AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Kaieda B.’

The face of the disaster

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, August 4, 2012

K(an) needs some coolant water

-Shimomura Ken, cabinet councilor, in notes taken during 11-12 March 2011 during the Fukushima nuclear accident.

He was not just the worst prime minister in history. As a human being he was no better than a common criminal.

– Ishii Taka’aki, technology and energy policy journalist

IN their coverage of the two Japanese commissions that investigated the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster and the government’s response, the English-language media seems to have overlooked the findings of both panels on the response of the Kan Cabinet in general and then-Prime Minister Kan Naoto in particular. Indeed, many have avoided that subject altogether, and some have even tried to defend the Kan Kantei behavior. They seem to be uncomfortable with findings that make clear the conduct and crisis management of the Kan Kantei was just as much a disaster as the nuclear accident itself.

All of Kan Naoto’s evasions and fabrications have now been exposed. What has emerged is a disturbing portrait of a prime minister whose flawed character was manifested in ugly, erratic behavior that exacerbated the crisis. A few diehards, mostly foreigners, still insist that Mr. Kan “saved Japan” by demanding that Tokyo Electric Power official keep their workers on the site of Fukushima reactor #1 when the utility wanted to abandon it. The two panels have concluded that the story is a falsehood, and their verdict is now a part of the official record.

This has not been overlooked in Japan.

The first report was from an independent panel associated with the Diet and headed by Kurokawa Kiyoshi, professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. One of the members was Tanaka Koichi, who received the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2002. The commission was given broad authority to ask for documents and question witnesses, and it interviewed more than 1,100 altogether. Among those answering questions were the three men responsible for the government’s response to the crisis: Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry Kaieda Banri, Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio, and Prime Minister Kan Naoto. None of the three men have those jobs now.

Anyone who has seen a courtroom scene in a gangster movie already knows what happened when those men answered questions about their conduct during the first days of the Fukushima nuclear accident. It is not possible to plead the Fifth Amendment in Japan, but that, in essence, is just what Mr. Edano did. For example:

Mr. Edano was asked about the circumstances surrounding the establishment of the first evacuation zone at a three-kilometer radius from the plant and about the expansion of the zone to a 20-kilometer radius after the explosion at Reactor #1 on 12 March.

He said he didn’t know why it was set at three kilometers, he didn’t remember why it was expanded to 20 kilometers, and didn’t remember whose idea it was. He also said he didn’t know that the requirement for removing the evacuation zone designation was an improvement in the situation.

One issue of intense focus in Japan was whether or not Tokyo Electric officials asked for authorization to withdraw from the site. On one occasion, Kan Naoto said he was given that information by Kaieda Banri, and at another time said both Mr. Kaieda and Mr. Edano told him that.

During the questioning, however, Mr. Edano couldn’t recall exactly what was said, and tried to change the subject. (He is a lawyer, after all.) Mr. Kaieda’s story was that he didn’t recall then-Tokyo Electric President Shimizu Masataka saying the withdrawal would be partial. Both men soft-pedaled the incident when it came time to talk to an official inquirity. That’s not what they had told the media before.

SPEEDI

Japan has a nationwide system of radiation detectors administered by the Nuclear Safety Technology Center (NSTC) known as the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information, or SPEEDI. It transmits information in real time during an emergency over dedicated circuits to the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC), all the related agencies in the government, and all prefecture governments. It is used to determine which areas are to be evacuated in the event of an emergency.

Tokyo Electric informed the government of the power loss at Fukushima on 3:42 p.m. on 11 March, slightly more than one hour after the earthquake. The government immediately instructed the NSTC to operate in emergency mode, which it did at around 5:00 p.m. SPEEDI began sending data hourly, and the amount of data transmitted reached 6,500 pages by 20 April.

The NSC head has said that the system began functioning immediately, and all the local governments involved started receiving information. The Ministry of Education was originally responsible for SPEEDI, and the ministry’s bureau chief in charge said that a “senior Kantei official” ordered the information to be withheld from the public. The responsibility was transferred to the NSC the next day.

Japan conducts nuclear emergency drills every year, and the chairman of the government group overseeing those drills is the prime minister. Data from SPEEDI is used in all of those drills. The last drill conducted before Fukushima was in October 2010 and postulated a problem at the Hamaoka nuclear plant. The data was distributed to every member of the Cabinet.

The Kantei didn’t use any of the SPEEDI information because Kan Naoto said he didn’t know of the existence of the system until a few days after the accident, even though we was provided with information from the system five months before. The Ministry of Education said it didn’t provide information directly to the Kantei because they weren’t asked for it.

Mr. Edano was also asked about SPEEDI. He claimed he didn’t know about it until 15 or 16 March. He also said Ministry of Education officials told him a SPEEDI simulation wasn’t possible because there was no data on the actual amount of radioactive material being released. As we’ve seen, the system started creating simulations almost immediately (using a different calculation method).

Kawauchi Hiroshi of the DPJ (the same party these three men are members of) said the details of the Kantei’s explanation were either contradictory or a lie. Mr. Edano said he wasn’t in the Cabinet in October 2011, and didn’t know about the simulation. The weekly Shukan Shincho wondered whether he started work at the second most important job in the Cabinet without looking at the crisis manual.

Edano Yukio has also been widely criticized for repeating in the first days of the disaster that the Fukushima accident would have “no immediate effect on health”. One of the panel members was a Fukushima resident forced to evacuate because of the accident. She asked him about that statement, and got snapped at in return: “You should review the transcripts of my press conferences.”

Understanding that he put his foot in it, Mr. Edano later said it was regrettable that people thought his statements meant something other than what he intended, though he did add that the government should have provided more information.

That information might have started with the fact that everyone was aware on the night of the disaster that a core meltdown had probably occurred. Speaking of core meltdowns, that brings us to Kan Naoto.

The Savior of Japan

NISA officials told Kan Naoto at 10:44 p.m. on 11 March that they expected a meltdown at Fukushima. That was confirmed early the next morning by readings of iodine levels at the plant. Nakamura Koichiro, METI’s deputy director for nuclear safety, held a televised news conference at 2:00 p.m. and said:

“It’s a core meltdown. We believe the fuel has started to melt [in the No. 1 reactor].”

He was authorized to make the statement by Terasaka Nobuaki, NISA director general. “We have no choice,” Mr. Terasaka said.

Mr. Nakamura was dismissed from his position that night, reportedly at the instructions of Kan Naoto and Edano Yukio. And Mr. Kan kept insisting until mid-June that a meltdown had not occurred. In fact:

“An hour after the press conference, staffers at the Prime Minister’s Office were taken aback by Nakamura’s remarks when they watched live coverage of the press conference on TV.

“”What’s this media coverage [of the press conference]?” shouted Keisuke Sadamori, then secretary to the prime minister and a former METI bureaucrat.

“He telephoned the agency and demanded that it inform the Prime Minister’s Office in advance whenever it had important information.

“”It’s wrong for the prime minister to get such information via TV,” Sadamori said over the phone.

“Thereafter, the Prime Minister’s Office established a rule that it would hold a news conference on important findings and other information ahead of the agency.

“”As we couldn’t get the necessary information, our distrust in the agency knew no bounds. I had to phone the agency,” Sadamori said as he recalled the tense atmosphere at the Prime Minister’s Office that day.

““At 3:36 p.m. on March 12, a hydrogen explosion destroyed the upper part of the building housing the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima plant. TV stations broadcast white smoke rising from the damaged building.

““While the government struggled to gather information on the explosion, the agency clammed up and refused media’s requests to explain what is happening.

“”We’re unable to get approval [for a press conference] from the Prime Minister’s Office,” an agency official told the media.”

Note that the prime minister’s office complained to NISA that it wasn’t being given information that it had already received. Edano Yukio admitted on 13 March that a meltdown might have occurred. When asked about that by the Kurokawa commission, he denied knowing about the Nakamura statement the previous day.

Hosono Goshi, the minister in charge of nuclear power policy, said a month later, on 15 April:

“We weren’t of a mood to proactively announce it. It would have created a negative mood.”

One month after that, in May, he said that SPEEDI information was not made public because of concerns of a public panic.

That was around the time Kan Naoto got around to admitting that there had been a meltdown. Watanabe Yoshimi, the head of Your Party, said:

““The day after the earthquake, I asked the prime minister, ‘Hasn’t a meltdown occurred?’ He answered, ‘It’s not a meltdown. It’s not a situation in which there has been radiation leakage. The cooling water level has been restored, the situation is under control, and everything’s OK.’ The hydrogen explosion at Reactor #1 occurred right after that. The series of false announcements that belittled the common sense of experts continued.””

Kan Naoto blamed everyone but himself. In May 2011, in the Diet:

“What I told the people was fundamentally in error. I am deeply sorry in the sense that the government was unable to respond because of the mistaken assumptions of Tokyo Electric.”

What about the meltdown?

“Until the announcement (of the meltdown earlier this month), I hadn’t heard anything about it. It wasn’t that I knew about it and didn’t say anything.”

Kakiwaza Mito of Your Party reminded Mr. Kan that on 12 May, just three days before the government announcement, he told a meeting of party leaders in the Diet that there was no meltdown. “Didn’t you lie?” he asked. Said Mr. Kan:

“I merely expressed the official government view.”

On his approach to information disclosure about the meltdown, he told the Kurokawa panel:

“Both Mr. Edano and I shared the idea of clearly disclosing facts to the public…But this was not a confirmed fact, it was the result of an analysis. It is not necessarily appropriate to explain forecasts.”

And shifted the blame again:

“I asked the Chief Cabinet Secretary to take responsibility for informing the public.”

Blame shifting is a Kan hallmark. In his opening remarks to the Kurokawa panel, he said it was all the fault of the state (nation) and he apologized as the person responsible for the nation.

