Wednesday, August 31, 2005 this on?

Hokkaido - district seats

District #1 -Yokomichi (DPJ)
District #2 - Mitsui (DPJ)
District #4 - Hachiro (DPJ)
District #7 - Kitamura (LDP)
District #10 - Kodaira (DPJ)
District #11 - Nakagawa (LDP)
District #12 - Takebe (LDP)

District #3 - Ishizaki (LDP)
District #5 - Kobayashi (DPJ)
District #6 - Sasaki (DPJ)
District #8 - Sato (LDP)
District #9 - Iwakura (LDP)

Hokkaido - proportional seats

LDP - 3
DPJ - 3
Komeito - 1
Daichi - 1

Predicting reelections requires little mental acuity. In the district seats I see switching, I am going to take a shot in predicting that Foreign Minister Machimura will lose out to Kobayashi in the ground war for District #5. By contrast, I am taking a tremendous leap in predicting a defeat for Hatoyama Yukio in District #9. Two elections ago Hatoyama barely squeaked through; this time the Koizumi oikaze just might sweep him out.

In the proportional seats, I see the LDP and the DPJ in a tie, with the LDP slightly ahead in the vote total. The Komeito will get its token seat. I have been warned that Hokkaido is still full of Muneacs, so I am giving a seat to Daichi -- though it kills me to do so. If the Northern Con fails to win a seat, then I see a chance for the JCP to pick up a proportional seat.

Therefore, in the Hokkaido Bloc

Komeito 1
Daichi 1

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

And they're off (suitable bugle sounds)!

The lists of candidates are set, the sound trucks are fully fueled and the populace is awake and alert! On with the show!

The rough-and-tumble action started a day early in Gifu, when the four candidates the Gifu #1 district gathered for a debate. Sato Yukari, whom when we saw her last was being left with nothing in her hand but air during a photop with Gifu Mayor Hosoe Shigemitsu, had her first meeting with Gifu's preeminent lady legislator and resolute rebel, Noda Seiko.

In contrast to the "no-hands" rule at Hosoe's office, Noda greeted her rival by graciously extending her hand even before the two could bow to one another. Noda proceeded to pump Sato's hand up and down while grinning the warmest grin and jabbering like the pair were soul sistahs from way back.

Sato was bowled away by this incredibly disciplined show of goodsportswomanship. After many smiles and much empty talk, Sato began to pull her arm back in order to settle down for the debate. Noda kept shaking away and bubbling along. It was then than Sato realized she had been tricked into accepting the infamous Death Grip of Eternal Amity and that smiles, bows, multiples flexes of the biceps and triceps and a waiting audience not withstanding, she was not going to be getting her hand back any time soon.

Such is the fate of the hotshot banker turned political novice in the hands of a genetically programmed political animal.

You say yes...

I would discount the rumor that one of the opposition political parties is negotiating with Michael Jackson for the right to use “Hello Goodbye” by the Beatles as an anti-Koizumi theme song...though singing the first verse of the song out loud makes clear why such a rumor might arise.

Monday, August 29, 2005

In from the dark places it crept, cursing the light

I know that listing the number of times Heizo Takenaka has met with U.S. officials and drawing parallels between USTR demands and GOJ regulations is a staple of Japan Communist Party Diet interpellations. I also know that under the mantle of the LDP have long lurked australopithecine xenophobes like Kobayashi Koki.

I was nevertheless struck dumb this Sunday when the leaders of the other non-DPJ opposition parties began humming the "It's all an American plot" tune on the morning talks shows. My fairly ambivalent opinion of Tanaka Yasuo sank about 60 centimeters south-southwest as he mumbled dark semi-hints about the LDP's betrayal of the populace.

I had to guffaw, though, when Fukushima Mizuho explained that her party rejected the postal reform bill partly out of a love of country. A Democratic Socialist Party appeal to patriotism...somebody please get me a glass of water!

Aya! The spots, they are back...millions of them!

It is horribly catty of me, but did you see the transformation of Fukushima's appearance in between 8:30 on Fuji Television and 9:00 on NHK? Somebody watching the earlier program must have called in to party central with a mayday.

Is this Studio 14 B?

