THE MOST RECENT JPK focused on the two sides of Aso Taro before “no side” is called for him, which might be sooner than we think. Turnabout being fair play, it’s time to cross the aisle for a look at recent developments with the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, a worthy subject for examination if only because they always seem to be on the verge of losing the elastic in their political trousers.
How I spent my summer vacation
The last time we checked in with Kan Naoto, the veteran of nearly 30 years in the Japanese Diet was off to England for a three-day field trip to study the workings of Parliament.
Mr. Kan held a press conference in London to tell the class what he had learned. He said he discovered that the opposition party in Great Britain has a formal meeting with the national bureaucracy before an election to prepare for a smooth handover of power. He asked the Japanese government to permit a meeting of the same type.
“I intend to ask the government to recognize formal contact between the bureaucratic organizations and the party before the next election.”
That’s a good idea, but finding that out required a three-day junket in Westminster? It’s something a junior staffer from the British Embassy in Tokyo could have told him over a two-hour lunch, saving everybody a lot of time and money. Then again, he would have missed seeing the changing of the guards and hearing the chimes of Big Ben. Perhaps he prefers to study using the full immersion technique.
Tails wagging the dog
Awarding seats in the legislature to parties that haven’t won elections using a formula based on the proportion of votes received amplifies their power beyond justification. There are people in every country who believe all sorts of things, but the right to free speech and free thought does not include the right to be taken seriously, much less the right to have a voice in government. The general plot in a democracy is to fashion a rough consensus based on majorities and move in that direction. The only effect fringe elements have on society at large is to cause paralysis or work at cross-purposes with the majority. What else would anyone expect to happen in the world of politics?
As part of its strategy to take control of government, the DPJ formed an alliance with the Social Democratic Party, who represent the flannel-headed death spiral left, as well as the semi-fossilized People’s New Party, who are blocking privatization of unnecessary government ministries and bureaucratic reform.
Many Japanese politicians also realize there’s a problem, and moves are afoot to reduce the number of MPs in both houses of the Diet. (Proportional representation is not the only issue; there are just too many legislators in Japan at all levels of government, period.) Proposals are floating around that call for cuts ranging from 50 to 180 of the lower house legislators. That 180 is an important figure because it’s the number of proportional representation seats in the House of Representatives.
The DPJ adopted a platform plank during the last national election to reduce those seats from 180 to 100, nearly halving the number of proportional representation delegates. But they could afford to be honest since the voters weren’t ready to take them seriously as the head of a national government yet. It’s funny how that changes the closer one gets to power.
The SDP is taking them very seriously, however. They have seven seats in the lower house, only one of which they won outright. The rest are all filled by proportional representation delegates. Eliminating those seats eliminates their voice, such as it is.
So it’s no surprise that their participation in a DPJ-led coalition government is conditioned on maintaining the status quo on proportional representation. Said party head Fukushima Mizuho:
“An electoral system based on one delegate in a winner-take-all district will lead to a two-party system. The Diet requires a multidimensional value system, including small parties.”
Defending this idea inevitably means that one has to defend minority control of the majority, which is anathema to the idea of a democratic government.
Incidentally, it’s worth remembering that the last non-LDP government in Japan fell apart when the Socialists, the previous incarnation of the SDP, bolted the coalition.
Yukio steps in it again
The subject of proportional representation intersected with DPJ party head Hatoyama Yukio’s tendency to babble, particularly where the PNP is concerned.
Said Mr. Hatoyama during an FM radio broadcast:
“Our preference is a coalition with the SDP and PNP until we can take an absolute majority in the upper house election next July.”
The PNP was not amused, and who could blame them? Asked party chief Kamei Shizuka:
“Would anyone get married knowing they’ll divorce in a year?”
From that you can tell pre-nuptial agreements aren’t yet commonplace in Japan.
But Mr. Kamei is more old-fashioned. If you want us to hop into bed in bed with you, he suggested, give us a real kiss instead of a kiss-off.
To show their displeasure, the party postponed a decision on offering their support to 50 candidates in the lower house election proposed by the DPJ.
Mr. Hatoyama offered an excuse:
“My true intent was not conveyed.”
That’s the best he can come up with after 40 years of marriage? Then again, maybe he’s never had to do better. In 1996 it was revealed that he had a mistress in Hokkaido for 10 years, but his wife blamed herself and took him back.
Considering the mood of electorates world-wide and the odds a DPJ administration will belly flop, it might not be such a good idea for them to start counting any badger skins from an upper house election. (The Japanese proverbially warn against counting those pelts rather than unhatched chickens.)
Not all the DPJ Diet reform plans are meeting with opposition from their small-party allies, however. Some are meeting with opposition from DPJ members themselves.