“From the time I assumed office as prime minister until the accident, I heard no detailed explanation of what authority the prime minister had or the head of disaster response headquarters had in regard to a nuclear power accident…I wish I had received a proper explanation.”

What is there to be said about a man who would seek the job of prime minister without proactively familiarizing himself with the authority that entailed in a disaster, and denied knowing anything about it, even after it became public knowledge that he was the nominal head of a group conducting a nuclear disaster drill?

“Almost none of the information that should have risen through channels to me did so. Forecasts and possibilities from the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency, none of that information got to me. I felt frightened that there was nothing I could do to resolve the situation.”

None of the information in the first two sentences is true, and was contradicted in testimony to the two panels. Further, he not only failed to proactively seek information, his behavior actively prevented information from reaching him. An example is his reaction when the emergency diesel power generator broke down at the Fukushima plant. The normal response from someone coordinating actions would be: What do we do now? Mr. Kan’s response was to ask why it broke (a problem of no concern to him at the moment). When no answers were immediately forthcoming, he dismissed Tokyo Electric officials by telling them to “discuss it with the professors I know at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and come back”. When he received reports from NISA on changing conditions at the site, he informed them: “You haven’t seen the site. I’ve been there and seen it (from a helicopter).”

Only one person denies that Kan Naoto continually screamed at all the upper level bureaucrats and Tokyo Electric officials who came to report to him — Kan Naoto. Mr. Kaieda tried to get around it, but even he admitted it:

“It’s natural that people who heard Kan speak would feel a sense of incongruity and easily misunderstand.”

Abiru Rui of the Sankei Shimbun provides more specific information. He says that Diet members and bureaucrats tell him that having a serious conversation with Mr. Kan requires a shouting match. When he attacks you have to attack back. Only after that can you have a normal conversation with him. He always says politics is a fight between stray dogs, so in human relations, he has to bark long and loud to get someone’s measure.

Rather than rely on the pre-existing disaster response system, which he claims not to have known much about, Mr. Kan brought 20 people he knew to crisis headquarters, which threw the government response system into confusion.

Tokyo Electric officials have consistently stated that his claim he received no information is not factual. One asked, “Why is he lying like that?” Part of his screaming at Tokyo Electric headquarters involved going up to people and saying: “Are you a technician? You’re going to explain it!” A NISA official retorted, “We worked like crazy to gather information. Saying that is reprehensible.”

Writing on his blog:

“The atomic power industry interests (Tokyo Electric, Federation of Electric Power Companies, bureaucrats) continue to seize more authority for nuclear power administration without serious reflection on this accident. These interests resemble the military before the war. Clarifying their organizational structure and their psychosocial structure, and then breaking it up is the first step toward drastic reform of nuclear power administration.”

The criticism in Japan of national leadership during the war and their inability to stand up to the military is commonplace. Mr. Kan complains that the nuclear power complex was just like the military before the war. So who was the national leader during the accident?

By the way, if you have any idea what “psychosocial structure” is supposed to mean, drop me a line. That’s a direct translation.

He also blamed the capitalists in a speech in Shizuoka:

“For the power companies, if they can’t operate the nuclear plants they spent money to build, the company could go bankrupt if things go wrong. That’s behind their request to let them start operating again.”

He blamed NISA:

“Under the Act for Special Measures for Nuclear Emergency Preparedness as it exists today, I do not think the prime minister’s authority was weak. Rather, the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency…is not an organization capable of an accurate assessment of the situation, or presenting sound countermeasures to the prime minister based on that law, and they were inadequate.“

And Tokyo Electric and everyone who was there before he was:

“Most of the causes of the accident existed before 11 March 11 2011, the day of the accident. That’s my conclusion.”

In the Real World

But everyone else, including the two official investigations, blames him specifically and says exactly the opposite of what he’s been saying. One of the problems they found was his dithering in the declaration of a state of emergency. From the Kurokawa panel report:

“Rather than the deal with the necessity for prompt measures at disaster headquarters and issuing a declaration of emergency, Prime Minister Kan kept asking technical questions about why the situation had reached that point, and the various related laws and ordinances. He continued to ask, “”Why did this happen”, and declare, “This is terrible.” Kaieda Banri and officials of the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency repeatedly urged him to declare a state of emergency, saying “You must do this based on the law.” Even though they pressed him on the declaration, he made no effort to understand what they were telling him…Prime Minister Kan repeatedly asked questions about the cause of the accident, which were difficult to answer right away. He gave precedence to attending a conference of party leaders, and left until later the declaration that should have been the start of the government’s initial response.”

But that’s not the Kan story. When asked about the two-hour delay in declaring a state of emergency, he said:

“I have no feeling of the kind, such as it was delayed for some reason, or that someone stopped it.”

Said the Kurokawa Panel:

“When Prime Minister Kan visited the (Fukushima) site in person on the morning of the 12th, rather than lift the morale of the people on site, it applied additional pressure.”

When Mr. Kan was asked about the significance of his helicopter visit at the hearing, he said:

“I could match the faces and the names of the people responsible.”

During questioning in the upper house of the Diet, Nuclear Safety Commission Chairman Madarame Haruki gave his explanation for the Kan visit:

“Prime Minister Kan accompanied me because he said he wanted to learn a little about nuclear power.”

Kaieda Banri blames himself for not stopping Mr. Kan from going to the site. He realizes that everyone knows it was an unnecessary trip.

The Kurokawa Commission found that one problem with the Kan Kantei was that it kept getting in the way at Fukushima. They said:

“It intervened in a way that was never intended, such as communicating directly with the plant [management], and [the plant management] had to answer the frequent calls.”

Mr. Kan said he called the plant manager at the site twice. People on-site at the time said that was an outright lie, and that the number of calls was in the double digits. All the calls were made directly to the plant manager while he was working to deal with the crisis.

When the prime minister was asked about those personal calls directly to the plant manager, he said:

“It was like making a telephone call to the cockpit of a crashed airplane.”

It All Falls Apart

The incident that has become the symbol of Kan Naoto’s post-disaster behavior is his visit to Tokyo Electric headquarters on the morning of 15 March. Before the two panels released their reports, even some Kan critics were inclined to give him credit for making the utility keep workers at the site in Fukushima when senior TEPCO officials were said to have asked they be allowed to leave.

Now that both reports have been released, however, we know the story was nothing but bologna. And the self-serving butchers doing the slicing were Messrs. Kan, Edano, and Kaieda.

Here’s what really happened:

On the night of the 14th, Tokyo Electric was concerned that the situation with Reactor #1 might spin out of control. To protect some of their workers, they considered having some non-critical personnel on site take temporary shelter in a location less exposed to radiation (a different reactor on the site) while keeping the critical personnel working on site at Reactor #1. The utility considered this to be the worst-case scenario, which never came to pass.

Some people working at Fukushima thought it might be necessary, but by 1:00 a.m. on the morning of the 15th, the crisis had passed and they knew it wouldn’t be required.

When Tokyo Electric President Shimizu outlined the possibility to emergency headquarters at the Kantei, he used the Japanese word 退避 (taihi). That literally means to leave a place to avoid danger, with the connotation that the departure would be temporary. The word was chosen specifically to convey that meaning, and that word was the only one Tokyo Electric officials used to explain the situation. The utility insisted they were going to keep the core members at the plant and leave Reactor #1 briefly if the situation deteriorated.

That word choice sailed over the heads of the people in the Kantei, however, and Mr. Kaieda in particular. When he passed along the information, the word became 撤退 (tettai). That has the connotation of a complete military withdrawal after a defeat.

Over the course of the evening, it became clear that the temporary withdrawal to a different part of the plant wouldn’t be necessary, but it took a while for the people at the Kantei, specifically Mr. Kaieda, to tell Mr. Kan. Therefore, the prime minister called Mr. Shimizu to his office on the night of the 14th and asked him directly what his intentions were. Mr. Shimizu told him they had no intention of abandoning the site. (This and other emphases are mine.)

In fact, one of the beat reporters covering the Democratic Party for a national newspaper told the weekly Shukan Shincho for their 7 June edition:

“About the withdrawal, during questioning in the Diet on 18 April 2011, Kan replied to an opposition member, testifying, ‘President Shimizu came to the Kantei and explained that he did not particularly mean a complete withdrawal.’”

And then:

“But then during this questioning, before we knew it, Kaieda and Edano put their heads together and changed the story to ‘complete withdrawal’.”

The story they all settled on was that they thought it would be an “all-out” withdrawal because Mr. Shimizu didn’t specify that the withdrawal would be either complete or partial. (Mr. Edano’s memory started failing him, however, when it came time to testify to the commissions.) Mr. Shimizu said he was surprised the government misunderstood the word he had carefully chosen to mean temporary shelter (taihi) as a full retreat (tettai) — especially because Mr. Kan asked him to stay on the night of the 14th, and Mr. Shimizu said, of course.

The Next Morning

That should have been that, because the immediate crisis was over. But that wasn’t that. Kan Naoto decided to go to Tokyo Electric headquarters the next morning and give them a piece of whatever remained of his mind. He stormed into the operations room where dozens of people were working, mistook it for a meeting room, screamed “What are these people doing here,” and launched into a 10-minute rant:

“Why is this happening? At this rate, Japan will be finished. If you leave, Tokyo Electric will be 100% crushed. You can’t run away even if you try. What’s the air pressure in the nuclear reactor now? Even if I ask, none of you know, right? All you executives who are 60 should be willing to go on site and die. I’ll go too. The President, the Chairman, resign yourselves to your fate and do it. (Looking around the operations room) Why are so many people here? Important things are solved by five or six people. This isn’t the time to be screwing around. Get a smaller room ready. Who around here really understands nuclear reactors? Who’s in charge? (Vice-President Takefuji: I am.) Why has this happened? Do you really understand this? (Looking at employees’ faces) What can you do? What is it that you can do?”