Whether it was an expression of extreme confidence on the part of the LDP-Komeito alliance, extreme nervousness on the part of the opposition or just bad communication on everyone's part--it was weird to see Takebe Tsutomu and Fuyushiba Tetsuzo debating the leaders of the opposition parties on the Sunday talk shows. During the NHK broadcast, when a technical point came up, Takebe muttered, "Why am I discussing these things with the opposition's party leaders? This is a matter for kanjicho to discuss amongst themselves."

Then again, given Yosano Kaoru's on air seduction of Abe Tomoko last week, the opposition parties probably thought it wisest to send their top guns into the fray this week.

and the meek shall inherit the earth

I would be interested to hear explanations of why the accusation of supporting a "jaku niku kyo shoku" policy can so effectively disarm a political opponent. Several times during the Sunday broadcasts, Fukushima, Shii or Watanuki would toss out the phrase and Takebe and Fuyushiba would just clam up. Should not the LDP-Komeito alliance have an honest answer ready, that if the state continues to reward failure, failure will eat up the wealth and talent of the state?

Komazawa, a greater den of sin and vilainy you shall not find

Finally, while this has nothing to do with politics, I have a distinct recollection of telling all and sundry some time ago that Komazawa High School reeked with the stench of evil. I stand (well, sit) vindicated in my prejudices!

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Pensions and all that boring stuff

Lively discussion over the koseinenkin issue this morning on TBS (channel 6). The colorful and knowledgeable cast of characters:

LDP - Former State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Takemi Keizo (Q: Why was a foreign policy guy recruited to be the LDP's point man for social insurance policies? A: Dad was sort of the president of the Japan Medical Association from 1957 to 1982).

Komeito - Former Health & Welfare minister Sakaguchi Chikara, M.D., formerly known as "the Komeito guy in the Cabinet."

Democrats - Former Health and Welfare minister Kan Naoto, looking eerily refreshed. It has been ages since I last saw the "Kan grin." Is he up to something?

Communists: Koike Akira, M.D., a spike-haired Rottweiler of a man--and I say that out of respect...and fear.

Socialists - Fukushima Mizuho - I am the only one to notice that ever since the dissolution of the Diet, all her freckles, crow's feet and liver spots have gone missing?

People's New Party - Kobayashi Koki, who blessed the proceedings by maintaining nearly complete silence. Keep it going Koki-kun and people just might forget that you are completely off your zabuton!

The group had a series of boisterous but substantive arguments over the various proposals put forth by the parties to reform and realign the country's tottering pension system. While yelling over each other's speeches, the participants remained courteous and decorous, with none of the spiteful rancor that made last week's Sunday morning shows so hard to watch.The only problem, of course, was that this informative and important discussion of crucial issues by intelligent and likable legislators was taking place at 6:45 a.m. on a Saturday.

I love you, I love only you...but please do not ask me for my vote again

If the LDP-Komeito alliance prevails and Koizumi is reelected prime minister, can he resubmit the postal reform bill to the Diet unaltered? The rule, if I am not mistaken, is that no bill can be resubmitted during a single Diet term. While this regulation would not be violated in the House of Representatives, does it not prohibit a reconsideration of the bill in the House of Councilors? The H of C has already rejected the bill during its current term--how can it revote on exactly the same bill?

The reason why I ask is because Karel Wolferen (in this morning's Financial Times) makes a salient point: a large number of the members of the House of Representatives who voted for the postal reform legislation did so in order to "save their political skins".

One possible interpretation of this remark is that they voted for the legislation in order to avoid having to face an election. Since after September 11 these representatives would have survived the election they were so desperately trying to avoid, is it not possible they might try to seek whatever pretext possible in order to get out of voting for postal reform? If the LDP leadership has to alter the legislation in order to comply with the "no resubmission during a single term" rule, could duplicitous representatives not declaim, "Wait a minute! This is not the text I voted for! I can no longer in good conscience support the legislation as drafted" and then vote against the new postal reform bill?

Mmmm..Atlantic salmon

Had a discussion about the House of Councilors dilemma over a lovely dinner last night. One of the questions that did not receive an immediate answer was:

"If the postal legislation, altered or not, is resubmitted to the Diet and gets past the House of Representatives, will not the House of Councilors just reject the legislation all over again? "

My answer to the question was "No."

