Monday, August 31, 2009
Despite being fully aware that his Liberal Democratic Party had fallen from power, Prime Minister Asō began going through the main points of his party's elections manifesto...and not just once, either. In interview after interview, he outlined how well-thought out the LDP's policy program is. He seemed incapable of processing the idea that his party's election promises were defunct, a subject for historians and non-fiction writers.
He was still in campaign mode -- in an scary semi-delusional way.
Francisco needs a rest. I hope they let him have one. He will go down in history as the man led the LDP into the political wilderness...and not just into the wilderness but into the wilderness with a kilo of buckshot in its backside. He will suffer greatly for this. For all his many faults, the least of which is an undisciplined tongue, Asō Tarō clearly loves his country, "warts and all" as the saying goes. I wish him well.
As for the night's other losers, I will probably miss only Kamei Hisaoki, the secretary-general of the People's New Party. Of all the politicians who appeared regularly on television, he alone always made sense, calling upon the better nature of his fellow politicians (a hopeless task) and his fellow citizens (a much easier row to hoe). I hope the networks will continue to have him comment on the day's affairs, so that we continue to hear the voice of one of the truly rare advocates of simple human decency.
As for the undeserving winners, well, there is small band of them -- and not all or even many of hail from within the LDP. Tsujimoto Kiyomi, a convicted felon who faked the existence of a secretary on her Diet accounts, won a district seat (OK, so it was in Osaka - proving there is no accounting for taste). No matter how many times I might have this result explained to me, I am certain I will not understand it.
As for another example of the happy underserving, well, I once heard it said that if Armageddon came, and destruction rained down upon the world, the last things to survive would be rats, cockroaches and Cher. I am fairly certain now that this formulation is incorrect. If Armageddon really comes, and destruction rains down upon the world, the last things to survive will be rats, cockroaches and Suzuki Muneo.
As for the question I asked the other day, the Wall Street Journal is saying that the DPJ leadership is going to ask former party leader Ozawa Ichirō to take charge of the party's 2010 House of Councillors campaign. It is going to be hard enough to keeps the hounds of the press -- many of whom have just lost their raison d'être as the lapdogs of a particular ruling party politician -- from continuously harrassing prime minister apparent Hatoyama Yukio over the fraudulent assignment of donor names to phoney donations to his political campaign fund. To have Ozawa in the Cabinet and the legal troubles of his closest aide clogging up the airwaves would be just too much for the new government to handle.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
From the archives -- posted on Saturday, January 10, 2009
Estimating the magnitude of the LDP DefeatMay would have been good for the LDP, had Francisco had the wherewithal to call the election then. The LDP's craven leaders followed their instincts rather than listen to my warnings.
Last night, a former member of the Defense Agency asked me when the next election will take place—the usual dinnertime game.
Following my usual awkward hemming and hawing (complete with a long stare at the ceiling) I offered up, "In May? After the budget and ancillary legislation have been passed?"
"I think the ruling coalition will wait until the very last second, in September," he said, smiling.
I must admit, a rational analysis would tend to favor such a conclusion--that the ruling coalition will hold out until the bitter end. The leaders, such as they may be, of the Liberal Democratic Party have little else to pin their hopes upon than world events turning in the ruling coalition's favor. Either that or the Democratic Party of Japan running out of money over the next nine months.
Neither of which is going to happen, of course—but politics is nine-tenths dreaming with your eyes open.
Nevertheless, I will stick with my prediction of May—on the premise that after the Budget and its enabling legislation are passed, the government will gurgle, turn belly up and die.
Prime Minister Asō Tarō’s administration is moribund. The Cabinet and LDP support levels, as measured in the public opinion polls, hover somewhere in between "execrable" and "risible." The government terrifies no one: not even the national broadcaster NHK feels compelled to give the Cabinet and the LDP a break.
What's more, the LDP has broken apart. Yes, only Watanabe Yoshimi has formally voted against the government and vowed to leave the party. However, the Cabinet nowadays cannot announce a single decision without a sizable number of the ruling party members denouncing the policy or the thinking behind it, usually in interviews held only seconds after the government press conference has ended. Former LDP Secretary-General Nakagawa Hidenao runs what is essentially a cancer in the LDP body politic—a mini-party with ideals and goals both contrary and inimical to the main body of the party. Other groups and individuals are heading off in their own directions—whether it be regionalism, hyper-patriotism, abject stupidity (an option in every political system blessed with a vibrant television industry), Barackism (He's so cool, he looks so good—he must know what he is doing. So let's do whatever he does!) or growth-spurt era nostalgia-mongering.To those who might argue that the LDP has survived great internal conflicts in the past, making the current fractiousness just one episode in a long train of upheavals, I would caution with this observation: the LDP has alienated all of its friends. During the party's past periods of factional and ideological turf wars Diet members could hack away at each other, secure in the knowledge that the local level LDP political machine would back up their national representatives, whatever had been going on at higher elevations.
Unfortunately, in its desperate shifts of emphasis and loyalties since its 1994 alliance with the Socialists, the party has managed to alienate itself from all of its former significant support groups. Its coalition with the
Sōka GakkaiNew Kōmeitō cut local party ties to the mainstream Lotus Sect groups (the Reiyūkai, the Rissho Kōseikai)--the party's source of cheap election workers. Trade liberalization weakened the ties with farmers. The privatization of the Post Office cut party ties with the hereditary post office managers while the Koizumi assault on the parasitic privileges of the rural areas detonated the rural district-LDP mutuality. Abe Shinzō's readmittance of the postal rebels and attempted coverup of the size of the pension number mess detonated Koizumi Jun'ichiro's carefully constructed image of the prime minister as the tribune of the people. Economic fumbling, past and present, has undermined the image of the party as the ally of business, big or small.
