Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ambassador Fujisaki Does the Unexpected

Holy [expletive deleted].

Japan Apologizes for Bataan Death March

The Japanese ambassador to the United States apologized in person today to the 73 surviving POWs of the Bataan Death March in the Philippines in April 1942 during World War II.

We extend a heartfelt apology for our country having caused tremendous damage and suffering to many people including prisoners of war, those who have undergone tragic experiences in the Bataan peninsula the Corregidor Island, Philippines and other places," Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki said at the last convention of the American Defenders of Bataan & Corregidor POWs of the Japanese during World War II.

Sixty-seven years after the Japanese captured and force-marched 12,000 Americans and 68,000 Philippines from the island of Corregidor to northern Luzon, denying them food and water, and killing the stragglers, the country apologized.

The ambassador said he was speaking for the government of Japan as he apologized...
I was sure that Dr. Tenney would not live to see this day. What a better world it would be if we all had his sense of honor, his humanity and his tenacity. All power to him and the others who fought for so long for such a minor gesture of decency.

Ambassador Fujisaki's astonishing act -- which he cannot have done without clearance -- indicates that forces within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have figured out that the "it would be easier for Japan to contribute more to the Alliance if somebody could run interference on efforts to confront wartime reconciliation issues" quid pro quo trumpeted by the Fantabulist Right and their allies was no longer operative or an option. Somebody important figured out that in this instance the Government of Japan cannot rely on the U.S. government or anyone else to "understand" a problem away.

Oh frabjous day so long in gestation!

Later - Oh wait. Over at the Japan-China Reconciliation blog, MKS is saying that ABC News got its facts wrong.

Even later - The Nikkei Online, in a report published three weeks ago, says that the apology is official.

Even later - TBS has chimed in with a report stating that Ambassador Fujisaki's apology was "public" (kōshikiteki) but without saying as the Nikkei did that the apology was "by the Government of Japan through the Ambassador to the U.S." (nihon seifu ga chūbei taishi wo tsuji). The TBS account fails to nail down the niggling but significant loose end of whether or not the Ambassador could deliver a apology that is public but nevertheless not a policy statement of the GOJ.

Laconic Question About Japan's GDP Numbers

If the machines stop making other machines, stop consuming electrical power and raw materials, remaining cold and silent...and the companies that own the machines suffer a huge drop in sales but because they are not highly leveraged, simply cut down on company purchases -- should the subsequent huge drop in economic activity recorded in the GDP figures be considered catastrophic, or merely a respite from a frenzy?

Friday, May 29, 2009

A few last thoughts on the Ozawa-Hatoyama Transition

Some of us who keep an eye on Japanese politics felt something close to angina at this month's precipitous, stage-managed election of Hatoyama Yukio as the leader of the Democratic Party of Japan. When Ozawa Ichirō finally came to the decision that his continued presence at the top of the ticket was deleterious to the party's chances in the next election, he could have stepped back and allowed the party rank and file choose a leader who could be a ballot box asset - just as the Liberal Democratic Party local chapters chose Koizumi Jun'ichirō in 2001.Instead, Ozawa arranged for a rushed election with only DPJ Diet members as electors, dooming the quietly anti-Ozawa line candidacy of Okada Katsuya.

Okada was the clear choice over Hatoyama both in the DPJ local chapters and among the general public. In failing to elect Okada as its new leader the party left money on the table - it walked away from several percentage points of support in the next general election. The party also missed a chance to rid itself of a dark cloud of suspicion hanging over it since the arrest (merited or not) of Ozawa's right hand man Ōkubo Toshinori.

Nevertheless, I do not fault the logic of Ozawa's power play. Throughout the fall and winter months the combined fecklessness of prime minister and LDP party president Asō Tarō and his allies sent Cabinet and LDP polls numbers through the floor -- at one point down to a single digit in support of the Cabinet. Only the near divine intercession of the prosecutors prevented a crisis for the government and the ruling coalition.

During all these months and years of decay in the popularity of the LDP, Ozawa has been the DPJ's leader. If his past as a fixer with ties to the construction industry was indeed such a burden for his party, why did public support for the DPJ rise through the year prior to Ōkubo's arrest? If Ozawa or his policies were so fundamentally sullied, how was it that the DPJ manage to score a huge victory in the 2007 House of Councillors elections? How, if he is such a millstone for a party, was it possible that he persevered as the ruling coalition burned through two prime ministers (Abe Shinzō and Fukuda Yasuo) and was rapidly burning through a third?

