AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Yosano K.’

The ABCs of Japanese politics

Posted by ampontan on Monday, October 29, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Turn out the lights

Posted by ampontan on Friday, August 19, 2011

A year ago, (Kan Naoto) wanted to quickly build a society that wasn’t dependent on fossil fuels. When you add to that a society which isn’t dependent on nuclear energy, how are we supposed to obtain energy?
– Sengoku Yoshito, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary, on 28 July

IN AN INTERVIEW published last week in the weekly Shukan Asahi, Prime Minister Kan Naoto had this to say about the world’s third-largest economy:

Put in the extreme, we must be able to maintain the survival of the nation even if the energy supply is halved from its present amount.

Yes, that’s the prime minister of Japan speaking.

And people thought Hatoyama Yukio was from outer space.

Now why would Japan wake up one day to a nightmare in which its energy supply is halved? National leaders have to be prepared for every contingency, but Kim Tubby III in Pyeongyang will not be ordering a surgically precise missile attack on the power plants on the far shores of the Sea of Japan anytime soon. The North Koreans would sooner eat the Dogs of War than unleash them.

But Kan Naoto does have a dream, and part of that dream is to end the country’s reliance on nuclear and fossil fuel power generation in Japan. He’d replace that, to the extent it’s replaceable, with the wind power that he “loves”, according to his blog posts of several years ago. He’s also cooked up a cockamamie crony capitalism scheme with Son Masayoshi to cover all the currently unutilized farmland with solar panels and harvest sun power.

But even if the prime minister’s contingency plan resembles the ramblings of a barstool philosopher from the nihilist left, other people are starting to formulate plans of their own premised on a powerless Japan. They can’t afford not to.

Yosano Kaoru, the Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy, said this about keeping the nuclear plants idled:

It can easily be envisioned this will have an effect on the Japanese economy.

It can just as easily be envisioned what Mr. Yosano would have said if he wasn’t biting his tongue as a member of the Cabinet.

Yonekura Hiromasa, the chairman of Keidanren (the Japan Business Federation) predicted that more than 40% of the country’s large corporations would leave Japan if nuclear power generation were ended. Some would suggest that Mr. Yonekura exaggerates because Keidanren represents what the Democratic Party of Japan likes to call Big Capital, and what the rest of the world calls Big Business. In fact, he may be understating the problem.

Earlier this week, the Kyodo news agency released the results of their questionnaire survey of 105 major companies. The survey found that 55 firms, or more than half, said they were accelerating plans to move operations overseas as a way to strengthen the corporate foundation. The general reason they cited was a bad business climate, but the specific reasons were the lack of sufficient electricity over the long term, the high yen, and low stock prices.

Another 47 replied that they’d stay in Japan for the long haul, 17 said they had no other option but to consider such a move, and two said they’d already done it.

An article in the 5 August edition of the weekly Shukan Post provided more specifics.

* Mitsui Mining and Smelting

The company announced in June that it will build a new production line for its primary products, materials used for smartphones, in Malaysia. Their plant in Saitama was idled for a month due to rolling blackouts. They have a market share exceeding 90% for electrolytic copper foil for smartphone use. The company told the magazine that they operate 24 hours a day, so even a two-hour production stoppage has a serious effect.

* Hoya

This major lens manufacturer will build a plant in China’s Shangdong Province for making industrial glass. They plan to begin operation there in December. The company said that a stable power supply was indispensable for melting the glass materials, and that the potential lack of a dependable power supply was the factor that pushed them in that direction.

* Renesas Electronics

The semiconductor giant is considering outsourcing all its production to Taiwan and Singapore.

* U-shin

The auto parts manufacturer has decided to shift all its production from Japan to China.

* Prime Minister Kan called for a 10% reduction in power consumption from all companies in the region supplied by Kansai Electric Power, though it was unaffected by the Tohoku earthquake. Motor manufacturer Nidec of Kyoto realized this would have an impact on their reliability testing, so they’ll move their testing facilities overseas.

* Mitsubishi Chemical has annual revenue of roughly JPY one trillion, and their electric power costs account for 3-4% of that total. This year, however, increases in the already high rates will bump that to 5%. Thus their power bill will climb to more than JPY 10 billion, equivalent to more than one-third of their operating profit.

* The Institute of Energy Economics Japan reported that industrial power fees will rise 36% year-on-year if thermal plants are used to offset the power loss from nuclear plants. The institute adds that if the energy bill Mr. Kan is pushing as a condition for his political withdrawal passes and the mandated costs for purchasing natural energy are transferred to fees, it will further boost the bills to a level 70% above current totals.

* This has the potential to wipe out entire industries. The Japan Soda Industry Association (industrial sodas) says power costs account for 40% of the production costs for the 25 companies and 30 plants in the country. An increase in power costs of just one yen adds JPY 3.8 billion to their production costs.

*****
Why does Mr. Kan dream of everyone else’s nightmare? To cite one reason, this founding member of the Socialist Democratic Federation, who later jumped to larger parties to enhance his political viability, has never cottoned to the bare fact that socialist plans for wealth redistribution require a robust free-market non-socialist economy.

Another is Ikeda Nobuo’s theory that smashing the state is the only objective remaining from Mr. Kan’s pinkoid youth, now that history has dessicated his Italian Communist Party-inspired fantasies. Indeed, as we’ve seen before, he remains a stout devotee of the ideas of Prof. Matsushita Keiichi, which means he dislikes the idea of nation-states altogether. What he does like is community government by NGOs, which in turn would be under the thumb of coordinated by global institutions.

Former Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro wrote an op-ed published in the Yomiuri Shimbun this week that makes it plain he understands exactly what Mr. Kan was up to (as does the rest of the political class, I suspect). Mr. Nakasone’s critique of the Kan philosophy left the larger issue unstated, however, while dealing with more immediate matters, perhaps to keep the grass where the goats can get at it. Here’s an excerpt in English.

*****
The citizen-centered government (市民主義) championed by the prime minister is a concept of government with local citizen activities at its core. It is a political concept that lacks the spirit to accept the challenge of the future with a sense of ideals…the primary focus of this citizen-centered government is a narrow one, perhaps with a view to pandering and winning elections. Its weakness is the absence of a sense of continuity as a nation with history and culture.

The limits have been exposed of the citizen-centered government of Prime Minister Kan, which incorporates no view of the state. The duty of a Diet member is to be entrusted with the conduct of the affairs of state. Each state has its own distinctive history and traditions, and all states establish their individuality in the world…Those states and ethnic groups must contribute to the prosperity of the world. The citizens who live in a state have no existence isolated from the history or traditions of the state.

The politicians responsible for the affairs of state who declare that their focus is only on citizen activities are derelict in their primary duty because they hold cheaply the state and the people which are its support. There is nothing wrong with using the word citizen in the sense of people who value the region in which they live, but Prime Minister Kan’s words and deeds, unaccompanied by a background of history and culture, lack appeal. A prime minister carries a nation’s history and culture.

The Kan administration has clarified the meaning of citizen-centered government (which should be seen as a so-called historical experiment) in a form that ignores the flow of history of the Japanese people and the state. It has been shown to be insufficient in the extreme as a governing principle of the state. The next government must put this lesson to use.

(N.B.: Mr. Nakasone’s word selection reflects the distinction in Japanese between “national citizen” and the more general “citizen”. The latter implies the resident of a municipality.)

*****
Theories can have consequences, and the consequences of the theories of the lizard-eyed left, in Japan as well as elsewhere, are such that one is left wondering about their emotional equilibrium.

Once in positions of power, these folks always contrive a way to shield themselves from the consequences of their theories. The rest of us would have to live in their world or make decisions accordingly. Financial analyst and blogger Fujisawa Kazuki wrote this week about what his decision might be:

What would I do in the event that Japan idled all its nuclear power plants? It would be time to stiffen my resolve and move.

Mr. Kan wants to conceive of ways to maintain the nation’s survival with only 50% of the energy. He has to be aware that the nation which survived would be an entity far inferior to the Japan of today.

People should be excused for thinking that is the rest of Kan Naoto’s dream.

Afterwords:

It’s not just Japanese private sector corporations that are concerned:

Pharmaceutical and chemical giant Bayer on Saturday issued a warning that it my leave Germany because of rising electricity prices linked to Germany’s decision to end its nuclear energy program.

Bayer employs 35,000 people in Germany, but CEO Marijn Dekkers told the German weekly business magazine Wirtschaftswoche that energy prices posed a genuine threat to the company’s manufacturing operations in the country.

—–
Nevin wrote in recently to ask if Kan Naoto was really all that bad. Here are some additional data points to help answer that question.

******
Matsumoto Ken’ichi, a Cabinet Secretariat advisor, gave an interview published in today’s Sankei Shimbun that helps explain the delay in the Tohoku recovery.

Mr. Matsumoto said that Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito directed a team that formulated his own proposal for a reconstruction vision, which was finished in March. He says that Prime Minister Kan initially liked it, but wound up “crushing” it.

Mr. Kan later created his own council to draft a redevelopment vision, which was submitted on 25 June (three months later), but in Mr. Matsumoto’s words:

Not one aspect of their proposal exceeded anything in our proposal.

The reason? Kan Naoto didn’t want Mr. Sengoku to get the credit. Explained Mr. Matsumoto:

The prime minister wanted the spotlight on himself and the applause for a job well done. He essentially ignored the people.

Now no one is applauding him for a job well done. Who says there’s no justice in the world?

Mr. Matsumoto added that he argued against a universal tax increase to fund the recovery because it wouldn’t be fair to take funds out of the Tohoku region. He suggested long-term bonds instead. Replied Mr. Kan:

I wonder if the Finance Ministry would go along with that.

The prime minister insisted on a universal tax.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press interviewed retired American diplomat Kevin Maher, who coordinated U.S. assistance after the earthquake. Said Mr. Maher:

Early in the Fukushima nuclear crisis, U.S. officials felt that nobody in Japan’s government was taking charge, and Washington considered evacuating American troops in a worst-case scenario, a retired U.S. envoy said Thursday.

As we’ve since learned, Mr. Kan and his Cabinet did take charge, but the American misperception was understandable. When they take charge, it just looks as if no one’s in charge.

*****
If a no-nuke, wind/solar energy policy is adopted, this will be the last song they play on the radio before the station shuts down.

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Ichigen koji (16)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, June 7, 2011

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

“There is undoubtedly an excellent opportunity now that allows us to withdraw unrealistic policies as if by magic.”

– Yosano Kaoru, Financial Services Minister

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Is that duck just lame or is it dead?

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 5, 2011

後悔先に立たず
– A Japanese proverb meaning that no matter how much one regrets an event after it is concluded, one can’t undo something that occurred because of one’s negligence or tardiness

IT NOW seems that soon-to-be former Prime Minister Kan Naoto’s attempt of political jujitsu on his co-founder of the Democratic Party of Japan will result in his spectacularly clumsy pratfall, as noise is leaking out from Democratic Party sphincters that he will resign no later than August (if we can take his word this time). It’s tempting to say that will be the perfect capstone to the career of the classic dullwit who thought he was clever, but some will disagree. One of them is Nishimura Shingo, an MP with the Sunrise Japan party, who has also passed through the LDP and the DPJ entrails:

“Kan Naoto’s finishing moves are superb. He’s an inept prime minister, but no fool. He would have been perfectly suited as an activist for the Comintern or any Communist organization.”

