AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Ren Ho’

Thanks for nothing

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.
– Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon

IN retrospect, the election and formation of a government by the Democratic Party was the best thing that could have happened for the development of the political consciousness of the Japanese public. Not because they’ve been successful — Good God Almighty! — but because they allowed the public to see how certain elements of the political class behave when in power. Namely, them.

The records of videoconferences held by Tokyo Electric Power during the Fukushima crisis have recently been released, and one involves a conference held on 14 March to discuss the planned rolling power blackout in the Kanto area.

It was to start early in the morning of the 14th in part of Tokyo’s 23rd ward and part of Yokohama. There was a “strong request” from the Kantei (executive branch) that it be postponed, however.

Very early in the morning of the 14th, Tokyo Electric Vice-President Fujimoto Takashi told a meeting that Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Fukuyama Tetsuro, and Ren Ho, then in charge of energy saving awareness, demanded that the blackout be put off.

Mr. Fujimoto did not reveal which of those three made the following statement:

“You will kill the people using artificial respirators and heart-lung machines at home. If you go ahead (with the plan) knowing that, we will call you to account for murder.”

The word used for the pronoun “you” by the executive branch was “omae“, which is extremely crude (and rude) in this context.

It’s a toss-up which one it could have been. Mr. Edano was a lawyer associated with radical labor groups, so perhaps some of the faux tough guy attitude rubbed off. Waseda grad though she is, Ren Ho’s ceiling in government would have been service as someone’s aide were her electability not been enhanced by a prior career as a photo model and television MC. She wouldn’t be the first female pol to combine a light resume, a sense of exaggerated self-importance, and the need to talk as if she were in a locker room to prove she can hang with the boys. I know little of Mr. Fukuyama other than that he is the chair of the upper house Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense. Wouldn’t that be just ducky if it were him?

In view of the government’s “request”, Tokyo Electric postponed the blackout. The reason they gave the public was that power demand was less than supply.

It is a fascinating phenomenon. In a modern democracy, it is always the politicians of the left who think this is how people in leadership positions are supposed to conduct themselves. (After spending some time working in the service industry, I discovered that it is almost always people aligned with this group that abuse the help too.)

Then again, what is to be expected from people whose politics consist of 50% resentment and 50% fashion statement?

Sometimes moving forward requires a retreat. By demonstrating their incompetence, utter lack of character, and 19th century solutions to 21st century problems, the DPJ has done the nation a service. Now the country will be able to get on with the business at hand without them.

In the meantime, we’ll just have to find some shelter until the next election.

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More on the choreography

Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 9, 2011

BUILDING on yesterday’s expose of the Finance Ministry-choreographed policy reviews of social welfare schemes, the Nishinippon Shimbun reported today that an office created by the (mostly) Finance Ministry bureaucrats in the Government Revitalization Unit held preliminary “study meetings” at which information was distributed and certain decisions and declarations encouraged. It was also revealed that Ren Ho, one of the policy review MCs, attended, along with private sector panelists, ministry bureaucrats, and Diet members.

During the meetings, the bureaucrats coached the private sector panelists by saying, “We would like you to make this statement in this form,” and “We’re thinking of something along these lines for the conclusions to be drawn from the debate”.

One participant who wished to remain anonymous said:

“The material distributed was clearly a script. While there may have been no coercion involved for specific statements, they did create the flow of debate.”

Another added:

“I suspected that it was all choreographed and stitched together to look like a debate.”

A senior member of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare explained the reason:

“The unification of the pension systems and taxes are the most important issue for the Noda Cabinet. It would be very difficult to have the ruling party openly discuss ways to increase the burden on the citizens (i.e., raise taxes)…People are likely to be opposed to these policies, so they can’t be raised by politicians who face elections. We thought an alternative would be to have the recommendations made during policy reviews.”

Politicians take responsibility? Perish the thought. Then again, the politicians in this (as in most) instances are just willing tools.

The newspaper reported that Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu denied that any of this took place. Ren Ho promised to explain later today.

*****
This must have been the inspiration: choreography, cash, and Pig Latin.

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There goes the last fig leaf

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, December 8, 2011

NOW this is getting interesting: The lead story on the front page of the Nishinippon Shimbun this morning is an expose of the Democratic Party government’s policy reviews, in which panels of politicians and private sector experts grill bureaucrats, ostensibly to eliminate wasteful programs and save taxpayer money. The first was conducted to popular acclaim in late 2009 by former cheesecake model/TV personality-turned-Cabinet Minister Ren Ho and Edano Yukio. Mr. Edano later went on to preside over the party’s poor showing in the 2010 upper house election as DPJ secretary-general and the government cover-up of the Fukushima disaster as Kan Naoto’s second chief cabinet secretary. He’s now the Minister of Economy, Trade, and Ministry.

While the public was thrilled by the first such review — Japanese taxpayers know there’s enough pork being distributed to feed every nation in Christendom during Easter — those who paid close attention soon discovered the process was a dog and pony show orchestrated and scripted by the Finance Ministry, both to assert its dominance over the rest of the bureaucracy as well as the DPJ government. Your Party Secretary General Eda Kenji revealed on his website that he was given a copy of the first script. The panels’ only authority was to recommend cuts, most of the cuts the panels recommended never materialized, and subsequent panels were largely ignored by the public.

Now, for the first time, this story has hit the fan of the industrial mass media, or one blade of it at least. The government conducted another policy review last month on the subject of social welfare programs. The Nishinippon Shimbun managed to obtain copies of what they call a “crib sheet” citing examples of issues to be discussed, and another document with suggestions for how to summarize the proceedings at the end. The documents were created by the Cabinet Office with input from the Finance Ministry. The newspaper reports that most of the panel’s conclusions were in line with the ministry’s initial proposals. The crib sheet suggestions on reevaluating social welfare systems were identical to documents distributed at the session presenting Finance Ministry positions.

Here’s what Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko had to say about the recommendations of the policy review on Monday:

All the declarations presented to the people at these reviews are important for the future of our country…The Cabinet takes these declarations very seriously, and we must link them to concrete results.

Mr. Noda, by the way, reportedly gets very upset at the charge that he is a Finance Ministry puppet. He’ll also get upset at this passage from the newspaper’s editorial:

When the Liberal Democratic Party was in power, the Finance Ministry would cut budget requests from each of the ministries when the following year’s budget was formulated at yearend, and each of the Cabinet ministers would negotiate directly with the Finance Minister to restore them. It was a set performance to give the public the impression that the politicians were in charge. The opposition Democratic Party lambasted this as an event staged by the politicians and the bureaucracy. Now, their criticism could boomerang on them.

The paper prominently featured this comment by political scientist and political devolution advocate Shindo Muneyuki, a former Chiba University professor and current director of the Research Center for Decentralized Policies and Systems:

It is clear that the Finance Ministry and the Cabinet Office tried to manipulate public opinion to gain support for themselves by creating a script and employing a group of prominent private sector individuals who favor cutting some expenditures…the government is no longer qualified to criticize Kyushu Electric Power for its fake e-mail campaign (to restart the Genkai nuclear plant).

They also ran some comments from former METI official and bureaucratic reform advocate Koga Shigeaki. Remember that Mr. Koga was on the receiving end of a veiled threat on the floor of the Diet during his testimony last year by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito. Here’s what he wrote:

The Finance Ministry was viewed from the start has having set the boundaries for the policy reviews, but this is blatant. They might have been fearful of getting caught at first, but over time, they lost their sense of caution and no longer bothered to create the impression that the reviews weren’t choreographed. The DPJ and the Finance Ministry just began to accept this as a matter of course. Most of the members of the Government Revitalization Unit in the Cabinet Office are from the Finance Ministry…and the topics they choose to discuss are arbitrary. For example, proposals that would upset the Finance Ministry, such as the one calling for a 20% reduction in civil servant salaries, will never be discussed.

The ministry creates a sense of gratitude in the Democratic Party, which wants to raise taxes, and it benefits by being allowed to eliminate parts of the budget over which it has no discretion. The DPJ benefits from the PR…In any event, there is no meaning in debating serious issues such as these in just a few hours, and it’s only advertising for the government. (The panel) presents conclusions in a tangible form, and all it does is give Ren Ho a stage on which to perform.

Also of interest is that it is not easy to find reports on the panel’s recommendations for social welfare programs, though there were reports on a different investigation last month into nuclear power policy. Thus, it is difficult to know whose ox is being gored by the revelations. And speaking of government PR, here’s a report of Mr. Noda addressing the opening meeting of the panel on a government website (Ren Ho is to his right in the photo). He says:

The ‘proposal-based policy review,’ which was decided in the previous Unit meeting, will start on November 20. I would like to position it as a tool for building a new, stronger Japan moving forward…In order for Japan to regain robust growth potential and bring more prosperity to people’s lives, we need to overhaul outdated regulations as well as regulations and other systems that only serve to protect the vested interests.

Fighting the vested interests, eh? How droll.

Finally, it is most interesting that the national dailies have yet to report this story as I write. A Google news search in Japanese turns up only articles from the Nishinippon Shimbun, though Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu was asked about it at his morning news conference. Caught flat-footed, Mr. Fujimura said he needed some time to make up an excuse would look into it. It would be fascinating to know who leaked the information to the newspaper, surely with the intent of injecting it into the public consciousness indirectly.

The newspaper tries to present some balance by offering the opinions of two professors defending the ministry’s input. The ministry is also known, however, to cultivate a stable of university professors and other members of the commentariat to promote its positions and defend it, and this pair likely are part of the group of steeds.

In two short years, the Democratic Party government’s credibility has been shredded in both foreign and domestic policy. These policy reviews have been their only putative success, and their credibility and legitimacy have been hanging by the slenderest of threads. That thread has now been cut.

****
They’ve got all the answers and lovely dancers too.

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Point and counterpoint

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, September 8, 2011

OE Kenzaburo, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994, has launched a petition drive to end the use of nuclear power in Japan.

During a news conference to publicize the petition, he said:

Restoring economic life is indeed an urgent issue, but we are extremely apprehensive at the expression of opinion that holds it is necessary to resume the operation of the nuclear power plants. Is it the case that we should give priority to economic activity (and ignore) the danger to life?

In response, Prof. Ikeda Nobuo wrote:

If he is giving priority to life rather than economic activity, why doesn’t Mr. Oe call for the prohibition of automobiles? Not a single person has died from the radiation emitted from the Fukushima accident, but automobiles will kill 5,000 people a year (in Japan). I would like to see him start a movement to ban all automobiles based on the prestige from his Nobel Prize and the principle that we should not be in thrall to economic rationality and productivity.

Further, more than 110,000 people die every year from smoking. Health and Welfare Minister Komiyama Yoko has called for a target price of JPY 700 for a pack of cigarettes, but the Finance Ministry is opposed. How about supporting the Health Minister rather than create a commotion about nuclear energy, which has caused little real damage?

This is probably beyond the capability of Mr. Oe to understand, but the world operates on the tradeoff between the economy and life. Eliminating all risk would mean prohibiting automobiles and airplanes and alcohol and cigarettes. We would also have to stop all power generation using coal and oil….

…The people who hobbled postwar Japan were the perennial opposition that championed an emotionalized sense of justice. They presented no plan for securing energy to replace the nuclear power they want to abandon. That is a mistake, and Mr. Kan Naoto gave us a very good idea of how frightening that should be if they were to take power.

Oe Kenzaburo

The figure of annual automobile fatalities he provides, by the way, is the minimum. Some years the number approaches twice that amount. Prof. Ikeda also points out that support for Mr. Oe’s position in Japan is concentrated among the elderly, which is an underlying point in the last paragraph.

It is not by coincidence that the generation of people such as Mr. Noda, at age 54, and Abe Shinzo, about to turn 57, are more comfortable with both nuclear power and the responsibility for handling national defense. The generation whose growth was stunted by postwar attitudes is passing from the scene. That should lead to “the end of the postwar regime” that Mr. Abe called for.

Finally, the Oe initiative will be given significant coverage by the media (for a day, anyway) because he is a Nobel laureate, but that will cut very little ice in Japan itself. The Japanese are already familiar with his political and social ideas.

The title of Prof. Ikeda’s blog post was “Sayonara, Oe Kenzaburo”.

Addendum:

Here are some additional facts worth noting about cigarettes and taxes.

* The tax was raised by JPY 3.5 per cigarette just last October.

* The idea of this tax is to earmark the revenue for recovery expenditures.

* Ms. Komiyama is an officer of a multi-party group of Diet members that aims to sharply limit smoking.

* Japan Tobacco Inc. is the company that sells cigarettes in Japan.

* By law, 50% of JT stock must be held by the government.

* The Finance Ministry has jurisdiction over JT and the stock owned by the government.

* Three former Finance Ministry bureaucrats are now officers of JT. That is exactly what people mean when they talk about amakudari.

* Also criticizing the cigarette tax proposal were Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu and — wait for it — Reform Minister Ren Ho. The Finance Ministry seconds bureaucrats as senior aides to both of those ministries.

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Frankenstein’s monster in Japan

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, July 3, 2011

The reason people voted for Kan (in last year’s DPJ presidential election) was because they didn’t want to vote for Ozawa, but we wound up really getting screwed.”
– DPJ Senior Advisor Watanabe Kozo in a meeting with New Komeito

IT’S TIME to draw conclusions from the fact that national governments throughout the world are now part of the problem rather than the solution. Those with the eyes to see will realize that the governments run by people who assume they’re the first rather than the last resort are functioning in the way classical liberals have always known they would. That is to say, they are dysfunctional. Consider the following examples.

* Greece is asking for a second bailout after the first in May 2010 and their austerity measures turned out to be yakeishi ni mizu, or water on a hot stone. Everyone expects them to default even after a booster injection of cash, and a second austerity program with more tax increases has the middle class out on the streets. The problem lies more with the Greek polity than with a specific government, but the public sector has become a work-free zone whose employees receive pre-retirement annuities and call them salaries. They’re just as likely to be found at the beach as at work, or actually working for pay off the books. The government allows it to happen, and the ETA for the default is by 2014:

“A new study by Open Europe breaks down the liabilities between the public and private sectors. Foreign financial institutions currently own 42 per cent of Greek debts, and foreign governments 26 per cent, the rest being owed domestically. By 2014, those figures will be 12 per cent and 64 per cent respectively. European banks, in other words, will have shuffled off their losses onto European taxpayers.