Who is left? Who now stands with the party? The fantabulist right—but their allegiance is to their "true conservative" champions and their myths about Meiji, not with any sort of plan for governing modern Japan. The new Kōmeitō—but as the two trillion yen giveaway crisis has demonstrated, the "Clean Government Party" is a problem, not a solution.
Since 1992 the LDP has been a tiger with its tail on fire, running at full speed to avoid being consumed by the flames.
It has run itself to exhaustion.
My guess is 130 seats in the House of Representatives. At best.
Then again, I was the one who wrote in 1999 that under no imaginable circumstances would Koizumi Jun'ichirō ever become prime minister.
Friday, August 28, 2009
After such a smashing performance in his day job, and with so much of the party's membership closer to him than to party leader Hatoyama Yukio, Ozawa could wreak havoc upon the unity of the DPJ. He needs something to keep him busy and out of the limelight, a task employing his considerable talents for mischief that nevertheless keeps him away from the post-election personnel assignment process.
Tobias Harris has repeatedly stated a belief that Ozawa needs to have a post in the new Cabinet. He believes that the Cabinet will lack credibility if Ozawa, the DPJ's big ideas man, is not a part of it. I appreciate the logic of this position. However, I join with the Tokyo Shimbun in guessing that having Ozawa in the Cabinet would be a huge distraction, for two reasons. First, Ozawa has so much more gray matter in between his ears than his colleagues and is so much more important to the DPJ rank and file that whatever ministerial post he landed in, that ministry would become the true power center of the government. Second, the Tokyo Public Prosecutors Office is determined to make good on its indictment of Ozawa's former political secretary. The trial of Okubo Takanori for campaign finance violations will inevitably draw attention as to what Ozawa knew when about the activities of his subordinate. Having reporters needling a sitting Cabinet member about his knowledge of alleged crimes committed by his former closest advisor would break the back of a DPJ government. It would be far better to quarantice Ozawa's problems within the DPJ, rather than have them haunt the new Cabinet during what will likely be a very difficult first few months of the Hatoyama Administration.
As the Tokyo Shimbun article notes, the DPJ does have an emergency outlet: the 2010 House of Councillors election. The DPJ would very much like to win an outright majority in the House of Councillors, replacing the coalition it has been forced to maintain with the Socialists, the Communists and the Japan New Party. Ozawa, the elections manager extraordinaire, should be free to wander the countryside for next 11 months as he did all these last few years, calling on voting groups and forging electoral alliances. Ozawa is an elections magician: having him do anything else but run a campaign is a waste of material.
Let us hope he himself sees the wisdom of his being reappointed to the position he currently holds.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
I am not sure the "Just-ignore-what-the-essay-says-it-is-only-meant-for-domestic-consumption-and-contains-a-lot-of-code-phrases-that can only be understood-in-the-context-of-Japanese-election-propaganda-and-in-Japan-nobody-believes-anything-printed-especially-when-the-author's-stringing-together-of-platitudinous-utterances-makes-him-sound-like-he-is-stoned" defense is going to work anymore. The damn thing is out of the box now, getting quoted and analyzed.
Later - Reader DS writes in with the report that Hatoyama's essay is only available online or in the newsprint version of the Internationl Herald Tribune. It was not printed in the paper version of The New York Times in the United States. I would feel somewhat relieved...except that the essay was earlier featured on the home page of The Huffington Post, where it attracted the adulation of the "when I hear the word 'globalization' I reach for my Browning" crowd.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
An article in today's Tokyo Shimbun pretty much lays that idea to rest.
Last minute sympathy switching did occur in the past, with voters shifting their support from the candidate in the lead position to underdogs in the last week of a contest. However, such switching was a characteristic of the era of medium-sized, multi-member districts where several candidates from a single party could win election. When it became clear that a certain candidate's vote totals were going to be far greater than necessary to win election in a district, the party (most frequently the LDP) would encourage a segment of that candidate's voting bloc to suddenly feel sorry for another candidate in the district, a member of the party who was failing to attract the votes necessary to win election. One could not really say that such sympathy voting was the result of an autonomous welling up of deep human feeling. Instead, it looked very much like a cold, calculated and frequently filthy dirty bit of vote trading undertaken in order to maximize the number of a party's (again, frequently the LDP's) candidates winning election to the Diet from a particular district.
[For an example of where sympathy voting could get you, see the life story of former Prime Minister Obuchi Keizō.]
With the advent of the single member districts, however, sympathy voting as an institution came to an end. With only one member from any party eligible for a district seat, there is no opportunity to help out the like-minded but downtrodden candidates. Sympathy voting would have to be a private affair - a decision by the individual voter to vote for a candidate who is behind in the polls because he or she is behind in the polls.
A somewhat peculiar reason to vote for a candidate -- "I will vote for you because you are losing" -- but not impossible.
Under the current system, with each person holding two votes -- one for the district candidate and one for the proportional bloc seat -- it is possible to show sympathy by splitting one's votes. One can vote for candidate of one party in the district election and then turn around and reward another party with one's proportional vote. Voters could, in theory, give one of their proportional vote to the DPJ, then turn around and out of sympathy for the local Dietman's many years of service to the area, give the district vote to the LDP.