Another reason it wouldn’t apply is because Mr. Kan didn’t dream up that cockamamie scheme by himself. He’s not capable of it, but the roughly dozen people who did put it together knew it would appeal to him. That back story might give us a glimpse of a possible post-Kan administration. It’s not a pretty sight, but we’ll get to that shortly.

*****
Hatoyama Kunio told a journalist he thought the no-confidence motion had no chance of passing until his brother Yukio called him on 30 May. After that conversation, he began to think it just might be possible. He met former Health Minister and former LDP member Masuzoe Yoichi of the New Renaissance Party the next day and laid out the plot. Ozawa Ichiro and his allies would form a new party, but public opinion would be “very allergic” to any political group involving Mr. Ozawa. They wouldn’t be strong enough to establish a prime minister on their own, so they would team up with the LDP to support a new Prime Minister Masuzoe.

Mr. Masuzoe liked the sound of that.

Meanwhile, on the night of 1 June, People’s New Party chief Kamei Shizuka phoned Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio:

Kamei: “Is it your intention to self destruct? Do it (tell him to resign) if you have to grab the prime minister by the neck.

Edano: “I’m thinking of telling him.”

Perhaps bored with completing the assembly of his shiny new political toy, however, Hatoyama Yukio kept hope alive that he could talk Mr. Kan into stepping down. Later that night 10 people met at the Kantei and hatched a plot to leverage that hope to their benefit. The draft of the document to which Mr. Hatoyama and Mr. Kan agreed the next day was hammered out under the direction of Sengoku Yoshito and Edano Yukio, the former and current chief cabinet secretaries. Both men were attorneys before entering politics, which explains why the memorandum and Mr. Kan’s insistence on following it to the letter had the stench of the barrister about it.

Naoto explaining on the 3rd how he put one over on his pal Yukio

Several wheels were spinning in different directions simultaneously. The primary objective was to kill the no confidence motion and stay in power — any other solution hastens the day they return to the opposition benches. They decided to heave Mr. Ozawa and his allies from the party if 40-50 of his DPJ allies crossed the line and voted for the motion. That would allow them to retain their lower house majority and get rid of the Great Destroyer at last. DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya wanted to X him out before the vote, but Koshi’ishi Azuma, head of the party’s delegation in the upper house, said in effect, over my dead body. (Personal loyalty can sometimes be thicker than ideology. A teachers’ union veteran, Mr. Koshi’ishi’s philosophy of the left is closer to that of Messrs. Kan, Sengoku, and Edano, but he’s developed close ties with Mr. Ozawa in their efforts to make the DPJ a serious political party.)

The group planned to eject the rebels even if the no-confidence motion passed. That would cause the loss of their lower house majority, but they had something clever planned for that one, too. Option C was reportedly a time-limited coalition government with the LDP and New Komeito. The Sengoku Reconstruction and Recovery Cabinet — steady, steady — would also work for entry into the TPP and the return of multiple-seat election districts that the LDP and New Komeito seek.

In short, the government would be directed by a man who is every bit as odious as Kan Naoto, but more dangerous because of his intelligence and capabilities. Bringing back the old electoral system would be a step in the direction of bringing back the bad old politics of the past. It would greatly expedite recovery and reconstruction, but at a price higher than the outlay in yen.

Worse yet, it’s still possible. And Mr. Sengoku is the man the opposition absolutely positively could not work with six months ago.

The primary objective, however, was to dupe Mr. Hatoyama and keep Mr. Kan around for awhile without having to resort to a drastic political realignment. The final wording of the memorandum was worked out between Hirano Hirofumi, Mr. Hatoyama’s chief cabinet secretary, and Defense Minister Kitazawa Toshimi, who selflessly found the time to spare from his duties of protecting the nation from foreign attack.

Mr. Hirano and Mr. Okada were present during the Hatoyama-Kan meeting. Here’s how the conversation is said to have gone:

Hatoyama: Will you resign when the basic recovery bill is passed and the outlook is established for the second supplementary budget?

Kan: Yes. I agree.

Hatoyama: In that case, please sign here.

Kan: We’re members of the same party, so please trust me. I’m not that attached to the position of prime minister.

*****
After the meeting, Mr. Hatoyama reported on the conversaton to Ozawa Ichiro:

Ozawa: How far did you press him?

Hatoyama: I’ll talk about that at the (party) meeting.

Following the vote that rejected the motion, Mr. Hatoyama spoke with some allies as they waited for an elevator in the Diet office building:

“We still can’t let down our guard. If he doesn’t keep his promise, we’ll have to convene a meeting of (our) Diet members with 150 — no — 250 people.”

*****
Wrote freelance journalist Itagaki Eiken:

“Immediately after the DPJ was created, former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio bluntly told me that Mr. Kan could not be trusted. Several times after that, he grumbled that he had been deceived by Mr. Kan. Was he fooled by Prime Minister Kan Naoto again?”

Is the Emperor Shinto?

*****
Mr. Kan appeared for Question Time in the Diet on Friday. Ono Jiro of Your Party came straight to the point:

Ono: When you held your discussion with former Prime Minister Hatoyama, did the commitment to resign arise?

Kan: I, somehow, under this condition…uh…the idea that I made some promise, if you’re talking about the idea that I made that promise, there was absolutely no promise like that at all.

That was his story, and he stuck to it:

“I said it in the sense of the stage when the outlook for heading in the direction of creating a new society, that direction…Our party has many exceptional people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. Then I will pass the responsibility on to them, and hope they do their best.”

And:

“In my conversation with former Prime Minister Hatoyama, there was no sort of promise other than what was written on that document with the items of agreement…the agreement with Mr. Hatoyama was as written on that document. I think it best if I refrain from saying anything beyond that.”

One can visualize Sengoku and Edano, attorneys at law, advising him to clam up on any question beyond the language of the memo.

The news media loved what happened next. Here’s Hatoyama Yukio:

“That’s a lie. The prime minister and I discussed the conditions for resignation.”

Over to you, Naoto:

(shouting) “What’s he saying! That’s not written on the paper!”

Former MP Yokohama Mayor Nakata Hiroshi summed up the exchange:

“When I heard the story about a resignation after the outlook for recovery was set, I thought the Ozawa-Hatoyama side and the Kan side purposely made it vague to prevent a DPJ split. Now I see they’re just trading charges and counter-charges over who said what. This was not a political decision by adults. It’s something even lower than children’s squabbling.”

A Hatoyama associate, probably Mr. Hirano again, told the media:

“In the conversation with the prime minister, the idea that he would hand over authority to the younger generation didn’t come up at all. He added that later.”

Speaking of Hirano Hirofumi, he got a call from Koshi’ishi Azuma berating him for not pinning Mr. Kan down more precisely.

*****
Matsuda Kota of Your Party, the head of a private sector company himself, had this to write about Hatoyama Yukio:

“If Mr. Hatoyama were the head of a private sector company, that company would collapse in an instant. (There would also be a shareholders lawsuit). If he were just a salaryman, he would be immediately fired as an employee incapable of doing his job. That a person such as he was the leader of a country gives me chills down my spine. That the memo had the recovery listed only as the third point clearly shows what they were thinking. The most important thing for them was maintaining their government. Japan cannot be entrusted to that sort of government.”

Many in the DPJ soon realized the quick fix only made matters worse. Party Vice-President Ishii Hajime spoke an officers’ meeting on the night of 2 June:

“The Kan Cabinet is now a lame duck administration, and the focus is on when they will quit. We should resolve to make arrangements with the opposition to have the Cabinet quit with the passage of the legislation for the special bond issue, the second supplementary budget, and the basic recovery law.”

After the meeting, he told the news media:

“I want to go to the Kantei with Koshi’ishi Azuma on the 3rd and tell the prime minister that the road left open to him is an honorable withdrawal.”

Too late for the part about honor, but with Kan Naoto the soap has to be very soft.

Then again, Mr. Kan was making matters much worse for himself. On the night of the 2nd, he was asked about extending the Diet session. Just a week ago, he wanted to finish early to save himself. Now he wanted to prolong it to save himself:

“If we were to respond to the opinion of the people that they want us to be able to debate necessary issues in the Diet at any time, then in fact we would have a year-round diet, until some point in December.”

It helps to know that it’s against the rules to submit more than one no-confidence motion in one Diet session.

Some people couldn’t understand all the brouhaha. Here’s Kan ally and Justice Minister Eda Satsuki:

“This was a high-level discussion between two politicians, so they didn’t decide every last detail.”

Yes, the Minister of Justice of a nation thinks it’s copacetic for written agreements to be vague and open to different interpretations.

Financial Services Minister Yosano Kaoru was more philosophical:

“It’s natural that a politician would strive to remain in his position.”

Fukushima Mizuho, head of the Social Democrats, said what a leftist lawyer would be expected to say:

“I thought (the memorandum) was a declaration to stay in office. There’s no difference between his afternoon statement and his evening statement…Isn’t Mr. Hatoyama misunderstanding what happened?”

Edano Yukio is another bird of that feather, but he has to be more diplomatic because he’s also the chief cabinet secretary:

“I don’t think either of them is intentionally saying something different than the facts of the matter. The gap in awareness is regrettable. We must work to ensure there is no political turmoil.”

Once again, someone in the DPJ sees the horse galloping into the next county and decides it would be best to close the barn door. Speaking of turmoil, here’s LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu on the 3rd:

“We will cooperate to pass a basic law of recovery. Other than that, cooperation is impossible.”

And New Komeito Secretary General Inoue Yoshihisa that same morning answering a question about upper house censure:

“That is of course one method that will be fully considered at the appropriate time.”

An upper house censure is non-binding, but upper house President Nishioka Takeo would be happy to see Mr. Kan evaporate. Refusing to call the house into session or to allow the prime minister entry are binding in their own way.

The prime minister’s problems extended to well within his own party. Reported Toyama Kiyohiko of New Komeito:

“DPJ Diet members I know told me that Mr. Kan promised to resign in a month or two, which is why most of the DPJ members voted against the motion. When he tried to extend it until the resolution of Fukushima and came up with the idea of extending the diet until December, it was a broken promise. He has no support in the party.

“When Prime Minister Kan duped his colleague, he made it very likely a censure motion will pass in the upper house in the near future. If the DPJ can’t bring him down, he’ll be prohibited from entering the upper house chamber. At that point the government will come to a standstill. If he’s kept the Diet in session all year, he cannot extend his political life. Yesterday was the beginning of the end for Prime Minister Kan.”

*****
Upper house member Yamamoto Ichita questioned the prime minister and some of his deputies during Question Time on the 3rd. An aide to another MP took notes. He said the records would have to be checked for the precise wording, but it was close to the actual exchange. Here it is in English:

Yamamoto: Is it fair to say you expressed your intention to step down, to resign at the DJP Diet members’ conference?

Kan: That expression (swindler) is not appropriate….I want it to be understood (about resignation) as being at the stage when I have fulfilled a certain role that I should perform — until I have fulfilled my responsibility and the prospects have been set to a certain extent —

Yamamoto: At your news conference on the night of the 2nd, you said nothing about resigning or stepping down. Did you express your intention to step down or resign?

Kan: None of the people in the media are in a position to say this or that about which expression I used

Yamamoto: That isn’t an answer. You won’t resign until next January, right? You won’t resign until next January?