“Of course, the outstanding debt will have have risen substantially in the mean time: from €330 billion to €390 billion. Then again, as Eurocrats remind us every day, it’s remarkably easy to be generous with someone else’s money.”

* Ireland had what is officially being called a “credit event” but is a de facto default of Allied Irish Banks, the last financial institution not under government control. The Irish ceded their right to political self-determination to the EU last year for a bailout to save the banks. Instead of a new bailout, the government is negotiating with the EU to reduce interest rates, but the talks are stalled on the insistence of the EU that the country raise its 12.5% corporate tax rates. Here’s one Irish observer:

“Given the political paralysis in the EU, and a European Central Bank that sees its main task as placating the editors of German tabloids, the most likely outcome of the European debt crisis is that, after two years or so to allow French and German banks to build up loss reserves, the insolvent economies will be forced into some sort of bankruptcy…

“In other words, we have embarked on a futile game of passing the parcel of insolvency: first from the banks to the Irish State, and next from the State back to the banks and insurance companies. The eventual outcome will likely see Ireland as some sort of EU protectorate, Europe’s answer to Puerto Rico.”

Another possibility is that the Chinese will charge in as the white knights. They’ve already heavily invested in Greek infrastructure and Hungarian government bonds, and now say they will support the Euro.

* Great Britain has promised to spend as much on the EU bailouts as it saved through the aggregate domestic spending cuts put in place by its coalition government of Wet Tories and the LibDems, a party that Tony Blair marveled was positioned to the left of Labor, led by a man whose name has become a national synonym for “stonkingly silly”. Government spending in April and May was up 4.1% year-on-year, while government borrowing was up 5.7% year-on-year — despite tax increases in the form of VAT, fuel duties, income taxes, and National Insurance. An estimated 750,000 British civil servants, including teachers, struck symbolically for a day because the government wants them to pay more into the pension and work longer before they get it.

* Barack Obama was elected by campaigning on ending the war in Iraq, which he opposed in 2002. Now he’s committed to keeping troops there until 2015, at a minimum. During his infamous “halt the rise of the oceans” speech, he also said his would be an administration that ended a war, but he began an illegal (in American terms) military operation in Libya this year. The response by the American House of Representatives was to reject one motion to authorize military action and reject a second motion to defund the military action.

The president waved the same magic wand over his promise to close Guantanamo. His and the preceding governments’ stimulus measures have been so ineffective, he now wants to increase the debt limit and raise taxes. He appointed a man who cheated on his taxes twice as treasury secretary — the same man who recently warned that government would have to be downsized unless taxes were increased on small business. He also promised a post-racial society and appointed a racialist as attorney-general. Race riots have broken out in several parts of the country on a scale unseen in 40 years, some fomented by flash mobs organized on social networking sites.

*****
Reasonable people might object that these recent difficulties notwithstanding, any government is better than a cat. That’s how the Japanese of an earlier era expressed the idea of “it’s better than nothing”.

Events are proving them wrong in Belgium, which just set a record for a country in the modern era to have no government (13 months and counting). In brief, one group of parties refused to accept the results of last year’s election and chose not to form a coalition government. The former ministers still have the same portfolio, but there is no parliamentary majority, no legislative program, no party discipline, no new government interventions in the economy, no new quasi-public agencies, no new taxes, and few new regulations. Happily, everything outside of government continues to function normally, so the economy is projected to grow by 2.3% this year.

That brings us to Japan, whose situation is an amalgam of all those above. Not only are the executive and legislative branches barely functioning, their operation is subject to the erraticisms of a man of unabashed amorality who has taken the nation aback by his attempts to retain power at the expense of his Cabinet, his party, and the devastated Tohoku region. For the first time in my memory, the Japanese print media is running articles by psychiatrists speculating on the topic: Just what is this man’s problem anyway?

And just what is going on in Japan?

*****
The Kan Naoto Cabinet was a zombie government before the earthquake/tsunami of 11 March. Absent the disaster, it already would have collapsed. The prime minister had shown himself incapable of handing either domestic or foreign affairs, public support was at roughly 21%, and talk was circulating in Nagata-cho about a no-confidence motion. Post-disaster, the opposition realized cooperation was the order of the day and resigned itself to another two years of a Kan government.

Incompetents are incapable of rising to the occasion, particularly those incapable of standing erect to begin with. Rather than being part of the solution, Mr. Kan and his government became part of the problem. It would take a household full of digits to count the examples, but here’s the latest: After the Hyogo earthquake in 1994, the Socialist/LDP coalition appointed someone to take charge of government recovery efforts in three days. It took the prime minister more than three months before assigning that responsibility to Matsumoto Ryu, a limousine leftist who has never demonstrated the ability to manage a shaved ice stand, much less a national effort that will require the coordination of several Cabinet ministries and the cooperation of the opposition. He was already in the Cabinet at the Minister for Environmental Affairs, a portfolio often given to women appointed to serve as window dressing, and the Minister for Disaster Relief. His only noteworthy accomplishment in the latter role since the March disaster was to get out of the way while other people tried to get on with the work.

Mr. Matsumoto immediately wrapped his mouth around his foot by declaring at a meeting that since 11 March, he “hates the DPJ, hates the LDP, and hates New Komeito”. (He is an ex-Socialist who found refuge and political viability in the DPJ.) When asked if that was the sort of magnanimous spirit designed to win the selfless cooperation from other politicians during a national crisis, he replied that he was trying to show his mission was to take the side of the people in the affected areas.

But everyone had lost their patience with Mr. Kan long before that, including members of his own party. One month ago, senior members of the ruling Democratic Party crafted a lawyerly document the night before the Diet was set to pass a no-confidence motion in his cabinet. Passage would require almost 25% of the party’s representation in the lower house to vote for it, and they were going to get it. The hyper-discipline required of political parties in the parliamentary system meant that would have destroyed today’s Democratic Party, as the dissidents would have either been thrown out or walked.

The document was a brief, vague statement of Mr. Kan’s agenda that his predecessor, Hatoyama Yukio, was led to believe implied an early resignation. That was enough to defeat the motion and keep the party together.

By keeping their zombie government alive, however, the DPJ leadership created the Nagata-cho version of Frankenstein’s monster. Almost everyone, including the news media, assumed Mr. Kan had agreed to step down. One of the few who didn’t make that assumption was the prime minister himself. He immediately announced that the document — which he refused to sign by appealing to Mr. Hatoyama’s sense of camaraderie — had nothing to do with his resignation. Since then, he has never specified when he will step down, and keeps modifying the vague conditions he set for his own departure.

Party leaders took turns hinting that they’d remove him from the position of DPJ president if he didn’t leave voluntarily, but he ignored them. Six members of the DPJ’s leadership have tried to talk him into setting an early date for his disappearance, including Secretary-General Okada Katsuya, Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio, and Mr. Edano’s predecessor and back-room string puller Sengoku Yoshito, but he dismissed them all. He has work to do, he told them. They started negotiations to pin him down on a time frame, but instead of meeting their requests, he added another condition: The passage of a bill to reformulate national energy policy. Its primary feature is to require the utilities to purchase renewable energy generated by others at exorbitant prices. Negotiations with the opposition parties on the content of the bill haven’t begun.

Defense Minister Kitazawa Toshimi, who is supposed to be one of the prime minister’s few friends in politics, became so frustrated he proposed that the DPJ change its method of selecting party president by entrusting the vote to all party members. They have a vote in the current system, but the votes of Diet MPs are given greater weight.

DPJ executives met again with the prime minister to discuss his resignation, but he again refused to specify a date because he said there was no guarantee the opposition would cooperate in the upper house for the passage of the second supplementary budget, the enabling legislation for the deficit-financing bonds, and the renewable energy program. Kyodo, however, quoted an anonymous party leader the next day saying that the prime minister would resign before mid-August. They thought he would hold a news conference last week to name the date. He didn’t.

Sengoku Yoshito, who has never been impressed with Mr. Kan’s abilities despite a shared political philosophy, remarked that keeping the prime minister in office was like kichigai ni hamono — giving a sword to a lunatic.

Okada Katsuya then took it upon himself to negotiate with the LDP and New Komeito to get a signed document outlining their conditions for cooperation. (That’s more than the DPJ usually brings to discussions.) Both parties agreed to vote for the second supplementary budget and the bond measures, as well as a 50-day Diet extension, on the condition that Mr. Kan set a date for departure and the new prime minister pass the third supplementary budget.

When the prime minister saw it, he banged the table, shouted that the upper house members of the LDP couldn’t be trusted, and threw out the document. His bullying was successful in winning an extension until the end of August without a commitment to resign.

Quitting

It is a mystery why anyone thought that Kan Naoto would willingly resign, much less in June. Indeed, soon after double-crossing his co-founder of the Democratic Party, he became insufferably smug in public, telling one reporter that if people didn’t want to see him around anymore, they should hurry up and pass the bills he cites as his conditions for leaving.

It is no secret that becoming prime minister has been his ambition since he was a young man. He has put an enormous amount of effort and persistence into achieving that ambition, starting from the days when he won election to the Diet as one of four members of a long obsolete party called the Socialist Democrats. Why would anyone think he would go down without kicking and screaming all the way?

And that’s not even to mention the report in the weekly Shukan Gendai that he was bawling his eyes out to DPJ Vice-President Ishii Hajime, telling him, “I don’t want to quit.”

Finally, Mr. Kan said at a press conference on the 27th that the three bills (budget, bonds energy) were conditions for his resignation, but once again failed to specify a date. In fact, the prime minister said the energy legislation is the paramount of the three bills, i.e., it is more important than the budget for the Tohoku recovery or the means to pay for it.

Some think this is yet another Kan policy lurch, which occur with every new moon. For example, he seems to have forgotten about the TPP free trade negotiations, especially now that his expression of willingness to participate served the purpose of impressing the APEC leaders before their November summit.

Koike Yuriko, former Defense Minister and the Chairman of the LDP’s General Council, said:

“About this renewable energy legislation — he seems to have received a briefing from the bureaucracy about it on 11 March, but I’ve heard he wasn’t interested in the subject at all at that time. I suspect his interest was suddenly kindled after his talk with Son Masayoshi (of Softbank).”

On the other hand, whoever’s been writing Mr. Kan’s “e-mail blog” says he has considered energy reform to be essential for 30 years. There is reason to believe him, at least this once. Based on the posts at his Internet blog, he wants to drive everyone batty with windmills.

Here’s a post dated 21 August 2001:

“We should set targets for limiting air pollution caused by dioxins and other substances, and for the percentage of power generated by wind to establish a policy of creating a ‘nation based on environmentalism’. This should spur advances in technical development and capital investment in the related fields.”

10 September 2001:

“If we set targets for limiting the concentration of dioxins 10 years in the future, it will generate substantial demand for the replacement of incinerators. If we set a target of having 10% of all electricity generated by wind in 10 years, investment in this sector should increase.”

24 August 2007:

“In Japan, the power companies can only purchase the power generated by wind and other clean energy sources at rather low prices. This is perhaps rational from the power companies’ perspective, but from the policy perspective, it isn’t a policy at all.”

13 November 2007:

“Germany is promoting the purchase of power generated by wind, solar, and other clean sources at higher prices, and clean energy now accounts for 10% of all power generation.”

30 November 2007:

“For electric power, wind and solar power…For use in vehicles, biodiesel or bioethanol fuel. I’d like to create a headquarters for that purpose, but that is unlikely at the present.”

During questioning in the Diet after the earthquake/tsunami, he expressed a desire to switch to renewable energy. He reportedly told aides, “Tokyo Electric has neglected wind power, which I really love.” (おれの大好きな風力発電)

It is difficult to imagine anyone using that language — especially a person who invested so much time in the overseas sales of Japanese nuclear power technology.

But then, we’re not talking about a man who brings clarity to policy issues. He offered a mythomaniacal proposal for having 20% of Japan’s energy produced by natural sources in 2020 at the recent G-Whatever summit without having told anyone in Japan about it first. Said a DPJ MP who wished to remain anonymous:

“The sharks in government and industry will spy a new interest in natural energy, and get in bed with the government. It would simply exchange nuclear power interests for natural energy interests.”

Paging Son Masayoshi.

Some are critical of the legislation the prime minister thinks is critical because its primary component is to have the government set prices that utilities must pay to purchase the surplus energy generated by businesses and private homes. These prices, as we’ve seen before, are more than triple the unit price for the power generated by nuclear plants. The utilities will of course pass the expenses on to the consumer.

Others wondered why he would make this a priority given that there are ghost towns in the Tohoku region still filled with stinking rubble, with evacuees still living in shelters, and with little money being distributed, though the government has the mechanisms to handle all of that now if it chose to employ them. Is this man even qualified for his job?

Meanwhile, the government’s National Strategy Office leaked their initial draft of the government’s reform of energy and environment strategy. The primary elements of the strategy include energy conservation, renewable energy, electrical power systems, and “the world’s safest” nuclear energy. The last part was written into the draft by a bureaucrat from the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry dispatched to the office to work as an aide.

Lest we forget:

* This office was originally intended to be a bureau that served as the DPJ government’s policymaking headquarters, thereby wresting control of policy from the bureaucrats and giving it to politicians. Along with the rest of the party’s promises, its status was downgraded almost immediately after the DPJ took control of the government.

* METI has jurisdiction over nuclear power plants in Japan.

* On the night the no-confidence motion against the Kan Cabinet was defeated in the lower house, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito and former Defense Minister Maehara Seiji (members of the same faction in the DPJ), held a banquet in Tokyo for Truong Tan Sang, tapped as the next president of Vietnam. Both Mr. Sengoku and Mr. Maehara (along with Prime Minister Kan), were instrumental in successfully selling Japanese nuclear power technology to the Vietnamese last year, but the Fukushima accident postponed the export of that technology. The media was not allowed to cover the banquet or their meetings (though a photo was released), but Mr. Maehara appeared on television on the 5th and said:

“Mr. Truong told us that he has no intention of altering the nuclear power agreement. It is important to enhance the safety of nuclear power and sell the technology overseas.”

