucracy, the parties, and the military. A grand coalition—one of the drawbacks of the parliamentary system of government—would be antithetical to the core principles of democracy: The voters couldn’t throw the bums out.

It would be a marriage of convenience to allow failures at governnment to sit at a big table and cut deals on ways to prolong their failure. Serious critics of the government, primarily Your Party and the Communist Party (which is serious in behavior if not in philosophy) would be relegated to the sidelines to squawk. The voters would still be wondering who to vote out when the next election came in three years.

Politics, Charles DeGaulle thought, is too important to be left to the politicians. When the politicians in a Third World country become dysfunctional, the military—the only organization in those places to understand discipline, service, and the pursuit of excellence—barges in to overturn the table and crack some heads. That won’t happen in Japan; while the politicians here play in the Comedy Central sandbox, the professional civil servants of the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy will keep the machinery functioning until the political class reaches adulthood.

But that takes us back to the original problem of whether Japan is to be an administrative state run by bureaucrats or if the government is to be managed by political leadership. The solution will require more ability and diligence than that demonstrated by the likes of Edano Yukio and his DPJ comrades, who’ve spent years in the Diet carelessly talking the talk without bothering to learn how to walk the walk.

For the time being, the inmates are running the asylum, and they might yet find a way to lock out the medical staff and swallow the key. That situation calls for the skills of the Frontier Psychiatrist. Here’s a video that might capture the spirit of today’s politics in Japan better than the analogy of a vaudeville revue. Expulsion is the only answer!

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Posted in China, Government, I couldn't make this up if I tried, International relations, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Maneuvering on a multicellular level

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Democratic Party is essentially the same as the Liberal Democratic Party, so they’ll be tranquil when they put up with their differences to avoid a civil war, or when they’re forcibly held in check. Once a fight breaks out, however, the situation will spin out of control.
– Watanabe Yoshimi, Your Party president

I would go so far as to say that, for the political objectives I want to achieve, it would be better not to become prime minister
– Ozawa Ichiro, in a self-published 1996 interview

THE FIRST TIME Ozawa Ichiro disappeared from public view for a few weeks was in July 1993. He emerged with an eight-party coalition that became the Hosokawa administration, the first non-LDP government since 1955. That and the subsequent Hata administration lasted a combined 11 months.

Just before evaporating a second time after the ruling Democratic Party’s poor showing in the July upper house election, he told the media that “anything could happen”. Once a drama queen, always a drama queen.

In happier times

As we’ll see later, some unusual things almost did happen, but after Kan Naoto refused an offer he couldn’t accept, Mr. Ozawa chose to go bare-knuckle with the prime minister for the DPJ presidency. During his seclusion, he stayed in several hotels in the Tokyo area for private meetings with politicians from all the parties and the leaders of large interest groups, such as Koga Nobuaki of Rengo (the Japanese Trade Union Confederation), to examine his options and to count the votes.

Regardless of what people think of Mr. Ozawa, everyone will stipulate to this: He is capable of conceiving options that elude everyone else and making those options a reality. Take it for granted that he has counted the votes.

The other numbers he can count are what some estimate to be JPY three billion in a personal political kitty with perhaps the Hatoyama family fortune and an emergency fund that Rengo has saved for a rainy day in reserve. Japanese law does not limit how much can be spent on a party election, and the Japanese tradition of fishing politicians often involves baiting the hook with wads of yen. There is also one more number to consider—he is 68 years old, and this will be his last chance to shape Japanese politics. The only things he hasn’t left to chance are the calculated risks.

So, for a quick review:

In January 2009, the DPJ under the leadership of Ozawa Ichiro overtook the LDP in public opinion surveys at last to become the leading party in Japan. The polls somersaulted again shortly thereafter when an Ozawa aide was arrested in connection with a political funding scandal. Following a few months of soba-opera, Mr. Ozawa and then-Secretary General Hatoyama Yukio accepted responsibility for their malfeasance by trading jobs.

Mr. Hatoyama became prime minister in September. By the end of the year, the bottom began to fall out on DPJ support again when the public discovered that (1) The DPJ had no business leading a government (2) Anyone picked at random from the phone book would have made a better prime minister than Hatoyama Yukio, and (3) More Ozawa and Hatoyama aides were arrested for more political funding scandals.

With his party facing decimation at the polls in July, Mr. Hatoyama showed some public spine for the first time in his life by taking Mr. Ozawa with him when he resigned. Mr. Hatoyama then said he would retire from politics after his lower house term expired.

But his replacement, Kan Naoto, forgot the sandbox factor in politics. He made a point of telling Mr. Ozawa in public to zip his lip and appointed well-known Ozawa detesters to the key posts in his Cabinet. The new Kan-Sengoku-Edano troika saw their chance to get rid of him for good and use that for their advantage it in the election. It almost worked. But Mr. Kan stuck his other foot in it by botching the election campaign.

Therefore, just three months after being shown the door, Ozawa Ichiro, the former:

  • Secretary-general of the LDP
  • Secretary-general of the Japan Renewal Party
  • Secretary-general and president of the New Frontier Party
  • President of the Liberal Party, and
  • Secretary-general and president (twice) of the DPJ

…will run for party president a third time with the backing of Hatoyama Yukio, who isn’t going to resign from the Diet after all. They’ve faced off in a DPJ presidential election once before, and Mr. Ozawa won handily.

People overseas think Japanese politicians are disposable. Meanwhile, the Japanese public would like nothing better than to get rid of these guys for good.

Machinations early

After the upper house election, Japanese politicians started doing what they do best—hashing out Byzantine alliances in hotel suites and the private rooms of exclusive restaurants.

Mr. Ozawa began his series of entre nous meetings with everyone except the Kan clique. Those close to the prime minister complained that Mr. Ozawa didn’t return his calls, but those close to Mr. Ozawa said he didn’t receive any. Either or both could be lying.

Maehara Seiji

Secrecy spawns rumor, and some of the rumors about the people whom Mr. Ozawa met were quite delicious. For example, former DPJ head and current Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Minister Maehara Seiji has long been part of the anti-Ozawa camp, and even openly flirted two years ago with some prominent LDP members. Nevertheless, the story arose of a possible rapprochement, with Mr. Maehara being sounded out to run against Kan Naoto. The go-between was said to be Inamori Kazuo, the founder of Kyocera, KDDI, and the Inamori Foundation, as well as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist priest. He is connected with both men. (Both he and Mr. Maehara are based in Kyoto.)

One reason it might make sense is that Mr. Maehara is closer to the political center than the leftists now in control of the DPJ, and he wants to be prime minister too. At the same time, a story began circulating of a backstabber in the Kan Cabinet, and all fingers pointed immediately to him. Another report had him meeting with former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro, which ignited speculation that Mr. Ozawa was exploring the option of a grand coalition between some elements of the DPJ, the LDP, and smaller parties.

But Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito and DPJ Secretary-General Edano Yukio are members of the same group/faction within the party, so Mr. Maehara’s support for someone other than the prime minister would mean the end of his support group in the party. He might also have been swayed by Mr. Sengoku’s promise that he would be the next prime minister, which was another delicious rumor.

Sengoku Yoshito

The chief cabinet secretary has options of his own, and he wants to be prime minister too. One story had him obtaining a promise of money supplied by the Finance Ministry to fish long-time Ozawa loyalist/pit bull Yamaoka Kenji, but he came home with an empty creel. That did not go down well with Mr. Ozawa. There were also whispers of a Sengoku overture to Nakagawa Hidenao of the LDP, though what an old Socialist and a Koizumian would have in common isn’t clear.

Ozawa Ichiro

Mr. Ozawa sounded out former Foreign Minister Tanaka Makiko, the daughter of his patron Tanaka Kakuei, for a possible run as prime minister in July, but she passed. She instead encouraged him to run, but he said there wasn’t enough time to put a candidacy together. He is said to have changed his mind about Ms. Tanaka as a surrogate when she blabbed about the content of their meeting to reporters. Omerta is part of the Ozawa code, too.

Ozawa's back

Remember that Mr. Ozawa had a deal in place with former Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo of the LDP two years ago for a grand coalition. That was another option he explored, and it still isn’t off the table, either as head of the DPJ or at the head of a new party if he loses and leaves. There are an estimated 30 Ozawa diehards in the DPJ out of the roughly 160 in his group; if he managed to take 100 people with him and struck a deal with some people in the LDP and the smaller parties, the DPJ government is over. The new coalition would pass a no confidence motion, triggering a general election.

Mr. Ozawa knows that the Kan/Sengoku/Edano wing of the party wants him out, and he’s also heard the tasty tidbit that they were ready to kick him out had one of the prosecutors’ review panels decided it would have been “appropriate” to prosecute Mr. Ozawa, rather than their judgment of “inappropriate not to prosecute”.

The grand coalition talk of two years ago was brokered by Yomiuri Shimbun publisher Watanabe Tsuneo and LDP elder statesman Nakasone Yasuhiro, who sees in Mr. Ozawa the best chance to achieve one of his own ambitions, which is to rewrite the Japanese constitution.

Sharp-eyed observers have noticed that the Yomiuri and Sankei newspapers on the right have toned down their Ozawa bashing. The Ozawa camp confirmed rumors that their man had met with some senior LDP party members even during the upper house campaign. Yet another rumor circulated that some of the visitors to the Ozawa hotel suite included Fukuda Yasuo and former Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro.

There were even whispers that Mr. Ozawa went fishing for Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi, as unlikely as the prospects for success would seem to be. Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji will have nothing to do with the man, but the story gave some people pause because Mr. Ozawa almost fished Mr. Watanabe’s father Michio from the LDP to replace Hosokawa Morihiro more than 15 years ago.

Machinations late

19 August

Hatoyama Yukio conducts a political seminar every year during the summer at his Karuizawa villa. This year’s seminar was held just as speculation about Ozawa Ichiro’s intentions started to peak. More people than usual showed up—160, which accounts for just under 40% of the party’s Diet membership. They included Mr. Ozawa, for his second visit ever, and his ally Koshi’ishi Azuma, head of the DPJ upper house caucus. An estimated 70 to 80 were from the Ozawa group, while about 40-50 were from the Hatoyama group.

The newspapers ran photos of the three grinning amigos, drinks in hand. Mr. Ozawa was serenaded with shouts of “kiai” (fighting spirit). Some observers insisted Mr. Ozawa would not run, but that episode alone should have given them pause. And they really should have reexamined their assumptions when long-time Hatoyama associate Hirano Hirofumi, the chief cabinet secretary in the Hatoyama administration, also publicly urged Mr. Ozawa to make it a race.

23 August

Mr. Kan held a meeting of his own with the DPJ’s first term Diet members. He raised a few eyebrows by telling them he wanted to create a “forward looking approach” that included Mr. Ozawa—just a few months after telling Mr. Ozawa to put a sock in it and appointing his enemies to key party positions.

24 August

Four people are said to have met in a private room in the New Otani Hotel in Tokyo–Hatoyama Yukio, Hirano Hirofumi, Ozawa Ichiro, and Hidaka Takeshi, a former deputy secretary-general of the party and the son-in-law of Hirano Sadao, a retired politician who is the closest of Mr. Ozawa’s associates.

Here’s a mix of rumor and fact as to what happened:

Mr. Ozawa ran down the numbers for Mr. Hatoyama and showed him that he would win the election with Hatoyama support. Mr. Hatoyama wanted to avoid an election brawl because he thought it would split the party. He also realized the party might split regardless of who won.

According to one story, the generalities of which have been partially confirmed, Mr. Hatoyama acted as a go-between and called Mr. Kan on the spot to report the numbers. He offered the Ozawa deal: You can stay as prime minister, but tell your friends Sengoku Yoshito, Edano Yukio, and (probably) Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko they’ll have to go. The new Cabinet would have an Ozawa ally as secretary-general (perhaps Yamaoka Kenji) and perhaps a Hatoyama ally as chief cabinet secretary. Mr. Kan would be allowed to stay on until next spring. He would then be replaced by Ozawa for a year, followed by someone else, perhaps Maehara Seiji.

25 August

Mr. Hatoyama and Mr. Kan met. Another version of the story says that this was the meeting at which the Ozawa deal was offered.

At the news conference afterwards, Mr. Hatoyama said:

I told him what Ozawa Ichiro was thinking, and that if he wanted his cooperation, he would have to ask for it very seriously. We didn’t come to any conclusions…Mr. Ozawa is not taking the idea of the so-called shift away from Ozawa (in the party) in good humor. The explanation that it was just for party unity is not satisfactory.

There’s an even wilder story that lends credence to the idea of a grand coalition. Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya and MLIT Minister Maehara Seiji could stay in the Cabinet, perhaps with different portfolios. They would be joined by former Finance Minister Yosano Kaoru of the Sunrise Party (ex-LDP member), former Health Minister Masuzoe Yoichi of the New Renaissance Party (ex-LDP member), and former Financial Services Minister Kamei Shizuka of the People’s New Party (ex-LDP member whose party is still in the DPJ coalition). The possibility of New Komeito joining the festivities was also discussed. The possibility of Fukushima Mizuho’s Social Democrats joining wasn’t.

Mr. Kan, to his credit, turned the offer down. No one knows exactly what he wants to do, but becoming another Ozawa puppet isn’t part of it. The most he would offer in return is to appoint Ozawa Ichiro as a “senior advisor to the party”, which translates as “old guy who used to be important but isn’t any more”.

26 August

After a morning meeting with Hatoyama Yukio at the latter’s office, Ozawa Ichiro held a news conference and announced he would run for the party presidency with Hatoyama support. Mr. Hatoyama later confirmed it. Considering the circumstances when Mr. Ozawa joined the party, he said, it was for the greater good.

When a reporter asked about his previous, sphinx-like support for Kan Naoto, he answered:

I said that in the sense that it was natural as one party member to support the prime minister who has acted as the head of the government.

What’s in it for him? After his national humiliation, he gets to play kingmaker again in the party he created with his mother’s money. He might also be foreign minister in an Ozawa Ichiro administration. Other people would formulate the policy, while he would get to meet exotic people and travel with his trophy wife to exotic places and talk about yuai all day long.

Then there’s the sandbox factor again. Some people say he doesn’t like Mr. Kan very much.

The election

It’s mostly a fight between punks. It’s even worse than the faction battles of the old LDP…I’m going to be fed up with having to watch this for the next three weeks.
– Watanabe Yoshimi

This is going to be a cutthroat election…It will probably be very difficult for the DPJ to conduct their own affairs (during the campaign)…It’s also possible this will provide an opportunity for a political realignment.
– Sonoda Hiroyuki, secretary-general of the Sunrise Japan Party

This will be the 14th DPJ presidential election since the party was founded—an average of one every 10 months—but it’s only the second to allow the votes of party members and supporters. The latter two groups are differentiated by the amount of money they spent to buy the privilege. Anyone over 18 can be a supporter for JPY 2,000 (about $US 23.55), and the DPJ website says that foreigners are eligible to be both party members and supporters. Thus, though their votes could be counted in units of parts per million, foreigners will have a say in who becomes the next prime minister of Japan.

The Big O: I am the one I've been waiting for

The breakdown of votes goes like this: the ballots of the 413 DPJ Diet members count two points each, for 826. The votes of all sub-national assembly members will count for 100 points in the aggregate. The aggregate for the party members and supporters is 300 points, for a total of 1,226.

The other inclusive election was in 2002, when there were four candidates. Kan Naoto won the most votes among Diet members, but Hatoyama Yukio won the election with the votes of local prefectural assembly members.

Kan Naoto has run in eight of the previous 13 elections. He’s won four and lost four.

Ozawa Ichiro is said to be strong among all those groups, particularly among the upper house Diet members and in the prefectural legislatures. The man has spent a lot of time on retail campaigning on the rubber sushi circuit. He’s also assigned quotas to the members of his group to round up votes among the party members and supporters, after dividing the country into blocs. They started work as soon as Mr. Ozawa made his announcement.

Ishiba Shigeru, now of the LDP, was a member of the New Frontier Party when Hata Tsutomu and Ozawa Ichiro ran for party president in 1995. He remembers that a large volume of ballots from supporters appeared for counting at the last minute. All of them had only “Ichiro” written on them in the same handwriting. When he and some other members heard the story, they went to look for the ballots, only to find they had already been thrown out.

Who’s going to win this time? Making predictions for anything in Japanese politics is a silly way to kill time, especialy when ballot box-stuffers are running, but this election reminds me of some advice an old man gave me years ago: Never bet against the New York Yankees in the World Series. Substituting Ozawa Ichiro for baseball’s evil empire is a fair comp. And as long as we’re betting on form, here’s another tip: Take the block in the office pool that has his administration lasting less than a year and collapsing in rubble.

The weekly Shukan Post has already made up its mind. Here’s one of their headlines on the cover of the 6 August issue:

“Ozawa Landslide: Already Kan’s only choice is to submit”

Why Kan?

Because he’s a steady hand on the tiller of the ship of state? Let’s pause for the laughter to die down.

There aren’t many reasons to vote for Mr. Kan unless you like desiccated social democrats/political activists who sold out what remained of their principles to the bureaucrats of the Finance Ministry to stay in power.

He offers no coherent policy, no political skills, and he’s unlikely to be in office this time next year even if he wins. The only reasons to vote for him are negative rather than positive, and that’s exactly how his supporters are selling him.

Party poster girl Ren Ho, who is in the anti-Ozawa camp, gives her reasons for supporting the prime minister:

I welcome the party president election itself in September, but if there is a new prime minister, there would normally be a dissolution of the lower house and a general election.

She’s only just started her second term in the upper house, but that’s some serious gall she’s got working. If the election of a new prime minister requires a general election, Mr. Kan should have already called one after replacing Hatoyama Yukio in June–particularly after the upper house election defeat. But she didn’t stop there:

There will be a policy review of the special account at the end of October, and that will have a big impact on it. One reason I support the prime minister is to minimize the effect on the policy review.

She’s the minister in charge of policy reviews, so she should already be directing a continuous policy review. But she’s afraid a mid-September election will interfere with the TV coverage of her star turn six weeks later. If reviewing policies were her intention, based on her previous three or however many there were after the first one, she could have a report on the desk of the prime minister by 1 September so he could give it to the Finance Ministry for approval.

The Asahi Shimbun took her first argument even further in an editorial. They claimed there was a new principle in this age of change in governments that prime ministers should be replaced only through general elections. Where did this new principle come from? From the backside of the editorial writer on the day he wrote the piece.

Another reason to oppose Ozawa Ichiro is his identification with money politics in general and the possibility that he could still be prosecuted for political fund scandals. Said Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya:

It would be strange to have as party president and prime minister someone who could be indicted. Changing the national leader so many times in a short period is a problem for the national interest.

Showing some gall of his own, Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications and Ozawa toady Haraguchi Kazuhiro responded:

We should not make statements that stray from the fundamentals of democracy. The principle of presumed innocence is the principle of democracy.

To which Mr. Okada retorted:

The presumption of innocence is an issue of the law. Discussing issues of political ethics is in a different dimension.

And yes, both of these men are in the same party and in the same Cabinet at the same time. Isn’t the nation in good hands?

Why Ozawa?

Yamaoka Kenji counts two reasons. Here’s the first:

We’re going to go into the (local) elections next March with a half-baked executive branch. We must select a person with powerful leadership capable of conducting politics that ‘Puts the peoples’ lives first’.

He later added:

The people’s conclusion in the upper house election was to say no to the Kan administration, but then (the Kan supporters) claim we can’t keep changing prime ministers. But is maintaining the status quo responding to popular will? We should stabilize the political base with a new system and a new face….To resolve the crisis, increasing numbers of people are calling on Ozawa Ichiro.

That last thought leads into the second reason:

The (leader) must be a man who can work with the opposition to create a stable government. If the budget negotiations come to a standstill with the Diet in gridlock, it is possible the lower house will be dissolved and a general election held next spring…Mr. Ozawa would be the suitable party leader to pass the 2011 budget and related legislation in the gridlocked Diet.