The scene was picked up on the monitor at the main office and transmitted to Fukushima’s Reactor #1, along with his voice. Said a worker at the site:

“We could see the back of the prime minister running down all the employees at the main office. There was never any intention to withdraw completely from the site, and you could feel a pall descend.”

Asked one Committee member:

“Did you take into consideration the people on the scene who were risking their lives when you said what you did?”

The answer:

“I found out later it was also transmitted to the site.”

And:

“Well, you know, I said a lot of different things, but finally I said shouldn’t the chairman, who is over 60, and the president, and me and a few others, take the lead in a sense. There was absolutely no emotion of something like dressing them down, and I would like everybody to understand just that.”

Question:

“I understand how you feel, but before, we had the people who were putting their lives on the line for their company and their country say they would most certainly not flee from the site. This was confirmed by telephone. The other day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano said that he got in contact with the people on the site and confirmed they had no intention of leaving. Then you came, and yelled at the people who had no intention to leave, why are you leaving? Do you think you should reflect on your mistaken attitude toward these people?

Kan answer:

“It’s the same as I said before, but the feeling of dressing them down, particularly the feeling toward the people on the site, was really not like that at all….Myself, I wanted all the senior executives there to rethink their position if they were thinking of withdrawing, and do their best, even if they had to risk their lives. That’s the emotion with which I spoke, and I most sincerely want people to understand that…I wanted to communicate my feelings directly, and I had no intention to criticize anyone. People often say I was shouting, but I intended to speak more softly than I do during an argument with my wife. “

That last was a Kan attempt at a joke, but no one in the room laughed. Both Mr. Kan and his wife are commonly assumed to be heavy drinkers, and everyone has an idea how loud arguments can get between married lushes several sheets to the wind.

After two hours and 50 minutes of questioning, Mr. Kan decided he’d had enough and left.

The Verdict

Based on all the testimony, the Kurokawa panel determined, “There was no intention (by Tokyo Electric) to withdraw completely”. As to the post-accident response, the panel said “the key was the sense of mission by the people at the plant who understood the condition of the reactors best.”

The government committee investigating the accident issued their report at the end of July. It was chaired by Hatamura Yotaro, a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, who is an expert in the mechanism of failures. Their final report also said that Tokyo Electric did not intend to leave and that Kan Naoto misunderstood. (They’re being charitable; as we’ve seen, he confirmed their intention on the night of the 14th.)

The Kurokawa Commission determined that none of Kan Naoto’s explanations were true. Among their other conclusions:

* The government lacked awareness of crisis management

* It had a broken chain of command

* It had insufficient expertise in organization and operations

* The Kantei responded in a way that made it more difficult for the government to concentrate all its powers.

* They lacked the proper frame of mind required for the heavy responsibility.

* The initial Kantei reaction increased the risk of making the situation worse by creating a situation of needless confusion and stress. It was “haphazard, stopgap crisis management”.

* They added that the excessive interference by the Kan Kantei was “the primary reason the progress of events in the accident could not be stopped, and the damage could not be minimized.”

The Solution

On 13 June, the ruling DPJ and the opposition Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito reached an agreement on the extent of a prime minister’s authority over a new regulatory agency in the future in the event of a nuclear disaster. It specifies what the prime minister can do if technical questions again arise, such as filling a reactor with seawater.

The prime minister will now be limited to asking for a decision from new body of specialists formed to deal with a problem. He can only urge them to work more quickly. He will not be able to overturn their decision.

The Japanese media described this as a measure to avoid “Kan Risk”.

The Post-Mortem

When Kan Naoto resigned as prime minister last August, he said:

“I did what I was supposed to do. Unfortunately the people do not fully understand that.”

The Democratic Party of Japan appointed him their supreme advisor on new energy policy.

After the Kurokawa report was released, Mr. Kan wrote on his blog:

“In regard to their evaluation of the Kantei’s response to the accident, the problem about the Kantei, and the withdrawal of Tokyo Electric, my understanding is different on several points.”

There is enough information here to draw your own conclusions on the behavior of Kan Naoto and his government. The English-language news media thought having to report any of this information was a botheration.

You can draw your own conclusions about that, too.

Afterwords:

* Psychoanalyst Kishida Shu, writing in another context:

“There is no tradition in Japan of removing an incompetent leader because of an evaluation of their performance…Not one Japanese military leader was clearly denounced for the paucity of their strategic leadership, or discredited in any way.”

* Hosaka Masayasu, non-fiction author:

“I don’t know a lot about citizen activism, but if this (Kan Naoto) is the only kind of person those movements create, it gives me a real sense of the sort of warped world citizen activism is.”

* From a Kyodo report this week:

The United Nations picked former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, British Prime Minister David Cameron and others Tuesday as members of a high-level panel that will advise on devising new development goals.

The current Millennium Development Goals, which the international community aims to achieve by the end of 2015, include the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, improvement in maternal health and ensuring environmental sustainability.

Kan is among the 26 social, private-sector and government leaders appointed by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to advise on a new development agenda beyond 2015. The panel will have Cameron and two other co-chairs. It will hold its first meeting at the end of next month.

“I have asked my high-level panel to prepare a bold yet practical development vision to present to member states next year,” Ban said.

You can draw your own conclusions about the United Nations, too.

******
Kan Naoto did everything but blame it on the boogie.

Posted in Government, Mass media, Science and technology | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Who’d a thunk it?

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 11, 2011

The press is so powerful in its image-making role that it can make a criminal look like he’s the victim and make the victim look like he’s the criminal.
– Eldridge Cleaver

THE late Black Panther and codpiece trouser purveyor was speaking the truth, but he was also speaking before the Internet, personal computers, and social networking changed the topography forever. As Glenn Reynolds, a law professor and proprietor of the Instapundit website, put it 10 years ago:

We’ve got computers…21st Century warfare turns out to be marked, as much as anything, by the inability of people to spread outrageous lies undetected. This is a major loss of comparative advantage for the Fisks of the world.

By Fisks, he’s referring to the British journalist Robert Fisk, whose name has become a verb denoting the dismantling of a piece of journalism or op-ed of greater-than-usual stupidity, nonsense, or prevarication from the industrial mass media. Fisk himself was the original target of Fisking, and that target was as easy to hit as the proverbial broad side of a barn. Nowadays, however, people have bigger Fisks to fry and have moved on. Fire has more recently been focused on economist Paul Krugman, who shut down the comment function of his New York Times blog after so many people so easily and so frequently made sport of him. One can understand the Krugmanian dilemma — rare is the Nobel Prize laureate who will sit still for being exposed as a third-rate hypocrite.

After all these years — well, about 15 or so, starting with the launch of Windows 95 — even the lesser lights among them should have gotten a glimmer. They’re still groping in the dark, however, in part because they still manage the odd success, as those who paid attention to their treatment of candidates from both parties in the 2008 American presidential election will remember. Further, one aim of most of those working in the smokestack industry of the 21st century, young and old alike, is to push a narrative and specific political objectives. (As one of them explained to me, that is “to fight for social justice”.) The True Believers never give up, no matter how often they get their noses rubbed in their own fun, like puppies that have ruined a carpet.

They’re still marching resolutely into the 20th century at the Foreign Policy website operated by the Washington Post, one of the most porculent of the remaining Pterodactylus Americani. The parent company should have known the jig was up after the meltdown of Newsweek, the weekly newsmagazine they once owned. It was sold last year for the princely sum of one US dollar. The price was right, considering how many people still read it.

In this case, the gang at Foreign Policy offers a feature profiling the 100 Top Global Thinkers 2011. This exercise in mid-20th century journalistic self-importance has nothing to recommend it apart from the brief and unintentional comedy that results from wondering what FP thinks is thought after seeing their selections for the Hot One Hundred. One of the funniest choices is their token Japan representative: Fukushima Mizuho, head of the Social Democratic Party, and her “partner”, Kaido Yuichi. They were deemed global thinkers because they are anti-nuclear activists.

The Japanese are understandably thrilled when one of their countrymen wins international recognition. Nobel Prizes, Olympic medals, Academy Awards, and astronauts are usually front page news, but not this time — one could almost sense the puzzled looks on the faces and unspoken WTFs in the minds of the reporters who were assigned to write up the story for the print media. Ms. Fukushima’s honor rated two short paragraphs at the bottom of page two in my local newspaper. It was as if they were embarrassed to even bring it up. I read three accounts (from that newspaper, the Asahi, and the Sankei), and none of them had much to say about it, other than a brief recitation of the facts. That even the Asahi, which shares the WaPo/NYT political philosophy, couldn’t get excited, tells the casual observer all he needs to know.

This isn’t a case of the prophet without honor in her own country, either. The only reason anyone knows about Fukushima Mizuho is that she has a Diet seat. The only reason she has a Diet seat is the proportional representation system, as she is incapable of winning a popular vote in an election district. (In fact, only one of the party’s handful of Diet members sits there because of an outright election victory.)

As for her “partner” (i.e., common-law husband) Kaido Yuichi, I’d bet cash money that I could stop 100 people at random on the street and no one will have heard of him…unless, perhaps, we were standing across the street from the Social Democratic Party headquarters.

What Foreign Policy didn’t tell their readers about Japan’s Foremost Global Thinker says a lot about Foreign Policy:

* The party she heads, the Social Democrats, was just the plain old Socialists until the fall of the Berlin Wall forced them into rebranding. Their charter included kind words for Karl Marx. They developed close ties with North Korea, and sponsored an annual “Peace Cruise” to Pyeongyang. (They disliked South Korea because it was a dictatorship rather than a People’s Republic.) As an attorney, Ms. Fukushima has been associated with the defense of radical terrorists of the left.