The media members of the LDP and many of Okada's supporters portrayed Okada's candidacy as chance for the DPJ to repudiate the Ozawa Way. From Ozawa and his acolytes the immediate question would be "What is there to be repudiated?" -- and they would be right. From the opinion polls published prior to the Ōkubo arrest the public was willing to support an Ozawa-led DPJ as the party of government -- as long as it meant the country could rid itself of Asō Tarō and LDP.

In Ozawa's current calculations, nothing significant has changed on the other side of the political ledger. Asō is still feckless; the LDP is still a mess of crouching rent-seekers and spineless reform banner wavers. While the arrest of his political secretary means Ozawa himself cannot lead the DPJ to victory in an election, there is no ostensible reason to deviate from the course that Ozawa had set.

So why should Ozawa countenance the election of an upstart who in the weeks after the arrest bobbed and weaved so as to position himself -- in fact if not in name -- as the anti-Ozawa candidate? One who had led the party to electoral disaster in 2005 and whose main ally Maehara Seiji had turned the DPJ into a laughingstock with the forged email controversy -- the pair of disasters that had forced the party to turn to Ozawa as a savior?

Was Ozawa ever going to permit a usurper receiving the credit for taking the DPJ over the finish line -- when it had been Ozawa who had done all the hard work of making the party a credible political force?

Not likely.

As for a backlash against the rushed election and the anti-democratic restriction of the electors to sitting Diet members (many if not most of whom owe their seats to Ozawa) resulting in the virtual handing of the victory to Hatoyama -- the DPJ has little to fear. The LDP has nothing to say on the matter. The selection of Koizumi's predecessor Mori Yoshirō consisted of five men coming to an agreement over which among them would take power as they all met in the hospital nearby the sadly still warm body of the fallen Obuchi Keizō.

In Nagata-chō terms, the DPJ leadership contest was a rollicking, open-ended affair...and will likely not matter in a material way. For if Asō Tarō goes out on the campaign trail with the same inappropriate mix of levity and snide contempt he exhibited on Wednesday during the Diet party leader debate, the way Prime Minister Hatoyama came to be chosen the leader of the DPJ will be simply forgotten.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Cream Rises to the Top

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

I was wondering what would have compelled a Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labour bureaucrat in his mid-thirties to go out and forge a document certifying that a gang of grizzled grifters was running a handicapped persons group, just so these criminals could then turn around sell the privilege of using postal rates reserved for the handicapped to companies doing mass mailings.

Would being ostensibly leaned on by your superior and possibly the offices of a couple members of the Diet be compelling enough?

Denials everywhere--but this has the potential to become ugly. The prosecutors already did a forcible search of the Ministry's Osaka offices yesterday.

To fall so far for so little money: it all reminds me all too much of the arrest and imprisonment of the powerful money magnet U.S. Representative Dan Rostenkowski over the misuse of a few thousand dollars' worth of House mailing privileges.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What's In Living Color

Robert Schwartz has an article in the new-format Newsweek on a possible significant change in attitudes toward musical performers of multi-national backgrounds. He has some good material for making the argument - the incontrovertible shock of the Jero phenomenon and success of Aoyama Teruma (Thelma) - but he just cannot get himself to say the magic word:

A New Look For Japan's Musicians

By Rob Schwartz - Japan's indigenous music scene is known for breeding cute, superplastic stars like Ayumi Hamasaki and Ayaka—über-pop princesses who routinely top the charts with their safely mainstream sound and image. So it was significant when a mixed-race singer known as Jero was named one of the country's best new artists at the Gold Disc Awards—Japan's Grammys—in March. Perhaps even more meaningful, Jero, who is three quarters African-American and one quarter Japanese, also won the award for best enka artist, topping the genre of traditional love ballads that are often about specific places in Japan. Jero, a.k.a. Jerome White Jr., grew up in Pittsburgh, singing such songs with his Japanese grandmother. "Since I started singing enka at age 5 or 6, I really wanted a career in Japan ... [but] I knew it would be a long shot," he says. Yet the Japanese have clearly embraced this 27-year-old performer who favors hip-hop garb yet sings songs meant to express the soul of Japan
O.K., so no one knows what the phrase "über-pop princess" is supposed to convey. Schwartz successfully avoids THE ISSUE. He presses forward

In the Japanese pop realm, Thelma Aoyama, who is part Afro-Caribbean, came out of nowhere to record the biggest single of 2008, "Soba ni Iru, ne" (I'll Always Be by Your Side). The song earned Aoyama the Guinness Book world record for most downloaded tune, with more than 8.5 million.
Ooooh, "part Afro-Caribbean" - that's good. If I only knew what knew what it meant to be part ocean - or where the Afro-Caribbean can be found on a map.