Stagnation is a word the Japanese often use to describe contemporary political conditions. After entropy had its way with the LDP, the people finally turned to the DPJ. But the electorate’s worst fears were realized once the DPJ formed a government—they were not ready for prime time, and as presently constituted, never will be. At least the LDP prime ministers during their endgame were marginally competent—the two DPJ prime ministers have been a post-adolescent spacehead and a man for whom hangover is the default state of sobriety.

The LDP hasn’t learned its lesson, and as a group, probably never will. As one freelance journalist commented, they’re like horse manure floating down the stream (i.e., going with the flow and naturally breaking up).

The reason people will vote for Ozawa Ichiro, other than the universal factor of sucking up to power, is because they think he’s a man on a white horse who will end the stagnation—by sheer force of will, if necessary—and get things done. You know, make the trains run on time. How can the demoralized resist? He’s the only person with a chance to lead a government capable of putting together the votes to ensure that important legislation, however that is defined, passes. He’s also the only person with the cojones not to care what other people think.

Some might find ad hoc coalitions for each issue appealing, while others will find a grand national coalition more to their taste. Even Kan Naoto has referred to it indirectly. On the 16th, he compared the current situation to the gridlock between the two major parties in the 1930s:

I wonder if we will be able to provide functioning politics by trying to trip each other up. This demands party politics that transcends ruling and opposition parties.

During an interview in a recent issue of the weekly Shukan Gendai, first term DPJ MP Okuno Soichiro thought a “national salvation cabinet” would be the solution.

We’ve already seen the rumor of a potential national salvation cabinet put together by Mr. Ozawa during his summer vacation.

The danger here is the same danger with all broad coalition governments: The voters can’t throw the bums out. The bums are so dysfunctional they create alliances of convenience to facilitate their own interests, rather than the interests of the nation at large or of its people. Few politicians anywhere are capable of making that distinction under the best of circumstances, and a grand coalition means they will ignore that distinction altogether.

The people have very clearly told the politicians–repeatedly–what they don’t want them to do. But here, as elsewhere, the politicians are too dense or too self-interested to listen, and some of them are so befuddled they’re willing to walk into a cage and hand Ozawa Ichiro the key.

What happens?

This is a time-limited party that will vanish in 2010.
– Hatoyama Yukio on the DPJ during a 30 August 1996 news conference

If Kan Naoto wins

The past is prelude. The suffocation intensifies with the downside risk that he, Mr. Sengoku, and Mr. Edano slip in some social democrat ugliness before they join the LDP in breaking up as they float down the stream. He kept on Justice Minister Chiba Keiko despite her election loss, and she favors creating a Japanese version of Canada’s execrable Human Rights Commission. And the dependency on the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy will grow worse.

If Ozawa Ichiro wins

Lordy lord.

An Ozawa victory gives the mass media a gold-plated “Go directly to hog heaven” card. It will turn a “free, for all” democracy into a free-for-all. There will be a national political fistfight both egged on and refereed by the mass media.

Because one possible benefit of an Ozawa administration would be an effort to tame the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy, the faceless elites will do everything in their considerable power to bring Mr. Ozawa down. After former Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro displeased the Finance Ministry, for example, a severe credit crunch just happened to emerge by some quirk of coincidence. It’s dreadful to imagine what they might try to pull off now.

Will he be indicted? The 16 August edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun offers the consensus of opinion of the reporters covering the Tokyo prosecutors. They think he’ll skate.

But if Mr. Ozawa becomes prime minister, that issue will be moot. Here’s Article 75 of the Japanese Constitution:

The Ministers of State shall not, during their tenure of office, be subject to legal action without the consent of the Prime Minister. However, the right to take that action is not impaired hereby.

A Prime Minister Ozawa is not likely to consent to his own prosecution. Hey, it’s worth a shot. Jacques Chirac seems to have gotten away with it.

The opposition (and some in the DPJ) will demand that he testify in front of the Diet to explain how his political funds management committee could buy real estate with suitcases full of cash. Mr. Ozawa understands that the opposition will not allow Diet business to proceed until he appears as a witness. He’s gone through multiple grillings with prosecutors, so at least he’s had the time to get his story down.

That’s unless there’s a grand coalition, in which case they’re all in it together and won’t care if the Communists and Social Democrats are uncooperative.

Here’s a safe bet: There will be record low support ratings from the public. Mr. Ozawa understands that, too. One of his supporters said that even 0% was fine. He suggested the media puts too much weight on the polls, and the numbers will rise once an Ozawa Cabinet starts producing results.

There is another possibility—that he will break precedent and not serve as prime minister during his term as DPJ president. He might be able to skip out on Diet testimony that way, and anyone he selects as prime minister will surely not consent to his prosecution.

Most politicians accumulate power to implement policy, but Ozawa Ichiro is the reverse. He implements policy to accumulate power, and most any policy is fine by him. He’s fond of using a play on words in Japanese to say that campaign pledges are convenient because they can be easily replastered.

What policies would he support? Let’s take the word of Haraguchi Kazuhiro in an interview in the 4 September Shukan Gendai:

We should sincerely reflect on our failure to uphold the manifesto. There is a move to amend the manifesto in view of the upper house election results, but for us the manifesto itself is structural reform, so that is not what we should do…If there is to be a change of government, we should reexamine the Cabinet decision to set a ceiling on expenditures at JPY 71 trillion and Japanese treasury floatations of JPY 44 trillion in the 2011 budget.

The interviewer noted that the Kan Cabinet is also having second thoughts about those budgetary limits.

The centerpiece policies in that original platform included the child allowance, subsidies to individual farmers, and free expressways, not all of which were fully implemented, but all of which are unnecessary drains on the public treasury.

There was one tax break in the manifesto—eliminating the gasoline surtax. Mr. Ozawa himself ordered Prime Minister Hatoyama to forget about that one last December.

In other words, if you think the economy is bad now, wait until you see an Ozawa administration. The Finance Ministry might not stop them, either. Picking up the pieces and gluing them back together when it’s over gives them more power down the road.

That manifesto also called for the reversion of Japan Post to state control rather than continue with privatization.

Here’s Haraguchi Kazuhiro again:

There are many reformers in the LDP we can work with…They’re the ones who think the people’s rights should be guaranteed in Japan Post.

He later explained to reporters that by reformers, he meant the people who ran against privatization in 2005.

Since the announcement of his candidacy, Mr. Ozawa has already visited the head of the national postmasters’ association. Who do you think those men will be pressing their local DPJ Diet members to vote for?

While secretary-general, Mr. Ozawa also arranged matters so that budgetary requests from sub-national governments came directly to his office rather than to Diet members or the bureaucracy.

Thus, an Ozawa administration will be characterized by money politics with no transparency and blatant schemes to buy off voters, overseen by a man who demands such discipline that he has long been known in political circles as a fassho yaro, or fascist bastard.

And don’t forget he’s going to cock a snoot at the Americans every chance he gets. He’ll even find ways to create a few chances on his own.

If anything good comes of it, Komori Yoshihisa of the Sankei Shimbun describes what it will be:

If he becomes prime minister, it will touch off a large political realignment. The DPJ would very likely split. That would enable the serious politicians of the DPJ and those of the LDP to come together to form a new force….We can expect most Japanese to be fiercely opposed. The Cabinet support rate will fall through the floor. An administration of that type cannot possibly last long. But during that short period, Prime Minister Ozawa will awaken the people’s awareness of proper government.

Sight is quarterly magazine dealing mostly with political topics, with about half of each issue focusing on one topic. Here’s the headline on the cover of the Spring issue:

Thank you, Ozawa Ichiro, we are now going to graduate.

Not quite yet, alas. But they will.

As the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci observed, “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

What we’re seeing now is the inevitable morbid symptoms. The old will die and the new will be born.

Afterwords:

The English-language media got a free reach-around when Mr. Ozawa held forth on Americans and the British among other topics of interest during a political seminar earlier this week. He was reported as saying that Americans were unicellular (i.e., simple-minded) and weak in the head, though he was pleasantly surprised they elected Barack Obama.

To be accurate, what he said was that the Americans had unicellular “aspects” (or tendencies, depending on how it is translated). Not exactly sweetness and light, but not a blanket condemnation either. Such much for unicellular translations.

Unicellular is also a good word to describe their coverage. Most seemed to think it was a gaffe for some reason, or perhaps they desperately wished it were so. There are about a half-dozen skyrocketing story lines in Japanese politics right now, but that was the one that got them all excited.

It would have been a gaffe if he slipped and said something he didn’t mean to say. I suspect he said what he meant and doesn’t care what Americans think. He might have even said it on purpose.

Mr. Ozawa lives with the knowledge that he’s under the media microscope in Japan 24/7. That focus has intensified since his resignation as secretary-general in May, and has gone into hyperdrive since the upper house election.

He made the statement during a political seminar at which everyone with a press credential was present, including the Japanese version of the Pocatello Idaho Weekly Shopping Gazette. He knew it would be his most closely watched political speech of the year (so far) because people thought he might announce his political intentions. (He didn’t.)

It would have been a gaffe if it hurt him politically.

Do I really need to finish that thought? It wasn’t even mentioned at first in the Japanese sources. It was reported here only after the overseas media noticed, and only because they noticed. The story is already dead in Japan.

One of the more hysterical Australian newspapers thought this might swing the DPJ election to Kan Naoto.

Aren’t they precious?

There’s an old proverb common to China, Korea, and Japan about the frog at the bottom of the well who thinks he knows the world. Mr. Ozawa does bear a resemblance to a frog, and that is a deep well he’s croaking in, but as a long-time American resident of Japan who has witnessed the behavior here of his countrymen for more than quarter-century, I also see where he’s coming from. So do many East Asians, from the northeast to the southeast, but that will fly over the media’s head too.

Meanwhile, the current American president thinks, among other things, that the Showa Tenno (Hirohito) signed the Japanese document of surrender at the end of World War II on board the battleship Missouri, that the Americans liberated Auschwitz, that the Austrians speak some language called “Austrian”, that people in Japan bow and shake hands at the same time, and that his own name is derived from Swahili, even though it is derived from Arabic. But the American mass media has swept all those under the rug. They’re suck-ups to power too, and their swoon is particularly delirious whenever the Democrats find someone who can pass for an alpha male.

There are lots of frogs at the bottom of lots of wells, all over the world.

I’m not a Christian, but Matthew 7:1 works fine for me here.

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Japan’s political kaleidoscope (6): Heigh ho, silver lining!

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 16, 2010

The reason the left loses is, paradoxically, because of its periodic successes: once in power the mask slips, they cannot control themselves, and so the people ultimately recoil.
– Michael Walsh

LAST SUNDAY, the voters of Japan again unsheathed their terrible swift sword to lay vengeance upon and smite down the latest cohort of a political class that believes what it says is more important than what it does.

After eying the results, the broadcast media in Japan and the print media overseas chose to believe the sky is in danger of falling. In a matter of months, the Democratic Party of Japan showed that it still isn’t ready for prime time and probably never will be as presently constituted. Yet the bien pensants are in anguish because they didn’t win an outright majority.

Some nattered that the loss will hinder the DPJ’s effort to rein in Japan’s massive government debt. One outlet even said it would “create obstacles for much-need fiscal reforms”. And who do they think was responsible for the ultra-redlining of debt levels with a 33% boost in the amount of deficit-financing bonds to cover a budget increase for programs only they wanted and no one needed? The record-high budget with record deficits and record deficit-financing bond totals passed when Prime Minister Kan Naoto was Finance Minister, and was written with his input. The preceding Aso administration also has a lot to answer for, but at least they had the excuse of following the same clueless path as the United States. Isn’t it time for the overseas media to keep its big government / Keynesian stimulus / tax increase agenda overseas and limit the wreckage to their own countries?

Some asked rhetorically if anyone can govern Japan. Maybe they should knock off the rhetoric and ask Koizumi Jun’ichiro straight up about how he managed for five years and left office with popularity ratings of 70%. Just because Hatoyama Yukio was more empty schoolgirl uniform than empty suit and hangover seems to be the default state for Mr. Kan’s sobriety doesn’t mean the people are ungovernable because they coughed out both of them like hair balls.

Some also worry that the “twisted parliament” (i.e., gridlock resulting from the DPJ’s loss of upper house control) bodes ill for the country.

Why should they worry? It’s great news. The election results were a red letter day for politics in Japan, which should be apparent even to realistic DPJ supporters.

To find out why, let’s push the reset button.

Track 01

Many people are using Prime Minister Kan’s ill-timed discussion of a consumption tax increase as a facile excuse for the defeat. Well, that was one reason—of many. Other contributing factors included rank incompetence, breaking their word as expressed in the party platform, and the political acumen of an empty catsup bottle.

Yet, despite more negative factors that can be counted on the fingers of both hands, and the voters’ readiness as demonstrated over the last three national elections to punish politicos who don’t pay attention, some people claimed to have been surprised by the result. They must not have been paying attention either.

Then again, neither were the pollsters. Most pre-election polls forecast the DPJ would take roughly 50-54 seats, with the opposition Liberal Democratic Party winning from 40-45. The DPJ wound up with 44 and the LDP with 51.

To be sure, some circumstances did conceal or delay trends. According to this previous analysis of Jiji polls over the past five years, a majority of the Japanese electorate is independent and tends to break for one party or the other four to six weeks before an election. Everyone was thrown off stride by the resignation of former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio and DPJ Secretary General Ozawa Ichiro six weeks before the election. New Prime Minister Kan’s open humiliation of the unpopular Mr. Ozawa delighted the public and led to a sharp but ephemeral bounce in the polls. In retrospect, it’s clear that the brief interlude of poll sunshine for Mr. Kan was due to gratitude for removing the Ohato duo rather than a vote of confidence in the new prime minister himself.

Also, the voters’ interest in the election took longer than usual to build, but rapidly picked up momentum at the end. Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji thinks the public did not become engaged until Japan was eliminated in the World Cup. He also said the intensity level at the end of the campaign was higher than he had ever seen it. The crowds of people that listened to his speeches at train stations were so large and animated they created obstructions that angered station personnel.

That bears some resemblance to the American presidential elections of 1968 and 1976. Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter held comfortable leads in those contests coming into the final stages of the campaign, but there was a massive, last-minute swing in voter sentiment that almost tipped the elections to Hubert Humphrey and Gerald Ford. Some hold the latter two would have won had the elections been held a few days later. Mr. Eda also thinks his party would have picked up two or three more seats had the election come three days later, and that’s probably true for the LDP as well.

Nevertheless, it was the first national referendum on a new DPJ government that had been tested and found wanting as stewards of the government. Most of them seem incapable of running a fried octopus stand at a summer festival, much less a Cabinet ministry. The task of any administration is to get things done and to make things work in the public sector, and they failed at both. Though once hailed as major policy wanks who were finally ready to lead the nation, the spectacularly unprepared DPJ accomplished less in its first Diet session than any previous government in the postwar period, and what they did accomplish amounted to little more than bribing voters with their own money.

Taxing

Some claim the decisive factor was Kan Naoto’s readiness to talk about an increase in the consumption tax and his subsequent incoherence on the subject. The analysts at NHK offered this explanation on Sunday night. So did many in the English-language media, but we’ve long ago passed the point where they should be taken seriously. After all, they’re now saying the public voted against a higher consumption tax while trumpeting polls saying the public is willing to pay it.

While the consumption tax issue itself was a factor, it also served to remind people of the reasons they were unhappy with the DPJ to begin with. People seem to have forgotten that the Hatoyama Cabinet’s approval rating was in the high teens at the end of May.

Here’s a more coherent explanation: Mr. Kan and his party lost credibility because after talking for more than a decade about politicians exerting control over the government, they ceded control to the bureaucrats shortly after taking power while deboning reform of Kasumigaseki and Nagata-cho. It was suicidal to swallow whole the Finance Ministry’s excuses for their objective of tax increases and the Ono Yoshiyasu theorem that tax increases help economies grow. The people gagged on them both.

Add to that the record budget with the record float of deficit-financing bonds while pushing greater government expenditures through a child allowance and other giveaways…The sheer incompetence in handling the Futenma issue…Backtracking on the pledge to eliminate the gasoline surtax and highway tolls…Filthy Ozawa money and illegal Hatoyama Mama money blamed on the Lords’ loyal retainers…Ozawa Ichiro’s mid-campaign criticism of his own party’s officials…Slips, blunders, petty dishonesties, attitudes, the failure to overcome the giddiness of their September victory and the failure to find a voice of reason or a sense of leadership.

What they did have was a sense of entitlement combined with the expectation that people just shut up and listen. Here’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito on 5 July:

It would be best if the media itself were to do us the favor of having a proper position on the consumption tax, government finances, and social security issues.

But why would anyone expect tolerance for free speech and a free press from a former Socialist?

Mr. Kan is clutching at the tax straw himself. He said to aides this week:

I caused a lot of trouble for the party by suddenly bringing up the issue of the consumption tax, which led to this result. I am seriously reflecting on my errors.

His real problem was an ignorance of anything related to the economy and government finances, yet presenting himself as an expert because he could recite half-digested knowledge from the Finance Ministry and other home tutors such as Mr. Ono. He actually claimed to have bested economist Takenaka Heizo, Mr. Koizumi’s financial services minister, in a debate while he was in fact asking him for help on the QT. He pretended to know what he didn’t know while parroting the last things he heard to impress his audience. The Sufis call this “unloading”.

Other people were willing to entertain other theories. Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro was asked about the appointment of Saito Jiro to head Japan Post last fall. That was widely viewed as a capitulation to the bureaucrats and an abandonment of the attempt to reform civil servant employment practices before it began. Mr. Haraguchi responded with some tongue calisthenics:

I can’t say very strongly that I can completely deny the appointment had a negative effect.

He also defended the choice, but people weren’t listening when he got to that part of the sentence.

Some people couldn’t look beyond their own front yard. Kina Shokichi, the famed Okinawan roots musician and airhead extraordinaire, lost his reelection campaign. He said:

There was a strong feeling that the people of Okinawa were betrayed by the government in the move of the American base at Futenma.

As usual, Fukushima Mizuho of the Social Democrats had an idea. As usual, it didn’t make any sense:

I think the biggest reason was that all the people thought the DPJ had begun cold, unfeeling politics.

Leave it to an adult–Yonekura Hiromasa, the head of Keidanren—to put it in perspective:

The people watched the DPJ for the eight months before the Kan administration began.

Now combine that with the observation of Kono Taro, the LDP’s acting secretary-general:

The upper house election was an own goal for the DPJ. The LDP didn’t even touch the ball.

Mr. Kono, an LDP reformer, used the occasion to issue a warning to his own party.

It would be absolutely unacceptable if this marked the end of (internal) reform.

Good news

Here’s the good news. This presents an excellent opportunity for the politicians to show they’re capable of doing the jobs they’re paid to do, and it will be the DPJ’s second test of adulthood after flunking the first. They failed to reach their target for an outright majority in the upper house, and since their remaining coalition partner, People’s New Party, won no seats at all, they’ll be unable to pass legislation without help.

With the exception of the budget, both houses of the Diet must approve all legislation. If the upper house rejects a lower house measure, the lower house can still pass it with a two-thirds supermajority. The DPJ doesn’t have one. Even if the lower house passes a budget, the enabling legislation, such as that required for deficit financing bonds, must still pass the upper house.

Will they be able to cobble together a new coalition? Here’s what the primary opposition leaders think of the idea. First, Watanabe Yoshimi of Your Party:

A coalition is the same as a marriage. Pretty words alone aren’t enough. The DPJ rejected our bill to reform the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy. After doing something like that, we won’t be able to join them even if they ask us.

During a television interview the night of the election, he said it was the party’s intention to act as gatekeepers. If they see legislation they like, they open the gate. If they don’t care for the bill, the gate stays shut.

New Komeito’s Yamaguchi Natsuo:

(The voters) have just held up a red card to the DPJ. It would be unthinkable to join a partner like that.

He’s got another reason, too–both parties detest each other. Here’s Kan Naoto in the April 2004 issue of the monthly Bungei Shunju:

The LDP and New Komeito coalition are not a coalition, they’re a fusion, a fusion party…New Komeito is a religious party…the LDP is like a house that’s been eaten by termites. There’s nothing to prevent its collapse.

