Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Hirano H.’


Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, September 14, 2011

IF Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko hadn’t realized there were risks in appointing people who required training wheels to the most important Cabinet positions, he knows it now. It took less than a fortnight for former METI chief Hachiro Yoshio to slip on two banana peels and take a pratfall into the airshaft, quickly casting a pall over any inicipient Era of Good Feelings that bubbled up with the departure of Kan “The Millstone” Naoto.

That pall may well deepen with the Democratic Party’s response to the incident. Whether they’ve finally understood that the waiver from the journo ambuscade they enjoyed until 2009 has expired, or that the people they’ve appointed to critical positions in this Cabinet won’t be ready for prime time until the end of the decade — or both — the party is taking steps to deal with the problem in its own inimitable way. Said Koshi’ishi Azuma, the new secretary-general:

With our 411 Diet members, unity of strength results from unity of spirit. Properly recognizing the weighty decision of former Minister Hachiro, we will fully enforce information management, including our response to the mass media.

It’s not surprising that Mr. Koshi’ishi is openly talking about “information management” as a mechanism for interacting with the news media. He’s a card-carrying member of the left flank of the party’s left wing, and was an official of the Japanese Teacher’s Union when the union president was an open sycophant of North Korea’s Kim Family Dynasty. The shift to managing the news required only a short hop. The skip and the jump weren’t necessary.

Prime Minister Noda in the Diet

So instead of an Iron Curtain, the DPJ’s Red secretary-general is going to bring down the Koshi’ishi Curtain after Mr. Hachiro, an ex-Socialist, talked himself out of a job in nine days, and after Matsumoto Ryu, an ex-Socialist, talked himself out the Reconstruction Minister’s job in even less time earlier this summer. And who can forget Yanagida Minoru, an ex-Democratic Socialist, who talked himself out of the Justice Minister’s job last fall after all of two months? He resigned after saying that his job was a snap because all he had to do was repeat two meaningless stock phrases to stiffarm any questions.

Let’s go out on a limb and say a pattern is starting to emerge.

Meanwhile, all seven opposition parties are livid that the DPJ government decided to convene an extraordinary Diet session for a mere four days. (That includes New Komeito, which Mr. Noda has been trying to sweet talk into a coalition.) The Liberal-Democrats asked them to extend the session to late October, but the government did not deign to reply.

When asked the reason for such a brief session, DPJ lower house Diet Affairs chief Hirano Hirofumi explained that it was because the new Cabinet ministers were inexperienced. That was too much for even Social Democratic Party head Fukushima Mizuho, who retored, “Cabinet ministers are Cabinet ministers from the day they take office.”

The party’s Diet management resulted in some unpleasantness during Mr. Noda’s first address to the chamber as prime minister yesterday. Some heckling goes on during the speech regardless of the party in power, but a few LDP members amped up the level so drastically, it was as if they were trying to shout the man down.

Even DPJ Senior Advisor Watanabe Kozo admitted they had a reason to be sore. He thought the government should have at least convened a meeting of the lower house Budget Committee to have the Cabinet face Question Time. (The opposition party leaders will get to question Mr. Noda one-on-one, however.)

So, just two weeks after being shed of Kan Naoto, the Noda Cabinet has royally cheesed off the news media and the opposition parties. That sound you hear is battleaxes being sharpened on whetstones.

Didn’t get off on the good foot, now did they?

For reference, this is what the Good Foot looks like.

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

Bottom feeders

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, September 1, 2011

The dojo, you know
Doesn’t try to play goldfish

– Dojo, a poem by Aida Mitsuo

NODA Yoshihiko, the new prime minister of Japan, realizes that he’s not the type of man to excite an audience to the point of spontaneous combustion. That’s why he used the analogy from the poem above to present himself to the Japanese public. It was nicely done — most Japanese, including people who will never be Mr. Noda’s political allies, seem to have found it endearing. Some are familiar with the calligrapher/poet Aida Mitsuo, the author of the poem, who lived from 1924 to 1991. Everyone is familiar from childhood with the work of calligrapher/poets, especially anonymous ones, because their creations are a part of daily life. Schoolchildren make their own as part of their classroom work.

The poem

Mr. Noda says he’s always liked Aida’s poems, and people take him at his word. The Japanese will also find that endearing and view it as a positive. There are still plenty of people in this hip-hop world who nod in appreciation at Aida’s explanation of what he did: “I merely express the natural way people should be as humans and the true way to live. To accomplish that, I borrow the format of brush-and-ink calligraphy.”

In fact, there’s been a sharp increase in visitors to the Aida Mitsuo Museum in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward since Mr. Noda’s speech. There were 1,500 on 30 August, which is half again the usual number. The anthology in which the poem appears has been sold out in bookstores, and a new edition of 5,000 copies is being printed to meet the demand. The general theme of that anthology, Okagesan, is “Don’t compare yourself to other people”.

The politicians of his party like it too. Mr. Noda appointed Hirano Hirofumi, the chief cabinet secretary in Hatoyama Yukio’s government, to the important position of Diet Affairs Committee chairman for the party. Promised Mr. Hirano:

I will become the comfortable mud for the dojo.

That presented the fratboy spitballers of the Fourth Estate with a faux problem. Mr. Noda used a fish analogy that everyone in Japan immediately understood. Rather than a physically attractive and eyecatching kingyo, or goldfish, he likened himself to an ordinary dojo that lives near the mud.

But while every Japanese knows what a dojo is, few people in the West are familiar with what is sometimes called the Oriental Weatherloach, or, for the scientifically minded, Misgurnus anguillicaudatus .

So, after their Japanese go-fers at the Tokyo bureau provided them with the English translation, the foreign correspondents pulled a reference book down from the shelf, blew off the accumulated dust, and licked their fingers as they turned the pages. They discovered that:

It is omnivorous, eating a range of food including insect larvae, crustaceans, algae and detritus.

They found what they were looking for. The headline in The Australian the next day read:

New Japan PM Yoshihiko Noda says he is ‘bottom feeder’

It wasn’t just The Australian, either; when I Googled the phrase early yesterday evening in combination with Mr. Noda’s name, there were more than 700 hits.

No, he did not say he is a bottom feeder. He said he was a dojo. A bottom feeder in English has negative connotations that dojo does not have in Japanese. For Mr. Noda, it was an innocent, self-effacing remark to which his listeners responded favorably, if they had any reaction at all.

But the English-language media outside Japan employed Mr. Noda’s comment to make the man look like a dweeb. Of course they did it on purpose. That is what they do.

Journalists become so upset when they are attacked, it’s apparent they have no idea why they are so detested. One reason, of course, is that they are self-important airheads of unparalleled hebetude incapable of stringing together two sentences without revealing just how little they know. Another is that being a smirking, juvenile twat is no way to win friends or influence people — unless your social circle consists exclusively of smirking, juvenile twats.

Imagine that: Japan’s prime minister enjoys the work of a calligrapher/poet in a country with a culture that encourages such appreciation. Now imagine the sort of person who would see that as a prime target for mockery.

Time magazine in the U.S. employs spitballers of a higher caliber, however. Instead of writers who attended red-brick colleges, they prefer graduates of universities where ivy covers the brick, or better yet, stone. Their headline for Mr. Noda’s selection was:

Another Slice of ‘Cold Pizza’? The Man Most Likely to Lead Japan

They were more clever about it by giving themselves plausible deniability. The line doesn’t come until halfway down the page, when they quote Yamamoto Yoshi quoting Westerners about former Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo, who died in office of a stroke.

Oh, they’ve been to the finest schools, all right, but the psychological deformity is the same. Obuchi was another dojo, which few Japanese thought was a handicap. People liked him, including his political opponents, as I suspect they will also like Mr. Noda. I remember watching a film clip of Obuchi talking outdoors to people in the Diet district he represented, and the reasons people liked him were obvious. He was friendly, warm, and genuine in a way that can’t be staged as a photo op.

But perhaps we’re being unfair to the journos. Being unfamiliar with friendly, warm, and genuine behavior, they’re unlikely to recognize it when they see it.

The first article I posted on this website in 2007 was the About page on the masthead. I wrote then that Japan does not receive the baseline respect of other countries, and that people who write about it “seem to enjoy indulging themselves in a comic book vision of the country that depicts Nippon as the Goofball Kingdom of East Asia.”

See what I mean?

For contrast, consider the treatment of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She denied that the first Greek bailout would happen, she denied that the second Greek bailout would happen, and she denied that the Portuguese bailout would happen. They all happened. In fact, she said “we have a treaty under which there is no possibility to bail out states in difficulty”.

Do you remember anyone from the industrial mass media dismissing her in a straight news story with the likes of “bottom feeder” or “cold pizza”? Has anyone in the English-language media taken her to task — much less flicked spitballs at her — for being incompetent, muddle-headed, or wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong?

Please! She’s European, not Asian. Even better, she was born a member of today’s privileged and pedestalized gender. They’re never mocked by the media dinosaurs, unless they’re American women who believe in small government. (Or, in Hillary Clinton’s case, unless they’re running against someone from a subset on an even higher pedestal.)

Isn’t all the commentary filled with brow-knitting concern about how Mr. Noda is Japan’s sixth prime minister in five years just so precious? (Or seventh, if you start counting with the outgoing Mr. Koizumi). There’s a bit of that in Japan, too.

But then I ran across an article yesterday in The Wall Street Journal, in which Daniel Henninger interviewed former American Vice-President Dick Cheney. Here’s an excerpt:

I asked Mr. Cheney why there isn’t a stronger tradition of firings or resignations in American government. He chuckled, noting that one of the chapters left out of the book was “People I have fired.”

“It’s an important issue in terms of trying to manage an administration,” he says. “My experience generally has been that it doesn’t happen often enough. That’s sort of a general statement of why government doesn’t work.”

So, Mr. Cheney thinks American government doesn’t work because there are too few resignations and firings, while others think the Japanese government doesn’t work because there are too many resignations and firings.

Yet if the American government were conducted under the Japanese version of the Westminster system, Bill Clinton would have been gone at the end of 1994, sparing the nation of six lost years, tales of cigars used as adult toys, and testimony of semen-stained dresses. George W. Bush would have been gone after Katrina, sparing the nation of the first pointless bailout and the beginning of the degradation of the currency. Barack Obama, the Sizzling Hot Pizza himself, with more self-regard than the average journalist with even less justification, might have failed to match Hatoyama Yukio’s nine months in office, sparing the nation of agony akin to having all one’s teeth pulled without anesthetic.

And some people think the Japanese have it all wrong.

Finally, we come to The Economist. As befitting the elite status of the in-flight magazine for Davos man, the ink-stained wretches they employ as journalists rank in the highest percentile for vapidity, laziness, and self-importance in their profession. No other similar publication in the English-speaking world has contributors who bray so loudly so consistently and know so little about Japan. Consider this on the selection of Mr. Noda:

But there is at least one thing to be thankful for in today’s victory: Mr. Noda sidelined one of the main forces of paralysis in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), Ichiro Ozawa, who continues to head the largest faction within the party though he has been indicted in a money scandal and his party membership is suspended.

Mr. Ozawa backed Banri Kaieda, a trade minister who looked increasingly in danger of becoming a puppet for the backroom fixer. But though the first vote put Mr. Kaieda in front, thanks to the support of Mr. Ozawa’s cronies, it was not enough to win him an outright victory. In the run-off, Mr. Noda’s supporters joined forces with those of Seiji Maehara, another anti-Ozawa candidate who lost in the first round (and whom we had thought would be the front-runner, because of his support among the electorate at large). Mr. Noda won with 215 votes to Mr. Kaieda’s 177. It is the second time this year—the first was a no-confidence vote against Mr. Kan in June—that Mr. Ozawa has failed to impose his will on the party, though that is not to say that he will stop making mischief for the new leader.

Two paragraphs, two errors with a throw weight measured in the megatons. Mr. Ozawa did not try “to impose his will on the party” through the no-confidence vote. The opposition parties introduced the June no-confidence measure and might have done so in March had it not been for the earthquake. They were already discussing it at the end of February. It would have passed, too, with members of several Democratic Party factions voting for it — acting as antibodies against the human bacteria that is Kan Naoto. But Sengoku Yoshito and Edano Yukio, attorneys at law, put off the inevitable by devising a document that everyone except Kan Naoto thought was a commitment to a quick resignation. It took the rest of the summer, but Kan Naoto is solid gone, leaving behind the odor of sulfur and slime.

