Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Kasumigaseki’

Ichigen koji (255)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 10, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

Isn’t it a problem with people, rather than with the form or the system? If we select a politician with leadership ability, the bureaucracy will obey.

– A veteran (unidentified) Democratic Party member on why it should be easy to control the Japanese bureaucracy.

If it were a question of do as I say, it would have been done a long time ago.

– Takenaka Heizo, a veteran of the Koizumi Cabinet who fought the Finance Ministry for five years

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Ichigen koji (245)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 30, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

Mr. Hashimoto’s success in Osaka is due to his application of the one-man model to local politics. But it will be impossible to control the central government that way. As shown by his early flip-flopping on policies, it will be difficult unless Mr. Hashimoto has a substantial amount of strength. Even if he were to take control of government, he would likely be foiled by the veto power of the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy, which put down the Democratic Party of Japan.

But this has been worthwhile to conduct as an experiment until now. Whether for good or ill, he will probably not take power in this election. He is still young, and even if this election is a setback for him, he can put the experience to use in municipal administration. I hope he creates a model for the city-state that transcends the nation-state.

– Ikeda Nobuo

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The real losing dogs

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 28, 2012

SEVERAL years ago, novelist Sakai Junko coined the expression makeinu, or losing dog, to refer to single people over the age of 30.

The term has other useful applications, however. Is that not the perfect descriptor for a left-of-center political party that loses the confidence of left-of-center newspapers? That’s exactly what happened to the Democratic Party of Japan. This article by the Asahi Shimbun is several months old, but it explains very clearly one of the most important reasons the party lost the trust of the Japanese public, and lost it almost immediately after they took office.

Among the Democratic Party of Japan’s many pledges when it came to power was to loosen the hold that bureaucrats had on policy issues and put politicians in charge.

Yet it never challenged the Finance Ministry, the bastion of the nation’s bureaucratic hierarchy.

In reality, the Finance Ministry has gained more clout under successive DPJ administrations, winning over prime ministers Yukio Hatoyama, Naoto Kan and now Yoshihiko Noda.

One of the key persons appearing in the story is former Budget Bureau chief Katsu Eijiro, who I’ve mentioned several times on this site.

In late September of 2009 (N.B.: one month after the DPJ took power), Kan (Naoto), who was national policy minister, was irritated because the government had not been able to decide on a basic budget policy due to a lack of revenue for the DPJ’s campaign policies.

Which everyone knew would happen even before the election, but then I interrupt.

Katsu, chief of the Budget Bureau, appeared. Kan asked when the basic budget policy should be drawn up if the budget was to be compiled by the end of the year.

“The DPJ has a grand manifesto,” Katsu said. “If you issue a sheet of paper and tell us to compile the budget based on the manifesto, we will follow the instruction.”

Kan was visibly relieved. “That makes it easy,” he said.

The meeting effectively put Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii, not Kan, in charge of compiling the budget under the first DPJ administration.

Fujii, 79, is a former Finance Ministry bureaucrat. He became a Diet member after Hatoyama’s father, who was an administrative vice finance minister, advised him to go into politics.

“I don’t think politicians can make correct judgments on details of the budget,” Fujii said. “The Finance Ministry has a tradition encompassing more than a century. What is expected of politicians is to make decisions.”

Fujii was instrumental in installing Noda as senior vice finance minister under him.

Doesn’t that tell you all you need to know? Well, most of it, but not quite all:

Heizo Takenaka, who battled with the Finance Ministry over the initiative in budget formulation when he served as a Cabinet minister under Junichiro Koizumi, said tax increases, not spending cuts, benefit the Finance Ministry.

“The Finance Ministry derives its power by allocating money from a fat pocketbook,” he said.

Twas ever thus, in every country, but particularly in Japan. That’s why the relationship between the bureaucracy and the political class is always an issue here. Ending bureaucratic control of the government is one of the primary issues that has motivated the regional parties.

You know what they say about reading the whole thing? Read the whole thing.

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

Ichigen koji (230)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 15, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

A symposium was held at Southern Methodist University in Texas about reform in Japan. Former American Ambassador Thomas Schieffer and I delivered the keynote addresses. Why did Japan stop the reform process, even though it was successful? Why do politicians say that gaps in society have widened, even though they have shrunk? Why aren’t these most basic of questions asked in Japan?

– Takenaka Heizo, the Koizumi privatization guru

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Making money

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 14, 2012

JAPAN is now in the business of making money for other countries. The Finance Ministry and Japan Mint announced they have accepted an order for manufacturing 500 million coins in the Bangladesh currency. The Mint had received overseas orders for commemorative coins, including those for New Zealand and Sri Lanka, but this is the first time since the end of World War II they have received an order for a country’s currency in general circulation. Demand for bills in Japan is declining due to the growing use of e-money, and the Mint wants to promote this business a way to utilize its idled equipment and maintain its technological capabilities. It is not unusual for developing countries to outsource the production of its currency.

Bangladesh has eight types of currency, and this order is for the two taka coin. It is made of stainless steel and has a value corresponding to two yen in Japan. (One taka is subdivided into 100 poisha.) The Bangladesh Central Bank conducted an international bidding process, and they accepted a bid for JPY 520 million. Manufacturing will begin at the main office in Osaka early next year, and they will send 100 million coins every month to Bangladesh starting in April.

The spread of e-money and the slumping economy has spurred the Finance Ministry and the Mint to find ways to receive more of these orders. Among the losers in the bidding were Slovakia, the Netherlands, Germany, Great Britain, and Spain.

Since 2003, Japan Mint has been an “incorporated administrative agency” headquartered in Osaka. That means it is still affiliated with the national government.

