Friday, October 30, 2009

The Unbearable Hopelessness of Being in the LDP

Tanigaki Sadakazu at the Yamba Dam site
October 2, 2009
On the second day of this month, Sadakazu Tanigaki, the newly-elected president of the Liberal Democratic Party, traveled to Gunma Prefecture to visit the construction site of the soon-to-be-cancelled Yamba Dam. He came to denounce the Democratic Party of Japan, which has been following through on its campaign promise to halt the Yamba project.

In remarks dedicated to encourage those whose lives have been cast into turmoil by the project's cancellation, Tanigaki offered a string of sympathetic bromides, blissful in their lack of self-awareness.

"They have absolutely not listened to the locals," he said.

"I want them to understand the feelings of those who had their homes moved for the dam," he said.

"It is extremely regrettable that the decision was announced with prior consultation," he said.

"There is a history here and facts as to how we came to this point. If the dam is lost, there is a question of drawing the picture of how the people here will rebuild their lives," he said.

The people of the valley had opposed the construction of the dam for decades. They had fought desperately for their traditional way of life, knowing full well they would lose everything under the dam's waters. Decisions about their futures were made far away, in Tokyo, without the input of the locals.

These events were not part of a hidden history. The whole debacle was amply covered by the press over and over. Indeed, it was the vociferous opposition of the local populace at the outset and the eventually gargantuan price tag required to buy off the locals that won Yamba the notoriety making it worthy of inclusion in the DPJ’s party manifesto -- as a project the party promised it would single out for elimination.

Yet it is only now, 50 years into the project, that the president of the LDP, the party that has been in power over those 50 years, feels outrage at a government failing to pay heed to the opinions of those living at the dam site.

Only a miracle must have prevented attending members of the press from falling over in fits of giggles.
These mist covered mountains
Are a home now for me
But my home is the lowlands
And always will be
Some day you'll return to
Your valleys and your farms
And you'll no longer burn
To be brothers in arms...

- Mark Knopfler, "Brothers in Arms"

Had Tanigaki-san had kept his mouth shut prior to and during his tour of the construction site --and thus avoided exposing the glaring contradiction between his personal concern for local opinion and his party's 50 year history of overriding it – the visit to the site would still have served notice of the hopeless political situation of the LDP.

In order to make a splash in the news, the president of the LDP had to travel deep into the spine of mountains, far from the nation's population centers, to a prefecture that is an LDP stronghold, demanding the revival of an LDP pet project.

Seemingly no one explained to Tanigaki-san that his party has already secured the votes of the construction-addicted mountain voters -- every single pro-Yamba Dam vote -- and his party still got completely wiped out in both the district and party elections.

Did no one point out to the party president that there are no new votes to be won out there?

Unfortunately "out there" is all the LDP has anymore. Like a guerilla army, the political writ of the LDP is restricted to the remotest, interior mountainous districts of the country. The party holds on to a few urban and suburban districts -- but these are islands surrounded by DPJ seas.

As for a return to the lowlands, last Sunday's by-elections for vacant seats in House of Councillors in Shizuoka and Kanagawa made clear that that eventuality may come about only if the LDP gives up and disarms. Even with miserably low voter turnouts – a once key factor the perpetuation of the LDP's dominance -- the results humiliated the party's candidates and its leaders. With fewer than 36% of the voters showing up in Shizuoka Prefecture, the DPJ-backed candidate thumped his LDP challenger by 160,000 votes. In the Kanagawa election, where the voter turnout was below 26%, the DPJ candidate buried his LDP rival by over 200,000 votes...and that was with the Communist Party running own candidates in both elections, siphoning off 90,000 and 230,000 progressive votes in the prefectures, respectively.

So much for popular appeal of the new, softer, more approachable, more humane LDP, as supposedly typified by Tanigaki.