I admit that the LDP members of House of Councilors who voted against the bill the first time around will be accused of inconsistency if they support the bill the second time around. Some will capitulate out of fear of expulsion from the LDP. Some will stand on precedent and vote against the legislation a second time, come what may.

A not insignificant fraction, enough to push the legislation into the win column, might follow the lead of the chicken hearts in the House of Representatives and simply not show up. Abstaining from the vote will leave these LDP councilors with a record of having stood up for the postal service at least once while preserving an avenue for them to be taken back lovingly into the bosom of the party.

The eyes...the hair...the ex!

Somebody please satisfy my prurient interest: was designated Shizuoka #7 assassin Katayama Satsuki really once married to House of Councilors member Matsuzoe Yoichi?

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Green Bay Packer

When I look at Okada Katsuya, running from one end of Japan to the other in his suit and tie, trying to drum up support for his party and what it stands for, sweating profusely as the date of the election approaches but victory seems no closer, I am reminded of the great American football coach Vince Lombardi, who upon being asked about a particularly hard-to-bear defeat, replied:

"We didn't lose the game. We just ran out of time."

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Ooooh, that was awkward

The political videoclip of the morning was a nasty bit of business between Sato Yukari and Gifu Mayor Hosoe Shigemitsu.

Before a gaggle of the press, Sato--the CSFB banker, Ph.D. in Economics from NYU “assassin” assigned to take out postal rebel Noda Seiko--bowed deeply to Hosoe, then reached out her hand in order give the press a “handshake for the cameras” shot. Hosoe, however, ignored her hand, looked to the members of the press, acknowledged their presence with a nod, turned on his heel and walked away--leaving Sato stunned.

It would not have been so bad if the voiceover announcer (male, of course) had not decided to put his own spin on the scene, saying:

“Well, now she sees they do things differently out in the chiho than they do in the tokai.”

implicating that in Gifu at least, women know better than to try to shake the hands of men they do not know, or better yet, shake hands with men at all.

The announcer could have noted that the Gifu chapter of the LDP is in open revolt against the central party leadership, or that Gifu is the Holy See of the postal tribe, or that Hosoe has been a strong supporter of Noda.

Instead, the announcer took this awkward instant and transformed it into a “city slickers with their advanced degrees, Western manners and equality of the sexes think they can just come down to the inaka and lord it over us-- well, it ain’t gonna happen” moment.

The important question is whether the press from here on starts giving more airtime to this “resentment of the countryside” trope.

Koizumi and the LDP have been fortunate up to this point. They have steamrolled both the local press and local political establishments, keeping the maudlin off the airwaves. Most viewers and readers, for instance, have been spared Kamei Shizuka's crying jags over the amount of love he has been receiving from his furusato.

If the “anger of the chiho” angle rises to the level of a ronso (and no, endless harping on a subject in between the covers of Shukan Bunshun does not make that subject into a ronso) then the DPJ/LDP race for dominance may become a closely fought contest indeed.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

“Hi, I'm Ikeda Daisaku and I do not approve of this message.”

There are good jokes.
There are bad jokes.
There are MTC jokes.
And then there are Komeito jokes.

Komeito jokes are not jokes about the Koimeito. Some of those are quite funny, like:

“Two guys are walking down the street. One guy is banging on a drum and chanting. The other guy is getting his picture taken alongside has-been world leaders and senile academics. Just then the one guy turns to the other and says, ’Ya know...’

We all know how the joke ends. I must admit, I still laugh at the punchline.

No, what I am talking about are jokes made by the Komeito.

These are jokes that--as the regression outlined above indicates--are so deeply, so profoundly, so abysmally unfunny that, through a circuitous singularity event horizon black hole white hole total space inversion, end up being absolutely hilarious in how unfunny they are.

Take, for example, the new Komeito campaign commercial. It features party leader Kanzaki Takenori (ah, the cold metallic gleam of his glasses, his eyes, his hair!) staring straight into the camera just as Really Bad Things That Really Could Happen (RBTTRCH) prevent a character representing reform from entering the courtyard of a traditional home. Just as it seems all hope is lost because the RBTTRCH are too strong and reform will not be allowed to pass, Kanzaki rises up, raises his right hand in a stop gesture and cries out:

Sore wa iKAN...ZAKI!”