New Komeito is unlikely to have forgotten that Mr. Kan thinks they’re termites. Nor did they care for this speech earlier in the campaign from Sengoku Yoshito:

There’s a half-baked party of charlatans called New Komeito. What do they mean, “The party of peace”? What do they mean, “The party of welfare”? Once the order comes down from someplace, 50,000 votes move in three days. What sort of malarkey democracy is this?

Next on the list is Tanigaki Sadakazu, head of the LDP. His answer about the possibility of a coalition was brief:

Zero.

This across-the-board refusal means several things. First, the DPJ can forget about the yogurt-weaving part of their agenda, and that will be one substantial benefit for the nation already. It also means that the DPJ will be forced to do some things it has never shown itself capable of in the past—serious negotiation, self-control, and compromise. Like many on their side of the aisle, gesture politics is a large part of their game. Now they’ll have to stop playing with mudras in front of the mirror and form ad hoc coalitions for each item of legislation they propose. If they develop that skill, everyone wins and they reclaim their reputation. If they don’t, the next lower house election will come before their term expires, and the voters will give other people a chance to pay attention.

It’s by no means certain that they will change their thought process. The party could have behaved responsibly and offered to do the same thing after their 2007 upper house victory, but chose instead to use their position to foment mini-crises as a way to blow the LDP out of office. After they got their wish and finally formed a government, their performance was so miserable the voters turned the tables to put them behind the eight ball. It’s enough to make one believe in karma.

For the sake of discussion, let’s assume the party finds some MPs to back an increase in the consumption tax to 10% before they take an axe to government spending. That seems unlikely considering the impact tax talk had on the election, but let’s entertain the possibility. Some of those MPs are going to have to come from the LDP in the upper house. But not everyone in the LDP is on board with their party’s own platform admitting the possibility of a rise to 10%, and neither is the Ozawa Ichiro group in the DPJ. If a tax increase were to pass, it would again allow voters to give other people a chance to pay attention. Or, it could spur the Koizumians in the LDP or the Ozawans in the DPJ to walk, thus accelerating the inevitable political realignment into philosophically compatible groups.

Opposition parties will introduce serious measures of their own to reduce civil service expenditures and the number of Diet members. The DPJ supports those moves, according to their manifesto. But the DPJ’s largest organizational support is derived from labor unions, especially public sector unions, so they’ll have to make a choice. If the government is downsized, everyone will benefit. If the DPJ blocks those measures, the voters will be waiting for them next time around.

It’s all good!

Gemba Koichiro of the DPJ thinks there’s some room to maneuver on civil service reform. He said:

Your Party’s thinking and direction is identical to ours. We might have room for compromise.

Sengoku Yoshito disagrees:

Some sections (of the platforms) use the same language, but I’m not sure we could get together on the specifics. I’m not optimistic.

But then Mr. Sengoku works for the union.

There is a wild card. Desperate to gets its Japan Post bill enacted, the PNP has asked the Social Democrats in the lower house to informally cooperate with them. Since there are two vacancies in the lower house, the DPJ, the PNP, and the SDPJ together could reach the two-thirds threshold for a supermajority in the lower house. The SDPJ said they’d talk about it amongst themselves, but were otherwise noncommittal. That party is on shaky ground nowadays—they won only two PR seats in the upper house, and there’s talk of dumping Ms. Fukushima as party leader. Will they return to the coalition? We’ll have to see, but they might do the PNP this one favor. If that bill passes, it will provide plenty of ammunition for politicians in the next election. Those who think otherwise might take a hint from current political conditions in the U.S.

The near future

Watanabe Yoshimi jumped on the bully pulpit and isn’t letting go of the mike:

It’s necessary to dissolve the lower house and hold a general election as early as possible to normalize the Diet gridlock. Local elections will be held nationwide next spring, so it would be best to hold them together.

Tanigaki Sadakazu agreed:

It’s necessary for the lower house be quickly dissolved and ask for the trust of the people.

What should Mr. Kan do? Here’s Mr. Watanabe again:

Three years ago (after the last upper house election) when the LDP lost its position as the leading party, they said the Abe administration should step down. I’m telling them the same thing.

The DPJ used to claim that Cabinets should bend to the most recently expressed will of the people. Taking power seems to have created short-term memory loss syndrome in the party, however.

Mr. Watanabe has other plans too:

We’ll present bills in rapid succession.

Watanabe Yoshimi

His party was thrilled with their election results because they picked up 10 seats in the upper house to bring their total to 11. A Diet member needs 10 co-signers to submit a bill, so they’ve cleared that hurdle. Unlike the DPJ, Your Party members actually have the capability of putting together legislation on their own, and they have several bills ready to go. They’ll surely use this new weapon to publicize their policies, and as the newest television darlings, they’ll surely receive the publicity.

Your Party and the LDP also want to bounce Upper House President Eda Satsuki for what they call his outrageous Diet management. That role requires him to give up his party affiliation, but he’s a DPJ man. The LDP is particularly irritated because they wanted to dump a no-confidence resolution on Hatoyama Yukio. (It would have lost, but it would have forced the DPJ to vote for him, perhaps keeping him in office for the lower house election.) Mr. Eda squelched that, as well as other opposition measures.

Said Mr. Watanabe:

It would be a good idea for the opposition parties to unite and stop this DPJ high-handedness…A change is natural. The opposition parties will work together to choose a new president.

The LDP agreed, but New Komeito doesn’t want to go along. Even though the opposition outnumbers the government, New Komeito says it wants to maintain the principle of having the president come from the party with the largest number of members. Others say that New Komeito might be keeping their options open for a possible coalition down the road. And Mr. Watanabe says he will press the issue.

The DPJ’s future

Several alternative realities could manifest on the material plane for the ruling party, and all of them would be for the greater good.

A Kyodo poll after the election showed the support rate for the Kan Cabinet plunged to 36.3% from the 61.5% figure tallied last month. 52.2% are opposed.

Barring a Kan Naoto-led Era of Good Feelings in Nagata-cho, which would be out of character, the Cabinet’s numbers will continue to head south. Mr. Kan was chosen to manage the election at a minimum, and he choked in the clutch. His return to the minor leagues would seem to be a matter of time.

On election night, despite the national vote of no confidence and the DPJ’s long insistence on obeying the most recent expression of popular will, Mr. Kan appeared on television and said that dissolving the Diet and holding a new election was the farthest thing from his mind.

Not only was Mr. Kan unable to manage an election, he was unable to manage his emotions. His hands shook, his fingers were restless, and he kept touching things on his desk, licking his lips, and drinking water. Those looking for grace or strength under pressure didn’t see any. The photo in my local newspaper the next morning showed him on the verge of tears, and a similar photo already festoons the cover of one of the weeklies.

What, me worry?

Typical of the DPJ, however, everyone thought everyone else was just doing fine. In a round robin show of support, Mr. Kan said that Messrs. Edano and Sengoku should continue in their jobs, and the other two took turns saying the same about the others. The three men met the morning after the election and agreed that keeping their jobs was just the ticket. That leaves them open to the charge of failing to take responsibility, which is a particularly heavy one in Japan.

Mr. Kan in particular seemed to be having a problem with cognitive dissonance. Speaking on the consumption tax:

I don’t think it was a rejection of the debate (consumption tax) itself. My explanation was insufficient…It’s unfortunate that our idea of just moving forward with debate was clumsily and prematurely conveyed to the people.

That reminded more than a few people of Hatoyama Yukio’s comment regarding his own resignation: “The people stopped listening.” In other words, we’re doing the right thing, but can’t get the yokels to pay attention.

Mr. Sengoku came up with a novel spin on the situation on the 12th:

I think we will writhe in agony, but by passing through it Japanese politics will mature.

Thus equating the DPJ with Japanese politics and confirming the observation that self-absorption remains a serious problem in the party. And there was this from Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko:

I take the people’s election results seriously.

But not that seriously:

We will make a start by calling for cooperation from other parties on a drastic tax reform, including the consumption tax.

Instead of paying for their own mistakes with their jobs, they’re going to make the people pay for their mistakes with their assets. Not a word on drastic spending reform.

But there’s another aspect to the situation. Acting party Secretary-General Hosono Goshi said this about Mr. Kan:

He’s only been in office a month. We shouldn’t replace the prime minister three times in a year.

He’s got a point, but wouldn’t it be better to let him writhe in agony at home, where there’s plenty of cold beer in the refrigerator, instead of subjecting the public to it?

It’s possible they’re just being realistic and waiting until the party presidential election in September, now slated for the 5th. Mr. Kan will surely have to survive a challenge from the Ozawa forces, if not Mr. Ozawa himself. Others might think Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya is starting to look good right about now.

Mr. Kan has kept Justice Minister Chiba Keiko in office even though she lost her election in Kanagawa, which some see as a sign he realizes he’s finished. Ms. Chiba was willing to resign, but Mr. Kan talked her out of it. Mr. Sengoku’s excuse was that it would provide “continuity in government”. As one Japanese wag put it, the role of the Kan Cabinet has been downgraded from election management to office management. In other words, another group of incompetents blocking progress have been unmasked and will soon be kicked to the side of the road.

The joker in the deck

If by some miracle Mr. Kan’s Cabinet stays somewhat intact after September, they still might find themselves out of power due to a sudden reduction in the number of DPJ Diet members.

Even though Kan Naoto was the DPJ leader during the negotiations to bring Ozawa Ichiro and his Liberal Party into the DPJ, the two men do not get along. TV commentator Tahara Soichiro said that when they appeared on his program at the time to discuss the merger, they wouldn’t speak to each other in the studio. Mr. Tahara had to act as a go-between.

The impolite fiction of party unity receded further into the distance when Mr. Kan told Mr. Ozawa to pipe down soon after taking office and stacked Cabinet and party positions with Ozawa foes. The latter then attacked DPJ leadership for bringing up the consumption tax increase during the campaign. It’s entirely possible that he lashed out at Mr. Kan from spite, and to purposely sabotage the DPJ’s chances for his own ends.

The relationship between Edano Yukio and Mr. Ozawa is even more venomous. When the former replaced the latter as party secretary-general, Mr. Ozawa cut their only meeting short after two minutes. He also neglected to pass on to Mr. Edano critical information required to conduct the election campaign, such as which candidates needed financial assistance from the party.

Since the election, Mr. Ozawa has maintained a strange silence and has not appeared in public. The prime minister has sent several messages asking for a meeting, but Mr. Ozawa isn’t returning his calls. The idea, it seems, is to slowly put the screws to him.

Writing in a labor union newspaper, Takashima Hoshimitsu, the DPJ secretary-general of the upper house caucus and an Ozawa supporter, said:

It’s certain that the Kan administration has abruptly come to a dead stop.

According to a mid-level DPJ MP close to Mr. Ozawa:

Edano Yukio and the rest are dead meat. To use a line from the popular comic, ‘You’re already dead.” (The comic is Hokuto no Ken, or Fist of the Big Dipper.) They’ll self-destruct sooner or later, so there’s no need to go to the trouble of criticizing them.

Said another Ozawa acolyte:

We’ve already taken steps for the party presidential election. It will be impossible for Kan to be reelected without a vote.

That should be one interesting election. A member of the Maehara Seiji group, part of the hard-line anti-Ozawans, said:

We’ve got three arguments ready.
1. Politics and money and Ozawa
2. His strategy to run two candidates in multiple member districts failed.
3. His criticism of party executives in the midst of campaign harmed party unity.

There’s a rumor from a journalist with ties to the Ozawa camp that he’s resumed conversations with Tanaka Makiko, the former LDP defense minister and daughter of Kakuei, Mr. Ozawa’s political tutor, about serving as prime minister. The two already discussed it when Hatoyama Yukio quit. She told him she wasn’t interested in managing the election, but to come back later.

Her presence might attract some current members of the LDP into a coalition. In fact, there are also rumors that LDP elders Mori Yoshiro and Koga Makoto met with Mr. Ozawa recently. Several Ozawa group members confirm that Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Koga met in Kyushu during the campaign.

To add another ingredient to this unlikely cocktail, a review panel in the Tokyo prosecutor’s office said yesterday that the original decision not to take Mr. Ozawa to court for campaign funding violations was inappropriate.

No matter what happens with this most motley of crews, it will turn out for the best regardless of how bad it looks at first. I’ve said before that the Nagata-cho toilet needs a few more flushes, and this will likely present the opportunities. Any group that Mr. Ozawa leads is going to be in the media crosshairs, and they will not stand at ease until he is gone. The combination of Mr. Ozawa and Ms. Tanaka, headstrong drama queens both, would further accelerate their departure from political leadership positions. Regardless of who wins or loses the party presidential election, the inevitable rupture of the DPJ draws closer, leaving the labor unions and the lawyers of the limousine left to their own devices and the creation of a boutique agenda party. A graft with the LDP mudboaters would grease the skids for that greasy group too.

The only downside to the current political situation will be the steps taken in the short term to delay the day of reckoning. Over the long term, it’s a process of purification with nothing but upside.

Numbers of interest

* Few people are talking about it, but the DPJ won more votes than the LDP:

PR districts
DPJ: 18.45 million votes
LDP: 14.07 million votes

Direct election districts
DPJ: 22.75 million votes
LDP: 19.49 million votes

The LDP’s strategy of focusing on single districts trounced the Ozawa strategy. This should put to rest the belief that Mr. Ozawa is an election wizard. His record in big elections is again back to 50/50.

* The only parties to win seats in direct voting were the LDP, DPJ, Your Party, and New Komeito. The other parties won seats through proportional representation.

* Kyodo exit polls showed only 28.8% of independents voted for the DPJ, down from 51.6% in 2009. Independents account for a majority of Japanese voters.

* Several LDP members who lost lower house seats in 2009 won seats in the upper house, including some Koizumians. They included Inoguchi Kuniko, for whom Mr. Koizumi campaigned twice, Katayama Satsuki, and Sato Yukari. Another returnee is Fukuoka Takamaro, who campaigned on the slogan, “Jobs, not handouts”.

* One of the ex-LDP losers, however, was Sugimura Taizo, who became a media sensation after winning a seat in the 2005 Koizumi landslide. No one expected the young, unemployed office worker who registered as an LDP PR candidate in position #35 to win, but Mr. Koizumi’s coattails were very long that year. Mr. Sugimura quickly earned a reputation as a doofus after he babbled about looking forward to eating at the exclusive restaurants where Japanese pols hang out to eat, drink, and hatch their strategies. He was bounced from the Diet last year after moving to Hokkaido, but this year the geriatrics of the Sunrise Japan Party recruited him to run under their banner for reasons that defy logic. He lost again.

* 17 women won seats, or one out of every six female candidates. That’s more than in 2004 but down from 26 in 2007. Their 17% election rate is also down from the 28.6% in 2007. The gorgons in academia, the Japanese version of the Guardianistas at the Japan Times, and the self-appointed wonderful ones will complain, but the only people who care are those who think equality of results trumps equality of opportunity. What little gender had to do with the winning or losing might have worked to their benefit. The DPJ’s Ren Ho capitalized on her good looks and favorable publicity to overcome her lack of experience at anything other than talking in public and posing seminude for photos to reap an impressive number of votes.

Wakabayashi Aki

In contrast, the less attractive but more capable Wakabayashi Aki, a former bureaucrat and journalist who exposed the blunders of the bureaucracy and the DPJ’s policy reform in three books, lost her election as a PR candidate for Your Party. Had the DPJ really been serious about their policy review instead of just using it as TV entertainment, she would have been a much better choice for the panel than Ren Ho.

Incidentally, a sign that someone turned on the light switch at DPJ headquarters is the statement yesterday that they would consider allowing other parties to participate in their policy reviews. That will make it much more difficult for the Finance Ministry to write the script and for the DPJ to slip snipped programs back into the budget later when no one is looking, which is what happened the first time.

* Interest group influence was down with the exception of the labor unions. When voting in the PR phase, voters can either write in the candidate’s name or the party’s name. An indication of union strength was that roughly 80% of the PR votes cast for the DPJ were for the party rather than the candidate. Of the 16 PR seats won by the DPJ, 10 were taken by former Rengo executives. Mr. Edano made sure to visit them and express the party’s gratitude.

* Vote totals were down for those candidates backed by the interest groups associated with doctors, dentists, truckers, pharmacists, the construction industry, and the association for families of the war dead. Those backed by the nurses’ group polled better, as did those backed by Zentoku, the national association of postmasters. The latter group naturally backed the PNP, but the party was skunked in the seat count and failed to win a million votes nationwide.

Afterwords:

* Tanaka Makiko

The current issue of the weekly Shukan Bunshun has excerpts of a remarkable political stump speech/rant delivered by Ms. Tanaka in her home district. She was for years a member of the LDP, left the party to serve as an independent, and then joined the DPJ last year. She doesn’t seem to have much use for any of them, however.

The term dokuzetsu (poison tongue) doesn’t do it justice. She said the people still in the LDP were “garbage” now that the only ones with popular appeal have left, and she congratulated herself for being the first to leave. She described those who did bolt the LDP as “the Sunset Party” (the Sunrise Party), “Kame-chan” of the PNP (The first kanji in Kamei Shizuka’s family name is “turtle”) and “the bald guy with a head like a scallion who used to be Health Minister” (Masuzoe Yoichi). She dismissed the LDP leadership as “Tubby Mori, Oshima What’s-his-name, and Ishiba What’s-his-name”.

Ms. Tanaka didn’t spare the DPJ. She called Hatoyama Yukio an “elitist who’s always talking about discrimination”, and said the current Cabinet was “packed with nothing but lawyers from the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University”. She also took a shot at “the Policy Review Minister who goes around in a white suit” (Ren Ho), but as soon as it turned out she had some dodgy accounting for her office expenses, Kan Naoto hushed everything up by ending the Diet session because it was time for an election.

The crowd ate it up. (Don’t I keep saying that the Japanese love nails that stick out?) But Ms. Tanaka doesn’t have the temperament required of a political leader. She’d be a firecracker as a political commentator or a blogger, however. Koizumi Jun’ichiro could also be wicked, but he was funny. Ms. Tanaka is just cruel for cruelty’s sake. If she ever did manage to wind up as prime minister, her term in office would be nasty, brutish, and short.

* Politicians aren’t the only ones who need to grow up.

Pollsters

All except Jiji use random digit dialing, which is less accurate than more targeted methods. If any of the major polls focus on likely voters only, they aren’t talking about it. Jiji polling suggests more than half of all Japanese adults are independent, but a Kyodo exit poll showed they accounted for only 17.2% of the people who wound up voting.

Print media

The headline of the cover on the 18 June Shukan Asahi, after Kan Naoto took over as prime minister:

DPJ Poised to Take Majority in Upper House / DPJ Reform Resumes

Their 23 July issue had a photo of Mr. Kan near tears with the headline:

Japan will collapse if Kan doesn’t leave

The Internet

The late Watanabe Michio, father of Your Party’s Yoshimi, observed that television is the number one means for a politician to promote himself to the public. Number two is weekly magazines, there are no numbers three and four, and number five is newspapers.

Were he to reprise that today, he might put the Net at number 6. Meanwhile, TV and the Net are probably running neck and neck at number 1 in the U.S., and no one else counts anymore. People in Japan have yet to realize that such media outlets as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Newsweek have lost their influence and preach only to the converted. In fact, Newsweek will be lucky to survive much longer.

Television

Everybody’s irritated with the way Japanese TV covers politics, but one of the more unfortunate events of the last election was their failure to treat the Spirit of Japan Party as the equal of the other parties during televised debates. TV limited participation to those parties who had five or more representatives in the Diet, which left the SOJ out in the cold. That meant they won no seats, though nationwide they did get about half the votes of Kamei Shizuka’s People’s New Party, which had both television coverage and the strong backing of an interest group.

That’s unfortunate because the party leaders have both legislative experience in the Diet and executive experience at the local government level–something the national government desperately needs. They’ve had significant success in rebuilding shattered public finances without automatically reaching for the tax lever.

Said party leader Yamada Hiroshi:

We didn’t have as much time to prepare as the established parties, and we had no organization.

They were organized just three months ago. Another factor was the number of new parties, all of which were led by people with an established national profile. Only Your Party out of this group developed any traction.

Mr. Yamada says they will continue to work with an eye on next year’s local elections. Let’s hope they survive—they’re a little too close to people like social conservative Hiranuma Takeo for comfort, but the opportunity to offer their views and experience on managing government with common sense would elevate the national discussion.