So what are the portents for next year's House of Councillors elections, when the LDP will try to prevent the ruling coalition from seizing an unqualified majority of the seats in Diet's upper house? In elections run on exactly the same format - that is to say on a prefecture wide basis?

Terrible. Pitiable. Hopeless.

The LDP's partner in opposition, the New Komeitō, issued no instructions to its voters in Shizuoka and Kanagawa. In effect, New Komeitō party central did not support the LDP's candidates. Since in a very rough calculation New Komeitō voters provide about 25% of current LDP support in district elections, the lack of guidance essentially made the LDP's defeats foregone conclusions.

With the LDP out of power and thus unable to deliver any policy goodies to the New Komeitō in the Diet, how likely is it the New Komeitō leadership will issue orders to its supporters to plump down for the LDP district candidate in July next year?

When, it must be pointed out, the overmatched Tanigaki will almost certainly still be the LDP's standard bearer?

Photo of Tanigaki Sadakazu courtesy of Shikoku News.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Kamei Clock Starts Ticking

Having completed the most important task for which he was appointed -- the forcing of the resignation of Nishikawa Yoshifumi, the president of the Japan Post Holdings Co. and as a bonus anointing former Ministry of Finance Vice Minister Saitō Jirō as Nishikawa's replacement, Minister of Financial Services and Postal Reform Kamei Shizuka can now kick back and wait for the call from the prime minister asking for his, that is to say Kamei's, resignation.

Kamei has done the government's dirty work in getting rid of Nishikawa. It was not a terribly difficult task: Nishikawa was already one of the walking dead after the details of the botched privatizations of the chain of Kampō no Yado inns came to light. When the Democratic Party of Japan prevailed in the August 30 elections, the promise to the coalition partner People's National Party to end postal privatization came due. Kamei, the sworn foe of postal privatization, was made minister in charge of postal reform -- a fine Orwellian title meaning of course the minister in charge of halting postal reform.

Since the election and the appointment of the new Cabinet, Nishikawa has been reduced to waiting for the chop. Actually getting rid of Nishikawa, however, carried political risks. He was an appointee of former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō, who had thrown the political world into turmoil over the issue of privatization of the post office. After expelling Kamei and his allies from the Liberal Democratic Party for their opposition to privatization, Koizumi led the LDP to a stunning victory in the 2005 House of Representatives election. The public, which was lukewarm to privatization initially, came to strongly support it.

Sacking Nishikawa, wounded as he was by the Kampō no Yado affair, carried the risk of being perceived as a repudiation of the judgment of the voters in 2005. Drafting Kamei into service as Nishikawa's executioner offered an opportunity of containing potential blowback. Blame for backtracking on reform could be assigned to Kamei's own private animus toward postal privatization.

Only a sense of his own indispensability or an overwhelming nihilism, however, can explain Kamei's decision to name Saitō as Nishikawa's replacement. Saitō was the top bureaucrat in Japan's least loved and most feared ministry, and was forced into early retirement by reports of his subordinates being wined and dined by real estate speculators.

A poster boy, in other words, for everything the DPJ is supposedly against.

Even the usually less-than-astute LDP president Tanigaki Sadakazu could not help but find a glaring contradiction:

"How does this (appointment) square with opposition to the appointment of a former old boy of the Finance Ministry to be the head of the Bank of Japan?"
From very first days of Kamei's tenure in his appointed posts it has been clear that he does not care a fig about the country's fiscal and financial health. Nor does he seem to care about injuring the reputation of the coalition. Rather than respect the fundamental economic truth that every decision implies tradeoffs, he has gone for the irresponsible, easy score every time, shrugging off every opposing voice as "ignorant."

In nominating Saitō, however, he has walked out to the edge of the plank. Prime Minister Hatoyama probably still hates to think that his first big decision will be to undo the coalition government that he inaugurated to much fanfare only a month ago. However, he scarcely needs the PNP's votes anymore and Kamei has made himself not just a distraction but a weeping sore in the side of the goverment from day one.