Come on Mr. Schwartz, say it. Say it. No wait, not that way!

Half-white and half-Japanese Angela Aki has also won quite a following; last December she performed on the all-important year-end TV extravaganza Red & White Singing Contest. Her latest single, "Tegami" ("Letter"), recently went platinum, selling more than 250,000 copies.

Go to all the trouble of skirting THE ISSUE -- that the immensely popular Jero and Aoyama are of Japanese heritage AND melanin-blessed -- only to crash on the shoals of "half-white"?

OK, OK it is not about purported (it is really more pink than white) skin color differences (Yes it is). Bring on the yellow oppressed!

Takeshi Nakagawa, the Japanese leader of the band Soul Flower Union, says the national obsession with ethnic purity even affected those virtually indistinguishable from the Japanese, like Koreans. Slowly, that's changing. "The taboo factor that surrounded singers of Korean descent in the 1980s is becoming a thing of the past," he says. "For this to continue, it is vital that the media not perpetuate the myth that Japan is a racially homogeneous society."
Excuse me, but what is this media that has been perpetuating the myth that Japan is a racially homogeneous nation? The same media that has given us:

Tsuchiya Anna
Kimura Kaera
Satonaka Chami
Crystal Kay & Sowelu (a two-fer here)

...and probably many, many more whom I do not know?

Politicians and ideologues perpetuate myths of racial homogeneity. The popular media sure as hell does not.

As for Jero and Aoyama, yes, it is good to see persons of Japanese ancestry with African features or an African appearance (Crystal Kay should be considered their predecessor but her mom is Zainichi, not Japanese) being given their chance at ubiquity. Nothing indeed detonates stereotypes about skin color faster than a homeboy in hip-hop casual singing enka --the most seriously uncool music on the planet -- to a giant hall filled with enthusiastically clapping Japanese pensioners.

And yes, who cannot love the delicious irony that Jero's surname is White, while the name of the author of the article is the German word for B---k?

When All Is Hell

You just have to laugh at all of them.

Thanks D.

Monday, May 25, 2009

North Korean Theatrical Releases

Not satisfied with a nuclear test, the producers of the ongoing show "DPRK" test fired a short range missile too.

Yen Falls as North Korea Holds Nuclear Test, Launches Missile

By Ron Harui and Gavin Finch - May 25 -- The yen fell from the near highest level in more than two months against the dollar after North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in three years and may have also launched a short-range missile, posing a threat to the region’s security.


“The missile test may have been conducted to escalate geopolitical risk,” said Akifumi Uchida, Tokyo-based deputy general manager of the marketing unit at Sumitomo Trust & Banking Co., Japan’s fifth-largest lender. “Japan also is geographically close to North Korea so this doesn’t augur well. The yen is being sold."
Of course, do too much testing in order to impress the neighbors and you will have nothing left to actually safeguard your regime's security.

The USGS Earthquake Hazards Program page has a map with a nice orange square at the test site, with backup data saying the magnitude of the recorded shaking was 4.7 - pretty darn big.

I am still waiting for a realistic estimate of the device's yield.

Later - The Sankei Shimbun (ya gotta love 'em) says that the DPRK has launched two short range missiles from the Musudanri test site.


China's problematic client state lights another firecracker:

North Korea confirms 2nd nuclear test
The Korea Herald

North Korea confirmed that it has "successfully" conducted its second nuclear test on Monday, following a warning of retaliation it issued last month after the U.N.'s condemnation of its rocket launch, according to Yonhap News.
"According to the demand of our scientists and technicians, our republic has successfully conducted another underground nuclear test on May 25 ... as part of measures to strengthen its nuclear power in self-defense," the official Korean Central News Agency said.

North Korea warned on April 29 that it would conduct the second test, following its first in October 2006, in protest at the U.N. Security Council's rebuke for its April 5 rocket launch.

Monday's report did not say where the test was conducted
Don't worry, the seismographs will tell us soon enough.