Kan: It is a fact that the mass media has taken my words at the news conference in different ways, but…

Yamamoto: What you meant by the outlook being established to a certain extent is the end of the cooling at Fukushima, isn’t it? When the media reported your intention to resign, you became a lame duck both at home and abroad. The special legislation for the government bonds and the second supplementary budget will be the work of the next prime minister. It isn’t possible for you to dispose of these pending matters. Please set a deadline.

Kan: I said exactly what I said.

Yamamoto: You have no intention of resigning, right? If you can’t say you are stepping down, that’s fraudulent.

Mr. Yamamoto switched to Vice Minister for Internal Affairs and Communication Watanabe Shu:

Yamamoto: Why did you resign?

Watanabe: The prime minister announced his intention to resign. I listened to his speech at the DPJ Diet members’ meeting, and since the prime minister was thinking of resigning, I saw no need to vote for the no confidence motion. I thought the prime minister would resign when the outlook for recovery were set.

Yamamoto: The prime minister has not said he would resign or step down.

Then to Hidaka Takeshi, parliamentary environment secretary:

Yamamoto: Mr. Hidaka, did you envision that situation when you switched your vote to nay? Or did you think that he would step down soon?

Hidaka: I submitted my resignation for the sake of stronger leadership. The prime minister said in public he would resign. I voted no because I sensed his resolve (to help) the damaged area.

Yamamoto: When you heard the intent to resign, did you think he would resign imminently?

Hidaka: I didn’t know how long it would be, but I sensed his resolve.

Back to the prime minister:

Yamamoto: You haven’t said you intend to resign or step down, but what is a rough date for you to leave?

Kan: Outlook is a commonly used word. It’s common sense that the word means there would be a certain interval.

Yamamoto: You’re not answering at all. Former Prime Minister Hatoyama thinks you’ll step down by the end of June. Is he lying?

Kan: I, in my own words…

Yamamoto: That’s the same as saying Mr. Hatoyama is mistaken, is lying, or misunderstood. Who is correct, Mr. Hatoyama or Mr. Okada?

Kan: Both Mr. Hirano and Mr. Okada were at the meeting with Mr. Hatoyama. Mr. Okada is expressing his awareness from that viewpoint. My agreement with Mr. Hatoyama is as written in the document.

Yamamoto: Mr. Hatoyama is saying that if you claim your promise to him was a lie, your only course is to resign. What do you think?

Kan: in regard to the current question, my awareness is the same as Mr. Okada’s.

Yamamoto: So you’re saying that Mr. Hatoyama is mistaken. You won’t even admit that you said you’d step down. Can a prime minister who’s told the world he’ll quit properly conduct foreign policy?…It’s not possible for the government and the opposition to cooperate under a Kan administration.

*****
It didn’t take a weathervane for Edano Yukio to figure out which way the wind was blowing. When asked again about a Kan resignation, he said “It won’t be that long.“ Fukushima Mizuho thought that was a critical development. Others echoed her sentiments when another Cabinet member, Matsumoto Ryu, the Minister for the Environment and Disaster Management said: “In my mind it is by the end of June. The outlook for recovery should be quickly established.”

*****
Abiru Rui is assigned to cover the Kantei for the Sankei Shimbun. Mr. Kan dislikes him so much he refuses to call on him at news conferences, and the feeling is mutual. Even discounting that, however, the reporter likely expressed the thoughts of many, if not most people:

“It’s difficult to describe just how stupid and loopy Mr. Hatoyama is. The prime minister twisted him around his finger when he pretended he would resign soon, and used that to extend the life of his Cabinet. Prime Minister Kan betrayed both the compatriots of his own party and the people of the country. His shabby behavior is at a level that does not withstand scrutiny.

“He told the people around him that he wanted to leave his name in history, and that’s exactly what will happen. The ignobility of his character is at such an unprecedented, isolated extreme, it will not be extinguished from the people’s memory even if they try. I cannot understand the emotions of people who would support this humanoid picture of cheap, cowardly meanness. I don’t even want to.”

Also expressing the thoughts of many was an anonymous first term DPJ member of the lower house speaking to a reporter:

“I have a feeling that the end of the DPJ has only just begun.”

Afterwords:

* The Asahi English edition recommends that the prime minister “exit gracefully”. They apparently chose their Deep Space correspondent to write the editorial.

* My father used to say, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Had it not been for his shameless behavior as DPJ party head and prime minister, Mr. Hatoyama would have qualified for induction into the Hall of Shame long ago.

During his term as prime minister, which seems about 500 years ago now, I wrote that he was the first junior high school girl to serve as Japan’s prime minister. (Kan Naoto is the first junior high school boy.) An acquaintance of former U.S. President Warren Harding once observed that if Harding had been a girl, he would always have been “in the family way”. I suspect that would equally apply to Hatoyama Yukio.

* Were you surprised to read that Matsumoto Ryu was the Minister for Disaster Management? Most of Japan would be, too. Mr. Matsumoto is one of the DPJ’s Socialist Party refugees. Because his father made a mint in the construction industry, he’s also one of the wealthiest men in the Diet. (Yes, the Limousine Left swanks about in the streets of Japan, too.) He’s such a chowderhead they had to bring back Sengoku Yoshito and give him the de facto job while allowing Mr. Matsumoto to sit by the window. Appointing him to the position was a party favor, in both senses of the phrase, but even they weren’t about to let him do any real work.

Such capable stewards of the nation’s affairs, the DPJ.

* When Yokokume Katsuhito quit the DPJ last week, he said the party no longer had a reason to exist because it had fulfilled its historical mission. By that he meant breaking the LDP stranglehold on power. They’ve also accomplished one more signal achievement. Ozawa Ichiro might be fading from the scene at last. Mr. Ozawa had a party with his younger Diet allies on the night the no-confidence motion failed at a karaoke bar to commiserate. He was in reasonably good spirits, and tried to buck them up by telling them they had accomplished quite a bit even though they lost. No one got down and partied, however. Those present told reporters that no one picked up a microphone and sang.

The Nikkei Shimbun added a telling detail. Some of the MPs came late to the party and some left early, but Mr. Ozawa stayed to the end. Were the Destroyer of Worlds still both respected and feared for his power, no one would have been late to come or early to go.

* Surely the long-suffering Japanese people wish they could live under a political system like the one in Great Britain or the United States. It is curious that Americans are so quick to issue dire warnings about the Japanese economy, while it takes a foreign newspaper to point out the tsunami-sized destruction at home they’re too frightened too look at.

*****
Another worthless politician, another worthless piece of paper

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Goodbye hello

Posted by ampontan on Friday, June 3, 2011

大山鳴動して鼠一匹
– The great mountain rumbles and brings forth a mouse (Japanese proverb)

Kan Naoto's impersonation of Foster Brooks

ON THURSDAY 2 June, the opposition no-confidence motion was voted down in the lower house of the Diet at about 3:30 p.m., even though just before lunch it seemed as if it would be carried. Here’s what people had to say about the day’s events.

Before the vote

Prime Minister Kan Naoto spoke with a group of DPJ and LDP Diet members in the Kantei on the night of 1 June:

“I and others of the baby boomer generation will withdraw. We want you to create a new Diet.”

Former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, when asked about the possibility he would leave the DPJ:

“Rather, I think we must renew the Democratic Party. It was not my intention to create this sort of Democratic Party.”

Nishioka Takeo, president of the upper house and DPJ veteran who backed the no-confidence motion:

“I think this opportunity today will be a turning point for overcoming the national crisis.”

Former chief cabinet secretary and current deputy chief cabinet secretary Sengoku Yoshito on Ozawa Ichiro, one of the two primary leaders of the rebellion:

“We will not be able to maintain the parliamentary cabinet system with people of that sort, who are out of control.”

Former DPJ president and defense minister Maehara Seiji on the no-confidence motion:

“This is not for the greater good.”

Aisawa Ichiro of the LDP:

“We submitted this motion in the belief that it was the best choice for the state and the people. This will be an important day from the perspective of thinking about the future of Japan and its politics.”

Prof. Kobayashi Yoshiaki of Keio University:

“In view of conditions in the Tohoku region and the Supreme Court decision (on the unconstitutionality of the difference in district sizes), I do not understand why politicians can make the judgment that it is appropriate to dissolve the Diet and hold a general election.”

Miyazaki Gov. Murai Yoshihiro on the motion:

“I hope they avoid it, because it would pointlessly create a political vacuum…there’s a shortage of people in the coastal area, and we can’t even issue a verification of damage. Making us create a new registry of voters would be inhumane…

On Prime Minister Kan’s threat to call an election:

“An election is physically impossible. I’m astonished that even though he’s been to the area and seen the damage for himself, he would say that without taking (the situation) into consideration.”

Before addressing the DPJ Diet members’ meeting at noon, Mr. Hatoyama met with Mr. Kan and talked him into resigning at an unspecified date —- something he was unable to do the previous day. Here’s the full text of the memorandum to which they agreed, as released by the news media:

* To not destroy the DPJ
* To not allow the return to an LDP government
* To have a sense of responsibility for rebuilding the earthquake-damaged area and saving the victims.
1. Establish a basic law for recovery
2. Establish the prospects for formulating the second supplementary budget

Most people think they listed their priorities in the order of importance to them. Everyone noticed right away that the document contains nothing about a resignation.

The two men then addressed the DPJ meeting at around noon, and Mr. Hatoyama announced he was changing his vote. That’s when everyone knew it was all over but the shouting — of which there was quite a bit during the later Diet debate.

Matsuda Kota, Your Party upper house member and the founder of Tully’s Coffee Japan, when he heard the news:

“Prime Minister Kan brought up three points at the DPJ Diet members’ meeting: (1) Expend every effort for rebuilding and recovery (2) Not split the DPJ (3) Not hand over the government to the LDP. Those are not objectives, those are one person’s wishes. Other than (1), none of them make any difference to the people.”

Kumagai Yutaka, LDP upper house member:

“There’s already no prospect (for recovery). That’s why we’re demanding he step down.”

The no-confidence motion was defeated by a vote of 293-152. Seventy DPJ MPs showed up for a meeting with Ozawa Ichiro the night before in an apparent expression of intent to vote for it, but only two did. They were former Agriculture Minister Matsuki Kenko, an Ozawa supporter, and 29-year-old Yokokume Katsuhito. The party intends to kick both of them out, though Mr. Yokokume already quit the party in disgust last week.

A total of 33 MPs weren’t present for the vote, 17 of whom were from the DPJ, including Ozawa Ichiro and Tanaka Makiko, Kakuei’s daughter and former Foreign Minister in the first Koizumi Cabinet. There is some sentiment for booting them out too, but a decision on that has been postponed.

After the vote

Prime Minister Kan:

“Well, that was good.”

LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu:

“He made absolutely no reference to when the prospect for recovery would be established. This is nothing but a farce.”

Toyama Kiyohiko of New Komeito, whose party voted for the motion:

“Rather than declare he would resign, Prime Minister Kan declared he would stay in office. There’s a problem with the news media reporting.”

Kumagai Yutaka:

“The mass media is showing captions on TV calling it a declaration of resignation, but what is the basis for that?”

Your Party President Watanabe Yoshimi:

“The prime minister didn’t specify when he would resign. Unless a deadline is reached, the incentive will be for him to be to prolong it. We can’t have that sort of irresponsible politics.”