* She believes that Japan should adopt Costa Rica’s stance of unarmed neutrality. (Even the famously neutral Swiss are armed to the teeth with private weapons.) This is for a country whose immediate neighbors include China, Russia, and North Korea. Perhaps that position is not as suicidal as it seems: After all, the Social Democrats do share a philosophy with China, the old Soviet Union, and North Korea.

* When Japan sent troops to the Middle East in a UN peacekeeping operation, she objected because they were to be given sidearms for self-protection.

* She opposes Japan’s use of the anti-ballistic missile system. One of her arguments against the system in the Diet was that the successful interception of a missile over Japanese territory could create debris that might injure people on the ground. This caused audible laughter in the chamber.

* Not only is she opposed to nuclear power, she is opposed to all but the greenest power. If she has ever come forward with a credible plan for economic growth (she’s a party leader, remember), it’s escaped everyone’s notice.

* She managed to hoodwink the Wall Street Journal’s reporters last year into believing that her opposition to American military bases was limited to the Futenma installation in Okinawa. To be sure, there is some truth to that. The Japanese left has admitted that the American presence allows them to have their cake and eat it too. They get to bash the Americans in public while tacitly accepting their presence. They know the Japanese public would demand a robust domestic defense establishment if the Americans weren’t there to pretend to do it for them.

Stand up for the defense of one’s own country? Perish the thought!

There’s more, but you get the idea. Connect the dots and you get the same sort of blame-yourself-first leftist common in the West. The two paragraphs the Foreign Affairs website allots to her global-level thought are so thin, they’re almost not worth fisking. Here’s a sample:

Fukushima, the lawmaker who leads Japan’s Social Democratic Party, and her partner, Kaido, a public-interest lawyer, have spent three decades resisting Japan’s nuclear rise in their respective arenas: parliament and court. But the cozy nuclear plant operators and government officials who make up Japan’s so-called “nuclear village” largely ignored their efforts — that is, until this year.

The so-called “nuclear village” residents, as well as the rest of the country, are still ignoring their efforts, and will continue to do so. (Note, by the way, that “cozy” works in this sentence only if it modifies an invisible noun.)

The Fukushima Daiichi disaster has now forced the island country to re-examine the safety of its nuclear facilities.

Duh!

And isn’t it interesting that Foreign Affairs thinks it needs to remind its presumably adult readers that Japan is an “island country”?

Naoto Kan, Japan’s prime minister until he resigned in August, called in July for Japan to wind down its nuclear program, and his successor, Yoshihiko Noda, agrees.

As soon as Mr. Kan called for the nuclear program to wind down, his chief cabinet secretary, Edano Yukio, explained that the prime minister really meant “one of these days in the future”. Mr. Noda has offered lip service of his own, but he’s unlikely to offer more than that.

Kan also requested the closure and upgrade of a power plant in the earthquake-prone coastal city of Hamaoka, a facility whose safety Kaido had called into question nearly a decade earlier.

Since no one at Foreign Affairs seems capable of reading a Japanese newspaper, here’s what actually happened: Work on upgrading the safety measures at Hamaoka had already begun before the problem with the Fukushima plant. Kaieda Banri, then Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry, which is responsible for the oversight of nuclear power in Japan, had quietly negotiated with the plant operators and reached agreement with them for a voluntary suspension of operations. When Mr. Kaieda was about to make the announcement, Kan Naoto instructed him to stand down and went before the public with a demand for the shutdown himself.

And people wonder why Japanese prime ministers don’t last long in office.

Today, Fukushima and Kaido see a changed political horizon. As Fukushima told the New York Times in August, “Although I won’t be able to change the past, I think I can change the future.”

The national political horizon is still as occluded as ever, and she can’t change the future, no matter how much her fellow travelers in the West would wish it to be so. She doesn’t have what it takes to make a difference, either in the Diet or the greater marketplace of public ideas. Indeed, just this week the lower house of the Diet authorized the export of Japanese nuclear power technology to Vietnam, Jordan, Russia, and South Korea.

But to fully understand the pointlessness of this Foreign Affairs space filler, we can put aside Fukushima Mizuho and look at the other people cited as Global Thinkers. One of them was His Adolescency himself, the recipient of an equally irrelevant trinket — the Nobel Peace Prize — that renowned public intellectual and thinker of deep thoughts, Barack Obama.

Stiffen your stomach muscles — they actually praise him for his foreign policy vision of “leading from behind”. (This qualifies as comic relief too.) The FP also shows some diversity in their choice of “intellectual heavyweights”, as they put it. On the one hand, they hail the pacifist Fukushima, and on the other give Obama credit for greasing Osama bin Laden. Meanwhile, Ben Bernanke and Dick Cheney also make the list.

To conclude, here’s some credit where credit is due. The illustration of Fukushima Mizuho on the Foreign Affairs website, crude though it is, does capture her personality well. Still, it is curious they didn’t use a photo of her, yet managed to come up with one for the other 99, including an obscure Egyptian novelist.

*****
Bonus bogus journalism postscript from Forbes!

Here’s the headline:

Japan to adopt Bhutan’s principles of Gross National Happiness

This will come as news to the Japanese. With the DPJ government, adopting a fairy tale as public policy is a real possibility, but no one’s agreed to adopt anything yet.

Here’s the facepalm lede:

After a visit from the young King of Bhutan and his beautiful new pride (sic), Japan got “Gross National Happiness” fever, it seems…

Either Lisa Napoli needs to use a different thermometer, or should use the one she has on herself.

A minimally competent journalist aware of events in Japan would have known that then-Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio was scheming with Kan Naoto and Sengoku Yoshito in January 2010 to hold meetings on GNH that summer. The fever caused by the pride of Bhutan had nothing to do with it. Since Mr. Hatoyama didn’t make it to the summer himself, I thought this idea had been relegated to the back of the closet, but it seems not. Leave it to the DPJ to ignore the real for the mochi in the picture.

It’s hard to tell what’s going on from the Forbes article, because the link they provide is a kissing cousin of gibberish. The article concludes:

Lots of other governments are investigating these principles, like France, Great Britain, Brazil, the state of Maryland and the city of Seattle….as it becomes apparent that numbers only aren’t enough.

Yes, lots and lots of other governments, and numbers aren’t nearly enough. Other “principles” need to be factored in, such as this one from the Bhutanese GNH pioneers:

Concerns about safety were high in Bhutan’s rural areas, for example, not because of crime, but because of fears of wood spirits and wild animals.

While it’s true that GDP is an inaccurate metric, as China’s potempkin cities demonstrate, there’s nothing to be gained from moving from the inaccurate to the invisible. Well, other than excuses for creating new, air-based and public money-funded social programs. How like the left to ignore the activities that provide the most people with the most well-being, security, and health in favor of taking the national temperature and worrying about passing clouds of emotional ephemera. How unlike Forbes to fall for it.

*****
The last word on honors should go to the late Richard Feynman, a man who won the Nobel Prize for doing something real.

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No, no one is happy

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, August 28, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The news media east/west, continued

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, August 6, 2011

HERE’S how the Western news media (and the Asahi in Japan) are reporting the personnel replacements at the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, which is responsible for regulating the nuclear power industry.

The Japanese government has sacked three officials in charge of nuclear power safety and policy. Radioactive material is still leaking from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant after it was damaged by a devastating earthquake and tsunami on 11 March.

For Japan’s Trade and Industry Minister, Banri Kaieda, the three senior officials were responsible for mishandling the plant and the problems that followed the incident.

For the rest of the country, Mr. Kaieda’s boss Prime Minister Kan Naoto and his Cabinet are responsible for the problems following the incident, as they assumed direct control immediately after the accident. But since we know all that, let’s move on to what those media sources either don’t know or won’t say.

Here’s an excerpt from a Japanese account by the Jiji news agency:

Replacing Matsunaga Kazuo as METI Deputy Minister will be Adachi Kenyu, currently the head of METI’s Economic and Industrial Policy Bureau. The objective is to clarify the responsibility for nuclear power administration, including the accident at the Fukushima power plant, but the post of Economic and Industrial Policy Bureau Chief is referred to as “the designated position for the next deputy minister”. METI Minister Kaieda said he wanted to start over with a clean slate, but the move is likely to generate criticism for being merely a personnel rotation in the bureaucracy.

In early May — two months after the earthquake/tsunami, when the bureaucratic handling of the matter was already apparent — Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio asked that all Cabinet ministers retain senior officials in their positions and refrain from the normal personnel rotation.

Deputy minister personnel rotation usually occurs during the summer at the end of a Diet session.

Mr. Kaieda specifically mentioned the inadequacy of the anti-tsunami measures, but Mr. Matsunaga and one other official had been in their positions for only one year, and the third official for only two years. Their agencies were responsible for those measures.

Tweeted Takahashi Yoichi, former Finance Ministry official, author, university professor, and bureaucracy critic:

These personnel moves at METI seem like an ordinary rotation…It’s a farce that Mr. Kaieda has been squeezed in the Kasumigaseki intrigue to trash Secretary Edano’s freeze on personnel movements. The DPJ is lousy at personnel appointments.

He also dismissed it as a “goldfish shit” personnel move. That Japanese expression derives from the phenomenon in which the dung of goldfish in a tank comes out in a long string and doesn’t separate from its body. It’s used to disparage a person’s long-term behavior patterns or the perennial hangers-on of someone in a position of authority.

Hasegawa Yukihiro, award-winning author and member of the Tokyo Shimbun editorial staff, is just as dismissive writing in Gendai Business Online. He says the elevation of Mr. Adachi means that METI was able to successfully defend its own interests when push came to shove, and that the three “sacked” officials will be rewarded with excellent amakudari positions as a reward for their self-sacrifice for the good of the ministry.

Mr. Kaieda mentioned that he had been thinking of the personnel moves for about a month. What he didn’t mention, and Mr. Hasegawa did, is that during that time he sounded out a few candidates that METI didn’t care for, so METI made sure that the candidates it did care for got the jobs. Mr. Hasegawa also mentions that despite Mr. Kaieda’s claim that the personnel choices were his own decision, a delay in the announcement of Mr. Adachi’s selection shows that the prime minister had to sign off on it. (He provides specific details on the timing and coordination of announcements.)