And to close, here’s the best political cartoon I’ve ever seen. It has nothing to do with Japan specifically (though it’s applicable in general), and it comes from a surprising source, but it deserves a larger audience.

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Collapsed

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, April 21, 2010

THE HATOYAMA ADMINISTRATION is now dead in the water. Oh, the prime minister will still bob in to news conferences like a rubber duck in a straw hat for a few more weeks, and his party will still grind some bologna through the Diet. Who knows–he might even pull a rabbit out of his hat and come up with a solution for the new location of the Futenma air base that won’t cause anyone to gnash his teeth. Then again, it’s not as if he has anything up his sleeve.

The only question is when he’s going to pack up and move out of the Kantei. Political punters are placing their bets at the window marked “End of May”, so the parlor game of Who’s Next has already begun.

Mo, owari da ne...

The news agency Jiji conducted a poll from 9-12 April showing that the rate of support for the Hatoyama Cabinet has pancaked to 23.7%, a 7.2 percentage-point plunge since the previous survey. Meanwhile, the percentage of respondents who said they didn’t support the cabinet jumped eight percentage points to 56.5%. A different poll from NNN conducted from the 9th to the 11th had the support rate at 28.6%.

When Japanese Cabinets have those numbers the night shift nurses in the political ward start the death watch—especially with an election looming.

Those polls aren’t outliers. The Asahi Shimbun ran a survey on the 17th and 18th that found his support at 25% and non-support at 61%. The reason most frequently cited by the Asahi respondents for pointing their thumbs south was the lack of ability to get things done, at 57%. In reference to Mr. Hatoyama, 53% said he did not meet expectations, and 31% said they never expected anything to begin with. Only 1% thought he exceeded expectations, and 13% said things turned out to be about what they thought. Those who said the party itself didn’t meet expectations totaled 51%.

No one likes the junior coalition partners very much, either—they could manage only 1% worth of positive feedback between them. Koizumi Shinjiro recently needled Kamei Shizuka for leading the People’s New Party that people don’t support, and the Asahi survey bears that out: They’re skunked at 0%.

Finally, the Shinhodo 2000 poll has the rates of Cabinet support/non-support at 28.6%/62.4%.

It didn’t take long for the public to catch on that Mr. Hatoyama and his party as presently constituted lack the temperament, judgment, and capacity to conduct the affairs of government. The news media usually points to the dirty money and the Futenma air base issue they went out of their way to step in, but it’s evident to even the casual observer that if anyone in a leadership position knows what they’re doing, they’re disguising it rather well.

Party supporters for years claimed that the DPJ was a haven for serious policy wanks who had all sorts of creative solutions for the country’s problems. Well, we’ve seen the old uncreative solution of throwing other people’s money around to buy off voting blocs for the past six months, so if they actually have devised any creative solutions, now would be the time to flash their wankery.

Say what you will about Tokyo Gov. Ishihara Shintaro—and I’d probably agree—but he is a keen observer. Here’s what he said about the younger members of the DPJ in the 15 April issue of the weekly Shukan Bunshun:

Watching the younger DPJ politicians on television, they all look like bureaucrats, despite being politicians. Their talk is filled with nothing but detailed arguments, but I have no sense at all of the spirit of what they want to do with the nation. Are those politics capable of moving the country?

Perhaps the most tasteful challenge to the government has come from the Citizens’ Council to Build a New Japan, a group that seems to be affiliated with Sentaku, an organization consisting of current and former politicians at the sub-national level working for reform from the bottom up.

Last week the council issued a “Declaration on the Issue of Political Reform in the Age of Political Choice”, and thoughtfully sent Mr. Hatoyama a copy. It contained this passage about his government:

One cannot fail to notice that the people have begun to doubt the prime minister’s leadership ability…there is a (political) climate that views the statements and debate of politicians as political leadership…While the aspect of the three primary figures of cabinet minister, vice-minister, and parliamentary secretary being involved with every issue in every ministry might appear to be “political leadership”, it is really “politician leadership”…The expression “political leadership” has taken on a life of its own, but your concept of political leadership, its content, and your use of it are extremely vague.

They politely reassure the prime minister that they understand a new government will be confronted by problems it did not anticipate. They therefore urge the government to amend its political platform and explain the reasons for the change to the voters.

To wit: Why not postpone your plans for family stipends from the government—to pick one of a dozen out of the hat blindfolded—and formulate a rational budget until you find the money to pay for your schemes without going deeper in debt?

Breakdown in classroom discipline

Kamei Shizuka, the head of junior coalition partner People’s New Party, has now made it perfectly clear his party will never support a measure to allow permanent resident non-citizens the right to participate in local elections, which is backed by leading members of the DPJ.

The Social Democratic Party of Japan, the other junior coalition partner, also has the vapors. They’ve already threatened to walk unless the government moves the Futenma air base out of the country, so that sound you hear is their grunting as they bend over to lace their designer sports shoes. Futenma is the issue they’ve chosen as their national identity, and since the party’s single-digit membership in the Diet consists of the usual champagne socialists nursing a grudge, walking out is the one thing they can be counted on to do.

Now they’re carping about other parts of the government’s agenda and its methods for adopting them. The DPJ wants to pass bills on political and Diet reform sometime in May, and they’ve threatened to use their lower house majority to push them through. Not so fast, says the SDPJ, as reported in the Mainichi. “These bills should not be forced through when the support rate for the Cabinet is plummeting.”

In one of the party’s occasional periods of lucidity from their normal disassociative fugue, party Secretary-General Shigeno Masuyasa waxed philosophical at a news conference:

The Diet is the seat for debate, so it is basic that complete and thorough deliberations be conducted.

The collapse has also spread within the ruling party itself. Rather than speaking with one voice and holding their tongues when they disagree, the Cabinet members are quarreling with each other in public.

Last week the government announced plans for new expressway tolls that met with immediate and widespread opposition. The DPJ election platform promised to remove expressway tolls entirely, so naturally once they took charge of government they created a new toll system that makes expressways more expensive than they already are.

DPJ member Kawauchi Hiroshi, the chair of the lower house’s Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Committee, spoke out publicly against the new highway tolls last week. It’s rare for a lower house committee chair to oppose a measure from the government of which he is a part—mostly because in the past the bureaucrats wrote the measures—but he says it contradicts the party’s political platform, dadgum it, and he won’t back down.

The Pollyanna prime minister, Hatoyama Yukio commented:

They’re calling it a collapse of classroom discipline, but I think it’s healthy to have debate.

The man sounds as if he’s been eating too much sun for breakfast.

Dietary habits notwithstanding, Mr. Hatoyama’s goose is cooked, and it’s only a question of when, not if, the dish is served. Rumor has it that one of the national dailies conducted an informal poll for the upper house election in July. The DPJ’s goal is to win an outright majority in that house, which would enable it to rule without coalition partners. They need to win 60 seats to achieve that, but the newspaper pegged their total at 45+.

Next man up

While finding someone to fill Mr. Hatoyama’s shoes won’t be difficult—the Japanese take theirs off indoors—the problem is that the party has an embarrassment of a lack of riches for people to step into the job.

The default candidate is deputy prime minister/faux finance minister Kan Naoto, if only because his turn is next. That was the philosophy that governed the LDP’s choices when it ruled for so many years, and since the DPJ is dead set on turning back the political clock, he’s probably the next duck in the row. Mr. Kan might have been an interesting choice 15 years ago, but the times have moved on, and he hasn’t. Besides, what nation wants to be led by a man who chooses to wear a diaper on his head?

Pro-DPJ/anti-Ozawa Ichiro journalist Ito Atsuo thinks he will be the man if Mr. Ozawa retains his influence within the party. Mr. Kan has apparently chosen to cast his lot with Japan’s version of Boss Tweed, and he’s also starting to behave as if he thinks the brass ring is within his grasp at last. He’s recently stopped talking off the record to reporters, who have begun calling him The Hands-Off Minister (nobanashi daijin) behind his back.

A Japanese-language report this weekend had Mr. Kan making arrangements to place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery during a visit to Washington to attend the G20 summit of finance ministers and central bank heads. Can you remember the last time a Cabinet member of a foreign government did anything like that? No one else does. It’s clearly intended as a gesture to placate an increasingly impatient American government that wonders if the DPJ is going to come up with someone even loopier to replace the present prime minister.

It’s a tossup, however, as to which is the loopier notion—that Mr. Kan thinks the Americans would take this gesture seriously, or that the Obama Administration actually takes Japan seriously to begin with. It’s not as if they take any of the other traditional American allies seriously.

Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan recently, the Finance Minister displayed his grasp of Finance Ministry briefing papers.

Bringing about the second Keynesian revolution will enable us to break free of the economic stagnation of the past 20 years. It is important for us to circulate money.

That was the signal to bump up the threat level for the national finances to Code Orange.

The rest of the pack

Sengoku Yoshito is getting attention as a possible replacement, if only because he’s one of the few Cabinet ministers that talks as if he has a lick of sense. He was particularly insistent about the government’s irresponsible budget before he played the good soldier and caved in. Some wonder if he is physically up to the job, however, as his stomach’s been completely removed due to cancer.

Maehara Seiji’s stock rose immediately after the government came to power. He even received praise from Koizumian Takenaka Heizo for his plan to turn Tokyo’s Haneda airport into a 24-hour hub facility. (Mr. Takenaka said the Koizumi administration wanted to do the same thing, but couldn’t overcome the alliance between the bureaucracy and their LDP chums.) Some think the moment has passed him by, some think he seems too boyish and lacks gravitas, while others think Ozawa Ichiro wouldn’t stand for giving the job to someone who refuses to kiss his ring.

Here’s the PNP’s Kamei Shizuka on those two men:

I thought Sengoku and Maehara were politicians capable of more, but they’re not what I expected.

Mr. Kamei is a veteran of the National Police Agency, so he’s used to sizing up men at a glance.

Internal Affairs and Communication Minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro is mentioned as a dark horse candidate because he’s become an Ozawa acolyte, and he has that soft look women appreciate in a politician and Mr. Ozawa appreciates in a front man, but he’s also viewed as a lightweight. Particularly whenever he opens his mouth.

Mr. Ito suggests Okada Katsuya could take the job if Ozawa Ichiro has lost influence, but then the journalist has been a long-time Okada supporter. He thinks Mr. Okada is unsuited for the job of foreign minister, but could be just the man to present and explain policy options to the public. The journalist suggests that he’d be a safe choice because he doesn’t come from the party’s yoghurt-weaving left, but also admits that his straight arrow image and refusal to be a backslapper are handicaps.

One final note: Rumors are also flying that Ozawa Ichiro might resign from his position as party secretary-general at the same time Mr. Hatoyama steps down. The party wouldn’t suffer, because he’s already put together the machine for the July election. It would also allow him to say he’s taken responsibility for the political funding scandals and thereby give his party a boost going into the polling.

Afterwords:
Baseball megastar Oh Sadaharu had the same operation as Mr. Sengoku in which his stomach was removed. I was surprised at the time to learn that it was now possible for people to survive such procedures. In fact, it was minimally invasive—the entire surgery is performed through an incision only a few centimeters long.

I asked my family doctor about it, and he was nonchalant. “There are a lot of people,” he said, “walking around without their stomachs.”

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Playing hardball

Posted by ampontan on Friday, February 19, 2010

IT’S NOT DIFFICULT to understand ruling party Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro and his modus operandi. Think politics Chicago-style: bosses, brass knuckles, and enough money to float a battleship.

Since 2008, the public prosecutors’ examination of the contributions flowing into his political fund management group has resulted in the arrest of three of his aides. The reason Mr. Ozawa has escaped prosecution so far is assumed by many to be because they can’t quite get the ironclad evidence they need. The man himself is said to be angry because he devoted a lot of time to studying the court cases against his mentor Tanaka Kakuei and arranged his business accordingly.

He and his supporters have charged that the investigations are politically motivated. That might well be true; Mr. Ozawa does seem to be serious about reducing the power of the bureaucracy, Japan’s government-within-a-government. (He wants to transfer that power to himself, which would be scant improvement.)

He’s also hinted that he’ll fight back. He’s already suggested a reorganization of the public prosecutors’ office might be in order.

He hasn’t gone that far yet, but one of his minions is opening a second front in the offensive. At a meeting of the Cabinet’s Ministers, Vice-Ministers, and Parliamentary Secretaries on the 16th, Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Haraguchi Kazuhiro informed those in attendance that an audit of the public prosecutors would be conducted to look for slush funds. He said this was part of an evaluation of governmental administration.

When some asked him at the meeting whether this was to block the prosecutors from their investigation of improper political contributions, he replied that it was part of a thorough and comprehensive investigation and there would be “no sanctuaries”. That expression was a phrase popularized by Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro in 2001. (Sometimes politicians really are too clever for their own good.)

An Ozawa loyalist/yes-man, Mr. Haraguchi has been rumored to be a dark horse candidate for prime minister to replace Hatoyama Yukio. It’s a wonder he managed to keep a straight face at the meeting.

Of course, the investigation may turn up all sorts of surprises. Slush funds at the national and subnational level are as much a part of Japanese governmental operations as desks, chairs, ring binders, and filing cabinets. How else would they pay for their softball uniforms and taxi vouchers for the ride home following after-work drinks?

Now combine the new investigation of the investigators with the request made by the citizens’ group which filed the original criminal complaint against Mr. Ozawa that an inquest committee review the case. If that committee decides a second time that the case requires an indictment, the prosecutors are required to do so. There are also reports the prosecutors will be looking into income tax evasion.

If this continues, perhaps the Japanese media should consider embedding reporters in both camps the way the American news media embedded its reporters in the armed forces to cover the second invasion of Iraq.

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Perverting the popular will

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, October 22, 2009

THE CONTINUING TURMOIL within the Cabinet of Japan’s ruling Democratic Party over the funding sources for their campaign pledge to provide annual subsidies to families with children threatens to confirm the electorate’s worst pre-election fears about the party. Those fears included:

1. A lack of competence in governance
2. The absence of party unity
3. An inability to keep their word
4. Giving priority to political crises over policy
5. Their true intentions

The DPJ translated their platform into English and placed it on their website, which is linked on the right sidebar. Here’s what it says about the child allowance:

“We will pay a child allowance of JPY 312,000 per annum (about $US 3,450) for all children until they finish junior high school.”

According to their platform, this will require an outlay of JPY 5.5 trillion annually. Critics both outside and in the party have insisted for more than a year they wouldn’t be able to fund the plank in the manner they propose. (Some said they could only come up with half of it that way, and only for the first year.) Now the new Government is admitting what everyone else had known all along.

<em>L-R</em>: Hatoyama, Kumagai, Hirano

L-R: Hatoyama, Kumagai, Hirano

Bedlam erupted when some in the Cabinet suggested that local governments and private-sector businesses be made to foot part of the bill. Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro objected that this contradicted their platform promises and would require holding a new election to gain public support.

Those who would make local governments and businesses pay tried to justify their proposal by claiming that the party platform did not specifically state that the national government would be liable for all expenses.

One of them, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi, said this at a press conference on the 19th:

“The choice of cooperation from local government is possible.”

Note the use of the word cooperation as a euphemism for coercion. Note also that the stratagem itself is the essence of duplicity.

Responded Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio during a speech on the 20th in Yokohama:

“’Local government liability’ is not what I have in mind…Of course the national government will bear the full liability. The nation’s finances are very tight, so the Finance Ministry had the idea of having local government be partially liable. That’s too cold-hearted. I will definitely build a consensus in this direction (i.e., national government) as the prime minister.”

Note that Mr. Hatoyama tries to shift the blame on the Finance Ministry, the most powerful of the bureaucracies and the primary offender among those in Kasumigaseki that would usurp political authority.

But if the Finance Ministry hasn’t changed its ways, why has the new government outsourced the compilation of the new budget to them, as this otherwise fawning editorial from the Mainichi suggests? The DPJ also promised in their platform to make sure politicians handled these matters in the future.

At a press conference that same evening, Mr. Hirano retorted:

“The (prime minister’s) statement carries weight, but we must decide on a specific proposal that includes the prime minister’s opinion.”

Just who’s in charge around here? Are we to believe the prime minister does not set the policy for his own Government? That he has to spend the time to create a consensus for an issue that no one thought existed two weeks ago? Why is the Chief Cabinet Secretary contradicting the prime minister–his boss–within a matter of hours?

For another example of the inscrutability of Japanese politics, Mr. Hirano was selected because he was considered a Hatoyama ally and confidante.

This brought an immediate response from Mr. Haraguchi:

“Once the national government makes a decision, the automatic assumption that local governments should also bear financial liability calls into question our qualifications to promote devolution and reform.”

Mr. Haraguchi is taking an admirable stand on principle, and he’s right to tie the financing issue to the platform promises of greater regional autonomy.

Unless they’re going to try to weasel out of that promise, too.

As inevitable as death, taxes, and duplicitous politicos was the explosive response from Osaka Prefecture Gov. Hashimoto Toru. The wildly popular Mr. Hashimoto was the most prominent of the nation’s governors who spent the spring and summer preaching the gospel of the decentralization of the national government, the devolution of authority, and the end to unfunded mandates. He’s already declared that his prefecture would no longer pay the personnel expenditures for those national civil servants working in Osaka.

The DPJ had to have known he would be livid. Several members of the party’s leadership visited Osaka during the summer specifically to win his endorsement. The party even humiliated itself by retracting and amending its platform after a highly publicized presentation because the governor thought it wasn’t tough enough on the issue of devolution.

Here’s what Mr. Hashimoto said:

“It’s dictatorial politics for the DPJ to arbitrarily decide something and then tell the regions to put up the money. It’s a Communist state. (The use of the expression) ‘Local authority’ (in their platform) was a disguise.”

After the party’s landslide victory at the end of August, some members now apparently assume they can dispense with Mr. Hashimoto and other local reformers and do as they please. Then again, it’s not as if the DPJ was fond of the governor to begin with. The photo above shows Mr. Hatoyama and Mr. Hirano with Kumagai Sadatoshi, the candidate they endorsed in the Osaka election that Mr. Hashimoto won.

A sign of what’s to come?

Will the party continue to come up with excuses to do as it likes regardless of the popular will? There already have been some troubling signs.

Here’s Health, Labor, and Welfare Minister Nagatsuma Akira speaking to ministry employees on 17 September:

“The party platform (contains) our orders from the people.”

And Education Minister Kawabata Tatsuo speaking to his employees the same day:

“The party platform is not a promise. It is something that has weight, instructions that the people said we must carry out. The people have mandated that I implement it as quickly as possible.”

This is, of course, arrant nonsense. The DPJ is in power because they are not the LDP, and for no other reason. Most voters didn’t bother to read their platform, and few could even say what’s in it other than the two or three planks most commonly discussed on television.

Then again, the party didn’t make all of it easy to read either, as a look at the printed version makes clear. They put all the grass for the goats in large print and color up front. Then, starting on page 16, in print small enough for an insurance policy, they advance a different agenda. For example:

“Establish an institution for the relief of the infringement of human rights, and ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”

That protocol gives individuals the right to complain to a UN body after they’ve exhausted legal procedures in their home country;. i.e., they can’t win their case. It is designed to address individual violations of human rights in the more benighted parts of the world of which Japan is not a part. To cite one example, South Africa in the apartheid era made all its civil servants speak to citizens in Afrikaans only. An appeal based on the use of that protocol ended that policy.

It should go without saying that Japan has no problems of the sort. Unless, of course, one thinks that private sector public baths banning foreigners in some Hokkaido towns after drunken Russian sailors urinated in the shared tubs constitutes an infringement of human rights requiring UN attention. The objective of the leftist elements in the DPJ is to enable the creation of a cottage industry of rights hustlers similar to the shakedown operations run by Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and others in the U.S.

Other countries that have not signed the Optional Protocol include the United States, Great Britain, India, and China.

Also lurking in the fine print is a proposal to provide public support to non-profit organizations. Gee, do we have to ask who the beneficiaries of that one will be?

Does anyone really think it is the people’s mandate for these parts of the platform to be implemented as quickly as possible? A better question would be whether as many as 1% of the electorate has even heard of those planks.