What can one say?

First, it makes no sense. “Sore wa ikanzaki” means nothing at all.

Second, even one accepts that “Sore wa ikan...zaki” is in some way a mildly amusing play on the name of the party leader, the association between “Kanzaki” and “Sore wa ikan” ("That is impermissible!") is probably not one one would want to draw.

Furthermore, if the audience hears “Sore wa KANZAKI!”, where the “i” get swallowed up, they would might come away with the impression that Kanzaki is taking perverse pride in halting reform. Because the exchange would then be:

“Who is going to let the RBTTRCH stop reform?”
“It will be Kanzaki!”

If, by contrast, some hear too much “i”, making the phrase “Sore wa ii Kanzaki!” ("That is the Good Kanzaki!"), the exchange becomes:

“Who is going to let the RBTTRCH stop reform?”
“It will be the Good Kanzaki!”

which plunges the listener into a Good Kanzaki-Bad Kanzaki, evil twin mirror-world dynamic, where the “ii Kanzaki”--the one who is not in the commercial because of the use of the preposition "sore" ("that one") --is in favor of the RBTTRCH stopping reform, while the “warui Kanzaki”("the bad Kanzaki") --who is in the commercial, warning us about the “ii Kanzaki”--is actually the good guy because he is against the RBTTRCH stopping reform.

Am I losing anyone?


Anyway, “Sore wa iKAN...ZAKI!” seems destined to go down as one of the greatest electoral turnoffs since Suzuki Muneo.

Suzuki there is a very funny man.

P.S. (much later) I am now being told that this commercial is a reprise of a 2004 election commercial with exactly the same horrible pun in it. Response to the 2004 commercial was so positive the Komeito decided to remake it.

So I guess that proves I have no comprehension of what turns some people on.

Tell me something I do not know.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Issues of interest to the foreign press in regards to this election:

1) Democratic Party pledge to withdraw Japanese troops from Samawa in December

American and Australian publications note that the DPJ party manifesto promises to withdraw the JSDF from Iraq in December. Australian publications take a special interest in this issue due to the de facto security guarantee provided by Australian forces in Al-Muthanna Province. Most publications note that a December withdrawal will lead to a chill in the relations between Japan and the Bush Administration. Publications have for the most part ignored the possibility that the troops may return home in December even if the LDP-Komeito coalition wins.

2) Postal reform as crucial to reform of the Japanese state

Only one publication (the Gulf publication Khaleej Times) criticized Koizumi for dissolving the House of Representatives over the failure of postal legislation in the House of Councilors. Many foreign publications accept the Koizumi argument that Japan had little chance of reforming itself until the postal savings accounts and kampo insurance plans are out of the reach of bureaucrats and politicians. Business publications argue about the timing or the details of the postal reform package; some reasonably argue that Japan has other more pressing reforms to enact. None say, however, that the postal reform has been just pointless grandstanding or a Koizumi hobby horse.

3) Changes in economic policies

For the most part, major English-language business publications have been of two minds about the Prime Minister. They for the most part agree that Japan's economic recovery has not been the direct result of policies instigated by the Koizumi Cabinet. Instead, cyclical factors and exports to China are seen as having had greater impacts on growth of Japanese GDP. Publications are also in broad agreement that even though the actual economic reform achievements may be few, the Koizumi Cabinet has at least followed the Hippocratic Oath--i.e., "First, do no harm" --and has ignored advice that, had it been followed, would have resulted in the killing of the recovery. However, there is disagreement on whether or not the Koizumi Cabinet has promoted an atmosphere within which economic reform takes place organically.

Business publications are intrigued about possible changes in economic policy should the LDP-Komeito alliance fail to win an outright majority. The economic policies of the Democratic Party, especially their pledges to drastically cut public works spending and quickly reducing the number of civil servants are generally applauded by commentators who are worried about Japan's debt burden (the most influential of whom is probably Robert Alan Feldman of Morgan Stanley).

A larger number of economic writers believe that the DPJ’s budget balancing policies will include raising taxes and too-rapid reductions of fiscal stimulus, actions that might tip Japan back into recession (The Economist, The Financial Times, and The Wall Street Journal seem to share this view). No one has focused on the Democratic Party's peculiar crusade against the Bank of Japan's policy of quantitative easing.