Given the recent pretty darn successful test firing of a ballistic missile establishing a North Korean capability to drop a warhead on any of China's major cities, and the likely tightening of the Japan-U.S. security arrangements that will ensue as a result of both of these energetic displays of World War II-era advanced technology, the Zhongnanhai crowd will probably be just thrilled at the above announcement.

Have a nice lunch guys!

Later - I "especially" love the adverb in quotes.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Preparation, its seems... for students only.

From the FT's article on the Eco points system for appliances:

Sceptics say the ungainly bureaucracy of the rebate system risks undermining its effect. Under the system, the government has designated about 2,000 appliances as eligible for “eco points”. The buyer of an energy-efficient fridge, for example, will receive eco points equal to five per cent of the purchase price. Consumers will be able to spend the eco points on energy-efficient goods from a government-backed catalogue.


But the system is not yet fully set up. The office to issue points is not open. Meanwhile, consumers must keep their receipts. That has fed fears potential buyers may postpone buying a new TV until eco points are issued and until it is clear what they can be redeemed for. If so, that would achieve the direct opposite of the intended stimulus.
A government-backed catalog...sounds reassuring.

Will it be available in only dead tree format, printed on government presses? Will it have an internet version inaccessible to mobile phones? Will you not be able to, actually, order from this catalog?

I cannot wait to hear more about the program.

Will anyone be held accountable for the lack of preparation in the initiation of this new, purportedly stimulative, green initiative?

Are you kidding?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

This Time, Definitely, I Promise You

As Okumura Jun has reported, it's...

Norm Mineta, Ambassador to Japan

Al Gore, Ambassador to Japan

Jim Leech, Ambassador to Japan

Robert Orr, Ambassador to Japan

Joseph Nye, Ambassador to Japan

John Roos, Ambassador to Japan!

Meanwhile, over at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they are probably crankin' it up.

Later - Lest I be seen as being too mean to the Mainichi Shimbun, I note that The Asahi Shimbun also has a history it would want us to forget.

Even later - Of course the "I trust in nothing I read until I see it on the White House website" rule applies in this instance. Akira ni natta me once, shame on you...

Koga Makoto Tries Honesty

You have to give Koga Makoto, the Liberal Democratic Party's Elections Committee chairman, credit for being honest. When discussing the issue of voter turnout, should Prime Minister Asō Tarō go forward with a rumored dissolution of the Diet dissolution on July 28, followed by an election on August 9, Koga stated:

"A not terribly high turnout is desirable. It may have been said in the past that 'for the LDP, a high turnout, is all to the good.' But in recent years, [a high turnout] is rather frightening."
While the LDP talks about policies (Seikyoku yori seisaku - "Policies before political maneuvering" -- the phrase Prime Minister Asō trots out whenever the Democratic Party of Japan demands that he stop stalling and hold the election) it is, in the aggregate, a patronage organization. The party has seen to it that a favored fraction of the electorate is showered with benefits and contracts. In return, that favored fraction votes for the LDP.

This is a minority strategy, with a small group being bought off with the surpluses produced by the population at large. Perpetuating the dominion of a party whose acts benefits only a minority requires effort. The LDP has proven itself more than up to this task -- if not any of the other tasks associated with a modern political party.

The key to winning is to supercharge the votes of LDP clients while disenfranchising the average voter. This has been done on the grand scale through the perpetuation of House of Representative district boundaries that trample on the principle of voting equality. Rural districts, where a significant proportion of the voters are LDP clients, receive up to twice as many seats in the House of Representatives -- on a proportional basis -- as urban and suburban districts. In terms of representation, it is as if one quarter of the electorate has no vote at all (or, to look at it another way, as if one quarter of those holding district seats in the House of Representative do not actually represent anybody).

Disenfranchisement is done on the petty scale by a number of means -- my personal favorite being the old trick of paying citizens with the same names as the opposition candidates to run in an election -- thereby guaranteeing that some voters end up voting for the dummy candidate by mistake.

Scheduling elections at inconvenient times - times when most voters would likely be somewhere other than in their regular homes, ready to trudge on down to their local elementary or middle school on a Sunday and take part in the grand festival that is democracy -- is another favorite form of disenfranchisement. The scheduling of the House of Councillors elections in particular have to be viewed with great skepticism, with a suspiciously high percentage of those elections initially set for the first weekend after the children are let out for summer vacation.