He concludes that Mr. Adachi will continue to promote METI’s pro-nuclear power position, Mr. Kaieda is completely in METI’s clutches, and Kan Naoto is incapable of significant reform.

*****
You think that’s all? The world’s media is bringing a new dimension to the term auto-eroticism in their coverage of the prime minister’s speech in Hiroshima today, in which Mr. Kan repeated his vision of a Japan that does not rely on have nuclear energy.

Now see if you can find any English-language stories reporting that Mr. Kan’s Cabinet decided to maintain the government’s policy of exporting nuclear technology overseas.

Just yesterday.

The Cabinet statement read:

If any countries want to utilize Japan’s nuclear power technology, we should provide them with (technology) of the highest level of safety in the world.

The statement was issued to gain Diet approval of agreements for nuclear power cooperation between Japan and four countries, including Vietnam and Jordan.

At a news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio said with a straight face:

We will proceed with the intent of not harming the relationship of trust between countries. There is absolutely no contradiction (with the prime minister’s statement).

In short, not even the rest of the Japanese government cares what Kan Naoto thinks.

I feel sorry for those people interested in Japan who can read about the country only in the English-language media, and thereby think they know something about what is happening here.

All it amounts to is goldfish shit.

*****
The song’s the same; only the performers have changed.

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Ichigen koji (38)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, August 5, 2011

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

ACT ONE
Having had the ladder pulled out from under him by Prime Minister Kan Naoto in the matter of restarting those nuclear reactors idled for normal inspection and maintenance when the Tohoku Earthquake struck, Minister of Environment, Trade, and Industry Kaieda Banri said he planned to resign soon.

During Question Time in the Diet this week, an opposition lawmaker told him, “Your failure to resign while saying that you would resign is the same (thing) Prime Minister Kan (did).”

Mr. Kaieda burst into tears at the remark.

ACT TWO
A person who cries like that can’t be a Cabinet minister. If it were me (i.e., if he were my husband), I’d dump a man who cries like that.

– Kan Nobuko, the wife of Prime Minister Kan Naoto

ACT THREE
The people are the ones who are crying over today’s politics.

– Watanabe Yoshimi, president of Your Party

ACT FOUR
At a news conference yesterday, Mr. Kaieda announced the replacement of three METI deputy ministers rather than his resignation.

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Ichigen koji (26)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, June 21, 2011

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

“He said nothing worth commenting about. He confirmed the safety (of the nuclear plants) without verifying the cause of the (nuclear) accident.”

– Niigata Gov. Izumida Hirohiko, on the discussion conducted by METI Minister Kaieda Banri regarding his Declaration of Safety for the nuclear power plants

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Ichigen Koji (12)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, June 2, 2011

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

“What position did Terasaki Nobuaki, the head of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, hold before his current job? According to Kaieda Banri, the Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry, he was the deputy director-general for commerce and distribution policy. That’s correct, Mr. Terasaki is not an expert on nuclear policy. In his previous position, he was responsible for department stores. That’s how the top position at NISA is monopolized by administrative bureaucrats with a bachelor’s degree in law. That agency has provided oversight and regulation for the electric power industry.

“Hasn’t the monopolization of this position by the bureaucrats hindered the effectiveness of NISA as a regulatory agency? Mr. Kaieda said, “(Terasaki) doesn’t work on-site. As long as he is knowledgeable about the administration of nuclear power safety from an overall perspective, he can sufficiently perform his job.” I am surprised at that string of justifications.”

– Kakizawa Mito / Your Party lower house MP

(During Question Time in the Diet in May 2010, Mr. Terasaki was asked about the possibility that a nuclear accident could occur as a result of a natural disaster. He answered, “It is virtually impossible (an accident) could happen.”)

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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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Absurd

Posted by ampontan on Monday, January 31, 2011

“There is no time to wait for the wobbly and unsteady Democratic Party to acquire the ability to be responsible for government through on-the-job training and for a two-party system to mature…At this rate, there will never be any reason whatsoever for entrusting the government to the Democratic Party.”
– Yosano Kaoru
, Minshuto ga Nihon Keizai wo Hakai Suru (The Democratic Party Will Destroy the Japanese Economy), published in 2010

The treasury says the national debt
Is climbing to the sky
And government expenditures
Have never been so high
It makes a fellow get a
Gleam of pride within his eye
To see how our economy expands
The country’s in the very best of hands
– Johnny Mercer, “The Country’s in the Very Best of Hands”

THE WORD politicians themselves are using to describe the government of Prime Minister Kan Naoto is “absurd”. Nishioka Takeo, the president of the Diet’s upper house, called on Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito to resign earlier this month. After taking one look at the lineup of the new Cabinet in which Mr. Sengoku was replaced, Mr. Nishioka called it “absurd”.

The presidents of both houses of the Diet traditionally resign their party memberships before assuming office. Mr. Nishioka was a member of the Democratic Party of Japan—Mr. Kan’s ruling party.

Another reshuffled Cabinet card was Kaieda Banri, who moved from the Ministry of Economic and Fiscal Policy to the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. His former slot in the deck is now occupied by Yosano Kaoru, who resigned from the opposition Sunrise Party to take the position. Quitting parties is getting to be a habit for Mr. Yosano. Before last year’s upper house election, he resigned from the Liberal-Democratic Party to form the Sunrise Party. Mr. Yosano owes his Diet seat to the LDP because they placed him on their proportional representation list. He lost his bid for reelection to the seat in Tokyo’s District #1 in 2009. The winner was Kaieda Banri.

That’s the same Yosano Kaoru quoted at the top of this post.

When reporters asked Mr. Kaieda about this thoughts on the new Cabinet lineup, he answered, “Life is absurd.”

There was little enthusiasm for the changes even in the ruling party. Said a DPJ member of the Saitama prefectural assembly after the new ministers were announced: “Even today I was asked at the train station, ‘Just what is the DPJ doing?’”

Kamei Shizuka of the People’s New Party—yes, they’re still in the ruling coalition—addressed a DPJ party conference on the day before the Cabinet changes were announced, and put it in their faces:

“The DPJ is now a disgrace. I am sincerely anxious for you to rouse yourselves.”

One of Mr. Kan’s three themes for his administration is “ending the absurdities”, which tells you all you need to know about his political tin ear. He’s given no sign of either stepping down or calling an election any time soon, however.

*****
Mr. Kan’s Cabinet reshuffle may be absurd, but it was that or vacate the premises. One of the several reasons the upper house censured Mr. Sengoku was his attitude and intemperate language during Question Time in the Diet. (That’s why Mr. Nishioka wanted to see him gone.) Watanabe Yoshimi of Your Party described it as “impertinence, intimidation, and evasion,” to which he later added “bluster and prevarication”.

How can the nation be in the very best of hands when they've got them on their hips? (Sankei Shimbun photo)

The upper house also censured the generally well-liked Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Minister Mabuchi Sumio because his ministry is responsible for the Coast Guard, and he had to take the fall for the YouTube release of the Coast Guard video of the Chinese banditry in the Senkaku islets. While the censures are not legally binding, the opposition refused to discuss legislation with the ruling party with those two men still in the Cabinet, and the opposition has more seats in the upper house.

Another reason for the realignment was that the prime minister is desperate to juice his flagging popularity among the electorate. (He is said to be particularly unpopular among women.) An indication of his standing with the public was the ratings for his live appearance on the television program Hodo Station (News Station) on 5 January. The program usually pulls in an audience of 13% to 14%, and averaged 14.7% for the four weeks prior to his appearance. Those ratings often rise slightly when a sitting prime minister shows up. Then-Prime Minister Abe Shinzo picked up a 16.7% share.

Mr. Kan could manage only 6.9%.

But it’s not his fault! Said the PM at the DPJ party conference earlier this month:

“What we have done so far was not wrong. We have carrried out our job with resolution, but the problem is that we’ve failed to fully convey what we’ve done.”

If you think that sounds as if he’s channeling Barack Obama, here’s more: To remedy the situation, he’s considering a televised address to the nation, after the style of American presidents.

It had better be a good speech. The latest Shinhodo 2001 poll has his rate of support at 28.8%, with 67.0%–a cool two-thirds—opposed. Just a skoche under half of the respondents want a lower house election now, at 49.6%, while 41.8% were content to let it ride.

Here’s why the DPJ falls into the second camp. The 16 January edition of the weekly Sunday Mainichi features a simulation by two university professors of a lower house election. The magazine admits it’s a speculative endeavor because candidates for several constituencies have yet to be decided by some parties. That caveat notwithstanding, they project the DPJ to lose 124 seats from their current total of 306 to fall to 182. They think some of the DPJ party stalwarts could be at risk, including Hatoyama Yukio and Sengoku Yoshito, and that most of the Ozawa-backed candidates who won for the first time in 2009 should think about other employment. The LDP would regain its position as the party with the most seats at 212, a pickup of 96, but that’s still short of the 241 needed for a majority. The magazine suggests they would have to create a coalition with both New Komeito and Your Party (+25) to form a government.

Former Yokohama Mayor Nakada Hiroshi observed that Cabinet reshuffles to boost electile dysfunction are a perverse part of Japanese political culture. He’s also concerned that the use of the censure weapon in an upper house controlled by an opposition party could get out of hand and turn the Diet into a political battleground. Mr. Nakata has a point, but in this case the DPJ were hoist by their own petard. They were the ones who created the weapon after their 2007 upper house election victory.

Now the DPJ wants to introduce Diet rules that would prevent upper house censure motions from causing Cabinet members to lose their position. Fancy that.