One way the Abe Shinzo government of 2006-2007 wanted to continue the Koizumi reform policies was to privatize the Mint. This was stopped by the then-opposition DPJ working with the Finance Ministry. The ministry, one of the primary political power centers in Japan, always fights any measure that would diminish its power and authority. It often fights dirty, sometimes manipulating events to bring down governments. Exhibit A for that charge is the downfall of the Hashimoto Ryutaro government when it tried to split the oversight of the financial services industry from the Finance Ministry. (It eventually happened a few years later.)

The slogan for the Koizumi reforms was to remove from the government and entrust to the private sector anything the private sector could do. The principle is that the private sector always does everything better than the public sector except the mass extermination of people in warfare.

Had the Abe administration successively privatized the Mint, they most likely would have been involved in this business for several years already and creating new capital without using any from the public sector.

The people in the Finance Ministry probably know that as well, but it is not in the interest of people to understand anything that puts their interests at risk.

Let’s boogie!

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Government | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Ichigen koji (224)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 9, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

People say that it’s unconscionable when the bureaucrats make decisions just to suit themselves, and they’re right. But when politicians ignore the law to make decisions to suit themselves, that’s even worse.

– Tamai Katsuya

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Ichigen koji  (220)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, November 5, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

The bureaucracy measures a prime minister’s strength by how much influence he has in the ruling party. If the ruling party is united in support of the prime minister’s policies, the bureaucracy cannot directly oppose him. In the Japan Post election of 2005, Mr. Koizumi destroyed the opposition, and he obtained immense power within the Liberal Democratic Party. For about three months after that, the bureaucracy was attentive to his behavior, and unconditionally fell in line with his wishes. As soon as they realized he wasn’t going to run in the next election for party leader, his influence rapidly declined.

– A former Finance Ministry bureaucrat quoted in the November issue of Sapio

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Three articles

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, October 31, 2012

THIS post consists of excerpts from three newspaper articles whose importance is self-evident. They require little additional comment from me. I present them here to contribute to their greater circulation.

1. Pork in the name of the public good

The first article is a classic case of the blind pig finding a root. It was published by the Associated Press, and unlike most of their product these days, it’s actually worth reading. The title is Japan spent rebuilding money on unrelated projects. Who’d have thought! Well, anyone who’s followed the story of stimulus expenditures in the United States for the past few years, but I digress. Here we go:

About a quarter of the $148 billion budget for reconstruction after Japan’s March 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster has been spent on unrelated projects, including subsidies for a contact lens factory and research whaling.

The findings of a government audit buttress complaints over shortcomings and delays in the reconstruction effort. More than half the budget is yet to be disbursed, stalled by indecision and bureaucracy, while nearly all of the 340,000 people evacuated from the disaster zone remain uncertain whether, when and how they will ever resettle.

Many of the non-reconstruction-related projects loaded into the 11.7 trillion yen ($148 billion) budget were included on the pretext they might contribute to Japan’s economic revival, a strategy that the government now acknowledges was a mistake.

Some people in Japan were aware this was happening from the start. They noticed that the commission appointed by the Democratic Party government to formulate a plan for reconstruction and recovery issued a report containing recommendations for programs that were cut-and-pasted from previous ministry requests.

In Japan, tax-and-spend government is driven primarily by the permanent bureaucracy rather than the politicians. The latter are either the enablers or the lobbyists for the ministries with which they are associated.

The only drawback to the AP article is the now-standard and usually unnecessary addition of comments from academics to buttress their point. They often miss the point entirely:

Masahiro Matsumura, a politics professor at St. Andrews University in Osaka, Japan, said justifying such misuse by suggesting the benefits would “trickle down” to the disaster zone is typical of the political dysfunction that has hindered Japan’s efforts to break out of two decades of debilitating economic slump.

“This is a manifestation of government indifference to rehabilitation. They are very good at making excuses,” Matsumura told The Associated Press.

This is really a manifestation of the inexorable and inevitable expansion of the public sector in any country. Give them the power to print and spend money, and they’ll work overtime to find ways to print and spend money. It’s not clear whether Prof. Matsumura was referring to the political class or the bureaucracy when he referred to “government”, because the word in this case applies to either or both.

Prime Minister Noda promised that unrelated projects would be “wrung out” of the budget, but his two DPJ predecessors, Hatoyama Yukio and Kan Naoto, made the same promises. Mr. Kan went so far as to say the budgets would be held upside down to shake out extra money until they got a nosebleed. That didn’t stop either of them from presenting and passing record-high budgets with record-high deficits. If anyone’s nose bled, they weren’t part of the public sector.

And Mr. Noda voted aye for those budgets, as well as this reconstruction budget. He didn’t know what was in it? He didn’t understand that they were wasting money?

But to ask the questions are to answer them.

2. Self-congratulation

The New York Times is congratulating itself for its recent expose of the finances of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jibao and his family. The Times’ article charges that they’ve stashed away upwards of $US 2.7 billion. This post at the China Digital Times website quotes an article written for the Times’ sister-in-arms, the Guardian of Britain, that explains how wonderful it is the Gray Lady is practicing journalism again:

The Times’ story, by David Barboza, is the type of journalism that not only catches the powerful in flagrante delicto, but that revivifies the paper’s reason for being. This has not been a kind few years for the Times, with its management, its journalism, and its prospects, under constant and more often than not unflattering scrutiny. But a story like this is something of an instant brand turnaround.

The New York Times took on China and, in the first round, won. This being China, the Times will, surely, be engaged in a constant battle going forward – even, perhaps, a confrontation that defines the sides in some new international press battle. That will, no doubt, be to its short term economic disadvantage. But that is good news for the Times, too.

[…] The Times released dismal earnings yesterday and its stock dropped by more than 20%. But its real value took an incalculable leap today.