Tick tock. Tick tock. Tick tock.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Paris Vaut Bien Une Messe" - LDP Style

In case you missed it, Liberal Democratic Party president Tanigaki Sadakazu paid his respects at Yasukuni Shrine's autumn festival on Monday.

It had been three years and two months since a president of the LDP had paid a visit to Yasukuni...that LDP president being none other than the celebrated Mr. K.

Abe Shinzō did not go to Yasukuni while in office.

Neither did Fukuda Yasuo nor Asō Tarō.

Tanigaki...a lover of Chinese poetry...whose grandfather Major General Kagesa Sadaaki had been pulled out of China and planted on Rabaul by order of Tōjo Hideki for being too solicitous of the Chinese...

Dispatches From the Front

Last night's NHK broadcast had reports from two fronts of the ongoing war between the Hatoyama Administration and recalcitrant elements of the Ancien Régime.

It was grim viewing

In the first segment, six governors of the Kantō Plain are (the governors of Gunma, Tochigi, Saitama, Ibaraki and Chiba Prefectures and the Tokyo Metropolitan District) paid a visit the site of Gunma Prefecture's miserable Yamba Dam project, demanding in a photogenic way that the project be continued. Tokyo Governor Ishihara Shintarō, taking his loss in Olympic vote out as he should -- that is to say upon the citizens -- served as the spokesman of the spitting mad half dozen. NHK should have perhaps mentioned the backgrounds of the sextet but it did not.

So let us see.

Ōzawa Masaaki, Gunma, the aggrieved prefecture - member of the LDP running an LDP stronghold. In addition, the Ōzawa family business is a construction company.

Ishihara Shintarō, Tokyo - shock author, right wing celebrity, member of the Diet for the LDP for 25 years.

Morita Kensaku, Chiba - actor and celebrity. Originally elected to the Diet as an independent with leftwing support. Joined the LDP in 1994. Member of the Diet for the LDP until 2003. Elected governor of Chiba in 2009 with LDP support.

Ueda Kiyoshi, Saitama - former member of the Diet for the Democratic Party of Japan, but as a part of the DPJ's now extinct nationalist right wing. In his last run for governor he received official support from only the LDP and the New Komeitō, though DPJ friends did campaign work for him.

Hashimoto Masaru, Ibaraki - former central government bureaucrat in the Ministry of Home Affairs. First elected with broad center-left support. In most recent reelection (for his fifth consecutive term) received official support of only the LDP and the New Komeitō

Fukuda Tomikazu, Tochigi - former bureaucrat in Tochigi Prefecture's construction bureau. Resigned to become a private contractor in the construction business. Elected governor with official support of the LDP and the New Komeitō.

I think that the point is made.

In the second segment was a long video essay on the attempts of political appointees to take charge of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC). The editors of the segment clearly felt sympathy with the politicians, selecting the video clips where the bureaucrats appeared to be either stone-faced organization men or grinning sycophants.

The segment revealed the bureaucracy's entirely predictable response to DPJ's demands for control of the Ministry: the bureaucrats give it to them. All of it. The right and responsibility to make a decision about every single, painfully obvious item in the budget.

Micromanagement hell.

Last night's report followed the very young parliamentary secretary Ogawa Junya, himself a former MIC bureaucrat, from his first day when he boldly tells the assembled grim top echelons of the ministry "Bureau chiefs and directors, staying around in the office means nothing to me. If you stay late on the job, I will not value your effort!" to the point a few weeks later when he is driven over the edge of exhaustion by his former superiors as they seem to be unable to make even the most basic of decisions by themselves.

If Kan Naoto does not get his Strategy Office up and running soon -- and through it provide a template against which the political appointees can measure the significance or insignificance of the decisions they are being asked to make -- then it will be difficult to keep some bureaucrats from eating the political appointees alive.

Monday, October 19, 2009

On the Yamba Dam, Finally

Martin Fackler, who is generally not a favorite of the Japan blogosphere, fails to make any serious errors of judgment in a piece on the Yamba Dam.

