AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Kono T.’

Hashimoto Toru (2): The company he keeps

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, March 28, 2012

**This is the second of a multi-part series on Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and the phenomenon he represents. The first is here.**

SOME people in Japan were suspicious: Was Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru just blustering with his declaration of intent to capture the Bastille of Japanese politics at Nagata-cho and implement his revolution from the inside out? That concern is now a very unlikely scenario — to prepare potential candidates for a lower house election, which rumor has it could come as early as June, he opened and begun operating on Sunday a political juku to prep potential candidates running either under the banner of One Osaka, his local party, or as allied forces. Backing down now would seriously wipe out the credibility of a man who’s riding The Big Wave.

Nagata-cho, here we come. Hashimoto Toru announces that One Osaka intends to field candidates in the next lower house election.

The word juku is often mistranslated as “cram school” in English, inspired by those exemplary Western educators who think Japanese children study too much. (Kumon is one of those jukus, and its system was adopted some years ago in a few of the lower southern states in the U.S. as a way to help laggard students.) This, however, is a juku in the original sense of the term — a private facility for the instruction of one’s “disciples”.

Mr. Hashimoto announced his intention to eventually accept 400 students for intensive training, of which 300 will become candidates, and of which he hopes 200 will win election. That’s a bit short of a lower house majority, but with even half that number, nothing happens in the Diet without him. That’s also before the totals of Your Party and other regional parties are factored in.

An article in the 10 February weekly Shukan Asahi (Hashimoto opponents) presented the argument that it won’t be possible for One Osaka to field 300 candidates. They quote one veteran pol as saying that it costs about JPY six million for a campaign, either for a single-district seat or a proportional representation seat, and the party doesn’t have the national organization, money, or bed of existing votes to pull it off. He thinks that even 200 is a pipe dream.

Someone the magazine claims is close to One Osaka is quoted as saying that even Mr. Hashimoto knows its an impossibility to run that many candidates, but he’s using that as a ploy to get the national government to approve his Osaka Metro District plan.

An anonymous source affiliated with New Komeito in the Osaka area suggests that many of his local supporters are ready to back him in local elections, but because they are affiliated with other parties, they will revert to their former allegiances in a national election.

Elsewhere, LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru declared, “They can’t take 100 seats. 30-40 is the reality.”

The magazine appeared on newsstands at beginning of February. Since then, he received 3,326 applications for admission to his school, and after a review of their essays, 2,262 students were accepted. The 400 selected for more intensive study will come from that group.

Some of the applicants were said to be sitting Diet members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. Now who can blame them? They didn’t learn anything about politics, the popular will, and keeping promises where they are now.

The funding for elections might be a problem because One Osaka is not a national political party with a minimum of five Diet seats. Therefore, it receives no public subsidies, and candidates will have to pay their own way. They’re already paying JPY 120,000 for the tuition to meet five times between now and June, when the winnowing takes place.

If you can tell a person by the company he keeps, Mr. Hashimoto is clearly a respectable but radical reformer. Several of the teachers already work with Your Party and have often been mentioned on this site. (In fact, there are tags for most.) Here’s a list:

Sakaiya Taiichi: Former head of Economic Planning Agency, non-fiction/fiction writer, chief Hashimoto advisor, professor emeritus at the juku

Nakata Hiroshi: Former lower house member and Yokohama mayor, member of the Spirit of Japan Party

Okamoto Yukio: Former diplomat, now foreign affairs commentator and independent businessman, former aide to Prime Minister Koizumi, has served on board of several companies, including Asahi Beer, and served as Mitsubishi auditor

Koga Shigeaki: Former Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry official, author of three books, and the man who became the symbol of the national victimhood when the DPJ betrayed its promises to get the bureaucracy under control.

Hara Eiji: Another METI vet and bureaucracy-bashing author

Takahashi Yoichi: Former Finance Ministry official, devised the original plan for Japan Post privatization under Takenaka Heizo’s supervision, now a commentator, advisor to Your Party, and university professor.

Yamanaka Toshiyuki: Former diplomat, now works in human resource training

Suzuki Wataru: Economics professor

Kitaoku Nobuichi: Professor specializing in foreign affairs and diplomatic history, former personal advisor to Prime Minister Koizumi.

The belle of the ball

Winning big is the best way for a politician to win friends, influence people, and become a supersized enchilada himself, and that’s just what Mr. Hashimoto does. Since his initial success as Osaka governor, many politicians flocked to the political alpha male in the hope some of his shine would reflect off them. Three years ago Masuzoe Yoichi, then the Health Minister in the terminal LDP governments and viewed by some as the last great hope for the LDP reformers, tried to coax the governor into an alliance. Some viewed him as an ineffective political organizer/operator, which subsequent events have borne out. Mr. Hashimoto seems to have understood that right away, and deflected his interest.

He’s also attracted the attention and approval of Tokyo Metro Gov. Ishihara Shintaro, who’s defended him against charges of dictator tendencies:

“People call him a dictator, so perhaps everyone’s a little daunted by him. But that’s just arbitrary. Unless a person with the power of ideas directs affairs from the top down, nothing gets done. It’s the same way here (in Tokyo).”