In other words, they think it was a triumph of investigative journalism.

But other people suspect they were being used as a mouthpiece. From the Epoch Times:

Controversy continues to simmer around last week’s lengthy New York Times exposé of the US$2.7 billion fortune that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s family is said to have amassed. Critics have said the story was planted by Wen Jiabao’s political foes, while the New York Times has defended the integrity of the story.

In an Oct. 29 blog post, the Times reporter, David Barboza, addressed head on the claim that the story might have been given to him:

“I have read the speculation that some ‘insider’ gave me information, or that some enemies of the prime minister dropped off a huge box of documents at my office,” Barboza wrote. “That never happened. Not only were there no leaked documents, I never in the course of reporting met anyone who offered or hinted that they had documents related to the family holdings. This was a paper trail of publicly available documents that I followed with my own reporting.”

You can believe that, or you can believe this:

On Oct. 30, the Chinese website of the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle claimed Barboza would have had difficulty getting information about who are the members of Wen’s family, information needed in order to track the family members’ appearance in corporate documents:

“The head of a Chinese media outlet that reports on business who used to be an experienced investigative reporter told Deutsche Welle Chinese that information about family members for common Chinese can be found by checking the household register information.

“However, this household register system maintains strict confidentiality for information for Chinese Communist Party officials with rank above the provincial level. It is very difficult to obtain the names of the family members for a person who is a member of Politburo Standing Committee. Therefore, the NY Times should have gotten some kind of assistance, which could even be a systematic set of materials.”

New Tang Dynasty’s political commentator Wen Zhao commenting on the NY Times story said, “I don’t think this is something a private investigation or media outlet is capable of doing in China. No doubt about it, this kind of thorough investigation can only be conducted by people who control the secret police or secret agents in China.”

Their point is that the neo-Maoist, anti-reform hardliners in China associated with former President Jiang Zemin funneled the information to the Times as part of the ongoing political struggle in that country.

Whether that’s true or not — and we’re never going to know — the idea that people would use of the New York Times as an international mouthpiece is plausible. I’ve read articles in that newspaper about Japan that I would bet cash money were nothing more than rewritten talking points e-mailed by the DPJ government. Some of the information in those articles bore so little resemblance to actual conditions that it was risible.

3. China on the march

The final section is a compilation of of pieces. The first is a translation of a Yomiuri Shimbun article that appeared on the Web today. Here it is in its entirety:

Five Chinese Surveillance Ships in the Contiguous Waters of the Senkakus — For 12 Straight Days

Four Chinese maritime surveillance ships and one fishing surveillance ship entered the contiguous waters (22 kilometers) around the Senkaku islets yesterday morning. They continue to warn Japanese Coast Guard ships not to approach their territorial waters. This is the 12th straight day that Chinese surveillance ships have entered the contiguous waters.

The 11th District Coast Guard headquarters in Naha reported that four Chinese ships entered Japanese territorial waters on the morning of the 30th. After leaving in the afternoon, they remained in the contiguous waters. As of 9:00 a.m. on the 31st, the four ships were 31-33 kilometers to the southeast, while the fishery patrol boat was 28 kilometers northwest of Kubajima and headed in a south-southwesterly direction.

A Sankei Shimbun article yesterday provided a few more details:

One of the surveillance ships used an electronic bulletin board to transmit messages in Japanese and Chinese that read, “Your ship has entered Chinese territorial waters. Leave at once.”

Compared to some in the Anglosphere, the Japanese media is rather subdued. Try this piece from yesterday in the Financial Times (that might require registration).

The Chinese State Oceanic Administration – which enforces the nation’s maritime interests – said four of its ships on Tuesday tried to expel Japanese vessels out of waters where they were operating “illegally”.


Last month, Beijing announced a territorial baseline for the disputed islands that defined the exact geographical location of its claimed territory to back its long-standing claim.

“Chinese government vessels did not chase Japanese boats out of the islands’ territorial waters in the past, as these waters were an area controlled by the Japanese coastguard,” said Li Guoqiang, an expert on border issues at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “But the situation changed when we created a legal basis for enforcing our claim by announcing the territorial baseline for the islands in September.”

It concludes:

Mr Li said the Chinese government was still restraining itself and would not lightly add to the tension. “But if the Japanese don’t change their ways and return to the path of negotiation, such friction could increase,” he said. “Then, it would not be a question of just four vessels but many more.”

On the one hand, it could be argued that the Japanese consider this to be Chinese bluster and see no need to make a big deal of it. On the other hand, it could also be argued that they are downplaying the situation to prevent the public from demanding that its government grow a made-in-Japan backbone.

In either case, it’s clear that the Chinese are engaging in international outlawry, are arrogant enough to press the legitimacy of this approach for their bogus claim overseas, and don’t seem concerned at all about what the United States might do.

The situation has the potential to become very ugly.

Posted in China, Government, International relations, Mass media, Military affairs, Politics | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

The ABCs of Japanese politics

Posted by ampontan on Monday, October 29, 2012

Hasegawa Yukihiro is a long-time newspaperman and non-fiction author of books about politics and government. He wrote a string of four Tweets yesterday. Here they are:

* The basis for the statements coming from the Democratic Party of Japan is the Finance Ministry path itself. This has thrown into relief the fact that the DPJ is not a party of reform. The ministry turned its back on the party long ago, and is treating it coldly.

* It seems as if (Prime Minister) Noda will squat in place (without calling an election). The Finance Ministry has turned its back on him, too, and there’s no telling what they’ll do next. Noda himself understands that much, but he still can’t do anything. He told Watanabe Yoshimi (Your Party head) that the Finance Ministry did him in. Why is it that newspapers can’t print this story? Watanabe talked about it openly at a news conference.