So: Viewed from a time frame of longer than a fortnight, how was this a failure for Ozawa Ichiro? If his allies had opposed the no-confidence measure from the start, we still might have Kan Naoto to kick around some more.

As for putting Mr. Ozawa out of business, Mr. Noda just appointed Ozawa ally Koshi’ishi Azuma to be the party secretary-general (head of the party in the organizational sense). In Japan’s version of the Westminster system, the secretary-general is essentially the Number Two man of the party. He controls all the money, runs the election campaigns, and conducts negotiations with the other parties. We’ve also seen that Mr. Noda appointed Hirano Hirofumi to be the party’s Diet Affairs chairman, which another important role. Mr. Hirano is a close associate of Hatoyama Yukio, who is also allied with Ozawa Ichiro.

In other words, reading The Economist on Japan wastes even more time than reading the Japan Times. The former is longer than the latter.

Speaking of Koshi’ishi Azuma, his presence and positions of authority within the party are the reasons the DPJ will never have the party unity that the journos keep wishin’ and hopin’ for.

Mr. Koshi’ishi is one of several DPJ legislators to have a Socialist Party background (from the days when their charter included favorable references to Karl Marx), and he once headed the Japan Teachers’ Union-affiliated Yamanashi teachers’ union. The JTU backs the DPJ in the same way that teachers’ unions everywhere back political parties of the left. In the past, they’ve been caught squeezing members to donate to Mr. Azuma’s political campaigns in Yamanashi. They even had teachers working the phone banks to bug voters at home. The teachers themselves admitted the money went into a dummy bank account for Mr. Koshi’ishi, who wound up with JPY 3 million.

The JTU once harassed a Hiroshima school principal to the point of suicide. They think competitive tests are bad for education and singing the national anthem is bad for any reason at all. Another favorite JTU technique is to mail razor blades to the people that displease them.

Mr. Koshi’ishi was a member of the JTU when Makieda Motofumi was chairman. Mr. Makieda is the author of チュチェの国朝鮮を訪ねて (Visiting Joseon, the Country of Juche), in which he praised the North Korean educational system. It contains this passage:

“There are no thieves in this country. Thievery occurs in those places where there is a prejudice toward wealth. There is no need for thievery in this country. Since there is no thievery and no murder, there are also no police. There are only public safety personnel standing at the corners and intersections to direct traffic and deal with any injuries.”

He’s also written:

“After my visit to North Korea, whenever I’m asked whom I think is the most respected person in the world, I immediately bring up the name of Chairman Kim Il-sung. That’s because I have met him personally. I believe that he is loved by the people of his country, and is worthy to be revered by them as a father….Kim Jong-il is the duplicate of his father, and he can be trusted without reservation.”

Makieda Motofumi received a medal from North Korea in 1991.

During the Aso administration, there was talk of Japanese participation in efforts to board North Korean ships suspected of transporting nuclear weapons material to the Middle East. Said Mr. Koshi’ishi at a press conference:

Rather than inspecting North Korean ships, we should inspect the Aso Cabinet.

Mr. Koshi’ishi frequently speaks of the relationship between politics and education:

There is no such thing as education without politics.

At a JTU meeting in Tokyo, he once said:

It is not possible to be politically neutral in education…We will change education through politics.

These statements come close to violating Japanese law, and are of course a de facto pledge to indoctrinate students. Mr. Koshi’ishi’s opposition to singing the Japanese national anthem in schools is perhaps because he favors the Internationale instead.

But in a book published in July 2009, 民主の敵-政権交代に大義あり (The Enemy of Democracy: There is righteousness in a change of government), Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko recalled his experience in primary school as the son of a man in the Self-Defense Forces:

It’s often said there are teachers who tell the children of members in the Self-Defense Forces that “Your father’s job is to kill people”. That atmosphere did in fact exist.

Mr. Noda has also insisted on a firm stance against North Korea and for the revision of the Constitution to allow Japan the use of the military for legitimate self-defense. Though he is the sort of man to whom Mr. Koshi’ishi’s comrades enjoy mailing razor blades, he asked Mr. Koshi’ishi to lead the party.

Mr. Noda is still talking about a grand coalition, but this appointment kills that deader than the proverbial doornail.

The boys and girls covering Japan for the English-language media will never tell you this. Instead they keep asking the pointless question of whether this or any prime minister will unify the DPJ in an equally pointless attempt to present themselves as serious people doing a serious job.

The Democratic Party of Japan will never be unified for the same reason a party whose membership included both Barack Obama and Sarah Palin would never be unified. Mr. Noda is trying, but I suspect he himself knows it’s a matter of buying a few more months of time.

You read it here first, but only because the credentialed media either doesn’t know, or can’t be bothered to tell you about it.


Though Mr. Ozawa is an ally of Mr. Koshi’ishi, he most certainly does not share the latter’s beliefs. Explaining that relationship will have to wait for another day, however.

Sorry for the lack of hotlinks, but still having the software problem. It should be easy for people to find what they want to see, however. I recommend the Aida Mitsuo Museum site.

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Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Is that duck just lame or is it dead?

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 5, 2011

– A Japanese proverb meaning that no matter how much one regrets an event after it is concluded, one can’t undo something that occurred because of one’s negligence or tardiness

IT NOW seems that soon-to-be former Prime Minister Kan Naoto’s attempt of political jujitsu on his co-founder of the Democratic Party of Japan will result in his spectacularly clumsy pratfall, as noise is leaking out from Democratic Party sphincters that he will resign no later than August (if we can take his word this time). It’s tempting to say that will be the perfect capstone to the career of the classic dullwit who thought he was clever, but some will disagree. One of them is Nishimura Shingo, an MP with the Sunrise Japan party, who has also passed through the LDP and the DPJ entrails:

“Kan Naoto’s finishing moves are superb. He’s an inept prime minister, but no fool. He would have been perfectly suited as an activist for the Comintern or any Communist organization.”

Another reason it wouldn’t apply is because Mr. Kan didn’t dream up that cockamamie scheme by himself. He’s not capable of it, but the roughly dozen people who did put it together knew it would appeal to him. That back story might give us a glimpse of a possible post-Kan administration. It’s not a pretty sight, but we’ll get to that shortly.

Hatoyama Kunio told a journalist he thought the no-confidence motion had no chance of passing until his brother Yukio called him on 30 May. After that conversation, he began to think it just might be possible. He met former Health Minister and former LDP member Masuzoe Yoichi of the New Renaissance Party the next day and laid out the plot. Ozawa Ichiro and his allies would form a new party, but public opinion would be “very allergic” to any political group involving Mr. Ozawa. They wouldn’t be strong enough to establish a prime minister on their own, so they would team up with the LDP to support a new Prime Minister Masuzoe.

Mr. Masuzoe liked the sound of that.

Meanwhile, on the night of 1 June, People’s New Party chief Kamei Shizuka phoned Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio:

Kamei: “Is it your intention to self destruct? Do it (tell him to resign) if you have to grab the prime minister by the neck.

Edano: “I’m thinking of telling him.”

Perhaps bored with completing the assembly of his shiny new political toy, however, Hatoyama Yukio kept hope alive that he could talk Mr. Kan into stepping down. Later that night 10 people met at the Kantei and hatched a plot to leverage that hope to their benefit. The draft of the document to which Mr. Hatoyama and Mr. Kan agreed the next day was hammered out under the direction of Sengoku Yoshito and Edano Yukio, the former and current chief cabinet secretaries. Both men were attorneys before entering politics, which explains why the memorandum and Mr. Kan’s insistence on following it to the letter had the stench of the barrister about it.

Naoto explaining on the 3rd how he put one over on his pal Yukio

Several wheels were spinning in different directions simultaneously. The primary objective was to kill the no confidence motion and stay in power — any other solution hastens the day they return to the opposition benches. They decided to heave Mr. Ozawa and his allies from the party if 40-50 of his DPJ allies crossed the line and voted for the motion. That would allow them to retain their lower house majority and get rid of the Great Destroyer at last. DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya wanted to X him out before the vote, but Koshi’ishi Azuma, head of the party’s delegation in the upper house, said in effect, over my dead body. (Personal loyalty can sometimes be thicker than ideology. A teachers’ union veteran, Mr. Koshi’ishi’s philosophy of the left is closer to that of Messrs. Kan, Sengoku, and Edano, but he’s developed close ties with Mr. Ozawa in their efforts to make the DPJ a serious political party.)

The group planned to eject the rebels even if the no-confidence motion passed. That would cause the loss of their lower house majority, but they had something clever planned for that one, too. Option C was reportedly a time-limited coalition government with the LDP and New Komeito. The Sengoku Reconstruction and Recovery Cabinet — steady, steady — would also work for entry into the TPP and the return of multiple-seat election districts that the LDP and New Komeito seek.

In short, the government would be directed by a man who is every bit as odious as Kan Naoto, but more dangerous because of his intelligence and capabilities. Bringing back the old electoral system would be a step in the direction of bringing back the bad old politics of the past. It would greatly expedite recovery and reconstruction, but at a price higher than the outlay in yen.

Worse yet, it’s still possible. And Mr. Sengoku is the man the opposition absolutely positively could not work with six months ago.

The primary objective, however, was to dupe Mr. Hatoyama and keep Mr. Kan around for awhile without having to resort to a drastic political realignment. The final wording of the memorandum was worked out between Hirano Hirofumi, Mr. Hatoyama’s chief cabinet secretary, and Defense Minister Kitazawa Toshimi, who selflessly found the time to spare from his duties of protecting the nation from foreign attack.

Mr. Hirano and Mr. Okada were present during the Hatoyama-Kan meeting. Here’s how the conversation is said to have gone:

Hatoyama: Will you resign when the basic recovery bill is passed and the outlook is established for the second supplementary budget?

Kan: Yes. I agree.

Hatoyama: In that case, please sign here.

Kan: We’re members of the same party, so please trust me. I’m not that attached to the position of prime minister.

After the meeting, Mr. Hatoyama reported on the conversaton to Ozawa Ichiro:

Ozawa: How far did you press him?

Hatoyama: I’ll talk about that at the (party) meeting.

Following the vote that rejected the motion, Mr. Hatoyama spoke with some allies as they waited for an elevator in the Diet office building:

“We still can’t let down our guard. If he doesn’t keep his promise, we’ll have to convene a meeting of (our) Diet members with 150 — no — 250 people.”

Wrote freelance journalist Itagaki Eiken:

“Immediately after the DPJ was created, former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio bluntly told me that Mr. Kan could not be trusted. Several times after that, he grumbled that he had been deceived by Mr. Kan. Was he fooled by Prime Minister Kan Naoto again?”

Is the Emperor Shinto?

Mr. Kan appeared for Question Time in the Diet on Friday. Ono Jiro of Your Party came straight to the point:

Ono: When you held your discussion with former Prime Minister Hatoyama, did the commitment to resign arise?

Kan: I, somehow, under this condition…uh…the idea that I made some promise, if you’re talking about the idea that I made that promise, there was absolutely no promise like that at all.

That was his story, and he stuck to it:

“I said it in the sense of the stage when the outlook for heading in the direction of creating a new society, that direction…Our party has many exceptional people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. Then I will pass the responsibility on to them, and hope they do their best.”


“In my conversation with former Prime Minister Hatoyama, there was no sort of promise other than what was written on that document with the items of agreement…the agreement with Mr. Hatoyama was as written on that document. I think it best if I refrain from saying anything beyond that.”

One can visualize Sengoku and Edano, attorneys at law, advising him to clam up on any question beyond the language of the memo.

The news media loved what happened next. Here’s Hatoyama Yukio:

“That’s a lie. The prime minister and I discussed the conditions for resignation.”

Over to you, Naoto:

(shouting) “What’s he saying! That’s not written on the paper!”

Former MP Yokohama Mayor Nakata Hiroshi summed up the exchange:

“When I heard the story about a resignation after the outlook for recovery was set, I thought the Ozawa-Hatoyama side and the Kan side purposely made it vague to prevent a DPJ split. Now I see they’re just trading charges and counter-charges over who said what. This was not a political decision by adults. It’s something even lower than children’s squabbling.”