Mr. Ishihara’s only beef seems to be that the Osaka Metro District plan calls for the creation of an “Osaka-to” in Japanese. That’s a throwback to the Tokyo governor’s emergence into the public eye more than 50 years ago as a literary sensation writing best-selling fiction and non-fiction. (He was also a Vietnam war correspondent on special assignment.) He objects to the use of “to” (都), which he insists should be applied only to national capitals. (He has a point; one meaning of the Japanese reading of the word is “seat of government”. Then again, Osakans have always had a big idea of themselves.)

While Mr. Hashimoto welcomes the attention and is respectful of his elders, he’s also done a good job of deflecting the talk of an alliance with the Tokyo governor. Mr. Ishihara is discussing the formation of a new political party with Kamei Shizuka, an anti-Japan Post privatization non-reformer and paleo-conservative in the Japanese sense, whose party is still officially a junior coalition partner with the DPJ government. Mr. Hashimoto politely gave them the stiff-arm:

“There has to be a certain agreement on policies, such as opposition to tax increases and devolution from central authority.”

Mr. Kamei is not interested in the second of those policies mentioned. He’s part of the problem, not part of the solution.

The Osaka mayor has also developed a close professional relationship with Nakata Hiroshi and Yamada Hiroshi of the Spirit of Japan Party (more here). Both were appointed special advisors to the city after Mr. Hashimoto’s election, and Mr. Nakata is teaching at the juku. Asada Hitoshi, the chairman of the Osaka Prefectural Assembly and the policy chairman for One Osaka, attended a banquet for the Spirit of Japan Party in Osaka. Mr. Asada thanked them for their help in creating the Ishin Hassaku, or One Osaka’s policy framework, and added, “We share a sense of values.” Replied Mr. Yamada:

“We have great hopes for what’s happening in Osaka…We hope to be able to create a third political center by gathering people who share their view of the state and history.”

Former LDP Secretary-General Nakagawa Hidenao, the most prominent of the Koizumians left standing in the party, invited Mr. Hashimoto to Tokyo to participate in a study group and offer his opinions on devolution. Said the mayor:

“The people think that nothing will happen unless the Kasumigaseki social system is changed.”

But he was preaching to the converted. Several younger and mid-tier LDP members are attracted to the mayor’s movement, and there are also rumors of more private contacts with LDP member Kono Taro. The son of a former prominent LDP pol himself, Mr. Kono claims to be an advocate of small government, but sometimes skates onto very thin ice. (He thinks international financial transactions should be taxed and the funds given to multinational public sector do-gooders. He still hasn’t figured out that the global warming bologna was a scam.)

Another LDP member in the Hashimoto corner is former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. Mr. Abe recently spoke at an Osaka symposium for a private sector group called the Organization for Reviving Japanese Education. Attending was new Osaka Gov. Matsui Ichiro, Mr. Hashimoto’s partner in One Osaka. Their common objective is to reshape the current educational system, and at a post-conference meeting with reporters, the governor said they were on the same page. Mr. Matsui also said that the schools’ opposition to the amendments of the Basic Education Law passed during the Abe administration means that the popular will is not reflected in the school curriculum.

The most important of Hashimoto’s allies, however, is the reform Your Party. (Reports of their activities often grace these pages.) Party head Watanabe Yoshimi was interested in joining forces when Mr. Hashimoto arose as a political figure (a year or two before Your Party was formed), but was said to have been restrained by his party co-founder and Secretary-General, Eda Kenji, due to concerns that the Osaka mayor was a loose cannon. If that was true, the leash is now off. Said Mr. Watanabe:

“We must work to ensure as a party that this movement (One Osaka) spreads nationwide.”

He says the policies of One Osaka and Your Party are nearly the same, and adds that they have plans to form a joint policy study group and a political alliance nationwide. Those policies include the reorganization of local governments into a state/province system, the creation of an Osaka Metro District, and the idea that the new sub-national units receive all the consumption tax revenue. Mr. Watanabe has created a catchphrase to crystallize the ideas of his party’s policies, which is “giving the ‘three gen’” to local governments. Gen is the final syllable of the words kengen (authority), zaigen (revenue sources) and ningen (people).

L-R: Gov. Matsui, Mayor Hashimoto, Mr. Watanabe, Gov. Omura. The shape of things to come?

Further, Your Party executives as well as others in the party responsible for the candidacies in single-seat districts will study at the One Osaka political juku with the party leadership’s blessing. That includes about 20-30 people from Osaka, Kyoto, and Hyogo. Your Party plans to run 100 candidates in the next lower house election, and they’ve settled on about 70 so far.

The Shukan Asahi also quoted a Your Party source as saying that Mr. Watanabe and Mr. Hashimoto have reached a private understanding that the former would be “the first prime minister”. They suggest that Mr. Watanabe thinks control of the Diet is in their aggregate grasp.

The Osaka mayor is also an official international phenomenon — he’s attracted the attention of South Koreans. That’s only natural: national elections will be held in that country in April and December this year. KBS-TV sent a crew to hop over to Osaka for interviews. Commenting on the Korean interest, the mayor said:

“I look forward to the emergence in South Korea of new politicians who aren’t beholden to vested interests.”

Asked by a Korean reporter about his political juku, he answered:

“We must create politicians who aren’t under the thumb of vested interests. If South Korea can get excited about the same thing, I’d like to see Japan and South Korea move in same direction.”