* The Finance Ministry uses and disposes of politicians all the time. This is the A of the ABCs for observing Japanese politics. They did the same with Yosano Kaoru and Tanigaki Sadakazu. Since the Meiji Restoration, they’ve believed they are the royal road in Japan.

* The essence for considering oneself a Third Force in Japanese politics is to break up the centralization of authority and the system of bureaucracy. (In real terms, that means breaking up the system of Finance Ministry control.) Without this, there is no point in talking about who is going to align with whom and do what.

And that is all you need to know about how Japanese politics works.

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


Posted by ampontan on Sunday, October 7, 2012

PRIME MINISTER Noda Yoshihiko’s personnel reassignments for his Cabinet and party last Monday were the picture of consistency. First, his Democratic Party government remains consistent in keeping the revolving door of Cabinet positions spinning at a frequency that prevents them from performing any role other than as press secretary for the ministries they represent. Second, Mr. Noda remains consistent in his distribution of ministerial portfolios to people unqualified to receive them. Finally, an unqualified English-language news media remains consistent in its incapacity to understand and present useful explanations of the events.

Writing in Gendai Business Online, Isoyama Yukihiro reminds his readers that when Hatoyama Yukio, the first DPJ prime minister, assumed his duties three years ago, he said he wanted to maintain one intact Cabinet per administration. The law provides for as many as 14 ministers in addition to the prime minister, and Mr. Hatoyama did keep the reshuffling to a minimum. He appointed only 19 ministers, but then he lasted only nine months in office. His first finance minister, Fujii Hirohisa, lasted fewer than four months before resigning — and he was the only one qualified to serve that the party has assigned to that position. (In 1976, he was the head of the Finance Ministry’s Budget Bureau, the control tower of the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy.)

Mr. Isoyama notes there was dissatisfaction within the DPJ because not all of the victors were receiving the spoils. As a result, Mr. Hatoyama’s successor, Kan Naoto, used Cabinet appointments as the front end of a quid pro quo before the party’s presidential election. He went through 35 people in 15 months. Meanwhile, Mr. Noda has already tapped 38 different people in his year in office, partly because his power base in the party is weak. He also has to use the posts as gold stars and cookies to stem the flow of MPs leaving the DPJ for other parties. Altogether, 68 separate people have served as DPJ Cabinet ministers, and the overall total of appointments, reappointments, and reassignments within their Cabinets now total 152.

Your Party chief Watanabe Yoshimi compared the Noda Cabinet V.3 to an “inventory clearance sale for people seeing Cabinet posts”. Azuma Shozo of the People’s Life First party (the Ozawa group) called it the “Making Memories Cabinet.”

This might be excusable to an extent if competent people were being appointed, but that isn’t the case. Mr. Noda keeps putting people with no experience or sector-specific expertise in Cabinet positions, a tacit admission that the bureaucracy still exercises real control. Once again, he appointed as finance minister someone who knows nothing about government finance, and who has never held a Cabinet position before. Yet some in the news media still do not understand what’s happening. Here’s this from the AFP just before the changes:

Another highlight of the reshuffle is who will replace Finance Minister Jun Azumi, who is being propelled into a top party post.

Although Azumi has not been universally popular in financial circles, there have been concerns of a policy gap now that he is departing, although the minister has assured there will be no “political vacuum”.

And here’s what Reuters said after Mr. Noda made his decision:

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda plans to name senior lawmaker Koriki Jojima as the country’s new finance minister in a cabinet shake-up due later on Monday, Japanese media reported.

Jojima, who has served as parliamentary affairs chief in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), would replace Jun Azumi and take charge of the world’s third largest economy as it teeters on the brink of recession in the face of a global slowdown and strong yen.

Jojima would likely stick to a fiscal reform drive pursued by fiscal hawk Noda, as he has worked closely with the premier in designing Noda’s signature plan to double the sales tax to 10 percent by October 2015.

But little is known about Jojima’s view on monetary and currency policies.

But a lot is known about how little is known about Japanese politics by the AFP and Reuters sausage grinders. There were no real concerns of a “policy gap”, because Mr. Azumi, a former TV presenter, knows nothing about fiscal policy other than what his Finance Ministry tutors spoonfed him after his appointment. Little is known about Jojima’s view on monetary and currency policies because he doesn’t have any. He majored in animal husbandry at university, was hired by Ajinomoto after graduation, and decided that labor union activities were preferable to working for a living.

“Fiscal reform” in Reuters-speak means tax increases, especially of the progressive variety. The media applies the term “fiscal hawk” to Mr. Noda, as they did to Kan Naoto, because they’re parroting, either directly or indirectly, the Finance Ministry’s talking points. Mr. Kan couldn’t even explain the multiplier effect during his first Question Time session in the Diet after his appointment.

What they don’t say is what everyone in Japan who pays attention knows. Here’s more from a different column in Gendai Business Online. It explains who really designed the DPJ tax increase plan:

Vice-Minister Katsu Eijiro resigned in mid-August, and it is reported that negotiations are underway to replace him with Manago Yasushi, head of the Finance Ministry’s Budget Bureau (N.B.: He got the job.) …The climate at the Finance Ministry is that achieving a tax increase (as Katsu did) is a medal for services rendered and a meritorious deed. Increases in tax revenue do not determine the evaluations of the Finance Ministry bureaucracy. That happens naturally when the economy improves. But increases in the tax rate are easily understood accomplishments. Those require amendments in the tax law, and are also proof that they twisted the “idiot politicians” around their little finger. Bureaucrats such as these are the real “kings of the Finance Ministry”, because they have shown themselves to be of higher caliber than the politicians.