The Democratic Party paid for the banquet.

For its part, the LDP has already refused to negotiate a reworking of energy policy or help pass the legislation without a new governmental structure in place; in other words, a new prime minister and Cabinet.

Mr. Kan’s prioritization of energy policy, while knowing that the LDP isn’t interested, that members of his own party are still promoting nuclear energy, and that the supposed policymaking headquarters of his party is still pushing nuclear energy through bureaucratic subterfuge, has brought an unsettling new element into the political situation.

Who’s ready for an election?

When the bottom fell out for Mr. Kan’s four predecessors, they chose to resign. All of those men — Abe Shinzo, Fukuda Yasuo, Aso Taro, and Hatoyama Yukio — were reared in political families and were familiar with the national political culture since childhood. All of them understood the concept of noblesse oblige, and all of them have money, networks of supporters and friends, and other things to do, either in politics or out.

Kan Naoto comes from an ordinary background, has no family money, few friends or political supporters, and no sense of honor or shame. His name has been mud since last year. If freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, he has the freedom to chose a different strategy when confronted with the same circumstances. Witness his public betrayal of Hatoyama Yukio. He has also had associates circulate a rumor that many people find all too believable.

In substance, it is this: On either 6 August (the date of the Hiroshima bombing) or 9 August (the date of the Nagasaki bombing), he will announce that he thinks Japan should follow the lead of Germany and Italy and renounce the use of nuclear power. He will then dissolve the lower house of the Diet for an election and run on that single issue. He would hope that the Japanese electorate votes in the same way as the Italian voters who nixed nuclear energy by a tally of more than 90%. He would also hope that the overseas media wets its pants in delight.

Speaking of having nothing left to lose, a look at the poll numbers is instructive. The support for the Kan Cabinet is down to 23% in the Fuji Sankei and Kyodo polls, and 21% in the generally more accurate Jiji poll. In other words, the prime minister has lost all the bounce from the goodwill extended during the disaster and the closing of the Hamamatsu nuclear plant in Aichi. Those numbers have reverted to the pre-disaster figures. The Nikkei poll finds that 42% think he should leave as quickly as possible and another 18% by the end of August, while only 16% want him to stay indefinitely.

The Fuji Sankei poll asked those surveyed positive or negative responses to the following statements. Here are the positive replies.

The prime minister’s leadership abilities: 8.0%
The prime minister’s economic measures: 11.0%
The prime minister’s conduct of foreign relations and security matters: 13.0%
The prime minister’s response to Fukushima: 13.5%
Finally, the reliance on nuclear energy should be reduced: 68.4%

Mr. Kan has long been envious of the success of Koizumi Jun’ichiro — that should be me! — and in particular Mr. Koizumi’s bold dissolution of the lower house in 2005 to hold a single-issue election on the issue of postal privatization. He won in a landslide.

The prime minister’s aides suggest the public would agree it was reasonable to conduct an election on that issue, despite any difficulties in the prefectures most affected by the earthquake/tsunami. The local elections held nationwide earlier this year were postponed in the Tohoku region until 22 September at the latest. When a prime minister dissolves the Diet, an election must be held in 40 days. Forty days out from 9 August is 18 September, the last Sunday before the 22nd. Japanese elections are usually held on Sundays.

Speaking anonymously to the media, the prime minister’s aides even suggest he would recruit “assassins” to run against pro-nuclear DPJ Diet members in individual districts, in the same way that Mr. Koizumi recruited people to run against LDP members opposed to postal privatization.

Many DPJ members would be defeated, but that would not necessarily mean the defeat of the larger issue. A formal study group has been created in the Diet among those who favor a shift to renewable energy. It consists of 206 members of several parties. Among them are the LDP’s Nakagawa Hidenao — a Koizumian who has long been interested in hydrogen — and Shiozaki Yasuhisa. Both served as chief cabinet secretary in LDP governments. The group also includes People’s New Party President Kamei Shizuka, Social Democrat head Fukushima Mizuho, mid-tier DPJ members aligned with Ozawa Ichiro, and Endo Otohiko of New Komeito. Many of these people have either separated themselves from Mr. Kan or are his opponents.

In short, as freelance journalist Uesugi Takashi notes, for this issue Kan Naoto is the leader of the anti-Kan faction. An election victory for the anti-nuclear power group could result in a major political realignment that forces him from office. Having achieved that result, however, he would surely go willingly, having established (in his own mind) his place in history.

Most Nagata-cho sources who speak off the record say it is “very possible” the prime minister would call such an election. He is, after all, capable of any number of cockamamie schemes. When he was pushing for a 70-day extension in the Diet session, Mr. Kan told aides, “If we have 70 days, no one knows what’s going to happen.”

Senior members of the DPJ are aghast at the prospect, and one can detect the realization behind their words that Kan Naoto — the man who once insisted his preference was for mature debate in the Diet — is certainly capable of carrying out a threat he has yet to publicly make or deny, but which everyone is discussing. They’ve gotten together for several meetings and agreed on the necessity of a Kan Naoto resignation. Mr. Kan again ignored them.

Said Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko, whose prospects as the successor of Mr. Kan would evaporate in such an election:

“It is not possible to dissolve the Diet now. It must not happen.”

Note that second sentence. Doesn’t seem too sure, does he?

Hosono Goshi, the new minister in charge of the Fukushima cleanup:

“I don’t think Prime Minister Kan has that intention in mind.”

He doesn’t think. Sengoku Yoshito is sounding a similar note:

“He hasn’t gotten that weird yet.”

But:

“There are many things we must address as a nation. There must not be a lower house election.”

Said DPJ Secretary General Okada Katsuya:

“It’s a summertime ghost story.”

He added that Mr. Kan could even resign before August if the three bills pass. He also does not think single issue elections are a good idea. No surprise there — he was the DPJ whipping boy in the 2005 elections.

Koshi’ishi Azuma, the head of the DPJ delegation in the upper house, says the prime minister got the 70 days he wanted, but people won’t support him after that. If he chooses to stay 100 days to half year, he is “not qualified as a person to be the prime minister”. He also thought the DPJ would suffer “a meltdown” of its own if Mr. Kan stayed until the end of August.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio helpfully says that reform discussions with the opposition will move forward when Mr. Kan leaves. He’s not necessarily anxious for that to happen before the end of August, however. Mr. Edano has been bingeing on funds from the “secret” discretionary account allocated to his office at a pace much higher than that of his predecessors in the LDP. Chief cabinet secretaries are given JPY 100 million (about $US 1.24 million) at the end of every month, and Mr. Edano (as well as Mr. Sengoku before him), has spent almost all of it. Mr. Edano insists he’s using it for Tohoku relief, but since he doesn’t have to account for it, everyone else assumes he’s using it for DPJ election efforts, perhaps his own. If Mr. Kan stays until the end of August, Mr. Edano will have been given access to an additional JPY 300 million after the failure of the no-confidence motion.

And oh yes, Hatoyama Yukio still trusts him to resign.

The last word belongs to Your Party President Watanabe Yoshimi:

“His tenacious obsession for authority is his own renewable energy.”

Along comes Kamei

Mr. Kan’s attitude seems to be borrowed from a James Cagney gangster movie: Come and get me, coppers! He has slightly reshuffled his Cabinet with the advice and counsel of PNP head Kamei Shizuka. There was a misstep at first when Mr. Kan named Mr. Matsumoto as the minister in charge of recovery (Kamei’s reaction: Matsumoto? Who’s he?), but they regained their footing.

No longer a sweetheart of mine

He also named Hosono Goshi as the minister responsible for dealing with the Fukushima accident. Because the number of ministers is limited by law to 17, he had to drop one, and he made the obvious choice by demoting Reform Minister Ren Ho from her ministerial post to serve as his personal aide. The Kan Cabinet isn’t doing any reforming anyway, and Ren Ho, whose real world experience consists of being a model and TV host, was only decoration to begin with.

The classic Kan behavior of a dullwit who thinks he is clever became manifest again when he and Mr. Kamei talked LDP upper house member Hamada Kazuyuki into joining the Cabinet as internal affairs parliamentary secretary in charge of the reconstruction.

Accounts suggest that Mr. Hamada’s motives for going to work in the Kan Cabinet to help in the reconstruction effort, knowing that he would be tossed from his party, were altruistic. That is not true for the effort made to recruit him. Mr. Kamei reportedly approached 10 LDP members in the upper house, opening with the line, “Do you really want to stay in the opposition?” An approach was also made to Maruyama Kazuya, who turned them down.

The idea was to make it easier to pass legislation without negotiation through the upper house, where the DPJ does not have a working majority, either alone or in coalition. Another factor is that when Mr. Kan is not involved, the cooperation among the DPJ, the LDP, and New Komeito has been smooth. That negates the influence of Mr. Kamei’s single-issue splinter party.

This is not Mr. Kamei’s first involvement in political black ops. He’s the one who detached the Socialists from the eight-party coalition government of Hosokawa Morihiro, the first non-LDP government since 1955, and created an LDP-Socialist coalition. His line then: “Aren’t you tired of that fascist bastard Ozawa Ichiro?” He and the fascist bastard get along quite well now, incidentally.

This move will probably backfire on the Kan-Kamei team, however, because the LDP and New Komeito are now unlikely to cooperate with the DPJ as long as Mr. Kan is in office. The cooperation achieved in extending the Diet session by 70 days ended after fewer than 10.

Others in the DPJ were aware this would happen, and wondered what the prime minister was thinking. Said Finance Minster Noda:

“This has created extremely harsh circumstances by hardening the opposition’s attitude. The thing for us to do is go to their front door and bow our heads (in apology).”

DPJ Policy Research Committee Chairman Gemba Koichiro:

“It is no mistake to say that the hurdle just got higher for negotiations between the government and opposition.”

DPJ Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Azumi Jun wondered why so much difficulty had to be caused over just one official. Another DPJ member chimed in to add that if they were going to go fishing in the opposition for members, what is the point of coming home with one minnow?

Another factor angering the DPJ was that once again, the prime minister didn’t tell anyone what he was doing beforehand, with the exception of Mr. Kamei and Ishii Hajime. Sengoku Yoshito used the phrase tachikurami shita when he heard the news. That’s an expression to describe the brief sensation of dizziness people get when they stand up too quickly.

There was even a report of anti-Kan slogans written on pieces of paper and hung on the walls of the party’s office for officials in the Diet Affairs Committee inside the Diet building itself. One is the Japanese expression hyakugai atte ichiri nashi (100 evils and no benefits), supposedly signed by Sengoku Yoshito.

It has at last reached the point with the DPJ of trying to choose which is worse — a prime minister who elicits that reaction among his own party, or a party unable to do anything about him except create calligraphic graffiti.

Kan Naoto met with the DPJ’s Diet members on the 28th and claimed that the next election would be about energy policy, a position almost no one in the country agrees with. According to the Asahi Shimbun, he was jeered by some of those present.

*******
Higano Harufusa operates the Higano Clinic for psychological counseling in Tokyo. Here’s his professional opinion about the prime minister:

“He’s tough, not in the good sense of the strength to withstand blows, but in the bad sense of being dull. He enjoys it when Dump Kan talk starts circulating, because that makes him the center of attention. He’s not the type to quit unless there are many other contributing circumstances.”

Said Iwami Takao of the weekly Sunday Mainichi:

“In a half-century of political journalism, I’ve learned that the post of prime minister is a frightening one. I’ve seen many crises arise over a prime minister’s continuance in office, but never one in which a prime minister stays after announcing that he will resign. But the post of prime minister is also one in which a politician can hold on for quite a while if he wants to.

“Politicians like the expression mushin furitsu (derived from a Confucian analect used to mean that public officials can’t accomplish anything once they’ve lost the people’s trust). Mr. Kan, however, seems to think it’s unusual that people don’t trust him. This prime minister is starting to become abnormal.” (正常さを失いかけている。)

*****
Littering the English-language sector of cyberspace like so much digitized fecal matter are the assertions/opinions/propaganda of professional journalists, academics, and bloggers that a government led by the Democratic Party of Japan would be just the change that Japan was waiting for. That this was fatuous nonsense was just as apparent before the lower house election of 2009 as the claim that Barack Obama was a man of exceptional intelligence and superlative leadership qualities. Some of the poor sods actually believed it, but the gullible will always be with us. Some of them are parroting what other people told them as a way to fill space or appear relevant. For the rest, it was a convenient method for sugarcoating Social Democracy. (There are also a few who combine the first and the last categories.)

After almost two years, the DPJ has given Japan not one, but two prime ministers of unparalleled incompetence. The party itself is incapable of governance. It has introduced no reforms of significance, nor passed any serious legislation that was a national priority. They are still in thrall to the bureaucracy. They produced back-to-back budgets with the highest deficits in Japanese history, funded by the largest amount of government debt, even before the Tohoku disaster. The Chinese and Russians, immediate neighbors and the two largest malevolently aggressive states in the world, treat them with the back of their hand.

The party’s largest single faction is nominally under the direction of Ozawa Ichiro, whom the rest of the party would gladly heave if it wouldn’t threaten their majority in the Diet. Both the more centrist Ozawa faction and the leftist faction centered on Sengoku/Edano/Maehara loathe the prime minister. The latter group put him in that position, supported him through a no-confidence motion, and now can’t get rid of him. They are reduced to wishing, hoping, and taping pieces of paper to the walls of their offices.

Kan Naoto’s closest confidante is now Kamei Shizuka, who turned down an offer to become deputy prime minister and settled for the title of special assistant. Mr. Kamei has everything the bien pensants told us was bad about the LDP — hushed up money scandals, skills more suited to Byzantine plots than governmental administration, and the philosophy of a social conservative whose core beliefs are 180 degrees opposite from those of the man he serves. His mini-party was formed to neuter the best political idea of the decade in Japan, achieved through rare political insight and courage — the privatization of Japan Post. He is the foremost Japanese example of the reason Friedrich Hayek refused to identify himself as a conservative — they are too often too ready to make common cause with statists.

It is only in the field of political commentary that people would retain their platform or reputation after revealing themselves to be shills, ignoramuses, or ignoramus shills. But all journalistic outlets in print, broadcast, or the Net need content to fill the space regardless of its stupidity. Some of those outlets are happy to push the same agenda.