4) Militarism and the historical problem

English-language editions of Chinese and Korean publications have been unwilling to proclaim favorites in the upcoming election, even though Okada has pledged to not visit Yasukuni and has promised to improve relations with the two countries.

First, Chinese and Korean writers have probably come to understand that trying to influence the politics of another state leads often to outcomes opposite to those desired (see Beijing frequent failures as regards Taiwanese elections).

Second, even in the less desirable case of an LDP-Komeito victory, the Junichiro Koizumi who leads Japan until the fall of 2006 could be a very different person from the Koizumi who has led Japan for the last three years. Since he will never have to put his policies before the voters again, he may be liberated from the need to appear unbending before the Chinese and the Koreans. Koizumi will continue to undermine relations with annual visits to Yasukuni but he may work hard to confront other pressing problems in Sino-Japanese and Korean-Japanese relations.

5) Koizumi Kool

Non-Japan-based readers and even journalists know little about Japanese politics, other than the negatives:
- it has been dominated by factional infighting and pork-barrel spending on bridges and tunnels to nowhere;
- there are very, very few women in positions of power;
- a large percentage of the political class hold their positions due to inheritance not merit;
- the LDP has been ruling over what has been effectively a one-party state;
- politicians are simply mouthpieces of vested interests
et cetera...

By contrast, Prime Minister Koizumi, with his hair, his musical tastes, his close embrace of George W. Bush, his sense of fun and his stubbornness has become a globally recognized character. He is the highest-ranking politician (#12) on Esquire magazine’s 2005 list of the world’s Top 20 Best Dressed Men (Kofi Annan is #13, Bill Clinton is #18). Journalists and editors around the world find his eccentric personality refreshing and so give him great leeway in regards to his pet causes and pet peeves.

The loser in this process has been the Democratic Party. For many years, the Democrats were the darlings of the media precisely because they were the opponents of the stodgy old LDP. Now that the LDP under Koizumi is throwing out its most notoriously obstructionist members, the Democrats are struggling to win recognition and attention. Having the sober, somewhat stiff Okada as their representative has somewhat diminished international interest in Democratic policies, even though those policies are often more in line with the demands of foreign governments.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Just one more

The Socialist Party, which according to legend was once a major political force in Japan, seems to be laying the groundwork for a final liquidation sale of its few remaining assets.

Yesterday, to great fanfare, party leader Fukushima Mizuho appeared at a joint press conference with the party's surprise candidate in the Osaka 10th district election: former House of Representatives firebrand Tsujimoto Kiyomi.

For those with a short memory, that is Tsujimoto Kiyomi, felon--convicted in 2004 of embezzlement of House of Representative office funds...

Somehow, I detect a non-viable electoral strategy at work here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Hunting Of The Snark

Ah, August 15! Here and gone at last. The last day of East Asia's long-running but still incredibly popular "I Know What You Did 60 Years Ago" series of remembrances. The sound of cicadas, bells, morality/immorality of Hiroshima debates, commentators warning of resurgent militarism, scholars complaining that not enough emphasis is being put on Russia's entering the war, the disorienting usage of NHK's "three seconds to the hour" theme at the official Budokan ceremony...all blessedly overshadowed by one of the most active and bemusing weeks ever in Japanese politics.

Everyone with half a brain knew that Prime Minister Koizumi was going to pull the trigger last Monday. What political junkies (yours truly included) did not expect was that the Japanese public would really get a kick out of the Diet dissolution. A head-snapping pair of announcements--Koike Yuriko's candidacy for Kobayashi Koki's seat and the jump in the approval ratings for the soon-to-be defunct Cabinet --sent the outlook for the election careening off into new directions on Wednesday morning.

In the aftermath of a House of Councilors defeat, Koizumi has been dominating the news cycles with periodic announcements of attractive LDP candidates, while LDP rebels fulminate and plot counterstrategies and the national and local LDP chapters prepare for civil war.