He even gets one commentator to say the magic word (hint: it starts with an "r").

The long-awaited assault on the parasite ministries has only just begun.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Speaking of Differences

Read, and Amaterasu knows I do not say this very often, Funabashi Yōichi.

Dare we hope that the tide has indeed turned?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Solving The Kamei Problem

For a man who was only just appointed to the post of Minister of Financial Services, Kamei Shizuka (note to the skeptical - the link is not to a spoof site. This is the actual home page of his official website) seem to be expending a tremendous amount of energy trying to get himself fired.

In just three short weeks, he has:

- accused the Nippon Keidanren and its members of pushing up Japan's rate of murder-suicides (a Japanese report with the PM's reaction is here).

- undermined the perceived independence of the Bank of Japan but suggesting that its stated intent to find an exit from extraordinary purchases in the commercial paper market represent the BOJ's "talking in its sleep" (Japanese report here).

- fought an open turf war with Minister of Internal Affairs and Telecommunications Haraguchi Kazuhiro over the privatization of the Post Office (in Japanese here)

- blown the minds of financial writers everywhere by suggesting a moratorium on the payments of bank loans taken out by small- and medium-sized corporations -- with the possibility of extending the moratorium to household mortgages .

This last proposal raises the prospect that the Government of Japan, itself an immensely indebted institution, will be forcing Japan's relatively healthy banks to go on a starvation diet.

The proposal has predictably sent financial writers into a tizzy. For a start, the government's chief administrator of the financial system seems to be undoing a decade's worth of work stabilizing the financial system...not to mention turning common notions of finance, economics and property law on their heads.

Some have attributed the seeming inability of anyone, even the Prime Minister, to rein in Kamei's wayward tongue to the government's still being wet behind the ears in terms of its decision making structures. Kamei himself seemingly believes in his own indispensibility, that the prime minister will not ask him for his resignation because the PM cannot bear the loss of People's New Party votes in the House of Councillors. Kamei indeed has taunted the prime minister, telling TV Asahi that if the PM disagrees what his Financial Services minister is saying, he should can him. To dig the knife in even further, Kamei suggested that the PM has nothing to complain about, since Kamei's debt moratorium proposal is merely putting into practice the PM's stated philosophy of an economy based on "fraternity" (yūai) rather than free market principles.

Before running around in circles panicking at the Hatoyama Administration's seeming inability to punish insubordination by a member of the Cabinet, one should keep a few points in mind:

He's probably right - Kamei Shizuka may be offering some rather unorthodox proposals about how to manage a financial system -- but then, Japan has a pretty unorthodox financial system. The banks, having been burned by their own incapacity to write down their bad loans during the 1990s and the searing restructuring finally forced upon them by Gomi Hirofumi and Koizumi Administration, are paranoid about creating new non-performing loans. In the current downturn they have been reluctant to lend and perhaps a little to eager to squeeze collateral from out of bankrupts. A moratorium on repayment would, in this environment, is equivalent to a temporary increase in lending, but one with no need for risk analysis.

Kamei's criticism of the Bank of Japan's announcement on commercial paper is probably spot on. When the world economy is showing only the first hints of restabilization, the inflation rate is negative and when the fiscal stimulus plan is in flux due to the change in ruling parties, the BOJ has no business announcing a pullout from extraordinary support measures. That Finance Minister Fujii Haruhisa is echoing Kamei's criticisms indicates they have a sound basis in theory and practice.

As for Kamei's views on suicide-murders, he may have a point...maybe. The suicide rate this blessed land was puttering along well under 20 per 100,000 population per year until the 1998, when it jumped to more than 25 per thousand, where it has stayed pretty much every year since. 1998 was the year of the Takushoku Bank and Yamaichi Securities failures, when the government of Japan began to subject the banking system and by extension borrowers to the more severe judgments of the markets.