The Japanese media spoke to one of the KBS reporters after the interview, and he told them:

“There’s quite a lot of reporting on Hashimoto in South Korea. After actually meeting him, I sensed his strong intent for reform.”

Critical to the success of any politician is his capacity to appeal to people who don’t agree with all his positions, but are on board for the most important of them — in this case, governmental reform. For example, Mr. Hashimoto supports amending the Constitution to permit the Japanese to maintain military forces for self-defense. Chiba Mayor Kumagai Toshihito also supports amending the Constitution, but for the opposite reason — he wants to prevent Japan from becoming involved in any conflict. Nevertheless, he said:

“The structure of the local governments where we live is an important issue, but one that has not attracted much interest. That it became the primary issue contested in the Osaka election is epochal…We of the “government ordinance cities” (cities with authority similar to that of prefectures) strongly seek the transfer of authority from the prefectures. I don’t agree with all of the opinions in Mr. Hashimoto’s Osaka Metro District concept, but our intent to change Japan from the regions is the same.”

Local party time!

Hashimoto Toru is the most visible manifestation of the ferment of regional politics in Japan, but he is by no means alone. This time last year, all eyes were on the newly elected mayor of Nagoya, Kawamura Takashi, and the governor of Aichi Prefecture, Omura Hideaki. Their victory in a February 2011 triple election might have been more impressive than the Osaka result because the Kawamura — Omura alliance is between men originally of different parties. Also, their tax-cutting, small-government message was accepted by people in a region that has been a stronghold for the tax-raising, big government DPJ. (This is the national headquarters of Toyota, and there are plenty of labor unions.)

Mr. Hashimoto actively lent his support to the two men and their respective regional parties last year, and members of One Osaka came to help campaign. (It should not be overlooked that this revolution is occurring in Osaka and Nagoya, Japan’s second- and third-largest cities.) It’s expected that the three men will form an alliance for a national election, and while that will probably happen, there are some differences in viewpoints between them.

For example, Kawamura Takashi’s party is called Genzei Nippon, or Tax Reduction Japan. He favors sharp cuts in taxes (which he has partially achieved in his first year in office). Though Mr. Hashimoto has criticized the Noda Cabinet’s plan to raise the consumption tax, and he is allied with the anti-tax increase Your Party, he has also criticized the Kawamura approach. That criticism provides a fascinating glimpse of his philosophy:

“The awareness I would like to see is not transferring work or duties from city hall to the ward offices, but transferring decision-making authority from the mayor to the heads of the ward offices. The ultimate objective is, ‘We don’t need a mayor’.”

He’s also said that he would be cool to a formal alliance with them unless Mr. Kawamura makes some adjustments, including his campaign for tax cuts:

“At the current stage, let’s stop talking about tax increases, or reducing taxes, or opposing tax increases. It is nonsense in our present state for politicians to be expressing an opinion about either tax increases or cuts. If society as a whole is going to create a system of mutual support, it’s natural for the members of society to assume the liability for an appropriate share. First, we should identify what sort of social system we want to create. Whether or not the residential tax should be cut is a minor matter that should be discussed at the end of the process.”

Mr. Hashimoto has presented this view on several occasions. If he’s serious, that would represent a drastic departure from the political status quo anywhere, much less Japan. He’s talking about bottom up government with the political class last.

The Aichi governor and Nagoya mayor have a plan for the administrative reorganization of their own area, which they call Chukyo-to. (Ishihara Shintaro won’t like that to either.) While they’re working on common ground, Mr. Hashimoto believes they need to do some more thinking about the concept, and he has the sense that they aren’t clear on exactly what they want to accomplish. Representatives from Aichi and Nagoya have had meetings on the Chukyo concept, but they have yet to present a plan for changing the current form of the administrative bodies, such as breaking up Nagoya (The Osaka plan calls for eliminating the administrative entity that is the city of Osaka and creating self-governing wards in the region.)

Mr. Kawamura says, however, that he spoke to Mr. Hashimoto by phone and explained that their plan calls for the merger of Aichi and Nagoya, but that the framework will take into account regional considerations. That will include maintaining the form of a city of Nagoya. Nevertheless, he wants to maintain their alliance.

Complicating this somewhat is that Your Party’s Watanabe Yoshimi has his own plan for the region, which would eliminate Nagoya and its current 16 wards and create seven new regional districts. Each of these special districts would have a chief municipal officer and a legislature. As with the Osaka Metro District concept, the idea behind the Watanabe plan is to eliminate redundant government systems. It would reduce the number of city workers by 20% and save JPY 50 billion. Mr. Kawamura thinks the people of Nagoya would not support it, and Mr. Omura thinks the Watanabe plan lacks specifics.

Meanwhile, both men have decided to establish a political juku of their own. The first was Mr. Omura, who announced his at the end of January:

“I want the three major metropolitan areas of Tokyo, Aichi, and Osaka to form an alliance and change Japan.”

His idea is to present candidates for the four Tokai prefectures of Shizuoka, Aichi, Gifu and Mie. Mr. Omura announced yesterday that he had received 751 applications, and after reviewing their documents, 678 have been accepted. About 80% are from Aichi, and include company employees, national and local civil servants, and local government council members. One of the speakers will be Takenaka Heizo, the Koizumi privatization guru, and another will be one of the elder statesmen of Japanese journalists, Tahara Soichiro.