The nation is desperate to have Kan Naoto gone, but he doesn’t give a flying fut. He loves the attention. Why even bother with an election in September? Indeed, it’s been revealed that he is thinking about a visit to China for a summit meeting around 10 October. If he were planning to leave soon, what could he possibly discuss with the Chinese? Some people wonder if he intends to keep this up until 2013, when the current lower house term ends, or even beyond. He’s now become so abnormal that the normal are no longer able to understand what he intends to do.

Unlike Belgium, Japan has a government, but it is not better than a cat. The government it does have is led by a Frankenstein monster that his own party created. It is so bad — there is no other word — that had Japan been in the same situation as Belgium, more progress might have been made on the Tohoku recovery and reconstruction.

For a year or two before the earthquake/tsunami, credentialed space-fillers who know less about Japan than they do about the Sumerian calendar were warning that the country was becoming irrelevant.

But as it says in Ecclesiastes — you know, the Bible — the race is not always to the swift, nor favor to men of ability. For validation, one need only look at the Kantei in Tokyo.

Every day that Kan Naoto remains in office is one day closer to the time when Japan really does become irrelevant. He’ll guarantee it.

*****
You unlock this door with the Kan of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas; you’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.

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Who’s calling whose bluff?

Posted by ampontan on Monday, May 30, 2011

A FEW DAYS ago, I wrote that the passage of a no-confidence motion in the lower house of the Diet would require the dissolution of the body and a new general election. That wasn’t entirely accurate, because Article 69 of the Constitution specifies that the Cabinet has to resign en masse unless the prime minister calls an election within 10 days. On that choice could hinge the course of Japanese politics — and post-earthquake society — for the foreseeable future.

No-confidence motions have passed four times under the current Constitution, the last in 1993 for the Miyazawa Cabinet. Each of the rebuked prime ministers has chosen to dissolve the lower house and hold an election. The political media thinks there’s a real possibility this one could pass too, even though it would require a rebellion by an estimated 80 of the 308 members of the ruling party in the lower house. That’s why Prime Minister Kan Naoto is reportedly threatening DPJ MPs that he too will choose an election rather than go quietly into that good night.

The word “threat” is an unusual one to use for a prime minister’s dealings with the nominal allies of his own party, but it’s a bon mot here. A senior member of the opposition LDP told one newspaper their internal polling shows they’d pick up from 100 to 150 seats in an election. That would be a bloodletting on a scale similar to the previous lower house election (and the 2010 American Congressional elections). The lower figure alone would be enough to give the LDP the most seats in the chamber.

Whether or not those numbers are accurate, the polls and polling results for the DPJ have been dismal for some time. Some local members are running for office by running away from their party ID. Therefore, a DPJ member voting for a no-confidence motion might be voting himself out of a job, particularly the first termers who arrived in the 2009 landslide.

That’s why Ozawa Ichiro, now working to bring down the prime minister of his own party, is telling those delegates — many of whom owe their seats to his expenditures of time and money on their behalf — that it’s still not physically possible to hold an election in the earthquake/tsunami damaged Tohoku region. Therefore, he says, Mr. Kan is bluffing; resignation is his only real choice. (There are also reports the DPJ leadership is quietly canvassing local governments in the Tohoku region to see if they can conduct an election.)

That’s also why LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu told reporters he wasn’t in favor of holding a lower house election, even though his party and New Komeito would be the ones to introduce the no-confidence motion. He’s purposely flashing his cards to the DPJ MPs to signal that their seats are safe with him.

Because this is a parliamentary system and party disloyalty is a hanging offence, both Mr. Kan and party Secretary-General Okada Katsuya have promised to lay their vengeance upon their fellows who vote for the motion, or even play hooky on the day of the vote. (Let’s put aside for now how the party would deal with, say, 70 rebellious members voting for a failed motion. How will they throw them out and survive?)

The prospect of being a party-less Diet member appeals to no one; they’d have to find their own cash spigot instead of feeding at the party trough. That would explain the rumors of the Hatoyama Brothers forming a new party. If money indeed walks, they have enough between them to shoe in golden slippers any pol who wants to walk to a new home.

Who’s next?

But who would replace the prime minister after he was relegated to the ashkan of history? Freelance journalist Itagaki Eiken thinks he has an idea.

Mr. Itagaki once covered the Kantei for the Mainichi Shimbun, so he knows his way around Nagata-cho. He’s also become a semi-shill for Ozawa Ichiro and has a taste for conspiracy theories involving David Rockefeller, so a salt shaker needs to be kept handy when reading his columns.

This time, he’s focused on former Defense Minister Maehara Seiji, who would have been a logical candidate anyway had he not resigned earlier this year, ostensibly over accepting political contributions from a Korean national born and living in Japan. Mr. Itagaki also thinks the Americans have made it known to Tokyo they want to see Mr. Maehara come on the September state visit instead of Mr. Kan. (The former takes a harder line against China and is not averse to amending part of the Constitution’s Peace Clause.)

Before Maehara can become prime minister, however, Mr. Itagaki says he will have to dispose of some political baggage. He cites other examples from the past: Sato Eisaku passed on his geisha mistress to political ally and widower Kanemaru Shin (later known for keeping the LPD’s stash of gold bullion in a safe at home). Nakasone Yasuhiro relinquished his mistress, the proprietress of a nightclub, to a trusted aide.

Outside women do not seem to be Mr. Maehara’s problem. Also, as this previous post notes, the campaign contributions from the zainichi woman were not significant, she was a family friend, and if she uses a Japanese name, aides wouldn’t have known her ethnic background. Many people suspected at the time this was merely a face-saving offering to allow him to resign without more damaging information being revealed. Mr. Itagaki echoes the stories that appeared in weekly magazines about campaign money from gangsters and ties to North Korea. He adds that one story is so explosive it could cause collateral damage to Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko and Reform Minister Ren Ho, but concludes it’s not too late for Mr. Maehara to tidy up his affairs.

New Komeito Party Head Yamaguchi Natsuo says this is the week the players start calling bluffs and putting their cards on the table. We’ll soon find out who’s holding the aces and how likely it is that nothing can be a real cool hand.

Afterwords:

Yesterday the voters of Mito in Ibaraki elected Takahashi Yasushi mayor. Mr. Takahashi is an independent backed by the LDP. The election was supposed to be held last month, but many city functions are shut down until 30 June to deal with the earthquake damage. Mito managed to hold an election, but the problems in the Tohoku area are more daunting.

My previous post on Maehara Seiji is dated 9 March, two days before the Tohoku quake. Even then, Yamaguchi Natsuo was saying the Kan Cabinet was in “an endless state of collapse”, and Tanigaki Sadakazu was mulling a no-confidence vote. The disaster is the only reason they still have Kan Naoto to kick around some more.

Over the weekend, I ran across a website for an organization overseas purporting to present foreign affairs analysis. (I forget the name.) They claimed that one of the reasons Mr. Kan was in trouble with Japanese voters was a political contribution from a zainichi man he met for a round of golf.

This is bologna made from the worst quality tripe. The prime minister acknowledged the contributions, said he didn’t know the man was Korean (possibly true), and the slight ripple created by the story had smoothed over within days.

In short, they’re peddling air-based preconceived notions about Japan and Japanese society as professional analysis.

Science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon once said that 95% of everything is crap. That’s still a pessimistic exaggeration, but not in regard to the pronouncements about Japan from journalists/academics/think tanks.

*****
Who’s going to draw the bad card?

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Ichigen koji 9

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, May 29, 2011

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

“On 14 March, (Tokyo Metro) Gov. Ishihara Shintaro met with Ren Ho, the Minister in Charge of Energy Conservation Awareness, and gave her this advice: ‘If you’re going to ask the people to conserve energy, you should do so based on a Cabinet Order.’ In fact, during the oil shortage (of the 70s), the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (today’s METI) announced planned usage restrictions for large facilities, as well as restrictions on neon signs, through a notification based on a Cabinet Order citing the Electricity Enterprises Law. He told her the same thing should be done now.

“Planned electricity stoppages (rolling blackouts) are a measure based on the contracts between Tokyo Electric and their users. The utility will shut down power in different areas to avoid a major blackout. But whether the power will be cut off won’t be known until that day. This is going to cause difficulties for shops, eating and drinking places, and factories. They run the risk of closing their shop in anticipation of a stoppage, but sometimes one does not occur. To avoid confusion, the shops have to close.

“Further, factories must bear the cost of restarting machinery once the power source has been cut. They also have the problem of what to do with their employees. It’s not possible to operate a business when the decision for a blackout won’t be made until the day it’s carried out. But comprehensive restrictions and restrictions on short-term large power consumption based on a Cabinet Order are planned restrictions on use, so factories and business managers can draw up schedules in advance.

“When she heard this advice, however, Ren Ho just stared blankly. ‘There’ll be a time lag until the Cabinet Order is issued,’ she answered. She probably didn’t know these Cabinet Orders existed.”

– Inose Naoki, Vice-Governor of the Tokyo Metro District and a non-fiction writer, on the government’s policy of rolling blackouts in Tokyo

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Now what

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, April 28, 2011

In the several elections held since the beginning of the 21st century, the (Japanese) people have continued to shout, “Affairs cannot be entrusted to the bureaucracy,” and “Grow out of bureaucracy-led politics”.
– Sakaiya Tai’ichi

In the past, they would change the era name to stop ongoing natural disasters, but isn’t a change of government what’s needed now?
– Kan Naoto, 23 October 2004, on his blog after visiting Ehime and Kochi to view typhoon damage

SUNDAY was election day for the second and final round of sub-national elections. Even Prime Minister Kan Naoto atypically admitted the results represented a defeat for his ruling Democratic Party. His assertion that none of it was his fault, however, was all too typical.

Part two consisted primarily of balloting for chief municipal executives and assemblies. Politicians at this level in Japan are less likely to have a formal party affiliation; 60% of the winners in the assembly elections do not belong to a party, and those who do tend to be associated with the smaller parties. Nationwide, the rank of municipal seats by party before the election started with New Komeito, followed by the Communists, the Liberal-Democratic Party, and the DPJ. That ranking is unchanged after this election, and the DPJ’s gain in their aggregate seat total was marginal at best.

At the top of the tickets, DPJ party candidates went head-to-head with opposition candidates in 10 elections for chief municipal executive and lost seven. One of their victories was the reelection of the incumbent mayor of Oita City. This was the fourth such sub-national election for the DPJ since their founding, and these results, combined with their dismal showing in Round One, demonstrate the ruling party of the national government is losing ground with the electorate rather than gaining.

The defining action by the party that demonstrates its current predicament was a non-action—they failed to contest a by-election for the lower house Diet seat a DPJ member vacated in a futile campaign for Nagoya mayor in February. That failure was the focus of post-election commentary in Japan. Said the Nishinippon Shimbun:

“Conspicuous from the first round of elections was the party’s losses due to uncontested elections, and their cooperation with the LDP and other parties to back candidates. While this exposes the weakness of their local organizations, which are incapable of developing candidates of their own, in many cases they also avoided running candidates in elections they thought they would lose. The DPJ has a heavy responsibility for failing to face the voters and offer policy and electoral choices, despite being the ruling power in national government.”

The poor DPJ showing was the signal for the resumption of moves to find some way—any way—to get rid of Prime Minister Kan. The key word is “resume”; were it not for the earthquake and tsunami, he would already have been disposed. The downside to this good news is that replacing Mr. Kan might be akin to a lothario ditching a girl who gave him the crabs and winding up dating a girl with chlamydia.

First the electoral truth, and then the consequences.

OSAKA

Momentum continued to gather for Osaka Ishin no Kai, the regional party led by Osaka Gov. Hashimoto Toru, as their candidate Inoue Tetsuya defeated the incumbent mayor of Suita, who was supported by the DPJ and two other parties. It was Mr. Inoue’s first election campaign.

DPJ Diet member Tarutoko Shinji resigned his position as chairman of the local party federation to take responsibility for the party’s poor showing in Osaka this month. Mr. Tarutoko’s strategy was to confront Gov. Hashimoto (a switch from 2009, when the party went out of their way to kiss his posterior), and that nothing turned out to be a real uncool hand. Some party members now want to rethink their support of Osaka Mayor Hiramatsu Kunio, a Hashimoto critic, in his re-election bid this fall.

In the 17 cities of Osaka Prefecture, New Komeito and Your Party elected all of their candidates. The DPJ elected 46 of 56, or 82%, (down from 95% four years ago), and the Communist Party 63 of 73, or 86% (down from 96% four years ago). Eight candidates from local reform parties were elected in three cities, including the Ryoma Project x Suita Shinsenkai.

AICHI

Former LDP lower house MP Niwa Hideki regained the seat he lost in 2009 in Aichi #6, defeating freelance reporter Kawamura Akiyo of Tax Reduction Japan by a margin so large city employees should be congratulated for taking the time to finish counting the votes. TRJ, led by Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi, was hoping their tsunami of a victory in February would carry them into the national legislature, but in this campaign they didn’t generate a ripple. Name recognition, a wish for post-disaster stability, and Ms. Kawamura’s inexperience may have been factors. (The two Kawamuras are unrelated—different kanji for the kawa.) The LDP focused its attention on this election, and party head Tanigaki Sadakazu came to campaign several times. Mr. Niwa also had the de facto support of New Komeito. This is the race the DPJ was too chicken to run in.

The results for the TRJ were so poor Mr. Kawamura confided to an old friend in the DPJ several days before the election that it would have better to give it a pass. Nevertheless, he made some progress on his agenda in Nagoya despite the election results. His party offered a bill to permanently halve the salaries of city council. The LDP and the DPJ countered with a bill providing for a temporary salary cut with a neutral third party determining the amount. None of them had the votes to get their bills passed, so they compromised by passing a bill for a temporary 50% reduction with no time period specified. Mr. Kawamura seems to have gotten the better end of the deal for now.