Here’s a report a few days after the appointment:

New Finance Minister Koriki Jojima said the government must “carefully consider” whether to extend the currency swap agreement with South Korea but refused to be drawn out on whether Tokyo will propose an extension.

In other words, the Finance Ministry hasn’t decided yet.

But the biggest name in the new Cabinet is former Foreign Minister Tanaka Makiko:

Noda may tap Beijing-friendly Makiko Tanaka, 68, as a new addition to the cabinet, the Asahi Shimbun daily reported on Sunday.

Tanaka, daughter of former prime minister Kakuei Tanaka who normalised diplomatic ties with Beijing 40 years ago, has warm links with China which has been jousting with Japan over disputed East China Sea islands.

Noda is considering appointing Tanaka to a ministerial post to signal to Beijing Tokyo’s intention of repairing the damaged relationship, the Asahi said.

Commentator Ikeda Nobuo had only one word when he read that: “Stupid”. It is stupid, for at least two reasons.

One is that the Chinese will interpret it as weakness and as a prelude to a modern form of tribute paid to a vassal. The other is that Tanaka Makiko is temperamentally unfit for any executive position in general, and a Cabinet portfolio in particular. We found that out from her spin as a daytime drama queen when she was Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s Foreign Minister.

For some reason, Ms. Tanaka wound up as Education Secretary, a position for which she has shown no particular interest or aptitude. As everyone expected, she immediately demonstrated that she still doesn’t know when to keep her mouth shut. One of her first bon mots was that “There are deficiencies in Japan’s history education,” though she didn’t specify what they were.

The Chinese took it and ran with it. Here’s Li Wen from the Chinese academy of Social Sciences:

“Tanaka Makiko is the daughter of former PM Tanaka Kakuei, and for her to make this statement after her appointment is significant in that it would correct the rightward tendency in Japanese society to an extent, improve Sino-Japanese relations, and ameliorate Japan’s relations with its neighbors…We hope that it will expand, without ceasing, the progressive capacity to limit the rightward tendency of Japanese society, and improve its ability to act for peace in the Asia-Pacific region and the world.”

“The progressive capacity to limit Japan’s rightwing tendency and act for world peace?” Yeah, they’ve still got Reds in China. You hadn’t noticed?

The Tanaka comment is the product of mixing someone who favors tilting foreign policy toward China and away from the West with the need to satisfy the “progressive” teachers’ unions, one of the party’s principal power bases. It might help relax the immediate tensions with China, but only in the sense that it will lead the Chinese to think that the Japanese leadership is finally showing some sense and starting to deal with those crazy rightwingers.

It won’t help. Absent the arrival of a gargantuan black swan, she won’t be Education Minister this time next year, the DPJ won’t be in power, and there will be little change, if any, in the history curriculum.

Then there are the problems on the domestic side. She already criticized the government’s nuclear energy policy when she said she doesn’t think ending nuclear power by 2030 is feasible. She’s right, but that’s what you get when you roll a loose cannon into the Cabinet. You never know when it will go off and where the muzzle will be pointing when it does.

Makiko is also being Makiko. Another report just a day after her appointment claimed that she summoned one of the aides assigned from the Education Ministry bureaucracy into the women’s restroom to give him lengthy, detailed instructions on a particular matter. The report didn’t specify what she was doing in the women’s restroom at the time.

Japanese pundits saw other reasons for her selection. One suggested her current strength is roughly at the level required to snatch the focus from the opposition Liberal Democrats and the up-and-coming Japan Restoration Party on the daytime TV talk/gossip shows. (Those programs juggle politics, show business, and human interest stories.)

Another thought she might have been chosen because she’s one of the few politicians in the country who wouldn’t flinch from doing verbal battle with Osaka Mayor Hashimoto, the head of the Japan Restoration Party. Mr. Hashimoto has thrashed the teachers unions in both the city and prefecture of Osaka, and the theory goes that the DPJ wants someone in the Education Ministry capable of standing up to him.

Unfortunately for them, however, is that Ms. Tanaka verbal skills are due primarily to her “poison tongue”, as the saying goes in Japan. She’s quite entertaining when she runs people down, which is another reason she’s popular daytime television fare. (She once referred to former Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro as “Old Man Pomade”.)

She is less successful when it comes to the give and take of debate, or persuading an audience through the power of logic and persuasion.

If Mr. Noda’s intent was to have some imagined Tanaka star power refloat his Cabinet, he was mistaken. Here’s one of the questions and the answer received when the Kyodo news agency polled the public from 1-2 October.

Q: How do you evaluate the selection of Tanaka Makiko to the Cabinet?

Good idea: 34.6%
Bad idea: 53.8%
No answer: 11.6%

The Kyodo poll

Speaking of the Kyodo Poll, it might be useful as a rough guide to the mood of the electorate, despite being conducted by random digit dialing (RDD).

Here are some of the other questions and answers. The numbers in parentheses are the totals from the previous month:

* Do you support the Noda Cabinet?
Yes: 29.2% (26.3%)
No: 55.3% (59.4%)
Don’t know: 15.5% (14.3%)

The Yomiuri Shimbun poll had the support rate for the Noda Cabinet a few points higher, but it’s not enough to make a difference. The increase was normal for a Cabinet reshuffle, and absent other factors, it will have subsided in the next month or two.

* Which party do you support?
Democratic Party of Japan (ruling party): 12.3% (12.9%)
Liberal Democratic Party (primary opposition): 30.4% (19.3%)
Japan Restoration Party (Hashimoto group): 10.7%
Putting People First (Ozawa Ichiro group): 1.9% (2.1%)

Note that the LDP supporters are more than double those of the DPJ, which in turn is barely ahead of Mr. Hashimoto’s party. Note also that the voters finally seem to be getting ready to flush the toilet with Ozawa Ichiro.