Oddly, Mayor Kawamura didn’t like the idea at first. He told reporters, “I cannot agree with how they’re going about it.” That didn’t change his relationship with the Aichi governor, however. He still supports the Chukyo-to concept, and said, “There is no change in our friendship.”

But Mr. Kawamura suddenly changed his mind — you know what they say about imitation and flattery — and plans to set up his own political science class to start next month. His reasons:

“I want to communicate my thinking to the next generation. It is also for the next lower house election.”

The curriculum at his school will focus on taxes and national defense issues, and he will ask Hashimoto Toru and Omura Hideaki to send over some teachers. He expects to run Genzei Nippon candidates in the next lower house election in the five lower house districts in Nagoya.

He’s sticking to his tax cutting pledge, too. Despite Mr. Hashimoto’s criticism, it’s easy to like his approach.

“To improve the people’s lives, we must not raise taxes. Rather than tax revenue, we must raise (the people’s) income…the revenue source for tax reduction is governmental reform.”

It’s not often mentioned in the media, but Mr. Kawamura would have special committees established in each district of the city to have the residents determine how they would spend the tax revenue in their area. While taxes would be cut, it would give — you got it — power to the people to decide how they want to spend the money.

Now this is the kind of debate I can get behind. One man is opposed to immediate tax increases absent reform and says let the people decide what they want first, while the other man says the issue is raising income rather than taxes and tax reduction should be achieved by cutting government.

That’s my idea of win-win.

Coming next: An overview of other Hashimoto policies and a first look at his critics. Here’s a taste — He’s backing an idea proposed by the man being interviewed.

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Putting peoples’ lives first

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, May 5, 2011

…(I)ncestuous relations between corporations and governments are fascistic. The problem comes when you claim that such arrangements are inherently right-wing.
– Jonah Goldberg

The type of businessmen who seek special advantages by government action (are the) actual war profiteers of all mixed economies.
– Ayn Rand

PEOPLE have been complaining since the 19th century about a type of government/corporate collusion that has come to be known as the socialization of risk and the privatization of profit.

Risk is inherent in any commercial enterprise, and profits are an enterprise’s reward for successfully avoiding or negating those risks. Too often, however, Big Business colludes with Big Government (of either party) to create ways to keep the profits for themselves while making the public pay for risks gone sour. “Too big to fail” is one of the most common, as well as the one of the most stupid, justifications.

Now here comes the Japanese version, proposed as a way to keep Tokyo Electric Power Co. afloat while it deals with what are likely to be enormous compensation payments resulting from the problems with the Fukushima power plant. We already know who’s going to get stuck with the tab.

Both the Yomiuri Shimbun and the Asahi Shimbun are reporting that either the Democratic Party of Japan, or the DPJ-led government — keeping track of the more than 20 bodies Prime Minister Kan created to deal with the earthquake/tsunami makes it difficult to pin down — is discussing a new mechanism that will allow Tokyo Electric Power to raise rates to defray the compensation costs for Fukushima. No one knows the final bill for that compensation, but one initial estimate suggests it could be JPY one trillion a year for four years.

If the nation’s other power companies are asked to contribute to the compensation, the mechanism will allow them to raise their rates, too. Of course, say the proponents, the government will monitor the rates to make sure the increase is not excessive — doesn’t that allay your concerns? — but the average household will be on the hook for several hundred yen more a month in utility bills.

Their excuse reasoning is that it will be difficult for Tokyo Electric to maintain its operations absent a raise in rates. Therefore, investors will dump their bonds, which therefore will roil the commercial bond market, which therefore could cause problems for Japanese government bonds.

In short: TEPCO and its shareholders, primarily the big financial institutions, have been the ones to make the profits. By rights, they should also be liable for the risk. But when a natural disaster, exacerbated by power company and government mismanagement, requires the people who made the profits to assume the risk — you know, the free market mechanism — they want to socialize that risk by having those with no responsibility for the problem pay for it.

Access the website of the Democratic Party of Japan and the first thing you see is their slogan: “Putting Peoples’ Lives First”.

More than a half-century ago, Alfred Jay Nock wrote: “Professional politicians…are known of all men to be pliant mountebanks when they are not time-serving scoundrels, and are usually both.” Still true after all these years.

*****
It’s encouraging that several people unleashed a barrage at that trial balloon as soon as it hove into view. Kono Taro of the LDP, who claims (sometimes believably) to champion small government, asks why everyone else should pay to clean up the TEPCO mess just to keep stock prices stable for the banks.

Mr. Kono notes that the power companies already have a reserve fund of JPY 2.4 trillion for reprocessing, which is derived from user fees. He suggests dipping into that fund before anyone talks about rate increases. He further suggests that TEPCO should sell its assets (some of which are ownership stakes in affiliated companies) and apply the proceeds to the compensation.

He puts his finger on the problem that the DPJ promised to solve, but perpetuated instead:

“Bureaucrats from the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, and representatives of Tokyo Electric and the Federation of Electric Power Companies circulate through the Diet office building every day, buttonholing individual MPs and promoting their different agendas, (including) ‘Forcing Tokyo Electric to pay their claims could result in a financial crisis’.”