AKUNE

Events in Akune, Kagoshima, over the past year have received prominent coverage nationwide. Akune is a small city, and most of its revenue goes to public employee remuneration. Former Mayor Takehara Shin’ichi had strong public backing for his plan to pay city council members on a per diem basis instead of straight salaries. When the council refused to pass his legislation, however, he started governing by decree and the public turned against him. He was recalled in a close vote a few months ago, and lost the campaign to replace himself by another close vote. But when the new mayor reinstated the old salary system, Mr. Takehara’s supporters succeeded in having the entire city council recalled.

The new election for the 16 council members was held on Sunday, and both factions ran 11 candidates. The anti-Takehara group, mainly city council veterans, campaigned on a promise to end confusion in government and won 10 seats, while the pro-Takehara group of amateurs won six seats on a platform of reducing the number of assembly members, reinstating the per diem pay system, and cutting the fixed asset tax. The group of veterans also received about 1,000 more votes in the aggregate.

The winners will still have to mind their Ps and Qs, however. The candidate who received the most votes was Takehara Emi, the former mayor’s sister, who was part of the faction calling for downsized government.

TOKYO

The DPJ lost six of eight de facto head-to-head elections among mayors and ward heads in the Tokyo Metro District. The party also must have been discouraged by Murata Nobuyuki’s failure to gain a seat as a delegate to the Meguro Ward assembly. Mr. Murata, a freelance journalist, is the husband of DPJ national poster girl and reform minister Ren Ho. His candidacy developed no traction despite an early declaration. Neither Mrs. Murata’s speeches on his behalf nor her photograph on his campaign posters helped. There were 55 candidates for 36 seats. Mr. Murata finished in 42nd place with 893 votes, 457 votes shy of a seat.

Another Tokyo election of interest was that for the chief municipal officer of Setagaya Ward. The winner was Hosaka Nobuto of the Social Democratic Party (Japan’s loony left), who campaigned on an anti-nuclear power platform. The mass media thought his victory was Very Important News Indeed and treated it as such.

What they found less worthy of reporting was that the local LDP party organizations failed to agree on a single candidate, so two candidates split the LDP vote in the ward. The party organization for the Tokyo Metro District backed Hanawa Takafumi, while the organization for Setagaya supported Kawakami Kazuhiko. Mr. Hosaka received roughly 84,000 votes, Mr. Hanawa 78,000, and Mr. Kawakami 60,000. Had there been a single LDP candidate, the news from Setagaya on election night might have been Not Very Important At All.

Nagata-cho

Sakaiya Tai’ichi once held high positions in the predecessor of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. He is now a freelance writer, commentator, and harsh critic of the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy in general, the Finance Ministry in particular, and the Bank of Japan and the domestic banking industry to boot. It would be impossible to improve on his summary of the DPJ government since taking power:

“The DPJ boasted that by eliminating waste from the budget they could squeeze out JPY 7 trillion in fiscal resources. They offered such new policies as the child allowance, the elimination of expressway tolls, and subsidies to individual farm households. The people were doubtful, but they expected the party to do something new. That’s why they won 308 seats in the 2009 lower house election.

“But the people were betrayed. The new DPJ government immediately became captives of the bureaucracy, and amakudari flourished. The ministers merely read out by rote the texts the bureaucrats had written for them. The budget reviews were broadcast live, but because the Finance Ministry had drawn up the scenario, they cut out only JPY 700 billion. That’s about the same total the LDP came up with when they were in power.

“Their promise to reduce civil servant salaries by 20% was an utter lie. In addition, their ignorance and lack of information in foreign policy and defense matters was exposed with the Okinawa base issue, as well as with the Senkakus and the Northern Territories.

“That’s why the DPJ has continued to lose elections since 2010. They defended 54 seats in the July 2010 upper house election and lost 10. They lost a by-election for a Hokkaido lower house seat that October, and also lost the elections for governor of Wakayama and mayor of Fukuoka City and Kanazawa. This year they’ve been defeated in local elections in Aichi and Nagoya.”

Mr. Sakaiya left out one other complaint, but Osaka Gov. Hashimoto Toru finished it for him:

“The DPJ has to distance itself from public employee unions. I think popular sentiment when they took control of government was for a change in the public sector.”

The expression Uma no mimi ni nenbutsu—Buddhist sutras in a horse’s ear—would seem to be applicable.

The Kan administration’s post-earthquake behavior is just one of several reasons for the party’s electile dysfunction, but as the most recent demonstration of that dysfunction, it’s a convenient place for politicos to pitch a tent—even for those who are supposed to be their allies. Shimoji Mikio, secretary-general of the People’s New Party and technically part of the ruling coalition, gave the party some excellent advice:

“That the Kan administration’s response to the disaster is not understood by the people is reflected in the election results. Their continued election losses make even clearer the people’s lack of trust in the government. They should reevaluate their approach to policy and organization in light of these results.”

More sutras for the horse.

Sunrise Party Japan leader Hiranuma Takeo also found their approach to organization wanting:

“The government has created more than 20 councils to deal with earthquake relief and Fukushima, but their duties overlap. The people are scornful, so we must change the trend of politics.”

No one was more scornful than Keidanren Chairman Yonekura Hiroaki, who said on the 26th:

“The leadership’s erroneous instructions were the source of the confusion (after the earthquake).”

Referring to the Cabinet’s boast that it had declared a moratorium on their travel overseas to deal with the recovery efforts, Mr. Yonekura said:

“A Cabinet that does its job properly should stay at home and take charge of affairs, but if people incapable of properly performing their jobs do us the favor of leaving, I wouldn’t care.”

Exposed

It might well be a waste of energy to hold Mr. Kan and the rest of the DPJ leadership in contempt. They seem at times to be living on another plane of existence. A Fuji-Sankei poll last week asked those surveyed if the prime minister had demonstrated leadership in dealing with Fukushima. The answers:

Yes: 13.4%
No: 79.7%

The losers of an election in a democracy are supposed to accept defeat gracefully. They are expected to acknowledge that the people have spoken and accept their verdict. The standards for accepting responsibility in Japan are higher still—those in positions of authority are expected to resign. Indeed, the head of the Aichi federation of DPJ parties, lower house member Maki Yoshio, said after the elections: “I will resign the position because I don’t want the voters to think this is a party of people who don’t take responsibility.”

Contrast that with the behavior of the party’s national leaders. Election campaign committee chairman Ishii Hajime offered his resignation at first, saying:

“The DPJ was defeated in the election and it was beginning to seem as if no one would take responsibility.”

But party Secretary-General Okada Katsuya said that wouldn’t be necessary:

“The results are better than the last time. Resigning by itself is not a way to take responsibility.”

So Mr. Ishii withdrew his resignation.

For his part, Kan Naoto has exasperated many because he wouldn’t recognize the concepts of accepting responsibility and gracefully accepting the will of the people if they walked up and bit him:

“Different people have said that (the DPJ) lost because our response to the earthquake was bad, but that’s not right. Our response to the earthquake has been sound.”

In fact, he has his own view on what constitutes the responsible course of action. When asked if he would resign, he said:

“Abandoning my responsibility is not the path I should take.”

He can’t say “Après moi le déluge” because there’s already been one in the Tohoku region.

It gets worse:

“That I am in this position (at this time) is fate. The people have a quite favorable opinion of what we’ve done so far.”

People who would be national leaders must realize everything they’ve said or done will be exposed, but Mr. Kan hasn’t made it there yet. When confronted with his blog post quoted at the top of this article, this is the best he could do:

“I can’t say right away whether I wrote that or not.”

The prime minister isn’t the only DPJ leader to have failed to notice it is no longer possible to hide one’s public past in the information age. Reporters asked Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio about poll results showing the public was extremely unhappy with the government’s handling of Fukushima. Mr. Edano’s usual response to these questions is that there are ups and downs in individual polls, and that he won’t respond to each one; i.e., the ones that make his party look bad. He should have stuck with that line instead of what he actually said this time:

“It’s natural that criticism would be harsh (but) I don’t think public opinion polls accurately reflect public opinion.”

He might as well have written Kick Me on a piece of paper and taped it to his backside. Before the day was out, reporters had dug up other Edano comments about polls made on the record in the Diet:

“Looking at the public opinion polls, most people think Health Minister Yanagisawa Hakuo should resign.” (March 2007)

And:

“Looking at the public opinion polls, it is clear the people are opposed to the (Aso Cabinet’s) stimulus fund proposal.” (January 2009)

Enough already

It’s inevitable that political prey this weak will attract predators. But the only way to deal with people who act as if it is their fate and their mission to cling to office and make things worse is a Constitutional coup. The many plotters in this instance aren’t bothering to conceal their intentions. For starters, the Asahi Shimbun reported that destroyer-of-worlds Ozawa Ichiro met with People’s New Party head Kamei Shizuka, another veteran backstage manipulator, on Sunday evening “to exchange opinions about the political structure for disaster recovery”.

Ha ha ha!

On Monday, DPJ Diet members close to Mr. Ozawa launched a petition drive to convene a party meeting and hold an election to recall Mr. Kan as party president. Some suspect the real intent is to convince Mr. Kan to resign, as the petition would require the signatures of one-third of all DPJ Diet members. Said Kawauchi Hiroshi, the ringleader of this particular plot:

“Prime Minister Kan has no management ability. At a time such as this, the absence of a true leader will cause real trouble.”

Some politicians are accused of having lapdogs. Ozawa Ichiro has a lap pit bull, Yamaoka Kenji, one of the most obnoxious and nasty politicians ever to cast a shadow in a parliament building. Mr. Yamaoka convened a meeting this week of a group whose stated intention is knocking off Mr. Kan. The lineup was predictable: Boss Tweed’s daughter, former Foreign Minister Tanaka Makiko; politicians allied with former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio; and Haraguchi Kazuhiro, an Ozawa acolyte who served in the Hatoyama Cabinet.

About 50 or 60 people attended, an impressive showing of rebels for a party in power. In this case, however, it falls short of the 80 DPJ MPs needed to pass a no-confidence motion in the lower house, and it’s just about half the DPJ pols the media assumes are allied with Mr. Ozawa. Because everyone involved is aware of the numbers, they took the unusual step of calling on New Komeito to join them in forming a new coalition government. (That would give them a two-vote majority in the upper house, where the current government now falls short.)

Another reason, however, is that most members of the opposition LDP outside of the mudboat wing want nothing to do with an Ozawa Ichiro plot. They would prefer not to work with the Ozawa group if the latter were to submit a no-confidence motion. If the LDP were to submit their own no-confidence motion, however, an aye vote by a DPJ member would mean expulsion from the party. Therefore, the idea is to get inside the LDP’s collective head and threaten them with the loss of their former coalition partner.

Do they know something no one else does? New Komeito head Yamaguchi Natsuo has already said Mr. Ozawa should resign from the Diet altogether. Urushibara Yoshio, New Komeito’s Diet Affairs Chairman, told his LDP counterpart not to worry:

“They used the New Komeito name without asking us about it. We’re not in lockstep (with Ozawa).”

While the people want the Kan Cabinet gone, that isn’t the group they want to replace them. They lost what little confidence they had in Mr. Kan long ago, but they lost their confidence in the likes of Mr. Hatoyama, Mr. Ozawa, and the rest of the DPJ before that.

Here’s a comment from one person identified as a “long-time Nagata-cho observer”:

“The LDP and New Komeito dislike and reject Prime Minister Kan and Mr. Ozawa in equal measure. Many in the DPJ also dislike Ozawa. If a no-confidence motion were to pass, it might cause a political realignment that would shut out both Kan and Ozawa.”

Compatible with that observation is another scenario involving Nishioka Takeo, the president of the upper house. Serving in that role requires the resignation of their party membership, and Mr. Nishioka was an Ozawa ally in the DPJ. He’s been calling for the prime minister’s resignation for several weeks, and finally said he would have to make a decision of his own if Mr. Kan doesn’t quit. By that, people assume he will ask the opposition to submit a censure motion in the upper house, which would likely pass. Such a motion is not legally binding, but the Kan Cabinet would find it impossible to govern if the opposition decided to boycott the Diet until they resigned.

One writer speculated another ungainly platypus-like coalition might result: LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu as prime minister and former DPJ Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito as deputy prime minister. Though Mr. Sengoku is from the same leftist turf where Kan Naoto grazes, he has a low opinion of the prime minister. After being brought back to the Cabinet as a deputy chief cabinet secretary to handle the recovery/reconstruction effort, he has openly criticized Mr. Kan’s conduct of post-earthquake affairs and the many organizations that he’s created.

Everyone would have to hold their noses, but that arrangement might work as a time-limited grand coalition with the LDP, New Komeito, and the anti-Ozawa faction in the DPJ to handle the recovery without having either Mr. Kan or Mr. Ozawa involved. The LDP has the experience, Mr. Sengoku is an intelligent and capable man, and no exchange of money between Mr. Ozawa and the construction companies would occur in addition to what already is being passed under the table.

How does Mr. Kan view these moves? There are now rumors that he wants to reshuffle the Cabinet and include some Ozawa and Hatoyama allies to forestall a DPJ revolt and prolong his political life.

History will judge Kan Naoto harshly as prime minister, to the extent that he is remembered at all. The longer he stays in office, the harsher that judgment will be.

*****
Mustt Mustt is the title of a qawwalli that translates as “lost in intoxication”. The Indian singer has something else in mind, but that’s as good an explanation as any for the pride the Kan Cabinet takes in being dazed and confused.

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Wabbit season! Duck season! Kan season!

Posted by ampontan on Monday, April 18, 2011

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

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

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

Prime Minister Kan in camouflage clothing at Ishinomaki

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

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

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

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

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

Tokyo

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

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

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

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

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

Mie

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

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

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

Mr. Suzuki won.

Osaka

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

Gov. Hashimoto and his party came this close

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

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

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

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

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

Aichi

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

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

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

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

Shizuoka

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

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

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

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

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

The earth quakes in Nagata-cho

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

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

Caution: Kan at Work

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

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

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

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

Apres-election

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

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

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

About the election results, he said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Popular will

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The agenda

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

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

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

Explained Mr. Kawabata:

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

Last month, Sengoku Yoshito told a meeting:

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

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

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

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

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

Up next

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commented Ishihara Nobuteru:

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

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

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

******
Which one of these characters reminds you of Kan Naoto?

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Is disaster relief and reconstruction a public good?