Holding the House of Representatives election in the second week of August would be a trifecta: the children are out of school, the weather will be unbearably hot and it would be the beginning of the Obon traveling season, when a significant number of urban dwellers return to their ancestral family homes in the countryside. Voter turnout for a Sunday, August 9 election would be miserably low -- meaning that the votes of minority parties with fanatically high voting rates (the New Komeito) or with rural and patronage machines (the LDP) would end up with a higher percentage of the voting totals.

Thank you Koga Makoto. Thank you for confirming our worst fears about your party's willingness to put its own interests over those of the nation.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

So Wrong in So Many Ways

Coco Masters on what makes young women "swoon" (I am not making this up).

Fast Fashion

Tokyo's Harajuku district is where to find Japan's fashion-forward youth. Every weekend, sidewalks disappear under a frenzy of shoppers looking for new trends. The latest: fast-fashion retailing. During the Golden Week holiday in early May, typically a shopping extravaganza, Los Angeles–based chain Forever 21 debuted its flagship store in Japan. Harajuku girls lined up on five floors full of clothes, shoes and accessories in enough of a dizzying array to make any young woman swoon. It wasn't the first time the giants of cheap chic had stormed Tokyo. Last November about 2,500 shoppers jammed the very same sidewalk for the opening of Swedish H&M, the world's third largest casual-clothing retailer, located next door. And that was just one month after the launch of British retailer Topshop a few stores down.

This is the new Harajuku. The once superstylish district is rapidly transforming into an outdoor mall of the titans of casual clothing — H&M, Uniqlo, Topshop, Gap, Zara and now Forever 21 — all competing for wardrobe space within a few hundred meters of one another. Expensive Japanese boutique stores are receding to the backstreets...
Sidewalks? In Harajuku? Where?

What "expensive Japanese boutiques are receding to the backstreets"? Last time I looked (admitedly, it was in April) expensive boutiques were in Omotesandō, not Harajuku.

Is Forever 21 even in Uniqlo's league? Looking at the clothes the company is hawking in the United States, I find myself muttering the names of the now-forgotten eighth, ninth and tenth dwarves: Shoddy, Flimsy and Sleazy.

Not a good sign.

But when it comes to reporting on the fashion and apparel business, TIME is a brand name you can trust, right? Honestly, how could anyone ever forget this report?

Will someone at TIME please pay the underappreciated W. David Marx to take a sledgehammer to this pap?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

When Hatoyama Yukio Wins, We All...

Banyan, The Economist's brand new anonymous column, is right on the ball with the implications of the results of yesterday's election of Hatoyama Yukio as leader of the Democratic Party of Japan. The next election of the House of Representatives, a crucial one for the future of Japan, will be fought out in the main between two parties of largely similar policy programs. One of the parties is led by an immensely wealthy grandson of a former conservative party prime minister, and the other is led by an immensely wealthy grandson of a former conservative party prime minister. One of these princelings 's tongue frequently gets tied in knots when he is trying to explain himself and the corruption of his colleagues, while the other's tongue frequently gets tied in knots when he is trying to explain himself and the corruption of his colleagues.

This is what we are supposed to call "a choice."

Ozawa Ichirō successfully crammed Hatoyama's election down the throats of his party and the nation. As a result, we are all the poorer.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Unrepresentative Democracy - DPJ Style

Q: Where would an election of Okada Katsuya, the avatar of all that is clean and dull in Japanese politics, make a significant difference in the electability of Democratic Party of Japan candidates?

A: In the marginal constituencies--electoral districts which the DPJ lost in 2005 or where the Liberal Democratic Party has been on a longterm downward trend despite the efforts of the local LDP representative. The election of Okada over Hatoyama Yukio, who is perceived, fairly or not, to be the disgraced-in-the-eyes-of-the-media Ozawa Ichirō's dauphin, could claw back tens of thousands votes lost in the aftermath of the Ōkubo Toshinori arrest, and turn the district Democratic.

Q: So which districts will have zero (0) votes in Saturday's DPJ party president election?

A: Districts which do not have DPJ legislators representing them...which includes all the ones lost in 2005 and all the one which could conceivable go Democratic, given the right party leader.

Q: So districts where the identity of the leader of the DPJ could be significant are excluded from the process, whilst current--and one would assume solidly DPJ--districts where the identity of the party leader does not matter, get to choose?

A: Yes, that's right.

Q: But that's crazy! Giving a vote to party members who might not really care whilst denying it to those who probably putting the future of the party in the hands of persons with almost no personal stake in the outcome! Why did the party leadership council agree to this madness?