Bait and switch, deceit, and a manifesto that contains stealth provisions and disposable policies–those weren’t part of the people’s mandate either.

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

From the frying pan into the fire

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, October 17, 2009

Politicians are interested in signaling goodness, but not interested in doing good.
– Roger Koppl

SOME WESTERN ACADEMICS and commentators have recently wondered in print why Japan doesn’t “punch above its weight” in international affairs, and then did their readers a favor by answering their own question. While the conclusions resonate nicely inside the Ivory Tower, the inaccurate assumptions or pre-existing biases on which most are based render them useless. They should try a close shave with Occam’s razor instead.

The Japanese political class is incapable of punching above its weight in international—or domestic—affairs, because its members are ignorant of the realities of the world outside Nagata-cho and the world outside Japan, are self-satisfied in that ignorance, and are loathe to learn or do anything that would jeopardize their status.

That description could be worn by the slobbering, snorting, overfed cattle that constitute the political class everywhere, but it fits the average Japanese pol like a bespoke suit from a Ginza haberdasher.

Some have been gushing on the web about how the Japanese election was a mandate for change in the same way Americans voted for change and Barack Obama last November. While it is true that the Japanese voted for change, it wasn’t because they were enthralled by the teleprompter-dependent speechery of a man now shown to be dressed in the Emperor’s new clothes. Rather, their choice was determined by the wish to avoid the black hole of the Liberal Democratic Party’s anti-charisma combined with a national sense of faute de mieux.

Where has that leap of faith landed them? From the frying pan into the fire.

Exhibit A

From the Asahi:

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said he will compile a new supplementary budget centered on economic stimulus and employment measures to prevent the economy from faltering again.

“We have to do everything possible to bolster employment,” Hatoyama told reporters during a trip to Beijing. “We also have to allocate money to improve the safety net and stimulate the economy. We’ll need economic measures that double as job measures.”

Mr. Hatoyama has thus declared to the world that he is a receptacle of received misunderstanding—of the nature of economies, governmental stimulus, and the failure of those policies overseas.

The government is expected to finalize the list of programs to be canceled out of the 14 trillion yen first fiscal 2009 extra budget, compiled by the Aso administration, by the end of this week.

All the better to redistribute the pork in ways that fits the cut of the new administration’s jib. To wit:

On Sunday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano said the government plans to begin handing out a child allowance in June.

Where will that money come from?

Well, Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Maehara Seiji is cancelling more than just dam projects. In Kyushu alone, he nixed the plan to widen to four lanes the Nagasaki Expressway from Nagasaki to Tarami, eliminated the funds for surveying obstacles at the Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Oita, and Kagoshima airports, stopped the earthquake proofing of buildings at the Civil Aviation College in Miyazaki City, and cut from JPY 10 billion yen to JPY 4.9 billion the expenditures for land preparation to extend the runway at the Kitakyushu Airport.

There doesn’t seem to be any Bridges to Nowhere on that list. Absent expert testimony, some of those projects seem reasonable.

In addition to the Nagasaki expressway, the Government plans to axe all the projects to widen highways in the supplementary budget. There was no word on how the Government plans to deal with the anticipated extra traffic if they ever deliver on their promise to eliminate highway tolls.

The Government also expects recover about JPY 300 billion by cancelling a fund to promote the integration of farmland, but that won’t reduce outlays. They’re just going to shuffle the money from one pile to another by giving it to inefficient individual farmers instead.

The impact of the recession is such that tax revenue for the current fiscal year is forecast to be far below initial expectations.

So don’t spend money you don’t have!

How much don’t they have? The Government expects about JPY 40 trillion in tax revenue, but admits that it might be even less. Meanwhile, the preliminary budget of the party that was going to cut the waste out of government spending comes in at more than JPY 93 trillion–the highest in Japanese history. And a different Asahi report states that the actual amount will rise to as much as JPY 97 trillion due to “unspecified itemized requests” from each ministry.

Who knew double-talk could be so expensive?

Another way they could pry loose some funds is to live up to their platform plank of reducing civil service expenditures by 20%, and do so in a way that doesn’t force local governments to hire the personnel dumped from the national bureaucracy.

But since local government workers’ unions constitute a large part of the party’s campaign foot soldiers, that’s another promise they’re unlikely to keep.

Were the Government’s priority a sound Japanese economy instead of legal vote-buying schemes, it wouldn’t be shifting the money of the mind dreamt up for the previous administration’s stimulus from its left hand to its right, printing it up at the Treasury, or creating it through government debt instruments.

Moreover, the government faces a daunting challenge in its bid to prop up the economy without adding significantly to the country’s huge debt levels.

Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii said Friday the amount of new government bonds to be issued this fiscal year will be kept at 44 trillion yen–the sum envisioned by the previous government–or lower. But a large second extra budget would make that pledge difficult to honor.

That pledge lasted as long as the fireflies in summer. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi admitted that deficit-financing bonds were a possibility for the 2010 budget if there were revenue shortfalls. He was seconded by the prime minister:

Pre-election Hatoyama

“If we increase (the issue of those bonds) we will not be able to maintain the state.”

Post-election Hatoyama

“I don’t think we should issue (those bonds) to begin with, but it is necessary to determine whether or not an unavoidable situation will emerge, while considering a situation in which tax revenues plunge.”

He was right the first time.

These were the same people who thought it would be easy to shake JPY 20 trillion loose from wasteful government spending. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lotta shaking goin’ on, does there?

Incidentally, until Japan Post is fully privatized, all the money in their savings accounts and insurance policies—20% of the nation’s personal financial assets—can only be invested in government bonds, rather than the other instruments private sector banks can invest in.

Is the opposition to Japan Post privatization by the DPJ and the People’s New Party starting to make sense now?

For all their talk about putting the lives of the people first, the DPJ—as well as the LDP mudboat wing—doesn’t seem to care about economic policies that would enrich the lives of the people over the long term. They would rather signal goodness than do good.

Well, then what?

Those who insist that government spending is as good as private sector spending for sustained economic growth and long-term employment increases fail to understand efficient resource allocation. The government is incapable of determining the best way to use capital goods and other resources. Only the market, consisting of millions of independent actors, works that out, over time.

Rather, it spends to salvage inefficient sectors and prevent politically painful economic adjustments. If the sectors receiving the stimulus funds were producing what the consumers want at prices they were willing to pay, a stimulus wouldn’t be necessary.

A government stimulus will not generate the tax revenue needed to pay down the national debt either, if only because the stimulus is just a money reshuffle. No new wealth will be created. To be blunt, it’s just another form of central economic planning, but some people would rather believe their fantasies than their lying eyes.

What to do instead? That question was answered long ago.

  • During the first two years of his term, U.S. President Warren Harding nearly halved federal spending and cut taxes by one-third. Those policies continued under Calvin Coolidge and unemployment fell to 1.6% by 1926. The resulting economic growth from 1920-1929 was phenomenal.
  • Despite the laissez-faire label, Herbert Hoover was a believer in strong federal intervention. During his four-year term, real per capita federal spending rose 82%, falling to 74% during the Roosevelt administration from 1933 to 1940. Unemployment rose sharply after the 1929 stock market crash, but six months later was nearly back to pre-crash levels. It skyrocketed after Hoover’s interventions, and Roosevelt’s policies kept it at that level, including during the double-dip depression of 1937.
  • U.S. President Ronald Reagan cut taxes, spending, and unnecessary regulation and intervention without reshuffling the money, and created a quarter-century of stout economic growth.

It is as if the DPJ believes that national wealth is created by parthenogenesis.

That would be understandable in the case of Hatoyama Yukio, once you’ve seen the family mansion.

Hatoyama family mansion

But neither he nor his party as a group have given the slightest indication that they’ve spent any time thinking about the creation of national wealth.

Exhibit B

The hard-bitten ex-cop and current Financial Services Minister Kamei Shizuka came of age when no one much cared about the Japanese economy other than the Japanese, and the Japanese only cared about achieving First World levels of prosperity even if it took collusion between big business, government, and the bureaucracy to get there.

Life imitates art

Life imitates art

Mr. Kamei has now bitten hard into a philosophy of debt moratorium that calls for a debt repayment holiday for SMEs and injecting public funds into any financial institutions that would suffer as a result. The minister might have had his arm twisted to come up with that last proviso. He’s already said that any banks requiring financial assistance during a debt repayment moratorium are too weak to survive.

Some speculate this grim nonsense stems from a desire for revenge for the bankruptcies of some of his corporate financial backers after last year’s financial crash. Others think he’s doing it just to raise the profile of his splinter party among small businesses.

When he defends these policies, he comes across as a 3-D version of the cartoon character Yosemite Sam plugging away at a room full of varmints:

“There are few people in the LDP now who sing the praises of market fundamentalism…(if) their thinking doesn’t change, it’s possible that one mega-party will be formed in the future.”

He added that this “might take some time”, perhaps after next summer’s upper house election.

While today’s LDP may now know as little as the DPJ about how to lay the tarmac for future prosperity, that’s not the most interesting part of his statement.

In October 1940, the Japanese government sponsored the creation of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association. Many of the organizers intended that it become—well, a mega-party—and some political organizations voluntarily disbanded to join. The objective was to create a “new political structure”. It included the bureaucracy and the military in addition to political parties. The prime minister was automatically the head of the association, which had a nationwide branch network. From June 1942, it assumed control of local governmental units from the national bureaucracy. Weakened by a lack of autonomy, the association was dissolved in June 1945.

In other words, Mr. Kamei looks forward to a political realignment resembling the configuration in place in Imperial Japan during the height of the Second World War.

The minister is also rather spry for a man in his 70s, which is perhaps due to his sixth-dan ranking in aikido. Watch him stoop to sixth-rate demagoguery in this recent conversation with Keidanren head Mitarai Fujio:

“The increase in murders among family members is because (big business) does not treat people as people.”

He also complained that the heads of big businesses no longer share their earnings with small businesses during good economic times, but retain those funds as internal reserves. When Mr. Mitarai asked if he thought that was their responsibility, the minister replied, “You must feel responsible,” in the same language a primary school teacher would use to scold children for a cafeteria food fight.

For his part, Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio was nonchalant about his Cabinet minister shooting from the lip. He observed, “That sounds like something Mr. Kamei might say…perhaps he was extreme in has language, and was impolite.”

That also sounds like something a prime minister might say when he realizes he stepped in it by choosing that man as a coalition partner and it’s now stuck to his shoe. Then again, Mr. Kamei has been seated prominently at Mr. Hatoyama’s right hand during Cabinet meeting photo ops.

The rebuttal

People here used to say that the most effective political opposition in Japan was the United States government. Now it seems as if the only people willing to put Mr. Kamei in his place are in the overseas media. For a taste of that, plus a devastating critique of Japan’s political class, try this article in the Wall Street Journal:

(A) proposed loan repayment moratorium for small- and medium-sized businesses…is the brainchild of Shizuka Kamei, the new banking and postal-services minister. Mr. Kamei thinks SMEs, the engine of employment for developed economies, need help in the downturn, but not the tough love of competition or—perish the thought—bankruptcy. So he commissioned Kohei Otsuka, a senior vice minister at the Financial Services Agency, to study how the government might force lenders to forgive SME debts. Financial-sector stocks promptly tanked.

And:

Japan may not have a state-owned financial system like China, but it is still state-directed. Japan runs an essentially circular financial system where savers deposit money at domestic banks, the banks buy ever-more worthless government debt, and then the Diet shovels that money back out to favored political constituencies and export industries. The current Democratic Party of Japan-led government, headed by Yukio Hatoyama, plans to tweak this model, but not fundamentally change it: rather than redistribute the public’s money to business, the DPJ wants to give it to families.

The minister’s political ideas may date from the 1940s, but his economic ideas are more up-to-date: Japan from the mid-1950s

Mr. Kamei said late last month “financial inspections should aim at turning around struggling corporate borrowers instead of leading them to go bankrupt.” That’s a recipe to paper over a problem, not fix it.

Without a financial system that efficiently channels money from lenders who have it to borrowers who need it, Japan will have a hard time growing its moribund economy…The last time Japan tried to paper over a growing pile of bad loans, bail out failing lenders and businesses and pay off political constituencies, the world’s second-largest economy sunk into a lost decade of growth. Then again, maybe it never really escaped.

Except for skipping over the successes of former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro and his financial jack-of-all-trades Takenaka Heizo—which the rest of the country’s political class and media are trying to paper over—this brief piece contains more honesty and common sense than anything I’ve run across in the Japanese print media.

Other than Takenaka Heizo’s magazine articles.

Who’s in charge here? (1)

There are enough loose cannons in Fort Kamei to frag an entire platoon of junior officers. The Hatoyama Administration is barely a month old, and already he’s angrily told off the Finance Minister, the Chief Cabinet Secretary, and the Internal Affairs Minister for daring to express opinions about policies he considers to be in his bailiwick. Yet he’s not shy about butting into matters that aren’t part of his portfolios. At a press conference earlier this week, he wondered aloud if all the American military forces in Japan were absolutely necessary. He cited as an example the Yokota air base near Tokyo.

At the same press conference, he sounded off about Justice Minister Chiba Keiko’s proposal to allow Japanese women to keep their maiden names after marriage. Said Mr. Kamei:

“I don’t understand the psychology behind the idea that family names must be different. The husband, wife, and children will have different names. That would turn the home into something like an apartment house. Would it be a good idea for all the nameplates (on the front of the house) to be different?”

That was during the afternoon. At another press conference in the same place on the same morning, Fukushima Mizuho, the Minister in Charge of Womanhood, Motherhood, Shop Till You Drop, and Tossing Her Mini-Party a Lollipop—who kept her own maiden name after marriage—supported the same proposal.

Exhibit C

They are the people who believe all conflict stems from avoidable misunderstanding. Who think that the world’s evils spring from technologies, systems, complexes…and everything else except from the hearts of men, where love abides. Who mistake wishes for possibilities. Who put a higher premium on their own moral intentions than on the efficacy of their actions. Who champion education as the solution, whatever the problem. Above all, the Goodists are the people who like to be seen to be good.
– Bret Stephens

Many Japanese metaphorically slapped their heads when they realized that Prime Minister Hatoyama was serious about his goofy vision of yuai (fraternity), more suitable as a topic for a middle school public speaking contest than the pragmatic business of international statecraft.

But he’s not alone. Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya—like his boss, a boyish-looking bon-bon from a fabulously well-to-do family rich enough to let its scions play at politics—paid a surprise visit to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan in Kabul.

They politely avoided talking about Japan’s looming suspension of its refueling mission for NATO forces in the Indian Ocean. What they discussed instead was the Japanese offer to provide job training for the Taliban—you in the back row, stop that snickering!—as well as their living expenses during the training. Mr. Karzai said it would be difficult but possible. Now why would the president blow his chance at free money from overseas by laughing out loud?

Injecting some adulthood into the discussion was Foreign Minister Rangin Spanta, who asked that Japan continue funding Afghani police salaries because maintaining public safety was also important.

It’s a good thing he didn’t ask for help from the Japanese police. Some in the ruling coalition would have thrown a fit because the policemen would have to behave like policemen and carry weapons.

One wonders, however, what job training—I know, it is hard to keep a straight face—Mr. Okada is talking about. For example, when they were in power, the Taliban banned:

…pork, pig, pig oil, anything made from human hair, satellite dishes, cinematography, equipment that produces music, pool tables, chess, masks, alcohol, tapes, computers, VCRs, television, anything that propagates sex, wine, lobster, nail polish, firecrackers, statues, sewing catalogs, Christmas cards, employment, education and sports for women, movies, music, dancing, hanging pictures in homes, clapping during sports events, kite flying, and beard trimming.

Well, that pretty much leaves out any employment that involves electricity. Unless it’s used to wire the dynamite for blowing up the Buddhist statues at Bamiyan.

It doesn’t seem to have occured to either the prime minister or the foreign minister that the Taliban really aren’t interested in the modern world. From the horse’s mouth:

“(E)lections are incompatible with Sharia and therefore we reject them…We want to live a life like the Prophet lived 1400 years ago and jihad is our right. We want to recreate the time of the Prophet.”

But then a Goodist isn’t going to let practical considerations get in the way of demonstrating his Goodism.

Mr. Okada has also said in regard to Afghanistan:

“I don’t think that support means just sending the military.”

Leaving aside the question of what he would know about military support, he’s right, of course.

The other support becomes effective, however, only when the military goals have mostly been achieved. But understanding that requires an understanding of the objectives and the application of military force.

It also requires the knowledge that the Taliban have become a real danger to the government again. Vocational school is unlikely to solve that problem.

Who’s in charge here? (2)

Mr. Okada later chose to expound on the East Asian rhapsody that Mr. Hatoyama is so enthralled with. He said the entity might include Japan, China, South Korea, the ASEAN nations, India, Australia, and New Zealand.

People noticed that the United States was left off the list. True, it isn’t part of East Asia, but then neither is India. But any move away from the U.S., real or imagined, is exaggerated after the brouhaha that erupted following the appearance in the New York Times of Mr. Hatoyama’s translated magazine article.

When asked his opinion, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi did some paperhanging of his own:

“I haven’t heard yet from the foreign minister whether the U.S. would be included or excluded.”

Mr. Hirano also added that the bilateral relationship is the basis of Japanese foreign policy.

The Japanese media took this to be backtracking from the foreign minister’s comment, and a statement that the government hasn’t made a decision yet. Considering the range of opinions inside the party and the absence of any pressing need to pursue the issue, that decision might get made on the 12th of Never.

Is it too much to ask of this lot to synchronize their policies?

Exhibit D

Who needs an opposition party when anyone in the Cabinet is happy to serve in that role, depending on the issue, the time of day, and the phase of the moon.

One of the main planks of the DPJ election campaign was the payment of a cash allowance to families with children in lieu of a tax deduction. Their platform called for the national government to make all the payments.

After a month in office, it finally dawned on the Government that what everyone—including their supporters—had been saying for the past two years was right on the money: Namely, they didn’t have the money to do it. (It will require JPY 5.3 trillion every year when fully implemented.)

That’s when Health, Labor, and Welfare Minister Nagatsuma Akira, who is starting to look as if he’s in over his head on any issue that doesn’t involve national pensions, floated the idea of local governments and private-sector companies kicking in some money too.

It seems as if we’ve got another 21st century supporter of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association here.

Local governments in Japan, already pushed to the point of insolvency, are so inflamed over unfunded mandates and the financial liabilities forced on them by the national government that Mr. Nagatsuma’s idea will be enough to cause serious problems with chief executives and assembly delegates in prefectural capitals around the nation.

And requiring companies to pay? That socialism isn’t creeping—it’s galloping. Then again, some Japanese are already suggesting the DPJ is just a socialist party in everything but name.

Mr. Nagatsuma also wanted to save money by freezing the provisions of the Aso Administration’s supplemental budget that would provide financial support to children aged 3-5.

It didn’t take long for the Cabinet to round the wagons into a circle and start firing on themselves instead of the Indians.

Who’s in charge here? (3)

Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro was opposed to ditching the Aso plan because the money was already in the pipeline and local governments had made the preparations to spend it.

“This government must not have desktop (i.e., impractical) debates that ignore conditions on the ground.”

But Mr. Nagatsuma ended the measure anyway. They need the money for their other programs.

The Internal Affairs Minister was even blunter when addressing the funding for the family subsidies:

“If we’re going to change the political platform, which says the national government will pay for everything, then we should call another election and ask the people what they think.”

That comment would be praiseworthy under any circumstances, but it’s a doubleplusgood display of spine coming from Mr. Haraguchi, who is viewed by some as having the principles of a weathervane that ends up pointing in whatever direction the Ozawa breeze is blowing.

Exhibit D

Policy for Ozawa is just like candy (for the people).
– Kamei Shizuka

Some are trying to paper over the growing concerns about the coalition government pulling in several directions at once by reassuring everyone that things will change once the DPJ wins an outright majority in the upper house and no longer needs the excess baggage of the SDPJ and the PNP.

But party Secretary-General and Shadow Shogun Ozawa Ichiro has just punched a hole in their paper. Speaking about the next upper house election at a press conference, he said, “Of course the goal of every party is a majority.”