A Hatoyama associate, probably Mr. Hirano again, told the media:

“In the conversation with the prime minister, the idea that he would hand over authority to the younger generation didn’t come up at all. He added that later.”

Speaking of Hirano Hirofumi, he got a call from Koshi’ishi Azuma berating him for not pinning Mr. Kan down more precisely.

Matsuda Kota of Your Party, the head of a private sector company himself, had this to write about Hatoyama Yukio:

“If Mr. Hatoyama were the head of a private sector company, that company would collapse in an instant. (There would also be a shareholders lawsuit). If he were just a salaryman, he would be immediately fired as an employee incapable of doing his job. That a person such as he was the leader of a country gives me chills down my spine. That the memo had the recovery listed only as the third point clearly shows what they were thinking. The most important thing for them was maintaining their government. Japan cannot be entrusted to that sort of government.”

Many in the DPJ soon realized the quick fix only made matters worse. Party Vice-President Ishii Hajime spoke an officers’ meeting on the night of 2 June:

“The Kan Cabinet is now a lame duck administration, and the focus is on when they will quit. We should resolve to make arrangements with the opposition to have the Cabinet quit with the passage of the legislation for the special bond issue, the second supplementary budget, and the basic recovery law.”

After the meeting, he told the news media:

“I want to go to the Kantei with Koshi’ishi Azuma on the 3rd and tell the prime minister that the road left open to him is an honorable withdrawal.”

Too late for the part about honor, but with Kan Naoto the soap has to be very soft.

Then again, Mr. Kan was making matters much worse for himself. On the night of the 2nd, he was asked about extending the Diet session. Just a week ago, he wanted to finish early to save himself. Now he wanted to prolong it to save himself:

“If we were to respond to the opinion of the people that they want us to be able to debate necessary issues in the Diet at any time, then in fact we would have a year-round diet, until some point in December.”

It helps to know that it’s against the rules to submit more than one no-confidence motion in one Diet session.

Some people couldn’t understand all the brouhaha. Here’s Kan ally and Justice Minister Eda Satsuki:

“This was a high-level discussion between two politicians, so they didn’t decide every last detail.”

Yes, the Minister of Justice of a nation thinks it’s copacetic for written agreements to be vague and open to different interpretations.

Financial Services Minister Yosano Kaoru was more philosophical:

“It’s natural that a politician would strive to remain in his position.”

Fukushima Mizuho, head of the Social Democrats, said what a leftist lawyer would be expected to say:

“I thought (the memorandum) was a declaration to stay in office. There’s no difference between his afternoon statement and his evening statement…Isn’t Mr. Hatoyama misunderstanding what happened?”

Edano Yukio is another bird of that feather, but he has to be more diplomatic because he’s also the chief cabinet secretary:

“I don’t think either of them is intentionally saying something different than the facts of the matter. The gap in awareness is regrettable. We must work to ensure there is no political turmoil.”

Once again, someone in the DPJ sees the horse galloping into the next county and decides it would be best to close the barn door. Speaking of turmoil, here’s LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu on the 3rd:

“We will cooperate to pass a basic law of recovery. Other than that, cooperation is impossible.”

And New Komeito Secretary General Inoue Yoshihisa that same morning answering a question about upper house censure:

“That is of course one method that will be fully considered at the appropriate time.”

An upper house censure is non-binding, but upper house President Nishioka Takeo would be happy to see Mr. Kan evaporate. Refusing to call the house into session or to allow the prime minister entry are binding in their own way.

The prime minister’s problems extended to well within his own party. Reported Toyama Kiyohiko of New Komeito:

“DPJ Diet members I know told me that Mr. Kan promised to resign in a month or two, which is why most of the DPJ members voted against the motion. When he tried to extend it until the resolution of Fukushima and came up with the idea of extending the diet until December, it was a broken promise. He has no support in the party.

“When Prime Minister Kan duped his colleague, he made it very likely a censure motion will pass in the upper house in the near future. If the DPJ can’t bring him down, he’ll be prohibited from entering the upper house chamber. At that point the government will come to a standstill. If he’s kept the Diet in session all year, he cannot extend his political life. Yesterday was the beginning of the end for Prime Minister Kan.”

Upper house member Yamamoto Ichita questioned the prime minister and some of his deputies during Question Time on the 3rd. An aide to another MP took notes. He said the records would have to be checked for the precise wording, but it was close to the actual exchange. Here it is in English:

Yamamoto: Is it fair to say you expressed your intention to step down, to resign at the DJP Diet members’ conference?

Kan: That expression (swindler) is not appropriate….I want it to be understood (about resignation) as being at the stage when I have fulfilled a certain role that I should perform — until I have fulfilled my responsibility and the prospects have been set to a certain extent —

Yamamoto: At your news conference on the night of the 2nd, you said nothing about resigning or stepping down. Did you express your intention to step down or resign?

Kan: None of the people in the media are in a position to say this or that about which expression I used

Yamamoto: That isn’t an answer. You won’t resign until next January, right? You won’t resign until next January?

Kan: It is a fact that the mass media has taken my words at the news conference in different ways, but…

Yamamoto: What you meant by the outlook being established to a certain extent is the end of the cooling at Fukushima, isn’t it? When the media reported your intention to resign, you became a lame duck both at home and abroad. The special legislation for the government bonds and the second supplementary budget will be the work of the next prime minister. It isn’t possible for you to dispose of these pending matters. Please set a deadline.

Kan: I said exactly what I said.

Yamamoto: You have no intention of resigning, right? If you can’t say you are stepping down, that’s fraudulent.

Mr. Yamamoto switched to Vice Minister for Internal Affairs and Communication Watanabe Shu:

Yamamoto: Why did you resign?

Watanabe: The prime minister announced his intention to resign. I listened to his speech at the DPJ Diet members’ meeting, and since the prime minister was thinking of resigning, I saw no need to vote for the no confidence motion. I thought the prime minister would resign when the outlook for recovery were set.

Yamamoto: The prime minister has not said he would resign or step down.

Then to Hidaka Takeshi, parliamentary environment secretary:

Yamamoto: Mr. Hidaka, did you envision that situation when you switched your vote to nay? Or did you think that he would step down soon?

Hidaka: I submitted my resignation for the sake of stronger leadership. The prime minister said in public he would resign. I voted no because I sensed his resolve (to help) the damaged area.

Yamamoto: When you heard the intent to resign, did you think he would resign imminently?

Hidaka: I didn’t know how long it would be, but I sensed his resolve.

Back to the prime minister:

Yamamoto: You haven’t said you intend to resign or step down, but what is a rough date for you to leave?

Kan: Outlook is a commonly used word. It’s common sense that the word means there would be a certain interval.

Yamamoto: You’re not answering at all. Former Prime Minister Hatoyama thinks you’ll step down by the end of June. Is he lying?

Kan: I, in my own words…

Yamamoto: That’s the same as saying Mr. Hatoyama is mistaken, is lying, or misunderstood. Who is correct, Mr. Hatoyama or Mr. Okada?

Kan: Both Mr. Hirano and Mr. Okada were at the meeting with Mr. Hatoyama. Mr. Okada is expressing his awareness from that viewpoint. My agreement with Mr. Hatoyama is as written in the document.

Yamamoto: Mr. Hatoyama is saying that if you claim your promise to him was a lie, your only course is to resign. What do you think?

Kan: in regard to the current question, my awareness is the same as Mr. Okada’s.

Yamamoto: So you’re saying that Mr. Hatoyama is mistaken. You won’t even admit that you said you’d step down. Can a prime minister who’s told the world he’ll quit properly conduct foreign policy?…It’s not possible for the government and the opposition to cooperate under a Kan administration.

It didn’t take a weathervane for Edano Yukio to figure out which way the wind was blowing. When asked again about a Kan resignation, he said “It won’t be that long.“ Fukushima Mizuho thought that was a critical development. Others echoed her sentiments when another Cabinet member, Matsumoto Ryu, the Minister for the Environment and Disaster Management said: “In my mind it is by the end of June. The outlook for recovery should be quickly established.”

Abiru Rui is assigned to cover the Kantei for the Sankei Shimbun. Mr. Kan dislikes him so much he refuses to call on him at news conferences, and the feeling is mutual. Even discounting that, however, the reporter likely expressed the thoughts of many, if not most people:

“It’s difficult to describe just how stupid and loopy Mr. Hatoyama is. The prime minister twisted him around his finger when he pretended he would resign soon, and used that to extend the life of his Cabinet. Prime Minister Kan betrayed both the compatriots of his own party and the people of the country. His shabby behavior is at a level that does not withstand scrutiny.

“He told the people around him that he wanted to leave his name in history, and that’s exactly what will happen. The ignobility of his character is at such an unprecedented, isolated extreme, it will not be extinguished from the people’s memory even if they try. I cannot understand the emotions of people who would support this humanoid picture of cheap, cowardly meanness. I don’t even want to.”

Also expressing the thoughts of many was an anonymous first term DPJ member of the lower house speaking to a reporter:

“I have a feeling that the end of the DPJ has only just begun.”


* The Asahi English edition recommends that the prime minister “exit gracefully”. They apparently chose their Deep Space correspondent to write the editorial.

* My father used to say, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Had it not been for his shameless behavior as DPJ party head and prime minister, Mr. Hatoyama would have qualified for induction into the Hall of Shame long ago.

During his term as prime minister, which seems about 500 years ago now, I wrote that he was the first junior high school girl to serve as Japan’s prime minister. (Kan Naoto is the first junior high school boy.) An acquaintance of former U.S. President Warren Harding once observed that if Harding had been a girl, he would always have been “in the family way”. I suspect that would equally apply to Hatoyama Yukio.

* Were you surprised to read that Matsumoto Ryu was the Minister for Disaster Management? Most of Japan would be, too. Mr. Matsumoto is one of the DPJ’s Socialist Party refugees. Because his father made a mint in the construction industry, he’s also one of the wealthiest men in the Diet. (Yes, the Limousine Left swanks about in the streets of Japan, too.) He’s such a chowderhead they had to bring back Sengoku Yoshito and give him the de facto job while allowing Mr. Matsumoto to sit by the window. Appointing him to the position was a party favor, in both senses of the phrase, but even they weren’t about to let him do any real work.

Such capable stewards of the nation’s affairs, the DPJ.

* When Yokokume Katsuhito quit the DPJ last week, he said the party no longer had a reason to exist because it had fulfilled its historical mission. By that he meant breaking the LDP stranglehold on power. They’ve also accomplished one more signal achievement. Ozawa Ichiro might be fading from the scene at last. Mr. Ozawa had a party with his younger Diet allies on the night the no-confidence motion failed at a karaoke bar to commiserate. He was in reasonably good spirits, and tried to buck them up by telling them they had accomplished quite a bit even though they lost. No one got down and partied, however. Those present told reporters that no one picked up a microphone and sang.

The Nikkei Shimbun added a telling detail. Some of the MPs came late to the party and some left early, but Mr. Ozawa stayed to the end. Were the Destroyer of Worlds still both respected and feared for his power, no one would have been late to come or early to go.

* Surely the long-suffering Japanese people wish they could live under a political system like the one in Great Britain or the United States. It is curious that Americans are so quick to issue dire warnings about the Japanese economy, while it takes a foreign newspaper to point out the tsunami-sized destruction at home they’re too frightened too look at.

Another worthless politician, another worthless piece of paper

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Heaven sent

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, April 24, 2011

Amakudari refers to golden parachuting, i.e., the placement of civil servants in post-retirement jobs within entities their former government ministries supervise.
– Hatoyama Yukio, prime minister’s e-mail magazine, 2 April 2010

Hypocrisy is a sort of homage that vice pays to virtue.
– La Rochefoucauld

A CLEVER definition of the term regulatory capture is the capture of the regulators by the regulated. It’s endemic to every country, but it’s a particular problem in Japan because of the practice of amakudari, which former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio defined not as cleverly in the passage cited above. (The word itself means “descending from heaven” in English.)