My object all sublime
I shall reveal in time
To make the punishment fit the crime
The punishment fit the crime

And make each prisoner pent
Unwillingly represent
A source of innocent merriment
Of innocent merriment

- Gilbert & Sullivan, The Mikado

The postal savings and postal insurance programs (full disclosure - I participate in both) were the honey pots from which was drawn nearly every economic and ecological monstrosity of the last 25 years. Nevertheless, the 5 to 10 point jumps in the popularity of the Cabinet last week cannot be explained by popular expectations that postal investments may finally be de-politicized and rationalized. Given Japan's recent history, such expectations would be unwarranted.

I am most perplexed by the paucity of persons feeling pity for the rebels. Koizumi to my knowledge never stated that a vote against the legislation would lead to a de facto expulsion from the party. He never made clear that chickening out by abstaining preferable to actually taking a stand against the legislation (a terrible precedent, by the way, which will lead to future crises in the Diet). Furthermore, is there not something unseemly about punishing members of House of Representatives for a political failure in the House of Councilors?

I can see four main reasons for the sudden jump in both the Cabinet and the LDP's popularity following the dissolution of the Diet and Koizumi's announcement of a purge of party ranks:

1) Resignation to amputation. While Nagata-cho is used to focusing on the daily roller-coaster of political popularity and fortune the country at large has a long known of the deep structural problems within the LDP. Unless the party found a method of expelling its most recalcitrant members, it would never be able to embrace the policies necessary for Japan's transformation. As one astute observer on television put it, it was like a contest between two sets of singers, one singing Western music, the other singing enka-and the enka singers had to go.

2) Visual appeal. While certain of the rebels are attractive individuals--Noda Seiko, for example-a not insignificant number of them are, to put it bluntly, ugly as sin. If Watanuki and Kamei are both defeated, next year's "Homeliest Man in the Diet" contest will be thrown wide open. Koizumi has managed to ruthlessly exploit this disadvantage by choosing attractive and accomplished women as the challengers to the rebels.

3) The Germans have a word for it. Call it schadenfreude, call it die Gotterdammerung -- this is a rare chance to see some very powerful, very arrogant persons hack each other to bits in front of the cameras.

4) Strictly business. Kobayashi Koki was clearly singled out for special retribution for his now infamous left, right and center display of his "no" vote in the House of Representatives. What Kobayashi and the other rebels did not grasp that for Koizumi, postal reform legislation could never be just business. It was personal for him-a personal desire to see it enacted, a personal affront when it was rejected. He would never forgive and forget, not as long as he had the party machinery at his disposal.

Going into the second week

In the first weekend of the campaign, the election that was:

(((Koizumi + frightened LDP) vs. LDP renegades) ± uncertain Komeito) vs. (stolid DPJ - (non onmis moriar JCP + iam mortua DSPJ))

became, by the second weekend

("My way or the highway" Koizumi LDP + Komeito) vs. (immobile DPJ - (LDP outcasts + JCP + DSPJ))

We should be seeing a rollback of some of the LDP's gains this week as the public mood recovers from the Prime Minister's fiery leap out of the electoral starting gate. With fewer new names adding fuel to the news cycle, Koizumi will have to flesh out and defend the policies of his LDP. Going nose to nose with Okada Katsuya on policy is a lot harder (and a lot less fun) than cutting off rebel heads.

Not So Good

Watching Kan Naoto and Okada on the Sunday morning roundtables, I found myself dreaming I was Burgess Meredith,. "Get your HANDS UP, YOU BUMS!" I yelled as Kan and Okada took repeated metaphoric blows to the face from the announcers. "Stop trying to outline your formulas for reorganizing the accounts at the post office as detailed in your party's manifesto. Tell us what the post office is for and what it is not for! Koizumi's got you on the ropes. Defense! Defense!"

In truth, the DPJ representatives do have a point: talking about privatization of the post office is fine but the details really do matter. The private sector might be slavering over the idea of creaming off some of the 3.3 trillion yen in post office savings deposits and insurance plans. One has to wonder, though who would want to actually take on the currentl giga-portfolio of JTBs and IOUs from quasi-public corporations.

It will nevertheless be crucial for the DPJ's leaders to start throwing out some punchy, easy-to-understand answers to the questions being posed by journalists. Democrats desperately need a one-sentence explanation of contradiction between their claims of being the big tent party of reform and their unanimously vote against the most important reform bill of the last five years.

You want a receipt? The word of a faction leader is as good as gold!