And added:

“The SDPJ and the PNP worked with us during the lower house election and it turned out well, so I want to maintain that cooperative relationship in the future.”

At a meeting before the press conference, he said:

“The DPJ does not have a majority in the upper house. That does not mean we will reject a coalition with the SDPJ and the PNP. They are our compatriots with whom we worked together, so we will continue to work together in the future.”

It looks like we might be stuck with the marginal Mr. Kamei and Ms. Fukushima in government for longer than we hoped.

It’s also time for an encore from the start of this post:

“The Japanese political class is incapable of punching above its weight in international—or domestic—affairs, because its members are ignorant of the realities of the world outside Nagata-cho and the world outside Japan, are self-satisfied in that ignorance, and are loathe to learn or do anything to jeopardize their status.”

That’s not going to change anytime soon. Mr. Ozawa has given instructions to the party’s first-term MPs that their primary job is to get reelected instead of worrying their heads about the workings of government.

I’ve said it before: this has the potential to get really ugly.

We’re starting to get there.

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Japan’s political kaleidoscope (4): Too many cooks, too many crooks, and too many kooks

Posted by ampontan on Monday, September 21, 2009

The devil’s greatest achievement was to have persuaded so many people that he doesn’t exist.
– Baudelaire

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity–but don’t rule out malice.
– attributed to Albert Einstein

The essence of the Democratic Party of Japan now is a three-tiered structure of the Finance Ministry, Party Secretary-General Ozawa’s troops, and public sector labor unions. It will be impossible to maintain this structure without tax increases.
– Nakagawa Hidenao

THE NEW JAPANESE COALITION GOVERNMENT led by the Democratic Party of Japan—with the People’s New Party and the Socialists Democratic Party of Japan invited to hop in the jalopy to buy their upper house votes and relieve the DPJ of the chore of conducting serious negotiations with more responsible legislators—faces a minefield of potential problems as they embark on their magnificent adventure.

Their most serious obstacle is a lack of internal unity. Many in Japan are calling this a “mosaic government” in reference to the incongruent philosophies of the DPJ’s constituent groups, and that doesn’t begin to account for the polar opposite philosophies of their coalition partners. The glue that held the DPJ together this long was the dream of taking control of the government. Now that they’ve reached their version of the promised land, they’re behaving like the crew that tore down the house but still has to figure out how the plumbing and electricity works. And rather than hit the ground running, they’ve hit the ground after running into each other.

The government was in power for just two days before squabbles broke out among Cabinet ministers, and the junior coalition partners began complaining that the DPJ is blowing them off.

Referring to their disagreements with the DPJ, SDPJ Secretary-General Shigeno Yasumasa told a group of reporters gathered in the Diet building, “We’re not on the same page.” PNP head and Cabinet member Kamei Shizuka complained directly to DPJ bigwig Kan Naoto on an NHK TV broadcast yesterday that the minor parties were being shut out of policy decisions.

Meanwhile, the Government must also overcome the skepticism of both the public and the news media that they are competent enough to be trusted with the nation’s car keys, and that they are committed enough to do what they’ve promised to do. That promise is to take the first steps on what the public thinks as their most important mission—wresting control of policy from the nation’s bureaucracy and strengthening local government.

That the public is skeptical is not in doubt. Skepticism might seem odd considering the party’s lopsided lower house majority and their receipt of about 56% of the popular vote nationwide. But an Asahi Shimbun survey published on 2 September shows otherwise. When asked whether they thought the DPJ victory was the result of voter support for their policies, here’s how the respondents answered:

No: 52%
Yes: 38%

Moving on to specific policies….

Wait! Enough! Screw that for a lark. I refuse to go along with the conspiracy of silence from those who primly cop a responsible commentator pose while ignoring that the launch of the new government has combined the slapstick of third-rate provincial vaudeville, leftover LDP hackery refried to hide the odor and slapped with a different label, and enough hypocrisy to choke a televangelist.

Yes, the Liberal Democratic Party had it coming, but it’s not what the Japanese people had coming. I wrote recently that based on past performance, a DPJ-led government had the potential to have more rings than the Ringling Bros., but no one could have predicted that Nagata-cho would turn into the world’s biggest Big Top.

Here’s the short version: Japan’s new government has too many cooks, too many crooks, and too many kooks—and some of them are the same people!

The Cooks…

The Chef de Cuisine

Sometimes called the executive chef, the chef de cuisine is the man whose name is on the menu. But he’s just as likely to spend his time visiting other restaurants or writing cookbooks.

Japan’s new executive chef is Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, who says he intends to reorient the government to make it Cabinet-directed, and who doesn’t say he is continuing a process begun by Koizumi Jun’ichiro and interrupted by his successors.

His position alone makes him a center of power both in the government and his party. One of the DPJ’s founding members and the head of his own faction/group, he used his substantial family fortune to keep the party afloat for several years. What could be more natural than assuming that he is the primary actor in the Government?

Well, there’s this: During the party’s six-day election campaign in the spring to select a new leader when Ozawa Ichiro resigned after his chief aide was arrested for accepting illegal contributions, one Japanese weekly reported that a secret document was circulated to the party’s MPs, who had the exclusive right to vote in the election. The document was said to have been a full frontal attack on Mr. Hatoyama’s opponent, Okada Katsuya, for his weakness during his previous tenure and his responsibility for the party’s rout in the 2005 lower house elections. The debacle, it asserted, was partly due to Mr. Okada’s lack of a spine. It claimed that the party would be much stronger with the “soft” Mr. Hatoyama as the front man and the “hard” Mr. Ozawa wielding a billy club behind the scenes.

So who’s the boss?

The Sous Chef

Nominally the second in command to the Chef de Cuisine, the sous chef often runs the kitchen and creates and cooks the food to be served, and you already know who I’m talking about before I type his name. So does the rest of Japan. Typical of recent reporting was this headline in the Shukan Post:

Ozawa Ichiro Controls the New Government—and Japan!

The new DPJ secretary-general (i.e., party head) will be the Shadow Shogun himself, Ozawa Ichiro, the man for whom an apt comparison would be the kuroko of joruri puppet theater. The kuroko manipulate the puppets in full view of the audience, but are dressed in black and masked to create the collective fiction of invisibility.

Mr. Ozawa is the kuroko who taught the DPJ how to win elections—mostly using all the Tammany techniques and political jiu-jitsu picked up from his mentor Tanaka Kakuei during his days in the LDP. He was also the kuroko of the short-lived Hosokawa and Hata administrations, the only other non-LDP governments since 1955 and another unwieldy amalgamation of incompatible elements.

After leaving center stage, Mr. Ozawa embarked a task more suited to his abilities–non-stop nationwide campaigning and canvassing in local election districts. As a result, an estimated 130-150 of the 308 DPJ members in the lower house and nearly one-third of the full membership now owe their seats to him. In practical terms, that means he has more command over their loyalty than does the party.

Everyone knows he is capable of picking up his ball and taking his team to start a new game elsewhere, as he threatened to do so nearly two years ago when the rest of the DPJ top brass blew their collective top over his proposed coalition with the LDP under Fukuda Yasuo. The Faustian bargain between Mr. Ozawa and the veterans who predate him in the party has allowed him to create a second center of power on which the nominal head, Hatoyama Yukio, must depend. During the DPJ election campaign, it was stressed that a vote for Hatoyama was a vote for party unity. Many saw in that slogan an implied threat that a vote for Okada as party leader meant that Mr. Ozawa would walk.

Money talks, and we all know what walks

The Shukan Bunshun reported that Prime Minister Hatoyama wanted to keep Mr. Ozawa in his position as acting president and Okada Katsuya as party secretary-general.

When word reached the puppet master, he exploded: “Hatoyama and the people around him are clueless.” Another acting party president, Koshi’ishi Azuma, said to have developed close ties with Mr. Ozawa, had to intervene on his behalf with Mr. Hatoyama.

Why the insistence on the position of party secretary-general? Because money talks. In that position, he has control of JPY 17.3 billion (about $U.S. 190 million) in 2010 in government subsidies for the party, a substantial rise from this year’s total of JPY 11.8 billion. He’s just following the literally golden rule of Tanaka Kakuei: Politics is numbers, numbers are power, and power is money.

The new prime minister has no illusions about whom he’s dealing with. Here’s Mr. Hatoyama quoted in the 25 February 1999 Yukan Fuji:

“Mr. Ozawa fled the LDP five years ago only because he lost in a power struggle in his faction and in the party. He’s raised the banner of governmental reform to prevent the people from realizing that.”

And we all know what they say about politics making for strange bedfellows.

Chief Kan Opener

Long-time DPJ stalwart and former party president Kan Naoto is in the Cabinet as both Deputy Prime Minister and the head of a new group called the National Strategy Bureau. What the national strategy will be, and what the bureau will do exactly, we don’t know—and neither does he—but he’s going to be in charge of it. It’s Standard Operating Procedure for the DPJ to come up with a policy or an idea and then figure out what to do with it only when it’s time to do the work.

Kamei Shizuka of the People’s New Party made a phone call to Mr. Kan to find out more about the bureau. Here’s how one newspaper reported it:

Kamei: What will you do at this National Strategy Bureau?
Kan: I don’t really know. There are several things I’d like to do, but for now, I can only grope my way forward.

The DPJ party platform says: “The National Strategy Bureau will create a national vision for the new era, and formulate the budget framework under political direction.” It’s supposed to consist of about 20 people. As is par for the DPJ course, there’s no mention of what its specific authority will be, whether “the national vision” will have anything to do with foreign policy, and how it will be involved with budget formulation. For all we know, it might turn out to be a political salon allowing the rookies and the rank and file to do some coffeehousing while the heavyweights take care of business somewhere else.

It is nearly axiomatic that everything the DPJ says is subject to change at any time, and sure enough, Mr. Hatoyama explained this week that the NSB will handle the framework of the budget while the Ministry of Finance will handle the details.

The foundation document for the party’s platform is their Index of Policies 2009, last modified in July. It’s on the party website, but only in Japanese. Here’s what it says about the budget:

民主党政権では、国民を代表する政治家が自ら予算を編成します…官邸に各省の大臣などを集め、予算編成の基本方針を決定し、省庁ごとに政治家が主導で予算を編成します。
Under a DPJ administration, politicians representing the people will formulate budgets. The Cabinet ministers will meet in the Prime Minister’s office, determine the basic policies for the budget, and then politicians will direct the budget formulation for each ministry.

But, you protest, key to civil service reform is to keep the MOF at arm’s length from that process. The MOF is notorious for being the bureaucracy’s worst offender at policy meddling. Takenaka Heizo, the man who directed fiscal policy and reform in the Koizumi Administration, fought a five-year running battle with the ministry and warned in December 2007 that the zombies had returned under Yasuda Fukuo. The DPJ promised to put an end to that for good by putting the civil servants in their place.

And just like Brutus, the DPJ are honorable men and women all.

Some think that Mr. Kan has ambitions of his own. If he decides that he would make a jolly good successor to Prime Minister Hatoyama, the National Strategy Bureau would make a jolly good launching pad. Meanwhile, moves are already underway in Okayama, Fukui, and Mie to establish local strategy bureaus in the party at the prefectural and municipal level. No one knows what their strategies will be either, but roughing out the framework for the central government’s budget won’t be one of them. Their efforts, which are partly designed to create stronger local party organizations, will likely be coordinated on some level with the Cabinet-level body.

And mark Mr. Kan down as being a bit miffed at Hatoyama Yukio. It’s reported that when he found out decisions for Cabinet posts had been made without his input, he quickly called the prime minister, incredulous that he wasn’t asked for advice.

Short-Order Cooks

Need flapjacks, a Philly cheese steak, or legislation made to order? Last weekend, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun reported that the DPJ had decided to create yet another new organization, tentatively called the Party Leaders’ Council, referring to DPJ senior executives. The council will consist of five members, including Messrs. Hatoyama and Ozawa, and will determine party strategy for the Diet. While decisions about Diet business have to be made somewhere in the Government, there was no explanation why that requires another new organization, and whether it will limit its purview to the Diet. One has to wonder at this point if the party leadership is dominated by the type of people who would rather draw up attractive menus than do any actual cooking behind a stove.

Chefs de Partie

These cooks, also called line chefs, are responsible for organizing and managing a small team of workers to ensure the restaurant’s work area is under control. Who better to keep the workers in line than the many DPJ members who started out in life by organizing workers, particularly those in the Japanese Teachers’ Union and the All-Japan Prefectural and Municipal Workers Union? They provide the foot soldiers and the muscle for the party’s election campaigns.

That’s no surprise for a party with more than a few ex-Socialists, both in the Diet and in executive positions at party HQ. In fact, says Tsujimoto Kiyomi of the Socialists Democratic Party of Japan, the DPJ is now more dependent on labor unions than was the Socialist Party itself. (The SDPJ added the second word in their name after the Berlin Wall fell for protective coloration.) Before the recent election, the number of DPJ Diet members with ties to the old Socialists was estimated to be just under 30, and they also brought many aides and staffers with them when they left the party in 1996.

The DPJ claims it’s committed to the devolution of governmental authority to local governments and reducing the number of civil servants. We’ll see how long that commitment lasts now that the public sector employees’ union helped put them in power.

How close is the party leadership to the unions? The first order of business for both Mr. Hatoyama and Mr. Ozawa the day after the general election was to visit union rallies in Tokyo to thank them for their help.

The Journeyman C(r)ook and the Apprentice Chef

The inherently unstable DPJ—more of a coalition itself than a party—organized a ruling coalition with two mini-parties from the opposite ends of the political spectrum, the PNP and the SPJ, supposedly because they need their votes to get bills passed in the upper house.

A Study in Body Language, or, Why a picture is worth a thousand words

A Study in Body Language, or, Why a picture is worth a thousand words

The three parties finally agreed on the terms for a coalition government last week. Here, the word “agree” means that the DPJ generally acceded to the demands of the two smaller parties after negotiations, though it’s a mystery why they wouldn’t have known what those demands would have been months ago and worked them out in advance.

What did the two microparties demand? The creation of yet another power center. The DPJ caved in to their insistence for forming—you guessed it—a new council consisting of the three party heads to function as a separate group within the Cabinet, even though both PNP head Kamei Shizuka and SDP head Fukushima Mizuho were awarded Cabinet posts.

Mr. Kamei’s accusation on NHK that the DPJ was cutting them out of the policy loop is a reference to the ruling party making policy decisions outside this council.

The Journeyman C(r)ook

The PNP is a splinter group of ex-LDP oldtimers who want to halt postal privatization, the most important governmental reform of the past 20 years. One of the reform’s objectives was to prevent the bureaucrats from diverting the funds in the postal savings and life insurance accounts to build all those bridges and roads to nowhere.

You know—putting the bureaucracy in its place.

The DPJ has always known exactly what the PNP wants to do, yet their platform clearly states that Japan Post will not return to being a state-operated enterprise. Their initial proposal in the coalition talks was to “consider” freezing the sale of government-held stock and reorganizing the enterprise. The PNP, however, demanded—and got—a firmer commitment to freeze the process without specifying what they intend the future form of it to be.

Party boss Kamei Shizuka has already served time in the Cabinet during his LDP career, most notably as Construction Minister in the days when there was enough pork on the hoof to start a new Commodities Exchange.

Mr. Kamei wanted to head the Defense Ministry, but settled for the Financial Services portfolio and Minister in Charge of Bloviating about Japan Post. The DPJ may already be regretting that decision, however. It turns out his party’s knowledge of economics seems stuck in the era when there was actually a need for postmen to hand deliver all the mail. Like most everyone else in the country, the DPJ probably didn’t read their website.

Here are some of their proposed solutions:

Solution 1: Shut down the Osaka Nikkei 225 Futures Market
Problem with Solution 1:
This Osaka market accounts for 59% of the country’s stock price index futures trading and nearly 100% of the options trading. Stock futures trading often performs its function of price discovery more rapidly than the stock market itself. Though the October 1987 stock market crash in U.S. was blamed on the fall of stock index futures, it was actually an early warning of the crash rather than the cause.

Solution 2: Eliminating mark-to-market accounting
Problem with Solution 2:
Bankers and their advocates hate this accounting method, while accountants, investor advocates, and banking analysts love it. It forces financial institutions to value their assets at true market prices, which could make them swallow huge losses during a market downturn. In other words, eliminating the practice enables them to hide those losses. The banking industry would rather value the assets based on future cash flow, and no, they have no idea what that will be either. Beth Brooke, global vice chair at Ernst & Young LLP, has said, “Suspending mark-to-market accounting, in essence, suspends reality.”

The idea was floated by some in the LDP in 2003, but Takenaka Heizo and the Koizumi Administration successfully resisted the suggestion. The man who proposed it was Aso Taro.

Solution 3: Eliminating capital adequacy requirements for banks
Problem with Solution 3:
These requirements determine how much money a bank can lend, but some think they can cause a credit crunch because banks will cut down on their loans to meet the requirements. The danger of elimination is obvious—a lending institution has to have something to back up its loans. But even Mr. Takenaka thought it was important for the requirements to be flexible.

This solution is being proposed as the discussion in the rest of the world is moving in the direction of raising capital adequacy requirements.

Solution 4: Issuing JPY 200 trillion in non-interest bearing government bonds (About $US 2.2 billion)
Problem with Solution 4:
Bonds of this type are sold at a discount to par value rather than with coupons, and the intention here is to fund the deficit. The problems involve the greater provision of central bank money, the potential for raising the fiscal premium, and damaging the credibility of the currency.

Solution 5: From Mr. Kamei himself—a three-year moratorium on debt repayments by small businesses, and the injection of public funds into banks that become financially strapped by the lack of income due to the moratorium.

Isn’t it fascinating that a man whose party’s website inveigles against the “strong eating the weak” is ready to have taxpayers bail out banks as one leg of his Rube Goldberg economics? Mr. Kamei says the SDPJ is for it too, and he wants to get it done by the end of the year.

I thought I told all you whippersnappers to sit down and shut up!

I thought I told all you whippersnappers to sit down and shut up!

The Mainichi Shimbun editorializes that these loans, combined with home mortgages, total JPY 300 trillion nationwide and account for 70% all bank loan portfolios. They worry the moratorium could cause bank failures among regional banks in particular. Mr. Kamei’s suggestion has already started a sell-off of bank stocks.

Finance Minister Fujii Hirohisa says nothing has been decided, and told reporters, “If the economy was really that bad, it would be one possibility to consider, but the Bank of Japan has not said that’s the situation we’re in.”

But Mr. Kamei insists it’s settled. He also said that he’d listen to Mr. Fujii’s opinions, but, “It won’t be discussed. It isn’t a matter that we’ll decide after discussion.”

The Finance Minister backed down.

Are Cabinet ministers in this administration to act as feudal lords, with the ministries as their personal fiefdoms? Where’s Prime Minister Hatoyama when you really need him? Where are all those newly created government policy bodies when you really need them? When it comes to that, where are all those Finance Ministry bureaucrats when you really need them?

Then again, Bloomberg quoted Prime Minister Hatoyama as saying that “he’ll avoid more bond sales, so new spending will depend on his success in shrinking the bureaucracy and public works programs”.

Richard Daughty, the COO of a financial advisory services company in the U.S., writes financial commentary under the name of The Mogambo Guru. He referred to Mr. Hatoyama’s claim as “Standard Political Crapola (SPC)”.

Though Mr. Kamei’s been in office less than a week, it was enough time for him to also cross swords with Haraguchi Kazuhiro, the new Internal Affairs and Communications minister. Mr. Haraguchi floated a plan for the reorganization of Japan Post into three independent companies rather than four companies under the aegis of a holding company. Said Mr. Kamei:

“I’m responsible for Japan Post, and I’ll take the responsibility and decide.”

The chastened Mr. Haraguchi explained, “It was just an illustrative example”.

The Apprentice Chef

Meanwhile, the other coalition partner, the SDPJ, has an agenda of its own. One of their goals is to eliminate the American military presence in Japan. Rather than support a greater Japanese defensive capability in its place, however, they also believe that people shouldn’t use weapons to defend themselves. (We’ll get to more of that later.) This is just what Mr. Hatoyama doesn’t need with the Americans wondering about his intentions after the translation of his goofy article from Voice magazine appeared in the New York Times, but hey, these are the people his party wants in government.