Are those quotes at the top of the post beginning to make sense?

Mr. Kono is one of those who offers another alternative: Spin off TEPCO’s atomic power division and split the parts of the company responsible for power generation and power transmission into separate entities. His version is a bit dodgy because he calls for the utility to be nationalized first, and then selling the individual units after it’s been split up. (His small government rhetoric does have some holes.) But he’s well aware that the LDP Diet members aligned with power company interests will also need to be squelched.

Earlier this week, Koga Shigeaki took that idea one step further on the Asahi TV program Morning Bird. Mr. Koga is a rara avis in Japan — a METI bureaucrat with an impressive resume in government service who favors radical civil service reforms to restrict the power of Kasumigaseki. Before raising rates, he argues, the utility should first make provisional compensation payments and limit cash outflow. Then, there should be a national debate about Tokyo Electric’s restructuring and the liability of stock and bond holders. (They are the company’s owners and creditors, after all.) He calls for the separation of the generation and transmission units as a way to shift to the use of smart grids.

The Japanese edition of the Wall Street Journal reports that Tokyo Electric earned JPY 1.34 trillion in consolidated net profit in FY 2010. Total consolidated assets stood at JPY 13.2039 trillion.

Takahashi Yoichi, formerly of the Finance Ministry and a reform bird of Mr. Koga’s feather, also argues that this is an excellent opportunity to separate the units and incorporate smart grids, with the proviso that the supply network be completely open. That would allow individual households and companies to generate and sell electricity, though large companies would still have to operate the grids. Mr. Takahashi uses the analogy of telephone company deregulation; the Internet might work as an analogy as well.

The LDP’s leading Koizumian, Nakagawa Hidenao, says that any trouble in the bond market could be forestalled by having the Bank of Japan buy either TEPCO or Japanese government bonds. He admits that solution is “non-traditional”, but he also says these are exceptional circumstances.

Finally, Yamaguchi Iwao at the Agora website points out that businesses account for 70% of Japanese power consumption and individual households 30%. Raising the rates will cause some companies to shift manufacturing overseas, or to incline them in that direction. Those who stay will be more likely to investigate ways to generate power on their own. That might be a good idea, but it also means that households will be forced to bear a large part of the liability.

So to sum up, the people with the most reactionary and hidebound approach to this problem, the ones who would use the power of government to protect the vested interests at the expense of the public, are the Democratic Party of Japan.

But then classical fascism has always been a phenomenon of the progressive left.

*****
I’ve mentioned before the rumors that Mr. Kan pressured the executives of Tokyo Electric Power into cutting a deal: They start making substantial financial contributions to the DPJ, and he’ll make sure they don’t get in any serious trouble because of Fukushima.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see some behavior that would reveal those rumors to be groundless?

*****
Also on the DPJ English-language website is a section that presents their political philosophy. One paragraph is titled Our Political Standpoint and includes the following:

“We stand for those who have been excluded by the structure of vested interests, those who work hard and pay taxes, and for people who strive for independence despite difficult circumstances. In other words, we represent citizens, taxpayers, and consumers.”

There’s yet another reason why the Japanese public no longer takes the DPJ seriously.

*****
Those with long memories might remember that Koga Shigeaki was on the receiving end of the gangsterish threats of then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito last fall when the former testified in the Diet against the DPJ civil service reform proposals. Mr. Koga didn’t think they were real reforms at all. He’s due to publish a book on 20 May called 日本中枢の崩壊. I’m already standing in line at the bookstore.

*****
For those interested in more detail about smart grids, here’s an explanation from the Center for Progress, which favors “progressive ideas for a strong, just, and free America”.

That’s my only problem with smart grids at this point. The people most excited by the idea are the people least likely to favor anything progressive with a lower-case P that would foster strength, justice, and freedom anywhere.

Les Routledge at this site understands the objections and insists that smart grids must be completely open, transparent, and competitive. Unfortunately, the first words out of his mouth about the advantages of smart grids are that they would be a more efficient way to ration supply.

With friends like these, the idea of free market competition for smart grids doesn’t need any enemies.

*****
I never cared for hip-hop music until I saw this video of Neba Solo.

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The world according to China

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 19, 2010

The United States-Japan Foundation recently held a seminar in Shanghai. It invited Americans and Japanese specializing in Chinese affairs, and Chinese specializing in international affairs, for discussions. Kono Taro of the LDP attended, and he offered a summary of the opinions presented by the Chinese seminar participants on his website in Japanese with the English title, The World According to China. Here it is in English. Remember that Mr. Kono is only reporting what he heard others say.

1. The turnover in Japanese prime ministers is too extreme. We don’t know how much longer the Kan Cabinet will survive, so what value is there in working to build communication channels with the Cabinet?

2. We thought that after the Democratic Party of Japan took power, relations would improve in several ways, starting with historical issues. But it seems as if Prime Minister Kan will not take any action against the hawkish statements of Foreign Minister Maehara.

3. People often say that tension in Asia was created by the rise of China and the decline of the United States, but that’s not correct. The tension in Asia was created by the rise of China and the decline of Japan.

4. It should not have been necessary to suspend interaction between the citizens of both countries after the Senkakus Incident. The Chinese government was hounded domestically for that alone.