A: That would assume that someone other than Ozawa had thought through, step-by-step, the process of selecting a new leader ahead of time.

Q: Which is not something that Ozawa's challengers are likely to have done?

A: Unfortunately, no. And now they are reaping the consequences of their lack of planning for contingencies.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Next House of Representatives Election, In Brief

Welcome voters of This Blessed Land!

You have a decision to make.

Here are the alternatives:

A. Vote the Democratic Party of Japan and their allies into power...and you get either Hatoyama Yukio or Okada Katsuya as your prime minister.

B. Vote for the your local pol from the ruling coalition...and you get Asō Tarō as your prime minister, again.

Which strikes your fancy, A or B?

Oh, no, no, no! As much as you may want to, you do not get to choose your own ruling coalition PM, my hearties! This offer is take it or leave it!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Diet Dates (Now That Ozawa's Away)

Passage of the 15.4 trillion yen supplementary budget bill through the House of Representatives: May 13 (today)

When the supplementary budge bill will become law via the Article 60 budget override provision: June 12 (30 days later)

Date of the Tokyo Metropolitan District elections, the obsession of the New Komeitō: July 12

Date of the expiration of the term of the current House of Representatives: September 10

(Article 45 of the Constitution states that the term of a member of the House of Representatives shall be four years. The last House of Representatives election was held on September 11, 2005. )

Last day on which a House of Representatives election could be held: October 18

(The full 40 day maximum election period would extend to October 19. However, elections are always held on a Sunday.)

Question whose I do not the answer I do not know, though I wish I did, as it is becoming increasingly pertinent:

"While Article 54 of the Constitution mandates the maximum amount of time -- 40 days -- that can pass between a Diet dissolution and a House of Representatives election, what is the minimum amount of time, if such a statutory requirement exists?"

Time of the year when politicians do not want to be out campaigning due to furnace-like hot weather interrupted by occasional lighting storms: late July through August

Somewhere in all the above is a schedule for the runup to the House of Representatives election.

My best guess would have Francisco dissolving the Diet on Monday, August 31 with the election taking place on October 4.

Later - Thank you "Anonymous."

Note to self: avoid posting at insane hours of the night.

Even later - Okumura Jun provides the answer to my question in comments to his blog: the minimum number of days between the dissolution of a Diet and an election is twelve.

Now the bonus question: what law mandates the 12 day minimum?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Democrats Waste No Time

The race for the leadership position of the Democratic Party of Japan is on...and it will not be a long race at all. According to reports, the DPJ will somehow choose a new leader on Saturday.

The short election season favors the already organized, which in this instance means Okada Katsuya. Okada has been positioning himself as Ozawa Ichirō's most likely replacement for several weeks now. Hatoyama Yukio, Ozawa's ever-loyal explainer and defender, starts from near zero with a very steep slope to climb in a very short time.

How Vladimir Putin Contributes to Global Warming (Expurgated Version)

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is in town for nothing but photo opportunities, as the continuing occupation of the Northern Territories prevents discussions on serious topics of mutual interest.

Right wing nutbags with no obvious means of support, who style themselves patriots, outraged at Russian intransigence as regards the return of the Northern Territories, are screaming out what might be obscenities, I cannot tell, because all they do is yell through crappy loudspeaker systems, engaging in socially disruptive behavior that only vaguely resembles what an enlightened nation would consider protesting in front of the Russian Embassy.

As the sonic environment is transformed into a hellish replication of 1984-like Two Minute Hates, inspiring thoughts of weapons-based violent retribution some might find unpleasant, I must close the window and turn on the air conditioning.

On the Timing of Ozawa's Departure

Ozawa Ichirō's announcement of his intention to resign as party leader of the Democratic Party of Japan gave a huge jolt on Monday to a country still somewhat in a stupor from what seemed an eternal Golden Week holiday.

It was a hell of a way to begin the late spring political season.

Ozawa had to go, everybody knew that. Just when was the question. A not inconsiderable band of folks feel his long, drawn-out goodbye has damaged the DPJ's clean image beyond salvation, reducing to nil chances the DPJ may have had of toppling the ruling coalition in the next House of Representatives election.


By sticking around well past his expiration date, Ozawa did his party a huge favor: he focused all opprobrium upon himself. "As long as Ozawa is there, the DPJ cannot win," has a great flip side, namely, "now that Ozawa is gone, there is really no reason to vote for the ruling coalition."