During the negotiations to create the coalition, the SDPJ declared:

“The proposal of amendments to the Japan-U.S. Status-of-Forces Agreement should be made from the perspective of minimizing the burden on the people of Okinawa, and the approach to the reorganization of American forces (in Japan) and their bases should be reconsidered.”

The DPJ balked, and the negotiations grew unpleasant. At one point DPJ representative and now Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya got so fed up with SDPJ head Fukushima Mizuho that he stormed out of the room. He charged that the DPJ wasn’t offering concrete proposals but delivering political lectures instead. Once a Socialist, always a Socialist.

Ms. Fukushima merely responded by going over his head and calling Hatoyama Yukio. And then going over his head by calling Ozawa Ichiro.

The DPJ finally compromised by changing the language to, “move in the direction of” reevaluating the agreements. They suggested the language be softened to create good relations with the Obama Administration in the U.S. Ms. Fukushima was delighted, and was shown crowing about it on TV to the other 11 members of her party with Diet seats.

Ms. Fukushima was angling for the Environmental Ministry portfolio, because, as she noted, they have a larger staff. Instead she settled for the new Consumer Affairs Ministry, which makes one suspect someone in the DPJ has a sense of humor. That’s just the sort of pretend-important Cabinet post the LDP once awarded to their female politicians as apprentice chefs to give them some experience in the political kitchen while using them as tokens to convince female voters they take them seriously. It’s surprising that Ms. Fukushima, who began her professional career as a radical feminist attorney, fell for it. But then a seat at the table of power is enough to trump principle for most leftists.

Who’s in charge here?

Before the recent election, the DPJ had 114 members in the lower house. They now have 308, for a net gain of 194 seats. The PNP had five; they now have three. The SDPJ stayed even at seven, but now have three directly elected MPs instead of only one. The reason for that increase was not due to greater popular support, but the DPJ’s choice to abstain from fielding a candidate in those districts.

The DPJ has far more than the 241 votes it needs for a lower house majority. Yet, in the upcoming administration, the handful of MPs from the formal coalition partners, and particularly their two party heads, will have a greater influence and say on the direction of the government than the 194 new DPJ members, who represent the popular will today.

That the DPJ created a coalition which includes the PNP and the SDP makes it difficult to avoid the accusation that their Government is a distortion of the democratic process and inimical to the expression of the popular will.

…The Crooks…

The reason I referred to Kamei Shizuka as a journeyman c(r)ook was recently explained in this Japanese-language blog post by Ikeda Nobuo. Mr. Kamei seems to have a knack for making money from shady deals with shady companies with a yakuza presence lurking in the background. One incident mentioned is described in a 1989 Yomiuri Shimbun article, which reports he made profits of JPY 400 million (about $US 4.18 million) in excess of market valuation in a 1987 stock sale that an official termed “an unnatural transaction.”

Perhaps that explains why he doesn’t like mark-to-market accounting.

It’s bad enough that a single-issue splinter party has an influence on policy far out of proportion with its numerical strength. It’s even worse that a man who might be mobbed-up is now in the Cabinet and punching far above his weight. But the DPJ put him there.

Suzuki Muneo

Meet former LDP lower house rep from Hokkaido Suzuki Muneo, the postwar record holder for jail time for a national legislator: 437 days, for bribery. Two of his top aides were also nailed. Mr. Suzuki had carved out a minor suzerainty in the Foreign Ministry. Though he had no official position, he had enormous influence over senior bureaucrats on policy and overseas aid projects.

After his release from prison, he became an advocate for decentralizing government, albeit under centralized control and direction, and an economic demagogue in the style of Kamei Shizuka. He was reelected to the Diet as head of a vanity party.

He was also sentenced to another two-year term for bribery in 2004 and has lost every subsequent appeal. The case is now before the Japanese Supreme Court. The next loss means another jail term and a five-year ban on public office.

But Mr. Suzuki is a pal of Ozawa Ichiro, and has influence among the voters in Hokkaido, where the carnage for the LDP was particularly gruesome this past election.

So the DPJ appointed the ex-con whose name is synonymous with lying and being on the take to chair the lower house Foreign Affairs Committee.

…And The Kooks

More troubling than the number of cooks and crooks in the governmental kitchen is that many of the people involved are not part of the reality-based community. The problem is best described by British novelist, journalist, and commentator James Delingpole, who recently published a book titled, Welcome To Obamaland: I’ve Seen Your Future And It Doesn’t Work. He says:

“In it, I warned the U.S. of the ‘smorgasbord of scuzzballs, incompetents, time servers, Communists, class warriors, eco-loons, single-issue rabble-rousers, malcontents and losers who always rise to the surface during a left-liberal administration….it becomes a problem – as you’re about to discover, if you haven’t already – when your ruling administration consists of nothing but these people. No longer do they qualify as light relief. They become your daily nightmare…. Making these predictions was a no-brainer because it’s exactly the same process as we’ve witnessed in Britain these last twelve years under New Labour.'”

He might just as well have been talking about Japan. We’ve already seen that the PNP is the Government’s version of a “single-issue rabble-rouser”, but there are even worse. Much worse.

Japan Teachers’ Union

No group is more committed to putting ideological blather and self-interest before the public good.
– Jonah Goldberg, on teachers’ unions

The goals of the Japan Teachers’ Union include improving the Japanese educational system so that it more closely resembles the systems in the United States and Great Britain. The California public school teachers appreciate those improvements so much that 25% of them now send their children to private schools.

They share the same disdain for individual achievement as their overseas cousins, as they want to do away with competitive examinations. Political indoctrination of the students starts early and focuses on the supposed sins of Japan rather than its achievements and opportunities. Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura Nobutaka once said that the LDP would have been open to more detailed discussions of Japanese wartime responsibility in schools had there not been so many Marxists among the faculty.

The JTU recently cleaned up its website, most likely in anticipation of a successful election result. Once upon a time, it featured amateurishly drawn cartoons that revealed both their politics and the arrested development of their sense of humor. But tools are available to retrieve erased pages. Here’s an example of one of their eliminated cartoons featuring a likeness of what apparently is supposed to represent former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo.

JTU cartoon 1

For another taste of their junior hi humor combined with their “resistance”, try this article in Great Britain’s Guardian from three years ago describing the antics of school teachers who dislike Kimi ga Yo, Japan’s national anthem, and the imperial system:

Japanese who object to being forced to sing their country’s national anthem have a secret weapon: the English language. Kiss Me, an English parody of the Kimigayo, has spread through the internet and was sung by teachers and pupils at recent school entrance and graduation ceremonies, local media reported yesterday.

“Teachers and pupils”? See what I mean about indoctrination beginning early? The 11-year-old wise guys are indoctrinating the teachers in pre-adolescent spitballery.

Leftwing teachers unions regard Kimigayo, which is based on an ancient poem wishing the emperor a “thousand years of happy reign”, as a symbol of Japan’s militarist past.

When they say ancient, they mean more than a millennium. Though Kimi ga Yo was not officially adopted until about 10 years ago, it has been the de facto anthem for much longer.

Here are the complete lyrics:

May your reign
Continue for a thousand, eight thousand generations,
Until the pebbles
Grow into boulders
Lush with moss

Grab yer firin’ iron! Them’s fightin’ words!

Did some Japanese manipulate national symbols for their own ends during an ugly period of the nation’s history? Yes, as has every other nation in the world. But one reason children are sent to school is to learn the national narrative. The agenda of “leftwing teachers”, other than those in Soviet bloc-type countries, is to denigrate the national narrative by poisoning the minds of the students. The full Japanese national narrative is not defined by one gruesome chapter, nor is it an unending tale of imperialism! capitalism! racism! sexism! war-mongering! These people so dislike their country one is forced to wonder if the real object of their dislike is themselves.

Then again, perhaps they’re not used to tradition in matters such as these. Sergei Mikhalkov wound up writing three sets of lyrics to the Soviet/Russian anthem from 1943 to 2000. The first version was in praise of Stalin, the second version was Stalin Who?, and the third version is in praise of the Fatherland. Keeping the same tradition for more than 1,000 years? How conservative and L7 can you get!

The Japanese in this camp loudly proclaim that they are defenders of the Constitution, i.e., Article 9, the peace clause. Very few fall for it, however, because if they were true defenders of the Constitution, they wouldn’t hold in such contempt the first sentence of Article 1:

The Emperor shall be the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people…

Those who watched the Japanese election returns on TV saw JTU alumnus and Acting DPJ President Koshi’ishi Azuma preening on stage with the other party leaders after their big victory. He’s already said more than once this year that education without a political element is not possible (despite being against Japanese law). Everyone knows what political element he has in mind. Mr. Koshi’ishi’s pre-election position in the party was equivalent to that of Ozawa Ichiro and Kan Naoto, and he retains that influence. But even the DPJ wasn’t dumb enough to put him in the Cabinet and make him a sitting duck. He’ll just roll up his sleeves and go to work out of the public view.

DPJ

Here are some excerpts from the DPJ website in English:

We do not seek a panacea either in the free market or in the welfare state. Rather, we shall build a new road of the democratic center toward a society in which self-reliant individuals can mutually coexist and the government’s role is limited to building the necessary systems.

Does that not fairly scream of Third Way nonsense without writing the actual words? Saying that one is a believer in the Third Way is similar to some of those who call themselves bisexuals. The former is just a leftist who knows better than to parade on May Day carrying a red flag, while the latter have sesquicentennial encounters with the opposite sex to avoid coming all the way out of the closet and admit being gay.

And note the false equivalence between the free market and the welfare state. Pavarotti and Johnny Rotten were both singers, but that didn’t make them equals.

We shall restructure the centralized government from the perspective of devolution toward citizens, markets, and local governments.

They plan to do that by making direct government payments to parents for child rearing in lieu of tax deductions, by making direct government payments to families for high school tuition, and by making direct government payments to individual farmers.

The real DPJ political platform is the Index of Policies, on which the so-called Manifesto is based and then cleaned up for public consumption.

Unlike the Manifesto, the Index—which was last revised in July—is not in English. It’s also recently been tucked away on the party website under the Manifesto section, whereas before it was in full view. Some Japanese have said they find the language in the Index “peculiar”, and they have a point. I haven’t been through all of it—it’s long and packed with boilerplate and platitudes—but it does have some peculiar ideas for a party that claims to be devoted to citizens, markets, and local government.

Such as:

“We will proceed with consideration of an International Solidarity Tax that taxes specified economic activities across national borders, and which will be used as the funding source for international organizations to conquer poverty and support developing countries.”

What we have here is a policy with a retro-Bolshie name to levy an unjustifiable and ill-defined tax to fund an enterprise that anyone who goes through life awake knows will fail. Looks like all the highway signs on the DPJ Third Way read Merge Left.

According to the Index, they also want to maintain the inheritance tax to “Return part of (a person’s) wealth to society”. And here I thought that a person’s wealth was already a part of social wealth. Japan’s inheritance tax was 70% in 2005, which means that a lot of people spent a lot of time and trouble finding ways to get around it.

The party wants to establish a Permanent Peace Study Bureau in the Diet Library. One has to admit that does have potential as a job creation scheme. They’ll need a full janitorial staff to deal with all those cobwebs.

They also want to prevent suicide by spending a lot of money on analysis and studies for suicide prevention. They intend to make it an obligation of publishers to produce textbooks that children with weak eyesight can read. They want to levy stiffer taxes on stiffer drinks to promote health, which is sure to please those taxpayers who have one or two stiff drinks a month and are in excellent health, but will pay the same rate as the lushes.

Perhaps the most peculiar of word choices is found in the section that discusses the party’s stance against North Korea. Their approach comes across as somewhat hardline. But the section is titled, “The core development of diplomatic relations with North Korea”, or in Japanese, 北朝鮮外交の主体的展開.

This part – 主体的 – which corresponds to “core”, is seldom used in Japanese, and it has no bearing on the explanation that follows. But the word is used quite frequently in North Korea. There it’s pronounced juche, and it’s the ruling philosophy of the North Korean government.

The arrested development of their sense of humor is a more widespread malady than I thought.

The Socialists Democratic Party of Japan

In most Western countries, the socialists and the social democrats are the girly men of the left, unable to bring themselves to the truly whacked position of the remaining Communist poseurs. Perhaps that’s because they realize they would lose their opportunities for making money in the stock market and real estate investments under a true Red regime.

In Japan, those relative positions are reversed. The SDPJ are the vicious, vaporous, anti-life, and anti-reality bunch, while the JCP is better behaved and actually has some integrity.

Consider: The North Koreans attempted to assassinate then-South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan during a 1983 visit to Rangoon by detonating three bombs by remote control. The president was not killed, but 21 people were, including three South Korean Cabinet ministers and four Burmese.

The Chinese government criticized the North Korean government in the state media and broke off official contact with Pyeongyang for several months. Japan’s Communist Party also condemned it, saying that terrorism had no part in their movement. Japan’s Socialists?

North Korea was unconnected with the incident in any way because it was not beneficial to them.

For years they claimed that it was impossible for the North Korean government to have abducted Japanese citizens. When Kim Jong-il finally fessed up, their successors in the SDPJ excused the abductions by saying it didn’t compare in any way to Japanese behavior on the Korean Peninsula during the war.

The party’s website is not in English, but it does proudly proclaim that boss Fukushima Mizuho attended the Socialist International conference this year. It’s adorned with a few of the global-standard Socialist illustrations of a rose held aloft in a fist. Their environmental policies—cap’n’trade, anti-nuclear power, anti global “warming”—are the usual blast of hot air one expects from watermelons, so-called because they are green on the outside and red on the inside. Then again, the SPDJ has never bothered to hide its crimson exterior.

The DPJ voluntarily chose the SDPJ as their coalition partners and gave the party head a seat in the Cabinet. They helped boost the party’s chances in the recent election by refraining from running a candidate in districts with prominent SDPJ members. That’s how they picked up two directly elected seats in the lower house.

Fukushima Mizuho

The SDPJ boss hasn’t always been so chummy with the DPJ. She once said, “The LDP and the DPJ are only as different as curry rice and rice curry.” Now that she’s part of the government headed by the latter, it would seem that she has developed a more discriminating palate.

She and husband Kaido Yuichi are both attorneys. Ms. Fukushima has focused on radical feminist causes, and she’s written three books on sexual harassment and domestic violence. She’s also written another called Konna Otoko to ha Zettai Kekkon Suru na! (Under No Circumstances Marry a Man of This Type!). She and her husband have frequently associated with people linked to the Chukaku-ha, or Japan Revolutionary Communist League, and defended them in court trials.

They must have had plenty of work. From the late 60s to the early 90s, Chukaku-ha led or was involved in numerous open battles with police, sabotaged the railroad in 33 Tokyo and Osaka locations when it being privatized, attacked LDP headquarters with a flamethrower mounted on a truck, conducted fatal arson and bombing attacks, and fought bloody battles with two other groups on the ultra-left, resulting in an estimated 100 fatalities. Their slogan is “Workers of the world unite under the banner of anti-imperialism and anti-Stalinism!” That presumably means they were down with K. Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and Mao.

In May 1991, Chukaku-ha changed course and decided to focus its efforts within trade unions and mainstream left-wing movements. One of those efforts was a petition drive to prevent Japan’s use of military force in the event of a foreign invasion. Ms. Fukushima signed it.

Registered as an attorney in 1987, Ms. Fukushima first won election to the Diet in 1998, though it is only a proportional representation seat in the upper house. She is one of the few party leaders in Japanese postwar history who have been unable to win a Diet seat in a direct election, or unwilling to try.

Let’s have Madame Chairman speak for herself. Here’s a brief transcript from her 2005 appearance on the TV show Asa Made (Until Morning), being interviewed by Tahara Soichiro.

Fukushima: I am absolutely opposed to the use of sidearms by police officers. For one thing, even perpetrators of crimes have their rights. The police must not be allowed to injure criminals at all. Even if it is a brutal criminal with a lethal weapon, the police should approach the arrest unarmed.
Tahara: And what happens if a police officer does that and is killed?
Fukushima: Well, that’s the job of police officers…(Shocked sound from the people in the studio. Showing irritation at the response, she continues)…Besides, if a criminal puts up that much resistance, there’s no need to go to all that trouble to arrest him. There’s no problem with letting him escape.
Tahara: But what if the criminal who runs away kills someone else at a different location?
Fukushima: That’s a separate problem…

Here’s an excerpt from a recent Diet debate about the possible interception of an incoming North Korean missile.

Fukushima: If the intercepting missile hits the target, debris will fall. If it misses, it will fly outside the country. Can you say there won’t be any harm caused to the citizens either in Japan or in other countries?
(Then) Foreign Minister Nakasone Hirofumi: If it presents a danger of damage to the lives and property of our people, that missile should be intercepted as a matter of course.
(Then) Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu: But there would be more damage if the missile would be allowed to fall. If it’s intercepted in space, most of the debris would burn up and not fall to earth. It’s important to destroy the missile first and minimize (its potential for harm).
Fukushima: If we miss, it will harm the national interest, and if we hit it, what happens if it turns out to have been just a satellite?

There was laughter at this remark from opposition benches for some reason, but then we’ve already found out about the sense of humor of the Japanese left.

The DPJ thought she would make a dandy Minister of State for Consumer Affairs and Food Safety, Social Affairs, and Gender Equality in the new coalition government, and so appointed her to that position.

Tsujimoto Kiyomi

Currently the SDPJ’s head of Diet strategy, Tsujimoto Kiyomi came up with the idea for taking cruises on a Peace Boat to the countries that Japan invaded during the war when she was a Waseda undergraduate in 1983. It’s not easy for a spunky coed to organize a project on that scale, regardless of her commitment or idealism, so she needed some help.

She received that help from Kitakawa Akira, who later became what is described as her common-law husband, and Oda Makoto.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and intelligence service archives became available, it was discovered that Mr. Oda had been a KGB agent. Mr. Kitakawa was a member of the Japanese Red Army, a revolutionary terrorist group formed in 1971 that was responsible for bombings, airplane hijackings, and armed attacks throughout the world. One member was caught with explosives on the New Jersey Turnpike in the 1980s and spent time in an American jail. Several members were granted asylum in North Korea, and the Japanese government is trying to extradite them. It remains an obstacle to the normalization of relations.

Though vicious, the group’s membership was always small, and they immediately had problems finding the money to survive. It was provided by Palestinians starting in 1972.

Join me in solidarity to smash the country and make the world safe for large purple vibrators

Join me in solidarity to smash the country and make the world safe for large purple vibrators

The Peace Boat, meanwhile, expanded the range of its voyages and visited the Middle East. Cruise members met several times with Yasser Arafat, perhaps to thank him for his money and ask for more. It was eventually awarded Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. That is an honor they share with Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice (he speaks in tongues on television), the Brazilian Federation of LGBT Groups (Associação Brasileira de Gays, Lésbicas e Transgêneros, ABGLT), the Advisory Commission of the Evangelical Church in Germany, The American Civil Liberties Union, The Association for the Advancement of Psychological Understanding of Human Nature, The Centre for Women the Earth the Divine, The Italian Confederation of Labour, Conscience and Peace Tax International, Fraternite Notre Dame, Inc., and the International Academy of Architecture. That would suggest the designation is as easy to obtain as a package of free tissues outside any large train station in Japan.

Mr. Kitakawa was responsible for JRA activities in Europe, and he was eventually deported from Sweden. Back in Japan, he founded the Daisansha publishing company, which has released six of Ms. Tsujimoto’s books.

She was recruited by former Socialist Party leader Doi Takako to run for the Diet, and she won her first election in 1996. A few years later, Shigenobu Fusako, the founder of the Japanese Red Army was arrested in Takatsuki, Osaka, Ms. Tsujimoto’s home district. She was in the company of Yoshida Mamoru, a member of Tsujimoto’s staff in Takatsuki.

As an MP, she started receiving national exposure in the early years of the Koizumi Administration with her semi-hysterical challenges of the prime minister during question time. She does have spunk, however, and it was great television, so a star was quickly born.