It's possibly all just a show - Kamei has ordered his vice minister and his deputy to draw up enabling legislation for the moratorium. A proposal is due tonight. In the drafts being discussed, however, the term of the moratorium has been trimmed down from three years to one, with only an option for extension to three years. According to reports, implementation would be on a per institution basis, with the go-ahead on a bank's moratorium depending upon the soundness of the bank's capital. It would also be voluntary, with the borrower applying for the freeze on payments -- which would mean the borrower would be putting everyone on notice that he has a structural inability to make his payments. For those with a resonable business plan that only needs a little more time to come to fruition this might be a reasonable course of action. For others, however, applying for relief would be tantamount to declaring oneself a huge credit and counterparty risk.

Not exactly an attractive proposition.

Ozawa is on the case - Kamei's People's New Party provide the ruling coalition with five crucial votes in the House of Councillors. Together with the five votes of the Socialists and the one vote of the Japan New Party, the DPJ along with its conjoined twin the Shinfūryokukai, controls 123 votes in the 240 seat (2 seats are currently vacant, with by-elections pending) chamber.

Without the PNP's 5 votes, the coalition remains three votes shy of a majority in the House.

On Wednesday, however, DPJ Secretary-General Ozawa Ichirō had an all smiles meeting with four independent members of the House of Councillors, whom he invited -- and whom seem eager -- to join the DPJ.

If and when the four independents join the DPJ and assuming that the peculiar beast that is the Shinfūryokukai does not lose its collective mind, then the government will be able to survive a loss of the PNP's support.

At which point the threat value and significance of Kamei's blustery talk will fall further and faster than the U.S. dollar.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

After the Storm

A monstrous typhoon has passed through the country. A few unfortunates lost their lives; many more people suffered injuries, several dozen lost their homes. The power went out in many places as wires ripped from their moorings. Most of the country's jets were grounded; most of the express train runs were cancelled. Yet much of the country's transportation and distribution network still functioned, despite the heavy rain and the wind. A staggering percentage of the labor force commuted work. Television crews, sent out to document the projected devastation, had little to capture in the way of storm dramatic storm damage. The slathering of the coastlines and riverways in concrete, the aesthetically asinine replacement of wood frame houses and public buildings with steel-framed, ceramic tile encased strongholds, lamented often enough here, seems to have preserved the populace from suffering catastrophic losses.

As, I suppose, they were designed to do.

Would it not be ironic that in the aftermath of the defeat of the Liberal Democratic Party, whose passionate intertwining with the construction sector led to the birthing of uncounted thousands of public works projects costing uncountable trillions of yen transforming Japan into a fortress against nature, leading to the party's being shackled to reputation of environmental and fiscal nihilism -- that the purportedly wasteful and pointless flood-control and wave-action defenses actually turned out to be crucial to beat back rising seas and supertyphoons?

That Japan, courtesy the LDP, would turn out to be the only country prepared for the consequences of climate change?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Improper Thoughts on the Death of Nakagawa Shōichi

I was packing for an afternoon hike on the Ne no Gongen-Takedera route, listening to the economics experts slanging away about the new government's economic policies on Nichiyō Tōron.

A leisurely, happy morning.

Suddenly, with about 5 minutes remaining before the hour, the program was interrupted by the news flash: former Finance Minister Nakagawa Shōichi had been found dead in his Setagaya home.

The participants were a bit taken aback. However, with the prodding of the announcer, they got back to their discussion, and in the final seconds, were even laughing at a witticism.

It was a sorry, sad failure of propriety...but what could the guests do? Since they were talking about the economy, they would have to bring up the point that Nakagawa was the former finance minister...and the last thing anyone wanted to remind viewers (or in my case, listeners) of his great humiliation.

And then, with Nakagawa only 56 years of age, an alcoholic and the son of suicide, the inevitable first thought was that he had died at his own hand.

What could they do, in the circumstances? What would I do?