5. China now has some leeway in its relations with the United States because its power and status have risen.

6. In regard to Taiwan and territorial issues, the Chinese government is being pressured by the people, who insist that it should respond authoritatively to the United States government.

7. The current American-Sino relationship was formed when China was in a weak position, such as during the Tiananmen Square “incident”. China should act more assertively to create a relationship of equality with the United States.

8. From the Chinese perspective, the United States is saying that China should act more cooperatively, but the U.S. has not changed its position at all on Taiwan and Tibet. They are trying to use India, Japan, and Vietnam to maintain a balance in the region.

9. In its relations with the United States, China will take a strong position in regard to the core issues of Taiwan and Tibet. Realistic cooperation is possible in the economic sphere. For example, in exchange for China giving some ground on currency issues, the U.S. should eliminate its restrictions on providing technology to China. More cooperation is needed between the U.S. and Chine for international issues. China’s international role will increase in the future, so it will not follow America’s lead.

10. In regard to the issue of voting rights at the World Bank, the United States convinced a backwards-looking Europe, and China’s status rose. More of this will probably occur in the future.

11. Heretofore, when the United States engaged with growing powers, they were either complete enemies, such as the Soviet Union, or complete satellites, such as Germany or Japan. This is the first time that the United States has had to deal with the rise of a country that is neither, such as China, and they have no experience with it.

12. The United States is becoming frantic because it thinks it can defeat China with both its power and its values. It feels threatened by China’s rise, however. They seem to want to blame China for everything.

13. China must clearly signal its intentions, learn to communicate forthrightly with the United States, and take seriously its role and responsibilities in Asia and the world.

14. The U.S.-China relationship is not a mere bilateral relationship, but a relationship for creating international relations.

15. A new regional framework is required in Asia to handle new, non-traditional security issues while dealing singly with the traditional security issues of Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula, and the South China Sea. (The statement was made that Taiwan is no longer an issue.)

16. In Asia, Japan, South Korea, and India have very strong economic ties with China. Nevertheless, their bonds with the United States remain as those with a strong nation. This paradox will present an interesting topic for strategic thinkers in the future.

17. In China too the state strongly intervenes in the economy. Other problems include the central government’s excessive pressure on local governments for the resource economy, and the large income gaps.

18. On two occasions the argument was made that a certain amount of political reform was required. The first time, however, (the leadership) made the decision that it would be dangerous after watching the democracy movement in Poland. The second became linked to the Tiananmen “incident”. It is possible that the current corruption and economic gaps will lead to the necessity for political reform. But that will only involve democratic procedures within the party.

19. There is no question that the party controls the military. There are various problems within the government, however, regarding the relationship between the military and other institutions. For example, the status of the Foreign Ministry in the government is extremely low. It has no Politburo members, nor is there anyone at the deputy prime minister level.

20. Whenever there is a difference of opinion between the military and the Foreign Ministry, the military does not give a second thought to challenging them.

21. The party uses personnel moves and the budget to control senior military officers. The military operated its own business enterprises, but permitting that led to corruption and the loss of the budget as a means of controlling the military. Therefore, controls are being put on the military’s involvement in business.

22. Taiwan has ceased to become a problem, so the military requires a new rationale for budget requests.

Afterwords:

Don’t say they didn’t warn you.

Did you notice how often the word status came up in the conversation? Joshua Blanton at One Free Korea is even more blunt about China than I:

(F)eeding China’s ego also feeds its arrogance and its predatory nature…China’s leaders are the product of a zero-sum world view where preying on the weak is just what the strong do, where the ideology of class equality masks a cultural obsession with status, place, and power so deep that not even Mao could exterminate it…China must have its share of intra-governmental gridlock and negotiations, but those are negotiations conducted within that unaccountable fraction of a percent of the total population that hasn’t been subjugated. The rest of the world is made of lessers you subjugate, and rivals you can’t…(I)n Beijing…there is a long institutional memory of foreign kings bringing tribute.

Be sure to read all of it for the context, though it also stands alone very easily.

******
I much prefer La Femme Chinoise to Die chinesische weltanschauung.

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Actions speak louder than words

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, July 28, 2010

KONO TARO, the Acting Secretary-General of the Liberal Democratic Party, is one of the leaders of the party’s reform wing. One of the few initiatives by the ruling Democratic Party that has found favor with the public is their televised “policy reviews”. These reviews have made a star of Ren Ho, but Mr. Kono was the first to conduct them, during the Aso administration. His panel was largely ignored by the media, and some of his recommendations were ignored by his party.

The latest post on his blog has some interesting observations on media manipulation. Here it is in English:

I’ve had some inquiries from the media asking whether I would participate in the DPJ’s policy reviews. (N.B.: Some members of the DPJ have suggested that he could join the panel.)

There’s been absolutely no contact from the government, so I can’t answer one way or the other, can I? Before the government tries to give the mass media the idea that cooperation with opposition parties is possible, they should contact people directly–if that’s what they really think. Because they haven’t made such contact, it’s clear they have no intention of doing so. It’s just a performance.

The inquiries have changed over the past few days. Now the mass media is asking whether there has been any contact from MP Tsujimoto (Kiyomi, who just left the Social Democratic Party of Japan). Apparently she said that she wants to create a network that transcends party lines. They asked if I would be a part of it.