* Do you approve of the DPJ leadership changes?
Yes: 23.8%
No: 69.5%

* Do you approve of the LDP leadership changes?
Yes: 42.6%
No: 52.4%

* How do you evaluate the Japan Restoration Party?
Positive: 50.6% (60.2%)
Negative: 43.0% (34.7%)

* For which party will you cast your vote in the proportional representation phase of the election?
DPJ: 12.3% (12.4%)
LDP: 31.3% (22.2%)
Japan Restoration Party: 13.9% (17.6%)
Putting People First: 2.7% (4.9%)
Sunrise Japan: 0.3% (1.2%)

This is important for several reasons. First, it shows that the public has written off the DPJ, which are now beyond political redemption (perhaps for good). Second, this poll was taken after the LDP selected former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo as party head. Note the month-to-month increase from last month to this. Those numbers are giving the Japanese left (and the residential foreigner left) gas pains.

These results for Putting People First again show that Mr. Ozawa is fading away. He is a man out of time, and a man out of his time.

Perhaps you’ve read the commentary that the Senkakus spat with China is all the fault of Tokyo Metro District Gov. Ishihara Shinto, the “fiery rightwing nationalist”. Some people desperately want to believe that his influence on the relative Japanese hardline in the Senkakus is proof that he’s leading the country to the right.

Lunchmeat. Sunrise Japan is the party that Mr. Ishihara was instrumental in creating. There you see in black and pale blue (on this website) the influence of his party on national politics.

The correlation of his views and that of many members of the public on a specific issue does not indicate he is at the forefront of a greater national trend. This seems to be beyond the capacity of some drive-by commentators or pundettes with an agenda (sometimes the same people) to see.

The Hashimoto slide

Further, the numbers in this and other national polls show the first significant drop in support for Hashimoto Toru since his rise to national prominence. Some attribute that to the rough patch he’s had coordinating affairs with the Diet MPs who recently joined his party, or with some vagaries in the party’s statement of principles.

I disagree, just as I disagree with the LDP’s claim that their jump from the previous month came solely from the election of Abe Shinzo. What I think is happening is something that isn’t showing up in the polls, because the news media polls are too generalized to elicit certain answers.

This was the first round of polls taken after the Chinese ran amok in their September riots, implicitly encouraged by the modern Mandarins. The Japanese public is coming to see China as an existential threat. The shift to the LDP, I suspect, is due to the public’s choice of the political group they think is most capable of protecting them from that existential threat.

After being appalled by how the Kan Cabinet handled the previous episode in the fall of 2010, they know that’s beyond the DPJ’s capabilities. Mr. Hashimoto’s deportment in the past month was not so bad (or so different) to cause the public to sour on him. Had not China and South Korea behaved as they have over the past two months, his numbers probably wouldn’t have changed. The public, in general, still wants reforms of the type he is promoting. His problem is that they’ve already seen how one set of amateurs deals with the Chinese, and they aren’t willing to entrust foreign policy now to a new group of beginners.

Finally, lower house MP Sugimoto Kazumi, a first-termer from Aichi, left the DPJ and is considering membership in Your Party. That reduced the DPJ lower house delegation to 247, down from an original total higher than 300. They also have three members from the People’s New Party in their coalition, making 250. Subtracting Mr. Sugimoto and the three DPJ members who announced their intention to join the Japan Restoration Party, the DPJ’s magic number for losing the outright majority is eight, as one newspaper put it.

Noda Yoshihiko’s objective seems to be to put off a lower house election until the last possible minute, which is next summer. If the leakage from the DPJ continues, that decision might be taken out of his and his party’s hands altogether.


Political correctness might have been a factor in the selection of Tanaka Makiko. The weekly Shukan Asahi quotes a source “close to the prime minister” as saying, “We searched for a woman to put in the Cabinet, but couldn’t find a suitable candidate. Still, we had to have at least one.”

They also cite a few other of the nicknames given to the new lineup: “The clean out the inventory Cabinet”, and one that’s not easy to translate concisely, but means “Put something good on their resume to dress them up for the election”.

Mr. Noda also dismissed the idea that she was appointed to ease the strained relations with China. He said, “It’s not as if I appointed her as Foreign Minister.”

Maybe not tomorrow, but not too much longer

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Inose Naoki on the Senkakus purchase

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, September 26, 2012

AS the vice-governor of the Tokyo Metro District, Inose Naoki had a behind-the-scenes view of the circumstances when the national government supplanted the Tokyo Metro District to purchase the Senkaku islets.

Twitter is the de facto Japanese blogosphere, and here is a series of six Tweets he recently wrote presenting the Tokyo Metro District’s viewpoint. They’re a bit sketchy owing to the nature of the medium, but they’re still worth reading.

* It’s very risky for the fishermen from Ishigaki to travel to the Senkakus with its abundant fishery resources. They have five-ton ships and 1 watt radios. The Chinese and the Taiwanese operate much larger ships, and they have 10 watt radios. In light of this, Ishigaki Mayor Nakayama Yoshitaka (a former Diet member) asked if it would be possible to build a basin for their ships and a radio tower. Contact with the owner of the Senkakus was possible through upper house member Santo Akiko.

* A message was relayed from Ms. Santo to (Tokyo) Gov. Ishihara. He met with the owner a year ago. The owner said he wanted to transfer the islets before any problems with the inheritance (taxes) arose. Ordinarily, discussions would have started right away, but the situation became as slippery as an eel. There were financial liabilities, but an investigation would soon turn those up. There were also assets, but a look at the balance sheet showed they were worth about JPY 1.0 – 1.5 billion.