The new lineup

A common observation is that the DPJ, which proclaimed itself the standard bearer for new politics, has become a throwback to the bad old days of the LDP with a leftward tilt. Five of the 17 Cabinet ministers are affiliated with Rengo, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation.

One criticism of the old LDP was its faction politics. During its heyday, five major factions functioned as parties within the party. The DPJ criticized that approach, but in 2008, Keio Professor Kusano Atsushi argued in Seiken Kotai no Hosoku (The Law of the Change of Government) that the formation of factions was inevitable in the DPJ.

The new Cabinet suggests he was prescient. Six “groups” in the DPJ have two members each. Former Prime Minister Hatoyama’s group has only one. No one affiliated with former party President and Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro was appointed. All the members have won at least five terms in the lower house, similar to an older informal rule of thumb used by the LDP.

The absence of Ozawa allies suggests there might be something to the rumors that Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku are ready to purge him. The Asahi Shimbun gossips that they’ll dump him if a citizen review panel forces his indictment. UPDATE: Mr. Ozawa was indicted. (The appointment of only one Hatoyama affiliate—the man who launched and bankrolled the party, and its first prime minister—might also be a sign they’re ready to have Mr. Hatoyama leave along with him.)

The game

They say you can’t tell the players without a scorecard, but in this case, a scorecard won’t make much sense without knowing the game they’re playing.

People often cite the system of 1955, when two conservative parties merged to create the LDP and dominated politics for the rest of the century, as Japan’s primary political problem. Others, however, such as Watanabe Yoshimi of Your Party and Nakagawa Hidenao of the LDP, point to the statist system implemented in 1940 as explicated by Prof. Noguchi Yukio. That system instituted a total mobilization for the war effort and concentrated power in the central government under bureaucratic control. In that system, it makes no difference who the prime minister is. (Prof. Noguchi also thinks that the consumption tax would have to be raised to at least 20%–European VAT levels—to pay for social welfare programs.)

The Kan worldview

On 25 December last year, Kan Naoto met at the Kantei for three hours with a group of long-time friends who included Shinohara Hajime, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, and Kataoka Masaru of the old Shakai Shimin Rengo (Socialist Citizens Federation). It is thought they gave the prime minister a pep talk, urging him to stay the course to achieve a citizen revolution. They might have suggested Mr. Kan remember his lifelong political motto of “Deal with one problem and then move forward on all fronts.”

We already know the prime minister is a devotee of the ideas of Matsushita Keiichi, who looks forward to the dissolution of the nation-state and its replacement by supranational institutions above and local institutions below. Another aspect of the Kan philosophy is found in Prof. Shinohara’s book Shimin no Seijigaku (The Citizens’ Political Science), which holds that modern legislative democracy is unresponsive. Instead, Prof. Shinohara thinks policy should be determined by a random and compulsory (yes, compulsory) sampling of public opinion, followed by a time-limited debate in so-called “planning cells”. This would include even central government policies for science and technology.

That vision was shared to a certain extent by Hatoyama Yukio, who in his first Diet speech in October 2009 called for the creation of new values in a society that would enable greater participation by regional NPOs and citizens in issues involving public services. The DPJ favors greater support of NPOs with public funds.

Americans are familiar with the potential abuses of taxpayer-funded support of NPOs, as exemplified by the activities of the nefarious ACORN in the United States, which was forced to disband. Other Japanese point out that the Shinohara model resembles the Russian system of soviets (soviet being the word for “council”), originally worker and soldier councils thought to be a grassroots effort to promote direct democracy.

During the DPJ Party Conference held earlier this month, the delegates expressed the opinion that they had to return to their roots and differentiate themselves from “neo-liberals”.

Player transactions

Sengoku Yoshito traded for Edano Yukio

The widespread assumption that Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito was the real power in the government prompted Kan Naoto to grumble to associates that he, and not Mr. Sengoku, was the prime minister. It was also widely assumed Mr. Sengoku took on so much responsibility for the operation of government because Mr. Kan was a constant threat to walk smack into the proverbial lamppost on the street.

As we’ve seen, however, the problem with this arrangement was that Mr. Sengoku’s behavior in office was so repellent people were fed up with him in just a few weeks.

He was traded straight up for Edano Yukio, the party’s acting secretary general, another former labor lawyer with ties to radicals. Mr. Sengoku will take Mr. Edano’s old job, and will also serve as the head of a party committee dealing with pension reform and whatever euphemism they’re using for raising taxes.

People thought Sengoku Yoshito was Kan Naoto’s puppeteer, and they think he operates the strings for Mr. Edano too. As far as it is possible to speculate about such matters, the most common view is that Mr. Sengoku is trying to take control of the party. He seems to be waiting for his chance to cut Ozawa Ichiro adrift, and the latest rumors have him trying to elbow aside the real party secretary-general, Okada Katsuya.

Here’s one DPJ MP on the selection of Mr. Edano as chief cabinet secretary:

“He was the secretary-general when we lost the upper house election last year. Should we forget his responsibility for that in just six months? I don’t understand it…none of the people have any expectations for this Cabinet.”

That was former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, speaking of his own party while on a visit to India.

Okazaki Tomiko released outright

Okazaki Tomiko is another rodent who fled the sinking ship of the Socialist Party and scampered up the gangway to the Democratic Party vessel. She is opposed to Japan’s national flag and anthem. In July 2001, her political group illegally received funds from foreigners, including the director of the North Korean-affiliated schools in the country—a North Korean citizen–and a South Korean citizen who operates a pachinko parlor. The most controversial aspect of her career, however, was this:

That’s Ms. Okazaki participating in one of the weekly Wednesday comfort women demos at the Japanese embassy in Seoul in March 2005. She called for a Japanese embassy car to take her there.

They didn’t find some token make-work position for her in the Cabinet, either. She was named the chair of the National Public Safety Commission, which administers the National Police Agency. In other words, she was the head of the government agency in charge of maintaining public safety.

Politicians have the same right to free speech as anyone else, but they’re expected to exercise it with common sense and an awareness of their position. When a member of the Japanese Diet participates in a demonstration with Xs over the Japanese flag, it suggests an absence of common sense and self-awareness. Consider also what it suggests about Kan Naoto, who appointed her knowing about her background.

Ms. Okazaki’s immediate problem was that despite the ease with which she showed up for an anti-Japanese demonstration in Seoul, she couldn’t manage to drag herself to her office in Tokyo after North Korea shelled the South in November. Also, documents related to international terror investigations put together by the NPA somehow wound up on the Internet, and she made no effort to find a way to prevent the problem from recurring in the future.

She lasted just four and a half months in office.

Signed Yosano Kaoru to a free agent contract

Yosano Kaoru is the bad penny of Japanese Cabinet members. He’s now been a part of every Cabinet since Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s last one, with the exception of Hatoyama Yukio’s brief spell. He so often shows up when a Cabinet is on its deathbed that he became known as “the gravedigger” in the LDP.

He holds three portfolios in the Kan Cabinet: Minister for Economic and Fiscal Policy, Social Affairs and Gender Equality (which includes responsibility for the population decline), and Comprehensive Reform of Social Security and Taxes.

“Comprehensive reform of taxes” means promoting the Ministry of Finance position of raising taxes instead of cutting spending to fix the country’s budgetary problems. He’s long been known as the MOF bat boy. Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji was an aide to former Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro when Mr. Yosano was the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary. Mr. Eda says he pushed the Finance Ministry line within the government more than even some ministry employees. Hashimoto wanted to reform the ministry by dividing up their responsibility for fiscal and financial service oversight, but the ministry was opposed. Mr. Yosano argued their case most strenuously. (A new agency for overseeing the banking, securities exchange, and insurance industries was created in 2000 after Hashimoto left office.)

Says Mr. Eda: “His entry into the Cabinet is the decisive factor in making this a Finance Ministry government.” That means, he explains, a tax increase government directed behind the scenes by the Finance Ministry.

He wasn’t alone in that opinion. Fukushima Mizuho, head of the Social Democrats, said much the same thing using many of the same words.

Takahashi Yoichi, a former official in both the Koizumi and Abe administrations, provides additional evidence in Gendai Business Online. When Takenaka Heizo shifted positions from Mr. Koizumi’s Financial Services Minister to Internal Affairs Minister to push the privatization of Japan Post, Mr. Yosano took his place. He argued within the Cabinet for rolling back government policy investment reforms, another Finance Ministry position.

Mr. Takahashi says he often debated with Mr. Yosano when the latter backed ministry efforts to debone reforms:

“Yosano is said to be an expert on policy, but he offered no policy-based arguments against my explanations. He only mentioned the names of people responsible for specific policies in the Finance Ministry and said we should do as they say. His statements were rather unlike that of a minister in charge of financial services.”

Mr. Yosano has also claimed there is no hidden surplus of funds in the Finance Ministry, but that nothing has manifested into something every year at yearend since 2006, and that something now totals JPY 40 trillion in the aggregate.

Here’s the delicious part: This politician who advocates a sharp rise in taxes to pay for social welfare spending, has no plans to cut spending or modify social welfare programs to make them more inexpensive, and fights governmental reform is referred to as a “fiscal hawk” in the Western media.

Absurdity squared

Mr. Kan’s selection of Mr. Yosano in the Cabinet is just the sort of move a dullwit would think is clever. The prime minister may even have thought the selection of a former enemy would been seen as a coup. The Asahi said Mr. Kan believed it would be the key to breaking the political deadlock. Three strikes and you’re out.

The prime minister had remarkably kind words for his former foe:

“I recognize that he is a politician with whom we have a great deal in common when it comes to the issues of the soundness of national finances and social welfare.”

But when Yosano Kaoru left the Liberal Democratic Party to form the Sunrise Party with Hiranuma Takeo, a high school classmate more than half a century ago, he told Reuters:

“We are fighting against the DPJ outside of the LDP. We intend to act as a brake. None of us is thinking about becoming the ruling party.”