On the last-minute change of mind by Mr. Hatoyama and his former Internal Affairs Minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro, who the day before said he was ready to vote for the motion and leave the party:

“They just created a disturbance to bring down Prime Minister Kan. Their motives were impure.”

When he saw which way the vote would go, Mr. Ozawa told his supporters they were free to vote as they wished:

“We’ve gotten something out of him (Kan Naoto) that we’ve never been able to get before, so it’s probably best to leave (the resignation) up to him.”

Mr. Hatoyama was asked several times when Mr. Kan promised to step down, as some people thought they were just blowing smoke.

“He won’t be staying until the secondary budget is passed, it’s when the prospects are there for the early formulation of the budget. That will happen in mid-June.”

And:

“I reached an agreement with the Prime Minister to step down when the prospects are established for formulating the second supplementary budget. I don’t think it’s that far off. Summer is too long.”

And:

“The content of the second supplementary budget will be decided by about the end of June. In other words, the outlook for its passage will have been established.”

That’s not what DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya said, however:

“Former Prime Minister Hatoyama’s statement about the passage of a second supplementary budget and a basic law for recovery are not conditions for the resignation.”

That’s not what Financial Services Minister Yosano Kaoru said either:

“(Prime Minister Kan) did not use the word “resign”. It’s not as if he reached an agreement with the opposition parties to resign.”

The Asahi Shimbun was confused:

“The prime minister has already said several times that he expects to formulate the second supplementary budget sometime around August, and then submit it to the Diet. He’s also said that he thinks the problems at Fukushima will be resolved by next January at the latest.

Seko Hiroshige, LDP upper house member:

“He’ll resign when there’s an outlook for a response to the earthquake and the nuclear disaster? I think he’ll stay put with the excuse that there’s no outlook in sight.”

Kakizawa Mito, Your Party MP:

“Here’s the reason I can’t trust the Kan Cabinet. No matter how often he says something, he doesn’t do it. Even though he understands, and he’s been warned that a situation will grow serious without a change of approach, he can’t do anything to prevent it. Then, when it happens, he gets angry. That pattern keeps repeating itself. It’s really futile. The damaged region will continue to suffer if a change is not made.”

Maehara Seiji:

“I have extremely mixed feelings about this. Just because the motion was defeated doesn’t mean we’ve settled anything. There’s no change in the problem of the legislation for the special government bonds and other issues. We’re really going to have to rack our brains.”

People outside the political world also had some choice words:

Kurogane Hiroshi, manga artist:

“They talk about the great mountain rumbling and producing a mouse, but this didn’t even produce a mouse. What was this slapstick of the past few days all about? The people have a sense of powerlessness and exhaustion over the DPJ’s lack of ability to conduct the affairs of government. Though they’ve been spiritually beaten, the people who suffered in the disaster have suffered even further by being shown this farce.

“Prime Minister Kan said he would resign, without specifying when he would resign. The people won’t have any expectations for a lame duck prime minister to begin with, and it’s not possible for him to manage Diet affairs. It would have been better to make a change at the top. Mr. Hatoyama, who lent his power to Prime Minister Kan…Mr. Ozawa, who misread the situation…and the LDP, who couldn’t corner that DPJ. If politics of this sort continue, the people will suffer a real misfortune.”

Rengo Chairman Koga Nobuaki, the largest support group for the DPJ:

“The DPJ has not developed into a ruling party of government….Just because the no-confidence motion wasn’t adopted doesn’t mean anyone should raise their hands and shout hallelujah, or say they’re relieved. Unity is not that simple a matter.”

On the motion:

“The act of submitting a no-confidence motion itself at this time means they’re completely divorced from the sense of the people. I am angry at the lack of (good) politics in this situation, and deeply regret it.”

Back to Matsuda Kota:

“I’ve never been as disappointed in Japan’s politicians as I am today. All those Diet members who said they’d support the motion until just a few hours beforehand — how impressive of them to calmly mount the podium and cast their nay votes! More for the party than for the country, more for their faction than for their party, and more for themselves than for their faction.

“Were they afraid of losing their seats in a general election? Were they afraid of being disciplined by the party? Just who was it who shouted that Japan would never recover unless Prime Minister Kan stepped down. If it’s so easy for you to stick your finger up and wait to see which way the wind is blowing, don’t put on airs and tell other people what you think. Don’t make any comments for the TV or mass media. Don’t say anything that would confuse the people.

“This was really pathetic.”

The Metrosexual Faction of the DPJ

At a post-vote news conference, reporters asked Mr. Haraguchi why he changed his mind in less than 24 hours:

“Going along with an opposition no-confidence motion is the path of evil.”

They also asked him whether he would be a candidate to replace Kan Naoto when the latter stepped down:

“I don’t know whether I have the qualifications, but if I’m asked, I won’t run away.”

Freelance journalist Nitta Tamaki:

“Just what sort of a man is Hatoyama Yukio? He couldn’t do anything when he was prime minister, he talks smooth, and he’s the DPJ’s posturing millionaire.”

On what almost happened instead:

“His brother Kunio can’t figure out Yukio. A few days ago, he asked Masuzoe Yoichi to join them in a new party.”

Mr. Kan at a news conference at 9:00 p.m., on when he would resign. Emphasis mine:

“We must be headed toward recovery and reconstruction, and have the second supplementary budget for 2011 for reconstruction. I said (I would resign) when there are prospects for moving in the direction of building a new society.”

Finally, one of the two DPJ rebels, Yokokume Katsuhito, who left the party last week. He’s wise beyond his years:

“I am extremely appreciative and thankful for the help I received from everyone in the DPJ. But beyond that, I daresay the DPJ has already completed its historical role, and the meaning for its existence has been lost.”

Afterwords:

Even Richard Nixon resigned when it was time to go. Kan Naoto is incapable of even that.

Politicians who think they can contribute to “building a new society” have demonstrated by that statement their unfitness for public office.

Some in the DPJ were pleased at their victory and the large vote margin. That is akin to expressing marvel at one’s particularly large and well-formed bowel movement.

Some still think it’s possible the Hatoyama Brothers will create a new party using their money, Ozawa Ichiro’s retail political skills, and Masuzoe Yoichi, former LDP Health Minister, as prime minister.

*****
“I can stay until it’s time to go.”

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Connecting the dots

Posted by ampontan on Monday, May 23, 2011

THE SQUABBLE continues of whether the financial institutions that lent money to Tokyo Electric Power should be asked to write off some of the debt if the government uses public funds to keep the utility from going bankrupt. Financial Services Minister Yosano Kaoru will hear none of it, and he and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yosano Kaoru have been straw-spitting BBs at each other over the question all week long.

At a news conference after a Cabinet meeting on the 20th, Mr. Yosano said it would be unfair to hold the institutions liable for compensation because they were lending to a public utility. He added that the accident at the Fukushima power plant “could only be explained as an act of God”, and that the “ultimate in human wisdom was employed” when developing safety measures for the plant.

He also said:

“They lent the money knowing that (the utility) didn’t have the ability to repay the loan (in a situation such as this). A classic example of this is the sub-prime loans of a few years ago (in the U.S.). The banks lent the money while believing that the receipients couldn’t afford to buy a house.”

Since it will be impossible to further shock you after that blockquote, I’ll mention here that his explanation was hailed as a very sensible argument by Yamamoto Ichiro, who runs an investment firm called Irregulars and Partners. Mr. Yamamoto’s website, by the way, was selected as something called “Blog of the Yeah” in 2003, the last year that particular honor was awarded. See what I mean about not having to read fiction any more?

The response of everyone else, however, seems to have been “WTF is he thinking”, even though Mr. Yosano is well known to be a Finance Ministry water carrier. But it didn’t take long to connect the dots.

After Mr. Yosano was graduated from the University of Tokyo in 1963, his mother asked her friend Nakasone Yasuhiro, still 20 years away from becoming prime minister, to help find her son a job. Mr. Nakasone did so, and The Graduate was hired by the Japan Atomic Power Co. He worked there for five years, specializing in insurance matters.

Those of a philosophical bent who are intrigued by the question of whether loyalty is a virtue or “only or primarily a feeling or sentiment — an affective bondedness that may express itself in deeds though more as an epiphenomenon than as its core” might find this paper to be of interest.

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Under their thumbs

Posted by ampontan on Friday, February 11, 2011

PEOPLE wondering about the claim that the government of Prime Minister Kan Naoto is under the thumb of the Finance Ministry might consider the following sequence.

When Mr. Kan led the party in last summer’s upper house election campaign, their political platform contained this pledge: “We will begin discussions with all political parties about sweeping reform of the tax code, including the consumption tax”.

Read my lips–more new taxes. That turned out to be a losing proposition in the election.

He later changed his tune. Answering a question posed by Your Party Secretary General Eda Kenji in the Diet on 2 February, Mr. Kan said:

“Basically, we will not increase the consumption tax until August 2013.”

That’s when the four year statutory term of the lower house ends. In other words, the prime minister suggested he was returning to his party’s original promise in their 2009 election platform that there would be no consumption tax increase for four years.

Three days later, however, on 5 February, the Finance Ministry’s man in the Cabinet, Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Yosano Kaoru, said this at a news conference:

“It is the obligation of the Cabinet to pass legislation (for a tax increase) in FY 2011.”

FY 2011 starts on 1 April.

Four days after that, on 9 February, LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu asked about tax code reform and the consumption tax during Question Time in the Diet. Mr. Kan answered:

“We must have some sort of legal response by the end of FY 2011.”

That didn’t take long, did it?

*****
The way he talks when he’s spoken to…He’s under their thumb.

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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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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 »

Campaign shouting in Japan

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, July 11, 2010

IF YOUR KNOWLEDGE of Japanese political campaigns is limited to the hyper-amplified blandness of the candidates’ “greetings” broadcast as they’re chauffeured through your neighborhood, then you’re missing most of the fun. The barbs are just as sharp and the elbows dig just as deep here as anywhere else.

Here’s a sample of the slings and arrows that filled the air of the political battlefield during the upper house election campaign, which ends today.

Watanabe Yoshimi of Your Party

On the Democratic Party of Japan’s government:

A coalition (with the DPJ after the election) is impossible because we have completely different agendas….The DPJ favors big government and is on a high tax course led by the bureaucracy. Your Party favors small government and is on a growth course led by the private sector…As long as the DPJ is supported by public sector unions, the only reform they’re capable of is creating alibis.

On Prime Minister Kan Naoto:

His flip-flopping (on the consumption tax) is really terrible. It’s obvious that he hasn’t done his homework before speaking. He’s just been brainwashed by bureaucrats and going off half-cocked.

His claim of flip-flopping refers to remarks Mr. Kan made when it was suggested that boosting the consumption tax to 10% would cause problems for lower-income people. He immediately responded that he would exempt people earning less than JPY two million a year (roughly $US 22,560). A few hours later on the same day, he upped that to JPY three million. A few hours after that, he again raised the floor to JPY four million. Exempting those with a salary of less than JPY four million would cut by half the projected revenue from the consumption tax increase. Going, going, gone!

Back to Mr. Watanabe. When DPJ Secretary-General Edano Yukio suggested a possible coalition with Your Party:

Go wash your face and come back again.

