Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sleeping With the Fishes

The government has caved in to the demands of the fishing cooperatives:

Japan to Help Fishing Industry With Fuel Costs, Asahi Reports

July 29 -- Japan will provide 74.5 billion yen ($693 million) in aid to help the fishing industry cope with rising fuel costs, the Asahi newspaper reported, without saying where it got the information.

About 8 billion yen will be provided for subsidies covering up to 90 percent of the increase in fuel costs since December, the newspaper said.

The remaining funds will be for loans to improve fuel efficiency and other support measures, the report said. The package is scheduled to be announced today, the Asahi said...
In its original report this morning, the Asahi could not help but point out the hypocrisy of the ruling coalition's cave, noting that last year in the run up to July House of Councillors election the coalition criticized the Democratic Party of Japan's plan to expand agriculure subsidies to all farmers as "tossing rose petals about in all directions" (baramaki) policy. Having been scared and scarred by their electoral losses last year, the paper concludes, the parties making up the ruling coalition have gutlessly adopted the strategies of their opponents.

So fishing vessels are as vital to the economic and social life of Japan as rural bus systems and local governments, the previous recipients of fuel subsidy support.

Cue the "fish play a crucial, almost spiritual role in the Japanese diet (no pun intended)" fanfare.

And yet...I cannot help noticing the prominence of the New Kōmeitō in the brokering of this deal setting up of this subsidy. Indeed on July 24th New Kōmeitō Secretary-General Kitagawa Kazuo held a press conference at which he revealed (akiraka ni shita) that on the 28th the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries would announce an aid package for fishermen in distress due to the high prices of fuel.

Now this is damn peculiar. Where does Kitagawa get the authority to announce upcoming government policies?

Luckily, we have Okumura Jun around to do the heavy lifting. As he revealed in a blog post in March, the Maritime Self Defense Forces Aegis destroyer Atago did not just hit and sink any old fishing boat in February with the loss of all onboard. The Atago sank a fishing vessel crewed by New Kōmeitō supporters (i.e....you know what I mean).

Did the New Kōmeitō/Sōka Gakkai lean on the bereaved family members of the lost fishermen, encouraging them to receive the abject apologies of both the Minister of Defense and the Prime Minister? Did the New Kōmeitō work hard to make sure that the controversy died down despite the rage of the other members of the Katsu'ura fishing cooperative? Did the Liberal Democratic Party, especially Defense Minister Ishiba Shigeru, come to owe the New Kōmeitō a huge debt of gratitude for getting the loss of the two fisherman off the front pages?

A debt that might someday come due in the form of the New Kōmeitō's ascribing to itself the role of savior of the fishermen, able to squeeze blood from the budget stone as the fisherman's true friend and protector?

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