I haven’t heard a word from her.

Actions still speak louder than words.

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

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 16, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Track 01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taxing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good news

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

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

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

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

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

New Komeito’s Yamaguchi Natsuo:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zero.

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

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

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

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

It’s all good!

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

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

Sengoku Yoshito disagrees:

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

But then Mr. Sengoku works for the union.

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

The near future

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

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

Tanigaki Sadakazu agreed:

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

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

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

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

Mr. Watanabe has other plans too:

We’ll present bills in rapid succession.

Watanabe Yoshimi

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

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

Said Mr. Watanabe:

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

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

The DPJ’s future

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

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

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

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

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

What, me worry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I take the people’s election results seriously.

But not that seriously:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The joker in the deck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Said another Ozawa acolyte:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Numbers of interest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wakabayashi Aki

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

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

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

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

Afterwords:

* Tanaka Makiko

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

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

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

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

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

Pollsters

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

Print media

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

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

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

Japan will collapse if Kan doesn’t leave

The Internet

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

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

Television

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

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

Said party leader Yamada Hiroshi:

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

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

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

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

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Edano Yukio interview (2), plus alpha, plus update

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, February 20, 2010

THE RESIGNATION OF Finance Minister Fujii Hirohisa last month resulted in a minor Cabinet reshuffle in the Democratic Party of Japan-led government. Two other ministers slid into different positions, and Edano Yukio filled the vacancy as the minister for governmental reform. He conducted a group interview with the print media last week, very little of which appeared in English. Here’s what the Nishinippon Shimbun thought was worth printing in Japanese.

*****
What are the problems with independent administrative institutions and public interest corporations?

Edano Yukio

There is little taxpayer involvement and problems frequently arise. The people are suspicious of the way tax money is spent. The independent administrative institutions should be subjected to zero-based review. In principle, they should be eliminated in accordance with our party platform. We cannot, however, eliminate national universities (which are now organized as independent administrative institutions). Some of these bodies should continue in a form with no national government involvement.

We should examine problems using the pattern we adopted for the general program review (conducted in a Tokyo gym last fall). The enterprises that can be entrusted to the private sector will be reorganized in a different form. We will also debate what sort of organizational form should be used.

The previous general program review was criticized for being controlled by the Foreign Ministry.

We should have the people understand that the process was controlled by the politicians. That must be done by communicating the process in which decisions were made about the programs reviewed.

What are your targets for reducing independent administrative institutions and public interest corporations?

The programs are reviewed to decide how many of them should be eliminated. If we knew from the start, the review wouldn’t be necessary. The reason people praised the program review last year was not because of the (money saved), but because we stopped the unreasonable expenditure of taxpayer money. Overall spending reductions will be achieved by other means, including devolution to local government.

You’re also responsible for the government’s interpretation of laws and regulations. Will a change in the interpretation of Article 9 in the Constitution be possible?

If past interpretations were mistaken it would be possible to correct them, but as of now, we do not have to change the interpretation of previous administrations.

Should Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro be questioned as a witness in the Diet?

I will refrain from commenting because that will be decided in the Diet, but another occasion for a further explanation is needed to have the people accept it.

Reading between the lines

* His stated policy of subjecting the quasi-governmental entities to a zero-based review and privatizing many of them is an excellent one. Now we’ll see what he can accomplish. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, there were 98 independent administrative institutions as of 1 October 2009 and 24,648 public interest corporations as of 1 October 2007. He’ll have to roll up his sleeves.

* Mr. Edano was the model of discretion in this interview. For example, he would not be upset if a hole were to open in the earth and swallow up Ozawa Ichiro. Once upon a time, he threatened to leave the DPJ if it admitted him and the rest of his Liberal Party, but that turned out to be a bluff. Nevertheless, their contentious relationship is one aspect of, and contributes to, the DPJ’s inherent instability.

* He has served as the chair of the party’s special committee on research into constitutional reform. Regarding the peace clause, he has said the constitution has no mechanism for civilian control of the military and therefore cannot act as a check on the action of the self-defense forces. The use of those forces is determined by interpretation. That suggests he would prefer written law rather than interpretation, but he seems to be backing away from that in the interview. Mr. Edano is also the head of a DPJ faction with Maehara Seiji, who would amend Article 9 to allow for self-defense. The impossibility of a DPJ consensus on constitutional issues might be the reason he accepts the status quo now that he is in a DPJ-led Cabinet.

* All politicians find themselves at some point in the position of thinking they have to either lie or dissimulate. Some are as cheap and brazen about it as a concert full of Elvis impersonators. Give credit to Mr. Edano, however—his spin claiming the policy review conducted by the government last fall was under political direction is at least tasteful, if not exactly true.

* Note that one of his ideas for reducing the spending of the national government is to force local governments to make those expenditures. He misses the point entirely. Economic growth and more efficient government are achieved by reducing government spending, not by forcing taxpayers to finance a different government entity.

Plus alpha: Behind the scenes of the policy review

Journalist Wakabayashi Aki drew back the curtain to provide a glimpse of scenes at the government’s policy review last fall in the 17 December issue of the weekly Shukan Bunshun. Ms. Wakabayashi is a former employee of the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare who resigned and wrote a book detailing bureaucratic waste and abuse.