And:

As long as they receive support from public sector labor unions, they’ll remain the party of big government…Their offer of a coalition partnership was just to burnish their image as reformers and pull away our support.

Regarding the Cabinet’s agreement on a Basic Policy for Managing the Retirement of National Civil Servants:

This amakudari system is stronger than that of the LDP. They don’t even treat current bureaucrats hired by amakudari public corporations as amakudari….If you want to work with us (in a coalition), rescind this decision, cut your ties with public sector unions, and cut your ties with candidates from labor unions.

There are 14 candidates in this election who were once officials of labor unions, and all of them are members of the DPJ.

In the current issue of the weekly Sunday Mainichi:

If they want us to join a coalition, they’ll have to cut their ties to the unions before they come to the table.

No pussyfooting with Mr. Watanabe, is there? Everyone knows that unions constitute the DPJ’s primary organizational support, which intensifies the impact.

Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji has said that to enter a coalition with the DPJ would be political suicide. He’s right. No one would ever let them forget these and dozens of other equally explicit statements.

Prime Minister Kan Naoto

On Watanabe Yoshimi:

A rather energetic man has been trashing both the DPJ and the Liberal Democratic Party, but I ask you—why couldn’t he accomplish anything when he was in the LDP?

As everyone paying attention to politics knows, Mr. Watanabe left the LDP and formed Your Party because the Aso Cabinet in particular deboned the reforms he sought. Why would the prime minister think this is a convincing charge?

Watanabe Yoshimi is saying that the DPJ has been hijacked by the bureaucrats before anyone realized it, but that’s not so. I’m brainwashing the Finance Ministry! Do not fall for his line!

Mr. Watanabe said during a televised debate among nine party leaders that the Finance Ministry had brainwashed the prime minister. The shot must have struck home for the prime minister to use a comeback that borders on the eccentric.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito

On Your Party:

Watch television and you’ll see that people from parties calling for reform have really been mouthing off. But what they’re saying is to fire civil servants right and left. They say we should give all the proceeds from the consumption tax to local government. This kind of extreme language might be impressive during elections, but it is not real reform.

Mr. Sengoku is also the head of a Diet group promoting cooperation with Jichiro, the national union for local government employees.

The Chief Cabinet Secretary might also be referring to the Spirit of Japan Party, a new group that doesn’t have any Diet seats yet. Their program calls for raising the consumption tax to 10%, but giving all the revenue to local government and using it exclusively for social welfare expenses. They also favor small national government and support the idea of a sub-national redistricting into a state/province system..

Social Democratic Party head Fukushima Mizuho

On Your Party:

Your Party (and its policies) are Koizumi’s structural reforms. It will destroy everyone’s life. If the people unhappy with the DPJ cast their votes for Your Party, their lives will crumble. That’s why I’m calling on you to vote for the SDPJ instead.

If I had a vote, this alone would convince me to vote for Your Party.

Yosano Kaoru of the Sunrise Japan Party

Former Finance Minister Mr. Yosano delivered a campaign speech in front of the Odakyu Department Store near Shinjuku Station in Tokyo. Appearances by political parties at busy locations during election season are choreographed by agreement among all the parties. His speech followed those of candidates from New Komeito.

At the same time, however, Haku Shinkun, a proportional representation delegate from the DPJ (who pronounced his name Baek Jin-hoon when he was head of the Japan branch of Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper), parked his campaign car fewer than 100 meters away in front of the Keio Department Store. Deputy Education Minister Suzuki Kan and other DPJ members used it to give speeches.

Angered at this violation of their common agreement, Mr. Yosano approached them after his speech and told them not to encroach on the space agreed to by all the political parties. The DPJ candidates stopped speaking for a few minutes, but resumed soon afterwards. Said Mr. Suzuki:

This is a public road, so we’re free to do what we want.

Mr. Yosano blew up, telling a news conference it was the first time he’d seen anything like it (he’s over 70), and that it demonstrated the character of the DPJ.

Nakagawa Hidenao of the LDP

On the same incident:

Out of the way, out of the way, the DPJ is coming! The DPJ is speaking!

That is a take-off on the Kobayashi Issa haiku, “Out of the way, out of the way, a great horse is coming”. Eda Kenji has already used it to describe the DPJ’s conduct of Diet affairs.

Koike Yuriko of the LDP

Mr. Nakagawa isn’t the only one who can wrap political shots in poetic elegance. Rather than a steel magnolia, steel lily might be a better way to describe former Cabinet minister Koike Yuriko. Here’s how she went after Kan Naoto:

Perhaps the white lily of Nagata-cho shouldn’t be saying this, but Mr. Kan is a rengeso (Chinese milk vetch). Taki Hyosui wrote the verse:

Pick not the rengeso
Better to leave it in the field

During television debates and street corner speeches, he is truly an exceptional leader, but he is a leader of the opposition party. He stands head and shoulders above everyone else when criticizing and complaining, but just where does he want to take this country?

To unpack that:

* Taki Hyosui was a haiku poet who lived from 1684 to 1762. In the verse cited above, he uses the flower as a metaphor for geishas, recommending that a man not marry them.

* Ms. Koike is using her own name to make a play on words. (Yuri is the Japanese word for lily.)

* The word for opposition party in Japan is yato, which literally means “field party”. That’s why she says it’s best to leave him in the field.

* She’s playing off a common complaint about the DPJ in general, and Mr. Kan in particular, that when they were in the opposition all they did was kvetch without offering constructive ideas.

* One of the weapons used to attack Mr. Kan in this campaign is that his mindset is that of an opposition member rather than a leader in government.

Shiokawa Masajuro of the LDP

Speaking in Fukuoka, Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s first finance minister said:

It would be safer for the people to have Diet gridlock after the election.

In other words, he wants to prevent the DPJ from winning an outright majority in the upper house.

He elaborated by saying that the LDP distributed party posts as a reward for support, but “the adjustments among the factions gave the party the ability to control itself. The DPJ does not have the ability to make internal adjustments. If they win an upper house majority, their dictatorial tendencies will grow stronger.”

‘Twas ever thus. The DPJ is a party of the left.

Koizumi Jun’ichiro

No summary of this type is complete without a few contributions from Mr. Koizumi, a master political swordsman.

On the DPJ:

I had hoped they would be able to eliminate the government waste we couldn’t, but I never thought they would go out of control and stampede this wildly.

On the highway-related public corporations:

We created a system that would have required no public funds (for highways) whatsoever, but by eliminating expressway tolls (the DPJ) will have to use public funds. We campaigned on moving from the public sector to the private sector, but under Kan, the party’s moved from the public sector to the public sector.

On Japan Post:

We spent more than a month debating our privatization plan in the Diet, but they wrapped it up in six hours. We reformed Japan Post, which requires trillions of yen in government expenditures, and the public highway corporations, but they’re going backwards.

On “trillions”:

Even if you use JPY 100 million every day for a year, you spend a total of JPY 36.5 billion. No matter how profligate a person’s spending is, no one can use JPY 100 million every day. You won’t reach a trillion unless you do it every day for about 30 years.

In their election platform last year, the DPJ promised to find JPY 16.8 trillion in government waste. In other words, they would have had to find JPY 10 billion every day to hit their target during a four-year term.

On internal criticism in the DPJ:

They were full of criticism when they were in the opposition, but the DPJ MPs fell silent in the face of Hatoyama Yukio, who could never have been prime minister or secretary general for the LDP, and Ozawa Ichiro. The LDP has the freedom, but the DPJ doesn’t.

His recommendation:

This time, let’s have the DPJ stay in office a little while longer and let them experience the difficulties of being the ruling party.

Afterwords:

The print media can be wickedly clever at this game. For example, the pronunciation of Mr. Kan’s family name is the same as that for a tin can, and they’ve taken to calling it the aki-kan naikaku, or the Empty Can Cabinet. That blade has a double edge—an empty can has no content and little weight.

They’ve also been creating visual puns, which is a national talent. The Kan family name is written with one kanji: 菅. The part of the top that looks like two plus signs side by side (++) is one of the classifiers in the writing system called a kusa kanmuri, or “grass crown”. The prime minister started his political career as a “grass-roots activitist”. The wags are now saying he’s removed the grass, leaving this: 官. That’s the first kanji in the word kanryo, or bureaucracy, and can mean the public sector when used by itself.

Mr. Kan also said:

This is a truly historic election that will determine whether or not a two-party system takes hold.

It is unlikely to be historic short of a massive DPJ defeat or victory, and it won’t contribute to the creation of a two-party system. A two-party system is not possible in Japan as long as it maintains proportional representation voting. The Social Democrats, the Communists, and New Komeito naturally view proposals to ditch PR as a threat to their survival, and fight accordingly. One of their favorite complaints is that a winner-take-all system is “undemocratic”. (Is one therefore to infer that democracy doesn’t exist in the United States or Great Britain?)

What I think would be more likely is a vague, three-way system of the type described by Friedrich Hayek. The three groupings are:

1. Socialists, i.e., statists: That would include the DPJ, Social Democrats, and Communists. Hayek also properly included the fascists of his era.

2. Conservatives, including social conservatives: Though he called conservatism a “necessary element in every society”, Hayek thought it was paternalistic, nationalistic, and had a tendency to “adore power”. “By its very nature, (it) is bound to be a defender of established privilege and to lean on the power of government for the protection of privilege.” Therefore, he thought conservatives were prone to accept the premises of the socialists. That describes to a T such people as Kamei Shizuka of the People’s New Party and Hiranuma Takeo of the Sunrise Japan Party, social conservatives who left the LDP during the Koizumi era because they wanted to maintain government ownership of Japan Post.

When people in Japan talk about forming or leading a “true conservative” group, this is what they mean. Mr. Hiranuma used that as a justification for forming his own party, and Aso Taro said that was his qualification for leading the LDP.

3. True liberals / Neo-liberals / Small-government advocates: Hayek called the essence of this position the denial of all privilege, to be understood as the state granting and protecting rights to some that are not available on equal terms to others. That means privileges to Big Labor as well as to Big Business, to people of lower income as well as to people of higher income, to ethnic, racial, and religious groups, and to genders.

In Japan, this category would include the Koizumians, the Nakagawa Hidenao “rising tide” wing of the LDP, and, to a certain extent, Your Party and the smaller Spirit of Japan Party.

In such an arrangement, the Conservatives can hold the balance of power, shifting their support to one of the other two groups. Mr. Kamei allied with the DPJ and the SDPJ to renationalize Japan Post, but he wants no part of their social programs or their proposals to allow non-citizens the right to vote and to allow women to keep their maiden names after marriage.

Some people also combine aspects of more than one group. Matsubara Jin of the DPJ views such issues as Nanjing and the comfort women in a way similar to that of Mr. Hiranuma. Abe Shinzo is a social conservative who tried to implement small government reforms more far-reaching in some ways than Mr. Koizumi. The Spirit of Japan Party supports small government and devolution, but has also formed an alliance with the Sunrise Japan Party.

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Aspirations update

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, April 10, 2010

HERE’S SOME MORE information on the new party soon to be formed by a group of local government chief executives calling themselves the Nihon Shimin Kaigi, which I profiled earlier this week.

I included Matsuyama Mayor Nakamura Tokihiro as a party member in that report, but the new party head Yamada Hiroshi says that Mr. Nakamura, who has worked closely with the founding members in the past and appeared on stage with them last week, will not formally be a member. In addition:

* Mr. Yamada himself will not run in the upcoming upper house election, though key member Nakada Hiroshi, former Yokohama mayor, might.