In practice, however, it turns out that voters are not only not sympathetic, they are merciless and vindictive. Rather than feel a surge of sympathy for hardpressed candidates, vacillating voters have moved en masse during the last week toward the winning candidate and party. In both the 2005 House of Representatives election and the 2007 House of Councillors, the public opinion polls taken one week prior to election day underestimated the numbers of seats and votes of the eventual winning party was to receive. Voters, rather than seeking to reverse trends, seemed to have instead checked to see which way the political winds were blowing, then gone with the more powerful side.
Which, to put it mildly, does not bode well for the LDP and its candidates.
We have a nominee! In the category of the all-Japan, no wait, all-world, all-time "Article Title Demonstrating the Least Grasp of Historical Context and Irony" the nominee is...The Financial Times, for what seems to be a classic howler:
Mure Dickie has an explanation, however:
Kaoru Yosano, Japanese finance minister, on Tuesday highlighted growing desperation in the ruling Liberal Democratic party by claiming a looming landslide victory for the opposition Democratic party of Japan in Sunday's general election could lead to "one-party dictatorship".Yes, because we all remember Yosano's standing atop that tank, demanding the Koizumi Jun'ichirō negate the results of the 2005 House of Representatives election (that, among other things, gave Yosano Kaoru his seat back) giving the LDP and its coalition partner the New Kōmeitō not just control of both houses of the Diet but a two thirds supermajority in the House of Representatives, making it possible for the ruling coalition to pass any legislation it wanted to through the Article 59 override provision. Yes, I remember Yosano's demanding that Koizumi invalidate the election, or at least limit the number of seats held by the LDP, out of his fears of the possibility of an emerging dictatorship.
Mr Yosano’s choice of words raised immediate eyebrows, given the DPJ’s impeccably democratic credentials and the fact that the LDP itself has ruled Japan for all but 11 months of the past 53 years, much of it in the absence of any credible opposition.
But the finance minister’s stark warning reflects increasingly frantic efforts by LDP heavyweights to rally the party’s campaign troops amid a steady release of opinion polls that suggest the DPJ could take as many as 300 seats in the Diet’s 480-seat lower house.
Hilarious they are, these final days.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
When we arrived at the top of the hillock where the shrine stands, however, we were dismayed to find the main hall gutted, with only the roof left standing upon the main pillars. With everything blackened, it looked as though the building had been lost to fire (it was later that we realized that the blackening was from the application of black lacquer to the building, not the touch of flames).
It was a sorry scene.
The Lawyer then made the discovery.
"Hey, look who is doing the repair work!"
And there, on the side left side barrier, was a banner with the corporate motto and the name of the company in charge of the project.
"From the Asuka to The Future...Kongō Gumi"
Yes, far from the home base in the Kansai, was everyone's favorite immigrant success story --the company founded by one of three Korean woodworkers who accepted the A.D. 578 invitation of Shōtoku Taishi to set up shop in the rough wilderness of the Yamato kingdom, which hung on to complete of the Shitennōji in Osaka in 593, then won the contract for the Horyūji. Though Kongō Gumi is no longer an independent corporation, having accepted absorption into Takamatsu Construction Group, its employees are still at work 1400 years after the founding in the company's special niche of temple construction and reconstruction.
That's a very long time to be alive and kicking.
The immense age of the Kongō Gumi and the depth of experience ingrained into its workforce got me to thinking about the incoming cohort in the House of Representatives. If current projections hold, a wave of Democratic Party of Japan newcomers is set to sweep in and fill the seats, both single member district and proportional. Many of these newbies will find themselves conscrispted into filling appointed positions at the ministries, positions for which they may have not been prepared.
A post-August 30 DPJ government will not just be lacking in parliamentary and bureaucracy-management experience, though; it will be young -- comprised of members of an age group that has been largely absent from power positions in the government for these past few decades. Many a stereotypical sixtyish or older overstuffed Liberal Democratic Party placeholder is about to be replaced by decidedly more svelte, fortyish or younger, often female, DPJ professional, with significant experience outside of politics or government service. A DPJ victory will thus bring a revolution in terms of the kinds of persons serving in the House of Representatives, no matter what the policy platform of the party might be.
Which is a somewhat amusing development at a time when the country as a whole is getting older, fast. The most representative branch of government is on course to grow younger, possibly by more than 5 years on average, belying the assertion that everything in this fair land is hell-bent for decay, stasis and dissolution.
One can still find vim and vigor in this old, old land, it seems.
Oh, it's Coco Masters and Hannah Beech. Together.
Never let a preconceived notion or a naked prejudice remain unpublished, I always say.
Seriously, is trumpeting elements of an alienated youth culture at a time when the society at large is embracing change not a kind of intellectual crime? "Yes, a revolution is set to happen on the national scale but block all that out of your mind. These supercool young persons are the real drivers of societal change. Their actions and thoughts affect, oh, dozens of their fellow citizens at any one time!"
Meanwhile, Tobias Harris has ventured where angels fear to tread, into the mind of presumptive prime minister Hatoyama Yukio, via the article Hatoyama published in Voice.
Monday, August 24, 2009
As Harris notes, the DPJ's new generation displays a remarkable consistency of professed views, with the promises elucidated in the DPJ manifesto serving as both the center and substructure of the DPJ candidate campaigns. The DPJ's new generation are, at least externally, a legion of true believers, schooled in recalling and toeing the party line. If, as projections have it, many of these DPJ new faces win in their single member districts and the DPJ significantly outpolls the Liberal Democratic Party in the proportional vote, then the next House of Representatives will be crowded with ideology-driven activists and party line followers.
Party discipline and a commitment to change would be no bad thing (especially after the sorry faithlessness of the last House of Representatives) were the DPJ's policy program remotely feasible, budget-wise. That it is not, and that the public actually does not believe much of it to be feasible, means that the DPJ's Diet members are on track to get way ahead of the public on many issues, enacting legislation the public finds of dubious value and little importance.