The Tohoku earthquake has offered the political class the opportunity to again demonstrate their inability to control the practice. Oversight of the nuclear power industry is the responsibility of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, affiliated with the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry; and the Nuclear Safety Commission, affiliated with the Cabinet Office. Another government body affiliated with METI is the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, which also has authority over power companies, and which has promoted the use of nuclear power.

Tokyo Electric Power hired Ishida Toru, the former head of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, as an advisor this January just four months after he left the agency. The third person to slide from a position at METI or its predecessor to a position at TEPCO, Mr. Ishida was to be named a director in June. The utility said it hired him because the Democratic Party-led government is interested in promoting emissions trading, and they wanted someone who had close ties to the ministry.

One reason the DPJ finally unseated the LDP after decades of nearly uninterrupted rule is that the LDP had turned its back on reform in the post-Koizumi/Abe period. As prime minister, Aso Taro ceded too much control to the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy. In their manifesto for the 2009 lower house election campaign, the DPJ promised to “eradicate amakudari”.

Eradication did not include objecting to Mr. Ishida’s employment with Tokyo Electric, however. Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio was asked about that at a news conference in February. He said it wasn’t a problem because it wasn’t illegal under current law. Mr. Edano added that TEPCO hired Mr. Ishida on their own initiative, rather than through the recommendation of a bureaucrat or agency. During his term in office, Mr. Hatoyama had banned only that amakudari which involved offering employment based on such recommendations.

Others were not so forgiving, even though Mr. Ishida was not directly responsible for dealing with the problems at the Fukushima power plant. One LDP member said that even they wouldn’t have allowed that appointment. While admitting that his party had a problem with accepting amakudari, he claimed they at least made people wait two years before taking a position of that sort.

It soon became apparent that the explanation wasn’t holding and that the government would have to do something to quiet the objections. Mr. Edano appeared at a news conference on the morning of the 18th to call for “self-restraint” in reemployment. He said the government would:

“…devise a mechanism for self-restraint for the time being for the reemployment at TEPCO of former METI executives, including those from NISA, NSC, and the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, so as not to create mistrust among the people…We plan to make other power companies aware of this mechanism and will ask them to cooperate.”

Thus, it would seem the DPJ’s promise to “eradicate amakudari” means asking the bureaucrats to lay low for the time being to prevent the natives from growing restless.

Ignoring the request will result in no penalties, and there is no indication how long “for the time being” will last. Further, the rationale of “not creating mistrust among the people” suggests the government thinks there’s nothing wrong with the practice. It just doesn’t look good.

Mr. Edano also said he hoped Ishida Toru would take it upon himself to resign, but repeated the assertion that there was nothing improper about him taking the position to begin with. He did allow that a sense of mistrust could arise among the people, so stronger measures were needed to deal with situations that weren’t strictly illegal. He added that the government would come up with some ideas in a couple of weeks. These would be added to the government’s proposed public employee reemployment reforms announced on 5 April. They plan to create a new organization for oversight based on the idea of prohibiting reemployment on the recommendation of bureaucrats.

METI played along by saying they would investigate the accident at Fukushima, and that until they reached their conclusions, they had devised the following mechanism for reemployment at power companies “so as not to create mistrust among the people”. (The wording was identical to Mr. Edano’s.) The mechanism has three parts:

1. They asked for self-restraint for the reemployment at power companies of administrative deputy ministers, METI deputy ministers, deputy ministers for policy coordination, and secretariat heads from the three organizations as officers.

2. They asked for self-restraint for the reemployment at power companies of people in other designated positions as officers for a maximum of three years.

3. They asked for self-restraint for the reemployment at power companies of people serving as department heads or in higher positions at the three organizations for a maximum of two years.

Restraining oneself from jumping into a golden parachute and floating down for a landing in the gravy train might be difficult under normal circumstances, but in this case the can got kicked down the road for just two or three years. Surely the mouth-breathers will have forgotten about it by then.

METI Minister Kaieda Banri also appeared at a news conference to announce that Mr. Ishida had resigned all by himself. He denied the government had anything to do with it. This is the same government, you’ll remember, that denied involvement with the decision not to prosecute the Chinese fishing boat captain who rammed two Japanese ships in the Senkakus last September. (A review panel in Okinawa last week concluded the decision to release the captain was inappropriate and that he should have been prosecuted, but we knew that last year.)

Mr. Kaieda was asked about the practice of amakudari for former METI employees at other power companies. He said the “circumstances are different” for utilities other than Tokyo Electric. Reporters also asked him if the new guidelines meant that other METI veterans employed at TEPCO don’t have to quit. His answer: “I didn’t say that.”

Though Edano Yukio said on the 18th that the government’s proposal to limit amakudari had to be beefed up, Nakano Kansei, the minister in charge of civil service reform, revealed at a news conference a day later there were no plans to add stronger measures to the reform bill they planned on presenting during this Diet session. According to the Jiji news agency, he said he had received instructions from Mr. Edano just that morning to continue work on the legislation “in accordance with the original overall conception”, and that he agreed with those instructions.

What happened to the DPJ’s claim that they would “exterminate amakudari”? Following this sequence of events will aid in understanding.

October 2009

One month after the DPJ government took power, Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio—whose father began his career as a Finance Ministry bureaucrat—defined amakudari down by saying it referred to former bureaucrats hired by an organization receiving public funds, but who performed no real work.

The Hatoyama Cabinet submitted a definition to a Diet committee stating that if a former civil servant was rehired by a government agency without a specific recommendation it was not amakudari, but rather good employment practices.

The same month, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi said that restrictions on amakudari would not apply to cabinet ministers, deputy ministers, administrative secretaries, or bureaucrats. He added that if former bureaucrats employed at independent administrative corporations (amakudari hotbeds) recommended junior members of their former ministry or agency for employment at those same corporations, it would not be considered amakudari.

27 October 2009

Kyodo obtained documents circulated the previous week instructing ministries and agencies to create answers for Messrs. Hatoyama and Hirano to use at Question Time in the fall session of the Diet, shortly after party Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro proposed banning bureaucrats from offering Diet testimony. Critics charged that the request contradicted the new government’s assertion it would disassociate from the bureaucracy and that politicians would lead the government.

The documents asked “for the same cooperation of the ministries and agencies as had been extended in the past,” i.e., the Aso administration. They also asked that “the wording have an elevated tone suitable for the prime minister” and the memos have “simple content in consideration of the content of the question”

28 October 2009

Mr. Hatoyama answered his first questions in the Diet and was seen reading directly from memos in his hand.

He insisted it was actually political leadership:

“It is a fact that I have received cooperation for data collection (from the bureaucracy). But I evaluated the information with my own eyes, and assumed a major role in writing the memos.”

One senior member of a ministry told a reporter:

“The content of our work has not changed since the days of the LDP administrations.”

November 2009

The General Insurance Association of Japan, which has 27 non-life insurers as members, appointed Makino Jiro, the former head of the National Tax Agency and an ex-Finance Ministry employee, as vice chairman. He replaced another Finance Ministry veteran who had been appointed vice president of Japan Post.

The association denied that this constituted amakudari. They had simply appointed the person most suitable for the job.

The majority of association vice-chairmen have been Finance Ministry veterans.

February 2010

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported the results of its survey that showed Japan Post—whose privatization was stalled by the DPJ government—had 157 affiliated corporations in the JP “family”, and that 63 of them had 654 amakudari appointments.

In 2007, the LDP government proposed consolidating or eliminating them as part of the privatization process. The organization with the most amakudari employees was the Kanyo Hoken Kanyusha Kyokai, an association for people with Japan Post insurance. It’s also involved in promoting NHK’s radio exercises. 45% of their employees are former bureaucrats.

Early 2010

During the second DPJ policy review, then-Reform Minister Edano Yukio recommended returning the National Printing Bureau to the control of the Finance Ministry. He explained his reasons in a speech:

“There are about four former Finance Ministry officials there receiving high salaries. It functioned well in the past as a bureau in the old Finance Ministry, so we think that’s the most economical (way).”

Jiji pointed out that the LDP wanted to privatize the bureau, and that the DPJ 2009 election manifesto called for the “sweeping review” of such bodies, including elimination.

Others pointed out that the 4,600 members of the bureau’s enterprise union would now become government employees. The DPJ’s largest organizational support comes from labor unions.

The opposition wondered if by exterminating amakudari, the DPJ really meant everyone would go to work for the government.

It had already been revealed after the first policy review that the Finance Ministry’s Budget Bureau had scripted the entire process.

At about the same time, Nakagawa Hidenao of the LDP reform wing challenged Prime Minister Hatoyama during Question Time in the Diet. He charged that the DJP had narrowed the definition of amakudari, and that they had essentially taken credit for exterminating it by eliminating only those practices that applied to their definition, though the practices for the most part remained the same.

Mr. Hatoyama responded:

“Of the organizational posts you are asking about, I think the state ministers in charge are appointing the most suitable personnel. I hope to appropriately respond so that the problem of veterans of those ministries who were public employees being appointed to such posts despite a lack of knowledge or ability doesn’t occur.”

19 March 2010

The weekly Shukan Post for this date reported that the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport intended to launch a nationwide taxicab service rating system that began in Tokyo at the end of February. Taxi service would be rated by customers according to three grades: AA, A, and none. The rating is to be placed on a sticker that must be displayed near the door.

Supervising the rating system in Tokyo is a foundation called the Tokyo Taxi Center, formerly known as the Tokyo Taxi Modernization Center. The managing director was once the head of the Administrative Division in the Kanto District Transport Bureau of the same ministry. The executive director is the former head of the National Police Agency’s Drivers License Division.

These amakudari positions for mid-tier bureaucrats pay JPY 10 million a year.

Each taxi company must fork over JPY 35,500 per cab to pay for the operation of the rating system, which would mean JPY 1.4 billion overall. The ministry says the objective is to enable passengers to choose good taxis and drivers.

Groups with amakudari employees in cities and prefectures around the country have begun registering drivers for the rating system. The Kanagawa Taxi Center—with three former employees of the Kanto District Transport Bureau—is getting JPY 22,200 for each cab.

Drivers don’t like the system, but have no outlet for their complaints. There are an estimated 360,000 cab drivers nationwide, and they work on a system of splitting their revenue 50/50 with the company. Male drivers averaged JPY 3.26 million in income in 2008, less than two-thirds that of the average laborer in industry. Half of the drivers in Tokyo averaged less than JPY three million, and 20% less than JPY two million.

The ministry relaxed the rules to allow more taxis on the street during the economic downturn as an employment measure. Under this system, however, more taxis mean more income for the quangos.

April 2010

Sengoku Yoshito, who had taken over as reform minister, testified in the Diet that the government intended to abolish the post of jimujikan (administrative secretary, or aide), and replace it with jimukakari fukudaijin, or administrative vice-ministers.

Critics claimed this was another instance of the DPJ government caving in to the bureaucracy. The jobs won’t disappear; rather, the people who fill them will receive a different title at a higher rank and salary. If the duties of these people were necessary, critics insisted, they could be assigned to the heads of the ministry secretariats. The objective was to expand the government.

This is the practical definition of “exterminating amakudari” in the DPJ lexicon.

Writing about American political campaigns in 1940, H.L. Mencken knew exactly what was going on:

“They will all promise every man, woman and child in the country whatever he, she or it wants. They’ll all be roving the land looking for chances to make the rich poor, to remedy the irremediable, to succor the unsuccorable, to unscramble the unscrambleable, to dephlogisticate the undephlogisticable. They will all be curing warts by saying words over them, and paying off the national debt with money no one will have to earn. When one of them demonstrates that twice two is five, another will prove that it is six, six and a half, ten, twenty, n. In brief, they will divest themselves from their character as sensible, candid and truthful men, and simply become candidates for office, bent only on collaring votes.”

The second round of sub-national elections is being held throughout the country today. The results are expected to be as dismal for the DPJ as those of the other elections since they formed a government. The Japanese electorate has come to understand the party can’t be counted on to fulfill promises they never intended to keep. That explains why so many voters say they feel betrayed, rather than disappointed.

To be sure, it takes cojones for Japanese politicians to tackle Kasumigaseki. The bureaucrats had a hand in bringing down the Hashimoto and Abe administrations, and Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi said they threatened him with a “coup d’etat” if he pursued his civil service reforms when he was still in the LDP.