In an April 2010 interview with the Asahi Shimbun, he said:

“This slovenly DPJ government must not be allowed to continue.”

And:

“I have doubts about the DPJ policies overall, their political methods, and their use of the bureaucracy. It is unusual among the world’s democracies for a party to lack such clarity in the decision making process as the DPJ.”

During the same interview, he defined political leadership:

“Chart a general course and take responsibility for it. Take responsibility for your statements. That’s political leadership.”

Speaking to the Nikkei Shimbun about government pensions in 2005, he said:

“The DPJ follows the Swedish model. They’re trying to pull us toward a society in which the people are liable for 75%. It is clear they will rely on taxes, which will result in a large tax increase.”

In 2009, he called the DPJ party manifesto “almost fancy,” said it resembled “works of illusionist paintings”, and was “something like artificial bait for the election.” He also said the DPJ’s pet policy of child allowance payments “would not be fully achieved unless the consumption tax rate was raised to 25 percent or higher.”

He maintained that attitude through the 14th of this month, when he said at a press conference:

“The certainty of the effect of the (child allowance) policy was not fully explained when it was introduced…my spirit of criticism remains.”

He changed his mind in the intervening five days. On the 19th in an interview with Fuji TV, he said:

“I have little sense that it is unnatural”

Fujii Hirohisa named bench coach

The Hatoyama Cabinet’s first Finance Minister, Fujii Hirohisa (78) was brought back as the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary. He is the former head of the Finance Ministry’s Budget Bureau, and his appointment is an unmistakable signal to both the ministry and those hoping to reform Japanese government by curbing its influence.

He left the Hatoyama administration after little more than three months for “health reasons.” Those weren’t specified, but it might have been a sore back from being pushed out the door by former friend and ally Ozawa Ichiro. There were also rumors he had to carry a stash of liquor in his official vehicle to help him make it through the day. Perhaps Mr. Kan finds him a kindred spirit.

Other transactions

Sengoku Yoshito assumed the Justice Ministry portfolio when the former minister Chiba Keiko finally resigned after losing her upper house Diet seat last July. He was replaced by Eda Satsuki, who years ago started out in the same party as Kan Naoto: the Socialist Democratic Federation. He is known to be an opponent of the death penalty in a country whose electorate consistently polls from 60% to 70% in favor of capital punishment.

It was rumored that party poster girl Ren Ho was thinking of jumping the Kan Cabinet mudboat and running for governor of the Tokyo Metro District, but she chose to stay on board. Her puny 8.8% support rating among Tokyoites from among a hypothetical slate of candidates in a Shinhodo 2001 poll might have been one of the reasons.

Also staying put is Agriculture Minister Kano Michihiko. This is Mr. Kano’s second time in that post (the first was in 1989 during the GATT Uruguay round discussions). He is viewed as an ally of the Agriculture Ministry bureaucracy. As such, he is opposed to the prime minister’s proposal to join the TPP. Many thought he would be replaced for that reason, but now he most surely will join with ministry bureaucrats and the national agricultural co-ops to try to block entry into the TPP.

If you’ve gotten the idea by now that Kan Naoto has no idea what he’s doing, I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise.

Absurdity cubed

Political commentator Yayama Taro was a long-time LDP supporter who backed the DPJ in the 2009 election because he saw them as the only way at the time to push forward with reform of the bureaucracy and government. His views have changed again:

“Prime Minister Abe of the LDP was the one who began to attack this disease, and Watanabe Yoshimi took up the baton as Reform Minister. They were unable to separate the adhesion between the politicians and the bureaucrats that has lasted 60 years. The DPJ won a massive victory in the 2009 election using the slogan, “Disassociation from the bureaucracy”.

“The resolution of this problem required the establishment of a National Strategy Bureau, a governmental reform council, and putting fiscal policy under the direction of the politicians. While implementing reform, they would establish a cabinet personnel bureau to evaluate civil service personnel.

“It should have been the work of the Hatoyama administration to pass the required legislation, but Finance Minister Fujii Hirohisa said a National Strategy Bureau wasn’t necessary and an office would do. Deputy Prime Minister Kan headed the office. He later became Finance Minister and was completely brainwashed by the ministry. He has not been interested in disassociating from the bureaucracy since becoming prime minister.

“Yosano is the politician the Finance Ministry bureaucrats have relied on the most. Based on his ideas and what he’s said, some have even referred to him as a Finance Ministry plant. Now he’s the Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister and Fujii is the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary. There are no laws securing the political disassociation from the bureaucracy. These personnel choices are simply to enable tax and social welfare policies in accordance with Finance Ministry specifications. The specifications for both policies were proposed by Yosano during the Aso administration. If the DPJ thought those policies were acceptable, they should have been adopted a long time ago.”

One economic news website quoted a politician whom the identified only as a former member of an LDP government:

“I have no idea what that person (Kan) wants to do. Even when he talks about the Heisei Opening of Japan, it has no backbone, and I can only view it as playing with words. The Cabinet reshuffle was just a switch from Mr. Sengoku to the Sengoku henchman Mr. Edano. The entry of the “lost bird” Mr. Yosano in the Cabinet has brought criticism rather than acclaim. A key will be how they change their methods of conducting the Diet. During the extraordinary session last fall, they adopted the fewest amount of bills as a percentage of proposed legislation in history.”

Coalition partner Kamei Shizuka was asked at a news conference on the 19th what he thought about the Cabinet and the prime minster’s policies about taxes, social welfare, and TPP. He answered:

“To present policies that you cannot achieve is not politics.”

As we’ve seen, one of those policies he might not achieve is participation in TPP. A total of 110 DPJ MPs affiliated with Ozawa Ichiro has formed a group to oppose Japanese participation, even though Mr. Ozawa has said he supports a free trade agreement.

Does even Mr. Kan know what he’s going to do? He just got back from giving a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he said that Japan will make a decision on its participation in TPP by June.

Before they worry about opposition either from inside or outside the party, the Cabinet still has to get on the same page. Kan Naoto says the issues of pension reform and the consumption tax are separate, but Yosano Kaoru says they must be considered together. Mr. Yosano’s stance on social insurance differs from the tax-based approach of the DPJ manifesto. The DPJ still does not have a common policy for a system for health care for the late stage elderly, despite their opposition to the system that came into effect during the Fukuda administration.

At a news conference on the 24th, Fujii Hirohisa was asked about Mr. Yosano’s statement that the age of eligibility for pension payments should be raised to 70:

“That’s his personal opinion. That question hasn’t been raised in a formal discussion.”

Absurdity in the fourth dimension

Mr. Kan is a recent convert to tax increases, at least in public. Speaking as the Finance Minister in the Diet on 21 January 2010, he said:

“First, there is the debate over the consumption tax, but as both the prime minister (Hatoyama) and I have said repeatedly, the current coalition government will not raise the consumption tax for four years….I think the primary reason the tax hasn’t been raised is the lack of trust by the people. They believe if they allow a government spending so wastefully is allowed to increase taxes, they will use the money wastefully.”

He also gave an opinion on when the discussion of a tax increase should begin:

“When we have so completely eliminated government waste that we could stand on our heads and not get a nosebleed…If we were to raise taxes at the present stage, when waste has not been sufficiently eliminated, we’d just repeat the same mistakes.”

Since he made that statement, there has been no sale of government assets, no effort to uncover the special accounts and hidden reserves in the bureaucracy, no effort to reduce personnel expenditures (they’ve put it off until 2013 at the earliest), only the most half-hearted of efforts to reduce government programs, a record-high budget with a record-high deficit, and a new proposal for an even higher budget.

The scorecard

The Cabinet reshuffle had no effect on market trading. Said Segawa Tsuyoshi, an equity strategist at Mizuho Securities:

“That it has absolutely no impact on stock prices demonstrates the relationship between politics and the market.”

In other words, the markets expect nothing from this bunch.

Kamei Shizuka visited the office of the Chief Cabinet Secretary as the official representative of the DPJ’s coalition partner to ask for an explanation of the prime minister’s Diet speech. He was angered when he discovered that Mr. Edano was not there, and the deputy secretary Fukuyama Tetsuro agreed that he should have been. Said Mr. Kamei:

“Don’t hold it against us if we leave the coalition.”

Mr. Edano belatedly showed up to provide an explanation, but Mr. Kamei was not mollified:

“They are incapable of consideration for other parties in their coalition. Politically, they have no idea what to do.”

One Western commentator observed that the DPJ is finding out that governing is different than campaigning. The real problem, however, is that they still haven’t found out, and the people in charge likely never will.

They’re certainly unlikely to find out in time for the 1,402 sub-national elections scheduled for April. DPJ-backed candidates have had their clock cleaned in several local elections after the government’s mishandling of the Senkakus incident with China, and their prospects are growing dimmer.

Yet at a party conference earlier this month, here’s what the prime minister had to say about DPJ support for those elections.:

“I’ve been in political parties that had no money for a long time, but this is the first time I’ve been in a party that can use all these funds for its activities. Shouldn’t I generously use the money that’s required (to compete)?

“All these funds” refers in part to the subsidies each political party receives out of public funds. The amounts vary based on their Diet representation. Those are the views of the man the foreign media hailed as a “fiscal hawk” when he assumed office last June on his fiduciary responsibility for taxpayer funds.

******
If Mr. Kan thought he would be showered in glory for the brilliant maneuver of including an opponent in his Cabinet, he was mistaken. An Asahi poll found 50% of voters opposed to Mr. Yosano’s selection.

On the 19th Oshima Tadamori of the LDP, the new minister’s party two parties ago, said Mr. Yosano had signed a pledge during the previous election in which he promised to resign from the Diet if he acted against the LDP. He’s now part of the DPJ caucus, but still in the Diet.