* The owner requested a deposit, but that was not possible because of our responsibility to provide explanations to the taxpayers and the procedures based on the rules of democracy. We conveyed our intent to survey the islands and to entrust the matter to the asset valuation council, which would determine an appropriate price. We would also have to ask the assembly to approve the purchase. At just that time, the Noda government approached the owner with a JPY 2.05 billion-plus offer that would ensure him a large profit.

* What was a simple matter of the domestic transfer of title from the owner to the Tokyo Metro District suddenly became a matter of nationalization. If it’s a question of shifting from an annual rental of JPY 25 million to nationalization, then it’s meaningless. When Prime Minister Noda and Gov. Ishihara met, the prime minister thought the ship basin plan was a good idea, and said he would respond soon. But the Foreign Ministry doesn’t listen to the Kantei (PM’s office). The Kantei has no influence at all.

* The Foreign Ministry made an inquiry to the Chinese in some form, but the (Japanese) official didn’t want to create a disadvantage by doing something unnecessary, so he formally withdrew. It was completely beyond me why they were nationalizing the islets for a bundle of money. It just exposed the government’s indecisiveness for everyone to see, including the Chinese. The sense of the word “nationalization” is completely different in China. They just made excuses.

* Allowing the Hong Kong activists to land on the islets was a clear error in judgment by the Noda administration and the Foreign Ministry. Allowing the issue of the territory to become a dispute will result in further escalation. They should have dealt with them before they reached shore. It is not possible to have a discussion with people who say, “The Senkakus are our land, so we’ll attack and loot Japanese corporations.” What remains is the problem of Chinese pride.

Here’s an unrelated update/addendum that’s too short for a regular post, but still deserves mention.

There is a website called Asia Eye, described as the Official Blog of the Project 2049 Institute. They publish a weekly roundup of featurettes with links called Under the Radar. The heading reads, “A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia.”

Here’s this week’s lead story in the parade of under the radar, under-reported events in Asia.

The Japanese government’s purchase of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands has sparked violent street protests throughout China as fishing boats were dispatched to the disputed waters to oppose Japan’s nationalization of the contested islands.

To be fair, some, though not all, of the mini-stories are under-reported. Then again, not all of them are Asia-related. Nevertheless, that’s as good a demonstration as any of why I spend so little time reading what the Western Anglosphere has to say about East Asia.

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

Ichigen koji (173)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, September 16, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

In a column in the Sankei Shimbun, Yayama Taro calls for a political reorganization based on a decoupling from the bureaucracy. He concludes, “In domestic affairs, the question is whether or not politicians are capable of the persistence for a decoupling from the bureaucracy. As (Osaka Mayor) Hashimoto has shown, it is possible if the political will is there.” His argument is correct.

The reason 60% of the public has a positive view of the entry of One Osaka, the group he leads, into national politics, is that he has conducted governmental reform for five years in Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka. He has been persistent in his efforts to achieve a decoupling from the bureaucracy.

In contrast, the Democratic Party of Japan was able win public support and take control of the government by promising a decoupling from the bureaucracy. But their efforts to make the National Strategy Bureau the control tower for reform were a failure, they were unable to create a basic program that would be a blueprint for reform, they deboned initiatives to decouple from the bureaucracy, and the moves to eradicate amakudari, reform civil service, and promote regional devolution were all aborted. In the end, all they accomplished was a consumption tax increase, breaking their promise not to do so.

For three years, the DPJ government has been unable to decouple from the bureaucracy. Rather, it has become a bureaucracy-led government. That’s why the public is showing the DPJ government the red card, and 60% of them are supporting the entry of One Osaka into national politics.

The problem is the Liberal-Democratic Party. It is the LDP that should form the framework for a government to transcend the bureaucracy-led politics of the DPJ. From 2003 to 2007, the Koizumi and Abe governments established the Council on Fiscal and Economic Policy as the control tower of reform, created a basic reform policy, and in accordance with that, delivered a “Japan Where the Sun Rises Again”.

The question that must be asked in the LDP presidential election is whether the party will proceed on the Koizumi – Abe course, or whether it will repudiate that course.

Some members of the Kasumigaseki Bureaucracy do not seem to look kindly on the LDP pursuing the Koizumi – Abe course and the idea of a “Japan Where the Sun Rises Again”. I’ve heard rumors that they’re starting their information war. When the LDP becomes incapable of reform, I think we all know what will happen in politics.

– Nakagawa Hidenao, former secretary-general of the LDP

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No cigar

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, September 1, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very close, but no cigar.


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

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

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

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

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

Massaging the news

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, August 9, 2012

Kasumigaseki, the Tokyo district that is the location of most of the government ministries

IT’S often said in Japan that the nation’s bureaucrats are politicians and the politicians are lobbyists (sometimes for the bureaucrats).

Author, university professor, and advisor to Your Party and the Hashimoto Toru-led One Osaka, Takahashi Yoichi was also a Finance Ministry bureaucrat, Cabinet Councilor, and member of the Takenaka Heizo team that planned the Japan Post privatization during the Koizumi administration. He has seen from both sides of the fence how Japan’s bureaucracy manages the news.

Mr. Takahashi recently wrote a brief article explaining how it is done. Here it is in English.

I once worked at the Finance Ministry, and I was involved with the discovery of young “government-patronized” scholars and formulating measures for the mass media. I’ll use my experiences from those days to explain the methods the bureaucracy uses to tailor the “government-patronized” scholars and to manipulate the major newspapers into printing editorials and other articles with a certain slant.

Whenever the tone of all the national newspapers (on an issue) is the same, the bureaucracy is usually behind it. Here’s something I actually saw during my time in the bureaucracy. When conducting campaigns for the adoption of particular policies, the department heads at the ministry were put in situations in which they competed against each other to work on the newspaper editorial writers and television commentators to get them to write or say something. Seen from the side, it was like a competition among government employees for promotion of the sort that occurs in the private sector. The department heads worked as hard as they could at it.