For example, some want to include a measure in the platform reducing the number of upper house seats. Naturally those DPJ members with upper house seats aren’t ready to get on board that train. They say the party is being “too hasty”.
So, what will the party’s latest edition of its “true intent” turn out to be?
Yukio tries to wipe it off
Those who have been following the DPJ hymnbook know that Mr. Hatoyama’s plan for reforming the Japanese bureaucracy is to have everyone at the level of department head or above resign when the party forms a government. They’d be rehired on the condition of signing a loyalty oath pledging to support DPJ policies. Acting Party President Kan Naoto has already begun backing off that one, and now Mr. Hatoyama is sidling away too, though he hasn’t conveyed his true intent yet. He said:
“(When the) current law is unraveled, (we find) it’s difficult from a legal perspective to demote civil service personnel. (So) it’s my understanding this will not necessarily take the form of a written resignation.”
Unraveling that statement leads to the question of what form it could possibly take. Let’s assume they won’t be lined up against the wall, given a last cigarette and blindfold, and shot.
Here’s an idea: Make a phone call to Nakagawa Hidenao of the LDP and tell him you’ll support his bill to make it easier to demote civil servants as well as outlaw the revolving employment door for retired bureaucrats. He’s got more than 100 signatures on the bill, and he said he wrote it specifically to get DPJ backing. If you worked together, it would easily pass both houses.
That’s assuming you’re serious, of course.
The DPJ has formulated the outline for a new platform a plank on devolution. It’s seen as a nod to the ideas (and more importantly, the popularity) of Osaka Gov. Hashimoto Toru, surely with the intent of capturing his support in the election. The party claims it will promote a great shift of authority to local government by 2013, their fourth year in office, if they’re still there.
They plan on eliminating the prefectural government liability for local agencies of central government enterprises, which is near the top of Mr. Hashimoto’s wish list. Also included for elimination are grants with strings attached to specific agencies.
The party hopes this will neutralize the authority of the central bureaucracy and the influence of the zokugi-in, those legislators sitting in the Diet who serve as the handmaidens of the individual ministries by acting as their de facto in-house lobbyists.
They’ve also ditched Ozawa Ichiro’s idea to reorganize local government around 300 units, which Mr. Hashimoto and the National Association of Towns and Villages opposed. In its place they’ve offered up a vague program for basic local governmental units (usually municipalities in most countries) with authority equal to that of prefectures. They promised to “think about” the state/province system, an LDP idea that is already halfway down the runway, and which Mr. Hashimoto likes.
In fact, DPJ bigwig Okada Katsuya visited the Osaka governor and played up to him by suggesting a state could be created in the Kinki region. Mr. Hashimoto says he will “cheer on”, rather than endorse, a party in the upcoming election, so perhaps Mr. Okada thinks that flattery will get him everywhere.
Never underestimate the power of a local politician from a populous region with poll ratings north of 80%!
Political indoctrination of children Public school education
Koshi’ishi Azuma, one of the troika of DPJ acting presidents with Ozawa Ichiro and Kan Naoto, addressed the
Supreme Soviet general meeting of the Japan Teachers’ Union, held at Social Democratic Party headquarters in Tokyo. Mr. Koshi’ishi is one of seven DPJ legislators to have a Socialist Party background, and he formerly headed the JTU-affiliated Yamanashi teachers’ union. Once a Red, always a Red, eh?
You think I exaggerate? Last month Mr. Koshi’ishi said at a press conference:
“Rather than inspecting North Korean ships, we should inspect the Aso Cabinet.”
As he frequently does, Mr. Koshi’ishi spoke about the relationship between politics and education:
“There is no such thing as education without politics.”
Well, that clears that up. The JTU criticism of the use of innocuous patriotic gestures in the schools, such as singing the national anthem, is so habitual as to be knee-jerk. Now we know it’s not because it injects politics into education, but rather because it injects the politics they dislike into education—i.e., they’d rather sing the Internationale.
But there was no mystery about what he thought to begin with. The Yamanashi union got caught a few years ago squeezing contributions from primary and junior high school teachers for his election campaign, and they even had teachers working the phone banks to bug voters at home. The teachers themselves admitted the money went into a dummy bank account for Mr. Koshi’ishi, who wound up with JPY 3 million.
At another JTU meeting in Tokyo in January, he said:
“It is not possible to be politically neutral in education…We will change education through politics.”
Statements such as these skate close to the edge of violating the Japanese laws regarding politics and education, and–let’s face it–are a de facto pledge to indoctrinate students.
The Japanese electorate might be desperate for a change of government, but it’s unlikely this is what they have in mind. Most of the DPJ rank and file probably don’t care for it either, but that’s the price they pay for trying to paste together unwieldy coalitions.