Early in his career, comedian Steve Martin had a short, absurdist monologue on "How to Make a Million Dollars and Pay No Taxes" which went something like this:

"You ask me, 'Steve, how can I make a million dollars and not pay taxes?' First, find a million dollars...and then, when the tax man comes to your door, remember two little words -- just two little words: I forgot. I forgot that not paying taxes was a crime."

Perhaps because he is not a huge Steve Martin fan, former prime minister and faction leader Hashimoto Ryutaro actually tried the "I forgot" defense in regards to a 100 million yen check he received in 2001 from the Japan Dentists Federation. The "I forgot that taking a political donation and not declaring it was a crime" excuse won him little sympathy in closed-door session Diet testimony. It certainly did not prevent Hashimoto associates from being convicted of violations of campaign finance laws.

Through his sad attempt to cover up his illegal actions, Hashimoto managed to alienate support groups in his electoral district. He will retire with his court status hanging in the air.

Thus in ignominy ends a 43-year Diet career, second only to former prime minister Toshiki Kaifu's (46 years) in length among active politicians.

Hashimoto Ryutaro's exit from the scene highlights an extraordinary aspect of this election: the decapitation of the LDP factions. Of the current or former faction leaders, only three will be supported by the party:

Mori Yoshiro (Seiwa Seisaku Kenkyukai)
Ozato Sadanori (Ozato faction) and
Yamasaki Taku (Kin Mirai Seiji Kenkyukai).

Receiving only grudging LDP central party support will be:

Komura Masahiko (Bancho Seisaku Kenkyukai)

for abstaining from the vote on the postal reform package.

Running without LDP central party support will be:

Horiuchi Mitsuo (Koseikai)
Kamei Shizuka (former Shishikai)
Watanuki Tamisuke (former Heisei Kenkyukai)

All three voted against the postal reform legislation.

It is impossible to recall an election where faction leaders faced a real political challenge. Many of these old warriors will find a way to survive the threats posed by the LDP's money and their own dirty laundry. Nevertheless, it is extraordinary that so many of the once invincible faction leaders could be in this predicament.


As an old TV Asahi employee, I must finally note with extreme pleasure the continuing lack of ethical standards among video editors of Japanese news broadcasts. Their use of music, usually music with English lyrics, as a subversive subtext for video montages keeps alive my faith in the private ownership of terrestrial television networks. Fond memories have I of the Sagawa Kyubin perpetrators slouching into the Diet budget committee chamber to the tune of "Money for Nothing" by Dire Straits.

My favorite montage so far in this electoral cycle was on a Saturday program. Video of Koizumi and Takebe was juxtaposed with video of various LDP postal legislation rebels, including a teary-eyed Noda Seiko, as Paul McCartney, accompanied by solo piano, sweetly warbled:

When you were young and your heart was an open book
You used to say live and let live
(You know you did, you know you did, you know you di-id)
But if this everchangin' world we have to live in
Makes you give in and cry.

Cut to the doomed Kobayashi at the press conference where he first learns that Koike will be running against him:

Say Live and Let Die!

Cut to Kamei Shizuka and Tamisuke Watanuki.

Live and Let Die!

Cut to Horiuchi Mitsuo and Hosaka Takeshi.

Live and Let Die!

And over the crashing , driving symphonic bridge that follows ("Live and Let Die" was, after all, written for a Bond film), editors intercut footage of the rebels with footage of the mediagenic superstars recruited to run against them.


Later - For those of tender years, Sir Paul, Linda and the boys.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

I failed to see the 364-kilogram gorilla in the room last night at an unscheduled wide-ranging discussion of the dissolution of the Diet.

Dr. Richard Samuels of MIT saw it. He tried to alert us all to its presence by describing the coming election as the long-awaited grand historical moment. METI info meister Okumura Jun's comment, that next prime minister would have to be acceptable to the Komeito, also pointed in the direction of the unspoken alternative--if only by being, in retrospect, probably incorrect.

Professor Suzuki Kuniko also hinted at the initial steps toward this new realignment. She noted that Hatoyama Yukio, Kan Naoto and Ozawa Ichiro are openly holding meetings without asking Okada Tatsuya to join them--a performance the trio repeated last night.

It was only when I heard Koizumi's pledge from last night to resign “if the coalition of the LDP and the Komeito did not win a majority of seats” that I came to think of Koizumi's possible plan.