* In regard to Osaka Gov. Hashimoto Toru:

We’ll work together in different ways, but he is not directly involved now.

* On the party’s philosophy:

From (our) perspective of promoting governmental reform at the local level, there are too many problems with the operation of national government. We’ll apply our experience (to those problems) based on our success in local government.

* On the Democratic Party administration:

Some prominent DPJ members declared earlier this week they had much in common with this new party and that they should work together. Said Mr. Yamada:

There’s too much pork (in that government). That has no connection with reviving the state…We want to be a gathering of the voices of the people nationwide and draw a clear line of demarcation with what’s happening in Nagata-cho.

One prominent DPJ member that I speculated might have interest in forming ties with this group is former party head and current Cabinet minister Maehara Seiji. Mr. Maehara is a graduate of the Matsushita Institute, as are some of the prominent people in the new party, and they would seem to share some important elements of their philosophy. He ruled an alliance out by saying there was no reason for that to happen, however.

Does Mr. Maehara really prefer working with those labor unions, the party’s other undifferentiated leftists, Kamei Shizuka, and the Ozawa Ichiro brigade? Well, look at it from his perspective–some in the party have been questioning his loyalty for quite a while, and he has to keep up appearances. Also, why should he ally himself with a new group now that he’s finally secured a high-profile position in government?

I got mine, right?

The May issue of the Bungei Shunju is out on newsstands today. It contains articles by members of this new party, as well as an article by Yosano Kaoru announcing the start of his Stand Up Japan party.

The vernacular newspapers put reports of Messrs. Yosano and Hiranuma on the front page, and the news of Mr. Yamada and his new party on page two, but it goes without saying which group is driving with its eyes on the road ahead, and which is driving in the rearview mirror.

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Aspirations

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, April 8, 2010

As Fukuzawa Yukichi said regarding an attitude of self-sufficiency and self-respect, a good nation, a good community, and superb people of ability cannot exist unless local governments and individuals support themselves by their own strength.
– Yamada Hiroshi

A CHART in Ito Atsuo’s Political Party Collapse: The 10 lost years of Nagata-Cho outlines the birth and death of political parties in Japan from 1992 to 1998. That chart covers two pages because 22 of those parties no longer exist, and even then I might have miscounted.

After a relatively quiescent decade, the politicos are starting to party hearty once again now that it’s apparent neither of the two major parties which emerged intact from the previous ferment—the Democratic Party and the Liberal Democratic Party—will be viable over the long-term as presently constituted.

Left to right: Yamada Hiroshi, Nakamura Tokihiro, Nakada Hiroshi

The news media has focused this week on the new old party soon to be launched by Yosano Kaoru and Hiranuma Takeo, but they’ve been giving short shrift to the imminent birth of another party with the potential to have a more lasting–and more beneficial–impact. Unlike the granddads of the former group, the three amigos driving the latter venture have a shared, positive vision about the direction of the country and a sense of urgency about achieving their aims. Rather than spending their time in Tokyo television studios, they’re touring the country to take their case to the people.

The three are Nakada Hiroshi, Yamada Hiroshi, and Nakamura Tokihiro, all of whom are veterans of the new party movement of the 90s. They were involved with the Japan New Party headed by Hosokawa Morihiro, the country’s first non-LDP prime minister in nearly 40 years. The New Party was an intriguing mix of people that also included Koike Yuriko, now in the Koizumian wing of the LDP, and Maehara Seiji, the former DPJ head who is currently the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport. All three served at least one term in the lower house of the Diet. Mr. Nakada and Mr. Yamada, the two Hiroshis, attended The Matsushita Institute of Government and Management.

What sets this trio apart is that all three turned their backs on national politics and continued their careers as chief executives in local government. Mr. Nakada served nearly two terms as the mayor of Yokohama, Mr. Nakamura is still the mayor of Matsuyama, a city of about 515,000 in Ehime, and Mr. Yamada is the chief municipal officer of Suginami Ward in Tokyo, which itself has a population of roughly 540,000.

They’re pitched a tent on a patch of land similar to that of Watanabe Yoshimi and Your Party, but they arrived from a different direction. They all stand for governmental reform and regional devolution, but as a lower house MP since 1996, Mr. Watanabe is working in the context of national politics. In contrast, these three men are trying to build a national base outside the capital to accomplish similar objectives from the bottom up. Says Mr. Nakada:

What is required is a reorganization to change the approach of the country and the regions. The (people in the) regions understand conditions on the ground, and the reorganization won’t happen unless they apply pressure to the central government.

They call their group 日本志民会議, or the Nihon Shimin Kaigi. The second word is their own creation and literally means people with aspirations. A good English translation is impossible because the word is also a homonym for citizen.

Another difference from Your Party is that the trio comes from a non-LDP background, whereas Mr. Watanabe and his father were prominent members of that party. They say their objective is not to confront the DPJ or the LDP, but to form an all-Japan party and create a core group to rescue Japan from its crisis. An interview conducted with Mr. Nakada last year illustrates their sense of mission and urgency. Here’s an excerpt:

I’m very concerned about the country, and I don’t think there’s much time left. The national budgets contain more debt than tax revenue. The principle behind my approach as mayor is that the regions won’t survive if the country crumbles. I’ll conduct a (national) citizens’ movement from the citizens’ perspective. What I want to do is not the question. The country will crumble unless we do everything we can in the time remaining. I want to do anything and everything.

– Won’t you be active in a political party?

There’s no time to rebuild Japan. I’ll do anything. Doing anything includes starting a new party. As a citizen of this country, I’ll keep building on what I’m already involved with. Part of that might include starting a party.

Japan is in a serious phase. Unless we apply fundamental remedies within five years, the country will be eaten up from within and without. I want to devote all my energy to this full-time, and that includes convening citizens’ conferences and the Alliance of Local Government Executives.

As their past association with both Ms. Koike and Mr. Maehara suggests, they also support a strong defense and a pride in country that would be unremarkable outside of Japan or contemporary left wing groupings incapable of distinguishing between nationalism and patriotism. Yamada Hiroshi wrote an article in the March issue of Voice arguing against the DPJ proposal to allow non-Japanese to participate in local elections. As this previous post based on a blog entry by Nakada Hiroshi demonstrates, they also support individualism and self sufficiency.

The record

They’ve yet to generate top-of-the-fold headlines, but some journalists are aware of them. Sakurai Yoshiko profiled them in a feature article for the July 2009 edition of Voice that presented some of their accomplishments in local government.

Yamada Hiroshi seems to have achieved a stunning success in resuscitating Suginami Ward’s finances. When he took office in 1999, the ward was JPY 95 billion in debt (about $US 1.012 billion) and had just JPY 1.9 billion in the bank. Mr. Yamada’s first step was to cut his own salary by 10%, his bonus by 50%, and the ward budget by 15%. As a symbol of his budget-cutting efforts, he eliminated the free manju distributed to senior citizens’ associations. That may seem like a trivial step, but it illustrates a greater problem whose solution seems beyond the capability or willpower of politicians in free market democracies nowadays. Distributing free confections is not why governments are devised, but people have gotten so used to these handouts that the old folks in Suginami initially complained about the loss of their taxpayer-funded sweets.

Under his leadership, the ward has cut its debt in 10 years to JPY 20 billion and has JPY 23 billion in the bank; in other words, they’re solvent again. He’s also managed to reduce the ward’s workforce from 4,700 to 3,700.

In the 2007 Nikkei Shimbun evaluation of local governments nationwide, Suginami Ward had risen to 3rd from 33rd in the category of government reform, and to 12th from 105th in the category of government services.

Mr. Yamada plans to retire the ward’s debt in two years, and they recently passed a measure to create a fund for reducing taxes starting in ten years, with cuts coming every year.

In Matsuyama

Meanwhile, Matsuyama Mayor Nakamura managed to pull off a merger of three cities that won the approval of most residents in the new metropolis. That was no mean feat; the period from April 1999 to April 2006 was dubbed the Heisei no Dai-gappei (平成の大合併) (Great Heisei Era Mergers), during which the number of municipalities in Japan was reduced from 3,232 (670 cities, 1,994 towns, and 568 villages) to 1,820 (779 cities, 844 towns, and 197 villages). The objectives of the consolidation were to promote the decentralization and the downsizing of government, and to deal with the problems of declining tax revenues and reduced central government subsidies caused by the low birthrate.

Not all of these municipal marriages were love matches, and many had to navigate some rough patches. To cite one example, the new city of Matsuyama would have wound up with 80 city council members had all the delegates from the three municipalities kept their jobs. Some cities involved in the mergers did expand the chambers to include all the delegates, which sparked recall efforts by angry citizens. Mr. Nakamura, however, successfully reduced the number of councilmen from 80 to 45—reportedly by persuasion alone.

All politics is local

The triumvirate has conducted most of the spadework for their new party outside of the national spotlight. They first came to the notice of the public around this time last year, when devolution became a major issue in the lower house election campaign. Attention then focused on Miyazaki Governor Higashikokubaru Hideo and Osaka Governor Hashimoto Toru, both outspoken supporters of devolution, but whose reputations and popularity were based on their prior careers in television and a proclivity to say whatever popped into their heads.

These five formed a loose alliance, but the three municipal executives sidestepped a proposal by Mr. Hashimoto to turn the Local Chief Executive Alliance into a national party. It’s likely they were already planning to create their own party and wanted to keep the drama queens at arm’s length. They also declined the Osaka governor’s suggestion to endorse one of the national parties in the lower house election. Said Mr. Nakada, “It might mislead the people.” Added Mr. Nakamura, “We won’t attract supporters if we increase the risk.” There are no hard feelings, however–Mr. Hashimoto sent them a congratulatory message when they held a conference announcing their intention to start a new party:

The time has come to take action in earnest for all the people filled with the aspiration to change the country.

The Yokohama mayor

Nakada Hiroshi has perhaps the highest national profile of the three. He announced on 28 July last year that he would resign his position as Yokohama mayor with seven months remaining in his second term. Some thought he was getting ready to take a second run at the Diet, but he had other plans. His explained that he had finished the important business of his second term, the city would save money by holding a mayoralty election on the same day as the lower house voting, and the new mayor could get a head start on the new budget and personnel decisions:

The mayor’s election costs JPY 1.1 billion in city funds. By holding it at the same time as the national election, we can save JPY one billion. Considering our harsh financial circumstances, that’s extremely important.

In retrospect, he was surely starting to build the foundation for the new party. They formed a working group at the end of October, when Mr. Nakada would still have been in office in Yokohama had he not resigned. Their vision calls for a low-tax, high-vitality country whose foreign relations are based on the keynote of freedom, responsibility, and mutual respect. At that first conference, they said:

The Diet is just terrible. It’s just pulled along by parties that either want to take power or want to maintain power.

And:

Promoting regional devolution is necessary for a country with a narrowing fiscal base.

Mr. Nakada went into more detail:

There are different views on the population totals that should be required for the classification of local government jurisdictions. The problem, however, is not one of population alone. What is improper is that the national government sets the principles for local government rules, including such details as the number of people in local assemblies and the amount of space required for nursery schools. Each community has different cultures and customs.