The most worthwhile aspect of the project, as she notes, was that the government finally did in public, to a limited extent, what had always been done in private in the past. The proceedings drew an audience of 20,000 people, while another 330,000, on average, watched every day on the Internet. But why take half-measures? Allow all the political parties to participate and broadcast it live on NHK, in the same way the Japanese version of Question Time is now televised.

While the members of the ruling party served as the MCs, the review was set up and directed by the Ministry of Finance, contrary to what Mr. Edano might have us believe. A total of 450 programs were examined (out of more than 3,000), and the Finance Ministry’s Budget Bureau selected all of them. Of these, only 10 were Finance Ministry projects, and all of those involved several other ministries. (The Finance Ministry acts as the liaison between the government and the bureaucracy in those instances.)

The private sector experts that served on the review panel, mostly university professors, were chosen by a council that in turn was chosen by the bureaucracy.

She quoted one bureaucrat who is a veteran of other efforts to reform Kasumigaseki:

A policy review led by the Ministry of Finance will generate small sums of money, but not large amounts, and will not eliminate any programs altogether. They just declared a partial revision, without repudiating the core of the system.

Said another civil servant:

The policy review was a show that ended after an hour. That in itself is interesting, but it’s not suited for debating major issues.

Few programs were eliminated entirely. Most had their budgets cut from 10-30 percent, which was attributed to a DPJ desire to meet numerical targets.

The review did not examine at all the use of state-owned land, which accounts for one-fourth of Japanese territory. Had they done so, they could have delved into the unused assets owned by the government and other money-wasting activities. The debates this would entail require expert testimony and more time than they were willing to use.

The mass media seldom discuss it, but this was not the first such review of government programs. Kono Taro of the Liberal Democratic Party reform wing chaired a project team to examine waste in government last summer, when the party was the head of government. Some of the same private-sector experts on the LDP project team also were members of the DPJ panel—and made the same recommendations.

Mr. Kono described what happened on his blog:

We were treated in the LDP like a rebellious army…Even though the regular army (of the DPJ) conducted the policy review, they didn’t eliminate so much. Apart from the so-called buried funds, they claimed they could find JPY 2-3 trillion.

They didn’t. The Kono team cut 57 projects over a four-day period from the Education, Environmental, and Finance ministries for a saving of JPY 880 billion. In contrast, the DPJ fielded three teams with 70 people and 40 support personnel, and worked over a period of nine days. They managed to save JPY 1.8 trillion.

The LDP team offered different recommendations than the DPJ team. For example, the Kono team called for the immediate elimination of the National Research Institute of Brewing. In contrast, the DPJ merely suggested that its role be more clearly defined and then its operations reviewed.

Ms. Wakabayashi wondered about the DPJ commitment to saving money. While the review was underway, Prime Minister Hatoyama pledged JPY 450 billion in aid to Afghanistan, including job training for the Taliban, and another JPY 800 billion in aid to developing countries to combat “global warming”. (Surely he has heard by now that no statistically significant global warming has occurred since 1995.)

The policy review also came up in a broader roundtable discussion that appeared in the 13 December Sunday Mainichi, another weekly magazine. Journalist and commentator Toshikawa Takao didn’t try to claim that the DPJ ran the show, but looked instead for a silver lining in the cloud of the Finance Ministry’s primary role:

Some say this has been only a switch to dependency on the Ministry of Finance, but that can’t be helped. Only the Finance Ministry knows the issues involved regarding the money that has become lodged in the dark recesses of each ministry. Ultimately, political leadership is all about how to use the knowledge and expertise of the financial bureaucrats.

Countered Yokota Yumiko, who has become a go-to source for the discussion of issues involving Kasumigaseki:

The DPJ initially issued a declaration of hostilities, saying it would have everyone at the level of bureau head or above resign, but after taking power, it looks for cooperation with the bureaucracy. If they agree with our policies, we won’t fire them, goes their logic. They haven’t fired a single person. I don’t think they were serious about disassociating from bureaucratic dependency to begin with. They even seem ready to put off civil service reform, with salary and personnel cuts. That’s probably to be expected considering that the public employees unions and other labor unions support the party.

Fancy that. A political party says one thing before an election, and then forgets all about it after the election. Who would have guessed?

Afterwords:

Here’s the first interview we ran with Edano Yukio.

UPDATE:

Ms. Yokota may be on to something, alas.

In a speech in Saku, Nagano, on the 20th, Mr. Edano elaborated on his plans for dealing with independent administrative institutions. The government will conduct a second round of policy reviews, and here’s what he said the result might be:

It’s possible the independent administrative institutions will be returned to the (jurisdiction of the) national government…Direct control by the government would be more economical…These institutions were created to downsize government, but high-level veterans of the bureaucracy were appointed directors, and they get high salaries. That’s a case of yakebutori (i.e., getting rich–literally fat–after a fire).

If they eliminated or privatized the institutions, they wouldn’t have to worry about the identity or the salaries of their directors at all.

The DPJ campaigned on a program of disassociating themselves from the bureaucracy, and that was their mandate. This will expand the bureaucracy. They promised to fire bureau heads. This will increase the number of bureau heads. They promised regional devolution. This will increase the authority of central government.

Just who’s getting fat after the fire?

These folks are hopeless.

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