That won’t absolve the DPJ, however. The nation is tired of waiting for their testicles to descend.

This week has been dandelion season for political rumors. If they’re true, Mr. Kan is about to be sent to the killing floor. They should have quit him a long time ago.

The Wolf wasn’t there, but his guitarist was.

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Wabbit season! Duck season! Kan season!

Posted by ampontan on Monday, April 18, 2011

The Kan DPJ has three principles when someone asks who will take responsibility for the election defeats: We will not apologize, we will not accept responsibility, and we will assume a defiant attitude. No one’s going to accept responsibility.
– A politician described as a “veteran Diet member”, speaking to a reporter off the record

IN ADDITION to determining the chief executives of local governments and the composition of prefectural and municipal assemblies, the first round of sub-national elections held throughout the country a week ago last Sunday ended the moratorium on political warfare that began with the Tohoku earthquake on 11 March. Hunting season on Prime Minister Kan Naoto and his Cabinet has resumed. Unlike the wascally wabbits and the ducks, however, the prey painted the targets on themselves.

The Democratic Party of Japan was desperate to bag some big game of its own in the balloting. The party has always had weak organizations at the local level, and they viewed the election as a means to strengthen their presence. The national party had hoped to win an outright majority in last summer’s upper house election, eliminating the need for coalition partners, but they lost seats instead. They’ve been smacked around in local elections since then, and were humiliated in the Nagoya/Aichi elections of February, an area where they traditionally do well. Had it not been for the political ceasefire called after the earthquake, Mr. Kan would already have been a dead duck rather than a lame one.

Prime Minister Kan in camouflage clothing at Ishinomaki

The prime minister tried to play his part. He demonstrated his familiarity with the concept of Western-style photo ops by paying a third visit to the distressed region on Election Day, and the news media cooperated by treating his trip as if it were an important story. Few of them reported that he spent all of 10 minutes at a shelter in Ishinomaki, Miyagi, and talked to two of the 15 people staying there. His inspiring message? Gambatte kudasai, please do your best. One resident later offered a rhetorical question to a reporter: Is that all he can say? Mr. Kan spent the rest of his time on the ground meeting with local pols, making a quick trip to survey the fishing port, and giving an impromptu radio broadcast. One wonders how many people bothered to tune in.

He might as well have sent a decoy instead. Japan has 47 prefectures, corresponding to states or provinces, and 41 held elections for their local assemblies. The DPJ failed to become the majority party in any of them. The Asahi Shimbun reported that the percentage of victory for party-backed candidates in the prefectural assembly elections was 60% for the DPJ and 90% for the opposition Liberal Democratic Party. LDP- and DPJ-backed candidates went head-to-head in three gubernatorial elections, and the DPJ lost all three.

In short, the people have given the DPJ government in general, and the Kan government in particular, a second vote of no confidence. The Mainichi Shimbun noted that the results were not only a reflection of Mr. Kan’s unpopularity. They were also, the newspaper said, a reflection of the party’s general weakness as a political group, their inadequacy at conducting the day-to-day business of retail politics, and their inability to coordinate candidates.

Here’s one example: The party wanted to find 21 candidates for the Nara prefectural assembly to run under the party banner (rather than the other options of “recommendation” or “support”). They canvassed several districts for interest, but got no takers. Said the local party chairman, “The confusion in the Diet has spread and created a sense of disappointment in the party itself.” Some of the people who agreed to run as official DPJ candidates later changed their minds and withdrew. The party wound up backing 15 candidates in all. It was the first try for public office for six of them, and five of them lost.

The Nishinippon Shimbun wrote that the election shows the voters are continuing to desert the established parties, particularly the DPJ, and shift to local parties. They called it another step towards devolution and the kind of tax reform that isn’t a euphemism for a tax increase. While they have a point, the local parties did not perform as well as they had hoped, as we shall see.


None of the gubernatorial candidates in the Tokyo Metro District election ran with the official backing of the DPJ or LDP at the national level, though the local LDP and New Komeito backed 78-year-old incumbent Ishihara Shintaro, and the local DPJ supported businessman Watanabe Miki.

That the ruling party of national government was unable to recruit a candidate for the most visible sub-national office in the country is evidence of their problems. They tried to convince Ren Ho to leave her upper house seat to run, but she demurred. The polls did not look good for her even before Mr. Ishihara changed his mind and decided to seek another term. Besides, having to take real executive responsibility instead of serving as one of more than 700 legislators and Cabinet window dressing would be too much like real work.

Mr. Ishihara was reelected to a fourth term with 43.40% of the vote in a multi-candidate field. Mr. Watanabe finished a poor third with 16.81%. In between was former Miyazaki governor and show business personality Higashikokubaru Hideo, who ran without party support, official or unofficial, and received 28.06% of the vote.

A more detailed look at the results reveals some fascinating information. Mr. Higashikokubaru finished first among voters in their 20s, with 42.2%. He was less popular among voters aged 40 and older, however. He also appealed to the independent bloc—they gave 34.8% of their votes to Mr. Ishihara, but 32.1% to Mr. Higashikokubaru. (That’s more bad news for the DPJ—independents account for roughly half of all voters, and the DPJ-backed candidate received an even lower percentage of the independent votes than he did overall.)

Most people attribute Mr. Ishihara’s victory to the support of local LDP voters and the perception that he would be the most capable person to take charge in the event of a Tohoku-like crisis.


A more painful result for the DPJ, and the one that might cost Secretary-General Okada Katsuya his job, was the gubernatorial election in Mie. It was the first time in 16 years this election had been directly contested by both the ruling and opposition parties in national government. In addition, the DPJ does well in Mie—the party holds four of the prefecture’s five seats in the lower house of the Diet, and two in the upper house. The officially endorsed or recommended DPJ candidate had won five straight prefecture-wide elections since 2000, including the last election for governor. Finally, it is also Mr. Okada’s home prefecture.

The two primary candidates were Suzuki Eikei, an ex-bureaucrat in the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, and Matsuda Naohisa, the former mayor of Tsu. Mr. Suzuki was recommended by the LDP and Your Party and supported by New Komeito. Mr. Matsuda was recommended by the DPJ.

The national opposition parties devoted particular attention to this election. Abe Shinzo and Aso Taro, two former LDP prime ministers, stumped for Mr. Suzuki, as did Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi.

Mr. Suzuki won.


If anyone in Japanese politics today can be said to roll their own, it would be Osaka Prefecture Gov. Hashimoto Toru. No one, including the governor himself, can anticipate what he’ll say or do next, but that doesn’t bother the people of Osaka. They still give him 70%+ support in polls in the last year of his first term.

Gov. Hashimoto and his party came this close

His eccentric orbit notwithstanding, he has always piloted his spacecraft in the galaxy of regionalism. His consistent position has been that local governments should have more authority and the national government less. Over the course of his first term, he developed what he calls the Osaka-to Concept. By that he means reorganizing the prefectural government into a structure administratively similar to that of Tokyo’s. The Tokyo Metro District government has the primary responsibility for the municipal administration of the core 23 wards of the “city” of Tokyo, but the city of Osaka and its 24 wards are now governed independently of Osaka Prefecture. The governor’s idea is to incorporate the governance of that city and the city of Sakai with that of the prefecture, and to give Osaka’s wards more authority than those of Tokyo’s 23 wards.

Mr. Hashimoto created the Osaka Ishin no Kai, a de facto political party, to achieve that goal. His group backed candidates in the elections for the Osaka Prefecture Assembly and the assemblies of the city of Osaka and Sakai. The latter is a substantial city in its own right, with a population of 840,000.

The results of the election were mixed. Mr. Hashimoto’s party won 57 of 109 seats in Osaka Prefecture—the first outright majority in that chamber by any political party since the end of the war. They also won 33 of 86 seats in the city of Osaka (having backed 44 candidates) and 13 of 52 seats in Sakai, to become the largest party in both chambers.

But because the party failed to win an outright majority in the two cities, Mr. Hashimoto declared the election to have been a failure. He said he would go back to the drawing board for his Osaka-to Concept, even though the day before the election he declared that a majority wouldn’t be necessary if he received cooperation from other delegates.

A few days later, he announced that he and his group will hold discussions with the other parties in the two cities to reach a consensus by September. If an agreement is impossible, he will resign in November, four months before his term is scheduled to end, and run in a double election in December when the city of Osaka selects its mayor. That is an imitation of the successful strategy employed by Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi in February. Speaking of Nagoya and Aichi…


Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi and Aichi Governor Omura Hideaki continued the alliance that won them election in February on a program to cut local taxes by 10%. Their objective was to capture an outright majority for their political groups in the Aichi prefectural assembly.

They did pick up seats, but not as many as they wanted, and not a majority. Their total went from one to 18 members in a 103-seat chamber, and 45 if the candidates they recommended are included. The LDP lost its outright majority, but they are still the largest party with 49 seats.

Most observers think the earthquake/tsunami dimmed the appeal of their tax-cutting program. Mr. Kawamura attributed the defeat to “the mistaken theory that a tax increase was unavoidable”, but he stuck to his guns at a post-election news conference: “In difficult times, you have to stimulate the economy with a tax cut.”

Mr. Omura thought the general mood of self-restraint resulted in a subdued campaign. The turnout was disappointing after the interest generated by the triple elections two months ago. Just 42.01% of the voters went to the polls. 1.09 percentage points down from the previous election, and the lowest percentage ever.


Located next door to Aichi, Shizuoka was another battleground for the fight between the Tax Reduction Japan of Kawamura Takashi in Nagoya and the established parties. The former mayor of Shizuoka City stepped down after 16 years in office, clearing the field for new candidates. The LDP recommended Tanabe Nobuhiro, while Unno Toru, who lost the same election four years ago by 1,303 votes, ran under the Tax Reduction Japan banner. Mr. Tanabe also received the endorsement of several influential local DPJ politicians.

Thus the two largest national parties created an ad hoc, de facto alliance of forces to take on the insurgents. Both Maehara Seiji, who recently resigned as defense minister in the DPJ government, and LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru campaigned in Shizuoka for Mr. Tanabe. He cannily used the post-earthquake mood and the year-long political turmoil in Nagoya to good effect against an opponent with greater name recognition. His speeches always presented this choice: “The election during this crisis is (the choice of) selecting either a stable city government or a city government in turmoil.” He stressed unity and contrasted that with the combative attitude of his tax-cutting neighbors. He made a point to always appear on stage with politicians from both the LDP and DPJ, and declare in his speeches: “Now is the time for us to become one. Men, women, people in their 20s, people in their 80s, the DPJ, the LDP…I have plenty of colleagues”

In contrast, Mr. Unno’s campaign slogan was “true government reform begins with tax reduction.”

Mr. Tanabe won the election with 45% of the vote. Mr. Unno received 42%, and a third candidate received the rest.

Meanwhile, the DPJ suffered large losses in the prefectural assembly, and the LDP won an outright majority.

The earth quakes in Nagata-cho

The many people who would like to see Mr. Kan gone were dismayed immediately after the earthquake/tsunami because they thought the disaster might prolong his occupancy in the Kantei by up to a year. Wrote former journalist, author, and commentator Shioda Maruo:

“Though (the earthquake) was a bitter event that left many people saddened, one person gained from it—Prime Minister Kan Naoto. The Kan administration had lost all support and become a mudboat that seemed to be on the verge of sinking at any moment. The emergency left the opposition, which was about to corner the government, no choice but to call a cease fire. Prime Minister Kan himself must have thought he had been saved. When I look at him, behaving as if his mudboat has been made seaworthy again, it makes my blood boil.”

Caution: Kan at Work

A less-than-inspirational figure under normal circumstances, Mr. Kan staggered rather than rose to the occasion. He nearly broke down at a news conference and did not hold another for three weeks. He finally showed up on the day after a national newspaper called him the hikikomori prime minister. (Hikikomori is the word used to describe those young people who hole up in a bedroom of their parents’ homes rather than conduct normal lives.) His behavior left the impression that uppermost in his mind was converting the disaster to political capital, thereby extending his term.