Furthermore, by hanging on to the party presidency of the DPJ into May, Ozawa has fouled up the ruling coalition's legislative and electoral plans. Prime Minister Asō Tarō and his Liberal Democratic Party compadres hoped beyond hope that they would be conducting their final electoral push against a money scandal-tarnished DPJ, a hot, fiscally irresponsible supplementary budget in their hand. They delayed calling an election, delirious as the PM's and the LDP's popularity numbers crept up and the worsening macroeconomic numbers made the passage of the supplementary budget seem ever more imperative. With the only reason to not vote for the DPJ now safely out of the way, the LDP and New Komeitō leaders find themselves in a quandary over the sequencing of the supplementary budget bill's passage, the local elections in Tokyo and the constitutionally-mandated national House of Representatives election. There is simply no way of taking advantage of the currently higher poll numbers for the PM and the LDP; pass the supplementary budget; and give the New Komeitō the time it needs to lead its Tokyo election the way it likes to, which is to say without distractions.

A squeeze play is on...and it is not in the contest to choose a successor to Ozawa.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Would Ozawa Ichirō Resign to Get Out of a Debate?

Evidently, the answer to the above question is, "Yes."

Japan opposition leader to resign - media

TOKYO, May 11 - Japanese opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa has told his party he will resign, local media said on Monday, after an opinion poll showed a funding scandal involving a close aide was clouding his party's prospects in a looming election...

After putting all and sundry though all manner of rigamarole in order to arrange a true party leader debate on Friday, Ozawa suddenly discovers he is an electoral liability.

Oh well. This works out for the best, I guess. Sleepy Toad of Toad Hollow versus Francisco the Eternal Adolescent was not much of a drawing card, intellectual clash-wise. We will have to get our policy debate jollies from the Sunday shows instead.

As ever, Ozawa shakes up the body politic with his capricious sense of timing. He probably decided he has taken his principle stand far enough -- that nothing more was to be gained from continuing to claim to be the target of a Tokyo Public Prosecutor's Office vendetta. With Ozawa out as leader, the Democratic Party of Japan can recloak itself with the mantle of reform...and the ruling coalition, which had counted upon its new supplementary budget sailing through to passage on the Article 59 Express (only 30 days for a budget bill) will now have an opposition more capable of asking questions about the bill's more prominent tilts toward vote-buying.

Later - LDP Diet Committee Affairs Chairman Ōshima Tadamori remains adamant, insisting that while the party leader debate is postponed, the march toward passage of the supplementary budget bill continues.

A Palpably False Spring

Economic writers have been seeing green shoots of renewed growth in Japan, or at least a slight upward turn from the horrendous dive of the first quarter. The stock and commodities markets have climbed out from out of their abysses on the prospect of greater global demand. The government is still predicting horrible results for 2009 but is surely doing so in order to justify the passage of the new, really big stimulus bill. Setting expectations so low also allows the government to claim some credit for pursuing farsighted policies, should the final contraction numbers turn out to be less dire.

I must admit, I have been a skeptic as regards the wisdom of the new stimulus package -- both for the likelihood of it being a giveaway to important Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito constituencies and my own, idiosyncratic view of the Japanese economy.

However, no matter how big the stimulus package and the rises in the Tokyo and Osaka markets, the signs of renewal of this spring and the summer are on course for being derided at a future date as having been duplicitous harbingers of a revived world economy and trading system.

There is just no getting around this graph from the IMF's 2007 report on the threats to global financial stability (all credit, as usual, goes to Calculated Risk).

The world economy will not recover its former vitality until the global financial system is stabilized or possibly even super-stabilized. It taxes the imagination to think that such stability can be established under the onslaught of wave after wave of yet more bad debt washing out from the U.S. housing market as the option adjustable and Alt-A rate mortgages reset over the next three years.

At least that is the way it looks to me on this sunny morning.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Not the Agents of Change

What I think about when I think about the Six Party Talks: that the three countries at the table who spend the most time staring at one another -- Japan, China and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea -- all have been ruled by the same party for the last 54 years (pax the Hosokawa-Hata interregnum)-- and in each case the origins and durability of the ruling party in a particular country can be traced to the events in and actions of the other two countries.

Is there another trio of mutually-reinforcing party governments like unto the LDP, CCP and Workers' Party of Korea triple monopoly-on-power?