On proposals for a province/state system, which would create nine to 14 subnational jurisdictions to eventually replace the prefectures:

If each local government were to decide on the construction of its own roads, harbors, and airports, this would be a very inefficient country, and it would lead to the deterioration of international competitiveness. I support the state/province system because decisions on these matters would be more efficient at that level.

The trio announced their plans to form a party at a meeting in Hiroshima on 20 March this year and in Osaka the next day. Without utilizing an organization to mobilize turnout, they drew 250 to the first meeting and, to the second, 750 at hall that seats 500. They hope to create a support group of 10,000 people, and they already claim 4,000. They also plan to run at least 10 candidates in the upper house election this summer. Mr. Yamada, the group’s primary spokesman, said the upper house election was a prime opportunity to demonstrate their ideas. He explained this opportunity couldn’t be overlooked because the next national election isn’t required for another three years.

Last weekend they visited Takamatsu, Kagawa, to drum up support and attracted an audience of 300. Accompanying them was the leader of their support group, Joko Akira, the former head of the Matsushita Institute. Mr. Joko, who has written books discussing the importance of aspirations, said at the Takamatsu meeting:

It’s impossible to have any expectations for today’s politicians. We want to gather 10,000 supporters and create a new party with the help of citizens with aspiration.

From Mr. Yamada:

Both the LDP and the DPJ have reached a dead end. If citizens rise up individually, Japan will change.

Now for the bad news

There are skeletons in every politician’s closet that will cause some to recoil, and these men are no exception. At one time, Messrs. Yamada and Nakada were part of a group that wanted to boost the idea of Hatoyama Kunio for prime minister. It’s not clear what possessed them to back that goofy plan, unless it was access to the Hatoyama family fortune for political funds.

Also, some people suspect Mr. Nakada stepped down as Yokohama mayor to avoid the blowback from the failure of an expo commemorating the 150th anniversary of that city’s opening as a port. The expo attracted less than one-fourth the expected turnout and wound up JPY 2.4 billion in the red. There were problems with leftover tickets, talk of a possible lawsuit, and suggestions that Yokohama public funds were used to paper over the problems.

Mr. Nakada claims the failures were the responsibility of the organizing committee and not the city, which just provided financial support. He is also involved in an unresolved lawsuit by a former lover, a bar hostess, for the payment of consolation money after he ended their relationship. Perhaps that’s the reason Mr. Yamada seems to be acting as the chief spokesman for the group.

Those issues notwithstanding, Japanese politics would be the better for the contribution from these men who combine experience as national legislators with real accomplishments as local government executives, and who understand the importance of working from the bottom up rather than the top down. As Mr. Yamada wrote on his website, theirs would be a party:

…created from the aspirations and wishes of the citizens, not a party like those in the past formed to suit the convenience of the politicians.

In other words, they’re not going anywhere near the political group that Yosano Kaoru and Hiranuma Takeo are now gluing together.

This week the People’s New Party, one of the junior members of the ruling coalition led by Kamei Shizuka, announced they would sponsor professional wrestler Nishimura Osamu for an upper house seat in this summer’s election. Using celebrity candidates as puppets in the upper house is not uncommon in Japan, and it’s a good bet that’s happening in this case too.

If you were a voter interested in responsible government and fed up with the two major national parties, and were presented with the option of voting for Mr. Nishimura or a candidate backed by the new party of aspirations, whose name would you write on the ballot?

Is it even necessary to ask?

Afterwords:

If I may make so bold as to spin a political fantasy, Japan could do a lot worse than a loose coalition between this group working with Your Party, the remaining LDP reformers, and potentially simpatico members of the DPJ, such as the Maehara Seiji group. They already are doing a lot worse now.

Speaking of Your Party, Mr. Nakada held the Kanagawa seat in the Diet that’s now represented by Eda Kenji. Mr. Eda challenged him in his first run for a Diet seat, but lost. He gained the seat after Mr. Nakada left to run for Yokohama mayor.

Mr. Yamada was defeated in his bid for a second term in the Diet by the LDP’s Ishihara Nobuteru. Mr. Ishihara later became the minister for governmental reform in Prime Minister Koizumi’s first Cabinet, and still is viewed as a reformer despite sticking it out with the LDP. Nevertheless, Mr. Yamada is said to be on good terms with Mr. Ishihara and his father Shintaro, the Tokyo governor and the co-author of The Japan That Can Say No.

Mr. Nakada thinks Masuzoe Yoichi, the former Health Minister who tops most opinion polls as the person people would like to see as prime minister, will not form a new party but is rather angling for a leadership position in the LDP.

I’ll get around to the Tachiagare Nihon Party of Messrs. Yosano and Hiranuma as soon as they formally agree on which lies they’ll tell each other to create a vehicle for Mr. Yosano to act as a front man for go-playing buddy Ozawa Ichiro if the latter decides to realign Japanese politics by breaking up the DPJ after a poor showing in the upper house election.

UPDATE:

Prime Minister Hatoyama was asked what he thought about the new party. Here’s what he said:

I think they are people who have worked hard for regional devolution, but we’re running ahead of them. Perhaps there are some similiarities in our thinking, but each politician acts based on his own convictions.

Mr. Hatoyama did not explain why he thought his party, which is incapable of coming up with an internal consensus on devolution, is “running ahead of them”, nor did he specify the similarities in their thinking. I sure don’t see any.

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Watanabe Yoshimi lays out a scenario

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, March 10, 2010

PRIME MINISTER Hatoyama’s plummeting poll ratings, the growing possibility that the ruling Democratic Party of Japan will be unable to capture an outright majority in the upper house election this summer, and the weak leadership of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party is fueling speculation of a major political realignment. Whether soon or late, such a realignment is close to inevitable.

On his website, Your Party leader Watanabe Yoshimi offers some trenchant observations on the current political situation and one possible scenario that might be taking shape—which doesn’t appeal to him in the slightest. Here it is in English.

*****

If a new Masuzoe (Yoichi) Party begins to sprout, it’s conceivable that a new Yosano (Kaoru) Party would be next. If this business of replacing Tanigaki (as head of the Liberal Democratic Party) is going to be just a tempest in a teapot, they should put a lid on it.

Mr. Yosano was very compelling when he went after the “King of the Heisei Tax Dodgers” (Prime Minister Hatoyama) at the Budget Committee hearings, and Mr. Tanigaki was rather unimpressive in comparison. This (movement in the party) would also wind up the same way.

But if the people who selected, designated, and wrote in the name of Taniguchi Sadakazu as party leader just six months ago are now going to stage a rebellion, it would logical for them to leave the party.

If that happened, what would be the main idea behind a new Yosano Party? It would be drastic reform of the tax system—in short, an increase in the consumption tax. For Mr. Yosano, even a growth strategy would be a plan to prevent the dissemination of public funds.

When Mr. Yosano ran against Mr. Aso for the position of LDP president, there was a glimpse of the shadow of a grand coalition government with Mr. Ozawa in the background. There’s more to the Ozawa-Yosano relationship than just two go-playing pals.

The Hatoyama Cabinet’s approval rating is falling in all the polls, and that’s strengthening the upward trend in the disapproval rate. Once again, there is a glimpse of the shadow of a grand coalition in a post-Hatoyama scenario.

Would there be a grand coalition with a Yosano-led LDP, or a switch to a coalition with a new Yosano Party? In either event, their point of convergence would be a drastic reform of the tax system and a reform of the national pension and social welfare.

When Mr. Yosano held the double portfolios of the Finance and Financial Service ministries in the Aso Cabinet, he was dubbed the Patron Saint of the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy. When the Council for the Achievement of a Secure Society was created, it was staffed with several veterans of the bureaucracy.

Now it turns out that the Hatoyama Cabinet has a Council for Studying a New Pension System, and the government seems ready to begin debate over the consumption tax.

Some hold the council should issue a report with a recommendation to form a ruling party-opposition party agreement on the ideal form of secure benefits and liabilities. Even now, Mr. Yosano is likely thinking of a ruling party-opposition party agreement to raise the consumption tax.

It might be that the ghost of creating a “Citizen’s Welfare Tax” and eliminating the consumption tax will emerge to haunt us again.

UPDATE:
Well dang me! I posted this just before going to bed last night. Reading today’s paper, there’s an advertisement for the April issue of Bungei Shunju with an article by Yosano Kaoru.

The copy reads:

“I am disappointed in President Tanigaki. The time has come for me to make a definite decision. I am ready to form a new party.”

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Fraternalism

Posted by ampontan on Monday, February 15, 2010

THE CONCEPT OF YUAI, or fraternalism, is the basis of Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s political philosophy. Idealistic and positive, it is admirable and worth emulating in one’s personal life. That so many people object to it is due to Mr. Hatoyama’s intention to apply it to politics, the operation of government, and international relations. There, it would be as impractical as asking, “What would Jesus do?”

Yet for all his apparent seriousness, one aspect of his life suffers from a conspicuous lack of fraternalism—the notoriously touchy relations between Mr. Hatoyama and his younger brother Kunio. Originally members of the Liberal Democratic Party, the brothers left and eventually founded the Democratic Party of Japan, now the ruling party. But Hatoyama the Younger later split the DPJ due to an inability to get along with his brother and moseyed back to the LDP, where he’s had portfolios in the Abe, Fukuda, and Aso Cabinets.

The brothers have even gone through periods in which they didn’t communicate with each other. Though they’ve managed to keep most of their dirty laundry hidden from the public until now, the difficulty between them seems to stem from a classic case of sibling rivalry, complicated by the enormous wealth of their family.

Everyone’s family hamper contains some soiled clothing, but seldom is it exposed on the national political stage, as happened last week. That exposure could well spell the end of the prime minister’s career. A jail term is unlikely, but his credibility, which was in tatters to begin with, now lies in shreds.

The background

Recall that Hatoyama Yukio was forced to come clean about some very dirty looking entries on his political funding reports last year. He had somehow managed to accumulate contributions far in excess of other prominent politicians, including the shady Ozawa Ichiro and former Prime Minister Aso Taro, another man of great wealth and aristocratic background. One salient feature of his political war chest was that an enormous amount of that money came from people who were either dead or chose to remain anonymous.

There was a good reason for the anonymity. As it turned out, the source of that money was very much alive–Hatoyama Yasuko, the 87-year-old family matriarch and heiress to the Bridgestone Tire fortune. Mr. Hatoyama finally acknowledged receiving an average of roughly JPY 15 million (about $164,000) per month in political contributions from his mother in cash for years. The back taxes and penalties alone dating back to 2002 totaled more than JPY 600 million ($6.5 million). Mr. Hatoyama later claimed the donations were loans, but no loan documents exist, and he has never paid any of the money back.

That of course became the source of jokes about his mother’s contributions being the largest allowance in the country. Others compared it to the DPJ proposal to give cash benefits to parents with children.

Hatoyama the Elder has so far managed to use the Wall of Aides to protect himself from the law. The two people responsible for managing the funds took the fall by coming up with the story that they asked his mother for the money without telling their boss. Polls show 76% of the public think that’s a lot of hooey, but it’s not possible to prove otherwise.

The prime minister may have overdone his protestations of innocence, however, when he said in January, “If a different set of facts emerges, I have no qualifications to wear this badge.” In other words, if it comes out that he knew about his mother’s contributions in advance, he would resign from the Diet.