In addition, his administration made the conscious decision to shut out the bureaucracy from decision-making to deal with the aftermath of the earthquake. While the political class does need to put the Kasumigaseki bureaucrats in their place, they could also utilize the machinery of government and the expertise of its operators in this situation. Mr. Kan chose instead to show everyone that the DPJ government could do it themselves. Less than competent under normal circumstances, they again staggered rather than rose to the occasion and showed everyone that they can’t.

Mr. Kan is often criticized for his tendency to do whatever pops into his head at the moment. That tendency became manifest again when he made an out-of-the-blue telephone call to LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu with the demand that the latter immediately agree to join a coalition government. He hadn’t bothered to discuss the possibility with anyone in his party or government beforehand, and insisted that Mr. Tanigaki decide without talking it over with his own party. When the LDP chief asked him for time to take the proposal to his colleagues, the prime minister said he took that as a refusal and would describe it that way to the news media—which he did. (Are the reasons people dislike Mr. Kan becoming clearer?)

Another frequent criticism of Mr. Kan and his Cabinet is for their seeming preference to form new committees and hold meetings without actually doing anything. A recent Asahi TV program presented a large chart showing they had created 10 new organizations (that I could count) for dealing with the disaster. Who could blame the announcers for speculating on the amount of wasted and duplicated effort? And as if on cue, the prime minister’s semi-regular e-mail message arrived as I was writing this post. The title is, “Launch of the Reconstruction Design Council”. The council held its first meeting yesterday.


Once people realized that the one-two combination of earthquake and tsunami had staggered the country, but not put it on the mat, the DPJ shellacking in the local elections crystallized dissatisfaction with the prime minister, both among his own party and the opposition.

Tokyo Gov. Ishihara Shintaro said what a lot of people were thinking:

“The DPJ was thrashed in both gubernatorial and assembly elections. Will the policies of a government that has lost the trust of the people serve the people?”

About the election results, he said:

“What else could you expect? They’re a group of immature people to start with. It’s inconceivable that they never convened a meeting of the administrative vice-ministers. They talk about saving electricity, but why haven’t they issued a cabinet order?

Mr. Kan might find it easy to dismiss this as an opposition attack, but he will not find it so easy to dismiss the attacks from within his own party.

Here’s DPJ member Ishihara Yosaburo, who represents Fukushima District #1 in the lower house:

“Prime Minister Kan Naoto said he understood (Fukushima) would be a long-term issue and he would deal with it in that manner, but this threatens the lives of the people of Fukushima and Japan. If he thinks this is a long-term issue, I hope he resigns immediately and is replaced by a new regime that can resolve the situation more quickly.”

Haraguchi Kazuhiro, a member of the Hatoyama Cabinet, said the following on the government’s response to Fukushima at a news conference sponsored by the Free Press Association of Japan:

“What should be done to prevent the release of highly concentrated radiation into the sea? If they are incapable of making that decision, the entire Cabinet should resign.”

Tarutoko Shinji, who has run for the DPJ presidency, left no doubt about his intentions despite the circumlocutory language:

“I have an extremely strong feeling that (this government) will not benefit the people in these circumstances.”

The revolt is close to the boiling point. Speaking to party members about the elections, DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya admitted that the leadership’s lack of ability was an acceptable subject for criticism and apologized. Someone shouted from the floor:

“How long are you going to sit there?” (i.e. stay in your current position)

Okada: “Who spoke just now? Raise your hand and say that.”

No one did just then, but that didn’t last long.

Mr. Kan refuses to step down from a job he’s coveted his entire adult life, which has finally led to bipartisan cooperation. Executives from the two major parties are discussing ways to yank him down. JNN reported that senior members of the DPJ and LDP met to devise a strategy for dumping him.

One meeting was attended by Mr. Kan’s predecessor Hatoyama Yukio, Mr. Hatoyama’s chief cabinet secretary Hirano Hirofumi, current LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru, and former LDP Secretary-General Ibuki Bunmei. The LDP is planning to submit a no-confidence motion in the lower house and a censure motion in the upper house, and it is becoming increasingly likely that some in the DPJ will vote for them. The meeting was to determine the timing of the submissions. Mr. Hatoyama thinks it’s too early, but Mr. Hirano said the limits of cooperation have been reached.

Ozawa Ichiro ally Yamaoka Kenji, one of the DPJ party vice-presidents, met with New Komeito Secretary-General Inoue Yoshihisa to discuss avenues of cooperation for removing Mr. Kan and governing post-Kan. Others attending included Hatoyama associate Nakayama Yoshikatsu and former Foreign Minister Tanaka Makiko. Mr. Yamaoka said the situation demanded the creation of a new coalition. Ms. Tanaka, still as blunt as her father after all these years, simply said, “This administration is really bad.”

That brings up the destroyer-of-worlds Ozawa Ichiro, who ostensibly controls the largest single bloc in the party. Not only does he agree that something must be done, he now seems ready to do something about it himself.

Last September Mr. Kan defeated Mr. Ozawa in an election for the post of party president and tried to use that as a wedge to drive him from the party. Now the shoe is on the proverbial other foot. Speaking with uncharacteristic urgency on an Internet TV program, Mr. Ozawa criticized the government’s response to Fukushima:

“We have no idea who (within the government) is responsible, nor what it is they’re supposed to do. This makes less sense than when everything was left to the bureaucrats.”

Speaking to 20 younger Diet members at a party at his home, he said:

“I won’t be forming a (new) party. We are the real DPJ. They are the ones who changed, so shouldn’t they be the ones to leave?”

Depending on the report, Mr. Ozawa is either mulling the possibility of calling for a recall vote within the party or supporting a no-confidence motion in the lower house. The media thinks there are roughly 90 people in Ozawa’s group in the lower house, and 80 DPJ votes are needed to pass that motion. Some wonder if the threat of a no-confidence motion is one way to force Mr. Kan to step down. Mr. Ozawa himself noted that the motion’s passage would require a new lower house election, and there are no suitable places to vote in some parts of the Tohoku region after the destruction.

A further complication is that Sengoku Yoshito is reported to be working behind the scenes in the DPJ to unseat the prime minister and replace him with Okada Katsuya, just as party members are calling for Mr. Okada’s head to pay for the election results. Though Mr. Sengoku served as Kan Naoto’s chief cabinet secretary until an upper house censure forced him to resign, he seems to share everyone else’s low opinion of Mr. Kan’s competence. Indeed, some theorized the reason the prime minister kept his phone call to the LDP chief a secret is that he didn’t want Mr. Sengoku to know.

Popular will

After the DPJ became the largest party in the upper house in the 2007 elections, they tried to force the LDP government to dissolve the lower house and call for new elections. They had a logical reason: The results for the upper house were the most recent expression of popular will.

Once in government, however, that logic has slipped the collective DPJ mind. Though they lost seats in the upper house last year and have performed poorly in local elections since then, culminating in the balloting on the 10th, they aren’t interested in the most recent expression of popular will now. Said Okada Katsuya at a post-election news conference:

“They were local elections. If someone calls for resignations because of them, it would be a mistake.”

He tried to put lipstick on the pig at a meeting of party committee chairmen:

“Even though a defeat is a defeat, we should create standards for counting official recognition and recommendations.”

In other words, the results wouldn’t look so bad if the successful campaigns of non-DPJ pols the party recommended were added to their victory total. That excuse quickly evaporated; one commentator noted: “Changing the method of calculating victories doesn’t change the fact that this was a defeat.”

Asked at a news conference about the possibility that the election performance would cause the prime minister to step down, Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio answered:

“The prime minister was given his duties based on the rule of democracy. The true path is the have the Cabinet exert every effort to fulfill those duties.”

Doesn’t that first sentence make you wish dunking stools could be brought back as a means to discipline the political class?

The agenda

Since Kan Naoto’s continued presence is detrimental to his party and the DPJ government, and he is the primary obstacle to discussions about legislation and policy between the ruling and opposition parties, people wonder why he’s staying put.

Here’s one possibility: The leftist elements of the DPJ realize this will be their last chance in government for the foreseeable future and want to make hay before the downpour. Last Wednesday, the DPJ’s project team to examine the establishment of a human rights commission held its first meeting with former Education Minister (and labor union activist) Kawabata Tatsuo as chairman. The Canadian experience with commissions of this sort indicates they are vermin magnets more likely to infringe human rights than to uphold them, but the rest of the world gave up on trying to understand the logic of the left long ago.

Mr. Kawabata and the DPJ want to establish a similar commission affiliated with the Cabinet Office. His team intends to reach a consensus within the party by early May and submit legislation to the current session of the Diet. That will be difficult; some proposals circulating in the party have included giving the commission the authority to search premises and seize documents without a court order. Some in the DPJ don’t care for the whole idea to begin with, and they’re well aware of the potential abuses of the right to free speech.

Explained Mr. Kawabata:

“We can’t put this off for a moment. We achieved a change in government, so I want to take this major step.”

Last month, Sengoku Yoshito told a meeting:

“It is an obligation of the DPJ government to establish this.”

By obligation, he means the establishment of a commission was hidden in the small print of the 2009 party manifesto, though even the DPJ knows that or similar planks in the platform weren’t the reason the electorate voted for them. It’s unlikely that most of the electorate were even aware of them.

One would think the Kan Cabinet has more pressing matters at hand to deal with, but that’s not how the thought process works in his wing of the party.

Speaking of Mr. Kawabata, by the way, more than JPY one million in political funds from his office were once found to have been paid to cabaret clubs for undisclosed reasons. He said it was all legal and didn’t want to discuss it. He also didn’t want to discuss irregularities with his office expenses similar to those that caused problems for later-stage LDP Cabinet ministers.

How lucky for Japan to have a clean party in government for a change!

Up next

And speaking of luck, last week’s events suggest the Kan Cabinet will be lucky to make it through the current Diet session, much less the rest of the year. That will call into question the DPJ government’s continued existence absent a lower house election. But then, a lower house election would highlight what might be a terminal illness.

They’ve never been particularly coherent, but their behavior is increasingly erratic. Discussing the DPJ’s electile dysfunction at a news conference last week, Okada Katsuya seemed oddly detached:

“Because we’re the ruling party, I wanted us to be more aggressive.”

This is the man with direct responsibility for the party’s election campaigns speaking.

The DPJ has been having trouble finding people willing to run as party candidates in elections, and they were incapable of fielding an official candidate in the Tokyo Metro District governor’s election. Now they’ve decided not to run an official candidate for the lower house by-election in Aichi’s District #6 to replace Ishida Yoshihiro, who resigned to run for mayor of Nagoya. (He lost.) Candidacy declarations were made on the 12th for the election to be held on the 24th, coinciding with the second round of sub-national elections. Five people declared, including people from the LDP and Tax Reduction Japan. None were from the DPJ.

It is telling that party executives said they decided not to run a candidate because of persistent criticism of the government and their recent dismal electoral performance.

In other words, the ruling party of government is not defending a seat it holds in a prefecture that is traditionally one of their strongholds because they know people don’t like them.

Commented Ishihara Nobuteru:

“That’s extremely unusual. It’s a by-election to replace a DPJ MP who ran for mayor. I thought the DPJ would be the first to decide on a candidate to defend their seat.”

Japan’s Democratic Party was incapable of winning national elections until they allowed Ozawa Ichiro to join and teach them. He’s no longer willing to serve as tutor, however–earlier this year, the DPJ suspended Mr. Ozawa from party activities because of his legal difficulties. Their clumsy bungling once in office put them behind the electoral eight ball even with Mr. Ozawa on side, but now he’s outside the tent pissing in, to use former US President Lyndon Johnson’s phrase. Maybe there’s something to the karma idea after all.

The real question is not how long the Kan Cabinet survives, but how long the Democratic Party of Japan survives in its present form.

Which one of these characters reminds you of Kan Naoto?

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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.


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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The three noes

Posted by ampontan on Friday, March 19, 2010

WHEN THE Democratic Party of Japan was in the opposition, their critics often charged they couldn’t be entrusted with the reins of power because their members were irresponsible kvetchers capable only of fomenting political crises. Observing their behavior when they became the largest party in the upper house following the 2007 election, Ibuki Bunmei of the Liberal Democratic Party famously commented that they behaved like a bunch of grade-school boys with a loaded pistol.