Said his old high school running buddy and co-president of the Sunrise Party, Hiranuma Takeo:

“It’s too bad that he’s leaving…When we formed the party, Mr. Yosano said that if we entrusted the government to the DPJ, Japan would be finished, so we had to bring it down. I wonder what’s going to happen with that.”

When Mr. Yosano gave his first speech as a member of the Cabinet in the Diet last week, he was heckled by members from both the LDP in the opposition and the DPJ in government. Would you dislike someone more if he was an enemy, or if he was a traitor?

After the speech, LDP MP Koizumi Shinjiro said:

“This is like a marriage proposal without a wedding ring. They won’t make any headway without sincerity and trust.”

And DPJ MP (and former Foreign Minister) Tanaka Makiko said:

“I do not sense any enthusiasm.”

Left unprotected

Sengoku Yoshito saw as one of his primary duties the prevention or amelioration of the inevitable Kan Naoto blunders. His departure from the Cabinet thus presented the country with the unlovely prospect of Mr. Kan fending for himself. The prime minister’s only political skill is the bullying of opponents—a skill no doubt honed by all those years of arguing politics in drinking establishments. His sense of the appropriate is also different from that of most people. (That is not photoshopped, by the way.)

It’s only been two weeks, and already we’re going to have to shift to a second hand to get enough fingers to keep up with the blunder tally.

His temper has earned him the nickname Ira-Kan, which translates nicely to the Irascible Kan. At a recent news conference he was asked whether he would call an election to have the people revalidate the party’s promise to cut waste before boosting the consumption tax. He glared, turned away from the questioner, and gave no answer at all.

He was also asked what he thought about the general perception the new Cabinet is a group put together to raise taxes. He answered:

“It’s unfair to be judgmental and change the subject of discussion.”

When the opposition suggested it would not participate in DPJ-led discussions about social welfare reform, he got judgmental himself.

“If the opposition parties do not actively participate in discussions about social welfare reform, it is no exaggeration to say that will be an act of treason against history.”

See what I mean about his only political skill?

That’s when he lost New Komeito. The DPJ has been hoping to tempt the opposition party into the coalition and thereby solve its problems in the Diet, but his statement seems to have ended any chance of that. Said party head Yamaguchi Natsuo:

“That’s a rather presumptious choice of words, isn’t it? The prime minister has a responsibility. What does he think he’s doing, challenging the opposition like that?”

The prime minister most recently stepped in it when he was asked about rating agency Standard & Poor’s downgrade of Japanese government bonds, partly because they thought the DPJ didn’t have a coherent strategy for dealing with national debt. Mr. Kan, a former Finance Minister, replied using the word utoi, a word seldom used by prime ministers. The word has several meanings depending on the context. One is that he hadn’t heard the news, and another is that he doesn’t really understand the subject very well because it doesn’t have much to do with him.

He was immediately called on his word choice by the opposition, the media, and his wife (during an event in Kyoto). Mr. Kan explained that he meant he hadn’t been given any information about the news at the time, which is a) probably untrue, but if true means b) his Cabinet is inept at gathering and managing information. The news had already been out for an hour.

Everyone else suspected the other nuance, in part because of the financial illiteracy he demonstrated when Finance Minister. He made a statement in the Diet that revealed he had no idea what the multiplier effect was. He also admitted to giving up on Paul Samuelson’s standard textbook Economics after the first 10 pages.

Mr. Kan was forced to explain at a news conference that his latest blunder didn’t mean he didn’t know government bond ratings from hot pastrami. Yosano Kaoru defended him, however:

“That is not a problem about which the prime minister should make a statement. It was proper for him to use the word utoi.”

In other words, interpretation #2. One wonders whom Mr. Yosano thinks should deal with the problem—the Finance Ministry bureaucrats in Kasumigaseki?

But that was not Mr. Kan’s position in May 2002 when the rating of Japanese government bonds was downgraded during the Koizumi administration. He publicly slammed the prime minister and finance minister and sarcastically asked whether they knew of the ramifications of the change. The Japanese media quickly dug up this old quote and dubbed it the “boomerang effect”.

No excuses for this absurdity

And how have the members of the English-language news media who cover Japan reported the Cabinet reorganization story? They played mimeograph machine for the government’s (or the Finance Ministry’s) briefings by filing articles under their own bylines that almost unanimously described Yosano Kaoru as a “fiscal hawk” and claimed the new Kan Cabinet was committed to “tax and pension reform”. And they think the Japanese media practices convoy journalism?

Rick Wallace in The Australian even went so far as to say this about Mr. Yosano:

“Perhaps the closest thing to a deficit hawk in a country where governments routinely live beyond their means…”

If Wallace is interested in seeing what a Japanese deficit hawk looks like, he might try some of the books by Nakagawa Hidenao, Eda Kenji, or Watanabe Yoshimi. If reading written Japanese is not his forté, he can always try this. I’d also suggest he look at the deficit totals in the annual budgets for the past 10 years to see who’s supported living beyond the country’s means and who hasn’t, but all that research might give him vertigo.

Lisa Twaronite, meanwhile, seems committed to getting it wrong, despite reading this post, which she commented on. She had this to say:

“Yosano, known as a fiscal conservative, has called for raising Japan’s 5% consumption tax to help chip away at Japan’s mountain of public debt.”

…thus bringing an entirely new dimension to the term, “conservative”. At least she briefly mentioned the reason Sengoku Yoshito was censured, which was more than Rick Wallace could do.

In an admirable display of corporate loyalty, the BBC took its correspondent’s word for what was happening:

“Our correspondent says the changes also bring to the fore ministers who support reform to tackle Japan’s massive public debt and the trade liberalisation sought by business leaders.

“The appointment of a veteran fiscal hawk, Kaoru Yosano, as economic and fiscal policy minister is being taken as a signal that Mr Kan is serious about reining in the costs of Japan’s rapidly ageing society.”

In contrast, the People’s Daily of China wrote last 24 December:

“The Cabinet of Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Friday approved a draft budget which hit a record 92.40 trillion yen (1.11 trillion U.S. dollars) for fiscal year 2011.The figure is marginally higher than the initial budget for 2010, which stood at 92.30 trillion yen, as the government seeks to raise spending on key policies amid rising social welfare costs.The budget will include more than 44 trillion yen (530.11 billion U.S. dollars) from issuing new government bonds, a second straight year when bonds have exceeded tax revenue as a source of income. The swelling budget is believed to be contradictory to Kan’s pledge to cut spending to restore the nation’s fiscal health.”

When the People’s Daily reports on Japan are more accurate than those of the BBC, it’s time for some people to reevaluate their assumptions about contemporary journalism.

Assuming any of these people are not European-style social democrats and actually are interested in a functional definition of fiscal conservatism, they might consider this by columnist Robert Samuelson:

“If we ended deficits with tax increases, we would simply exchange one problem (high deficits) for another (high taxes). Either would weaken the economy, and sharply higher taxes would represent an undesirable transfer to retirees from younger taxpayers.”

They might also look into how other countries have accomplished spending reductions, as Dan Mitchell explains here.

What can you expect?

After reading those reports, it will come as no surprise that the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan is “facing difficulties”:

Georges Baumgartner, current president of the FCCJ and a veteran reporter for Swiss Radio and Television, expressed his frustration with the lack of news in Japan that would interest people elsewhere. “It’s quiet, like a little country like Switzerland,” said Baumgartner, who has been reporting from Japan since 1982. Japan is “blocked and paralyzed by the politicians and bureaucrats who don’t have the political will and courage to restructure the country to give a chance to young people. There is no new energy. . . . There are days that you can’t sell any story to your editors back home.”

Any journalist who thinks Japan is a quiet country with no news of interest is unqualified for his position on the face of it. True, they do have to please their editors back home, the ones responsible for turning their business into the smokestack industry of the information age. Then again, Baumgartner thinks the FCCJ is “a little island of freedom in Japan”, a presumptuous and arrogant bit of horsetootie that might explain why his organization has become irrelevant. (Let’s play journalistic poker. For every story someone can cite that the Japanese press has ignored, I can call and raise that bet with stories the New York Times et al. have ignored.)

If the FCCJ were populated by people nimble enough to hop off their bar stools and conduct serious research, they might have taken the approach on this story adopted by Takahashi Yoichi in Gendai Business Online:

“It is a restructure of a government facing its final days.”

And:

“(Yosano) is called a fiscal hawk because he parrots the Finance Ministry line. The objective is a fiscal balance, and the means is a tax increase.”

And:

“The new cabinet is a lineup of people whose arguments support continued deflation and tax increases. Prime Minister Kan says the economy will improve with a tax increase. Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano says the economy will improve with a rise in interest rates. Fujii Hirohisa favors a higher yen and “fiscal restructuring”. If these people put their ideas in practice, the DPJ really will destroy the Japanese economy, as the title of Mr. Yosano’s book had it.”

Afterwords:

* Mr. Yosano now says he thinks the consumption tax should be “more than 10%” by 2015. Watch for closer to 20%, assuming the same or similar people are still in charge.

* Another avenue the journos choose not to explore is Standard & Poor’s record of credit ratings. For example:

“Investors snapped up the $340.7 million CDO, a collection of securities backed by bonds, mortgages and other loans, within days of the Dec. 12, 2000, offering. The CDO buyers had assurances of its quality from the three leading credit rating companies –Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Group Inc. Each had blessed most of the CDO with the highest rating, AAA or Aaa. Investment-grade ratings on 95 percent of the securities in the CDO gave no hint of what was in the debt package — or that it might collapse. It was loaded with risky debt, from junk bonds to subprime home loans. During the next six years, the CDO plummeted as defaults mounted in its underlying securities. By the end of 2006, losses totaled about $125 million.”

S&P downgraded Japanese government bonds, but they’re maintaining their top AAA rating on U.S. debt despite the huge American deficit and phalanx of foreign creditors.

******
The country’s in the very best of hands.

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