If the DPJ leadership is smart (and there a certainly those in the DPJ leadership who are not stupid) it would have the focus of activity during the extraordinary session this fall and the regular session that starts in January on the seizure of control of the compilation of the national budget from the Ministry of Finance. Asserting political control over the nation's spending priorities will be a immense achievement, one the party can point to as a salient achievement in the run up to the House of Councillors elections in July next year.
However, with so many diehard party faithful filling the front rows of the House of Representatives chambers, the DPJ leadership will likely find it itself battling a an outbreak of chasing after a myriad little priorities at once. The problem with "Wow, we have a majority so big we can pass anything we want!" is that it tends to incite legislators to indeed try to pass anything they want, rather than focus on ongoing, long-term issues.
If you want to know how that story ends, just ask former Prime Minister Abe Shinzō.
Choosing her would at once
- send a signal to the world that Japan has really changed, accepting not just a woman as the government's chief spokesperson and gatekeeper but a person of Taiwanese descent for those roles
- place in the position of Chief Cabinet Secretary someone who knows something about how to talk to the press and the public (Kawamura Takeo has been the worst government spokesman since...heck, I cannot even remember when)
- place at the Prime Minister Hatoyama's shoulder someone who is self-confident enough to grab him by the arm, guide him into a side room and chew him out for having said something something dumb -- which he will do, inevitably -- then walk out and deliver to the waiting cameras and microphones the clarification of the Prime Minister's
Tough as shoe leather she is...and whippet smart.
T'is a pity t'is but a dream.
This momentary reverie courtesy of this.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Tobias Harris is right: there is no discontinuity between what happened in 2005 and what is happening now. What the independent voters did in 2005 was vote for the Koizumi Liberal Democratic Party, which is to say The Anti-LDP, at least as it was explained to them by the Celebrated Mr. K himself. The postal rebels, the ones who opposed his precious privatization of the post office, they were The Old LDP that had to be destroyed. The Democrats? Under the sober Okada Katsuya the DJP made a lot of the same noises the LDP is making today, whining on and on about "But how are you going to pay for these promises, down the road?" Back in 2005, when asked about when they would be raising the consumption tax, Prime Minister Koizumi and his economic advisors would say, "What for? To kill current growth? We'll talk about raising taxes when a clear economic growth path is established. Until then we will just concentrate on balancing the budget through budget cuts" -- which is pretty much the line the DPJ is peddling now.
The numbers to keep in mind: 8 and 83. "8" as in, according the Asahi Shimbun poll of August 15-16, the percentage of voters who trust that the LDP will follow through on its campaign promises. Then again, 8 is the number in percent of the respondents who trust the DPJ will follow through on its promises. As for those the percentage who believe that the DPJ will not likely fulfill its promises, or the percentage who believe that the LDP is not likely to fulfill its promises -- guess what, the number for both parties is again identical: 83.
This election is not about manifestoes and the believability of promises. Exactly the same miniscule fraction of the population (8%) believe both the LDP and the DPJ's manifestoes likely unfeasible. The same whopping majority (83%) believe that the two parties are unlikely to keep their campaign promises - that they are, indeed, lying.
So what we to have here is a sophisticated electorate making its choices based not on its ability to be duped by transparent pandering but instead on the cold hard realization that the LDP, the duplicitous, smarmy, self-serving LDP that reemerged post-Koizumi, the party that has ruled the country almost without interruption since 1955, has run the Japanese economy and pretty much everything else within the country's confines into a ditch.
It does not matter that the promises of the opposition are unbelievable: that a party is not the LDP is reason enough to vote for that party--with one notable exception.
And I cannot find fault in such reasoning.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
For a candidate who is double-listed as both a district candidate and a proportional bloc seat candidate, he or she can win a proportional bloc seat if and only if he or she garners at least 10% of the valid votes (spoiled ballots do not count) in the district contest.Could there possibly be a more transparent "I hate Socialists and Communists so let us really mess them up by making it too risky for their most promising candidates to run for district seats because to do so would risk their eligibility in the proportional election" rule? Not that the Democratic Party of Japan would complain, of course. Such a rule would be a goad to the Communists in particular to stop running candidates in the districts, splitting the progressive vote and by so doing being the facilitators of continued Liberal Democratic Party dominance.
Verily, I hope the LDP has been inviting the Communists to their end-of-the-year bashes these past few years out of gratitude for the part the Communists have played in keeping Japan a one party state - even though it was not the one party the membership of the JCP intended. Maybe after both the LDP and the Communists get thrashed on August 30, they will meet up at some hotel to commiserate and reminisce how each helped perpetuate the other in "the good old days."
Bad Christian Science Monitor, bad, bad, bad! Did you not notice that even after abridging the Voice article, what remained still had all the heft of eider down?
By contrast, Kambashi Takehiko's article from the same publication artfully arranges quotes from academics to capture/confabulate (choose your favorite - cynics, yours is on the right side) the prevailing zeitgeist.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
1) For a candidate who is double-listed as both a district candidate and a proportional bloc seat candidate, he or she can win a proportional bloc seat if and only if he or she garners at least 10% of the valid votes (spoiled ballots do not count) in the district contest.But wait, for that second one, is it a relative loss or an absolute loss -- i.e., how narrowly the candidate lost in terms of the percentage of the total valid votes or just the number of votes that separate the losing candidate from the eventual winner?