Recently, all the national newspapers chanted in chorus about the need to “leave behind the politics of indecision”. Perhaps I’m imagining it, but that seems like the result of a (bureaucratic) mass media strategy.

The methods the bureaucracy uses to brainwash the mass media are simple:

1. Visit them in person (Usually the mass media visits others to cover the news. Going to them makes them feel grateful and obligated.)

2. Take internal documents and other data (The mass media will be delighted because they can’t do the research on their own.)

3. Give them an e-mail address or cell phone number (The mass media will be happy because it gives them another information source.)

There are no formal debriefings or conferences of that sort, but before other meetings at the Finance Ministry, senior officials would chat about which of the newspapers wrote the best articles. (In other words, which newspapers said what the ministry wanted them to say). The department heads who were unable to convince the newspapers to write articles with the desired message always looked downcast.

The methods the bureaucracy uses to convert academics into “government-patronized” scholars are simple.

1. Appoint them to deliberative councils or study groups. (Flatter the professors by asking their opinions. The deliberative councils created by law have higher status, and bureau chiefs select the scholars for their personal study groups to use as the gateway to success.)

2. Submit data and memorandums to them. (The bureaucracy supports their research. The academics have a weak understanding of systems and actual facts, so they treasure these.)

3. Pay for their meals and lodging for overseas trips, upgrade their seats on flights, and provide assistance at their destination. The academics will be surprised at how simple customs procedures become.

4. Help find work for their students by recommending them to public research institutes, etc.

5. Give them preference for the allocation of funds for research and outsourced surveys.

This creates a powerful triangle consisting of the bureaucracy and the brainwashed mass media and “government-patronized” scholars, which disseminates a large volume of biased information.

This triangle was fully operational to achieve the consumption tax increase and mold the segment of public opinion that believes a tax increase is unavoidable.


It is not easy to convey the disdain inherent in the original Japanese for “government-patronized” scholars. It is the same word used in the phrase “purveyors to the Imperial Household”.

Having a pipeline makes the job a lot easier.

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

Hara Eiji interview

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, August 1, 2012

ONE of the most important issues for people who read and think in Japan — and the most important for some of them — is the issue of systemic reform of the government at both the national and local level. That is one of the objectives of reformers such as Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, and it is one reason he has received so much support from the public.

Hara Eiji

One of Mr. Hashimoto’s special advisors in Osaka is Hara Eiji, who is responsible for the areas of public employee regulations and education laws. A Univerity of Tokyo graduate, he joined the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (now Economy, Trade, and Industry) in 1989. Mr. Hara became an aide to Watanabe Yoshimi when the latter was the Minister for Reform in the Abe and Fukuda cabinets before he left the LDP to form Your Party. Now the president of his own consulting company, Mr. Hara published a book on his experiences and bureaucratic reform titled Bureaucracy Rhetoric.

He was recently interviewed by the Kansai edition of the Sankei Shimbun. Here it is in English.

– What do you think of the Osaka Metro District Concept?

I can’t evaluate the concept itself. The decision has been reached through an election to realize the metro district concept, but it won’t move forward unless a decision is made in the Diet, which includes MPs from Hokkaido and Okinawa, for example, who don’t have any connection with Osaka. That’s strange.

– What are the advantages of regional devolution considering the problems of centralized authority?

The central government ministries and agencies say that if affairs are entrusted to the regions, they’ll make a mess of it. To a certain extent, they’re correct. But the problem still remains that those regions with both ability and incentive are being hindered.

Not everything will be rosy with regional devolution. Some regions probably will make a mess of it. If they grow where they can grow, other sectors will hold them back.

– What about Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka?

I think they have ability, but when you talk to the prefecture and municipal employees about policies, they often say something won’t be possible because of the relationship with the national government’s ministries and agencies. I have to wonder if they think the national government is their work supervisor.

To begin with, employees have to do their jobs for the citizens, but many local governments work by following the “guidance” of the national government. Local government employees also have ability, but what they seem to lack is awareness.

– A basic law for employees has been passed (in Osaka). Will the awareness of civil servants change?

That law wasn’t passed to give a hard time to employees with poor performance. Under the previous system, employee evaluations would be the same whether they worked hard or not. If salary increases are based on seniority, the people who want to work for the citizens would wither on the vine. We must have a system that enables the people who had high ideals when they were hired to maintain those ideals.

– Was there a lot of opposition from the employees about the law?

Public employees have the image of being the forces of opposition, but they too understand in their hearts that things must change. Nevertheless, their evaluations are tied to their adherence to precedent. Their awareness won’t change unless we create a mechanism that allows their work for the citizens to be the basis of their evaluations.

It might take time for this intent to fully penetrate, but it will be meaningful if there is an effect after a year. It is important to implement better policies by changing the organization. The premise of all reform is a public sector organization that performs its job for the citizens.

The reason that no progress is being made at the national level, even though people are shouting about the need for different reforms, is that there was a flight from the castle keep of reform, which was systemic reform of the civil service. Reforms that make all public servants enemies will be very troublesome, and there is no way the particulars of reform will advance with the public servants protecting vested interests.

Different regions have different problems, but they have somewhat in common a structural problem. The relationship between the national government and the regions is a problem that arose because people had become bound to a discipline that dates from before the war. Osaka was not all that bad.

We’re already at the point at which the decision-making framework for central government offices is not functioning well. We must change that into a framework which allows the regions to step up to the challenge of doing what they’re capable of doing.

Reader Toadold sends in the following video with the comment, “If you let people who are in service have a bit more freedom on their jobs you could get a lot more performance.”

He’s right!

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