As an example of how far the DPJ is willing to follow the JTU party line, they said they would abolish the JTU-opposed supplementary reader on morality, Kokoro no Noto (Notebook of the Heart), of which several editions are used in primary and junior high schools. It would save JPY 300 million ($US 3.24 million), which admittedly is a bit steep.
Developed by a psychologist, the book is very easy to read, is written in a soft and fuzzy tone, and talks about the importance of working for a living, raising a family, and becoming a responsible citizen. In other words, it’s as controversial as vanilla ice cream.
But here are the objections raised at one website:
“For example, about working, the reader includes such sentences as, ‘When do you get the feeling that you have worked? Is it when you’ve studied? Is it when you’ve come home from school?’, and ‘Working is not only for your own sake, but also for contributing to society.’
“We think that tries to whitewash the idea of working. Considering the reality of employment in Japan today, some children are not able to have a satisfying life at school because of the burden they feel from their parents (having lost their jobs) due to restructuring.”
No, I did not make that up.
Their real beef, however, is probably to be found on the page about patriotism (the only one) that appears later in the book. Here’s the complete and unexpurgated version of how one reader treats the subject:
“If you extend the feeling of loving your hometown outward
It will connect with the feeling of loving Japan.
The feeling of loving this country where we live
And wishing for its development is perfectly natural.
But, how much about this country do we know?
We should have a thorough knowledge of Japan now and renew our awareness of its splendid traditions and culture.
When seeing the excellence of this country, and passing on its merits to the future,
Loving Japan as a member of international society, and as one of the people on the Earth,
Must not be the narrow and exclusionary glorification of one’s country.
Loving this country will connect with loving the world.”
Mark my words! If they force Japanese junior high school kids to read this propaganda, before you know it they’ll want to start marching into the Korean Peninsula again!
Is it any surprise that people who think Aso Taro is a criminal and Kim Jong-il should skate would respond to the sentiments in the above excerpt like Dracula to a cross?
Look for a lot of Ministry of Education news to be generated in the event of a DPJ victory.
Now that we’re on the subject of people who sleep in coffins, what is it with necrophilia and Democratic Parties? The Democratic Party of the Daley machine in Chicago (where Barack Obama learned whatever it is he knows about politics) has long been the butt of jokes for having perfected the technique of counting the graveyard vote. It’s part of the American political folklore that the Illinois ballots cinching the White House for Richard Nixon in 1960 are in a cement-weighted chest at the bottom of Lake Michigan.)
Now it turns out that the Democratic Party of the Hatoyama machine in Hokkaido modified the grave robbing technique by having the dearly departed donate money to DPJ President Hatoyama Yukio rather than rise up and vote for him.
Good idea. The write-in ballot is used in Japan, and that could get messy.
The Asahi Shimbun reported on 16 June that from 2003 to 2007, at least five very still people contributed an aggregate of 1.2 million yen on 10 occasions to Mr. Hatoyama’s personal political fund raising group. When contacted, relatives of four of the five said WTF? and the fifth said he wasn’t sure. Perhaps he needs to conduct a séance.
When asked about it at a press conference, Mr. Hatoyama said he would look into it right away. He also said:
“I’m surprised, because it was completely unexpected.”
What was unexpected? Getting caught, or getting money from dead people?
Then a curious thing occurred—several other media outlets, including the Yomiuri Shimbun, the Kyodo news agency, and weekly magazines, started matching up obituary columns with Mr. Hatoyama’s list of donors. The original list swelled to 90 corpses (or the urns containing their ashes) who donated up to JPY 21.77 million (about $US 235,000) in 193 instances.
And here we thought all the zombies were in the LDP!
The DPJ boss asked his attorney to investigate. The lawyer came back to report that the donations were derived from JPY 10 million which Mr. Hatoyama had entrusted to an aide if political funds ran short. The aide was embarrassed that he wasn’t able to shake down enough people, so he used those funds to cover for it. The report quotes the aide:
“I should have asked for donations in person but I neglected to do so. So I repeatedly made false accounts (in the political fund reports).”
Said Mr. Hatoyama:
“I assume that since there was so few donations from individuals for me, (the aide) thought it would be embarrassing if the fact came into light.”
The DPJ wants everyone to think that settles it.
The party—which submitted a bill to the Diet for amending the political campaign law to prohibit corporate donations after their former chief Ozawa Ichiro’s fund-raising group got caught taking illegal contributions from a construction company—refuses to cooperate with a Diet investigation of the matter. Said Okada Katsuya:
“(Hatoyama Yukio) has fulfilled his responsibility to explain.”