2) For candidates who are double-listed as both district candidates and proportional bloc seat candidates and who hold the same rank on the proportional list (the incumbent 23 LDP Tokyo district seat holders are all ranked #1 on the LDP's Tokyo proportional list, for example) those who fail to win district seats will be awarded proportional seats on the basis of how narrowly they lost to the eventual winner in the district election they contested.
Take that, New York Times!
[Actually, the NYT did the right thing and gave some less easily enraptured individuals, i.e., academics, a chance to offer their views of the kyabagjō phenomenon. May they should bring in a theater critic too.]
For the sake of comparison, here are the graphs of the same data for the United States and, in Herr Morén's honor, Sweden, over the same time span as the above graph for Japan.
First, the United StatesSources: U.S. Census Bureau, CDC
Source: Statistics Sweden
Looking at the data, there is the obvious difference that the number of persons dying in Japan is increasing at a steady pace -- with bizarre accelerations and decelerations along the way--while the annual number of deaths in the United States is growing only moderately and Sweden's numbers are falling. Looking at the moves in the Japanese data--the first derivative--in comparison with the shifts in the same data for the U.S. and Sweden, I still feel a sense of extraordinary unease at number of jumps of over 3% year-to-year.
Anyone else care to offer his or her opinion about what, if anything, is going on?
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Give me one reason to stay here
And Ill turn right back around
Give me one reason to stay here
And Ill turn right back around
Because I don't want leave you lonely
But you got to make me change my mind...
- Tracy Chapman
With all apologies to Ms. Chapman, the Liberal Democratic Party had their shot -- and they failed to convince.
The Asahi Shimbun managed to kick out a new public opinion poll on the eve of the official campaign period. The result of the poll: the Democratic Party of Japan is stomping the LDP, two-to-one. This is true for both the district and proportional candidacies.
"If the election were held today, to which party will you give your vote to in the proportional voting?"
New Komeitō 4%
Japan Communist Party 5%
Socialist Party 2%
Japan New Party 1%
"Which party's candidate will you be voting for in the district elections?"
New Komeitō 2%
Japan Communist Party 3%
Socialist Party 1%
Japan New Party 0%
Other Party/ Independent 3%
What is most significant about these two sets of results is not just their parallelism -- though this provides strong evidence that party affiliation, not the identity of the candidate, will likely spell the difference between defeat and victory for many a district candidate on August 30.
What is stunning is the relative stability in the public's views of the parties over time.
The public decided in February that it had had enough of the LDP. After a brief March-to-May swoon resulting from the arrest of DPJ leader Ozawa Ichirō's personal secretary for improperly accepting corporate political donations, the public displeasure with the ruling party returned in June and has not wavered since.
The ruling coalition's desperate attempts to portray the Democratic Party as the party of irresponsible profligacy and truancy, a task that has been keeping New Komeitō leader Ōta Akihiro at the microphones in a scold mode, has not budged public opinion one meter in over two months.
It is really, truly over.
The public senses that it can and will change the course of the country's history. The Diet's balance of power is not predetermined by apportionment; the LDP's organizational vote is not unified and indomitable.
The public can hear the LDP's death gasps in the wind.
And for many the entire point of voting on August 30 will be just to feel the thrill of making history happen.
A quivering Yosano Kaoru's having to be carried away by a group of supporters on the very first day of the formal campaign for the House of Representatives election would not have to be the talk of the town -- though only 70, he has had a history of serious health problems, including a bout with cancer -- only, it that it was not such a hot day in Tokyo today, at least not in terms of Augusts past...and Yosano has been the actual prime minister of Japan since around April, whatever Asō Francisco Tarō might say or think.
In a better world, after the heroic efforts Yosano put in this year and his poor health, he would be allowed to retire with dignity to his Go, photography, astronomy and golf. Twelve Liberal Democratic Party Representatives aged 70 or more are hanging up their cleats this year, as is 67 year-old former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō, the man whose landslide swept Yosano back into his old Tokyo District #1 seat. With the utter collapse in the popularity and power of the LDP inside Tokyo, Yosano faces a huge uphill slog to keep the Democratic Party's Kaieda Banri from reclaiming the seat he lost in 2005.
The LDP's pathetic hopes are not worth such sacrifice.
Monday, August 17, 2009
So much for plans for winning a decoration for a patriotic expansion of Japanese vegetable and fruit production -- with the low caloric values of that which can be grown in this Blessed Land's upland fields and orchards, even wildly successful efforts to increase production would scarcely earn a smidgen of statistical recognition.
The further claim - that poultry or cattle raised on imported feed do not count as domestic food production -- is simply stunning. I guess use of land and labor in Japan are just giveaways, at least as far as calculations of domestic production of milk, eggs and meat are concerned.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
From the collection in the Prinzresidenz, Munich, Germany
I was sitting in the breakfast room of the medium-sized, pension-type hotel last week, at the end of a brief trip. I sat facing the wall, taking in the pink tablecloth, the cream jug, the glass and silverware and the array of traditional fare—poppy seed dusted rolls, prosciutto, wurst, big clots of butter, a welter of cheeses, a slice of watermelon—on the plain white plates before me. A hubbub of voices bubbled up from tables nearby – German, of course, but also French, Italian, Russian, English...
I closed my eyes for a while and focused on just the sounds, smells, flavors and textures, listening to the various streams of words swirling around me (the room was small and the tables close together). "If I had come here a century ago," I thought, "and checked into a hotel, this pretty much how it would have been. Some things would be different, of course, details--the cutlery would have been silver plate rather than stainless steel; there would be no kiwi fruit on the top level of the fruit display--but most of the experience would have been just the same. What is going on around me now would be much the same as what a person staying in a Munich hotel a century ago would have been experiencing."