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, April 14, 2011

THE JAPANESE government is now formulating what it’s calling a “Reconstruction Vision” outlining its intentions for rebuilding the areas in the three northeastern prefectures damaged by the earthquake and the tsunami.

Not everyone thinks the public sector should play the leading role in disaster protection and relief however, and that has nothing to do with the DPJ government’s demonstrated incompetence even in normal circumstances. William F. Shughart II, a University of Mississippi professor, examined the American government’s response to Hurricane Katrina and concluded that disaster prevention and relief is a “bad” public good.

Prof. Shughart wrote a paper (.pdf) for the Independent Review outlining his ideas. Here’s how it starts:

“At first blush, disaster relief belongs to a class of problems ill suited for private-market solution. It seems obvious that coordinated emergency responses on a scale and scope far beyond the capacities of individual actors, charitable organizations, and even local and state governments are indispensable when Mother Nature strikes with the wrath of a Hurricane Camille, Andrew, or Katrina, when levee breeches cause massive flooding of towns and farmland along the upper Mississippi Valley, or when tornadoes and earthquakes shatter lives and wreck property in the blink of an eye. Disaster relief arguably is, in short, something of a public good that would be undersupplied if responsibility for providing it were left in the hands of the private sector. If this line of reasoning is sound, the activity of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or something like it is a proper function of the national government.

“But I don’t think that it is. A pure public good is both nonrival in consumption (that is, one person can consume the good without reducing the amount available for others to consume) and nonexcludable (that is, access to the good cannot be denied to anyone, including individuals who have not contributed to financing its provision). Weather forecasts (Ewing, Kruse, and Sutter 2007, 319), national defense, and some types of intellectual property qualify by that definition; other examples are difficult to come by….

“In this article, I argue that even if disaster relief is thought of as a public good—a form of “social insurance” against fire, flood, earthquake, and other natural catastrophes—it does not follow that government provision is the only or necessarily the best option. Indeed, I show that both economic theory and the historical record point to the conclusion that the public sector predictably fails to supply disaster relief in socially optimal quantities. Moreover, because it facilitates corruption, creates incentives for populating disaster-prone areas, and crowds out self-help and other local means of coping with disaster, government provision of assistance to disaster’s victims actually threatens to make matters worse.”

He cites several reasons to support his arguments. Here’s one:

“No matter how well meant, the measures taken to provide “relief”—generous injections of public money and in-kind assistance to succor a disaster’s victims; commitments to spend billions of tax dollars to rebuild the areas laid waste by Mother Nature; promises of grants, tax breaks, and low-interest loans for property owners, including those who failed to obtain private or federally subsidized hazard insurance; and lawsuits against private insurers aimed at forcing them to pay for losses not explicitly covered by the policies they sold—reduce the cost of living in disaster-prone regions and hence create incentives for individuals and businesses to put themselves in harm’s way. Publicly financed disaster relief, in short, creates moral hazard (Pauly 1968), ensuring that the next natural catastrophe will produce more fatalities and more property damage than the previous one did.”

Another of his reasons presents a most interesting contrast:

“(D)isaster relief breeds public corruption. Drawing an analogy to the so-called natural-resource curse or the Dutch disease, Peter Boettke and associates (2007) as well as Peter Leeson and Russell Sobel (2008) argue that the “windfall” of money and other resources that pours into a disaster’s impact area, the chaotic atmosphere in which relief is distributed, and the public-relations imperative to be seen “doing something” quickly to alleviate the suffering creates circumstances ripe for corruption and waste. In fact, the evidence suggests that because responses to emergencies typically are conducted with little attention to oversight or personal accountability, other things being equal, public officials are more likely to be indicted and convicted of corruption in disaster-prone states.2”

Meanwhile, writing for Bloomberg/Business Week, William Pesek warns that the public works projects to be conducted in the Tohoku region “ensures the return of large-scale graft”. He luxuriates in summarizing the downside of Japan’s postwar history of public works, though his own prose and inflated claims could stand some pork-trimming as well: “(T)he LDP turned concrete economics into an art form.”

Will there be graft involved in awarding public works projects in the Tohoku region? I expect there will, especially in Ozawa Ichiro’s home prefecture of Iwate, but that phenomenon occurs everywhere, including Mr. Pesek’s own back yard.

He should know better, but he also writes:

“Kan’s Democratic Party of Japan pledged to break Japan’s construction-industrial complex. It’s reviewing dam and other huge public works it deems wasteful. The quake reconstruction process will test that commitment.”

Perhaps Mr. Pesek hasn’t been keeping up with the news. In September 2009, then-Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Maehara Seiji launched a publicity extravaganza to coincide with the DPJ’s assumption of control by suspending several large construction projects that had been criticized by outside commentators and media gadflies. One of the most prominent was a dam supplying water in the Kanto region. After local objections and reviews by engineers and other adults, some of those projects–including the dam–were quietly resumed by his successor, Mabuchi Sumio.

The DPJ did succeed in eliminating one large nationwide construction project already underway, however—the earthquake proofing of public buildings.

That was one of few cuts to result from the ballyhooed policy reviews of Edano Yukio and Ren Ho. Mr. Edano is now the chief cabinet secretary and is heavily involved with the government’s response to the disaster. Ren Ho received an additional Cabinet portfolio to serve as the public face of the energy conservation effort with the Fukushima reactors now no longer functioning.

But let’s return to Prof. Shughart’s article. Be sure to read the section in which he argues that Wal-Mart conducted disaster and relief operations for Katrina more efficiently and with greater effect than FEMA.

Though it’s too late to be of benefit in the Tohoku area, more people in Japan should read his paper. Too few people here–or anywhere–make the same argument.

Afterwords:

Hans-Hermann Hoppe allows himself to be described as “an Austrian School economist and anarchocapitalist philosopher, and professor emeritus of economics at the University of Nevada Las Vegas”. His ideas are very strong stuff indeed, and it is not my intention here to either support or attack them. (Reading them, however, is always worthwhile for the thought it provokes.)

In another context, Prof. Hoppe provides another reason to those cited by Prof. Shughart above. The italics are his: “(A) monopolist of taxation will invariably strive to maximize his expenditures on (something) and at the same time minimize the actual production of (that thing). The more money the state can spend and the less it must work for this money, the better off it is.”

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No surprise

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, March 13, 2011

HERE’S a quick quiz for those familiar with the people in Japanese politics: If you had to guess which politician would be the first to break ranks and try to turn recent events to their party’s advantage, who do you think it would be?

Did you say Fukushima Mizuho of the Social Democrats? Got it in one!

She chaired a meeting of her party–in an office, though they could have used an airport limousine bus–and took the opportunity to complain about the government’s information management. Her party is the standard-bearer for Japan’s loony left, so of course they detest nuclear power. She complained about that, too, even as people were putting their lives on the line in Fukushima Prefecture (no relation) to bring the problems with the nuclear plants there under control. Her complaint amounted to: We told you so! She plans to make an issue of it.

There was one benefit to watching the brief film clip on TV. One couldn’t help laughing to see her dressed in work coveralls. If she’s going to zip them up to her neck, she probably shouldn’t have worn that designer outfit underneath. It looked awfully lumpy.

To give you an idea of the tilt of her gyroscope, she complained last week that the Kan Cabinet idea to raise taxes was evidence that it was “neo-liberal” and Koizumian.

Meanwhile, LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu said that while there’s a lot they don’t like about the DPJ budget, his party is willing to be flexible on their demands to facilitate the recovery. Some in the party want the government to divert the funds for the child stipend to relief efforts and infrastructure repair. The government will convene a special committee tonight to hammer out a policy to handle fund allocation.

In other news, Prime Minister Kan appointed reform minister Ren Ho to be in charge of the effort to save energy, with rolling blackouts to start tomorrow. That’s reasonable, considering she’s a TV announcer/model turned politician. Her job will be to appear before the public and urge them to cut consumption to a minimum.

Mr. Kan also appointed unaffiliated MP Tsujimoto Kiyomi to be his aide in charge of coordinating volunteer efforts. That makes sense from one perspective, considering her work to create Peace Boat (who are anti-nuclear power too). She’s also probably well-connected to the NGO types.

On the other hand, the It Girl of the hard left once told a reporter in an unguarded moment that she thought her job as a Diet member was to destroy the country. One has to wonder once again what possessed Mr. Kan to make such a personnel choice.

Quick update: Mr. Kan just finished a pep talk to the nation live on television, and he came very close to losing it. Fortunately, he didn’t (as he was praising the people for maintaining their composure), and just as fortunately, he was followed by Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio, who quickly restored the equilibrium. The prime minister needs a pep talk more than most of the people in the country. From what I’ve seen the rest of his Cabinet have presented themselves very well.

On another note: There’s a report that more than 300 important cultural treasures (i.e., Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, etc.) were damaged (to an undefined extent) in the earthquake and tsunami.

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More on the sumo scandal

Posted by ampontan on Friday, February 4, 2011

DEMONSTRATING once again that there’s a first time for everything, Japan’s DPJ-led government is responding both promptly and appropriately to the revelations of match-fixing in sumo. While match-fixing in that sport is not illegal (as it is in others), the Sumo Association is registered as a public service corporation. A new legal framework regulating those corporations was created a few years ago, and a five-year transition to the new system began on 1 December 2008. Certification as a public service corporation means an entity’s income-generating activities are tax-exempt. The Sumo Association is still registered under the old system and wants to be certified under the new system.

According to members of the government, they’ll have to clean the Augean stables first. Said Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio:

“I can only say that certification as a public service corporation will be difficult if the corporation has a chronic problem with match-fixing…First, we will have them clarify all the facts and present them to the public.”

The word “difficult” is often used by Japanese government officials at all levels as a euphemism for “impossible”. The phrase Mr. Edano used for “present them to the public” was literally “squeeze out the pus.”

Education Minister Takaki Yoshiaki (the Ministry is also responsible for regulating sports activities) met with the Chief Cabinet Secretary yesterday. After the meeting, he told reporters that certification would hinge on whether the Sumo Association was capable of full disclosure, and hinted that their status might be revoked.

Ren Ho, the Minister for Government Revitalization who also plays the role of MC at the policy reviews, took the opportunity to indulge in some grandstanding. She said she thinks the association does not now fulfill the conditions of certification, and added that their governance has been called into question due to incidents involving violence (i.e., former Mongolian rikishi Asashoryu’s brawling in the back seat of a taxicab) and the gambling on baseball. Yes, she’s right, and yes, politicians everywhere pile on to glom some cheap publicity and face time with the cameras.

The issue is very clear, however: If an organization thinks its cultural value entitles it to such privileges as tax-exempt status, they’ll have to behave as if they deserve it. Even the DPJ’s got that one covered.

UPDATE: Now the police are saying that the e-mails of one of the arrested rikishi are creating suspicions that he also bet on sumo matches, but add that the matches on which wagers were placed were not those whose outcome was arranged in advance.

UPDATE #2: I spoke too soon. The Education Minister is trying to downplay the idea of decertification, preferring to wait for a report, and he also specifically downplayed Ren Ho’s comments.

That highlights two problems. First, I read articles in two different newspapers this morning about Ren Ho’s statements, and neither one mentioned that she has responsibility for the reform of public service corporations. That’s why I wrote that she seemed to be grandstanding. It is example #15,492 for me of how information in the Japanese news media is often scattered, incomplete, and decentralized. It is “difficult”, as Mr. Edano would say, to find a single report from any news outlet on any subject with all the pertinent information.

Second, once again a DPJ Cabinet can’t get its story straight before addressing the public. The minister responsible for regulating sporting bodies says one thing while the minister responsible for public service corporations is in another room saying something else. Loose cannons, no coordination. That’s the responsibility of either the prime minister or the chief cabinet secretary (and ultimately both), but the integrated conduct of affairs seems beyond their capabilities.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister (!) Kitazawa Toshimi just had to chime in with his opinion too. He said:

“It’s no laughing matter when the yokuzuna (top-ranked wrestlers) and other upper level rikishi are foreigners and the lower level Japanese rikishi are fixing matches.”

That man’s just begging for a pie in the face.

Some people try to make excuses for all of this by attributing it to inexperience in government. Nope. It’s inexperience in life of the type which most people should have by the age of 40.

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Absurd

Posted by ampontan on Monday, January 31, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Kan could manage only 6.9%.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new lineup

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

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

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

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

The game

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

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

The Kan worldview

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

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

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

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

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

Player transactions

Sengoku Yoshito traded for Edano Yukio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okazaki Tomiko released outright

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

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

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

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

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

She lasted just four and a half months in office.

Signed Yosano Kaoru to a free agent contract

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absurdity squared

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And:

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

During the same interview, he defined political leadership:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have little sense that it is unnatural”

Fujii Hirohisa named bench coach

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

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

Other transactions

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

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

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

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

Absurdity cubed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absurdity in the fourth dimension

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

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

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

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

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

The scorecard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the speech, LDP MP Koizumi Shinjiro said:

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

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

“I do not sense any enthusiasm.”

Left unprotected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See what I mean about his only political skill?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No excuses for this absurdity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can you expect?

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

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

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

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

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

And:

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

And:

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

Afterwords:

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

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

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

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

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

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

A comedy tonite!

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 23, 2010

GOOD EVENING, ladies and gentlemen, thank you, thank you, oh, it’s so nice to be back in town and see you all again! We’re thrilled that you could make it because we’ve got a really big show lined up for you this evening.

Our special attraction tonight is that zany comedy troupe, the stars of stump, TV screen, and the Internet, those kings and queens of hectic hey-hey who’ve been adding to their Guinness record of 563 straight pratfalls without a net, that weird and wacky gang from Nagata-cho, I’m pleased as punch to present…the Democratic Party of Japan!

Now let’s hear it for our first guest, the current Deputy Secretary-General, Tochigi’s own, Edano Yukio!

“I didn’t realize that the ruling party would be so busy. We talked carelessly about political leadership, and now we’re in trouble. What I want more than anything else is the time to leisurely think about and discuss matters.”

Interlocutor: What about the suggestion by some that you institute income restrictions to limit the amount of the government child allowance paid to parents with higher incomes?

“To say that we should apply income restrictions because our support is falling is a kind of populism.”