It just as quickly faded after her success went to her head and she accused the aforementioned Suzuki Muneo during his questioning in the Diet of being a “trading house for suspicion”. Mr. Suzuki, semi-hysterical himself, blew up in a memorable rant.

Those of you who enjoy interesting coincidences will be delighted to know that not long afterwards, investigators just happened to discover that she had been raking off funds from the money that was supposed to be paid to her political aides. It was suspected that she gave some of the money to Mr. Kitakawa. She was sentenced to two years in jail with a five-year stay of execution.

Ms. Tsujimoto resigned her Diet seat, but Japanese voters can be a forgiving lot, and she’s back, though keeping a much lower profile.

Again, let’s let the lady speak for herself. Here’s one:

“It’s not possible that the peace-loving North Koreans would abduct anyone.”

Golly, where have we heard that before?

She has a strange conception of loyalty for a Diet member:

“I don’t want to be a Japanese. I want to be an international person.”

Perhaps I should have spelled that “internationale”.

Indeed, she has been so internationale in general, and pro-North Korean in particular, that some Japanese have wondered if she is a naturalized Korean with family roots in the northern part of the peninsula.

Here’s how she views her duties as a national legislator. She was speaking informally to a person she didn’t realize was a reporter:

“They say a Diet member should protect the lives and property of the citizens, but that is not my intention. My role is as a ‘national destroyer’ MP who will try somehow to destroy the framework of the state.”

There’s a bit lost in the translation, as Ms. Tsujimoto is making a pun. The word for Diet member is 国会議員 (kokkai gi-in). She replaced the first two characters with the homonym 国壊 (kokkai), which means “national destruction”.

She also has a unique sense of fun. During a feminist conference sponsored by the owner of a shop for sex toys, the amusingly named Love Piece Club, she autographed a large purple vibrator for an auction.

Now nobody objects to the ways people choose to get their kicks, but one would expect a Diet member to show some discretion at a public event.

Sidebar

The Love Piece Club has a website. One of the pages is here, which displays the nude snapshots a photographer took of the “Buy Vibe Girls” at the Yasukuni Shinto shrine bright and early one morning. Ordinarily, it’s standard Internet practice to warn of photos that aren’t work safe, but any work supervisor who caught you looking at these is more likely to feel sorry for you than angry at you.

The title of the page, by the way, is Nobody Knows I’m Lesbian. Come on, Mina, who are you trying to kid? All anyone has to do is look at your picture.

Now, former combatants and ex-cons Tsujimoto Kiyomi and Suzuki Muneo are part of the ruling coalition, proving beyond doubt that politics makes for the strangest of bedfellows.

One wonders which one brought the large purple vibrator.

Ms. Tsujimoto, a politician convicted of skimming public funds, who pals around with terrorists, who would rather be known as the national destroyer than a Japanese, and who has vowed to wreck the framework of the state, was appointed by the ruling DPJ to serve as Vice-Minister for the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport. That ministry is responsible for the national infrastructure and dealing with disasters.

Here’s the best part: No one in her party likes the idea at all. Ms. Tsujimoto’s own initial reaction was:

やだ、やだ、やだ、やだ!

That’s what a four-year old throwing a tantrum might say when told to take some unpleasant medicine—No, no, no, no!

She gave in after being told that party head Fukushima Mizuho signed off on it. But then Ms. Fukushima claimed she didn’t sign off on it. But then she admitted that she did.

With Ms. Fukushima occupied by her make-work duties in the Cabinet, Ms. Tsujimoto was being counted on by the party to be the face of their campaign in next year’s upper house election. Those with a Machiavellian turn of mind might wonder if the DPJ purposely wanted to give her some make-work duties of her own in the bureaucracy. That would prevent her from being the poster girl of the SDPJ campaign, making it easier for the DPJ to take them out in the election and form a government without their help.

It’s a wrap!

I have nothing but the deepest sympathy for those Japanese who were so fed up with LDP rule that they felt compelled to vote for the DPJ and its coalition of too many cooks, too many crooks, and too many kooks in the hope they would receive clean government, real reform, and responsible political behavior.

If we’re lucky, perhaps they’ll manage to achieve some of their promised reforms during their administration, particularly shutting off the entry of bureaucrats into public sector jobs. They might yet reinsert the jackhammer into the foundation of the structure of interests that holds the country back. Maybe their conduct will spur the rejuvenation of a sharp opposition party, regardless of label, whose members will be decisive enough to ditch the mudboaters before refloating their political ship.

Credit where credit is due

Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya

Mr. Okada has opened attendance at his press conferences to all members of the Japanese news media, ending the kisha club monopoly in which only certain outlets get direct access to the politicians. Now the weekly magazines, Internet publications, and sports newspapers (some of their political reporting is better than you think) can attend. This development was not reported by the Asahi Shimbun, the Yomiuri Shimbun, or the Nikkei Shimbun, which constitute Japan’s press monopoly. Perhaps they’ve taken lessons from the New York Times, the Washington Post, and most of the American TV networks.

I’ve said before that the DPJ always carries banana peels in its back pocket for pratfall practice, and this time Prime Minister Hatoyama showed off his best Buster Keaton form. Before the election, he promised that he would open up his press conferences too. The reporters asked if he would put that in the party platform. He said no, it wasn’t necessary to go that far.

The only reporters allowed at Mr. Hatoyama’s first press conference were those in the kisha club.

Maehara Seiji

The new Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport, Mr. Maehara is often criticized by the party’s left wing and DPJ hacks because he (a) is not left-wing, (b) believes in a strong national defense, (c) intensely dislikes Ozawa Ichiro and his presence in the party, and (d) is capable of apostasy by working with the Koizumian reformers of the LDP, including rebel Watanabe Yoshimi. If there’s anything the left hates more than common sense, it’s a traitor.

One of his first announcements as MLIT chief was the suspension of the Yamba Dam project in Gunma. This was immediately hailed by all those anxious to end the ties between construction industry pork and the government once and for all.

But they couldn’t even get this one right. The governments of the six prefectures that will be affected by the decision were not at all pleased. Tokyo in particular is concerned about the water supply for the exploding population in some areas of its jurisdiction. Mr. Maehara is going to visit Gunma later this week and talk to local officials. Some are so upset they say they won’t attend if the decision is not changed.

Also opposed to the decision is the Gunma governor–who is affiliated with the DPJ. The governor was miffed that the prefectural government wasn’t consulted before the MLIT announced the decision.

In other words, the party that promised to decentralize government and devolve authority to local governments made an arbitrary central government decision without any input from local government and a governor on their own team.

Finance Minister Fujii Hirohisa said no final decision had been made, but the MLIT is behaving as if they’re going to shut it down. Mr. Fujii deferred to Mr. Maehara.

Except Mr. Maehara spun around again and deferred to the locals. He’s now said the legal procedures to halt the project won’t begin until the “understanding” of the six prefectures is obtained.

Now you know why some charge the DPJ wasn’t ready to assume control of the government. All of this, including discussions with the local governments, should have been worked out long ago. Mr. Maehara says he is merely executing one of the planks in the DPJ platform. That was the same platform the party kept revising after its initial release just last month.

Kawabata Tatsuo

Mr. Kawabata was named Education Minister, much to the relief of those who were apprehensive about Koshi’ishi Azuma winding up with that job. The JTU wants to roll back the education reforms of the Abe administration, particularly the new teacher certification requirements. But at his initial press conference, Mr. Kawabata said that would be only one of several options examined over the next four years. Those experienced at reading bureaucratic tea leaves think that means the JTU might not be getting carte blanche in the new Government after all, though they warn that Mr. Koshi’ishi has yet to be heard from.

Unfortunately, Mr. Kawabata talked up a proposal for extending teacher training to six years—the same amount of classroom time as a Japanese medical doctor. But then classroom instruction is hardly brain surgery. Every extra minute seated in a classroom staring out the window while some teacher drones on about classroom teaching is a minute wasted. If the objective is to improve classroom instruction, that time would be better spent being actively involved with life as it’s actually lived.

Afterwords:

Sorry for not keeping my promise. The last post said the next one would be “tomorrow”, but that turned into two weeks. I had some work to do, and wading through the sheer deluge of information related to today’s topic took some time.

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You say you want a devolution

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 3, 2009

YOU’LL SELDOM SEE it covered on the front page of newspapers or on prime time television—their game is infotainment, not issues—but the political equivalent of a civil war is raging in Japan. The insurgents in this war are the governors, mayors, and other chief municipal officers storming the barricades of the central government in Tokyo.

Though both the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan claim they support greater devolution, the rebels take neither at their word. Still, the issue in Japan is not whether there will be regional devolution and a restructuring of government, but when and to what extent. Here are some dispatches from the front lines.

A pox on you both!

Eguchi Katsuhiko

Eguchi Katsuhiko

Eguchi Katsuhiko chairs a government panel for examining the state/prefecture concept, the official policy of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its New Komeito coalition partner. It would create 9-12 large sub-national entities to replace the current 47 prefectures at the level between the central government and municipalities. Supporters say this plan would revitalize the country by reducing the size and authority of the central government while curtailing the influence of the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy.

Prime Minister Aso Taro says he supports the LDP program in particular and devolution in general, but Mr. Eguchi thinks he’s full of bologna. He publicly slammed the prime minister for his failure to actively promote the state/prefecture concept, calling his approach retrogressive. He didn’t stop there; he also criticized Mr. Aso for his attitude toward devolution and civil service reform, and said those in business and financial circles were fed up with him. Neither did Mr. Eguchi spare Hatoyama Yukio, the head of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan:

Regrettably, neither Mr. Aso nor Mr. Hatoyama seem interested in reforming Japan. The bureaucracy dominates and the politicians and the people are being led by the nose. The prime minister doesn’t seem to be aware that he’s being used by the bureaucracy.

Mr. Eguchi is a supporter of small government, and he’s got a good reason:

The central government creates dependency among the people. The form of the country must be changed.

The very public criticism by Mr. Eguchi raised eyebrows because it’s unusual for the chair of a government group of this type to criticize the prime minister in public.

He’s so committed to the issue he’s written a book about it, called Chiiki Shuken-Gata Doshusei (A State/Province System Based on Regional Sovereignty). His specific proposal calls for the reorganization of sub-national governments into 12 states/provinces and 300 municipalities (or “basic governmental units”), with both levels receiving substantial authority to levy and collect many of the taxes now paid to the central government. In return, they would be given the authority to conduct those governmental functions with the greatest impact on daily life.

Mr. Eguchi is the head of the PHP Research Institute founded by Matsushita Konosuke. He’s also allied with reform firebrands Watanabe Yoshimi and Eda Kenji (click on the Tags for more), and joined them to establish a political organization this January. That organization is about to be transformed into a political party. PHP publishes a line of trade paperbacks and the monthly current affairs magazine Voice, so the group has a ready-made medium through which to make its views known.

Mr. Inside

Meanwhile, the LDP’s Koizumian standard-bearer Nakagawa Hidenao continues his daily barrage against the party’s mudboat wing. He recently threw a party at a Tokyo hotel for young Diet members (probably first-termers who owe their seats to Mr. Koizumi’s coattails in 2005) and invited that well-known loose cannon of devolution and reform, Osaka Gov. Hashimoto Toru.

During the meeting, Mr. Nakagawa told those assembled:

“The people’s expectations for changing the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy lie with the DPJ. They will not be with us unless we offer a compelling plan that goes above and beyond theirs…The only message that will counter the DPJ’s call for a change in government is to dismantle Kasumigaseki.”

Some of the party’s mudboaters have begun firing back. Machimura Nobutaka, the head of the LDP’s largest faction–of which Mr. Nakagawa may or may not still be a member–took issue with the latter’s promotion of a bill to completely outlaw the means through which retired civil servants find cushy post-retirement employment in organizations affiliated with the government. It also would allow for the demotion or salary reductions of senior civil servants. Said Mr. Machimura:

“We already can demote or cut the salaries of those bureaucrats under the present law. I have to think that those people who claim it isn’t possible, and that this is a new law, have some different end in view.”

Retorted Mr. Nakagawa:

“Flexible salary reductions are difficult under the government’s proposal.”

Translation: “Difficult” is often a euphemism in Japanese. It usually means that the subject under discussion is either (a) impossible, or (b) so unlikely as to be impossible in practice.

There is speculation in the Japanese media that Mr. Nakagawa’s redoubled efforts are a counterattack against the tribal MPs (zokugiin) with close ties to Cabinet ministries (in a sense, lobbyist-legislators working for the bureaucracy) who scuttled the recent proposal to reorganize the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare.

The human howitzer

Speaking of Mr. Hashimoto, he is slinging so much lead at both the LDP and DPJ he’s on the verge of exploding into space. Keeping track of the governor’s daily activities is akin to following a spectator sport. But his sky-high ratings among his Osaka Prefecture constituency mean that both the LDP and the DPJ are desperate for his endorsement in the upcoming lower house election.

The governor knows an opportunity when he sees one, so he’s letting them have it with both barrels.

Here’s what he said about the LDP at that Tokyo hotel party hosted by Nakagawa Hidenao:

“As long as there is no change in the Kasumigaseki system, the people will think that nothing’s going to happen. The LDP and (coalition partners) New Komeito will lose the election if they approach it this way…I’d like to see you (the Diet members) introduce a compelling plan (to deal with the bureaucracy) that will astound every citizen.”

He later told a press conference:

“The LDP is not doing enough. The ruling party in government has the authority, so I hope they submit a terrific plan.”

Mr. Nakagawa agreed that the prime minister’s efforts were insufficient:

“If he can’t (come up with a good plan), the election result will be as Gov. Hashimoto said.”

Après-party, the governor let loose a volley against the government’s Robust Policy Plan for 2009:

“There’s not enough about devolution. It’s worse than last year’s plan. Last year’s plan had a chapter heading with a promise to look into the problem of local agencies (i.e., the local agencies of the central government that prefectural governments must pay to support). This year, there’s no chapter heading and less talk about the bureaucracy…not enough effort is being put into cutting expenditures.”

Salvos at the DPJ

While the Osaka governor has praised the DPJ’s stance on reforming the bureaucracy at Kasumigaskei, he’s not entirely convinced they’re serious. For example, he’s said he thinks the party will try to end bureaucracy-led government—the way things have worked here since the Meiji Era. But he’s also said:

“With the DPJ riding on the backs of (public sector) unions, are they capable of civil service reform?”

But he hasn’t had anything good to say at all about the devolution plan the DPJ is most likely to adopt. Mr. Hashimoto supports the LDP’s state/province system with three layers of government.

It’s difficult to determine exactly what plan the DPJ favors. Party members have told the media the issue divides them more than any other. DPJ boss Hatoyama Yukio has supported the LDP state/province system plan in the past, but it’s now apparent that he can’t be taken at his word for much of anything.

The plan most people think they’ll back is one that former DPJ leader Ozawa Ichiro has touted for at least 15 years: a two-level scheme divided between the central government and 300 sub-national governmental units. It still isn’t clear who wears the pants in the DPJ family, however, and they’ve yet to nail this plank into their platform. Here’s Mr. Hashimoto on the Ozawa plan:

“This image of the state is divorced from reality…No head of local government agrees with them. The people in charge of this issue in the party should hold a public debate.”

And:

“The DPJ talks about (strengthening) regional authority, but that’s not what will happen. Central government will be stronger under a two-level structure, making top-down decision-making more likely.”

And:

“The approach of making the central government the next highest government body above the basic local government units (without anything in between) is dangerous. It could lead to egregious central governmental authority.”

Tokyo Deputy Governor Inose Naoki, a Hashimoto ally, thinks the Ozawa idea is a warmed-over version of the governmental system in Japan during the Edo period, from the early 17th century to the mid-19th century. The Shogun sat atop the food chain, and under him were 300 primary daimyos and their fiefdoms, defined as those offering at least 10,000 koku of rice (about 51,200 bushels) as tribute.

(To be precise, most historians say there were really only 260 to 280 primary fiefdoms, and that the number 300 is used as a convenient shorthand.)

The Hashimoto charge that the Ozawa system would lead to egregious central government authority is not without merit. Japanese historians say that while the local daimyo were granted some authority and privileges, including law enforcement and the right to levy taxes, the central government was extremely powerful.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the man who prefers the role of shadow Shogun would be atttracted to that concept.

Mr. Inose recently discussed the issue with Haraguchi Kazuhiro, who holds the portfolio for the Internal Affairs and Communications ministry in the DPJ Shadow Cabinet. He told Mr. Haraguchi that the DPJ plan was too abstract for serious discussion.

One potential difficulty is that Japan has just been through a series of extensive municipal mergers. The so-called Great Heisei Mergers (Heisei being the reign name of the Emperor), have reduced the number of Japanese municipalities–cities, towns, and villages–from 3,300 to 1,800. It just isn’t possible to slash that number to 300 while eliminating the prefectures at the same time, and officials in the Internal Affairs Ministry have told the party as much.

Mr. Haraguchi sheepishly admitted to the Tokyo Deputy Mayor that the first step to attaining the goal of 300 would be a reduction to 700, but said, “we really haven’t thought this out. This is as far as we’ve gotten.”

Strong opposition to the Ozawa plan has also emerged from the National Association of Towns and Villages, an association for the municipal officers of machi and mura nationwide. (Those municipalities designated as cities are excluded.) While the association is a strong supporter of devolution, they are opposed to further consolidation because they maintain the last round of mergers did more harm than good.

There were 2,652 towns and villages before the merger mania started, and the total as of 1 June was 992, according to the NATV website. (A further complication is that there are no clear-cut definitions under the law to differentiate cities, towns, and villages. Generally speaking, cities have the most people and villages have the fewest, but some municipalities classified as towns have a larger population than some smaller cities.)

The NATV recently pried another admission out of the DPJ that the Ozawa plan is unrealistic and has to be reworked. The DPJ official who let that cat out of the bag was Osaka Seiji, the managing director of the party’s devolution survey committee.

This issue is taken very seriously by business and financial leaders throughout Japan–Keidanren, the country’s most influential business organization, is a staunch supporter of the LDP plan–but the DPJ still hasn’t decided where it stands as a party.

And they think they’re ready to assume leadership of the government?

The governors’ rebellion

Perhaps the most stunning development in the battle between local and central government was the response of the prefectural governors to the national government’s explanation of the prefectures’ liabilities for the maintenance and management costs of the local agencies of central government ministries. (For a more detailed look at the issue, try this dialogue between Mr. Hashimoto and Mr. Inose.)

The Kyodo news agency conducted a survey by questionnaire of the 47 prefectural governors regarding their views of the explanation and itemization of the charges provided by Kaneko Kazuyoshi, the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport. Forty of the 47 said it wasn’t sufficient.

Of those 40, 21 gave as their reason the continued prefectural financial liability for the maintenance and management of national roads and rivers. The National Governors’ Conference is seeking its immediate abolition. The dissenters thought the information was lacking and said they were dissatisfied with the government’s partial modification of the system while maintaining its essence. (This is a hallmark of governmental operations under the LDP.)

As specific examples of the inappropriate use of the funds they’re required to provide, 33 cited construction costs for agency buildings and dormitories for the civil servants. Eighteen of the governors cited footing the bill for the personnel costs of management personnel at research institutes and agencies under the direct control of the ministry. In addition, 36 said the breakdown of liabilities in the FY 2008 budget presented by the ministry at the end of May lacked critical information.

I’m not kidding about rebellion. Of the 47 governors, only three said their prefectures would pay the money the central government is asking for. In addition, Gov. Hashimoto of Osaka said his prefecture wouldn’t pay other inappropriate expenditures in addition to retirement and pension benefits. The remaining three governors did not specifically say what they would do. The Saitama governor said they might freeze payments if they thought the information disclosed was inadequate, while the Wakayama governor said the prefecture wouldn’t hand over any money until they received a reasonable explanation.

A total of 46 of the governors said the system should be either modified or eliminated entirely (only the Mie governor dissented), and of those 46, 27 opted for complete elimination.

Now imagine what would happen if 43 of the 50 American state governors flipped the bird in unison to the federal government after being told it was time to pay up. There would be so much activity on the Internet and in the mass media it would melt optical fiber cables worldwide and smoke would be issuing from the vents of your CPU.

It sounds like a rebellion to me!

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