Writ in miniature, this is the European elite's project: a quick skip from the 19th century to the 21st, a collective wishing-away of the 20th Century, a game of "Let's pretend we're civilized...and always have been."
Who would want to remember the Continent's having been swept up and mowed down by two World Wars, then sliced in two by an ideological Cold War? Oh a few persons, like those working for the company that advertises a "Third Reich Tour" featuring visits to Dachau and other major landmarks of Nazi rule in the greater Munich area (on the positive side, the company gives out free maps of the Munich city center which are really very useful). Most of the rest of humanity would probably prefer to collaborate in a restart from almost exactly a century ago, before Gavrilo Princip turned the Balkan Wars into Europe's self-immolation. Why not pretend a smooth transition from one globalizing world to the current one, where sturdy burghers from Bremen and contessas from St. Petersburg breakfast alongside school teachers from England and medical students from Denmark and the Far East? A little world of small freedoms and tiny revolutions, where learning and trade are married with civility, ordinary justice and a decent respect for the profit motive. Who would not want to be in Europe, then and now?
The European elite project is in crisis, of course, struggling against the accusation of being little more than a mirage. The reverie experienced inside the bustling breakfast room of my hotel becomes more complex and uncertain out in the gritty streets around the Hopbahnhof, where European imperialism's retreat and a peculiar conception of a "guest worker" have resulted in visibly Muslim immigrants establishing themselves in the heart of Europe's cities, confronting governments trying to make good on the promise of the Enlightenment with some of the most uncompromising, obscurantist and misogynist branches of the Abrahamic tree.
[Mark me down as a pessimist: I cannot see how the project of professed tolerance for all forms of thought can live alongside the medieval certitude and self-isolation of many lineages of The Faithful. Each seemingly insults the other with its mere existence. ]
Which set me to thinking about Japan being an outlier in terms of nostalgia. Unlike the Europeans, who would prefer to elide away the 20th Century, or the Chinese, who seem determined to make the world forget their country's weakness in the 19th and 20th Centuries, the residents of This Blessed Land (at least those in a particular set of age cohorts) get all misty-eyed when they think about the 20th Century. It was during the 20th Century that Japan made its two great ascents to the top ranks of world powers: the first time as a military-imperial force, the second time as manufacturing-trading behemoth. Rather than being a blot of shame or source of some perspective, the 20th Century is a period of history in which Japanese can glory -- a small, fantabulist minority for the militarist pre-war state, a far greater number for the determined, non-threatening economic power that yanked the populace up out of the penury and thrust Japan back into relevance.
[Yes, that the Americans also take pride in what their nation achieved in the 20th century, and that this is a point of commonality between the Japanese and the Americans, is not lost upon me.]
Hence the dissonance and miscommunication when Europeans and Japanese try to talk to one another about the past -- and by extension, their futures -- despite all their ostensible points in common. All other things being equal, the Europeans would rather want to forget about the 20th Century and the many divisions of Europe that occurred within it. The Japanese (again, of a certain age) want to do nothing else but maunder on and on about how great things were in the 20th Century -- the unscrupulous and vile minority arguing how fascism and imperialism were really not all that bad, and a much larger, dewy-eyed group sighing at how conflict-free, clear, simple and unified everything was during the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
Hearing either of these interpretations of the events of the 20th Century, and lamentations over that century's greatness as compared to the current, decadent age, Europeans elites could hardly be blamed for thinking they are talking to beings from another planet.
Photo credit: MTC
Friday, August 14, 2009
Just then, from the stage, the invited speaker tells the assembled:
"You know, it isn't that bad to be in the opposition every once in a while."Normally for the assembled, pummeled by bad poll numbers and constant negative messages in the press, such a realistic assessment would be last thing they would want to hear.
"Over the past 50 years, nearly without interruption, the LDP has been in charge of the government. However, in democratic societies, this situation has been an exception among exceptions. In places where there are free and fair elections, a transfer of power from one party to another is presumed."
However, learning to live with defeat is exactly what former prime minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō counseled prospective Kanagawa Prefecture LDP candidates to do last Thursday. And interestingly, according to an article in the evening edition of the Tokyo Shimbun yesterday many of the candidates in the running agree with him.
Matsumoto Jun, the LDP candidate for the Kanagawa #1 district (Yokohama) is quoted as saying:
"If you assess the situation dispassionately, there is the possibility of falling into the minority, sure. What I am hearing in his words of encouragement are `You must act with firmness' in good times and bad, rising up above the roiling waves."More interestingly, Sakurai Ikuzō, the LDP candidate in Kanazawa #12 (Fujisawa City) is quoted as saying:
"Koizumi-san and I feel the same way. Since we have a two party system a change in governments (seiken kōtai) is assumed. Job #1 for me is getting myself elected. My getting myself elected is my contribution to the party."Sakurai's quote highlights the disciplinary problems the LDP may face post-election, even if the party's candidates do better in the district elections than current media reporting suggests. All the public opinion polls suggest that the major factor spelling the difference between victory and defeat for the Democratic Party of Japan candidates is voters voting for the party, not the person. In the most recent Tokyo Metropolitan District elections, unknown DPJ newcomers in their thirties and twenties buried long-serving LDP incumbents. By contrast, nearly every single LDP candidate who wins a seat on August 30 will be doing so in spite of his or her party affiliation. While the tendency of voting for the individual, not the party, has long been a characteristic of LDP politics and Japanese politics in general, this time, active disassociation from the party will be the determining or perhaps sole factor spelling the difference between defeat or failure for many contesting for seats under the LDP banner.