Folks, listen, we’re just getting warmed up! Would you believe this DPJ party member’s story about Okada Katsuya, DPJ Secretary-General?:

“Mr. Okada asked Ozawa Ichiro to attend an ethics panel, but he didn’t meet him. When someone asked him why he didn’t meet him and discuss the matter with him in person, he said, ‘I called his office several times, but he never came to the phone.’”

Shout from the audience: Who was that lady I saw you with last night?

Interlocutor: That was no lady—that was Ren Ho!

Veteran DPJ Diet member:

“Her reputation in the party is terrible, even though they’re boosting her as the queen of the policy reviews. She tailors her statements to whoever seems to have the most power at the time, whether it’s Kan or Ozawa. Some people think she behaves like a high-class geisha.”

Younger MP:

“I don’t know whether it’s out of habit or what, but during drinking parties with the other MPs, she often (physically) touches us, on the back and elsewhere. She’s very good at that sort of thing, but she also can be a frightening middle-aged lady (おばさん). When some freshman MPs didn’t attend the policy reviews, she called them up and yelled, ‘Why aren’t you here?’”

Ladies and gentlemen, you remember the late and great Rodney Dangerfield, the man who never got any respect. Well, our next guest makes Rodney seem like the picture of probity and gravitas! It’s Old Smiley himself, Kan The Man Naoto!

(Hisses)

Nay, nay, I kid you not!

You remember Mr. Kan had to beg the Chinese to have those hallway sofa summits with Chinese President Hu Jintao because they wouldn’t agree to hold a formal meeting? Instead of sitting down, looking him in the eye, and talking with him man to man, he read Mr. Hu a memo!

Shout from the audience: Who’s on first?

Interlocutor: No, Hu’s on the couch!

No, seriously, he gets no respect! A source in the prime minister’s office told a weekly magazine about his response to some polling data:

“What? We’re doing the policy reviews, but our polls aren’t going up? Something’s wrong here!”

Hey, he gets so little respect, I’m tellin’ ya, it’s almost as if it were a conspiracy! (Straightens tie, twists neck.) A member of the current Cabinet told the weekly Shukan Gendai:

“He’s completely lost his capacity to govern. He was quite confident that the Russian President would not visit the Northern Territories, but he did. He blew up: ‘What’s this? I had information that he wouldn’t come.’ He got the information from Mr. Sengoku.”

Audience heckler:

“During the prime minister’s days as a leader of student activists, he was known as a ‘Fourth Row Man’. If you’re in the fourth row of a demonstration, you won’t get arrested when you run into the riot police…Now he tries to hide behind Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito, the man they call The Shadow Prime Minister.”

(The ushers lead LDP lower house member Hamada Kazuyuki from the hall.)

Interlocutor: And he gets even less respect when he goes overseas. When he spoke at the UN General Assembly in late September, three-fourths of the audience in attendance walked out when he took the podium!

Here’s a Jiji report about part of his speech:

“Prime Minister Kan gave an address to the UN general assembly on the development of small island states. Referring to his support of sustainable development for small island states confronting the threat of natural disaster and climate change, he declared, ‘We want to continue to be powerful supporters.’

“The Prime Minister emphasized his awareness of the urgent challenge faced by the international community for small island states overcoming their vulnerability. He described the support Japan would offer, and used as an example the help given to Haiti after its devastating earthquake in January. He also said that Japan would be providing support for disaster prevention, training personnel, and providing infrastructure.

“He said that rising sea levels threatened the existence of these states, and declared his intention to provide support for developing countries, including the small island states.”

Blogged an aide to LDP lower house member Nakagawa Hidenao:

“Mr. Prime Minister, the small islands you should protect first are the Senkakus!”

Now folks, it’s time for the Senkakus Shtick, which is destined to go down in the annals of comedy history–way, way down–to rank alongside the equally rank Futenma Follies of Hatoyama Yukio!

The government was ready to face the Chinese challenge. Said Sengoku Yoshito:

We’re going to have to confront this problem with China sometime. Japan lacks a sense of crisis, so this will be a good test case.

Interlocutor: And by Jingo it was! Just look at this report from the Asahi!

Katsuya Okada, secretary-general of the ruling DPJ, said, “The response by the Koizumi government led China to believe that ‘Japan’s position as a nation ruled by law is only for show.'”

Those within the prime minister’s office were concerned that immediately deporting Zhan would have led to domestic criticism that the government was “weak-kneed.”

An aide to Kan said such a decision “might have sent a message to China that even if a problem occurred near the Senkaku Islands, that would be the extent of Japan’s response.”

Interlocutor: Not only were they weak at the knees, they were weak at the hips!

Hold it, hold it, I know what you’re thinking! It’s true that Mr. Kan tried to warm up the audience with his famous Goofy impersonation. Before going to the U.S. on the 22nd of September, he asked his staff if the Chinese sea captain couldn’t be quickly released. Then he asked if it were possible to take some extralegal measures. You know, like the kind Koizumi took! But then he took charge! Here’s what he told Sengoku Yoshito:

“Take care of this while I’m in New York!”

And here’s what Sengoku Yoshito told Justice Minister Yanagida Minoru:

“You take care of this. (よろしく!)”

Interlocutor: And boy, did they!

Hey folks, I gotta tell ya, these are warm, loving, caring people, just wonderful human beings, but you won’t catch them talking about all the charity gigs they do. Take the Chinese fishing boat captain. His mother died on the day he was arrested. Now, you’ll never hear anyone in the Cabinet come right out and say it, but they did leak to the media the Chinese government request that they release the captain for humanitarian reasons.

It’s Chinese custom to hold memorial services for the deceased 19 days, 29 days, and 39 days after their death. The Chinese signaled the Kantei that it would mean a great deal to the nation and the family if they sent the captain home in time for the 19th day memorial service on 27 September. They also said it would be another great gesture if he could be there for the PRC National Day on 1 October. So respectful of Chinese patriotic feelings! But we wouldn’t have known about their civilized and compassionate response if Toshikawa Takao of Gendai Online hadn’t written about it.

Do you know how self-effacing they are? They didn’t want to steal the limelight for themselves, so they gave the prosecutors all the credit for the decision to release the Chinese captain! Isn’t that touching?

Wait, wait, that’s not all. There won’t be a dry eye in the house when you hear this. There are now reports from China that the captain’s mother wasn’t dead after all! Can’t you imagine how the skipper felt when he came home and discovered that she was still alive? That must have been a special reunion!

Everybody’s tryin’ to get into the act!
– Jimmy Durante

“I must say I think Prime Minister Kan has dealt with this (Senkakus) issue — it’s a difficult issue — in a very statesmanlike fashion. It, I think, shows a vision and an appreciation of how important it is for a peaceful diplomatic process to be conducted on issues like this.”
– Kurt Campbell, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs

And now ladies and gentlemen, here’s the star of the show, that bouncy and blustering blend of evasions, tough talk, and feigned politeness, the master of wit and repartee, that wascally wabbit himself, the one, the only, Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito!

Interlocutor: People are complaining about all the misstatements and gaffes coming out of the Cabinet, but he’s got their backs:

“The (opposition) asks us a lot of detailed questions that they didn’t tell us in advance, and it’s hard to answer them accurately. If a minister is asked about something outside the range of their (responsibility), they haven’t prepared all the data, and it isn’t in their heads.”

Interlocutor: Well, what part of their body is it in, then? Ha ha ha!

The poll numbers for the Cabinet are falling through the floor, but he’s been the Rock of Gibraltar for his fellow cutups. Just this week, he said:

“In the not too distant future, the people will praise the policies, acts, and results of the Kan Cabinet.”

And never a thought for himself, that man—he’s always on the job. Reporters asked him earlier this month whether he would visit Okinawa to see the Futenma air base for himself. Wouldn’t a few days in the tropics be great this time of year, even on a business trip? It would do him a world of good. But he can’t tear himself away from his desk:

“If you (in the media) didn’t bring up the problem of crisis management, I could go anytime, but I can’t move because I have to be in the 23 wards of Tokyo 24 hours a day.”

Don’t let that gruff exterior fool you folks, he’s really a paragon of courtesy. He’s got the greatest respect and deference for our Chinese neighbors. And he shows that regard by using highly honorific language when he speaks speak of them. Don’t you remember how politely he referred to them in September, even though he was very disappointed in their behavior?

“I don’t know about 20 years ago, but it was my understanding that (China) had changed quite a bit—the judiciary had become independent and the relationship between government and the judicial system had become more modern. But they haven’t changed much at all.” (あまりお変わりになっていなかった)

Or how hopeful he was of positive developments after the government returned the 14 crew members to China along with their ship. Notice the respect he pays to the average Chinese fisherman:

(14人と船がお帰りになれば、違った状況が開けてくるのではないか)
“If the 14 sailors and their ship return (to China), that will likely create a different set of circumstances.”

It must be that Socialist background and his sense of solidarity with working men and women everywhere! He did it again when he confirmed that a Chinese survey ship was near the Japanese Shirakaba gas fields in the East China Sea:

(周辺にいらっしゃることは確認している。)
“(We’ve) confirmed (the ship) is in the area.”

Interlocutor: That’s more respect than Kan Naoto gets!

There’s more! Not only does he hold the Chinese in high esteem, but with true Japanese humility he elevates others by lowering himself and the members of his group. Here’s what he said about the political neutrality of civil servants:

“The Self-Defense Forces are also an instrument of violence, as well as a type of military organization. Therefore, based on our prewar experience, their political neutrality in particular must be ensured.”

He quickly caught himself and changed that to “an organization of power”, but boy, did that start a motherbruiser of a pie fight in the cheap seats! Even some of his detractors, including blogger Ikeda Nobuo, rushed to his defense by suggesting that he was paraphrasing the sociologist and political economist Max Weber, who held that the state should have a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.

Others objected that Vladimir Lenin had a taste for the phrase too, not to mention a taste for violence. Old Ilyich used approximations of it several times, including, “The state is an organ or instrument of violence exercised by one class against another …”

But just as Mr. Sengoku was there to defend Kan Naoto when the going got tough, the tough prime minister got going and stood up for the chief cabinet secretary:

“He read communist party-type books in the past. He told me himself that the phrase ‘instrument of violence’ appeared in them. That’s not what he really believes. I recognize that he made a mistake in his choice of words.”

Interlocutor: So it was Lenin and not Weber after all!

But really, trust me, he’s a serious guy with the people’s best interests at heart. This February, when he was still the minister for national strategy, he talked about the goals of his party:

“Our objective is to create a government that the civil servants and the people will be thankful for. The basic concepts are ‘disclosure’ and ‘explanation’.”

Ladies and gentleman, we all know it’s impossible to follow an act like that, but if anyone can, it’s the recently reshuffled Minister of Justice, the Clown Prince of Comedy, Yanagida Minoru entertaining an audience in Hiroshima on the 14th! Heeeeere’s Minnie!

“All I did was remember two answers that have gotten me through Diet testimony: ‘I will refrain from commenting on specific cases,’ and ‘We are dealing with the matter appropriately based on law and evidence.'”

Interlocutor: I say, didn’t he run that joke into the ground? Opposition pols checked the Diet records and came up with six examples of the first and 14 examples of the second in his testimony.

Naw, he’s more than a one-hit wonder. He told another joke to the same Hiroshima crowd that was too hip for the room. It went over the heads of everyone in the media:

“I haven’t been involved with legal matters even once over the past 20 years.”

For an encore, the government brought back the old Alphonse and Gaston routine. Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku said they wouldn’t fire him. People’s New Party head Kamei Shizuka said the gags had been the staple of the LDP baggy pants ministers of national comedy back when Henny Youngman was picking flies out of his soup! Then Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku changed their minds. But the Justice Minister said he would stay–to implement his agenda!

And then he changed his mind and quit the next day!

His loyal fan club following still has a crush on him, though. An executive with the Hiroshima branch of the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Union—he got where he is today because of union support—said:

“Because I know Mr. Yanigida, I think that was just his way of making a joke, though it wasn’t a good thing to say.”

But the DPJ topped that punch line. Sengoku Yoshito announced he would hold a double Cabinet portfolio and take over the job as Justice Minister for the time being!

Well, that about wraps up our show for tonight, ladies and gentlemen, we do hope you enjoyed yourselves. Thanks for being such a wonderful audience! We’d like to take you home with us! And good night Mrs. Karabashi, wherever you are!

No laughing matter

Most journalists make reasonable allowances for the fact a man is a politician, but there are some like me who don’t. While the condition may be mysterious, and the cause not singular, to me mad is mad. It has several times struck me, in meeting directly with “power,” that if I heard a man speaking like this, while riding on a trolley, I would assume he was an outpatient.
– David Warren of the Ottawa Citizen

It’s only taken a few short months for the audience to head for the exits at the DPJ revue yet again, and that’s got everyone in show business worried. A JNN poll over the weekend in the Tokyo area found that support for the DPJ was down to 18.4%. Meanwhile, support for the LDP, the Tar Baby of Japanese politics (Tar Baby jes’ sit there and don’t say nothin’) has climbed to 30.0%. Those are roughly identical to the relative numbers in 2006 just before Abe Shinzo decided to let the postal rebels back into the LDP.

Support for the Kan Cabinet was at 26.6% and disapproval at 66.2%. A Sankei-Fuji poll taken at the same time had the numbers at 21.8% and 59.8% respectively. 84.6% are not impressed with Mr. Kan’s leadership. One reason Mr. Yanagida had to walk the plank was the concern that the opposition would pass a censure motion in the upper house. 63.2% now think it would be appropriate to submit a similar motion for Sengoku Yoshito.

Last week, Ozawa Ichiro met with his allies who are first term lower house members to warn them that Prime Minister Kan might dissolve the lower house and call an election out of desperation. He thinks the election could come as early as February.

His statement was carried by several news outlets, but only the Asahi reported that Mr. Ozawa said he was troubled by the political climate. He thinks there’s been a breakdown of party politics and sees similarities with the situation in prewar Japan.

But Mr. Ozawa has always been more drama queen than comedian. The state of the Japanese demos cannot at all be compared to the prewar days, and the military has no political influence to speak of. State Shinto and Imperial Japan no longer exist.