I hesitated to turn on the laptop, to type out some message or brief blog post. The day was already getting late, however...and I really did not have much to say more than what I had said in Reflections on these Men Broken.

So I too just let it go.

* * *

A man has died, one became at one point the butt of jokes around the world. He worked his way up to the position of Finance Minister despite being seriously ill for much of his adult life. In terms of his inner world, he likely suffered greatly, his personality not suited for the responsibilities thrust upon him.

We should be careful to not go overboard in self laceration or attributions of possible merit, however. While it is right to feel sympathy for the sick man and his family members, we should not lose sight of the twisted system in which Nakagawa Shōichi operated and which he did too little to change.

Like so many of the LDP leaders in its years of precipitous decline, Nakagawa was born, as they say in the United States, "on third base, thinking he had just hit a triple." He was the son of a powerful LDP politician who, in meeting his end at the age of 57, gave Shōichi an early start on his climb up the political ladder. Keizō Obuchi's and Ryutarō Hashimoto's fathers also died prematurely – making it possible for these two men to amass sufficient seniority to become prime ministers at the ages of 58 and 61, respectively. Obuchi's Keizō death in office in turn opened the door for his daughter Yūko to become the youngest minister in history.

Nakagawa and his fellow hereditary politicians had an immense head start on their countrymen.

In terms of his politics, Nakagawa may have just happened to be at the right place at the right time. A staunch, dogmatic nationalist, he would have been anti-mainstream in the late 60s, the 70s and the 80s. However, after the march of Japan's economic prowess had come to a shuddering halt, leaving many citizens groping for answers on how to better their lives, he and his fellow hardliners found themselves aboard an escalator to high office.

(I must credit Tobias Harris for suggesting that the relationship between the economic slump and the rise of the nationalist right was serendipitous, not determined. The bursting of the Bubble did not compel a rise of nationalist feelings among the citizens. It merely blew open a hole in the national narrative into which fantabulist nationalism could insinuate itself.)

As Okumura Jun has noted on numerous occasions, Nakagawa was a sight better than his most of peers in the brains department. Yes, but then his peers....well...

We can recognize that Nakagawa Shōichi rose to the highest positions in political life. We can also be candid and admit that he did so within an institutionalized, hereditary, exclusive, seniority-based, hierarchical structure that, because it was charged with the rule of a democratic country, also had to be corrupt.

Was he a prisoner of heredity and social expectations? No doubt.

Had he been wiser or perhaps luckier in his choices of friends and mentors, though, he might have liberated himself.

Resquiescat in Pacem.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Unknown Country

Please. Somebody explain to me why the below is being offered to the world by the highly prestigious Project Syndicate.

Forget what you have heard about the hard-working Japanese salaryman: since the early 1990's, the Japanese have drastically slackened their work habits. Indeed, Tokyo University economist Fumio Hayashi has demonstrated that the main reason behind Japan’s 20 years of stagnation has been the decrease in the quantity of work performed by the Japanese.

The government itself has led the way here, starting with its decision to close public administration buildings on Saturdays. Japan’s banks followed suit. From 1988 to 1993, the legal work week fell 10%, from 44 hours to 40. This, as much as anything, helped to bring Japan’s long-running post-WWII economic “miracle” to its knees...
Really? Is that what caused so much trouble -- the work weeks of our bankers and bureaucrats have been too brief? As if what they were doing when they were on the clock was not damaging enough.

Besides, what planet does the legal limit describe anyway? Aside local government workers (kōmuin) I know of no one who works only a 40 hour week.

I guess that I should not surprised at these assertions, though. From his website, it seems that Professor Hayashi's most frequent collaborator has been Professor Edward Prescott.

The essay seems to only go downhill after the above. I cannot imagine how M. Sorman can elide from claiming that Japan suffers from too a short work week to a condemnation of Japan's declining productivity without suffering a bout of cognitive dissonance at some point in between.