After the DPJ formed a government, they devoted considerable energy to search for any secret agreements with the United States that permitted American military forces to pass through Japanese territory carrying nuclear weapons without prior consultation. That would have violated Japan’s so-called three nonnuclear principles of not producing, not possessing, and not allowing nuclear weapons on its territory.

Japanese governments successively denied the existence of any such agreements, most recently under the last LDP government of Aso Taro. The DPJ kept looking, however, because they—and everyone else—assumed the governments were lying. It’s somewhat analogous to the case of Israel and nuclear weapons. That country wisely chooses to neither confirm nor deny that it has them, but most people take it for granted that they do.

The DPJ is now pleased as punch they discovered a secret agreement did exist from 1960 to 1991, when the U.S. Navy stopped deploying nuclear weapons on its ships.

One of their senior members, Japan Teachers’ Union veteran Koshi’ishi Azuma, has been especially generous in his self-congratulation. He crowed that the discovery was “one of the successes of the change of government.” There is some irony to his pride; Mr. Koshi’ishi was opposed last year to inspecting North Korean vessels suspected of transporting missile parts or nuclear materials. He said the Aso government should be inspected instead.

In other words, it’s terrible when Washington does it, particularly to protect Tokyo, but it’s no big deal if Pyeongyang does it to help obliterate Tel Aviv.

Leave it to Eda Kenji of Your Party to put the DPJ attitude in perspective:

The exposure of the secret treaty between Japan and the United States is not insignificant. History will bear this out as a positive achievement.

But I do wish people would wipe off those smug expressions as if they were conquering heroes for opening the lid to Pandora’s Box, even though they are incapable of basic diplomacy, or a forward-looking diplomacy with a broader strategy, while piling blunder on top of blunder with the Futenma Base issue. Courage is certainly needed, but if one has courage, opening the lid is an easy matter.

There have been similar instances in the past, such as the exposure of the files in which was hidden information about the AIDS cases caused by contaminated blood products, or the den of corruption involving the secret entertainment expenses of the bureaucracy. That in itself is needed, but politicians such as these are incapable of the more complicated and difficult task of “creating”.

But soft! What flicker of intelligence through yonder window breaks? It is Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya, offering his opinion this week at a session of the lower house Foreign Affairs Committee.

During the session, Mr. Okada reaffirmed that the Hatoyama administration was committed to the three non-nuclear principles, but said:

In those instances in which a situation arises that Japan’s safety cannot be defended unless we temporarily allow ships with nuclear weapons into our ports, the government at that time should resolve to risk its own fate, and explain to the people (how best to protect the country).

In other words, a Japanese government could allow a temporary exception in case of emergency.

He added that the government is not thinking of writing the non-nuclear principles into law as demanded by—natch—the Social Democratic Party of Japan, one of their junior coalition partners.

One problem is how to guarantee that Russian and Chinese ships carrying nuclear weapons do not cross Japanese territorial waters. Unless problems such as these are clearly settled, it will not be possible to make that legally binding.

Bully for Mr. Okada. There is sentient life in this government after all.

But that seems to have been too much for some people. Apparently the DPJ has a three-no policy of its own: Do not say, do, or allow anyone else to say or do anything sensible or of practical utility.

At a news briefing that afternoon, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi was none too pleased with the foreign minister:

The government is not in a position to allow that. Prime Minister Hatoyama has said we will maintain the three non-nuclear principles…I don’t think (Mr. Okada was saying) that we would allow that…but I don’t know what sort of emergency he’s talking about. The government must refrain from making references about hypothetical cases.

The function of the Chief Cabinet Secretary in Japan is to serve as a coordinator among the members of the Cabinet and the ruling party or parties.

It would be understandable if one of the junior coalition members had said something out of line, particularly as the two in the tow of the DPJ seem to relish making life difficult for the government. But Mr. Okada and Mr. Hirano are senior members of the same party, and they should have reached a consensus on an issue this critical long before they came to power. It doesn’t seem as if Mr. Hirano is doing much in the way of coordinating.

It’s been six months since the DPJ formed a government. Considering that its approval ratings have fallen from 72% then to 32% now, it would seem the electorate no longer expects the DPJ to act like one.

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Two drunks in a bar

Posted by ampontan on Friday, February 19, 2010

The central contradiction in modern liberal politics is that Otto von Bismarck’s entitlement state for cradle to grave financial security is no longer affordable. The model has reached the limit of its ability to tax private income and still allow enough economic growth to finance its transfer payments.
– WSJ Editorial

TELL ME if you’ve already heard this one: two drunks were talking in a bar about how to come up with the money to buy another bottle…

Well, OK. They might not have been drunk, and they weren’t in a bar, but they were looking for ways to make other people pay for their drinks.

The two men batting ideas back and forth were Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio and Japan Communist Party Chief Shii Kazuo during a conversation in the Diet. According to the JCP, Mr. Shii said:

The retained earnings of big corporations are blunting Japanese economic growth capabilities.

See why people thought the story was about two drunks in a bar? Nobody sober would listen to any Communist Party member talking about economic growth or how it relates to corporate internal reserves.

It’s also difficult to imagine a sober man giving Mr. Hatoyama’s answer.

I’d like to examine the appropriate taxation of retained earnings.

It’s difficult to imagine because there is no appropriate taxation of retained earnings. A company’s internal reserves are what’s left after its profits have already been taxed. Would they tax someone’s bank account because he was saving the money instead of spending it?

Another possibility is that Mr. Hatoyama was sober and just indulging his fraternalist habit of saying whatever he thinks will please the person he’s talking to at the time.

Finding a willing listener for a change, Mr. Shii then suggested the maximum tax income tax rate and preferential treatment of securities should be revised to boost the tax on those with high income. Why? Because of a growing income gap among the people.

Comrades! Incomes have to be redistributed to reduce inequality!

A sober man would say: Redistribution of the wealth from those who have a lot of it to those who don’t have as much acts as a brake on those people who have demonstrated their capability to improve society for everyone, even if only by offering consumers what they want. Limiting their behavior deprives society of these benefits.

The prime minister was still a bit woozy when he talked to the media later. He said:

It’s not my intention to say anything specific, but because it was a plan by the Communist Party, I did say I’d like to examine it. It’s natural to want to adopt a good plan, regardless of the party that proposed it…I didn’t say (we’d be) forward looking, or backward looking, just that I’d like to examine it.

Is that man ever going to learn to stop shoveling after he digs himself a hole?

At a press conference the next day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi tried to scrape off the bottom of the prime minister’s shoe with a fib instead of a stick:

It’s a topic in the arena of general debate over the tax system. We’re not going to isolate only that for examination…I don’t think the prime minister said we were going to examine it. Wasn’t his response that we must examine the tax system in general?

Minezaki Naoki, Deputy Finance Minister, contradicted him with a stick of his own:

While it is a topic for the Tax Commission, the handling of the topic is still pending.

Six months in office and they still can’t get their story straight.

As for Mr. Hatoyama, it must be all those years he spent in the opposition. It still hasn’t dawned on the prime minister that people listen when the head of government talks. The next day, he allowed:

It’s a subject for consideration, but nothing has been decided yet.

But Okamura Tadashi, the chairman of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said:

What are you two drinking?

No, that’s not what he really said. It’s what he thought when he curbed his tongue. What he did say was:

As a general idea, it’s inappropriate from the standpoint of a corporation’s international competitiveness.

The Nikkei Shimbun added in an article of its own that it would have a negative impact on hiring and salaries.

But if there’s one thing big business has learned in the days of big government, it’s how to go along to get along. Mr. Okamura continued:

There’s going to be a broad reform of the tax system, so if it was mentioned as one category for examination, we have no choice but to simply accept it as such.

By the numbers

Companies retain earnings for three reasons. First, they use them to expand their business using their own resources, rather than using borrowed money they have to pay to borrow. That results in wealth creation–additional taxable income. Second, they can pay them out as dividends, when they are ordinarily taxed again. High dividend taxes are conducive to higher retained earnings. The lower the tax on dividends, the more dividends are paid from retained earnings. Third and finally, the internal reserves can be saved in the company.

Higher taxes on dividends or retained earnings reduce economic growth. They don’t expand it.

The problem as Mr. Shii sees it is that Japan has reduced dividend taxes 10% since 2003 and currently exempts the first JPY one million in dividends from taxes (about $US 11,000), but corporate internal reserves are at relatively high levels. Instead of taxing those reserves, however, a more rational solution would be to remove the structural impediments on investment.

There’s another reason large Japanese companies have more retained earnings these days. The government made repatriation of funds from overseas subsidiaries and other operations tax exempt in 2009. That resulted in a JPY two trillion (about $US 11 billion) increase in money coming into the country last year instead of being retained abroad, according to another article in today’s Nikkei Shimbun.

That’s JPY two trillion more to be used for expansion or dividend payments than they normally would have had.

That’s what people mean when they say lower taxes make the pie grow bigger. A bigger pie means more tax revenue. Isn’t that the point of the exercise?

Japan could maintain the tax code amendments that promote growth. Or it could tax those profits again, after they’ve already been taxed once; increase the taxes on dividends, which is double taxation to begin with; or restore the tax on repatriated corporate profits, ensuring those profits stay overseas instead of being returned to Japan.

But that’s only if it listens to two drunks in a bar talking about how to find the money to keep drinking.

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


Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 19, 2009

THAT DIDN’T TAKE LONG. Jiji Press, a Japanese wire service, revealed on 18 December the results of its latest political poll. It shows that the approval rate for the Hatoyama Cabinet has fallen below 50% for the first time to hit 46.8%–a 7.6 percentage-point drop from last month’s survey. That wasn’t all the bad news for the DPJ, either; the Cabinet’s disapproval rate climbed five percentage points to 30.3%.

Considering that the Cabinet’s approval rate was roughly 72%-73% immediately after being sworn in, the new numbers show that one-third of its support has evaporated in a mere three months.

An approval rate north of 70% is impossible for most politicians to maintain for very long, but the plummeting poll numbers demonstrate that the electorate is quickly losing patience with the Boy Prime Minister and Amateur Hour at Nagata-cho. To be sure, the new Government was skating on thin ice to begin with—while its initial favorability rating might have been a kilometer wide, it was only a centimeter deep. The voters turned to the Democratic Party of Japan not because it thought them capable of serious reform and competent governance, but because they had finally thrown their hands up in exasperated disgust at the performance of the Liberal Democratic Party, particularly during the post-Koizumi period.

A breakdown of the poll numbers is quite instructive. Here are the two reasons most frequently cited by those who support the Government:

* Good policies: 14.4% (down 3.7 points)
* There are no other suitable people: 14.0%

In other words, one of the main reasons for the support they do receive is, as the Japanese might say, neko yori mashi–it’s better than a cat (it’s better than nothing).

Here are the reasons cited by those who do not support the Government:

* No expectations for them: 15.3% (up 4.5 points)
* No leadership: 14.5% (up 10.2 points to triple in value in one month)
* Can’t trust the prime minister: 9.0% (up 2.1 points)
* Bad policies: 8.9% (down 0.2 point)

They’re not yet in any danger of being overtaken by the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, if only because the latter group is still groggy and rolling on the mat after its August defeat. When asked which party they support, the respondents said:

* Democratic Party: 25.0% (down 3.4 points)
* Liberal Democratic Party: 15.6% (up 0.3 point)

But here’s the most interesting answer by far to that question:

* Do not support any party: 51.7%

That’s the first time in four months the figure has surpassed 50%. It means a capital opportunity still lies there for the taking by a group of enterprising, gutsy politicians capable of following through on a well-presented plan and acting as if their primary purpose was something other than to avoid criticism from the public, the media, and the bureaucracy to hang on until the upper house election. But don’t be putting in a call for Diogenes and his lantern—it’ll take more than that to find a handful of that breed.

Who’s in charge here?

It’s not surprising that people just aren’t impressed with Hatoyama Yukio—they don’t see any leadership skills, and they don’t trust him. Rather, it was to be expected. He’s never demonstrated anything remotely resembling public leadership skills in his political life, so it’s not as if he was going to find an express-delivered package full of them in his mailbox on the morning of 1 September. If they were that easy to obtain, his mother would have bought them for him long ago.