It’s not a failure of party politics—it’s a failure of the politicians. More specifically, it’s a failure of the entire political class and a demonstration of the Peter Principle, which holds that the members of a hierarchy rise to the level of their incompetence. Publilius Syrus, who was something of an improvisational comic himself, observed in the 1st century BC, “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.”

Likewise, it takes no skill or competence for opposition backbenchers to stand in front of a microphone and run themselves up while running the government down when the country is at peace with itself. Now that they’ve served in the front benches of the Diet, however, it’s clear that most of the people in the Hatoyama and Kan cabinets aren’t qualified to sit in the national legislature, much less be in government. The Japanese are facing the same crisis of government that people in the West are dealing with, but in their own context. The country’s citizens have discovered that anyone can serve in the Diet when the sea is calm. Subsequent elections are likely to demonstrate the consequences of that discovery, though with Japan’s proportional representational system, the ringleaders in each party will be placed atop the PR lists and sneak back into the Diet through the back door anyway.

Another problem is that the people might not be given a chance to vote anytime soon. There’s talk of a grand coalition between the DPJ (sans the Ozawa element), the LDP, and New Komeito. Yosano Kaoru, a former Cabinet member in LDP governments and the co-leader of the Sunrise Party, met with Prime Minister Kan last week, and the media speculated that a coalition was the topic of conversation. It didn’t help that Mr. Yosano had to play the wiseguy and say it was just a friendly visit.

Former DPJ Cabinet minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro, a cast member of the Ozawa Ichiro puppet show, also hinted at the possibility when he told the weekly Shukan Post in an interview appearing in the current issue that “many” people “probably” favor a grand coalition. That’s not what the polls say—one released last week found only about 10% of the respondents supporting that option. Another trial balloon being floated was the formation of a grand coalition for three years, after which time the current Diet term would expire and a joint upper/lower house election could be held.

That would be the ultimate in political failure. The successful functioning of such a coalition would require negotiations between the parties to get anything accomplished. (About the only thing they would accomplish is an increase in the consumption tax to have the people pay for their fiscal failures.) Negotiations are a process they already could be conducting in the Diet if they weren’t more interested in slipping whoopee cushions under each others’ chairs. If the opposition in the upper house voted down the enabling legislation required for the budget early next spring, the DPJ would have to call for a new election anyway.

A grand coalition really would smack of prewar politics, particularly the Imperial Rule Assistance Association, a government organization that subsumed the bureaucracy, the parties, and the military. A grand coalition—one of the drawbacks of the parliamentary system of government—would be antithetical to the core principles of democracy: The voters couldn’t throw the bums out.

It would be a marriage of convenience to allow failures at governnment to sit at a big table and cut deals on ways to prolong their failure. Serious critics of the government, primarily Your Party and the Communist Party (which is serious in behavior if not in philosophy) would be relegated to the sidelines to squawk. The voters would still be wondering who to vote out when the next election came in three years.

Politics, Charles DeGaulle thought, is too important to be left to the politicians. When the politicians in a Third World country become dysfunctional, the military—the only organization in those places to understand discipline, service, and the pursuit of excellence—barges in to overturn the table and crack some heads. That won’t happen in Japan; while the politicians here play in the Comedy Central sandbox, the professional civil servants of the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy will keep the machinery functioning until the political class reaches adulthood.

But that takes us back to the original problem of whether Japan is to be an administrative state run by bureaucrats or if the government is to be managed by political leadership. The solution will require more ability and diligence than that demonstrated by the likes of Edano Yukio and his DPJ comrades, who’ve spent years in the Diet carelessly talking the talk without bothering to learn how to walk the walk.

For the time being, the inmates are running the asylum, and they might yet find a way to lock out the medical staff and swallow the key. That situation calls for the skills of the Frontier Psychiatrist. Here’s a video that might capture the spirit of today’s politics in Japan better than the analogy of a vaudeville revue. Expulsion is the only answer!

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Posted in China, Government, I couldn't make this up if I tried, International relations, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Are you inexperienced?

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 10, 2010

BIG NUMBERS from the most recent Yomiuri Shimbun poll:

82%: Disapprove of the Kan Cabinet’s handling of the entire Senkakus affair with China
83%: Think the government should make available to the public all of the video of the Chinese fishing boat ramming the Japanese Coast Guard ships
91%: Are uneasy about the Democratic Party government’s policies for diplomacy and security.
79%: Think the Kan Cabinet is not responding appropriately to economic conditions
84%: Think the DPJ is not responding appropriately to Ozawa Ichiro’s political funding scandals.

Meanwhile, a narrative has emerged in some quarters of the Anglosphere media that the problems of Japan’s Democratic Party governments are due to their inexperience.

Consider the following items and see if you agree.

*****
One of the few real successes of the DPJ since taking power—or perhaps the only one—has been the highly publicized budget reviews in which they scan the bureaucracy for wasteful spending. Theirs was not the first such review. Kono Taro led one during the last LDP administration, but those of the DPJ have been more visible. Because everyone knew it was critical to limit governmental expenditures, and because people had given up on the idea that the LDP would accomplish anything, the first was very well received.

Though a serious effort was welcome and long overdue, it produced more atmospherics than results. The DPJ review team couldn’t come close to shaking loose the amount of money they claimed was possible before the election. That was not conducive to enhancing the credibility of the DPJ—they promised they would be able to pay for some of their new programs with the money they discovered. They also played the old pea and shell game, in which some of the funds cut from one ministry’s budget reappeared under the heading of a different ministry’s budget a few months later. Finally, there was a tendency to turn the proceedings into a pointless public bashing of bureaucrats. If they wanted to cut the money, they could have just cut it without the hectoring.

The DPJ started its third review on 27 October under the direction of Ren Ho, a former model and television presenter now serving as the Minister of State for Government Revitalization. Here’s what she said at the opening ceremony, as quoted on the English-language side of the DPJ website:

“I would like us to make every effort to make deep inroads into the special accounts system itself. First of we will make all information open to the public. We will find out what goes on within special accounts, and whether there is any waste or wasteful use of tax monies. It may be that collusion between politicians, bureaucrats and business lies behind the special accounts system. I would like us to discuss this matter also, and to engage in debate on behalf of the people, that will return control to the hands of the people.”

She is being assisted by DPJ Diet members Edano Yukio and Nagatsuma Akira. Mr. Edano spent a few months as DPJ Secretary-General, but was replaced after the July election debacle. Mr. Nagatsuma was the Health, Labor, and Welfare Minister in the Hatoyama Cabinet, but was replaced when Kan Naoto became prime minister. (Some think he was elbowed out by Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito.) The website article says that both men “(called) on panel members to continue to work on behalf of the people and to restore public confidence in the political process.”

So, Ren Ho says they “will make all information open to the public”, they will “engage in debate on behalf of the people”, and “return control to the hands of the people”. Messrs. Edano and Nagatsuma talk about restoring public confidence in the political process.

Yet this is the same party in power who refused to “make all information open to the public” by keeping the Coast Guard videos of the events in the Senkakus away from the public eye. Their opinion of their fellow countrymen is such that they thought the videos would arouse anti-Chinese sentiment and inflame “nationalism”.

That’s not all.

The party’s first budgetary review examined the budget formulated by the Aso Cabinet when the LDP controlled the government.

But the current budget was compiled and passed by the Democratic Party, when Kan Naoto—whom some in the Anglosphere press think is a “budget hawk”—was the Deputy Prime Minister and then Finance Minister. It is the most expensive budget in Japanese history, and nearly half of it is financed by debt.

Therefore, V.3 of the budgetary review is the DPJ getting all green eyeshade about expenditures they’re responsible for in the first place.

If there is “waste or wasteful use of tax monies” in the current budget, they’re the ones who put it there. They should have already done this inside the government last year, when the budget was being formulated.

How’s that for “restoring public confidence in the political process”?

UPDATE FOR THIS SECTION:

The following is a translation of the first few sentences that appeared in an article on page 2 of the Nishinippon Shimbun.

Before the second half of the budgetary review begins on the 15th, the Government Revitalization Council cited about 200 enterprises for which the recommended reforms were watered down (literally, deboned), including those that were issued notifications calling for amelioration.

This is seen as an indication that the results of the budgetary review did not penetrate the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy. Critics noted that the Council has no legal standing, and that the government’s instability has become apparent to the bureaucrats.

One member of the review panel visited the headquarters of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) on the 9th and voiced his dissatisfaction: “They still lack the awareness that they are an enterprise using the citizens’ taxes.”

The newspaper has a small chart listing four enterprises that were supposed to be eliminated or improved, but which are still operating under different names, or have not made any of the requested improvements.
(End update)

*****
Pressure by the public and the opposition parties, as well as a well-timed election defeat, resigned the Kan administration to showing some of the Coast Guard video taken in the Senkakus during the incident in September. They had selected Diet members watch a 6-minute, 50-second DVD edited down from about 10 hours’ worth of film on 1 November.

Reports from those who saw the DVD suggest the possibility that the choice of the scenes was informed by a wish to make the government look good rather than show the legislators what really happened. That may have been one of the reasons 44 minutes of the videos were smuggled onto You Tube before the week was out.

This Monday, on 8 November, the government called in about 20 opposition members of the Budget Committees and other MPs for another viewing of video from the incident. This was one week to the day after the first showing and three days after the much longer video was posted on the Internet. Surely everyone in Japanese government has seen them by now. So, what did the government present?

The same 6 minute + video they showed the week before.

Said LDP member Koizumi Shinjiro, the son of the former prime minister:

“This is a joke that isn’t even funny. The DPJ claims they are clean and open, but it’s a cover-up that is completely the opposite of their claims.

How’s that for “restoring public confidence in the political process”?

*****
DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya was asked at a news conference on Monday about the party’s plummeting poll numbers. He answered:

“That was due to the impact of Russian President Medvedev’s visit to the Northern Territories, the problem in the Senkakus, and the relationship with China.”

That’s certainly true, and he could have left it at that. But he didn’t.

Mr. Okada then chose to reference the visits of former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro to the Yasukuni shrine:

“It is important not to resort to (steps to gain) temporary popularity. We absolutely must not provide buoyancy for the administration by arousing nationalism among some of the people.”

Mr. Koizumi served as prime minister for five years and five months, one of the longest terms in postwar Japan. When he entered office his approval ratings were north of 80%, and when he left they were at 70%. If I remember correctly (and feel free to correct me if I don’t) at no point during his time in office did they fall lower than about 45%. (Those are still electable numbers for a political party in Japan.)

He took office in April 2001, and he paid his first Yasukuni visit in August that year while still riding that initial wave of popularity. He visited every year thereafter, regardless of his polls. Indeed, he also visited on 15 August 2007, a year after he left office, but people had stopped paying attention by then.

His crowning achievement is perhaps his push to privatize Japan’s postal system, which includes banking and insurance services. He submitted a bill to the lower house of the Diet and made the case for it. He compromised as necessary to secure its passage. After the bill was defeated in the upper house, he laid his all his political capital, his career, and his party’s control of the government on the line by dissolving the lower house and calling for an election specifically on that issue.

Fancy that—he clearly stated his position and the reasons for it, used the political process to achieve it, and when rebuffed asked the people to decide.

How’s that for eliminating “wasteful tax monies” and “restoring public confidence in the political process”?

The LDP’s victory was the second-largest in postwar Japanese history. Who was his opponent as the president of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan?

Okada Katsuya.

Whose party has worked to undo that much-needed privatization reform, gained at such effort and risk?

The Democratic Party of Japan.

Mr. Koizumi’s popularity was independent of his Yasukuni visits, and his further visit to the shrine after leaving office suggests that a desire to juice his poll numbers was not his motive.

Beyond that, it is worth noting the contempt in which Mr. Okada holds his countrymen. What he disparages as nationalism is what would be thought of as ordinary patriotism in most countries of the world. Indeed, when compared to its neighborhood of China, Russia, North Korea, and South Korea, Japan is the least nationalistic country in northeast Asia.

Mr. Okada has the reputation of being a decent fellow despite his choice of a career in politics, and so far I’ve been inclined to agree. But that remark makes me wonder if he’s really just a petulant spitballer with a grudge and a self-righteous sense of superiority to offset his shortcomings.

The Anglosphere media is attributing the DPJ’s epic failures to inexperience in government?

Bologna.

The failures are a result of a trinity consisting of a political philosophy empirically demonstrated to be unworkable, a lack of common sense, and—let’s be frank–the failure to develop fully formed adult personalities. (Then again, those three could be separate aspects of a larger whole.) All adults sometimes fail at what they try to do, but these have not been the failures of adults.

It is as LDP pol Ibuki Bunmei observed of DPJ behavior after they took control of the upper house in 2007—they’re like grade school boys with a loaded pistol.

Every one of Mr. Koizumi’s steps in the entire postal privatization process is beyond the capabilities of the DPJ. Try to imagine Hatoyama Yukio, Kan Naoto, Sengoku Yoshito, or Okada Katsuya doing anything similar.

Now try to imagine them even thinking of doing anything similar.

Why would the overseas media think this is inexperience? One ever-present possibility is that they’re just drive-bys relying on second-hand information from unreliable sources. Another possibility is that they’re fellow political travelers of the DPJ and feel the urge to promote their agenda/make excuses for them.

Either way, one is as useless as the other.

Afterwords:

When scouting around on the web for information about Mr. Koizumi’s poll numbers, I ran across an April 2002 article in the Japan Times. Here’s the headline the journos manqué chose:

“Koizumi Fever a Flash in the Pan”

Well, what else can you expect? Their go-to pundit was Morita Minoru.

**
“Nationalism” as a word has become as debased in modern politics and journalism as the terms “fascist” (which is finally being reclaimed as a description for a certain strain of left-wing statism) and “right wing”. Patriotism ≠ nationalism. With the the degradation of the term nationalism, it’s time to rehabilitate the more apt “chauvinism”.

Is chauvinism a problem in Japan?

One of the political parties participating in the July upper house election could be described as having a chauvinist cast—the Sunrise Party, co-led by Hiranuma Takeo and supported by Tokyo Metro Gov. Ishihara Shintaro. How many seats did they win?

Zero.

For a further look at nationalism in Japan, try this previous post.

As for the Guiding Lights of the DPJ, I’ll leave that to the late Rev. Solomon Burke:

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