Which begs the questions of what kind of party organization one can hope have or party loyalty one can hope to enforce post-election when the victorious Diet seat holders are being selected based how little the voters cared about the candidate's party affiliation. I can imagine the awkward one-on-one meeting, post-August 30:
"Yes, Francisco, I survived, no thanks to you or the rest of the party, thank you very much. I had to work my tail off trying to cover up my own party affiliation. No, as a consequence, I am not going to do as I am told. That goes for whatever you, the General Council or even the head of my faction says. In fact, since I had to run against the headwinds all of you created, I suggest you should all take a long walk off a short pier."As for the chances that an LDP candidate will be able to survive just on his or her personality and reputation, the odds are not looking too great, in the aggregate. As noted in my post on the FNN-Sankei Shimbun public opinion poll, about 32% of the voters intend to base their choice in the district election on the identity of the candidate...not bad...except that 50% say they will make their choice based on party affiliation.
Now some of those in the 50% voting for a candidate based upon party affiliation are LDP true believers. Furthermore in certain, over-represented regions -- the Chūgoku, the Hokuriku-Shin'etsu -- a majority of voters may be voting for the person rather than the party, meaning that the LDP can be miserably unpopular and still expect its candidates to win a significant number of district seats.
Nevertheless, those LDP candidates who do win a district seat will truly own it. They will owe nothing to the LDP. Indeed the LDP will owe them.
Given that reality -- that the district seat holders will, like Sakurai says above, fulfill their obligations to the party merely through the act of getting elected -- what are the chances of the LDP holding together, post-election, especially if the DPJ and its partners win control of the government?
Thursday, August 13, 2009
So I looked back in time to see if there were any other anomalies.
The columns are the number of deaths recorded in family registries, according to the annual survey conducted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. The red line is the year by year growth in the number of deaths, in percent.
All I can say is whatever it is that the family registeries statistics are registering -- it sure ain't likely to be the actual number of deaths in any given year.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Some of the main points of the survey:
- the total population of citizens managed to grow last year, if only a by a paltry 10,005 individuals (0.01%). A look at the population pyramid would predict a birth boomlet of women in their thirties having children (Tried to get your little one enrolled a childcare facility in Setagaya Ward lately?) right now, which seemingly has put the brakes on overall population decline (in the mid-term: care to bet that the global economic crisis will cause the population dip in 2010, as it did in 2006 and 2007?).
- In a bit of statistical variability weirdness, the number of citizens dying in the year to March 31, 2009 increased by only 0.8% over the previous year, this after having grown by over 4% a year before.
- 50.37% of the population live in the greater metropolitan areas of just three urban centers: Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka-Kyoto. This is up from 50.2% last year.
- Tokyo is still the population growth leader, growing by 0.69% over the year. It is followed by Kanagawa (0.57%) and Chiba (0.55%), the only other prefectures growing by more than 0.5% last year. Saitama, Aichi, Shiga, Hyogo, Osaka, Fukuoka and Okinawa also grew. All 37 other prefectures lost population, with the cold prefectures of Akita (-1.07%) and Aomori (-0.93%) leading the way down. Though on the positive list this year, the prime minister's home prefecture of Fukuoka (0.02%) is poised to fall into the deficit column soon, as are Hyogo (0.07%) and Osaka (0.07%). Easy-going Okinawa continued to be the runaway leader in natural growth (births over deaths) by a country kilometer (0.52%) but sank into second rank in the growth charts due to people leaving the prefecture to find work. Tokyo remains the national vampire, sucking in population from elsewhere: 90% of its population growth resulted from persons moving into the prefecture, rather than from natural growth.
With the new population figures out, the newspaper boys and girls quickly whipped out their spreadsheets and maps to calculate once again the least-represented and most over-represented electoral districts in the land, and size of the deviation from the principle of one person / one vote.
The winner, which is to say the loser this election cycle is Chiba District #4, the city of Funabashi, where the Yomiuri Shimbun says 2.337 voters will have to pool their votes in order to equal the power of just one voter in Kochi District #3.
Other place with exceptionally bad ratios are
2) Hyogo District #6 (Takarazuka City et al) = 2.302
3) Kanagawa District #10 (Kawasaki City) = 2.282
4) Shizuoka #% (Mishima City et al) = 2.243
5) Aichi #12 (Okazaki City et al) = 2.230
Indeed, the voter strength ratio is greater than 2.0 in 56 of the 300 electoral districts that will be choosing representatives in a little over two weeks' time -- meaning that in terms of the power to send representatives to the Diet, 56 districts are inhabited by half-persons or less than half-persons -- if you define a full person as being one of the happy residents of sunny Kochi District #3.
I have repeated it ad nauseum: the first order of business for a Democratic Party of Japan government will be reapportionment. The "differences in the value of a single vote" (ippyō kakusa) lies at the root of all of Japan's troubles. Over-representation of the rural areas--and the Liberal Democratic Party's necessary feeding of its clients living and voting therein--have shackled the nation with policies that send resources to where the citizens are not, scarred much of the countryside's natural beauty, smothered evaluation of the government's performance and burdened the nation with debts of astronomical proportions. Without one-person-one-vote representation in at least one of the Houses of the Diet, democratic elections, however well-managed and fairly conducted, are unlikely to deliver outcomes benefiting a majority. I am fairly sure also that a failure to reapportion leaves the country without a hope of ever pulling out of its downward spiral.