That leads us to another unsurprising finding. Jiji also asked the respondents who they thought was in real control of the Hatoyama Cabinet. Here are the answers:

* Ozawa Ichiro (party secretary-general): 71.1%
* Hatoyama Yukio: 10.6%

Not even close, is it?

All the other possibilities on the list were selected by fewer than 3% of the respondents, while 11.5% said they didn’t know.

In other words, most people in Japan consider this to be the Ozawa administration rather than the Hatoyama administration. That would go a long way to explaining why the Cabinet’s approval rate is taking on water faster than the DPJ can bail it out. The only time all year the LDP led in the generic polls was the period extending from the arrest of Mr. Ozawa’s chief aide for accepting kickbacks from a construction company until Mr. Ozawa finally resigned the party presidency. They didn’t want an Ozawa administration, and now they’re starting to think they’ve got one anyway.

Arrogant drama queen

People have always considered Mr. Ozawa to be an arrogant cuss with a taste for drama, and that arrogance has been increasingly evident to the public in the past month. His attitude also exacerbates the perception that his conduct of affairs incorporates the worst aspects of LDP machine politics, particularly when his patron Tanaka Kakuei was the Big Enchilada.

There are as many reasons for this perception as there are playing cards in a deck, but perhaps an article that appeared in the 16 December edition of the Mainichi Shimbun encapsulates the most obvious of them.

On that day, Mr. Ozawa held a meeting at party headquarters to present to the Government his “important demands” for next year’s budget. According to the newspaper’s sources, Mr. Ozawa’s attitude turned Arctic and his tone became sharp as soon as the media left the room following their photo opportunity.

Asked Mr. Ozawa:

“I doubt whether (the budget) was formulated under political leadership…Did you put together this budget without the bureaucracy getting involved? I want government officials to study the issues, make decisions, and execute them.”

Remember—he is the head of the party, not the head of the Government, and he was addressing the party members in the Government.

He added:

“You might be too carefully responding to the (industry) groups that were closely allied with the LDP governments. We formed a Cabinet because we won the election.”

And concluded:

“I’ve assumed the role of the person whom everyone hates because I say what somebody has to say.”

He’s got that first part right. There may be no politician anywhere more disliked by his own party than Mr. Ozawa, but the DPJ put up with him because he was the only one capable of holding their incompatible elements together long enough to teach them how to win elections Tanaka style.

The Mainichi article concluded by saying that Prime Minister Hatoyama was present at the meeting and took notes.

At least he didn’t hire a stenographer to do it for him.

The question of Mr. Ozawa’s influence arose during a media briefing with Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi on the 18th. When asked what he thought of the view that the party secretary-general was really running the show, Mr. Hirano replied:

“The Cabinet is operating under Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s leadership. Any other idea is a distortion. This Government exists because of the strong backing of the party. The party president is the prime minister, and Secretary-General Ozawa is giving strong support to the party.”

You didn’t expect him to tell the truth, now did you?

Here’s one more question from the Jiji poll. When the subjects were asked whether they thought the DPJ had disassociated itself from the bureaucracy and instituted rule by the political class, 50.6% of the respondents said they had not, and only 26.3% said they had. That’s an increase of 3.7 percentage points among the nay-sayers in the past month.

In fact, someone very clever at Jiji inserted an interesting potential answer when asking about the most important person in the Government. To a list that included Messrs. Hatoyama, Ozawa, Kamei, Kan, and Okada, that person also slipped in the Finance Ministry.

A total of 0.6% of the respondents thought they were in charge, edging out Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Minister Maehara Seiji at 0.5%, and Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya at 0.4%.

Still the same old Kasumigaseki

The public has good reason to think the Hatoyama administration is still under the thumb of the bureaucracy in general and the Finance Ministry in particular. The following is an excerpt of a roundtable discussion among representatives of Japanese government ministries that appeared in the 17 October issue of the weekly Shukan Gendai. They were discussing the dog-and-pony show held in a Tokyo gym to make determinations on the continuation of certain government programs and the elimination of government waste. (The DPJ showed that it learned one lesson about theater from Mr. Koizumi. The exercise was more about humiliating officials from the lesser ministries than having anything to with real government.)

METI stands for Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, MOF for Ministry of Finance, MIAC for the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, and CO for Cabinet Office.

METI: In fact, the Finance Ministry is not acting recklessly and is not out of control. The head of the secretariat of the Governmental Reform Council is Kato Hideki, the head of a non-profit think tank.

MIAC: He’s a Finance Ministry alumnus (hired in 1973) that devised the methods for the operational review to remove waste from government.

METI: That’s right. That project was done using statistics from the Budget Bureau. In other words, Mr. Kato and the Finance Ministry are as one. The personnel decision that put him in charge of the project was made by Deputy Prime Minister Matsui Koji (Note: He’s actually deputy chief cabinet secretary, but the man from METI was repeating a common joke). That’s because the DPJ’s primary objective is to maintain control of the government until the upper house election. He thinks the most important factor in maintaining control is to not alienate the Finance Ministry.

CO: The Finance Ministry can be frightening when it’s aroused, can’t it? Eda Kenji (of Your Party), an aide to former Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro, testified that immediately after Hashimoto told the MOF of his decision to spin off the Finance Department into a separate agency, it was leaked to the press that Yamaichi Securities had gone bankrupt. That was followed by an unprecedented credit crunch. The administration was trounced in the upper house election, and the Cabinet resigned. When it comes to protecting its own organization, The MOF has no qualms about crushing a Cabinet.

MOF: No comment.

The electorate voted for the DPJ in the hope of finding decisive leadership, competent governance that puts the people’s interests first, the disassociation of politics from the bureaucracy, and the renunciation of the money politics of the past and the people who its visible symbols.

One of these decades, they might actually get it.


* I attended a seminar in October in Tokyo, and one of the speakers (the head of a small political think-tank) went off-topic briefly to state rather firmly that Mr. Ozawa is waiting for the best time to gather up his supporters and walk out of the party, leaving the leftist elements of the DPJ behind. He then intends to create a new Government on his own and rule in somewhat the style of former Prime Minister Koizumi, though more odayaka (calm and mild). Reading between the lines in the Japanese print media, most Japanese commentators seem to half-expect this as well, and sometimes events seem to be trending in that direction.

One Japanese journalist recently compared Mr. Ozawa to a powerful chemical agent because he generates a strong reaction when he comes in contact with other people. That reaction is just as often negative as positive. It’s possible he’ll split and form a government of his own, but it’s unlikely that anyone can expect anything odayaka from any enterprise in which he’s involved.

* To his credit, Mr. Ozawa does seem to want to wrest power away from Japan’s civil service. To his detriment, he seems to want to seize that power in his own hands. It’s unfortunate that his personality is more suited to leadership in a single-party dictatorship than a parliamentary democracy.

* Right after Mr. Hatoyama was named party president and it became apparent that he would soon become prime minister, he began sporting a silly new hair style that makes him look like a girl in junior college who knows she isn’t pretty but can’t make up her mind what to do about it.

When a man in his late 60s behaves that way, it’s a dead giveaway he hasn’t got a fully formed personality, and, at his age, never will.

Yes, it wasn’t his fault that he was born into a family with more money than they’ll ever know what to do with, and for that he deserves a bit of slack. But just because he had the opportunity to use that money to buy a political party doesn’t mean the rest of the country should be subjected to his shortcomings.

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

You decide!

Posted by ampontan on Friday, October 23, 2009

No one from the private sector will accept the position as president of Japan Post (if President Nishikawa is forced out). After President Nishikawa steps down, it is very likely that his replacement will be either someone who was a career bureaucrat, or someone from the private sector who will compromise with the bureaucracy
– Takenaka Heizo, in the September issue of Voice

THERE WERE SEVERAL REASONS why it was important to privatize Japan Post. First, there is no need for the government of an advanced, developed nation to operate a banking system, an insurance system, and a postal system, much less in competition with that nation’s private sector.

In addition, the funds in the banking and insurance system were controlled by Japan’s Finance Ministry, the bureaucratic entity most likely to arrogate a political role for itself. By law, these funds can only be invested in government bonds. Those investments were the lifeblood of the Iron Triangle of big business, bureaucracy, and government (i.e., the Diet) that ran Japan Inc. That was the source of funds for all the corruption and the Bridges to Nowhere.

The privatization of Japan Post was the most important such step since the Japan National Railway was broken up into regional private sector companies during the Nakasone Administration. Former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro dissolved the lower house of the Diet and held a special election specifically to take this issue to the people in 2005. The result was the second-largest majority for the governing party in postwar history. In fact, it was a supermajority that allowed the Government to override any defeats in the upper house. Mr. Koizumi’s support when he left office stood at 70%.

The terminally clueless mudboat wing of his party squandered this advantage, however, and in the following election, in August this year, the opposition DPJ nearly reversed those numbers in the lower house. It was clear that the electorate rejected the LDP because it had turned its back on reforms and minimizing the political influence of the bureaucracy. They wanted the DPJ to continue those reforms.

After little more than a month in office, we can now take it as given that the DPJ is, from several perspectives, a party of charlatans. While some members are just as earnest in their desire for reform as the Koizumians, the party itself is controlled by people for whom power is the real objective. Policy is just something that can be replastered to suit the times, in the words of their political puppeteer Ozawa Ichiro.

The intent of the DPJ has been obvious ever since they formed an alliance with the People’s New Party, which consists solely of reactionaries whose only objective was to reverse Japan Post’s privatization.

Any remaining credibility the DPJ had as serious reformers ended yesterday when Saito Jiro was appointed the new head of Japan Post. As Mr. Takenaka predicted, his background is in the bureaucracy. But not just any ministry—it was the Finance Ministry itself, the Big Swinging Dick of Kasumigaseki. And he was not just any bureaucrat. The Asahi referred to him as “the Don of the bureaucratic alumni”. Mr. Saito once held the position of administrative vice-minister of the Finance Ministry.

That was the same position once held by Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s father, Iichiro.

Mr. Saito comes with the added advantage of having had close ties to Ozawa Ichiro since the latter last pulled the strings of the Hosokawa Administration 15 years ago. He was selected by PNP head Kamei Shizuka, who, like all men of low cunning, seems to have been too clever by half.

If nothing else, the selection will give the new government an early lesson in damage control—if it survives the damage. Japanese author, university professor, commentator, and blogger Ikeda Nobuo thinks it’s possible the Cabinet might fall before the Diet is convened, but of course that remains to be seen. A Google news search in Japanese shows there are already more than 500 articles on Mr. Saito’s selection. Every major Japanese newspaper has slammed the pick.

Prime Minister Hatoyama thought it was wonderful, however. He said:

“It’s a very good (selection). A very interesting personnel (choice).”

He seems not to have been intentionally ironical.

Mr. Hatoyama also defended the choice by saying that Mr. Saito had left the bureaucracy 14 years ago. He did not, however, refer to his party’s opposition to Muto Toshiro as the head of the Bank of Japan because of his ties to the Finance Ministry. Mr. Muto had left the bureaucracy only eight years before that.

Referring to that apparent contradiction, Chief Cabinet Minister Hirano Hirofumi said:

“I think any comparison between the two is a little different.”

When pressed by reporters to explain why, he answered,

“I think it’s different. That’s my awareness.”

Fukushima Mizuho, the head of the Social Democratic Party of Japan, a coalition partner, said:

“It was a compromise choice. Rather than whether he was a former bureaucrat, I think they emphasized policy”.

Everyone listening to this statement knew that Ms. Fukushima would have wet her pants in public had the LDP made the same selection.

As usual, the most penetrating observation came from Takenaka Heizo, the man who was more responsible than any for launching Japan Post on the road to full privatization:

(The Hatoyama Cabinet) says it wants to eradicate amakudari (cushy post-retirement jobs in government for retired senior civil servants), but in truth, this is just watari (the repeated hiring of former bureaucrats) under the leadership of the politicians…The idea that they are disassociating themselves from a reliance on the bureaucracy is a falsehood…It is the de facto renationalization of Japan Post”

You get the idea.

I could go on, but as it turns out, I’m going to be away for the weekend and won’t be back until Monday.

Until then, you can take part in the first Ampontan poll, which is shown below. Don’t hesitate to get clicky and make your voice heard. Every vote counts!

See you next week!

Posted in Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 8 Comments »

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.


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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