If the productivity in retail is so low, then it is either because

(a) shop owners are staying open too many hours relative sales, or

(b) shops are employing too many people relative sales.

As Mr. Sorman has planted his flag upon the proposition that long hours are a good, the answer to what ails Japan must be (b).

This accusation, coming from a citizen of France, a country of structurally high unemployment and an immense civil service, is pretty rich.

That Sorman highlights the declining relative productivity of this blessed land's retail sector as his sole example, without acknowledging or even perhaps being aware of the tax filing incentives involved, is telling.

And what, except cheap snidery, is the point behind these two seemingly discombulated paragraphs?

Nearly half of the Japanese population is either retired or near retirement age, and they worked very hard to achieve a high level of comfort. Thanks to them, despite the blighted economy of the “lost decade,” Japanese income is still higher than it is in Europe. Moreover, unemployment is low compared to the Western world, because the unproductive distribution sector absorbs young people who cannot find better jobs. Stagnating Japan has thus remained a peaceful and rather conservative society.

By contrast, a higher growth rate would require fewer golf breaks for salarymen and significant immigration in a nation that is unaccustomed to foreign intrusion and different cultural habits. Are the Japanese really ready to accept such a cure?
What is this, if not Euro-elitist puffery? "Work harder or accept more immigrants, you laggards."

Mr. Sorman. Japan is not a European country. Surprise, surprise. Have you never wondered why Japan scores so low on so many international country ratings? Perhaps it is because the rules in most cases have been written for our edification by Europeans, with the Nordics and Switzerland as the ideals?


I am sorry, I am being intemperate. However, this is a syndicatable column. It is purportedly on a country with which I am somewhat familiar. I am afraid, however, I am at a loss as to which country M. Sorman is describing.

I would venture, dear reader, that so is he.

Later - I admit I was so mad when I read the essay the first time that I did not even notice the egregious "Japan's 150 million people" error.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Liberation of NHK

Over at the Foreign Policy website Paul Scalise and Devin Stewart (full disclosure, I know them both) have published a solid defense of the view that despite the election not much is going to change around here.

Theirs is a conventional wisdom argument...but is by far the best one I have seen published so far in English.

Scalise and Stewart may be correct in the end...and yet, I still hold out hope for deep and long-lasting change.

For change does not need to be led by the government. It can be led by the people, by individuals who are no longer afraid of losing their livelihoods to vengeful political operatives.

Perhaps I am fooling myself, but I have been cheered these last few weeks by the sudden depth of NHK news broadcasts. After years of making the news as flat and uninformative as possible, the folks at NHK are acting like newshounds rather than public relations facilitators. They are starting to name names; frame difficult-to answer-questions in their broader social and economic context; point out the (gasp!) political origins of current problems. In the case of the controversy over the Yamba Dam, it has been NHK, not the commercial networks, which has been providing the most balanced reporting, calling a colossal waste of money a colossal waste of money, without redemption--and refusing to let sympathy for the triple-crossed (quadruple-crossed) villagers detract from the gross venality of the project, from beginning to end.

Suddenly it is as though all the latent talent for factual investigative reporting that we knew was there is being given free rein...and that all the bits of dirt that NHK collected but never dared broadcast is being brought out into the sunlight.

Oh, sure, they are likely to show us a lot of dumb stuff in the meanwhile, annoying the whatzit out of us with the fluffy news pieces they started producing to be more like the commercial networks. It will take a while for them to realize that what will really grab us and keep our attention locked upon them will the airing of the stunning material they have kept hidden their vaults and their file drawers.

And I am hopeful also that the new government will not attempt to suppress bad news the way the old one did. After all, why should it? The DPJ and its allies actual WON the August 30 election. They are a legitimate government. They hold power not because of gerrymandering, dirty tricks, institutionalized corruption and media manipulation. They are in power despite having had these and every other weapon in the political arsenal turned against them.

They can afford a little openness.

Let the sun shine in.