Failing to reapportion according to one-person-one-vote also leaves the door open for LDP to come back to power. Perhaps this final possibility will push the DPJ into betraying, post-election, the very same rural and machine voters it has worked so hard to win over to its side.
The electorate guesses that the DPJ cannot deliver on its numerous promises -- that the members of the DPJ are, in the aggregate, lying.
On the other hand, the electorate knows without a shred of a doubt that the LDP will not deliver on its promises, and that its members are lying.
Sometimes, it is good to be the subject of doubt due to a lack of hard information.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
The FNN-Sankei poll is massive, providing a complex view of the psychology of the electorate just 20 days prior to the election. You can learn, for example, that a only 9.7% of those polled find the leadership of Prime Minister Asō Tarō to be worth a damn, while a murderous 85.9% find his leadership without merit*. This would seem to presage disaster for the Liberal Democratic Party were it not for the finding in another part of the poll that only 4.9% of those polled intend to use the identity of the party leader as a guide when they vote for their district representative.
(The factors more likely to guide the voter's choice of district representatives? "The party's policies" with 49.7% and "the identity of the candidate himself/herself" with 31.9%.)
"Whew!" the LDP candidate might say. "At least the party's having stuck with Asō is not going to kill me."
Actually, that is probably not true. The poll indicates the LDP probably blew it when it failed to dump Asō after the Tokyo Metropolitan elections. The man at the time identified as Asō's most likely successor -- Health, Labour and Welfare and Minister Masuzoe Yōichi -- is pulling away from the pack in the race for "the person best suited to be the next prime minister."** Masuzoe (16.9%)is well ahead of Hatoyama Yukio (12.8%) despite the lead Hatoyama's party holds in the general support ratings. Of course, some of what might have been Hatoyama's support is probably being bled off by Okada Katsuya (10.8%) the man Hatoyama beat in the closed Democratic Party leadership election in May.
It is a measure of the LDP's and Japan's dearth of leadership that retiring former prime minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō still hangs on in fourth place with 7.8% support, ahead of Ishihara Nobuteru (5.0%) the man who led the Tokyo LDP to its thundering defeat in July and Prime Minister Asō, who slithers in sixth place (4.1%).
Questions on the images the populace has of the parties offer some interesting perspectives also on the potential effectiveness of certain campaign slogans and media strategies. Probably of greatest concern to the LDP is the finding that despite multiple snide references to the accounting troubles at Hatoyama Yukio's political funds office and the very public arrest of the former party leader Ozawa Ichirō's political secretary for the acceptance of illegal donations, the DPJ is still seen as the cleanest party (18.0%) of the bunch, ahead of even the dour and sober Communists (16.4%). Painting the DPJ as the party of corruption has simply not worked out for the LDP, which has managed to convince only 6.3% of those polled that the LDP is the "clean" party.
Better foci for the LDP's energies might be to continue pounding away at the DPJ for being untested, vacillating and vapid. The LDP still prevails when compared to the DPJ on the basis of "possessing experienced/qualified personnel" (30.2% to 24.9%) and "reliability" (27.6% to 26.5%) though the difference between the perceptions of the parties in the latter case is close to nil.
As for trying to appeal to the voters with positive messages, such as projections of warmth, likability and growth potential, the LDP had best give up now, as the gap in the perceptions of
which party you feel a personal closeness to
LDP = 24.3%
DPJ = 38.0%
which party has the better policies
LDP = 19.3%
DPJ = 31.1%
and which party has a likable leader
LDP = 15.6%
DPJ = 26.6%
There is a lot more of value in the survey, such as the seeming hopelessness of the LDP's plans to rely on fear of the DPRK or China as a wedge issue, as only 2.4% of those polled thought "the DPRK problem and other security issues" the main issue the election should be fought over.
[What came out ahead of "the DPRK problem and other security issues"?
Medical programs and pensions = 30.8%
Economic countermeasures to the current slump = 20.1%
The possibility of change in ruling parties = 15.0%
Child rearing and education issues = 10.7%
Fiscal issues, including the consumption tax = 6.6%
The ability to carry out policies = 6.1%
Administrative reform = 4.1%
Agricultural policies = 2.9%
In other words, practically everything else. The only response getting a lower response rating than "the DPRK problem and other security issues" was "I don't know" with 0.5%.]
As duty calls, I will cut short my pontificating to correct one error in Harris' post. He states:
The reason, however, for not reading too much into these polls is that they simply say nothing about the DPJ's support in particular areas of the country where it needs to do well (Kyushu, Shikoku, Chugoku, etc.). Is DPJ support in those areas consistent with the national figures?In fact, the article on the FNN-Sankei poll printed on the front page of today's Sankei Shimbun does answer this question -- and the answer is terrible news for the LDP. In every one of the 11 regional blocs with the exception of the Chūgoku Region (Hiroshima, Okayama, Shimane, Tottori and Yamaguchi Prefectures) the DPJ is polling ahead of the LDP. The biggest gap is in the economically distressed Shikoku region (6 seats) where the DPJ (56.3%) is pounding the LDP into the dirt (15.6%). In the Kinki bloc (29 seats) the richest bloc in terms of seats, the DPJ (42%) is sitting pretty, well clear of the LDP (23%).
Aside from in the Chūgoku, the "home of the prime ministers," the LDP is facing the possibility of near annihilation.
* I apologize in advance to Janne Morén for reproducing these numbers without rounding. It is duplicitous to report "eighty five point nine" ratings without providing a margin of error that can make such precise figures reasonable.
** Or translated literally, "Who among politicians is most appropriate to become prime minister of Japan?" ("Ima, Nihon no shushō ni ichiban fusawashii seijika wa dare ka").