There’s a lot that hasn’t been explained. For starters, if Mr. Hatoyama gave all that money to his aide to cover expenses, which the aide diverted to graveyard donations, why didn’t he ask the aide for a yearend accounting of the money provided? You know–follow normal business practices. If he’s that cavalier with his own money, how will he be with the national treasury?
“There’s something wrong here someplace.”
– Bo Diddley, Ooh Baby
But another question remained unanswered: What shortfall in donations? Mr. Hatoyama said the aide was embarrassed over the lack of money collected, but that wouldn’t be the appropriate word for the amount of individual donations the DPJ leader received, unless it was used in the context of an embarrassment of riches.
According to Mr. Hatoyama’s political fund reports between 2003 and 2007, he received from 50 million yen to 110 million yen annually in individual donations.
Further, the Mainichi Shimbun reported that during the 10 years from 1998 to 2007, Mr. Hatoyama received JPY 590 million yen (about $US 6.37 million) in political largesse. (Remember that he represents just a single legislative district.) Rather than having a shortage of fund raising, his committee brought forward money at the end of every fiscal year.
Even subtracting the JPY 21.78 million in dead man money from the total, Mr. Hatoyama scraped up far more that of other DPJ and LDP leaders in recent years, including former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Ozawa Ichiro himself. And Mr. Ozawa was getting money from construction companies.
The annual political contributions to other LDP and DPJ party presidents averaged JPY 1.40 million during that same time period, a paltry amount in comparison.
And of those donations to Mr. Hatoyama less than JPY 50,000 ($US 540), which is the level at which tax deductions kick in, 60% were from anonymous contributors. In 2003, at least 1,500 of the quick rather than the dead made these small donations without stating their names or addresses.
A useful contrast is the individual contributions given to blueblood Aso Taro, whose family is so fabulously wealthy he pretends to read comic books to acquire the common touch. They exceeded JPY 10 million only once, and anonymous donations accounted for less than 10% of the total.
Mr. Hatoyama is on the record as calling for greater use of tax-exempt contributions to encourage individuals to give money to candidates, yet he is the undisputed champ for pulling in small anonymous contributions that aren’t eligible for tax deductions.
The law states that individuals can contribute a maximum of 10 million a year. Did Mr. Hatoyama and his supporters employ anonymous donations that wouldn’t show up on tax statements to get around the law?
In addition to dead people, it also turns out that the DPJ president also hauls in a substantial amount of swag from local legislators at the prefectural and municipal level. He’s the official representative of a DPJ district level group in Hokkaido that receives hundreds of thousands of yen annually from local pols, and an aggregate of JPY 16.50 million over five years.
What’s so unusual about that? One Diet member from the LDP–you know, the money politics party–said that he had never heard of local politicians donating to the campaigns of national politicians before.
The local politicians have a tendency to give their money to Mr. Hatoyama on 25 December. That’s not a public holiday in Japan, but it’s still an unusual coincidence. Christmas in 2005 fell on a Sunday, yet that’s the day the fund-raising group reported receiving the cash-stuffed envelopes in its stocking. Ho ho ho!
Is the group visiting the homes of local politicians in Santa suits picking up individual donations on Christmas Sundays?
Or, in addition to their mobilization of the deceased, does the DPJ share with their American counterparts a puerile sense of humor? What will the party try next, a dead flower hanami?
There were 26 local legislators who gave money to the group in 2007—Christmas Day again—and all of them received the documents issued by the government permitting their donations to be deducted from their income tax. The local DPJ explained that the donations were a substitute means for offseting party expenditures. But party expenditures are not eligible for income tax deductions, so if they received deductions, they broke the law.
The contributions ranged from JPY 18,000 to JPY 264,000.
There’s even more!
Another political support group for Mr. Hatoyama based in Muroran, Hokkaido, reported JPY 0 ($US 0.00) in operating expenses on their financial statements for the three-year period starting in 2005. The DPJ explained that their president’s main group paid the office’s rent and phone bill. They said the other group was just a volunteer body created to organize and hold events, that it had no employees, and that it didn’t use the offices every day.
It turns out, however, that the volunteer group’s offices are in a building owned by Mr. Hatoyama’s mother. Of course the LDP pointed out that the recording of zero expenditures is eccentric bookkeeping, and that if his mother let them use the offices rent-free, it should be considered a political donation.
Ooh, baby. Bo knows. There’s something wrong here someplace.
Haven’t these people learned how to deal with revelations of unpleasant facts yet?
It doesn’t matter if the media is discovering this on its own, or if sources within the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy are feeding them the information now to derail any civil service reform before it leaves the station.
It’s all going to come out now. Trying to stall in the Diet by saying it’s already been explained isn’t convincing anybody.
Just hold your nose while we hold ours, take the medicine, and get it over with.