Since his improbable rise to the presidency of the LDP, Koizumi has seen off most of the decrepit, insincere elements of the LDP coalition: the construction tribe, the napping Old Boys and now the Kamei-led hardliners. The Komeito is the last piece of the coalition that is to be ripped away. Koizumi will complete the process by clasping Kanzaki tightly to his bosom as they go down together in electoral defeat.

Following the election, Koizumi will honor his promise and resign the presidency of the LDP. What he will be leaving behind, however, will be the antithesis of the sprawling, constipated and timid coalition of rent-seekers he took charge of four years ago. The lower house LDP members who survive the September 11 election will be, for the first time in decades perhaps, actual politicians: able to both win tough elections and make tough policy choices. This kernel of center-right political professionals will be an attractive junior coalition partner for a DPJ holding a plurality but not an outright majority of seats in the House of Representative.

First, it will be leaderless, at least initially (a headless LDP should be more pliable when it comes time for parceling out the ministerial and secretarial positions).

Second, it will share virtually every one of the purported policy goals of the DPJ.

Third, it will not be the Komeito.Hatoyama and certainly Ozawa can see such a grand DPJ-LDP coalition--long the pipe dream of so many reformers--looming on the horizon. In the event of a coalition, Kan will be a vital guarantor of the liberal credentials of the DPJ, relieving the pressure on Yokomichi and a number of the other former Socialists to bolt.

...or am I wandering off the path into the wilderness (again) on this one?

Monday, August 08, 2005


Final tally :
108 Yes
125 No

Not even close to close!The valiant among the LDP of the House of Councilors sauntered to the podium in defense of the mythical yet strangely evocative "grandpa and grandma in the big woods" who would just shrivel up and expire without the postman bringing them their monthly pensions in cash....and in so doing condemned their brothers and sisters in the House of Representatives to certain doom.

The biggest, sweetest joke of all: Koizumi is still president of the LDP! He will be leader and standard bearer of his treacherous and corrupt horde 's pathetic, wild, firing-squad-in-the-round rigamarole of an election campaign. LDP dinosaurs and their lizard prince followers cannot do a thing in response except quit the party ...and that means a hearty goodby all that beautiful campaign cash.

This is going to be the greatest thing in Japan since curry rice.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Get out your handkerchiefs!

It was a hot time in the Diet today--and not just because it was 35 degrees in the shade and Koizumi government policy sets the air conditioners at 28 degrees in central government buildings.

As you know, the powers that be in the House of Councilors delayed the vote on postal reform until at least Monday. Instead of the vote, they scheduled a question and answer session where representatives of the parties were allowed to questions of Prime Minister Koizumi and the economics ministers.

From the outset, the PM indicated he did not think much of this supplementary question and answer session. He ranged widely in his criticisms and barbs, skirting contempt of the House in his refusal to answer the questions put to him. His questioners grew progressively more infuriated, waving at the committee chairman to warn the PM to stay on topic. It was all wonderously sweaty, intemperate and mean-spirited.

The PM is beyond caring now--he is burning every bridge, whether in front or behind him. Last night when a reporter asked him what he thinks about the opinions expressed by his fellow LDP members--that the party is poised for defeat if he dissolves the Diet and forces a House of Representatives election--he stared straight at the questioner and said, with quiet malice, "Well then, they better make sure the bill gets passed by the House of Councilors on Monday." With no political heirs and no followers (well, Financial Reconstruction Minister Takenaka--but he can always go back to teaching and lecturing), Koizumi has no need to protect the LDP as an institution.

This is not to say that Koizumi is fond of Okada and the Democrats. The reduction bureaucratic control of the economy is a primary policy promise of the Democratic Party. Privatization of Japan Post should be a reform the Democrats support avidly. However, in order to precipitate a political crisis, the Democrats have chose to vote en bloc against the legislation. While Koizumi appreciates the political maneuvering of the Democrats, he clearly wishes the crisis had been provoked over legislation less near and dear to him.

Anyway, I put the odds as 7 to 3 against the legislation passing on Monday. If it fails, Koizumi will dissolve the Diet and thrust the country into a whirlwind political campaign in the midst of the hottest time of the year.