Better than Perry Mason

And that brings us to former LDP Finance Minister Yosano Kaoru’s grilling—really, skewering and barbecuing—of the prime minister in the lower house late last week.

To the prime minister’s face, Mr. Yosano said:

Hatoyama Kunio grumbled about it. ‘My brother would often go to our mother and say that he needed money to give to his younger political followers in the party (kobun, or 子分). He went to pick up the money.’

If that hearsay story’s true, then Yukio’s claim that he didn’t know his mother was funding his political group was a lie.

Mr. Yosano added that the prime minister was:

…(t)he King of the Heisei Tax Dodgers. He has no qualifications to serve as prime minister. It’s unbecoming for a person like that to hold the position of prime minister.

(Heisei is the era name of the current Tenno, or emperor.)

The normally unruffled prime minister became quite ruffled:

That’s a cock-and-bull story. You can even ask my mother…I find it unbelievable that my brother even said that, and I think it’s regrettable.

Back benchers on his side of the aisle called out encouragement, telling him to stay cool.

Until now, Hatoyama Kunio, who already had a reputation for saying unusual things, had kept silent about the affair. He later confirmed that he told the story to Mr. Yosano, as well as the gist of the story, but claimed he never said that his brother had asked for or gone to get the money

My mother said over the phone, ‘Your brother needs a lot of money to train his kobun‘…I don’t know whether my brother told (her) that or his aide told her that.

Hatoyama the Younger also said he would neither comment on nor make judgments of the issue.

At an evening press conference following the Diet questioning, the still-ruffled prime minister said:

That didn’t happen at all. You’ll know if you ask my mother, but that didn’t happen at all. I’ve never thought I needed money to take care of my kobun, and I shouldn’t even have to say that I’ve never thought about it. That’s why it’s a complete cock-and-bull story. My brother…that, his story now, you’ve cut it off in the middle, but hasn’t he said he doesn’t know who said it? Mr. Yosano said that as if I had actually said it, but I never said anything like that at all. It’s not necessary.

The Sankei Shimbun ran a partial transcript of Mr. Yosano’s questioning. It’s more compelling than any television courtroom drama because it’s real.

*****
Yosano: When did you find out about the bogus donations?

Hatoyama: I found out from newspaper reports. It might have been in mid-June last year.

Yosano: Your aide must have been interviewed by the press the day before the article appeared.

Hatoyama: I heard it from my aide after the article appeared.

Yosano: Did you ask your aide why he did it?

Hatoyama: I asked him whether it was the truth.

Yosano: Why did it take you two weeks to hold a press conference to give an explanation?

Hatoyama: I didn’t meet my aide, and I asked my attorney to look into what happened.

Yosano: Most people would have asked their aide why they had done such a thing. Your aide did it to protect you. You kept bringing this money from some place he knew nothing about, and he had no choice but to record it on the political fund report, so he just made up some donors. The crime is in fact yours. In a yakuza movie I saw recently, the henchmen stepped up to protect their boss. The most serious crime in the political funding law is filing a false report. You’re pinning a serious crime on your aide.

Hatoyama: I don’t think you can say it was handled the same way as a yakuza, but my aide committed a serious crime. But the cause of the crime was not that serious. I’m a politician who can’t get any donations, so I made up for it with my own money. I’m convinced that it didn’t come from any shady company.

Yosano: Why are you saying that? You’re the one who brought the money. I want a clear answer why you did it.

Hatoyama: I understand that in the end, the income wasn’t recorded as my money, but in fact it was falsely recorded using fictitious names. It isn’t that we couldn’t write the names because my aide and I received the money from a source whose name we actually couldn’t write.

Yosano: Well, isn’t that a violation of the political fund laws? You used more than JPY 10 million of your own money, which is over the limit. You have to admit that.

Hatoyama: I used my own money as political funds and signed off on it, as my aide said, but of course I understood that he came up with the money in the form of a loan. There was no recognition that we did it knowing in advance that it was an illegal act. There was no intention at all of it being a donation. I think it was of course done in the form of a loan.

Yosano: That’s just an excuse after the fact. During the two weeks after this came to light, you made calls with your two aides to the people who hadn’t donated the money to ask them to say they had. You don’t have any loan documents, do you? The aide who knew you had gone over the contribution limit is taking the fall for the whole thing. You’ve dismissed him, but what’s going to happen with his court costs? Are you going to take care of him for the rest of his life?

Hatoyama: I haven’t seen the aide at least since the newspaper report. People are going around saying that we’ve been working on our story, but I haven’t done that at all. I certainly want that confirmed. I understand the prosecutors made the judgment that hadn’t happened.

Yosano: The reason you weren’t indicted is that prime ministers can’t be indicted. Don’t think you’re in the clear. The prosecutors still retain the right to indict you. There is no guarantee that you’re perfectly innocent. You say there’s no problem with the expenditures, but will the Public Prosecutor’s Office guarantee that?

At that point, Justice Minister Chiba Keiko chimed in:

All the information that came to light in the investigation was used to build the case.

*****
During an interview on television yesterday, Mr. Yosano let it ride:

Kunio got in touch with me, and told me that my questions were fine. He said he can back up my story.

The younger brother’s curious admission

Kunio would rather not talk about his brother’s problems in public, for obvious reasons. He has always refused to answer reporters’ questions about the case—with only one exception.

A journalist for the weekly Sunday Mainichi caught him outside his home one morning in a pensive mood, and passed along the story in the magazine’s 13 December issue. Hatoyama the Younger began with a tale from the two years he spent as an aide to Japan’s postwar political kingpin, Tanaka Kakuei.

“One day he (Tanaka) said to me, ‘I’ve overdone it, but my situation was such that I had to overdo it. That’s how I’ve built my position, but you mustn’t overdo it.’ He added, ‘Overdoing it is different than struggling and working very hard. There’s nothing wrong with that. When you overdo it, all sorts of things will come out later.’”

After seeing Tanaka get caught up in serious financial scandals, being arrested, being forced to step down as prime minister, and fighting in court until his death, Mr. Hatoyama said he came to realize that Tanaka was referring to fund raising when he talked about overdoing it.

It’s odd to say this about myself, but I’ve never had an appetite for power. But my brother’s intent to seize power has been 10,000 times greater than mine. To achieve that, I think he’s worked very hard and put up with a lot. He’s a hard worker to begin with, and he’s really endured.

“But still, he’s overdone it. It seems to me that he’s gone too far to look after his kohai. (後輩, which in this case is synonymous with kobun).

Thus it would seem the younger brother was already saying last December that his older brother’s problem with political contributions was due to a desire to provide for the younger Diet members in his faction.

But why would Hatoyama Kunio talk about it at all?

This might explain it. Here’s what family matriarch Yasuko also said to her younger son Kunio:

You don’t need any (money) because you don’t have any kobun, right?

*****
There’s one more bit of information to consider.

Inoue Kazuko, the older sister of Yukio and Kunio and the director of their political institute called the Yuai Juku, reportedly told the prime minister that under no circumstances was he to create a situation in which their mother was forced to testify in the Diet. By no circumstances, she meant that he should resign before he let that happen.

Unfortunately, the prime minister gave the opposition an excuse to call her in as a witness with his childish, “You can even ask my mother,” response to Mr. Yosano.

The LDP, however, has already said they’d be willing to send a delegation to Mrs. Hatoyama’s residence if a personal appearance would be too much of a strain.

*****
Are there not more than enough dots for everyone to make the connections? It’s sad that the family troubles have become the nation’s business, but people do reap what they sow, do they not?

Sadder still is that serving as the nation’s prime minister is an adolescent who never had to learn the lessons about money the rest of us did.

And how sad will the Democratic Party of Japan be if Mr. Hatoyama and Mr. Ozawa retain their positions until this summer’s upper house election?

*****
BONUS # 1

The personal assets of the individual members of the lower house of the Diet were disclosed earlier this month. There are 480 members of the lower house. Here is a partial list of the rankings by personal wealth.

1. Hatoyama Yukio: JPY 1.6368 billion (about $US 182 million)
2. Hatoyama Kunio: JPY 816.17 million

Those figures do not include their stock portfolios. The value of their combined shareholdings exceeded JPY 10 billion at the market price as of the disclosure on 5 February.

Most of their stock is in Bridgestone shares received from their maternal grandfather. The prime minister has 3,500,000 shares, worth JPY 5.232 billion. His younger brother Kunio has 3,570,000 shares, worth JPY 5.66 billion.

In addition, the prime minister has 300,000 shares in other companies, including Toshiba and Mitsui, worth JPY 165 million, while Kunio has 380,000 shares in other companies, including Mitsui Chemicals and Oji Paper, worth about the same amount.

The prime minister also has JPY one billion in bank deposits and real estate worth JPY 391 million. Kunio has JPY 141 million in bank deposits and real estate worth JPY 588 million.

It’s been reported that neither brother can sell their Bridgestone holdings without their mother’s consent.

*****
During his initial policy speech in the Diet, Prime Minister Hatoyama railed against “Wealth (earned) without labor”.

*****
BONUS #2

Mr. Yosano was in ripping fine form last week. After taking in this scene–

–he said:

Mr. Kan was napping during the conference. All he does is nap, and the only time he wakes up is when his cell phone rings.

He’s alluding to a Growth Strategy Policy Council meeting held last 18 December that Kan Naoto also slept through.

Rakuten President Mikitani Hiroshi was summoned to appear at that meeting, and was none too pleased. He talked about it on Twitter.

Tweet

As it turned out, I didn’t have to go. It was a waste of time.

Tweet tweet

The most important man there slept through it.

Tweet tweet tweet

I haven’t been so pissed off in a long time.

Yes, LDP Cabinet members did it all the time too, but that doesn’t make it right, and they weren’t the ones to campaign on a platform of change.

If the work is so grueling, perhaps they should consider other ways to budget their time and how to organize their staffs.

Afterwords:
Note Mr. Hatoyama touching his face in the second photo. American politicians are trained not to do that. Body language experts say it’s a sign the speaker is not telling the truth.

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

A correction–but the point still stands

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, September 5, 2009

AFTER SUNDAY’S ELECTION, I wrote in the Afterwords section that Yosano Kaoru wasn’t selected as a proportional representative candidate, even though he had more votes than two other LDP candidates and one DPJ candidate.

As someone pointed out in the Comments section, Mr. Yosano was in fact selected. It turns out that the edition of the newspaper I used to write the Afterwords section did not have the absolutely positively final results. I’m sorry for any confusion that might have caused.

However!

I’m now looking at the edition of the newspaper with the final results. In Tokyo’s proportional representation bloc, the DPJ’s Hayakawa Kumiko was selected upon receiving 106,892 votes, though she lost the direct election in her district. She was listed at the top of the DPJ table. Former Cabinet minister Koike Yuriko of the LDP was also selected after receiving 96,739 votes, though she also lost the direct election in her district.

Meanwhile, another direct election loser, Sato Yukari of the LDP, eighth on the list of LDP PR candidates, received 121,244 votes, yet was not selected for the Diet (only five LDP members in the Tokyo bloc cleared the hurdle). In fact, she received more than Kamoshita Ichiro, who was listed first in the LDP table. He got 111,590 people to vote for him.

My original point stands: Any system that allows this to happen, regardless of the identity of the candidates or their party, and regardless of the reason, is profoundly undemocratic.

Posted in Government, Politics | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »