Friday, February 26, 2010

For Those Who Have Lost Much, A New Day

Headline on the front page of my newspaper this morning:
Aiming Toward Accession to the Hague Convention: Prime Minister Indicates the Preparation for the Legal Underpinnings
After so many years, and after so much utter excrement about how it would be too difficult to reform family law and police practice in such a way as to force law enforcement officials into treating child abduction as a crime, a first step toward justice.

The prime minister's assertion that "in order to come to a quick resolution, we have to find a path toward making this happen" is only a start -- but a good one.

Some folks still hold a cynical "Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss" view of the Democratic Party of Japan and the ruling coalition -- that all the hopes the people have for change will come crashing down due to inescapable realities. This dismissive view is rapidly losing value. Considering the amount of time, energy and attention that have been lost to going through Prime Minister Hatoyama's and DPJ Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro's finances these first few months under the new regime, I would be willing to be on record as saying the revolution has been moving forward at an encouragingly rapid clip.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Last Summer's Elections Are Still Unconstitutional

Now please go away and stop bothering us!

That, in a nutshell, was the decision handed down by the Tokyo High Court yesterday. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in a complaint doubting the constitutionality of nine Kanagawa Prefecture electoral districts. However, while the court agreed with the plaintiffs that the existence of an electoral map where the votes of those living in the nation's smallest population district are worth more than twice as much as those living in the nation's largest districts cannot be meshed in any rational way with the Constitution's provisions on the equality of citizens, it did not declare void the August 2009 House of Representatives election based upon said districts.

Taking rationality as the fulcrum point on which to balance its reasoning, the High Court ruled that even though the electoral districts were unconstitutional, nobody did anything to rectify the districts in a rational amount time prior to the election, so the electoral results cannot be found unconstitutional.

To find out how this assertion could be true is tough. One has to wade through a swamp of parenthetical phrases and climb over a series of parallel dependant clauses until one finally hits a wall at "the Diet's not having acted upon this same revision cannot be said to be unconstitutional as a discretionary deviation per se."

Or, as the best free online translation software application I know translates the explanation of the court (as listed in this article):
However, though the expansion of twice or more the difference was admitted about a present electoral system by the frame method according to one person after 94 years, Run counter to the Constitution..opinion..divide..supreme court..judgment..division..regulations..constitutional violation..admit..opinion..command a majority..electoral system..revision..correspond..time..require.., considering..Diet..this case..elect..this counter to the

The Tokyo High Court ruling represents the third ruling of the recent past finding the current small-district electoral map to be unconstitutional. It comes on the heels of similar verdicts in Osaka in December last year and Hiroshima in January. A major revision of the nation's electoral map is already planned in response to the results of the census (the next census' completion date is October 1 this year). The judicial system's ratcheting up of the pressure for the reduction of the level of inequality in House of Representatives electoral districts will only magnify the already strong desire of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan to grant greater representation to the DPJ's core supporters in the urban and suburban areas.

So the DPJ's current distressing small-scale replication of the LDP's broad strategy of securing votes in the rural areas through public works contracts may end up being the last roar of the Tanakaist beast prior to its final, well-deserved demise. For should the DPJ secure a working majority in the House of Councillors this summer, either solo or in coalition, and with the results of October's census in hand, it should be able to shepherd an equitable reapportionment of House of Representatives electoral districts, bringing to an end the post-1946 tyranny of the rural least as far as the House of Representatives, the more potent of the two houses of the Diet, is concerned.

And should the DPJ-dominated Diet fail to follow through on overseeing the promulgation of a more equitable electoral map, despite all the seeming political incentives for the party to do so, it looks as though the courts are laying down a legal framework to impose one of their own.

How To Blow It All In Four Days, LDP Style

That Liberal Democratic Party boycott of Diet sessions that Ethan Chua found so inexplicable? Turns out even LDP Diet members could not understand it.

So the party is giving it up.

Inexplicably, yet typically, the LDP leadership has managed over the course of four days to squander the momentum and publicity it gained from last Sunday's elections.

Just to make matters worse, LDP party president Tanigaki Sadakazu explained that his party's decision to return to the Diet was due to the sessions having become "supine and confined to their beds" (neta-giri neta-kiri). Aside from insulting the elderly infirm, for whom the term neta-giris neta-kiri is most usually used, he also opened the door for the smart cookies to respond, "No, the ones looking supine and confined to their beds are you and your party."

Furthermore, with the LDP not able to eat up Diet time with their demands for special testimony on the prime minister's and DPJ Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro's political fundraising, the DPJ was able to put on entertaining show-and-tell sessions, like the one yesterday put on by Nakajima Masazumi on the 49 million yen donated to present and former members of the Diet by contractors working on the ill-starred Yamba Dam megaproject. It turns out that 95% of those donations went to LDP members.

Ooops! Time to get out butts back in the seats and start complaining about the DPJ's disgusting "politics and money" (seiji to kane) problems!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tomahawk Down

It seems all but official. Newspapers are reporting that according to Japanese government sources, the United States government has come to decision to retire the nuclear-armed Tomahawk cruise missile (TLAM/N). The retirement of these cruise missiles essentially closes the door on the deployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in the East Asia theater.

In December, Dr. Jeffrey Lewis at published a vital research note on a dangerous fundamental flaw in the TLAM\N that would seemingly make it unusable against its most likely targets in North Korea. Also in December, Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya sent letters to the U.S. secretaries of state and defense disavowing a Japanese government intent to offer advice to the U.S. government on the desirability of particular U.S. nuclear weapons systems.

Today's article on the purported decision in The Asahi Shimbun makes note of the fundamental logical inconsistency (also noted by The Japan Times) regarding Japan's advocating the redeployment of these short-range missiles on U.S. attack submarines. Where would these vessels stop and where would they sail if their presence in Japanese waters or arrival in a Japanese port violates the "no-introduction" pledge of the Three Non-Nuclear Principles? Would a submarine positioning itself to defend Japan with TLAM\Ns have to start its voyage in Guam, then enter the Sea of Japan on the South Korean side of the Tsushima Straits in order to avoid triggering a violation of the pledge? Furthermore, how could a government that made a campaign promise to expose the existence of heretofore denied secret agreements on the introduction of nuclear weapons into Japan during military contingencies then turn around and adopt a Don't Ask/Don't Tell policy for U.S. submarines possibly carrying TLAM/Ns?

Unanswered at the end of this drama is the question of who ordered Japan's diplomats to lobby the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States (the Perry Commission) to suggest in its report that the U.S. retain the TLAM/N...and under what conception of Japan's stance on nuclear weapons was such lobbying justified. "Go and sin no more," seems to be Okada's view toward his bureaucrat subordinates...and his decision to not look into this matter further seems a wise choice.

Monday, February 22, 2010

After the Nagasaki and Machida Results

In politics, as in low-grade popular music, you are only as good as your latest effort. Yesterday, the voters of Nagasaki Prefecture and Machida City delivered an indirect review of life under the Democratic Party of Japan's doubtful duarchy.

Their verdict, according to the conventional wisdom: not thrilled.

The race for governor of Nagasaki Prefecture should have been closer. Last summer, the DPJ carried all four of Nagasaki Prefecture's district seats. However Nakamura Hodo, the LDP- and Komeito-supported candidate, pretty much sailed to victory over his ruling coalition-supported rival. Certain factors may have aided Nakamura: the field was crowded, with 7 candidates in the running, including a former professional wrestler; turnout was mediocre, with only 60% of the voters casting a vote--the second lowest total ever for a Nagasaki gubernatorial election; and Nakamura was virtually the incumbent, riding on the coattails of his predecessor, three-time governor Kaneko Genjiro, whom he had served as vice-governor.

Nevertheless, Nakamura's defeat of his younger DPJ rival by 95,000 votes kicked the supports out from under the fundamental strategy of presenting the DPJ and its coalition allies as the agents of vital change. The electorate in Nagasaki simply did not buy the message.

Far more threatening for the fortunes of the DPJ's duarchy, Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro in particular, was the wipeout in Machida City. With only a few days to go before the election and the poll numbers looking bad, Ozawa had made the decision to campaign in person in Machida -- a rare step down for Ozawa into the unpredictable world of municipal elections.

Sunday's result was near catastrophic for the DPJ. In a low turnout election (50%) with five candidates running, the LDP- and Komeito-backed incumbent crushed his ruling coalition-backed rival by nearly a nearly two-to-one margin. Machida, a sub-center of the Tokyo Metropolitan District, is just the sort of salary man-rich electoral territory that should automatically plunk down for the DPJ candidate. That the voters ignored the DPJ-annointed candidate will be the source of a great deal of stress at DPJ headquarters, particularly amongst those working for the many DPJ members whose candidacies live or die on the votes of the non-aligned salaried workers and their spouses.

For Ozawa, today is going to be a very rough day. Until now he has been able to dismiss the concerns of many middle-status members of the DJP that his handling of the investigation of his political funding organization and the arrests of three of his former political secretaries is driving voters away from the DPJ. The results from last night, particularly results from the Machida election in which Ozawa decided to inject himself, will provide Ozawa's internal party critics with ammunition for an assault on his leadership position.

Ozawa has had the luxury until now of saying, "So the polls say that the populace wants me to quit as party secretary-general. Where is the evidence that my polling numbers are going to affect the party's election results?" Fairly or not, Ozawa's many critics are going to take last night's results and say, "There's your evidence."

The only question for me is whether we will be seeing Ozawa in a paper mask this morning. His susceptibility to colds has always been so curiously synchronized with his times of political weakness.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

As Regards the DPJ's Policy Making Assignments

Tobias Harris has a post up lauding the Democratic Party of Japan leadership's squelching of a request that the party rebuild its internal policy-generating apparatus. The proposed plan, put forth by a contingent of middle-ranking members, asks for reestablishment of the party policy research council, with sub-committees mirroring each of the ministries.

Policy research divisions mirroring the ministries provides the framework for the emergence of DPJ "tribesmen" (zoku giin)-- permanent advocates within the party of the interests of the ministries. As such, it is indeed a good thing that both DPJ Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro and DPJ President Hatoyama Yukio responded so negatively to the proposals.

However, keeping talented and creative individuals sitting on their hands, contributing nothing to the policy development process, seems a pointless waste of human experience. It also seems to guarantee the emergence of anti-mainstream study groups of mid-level party members in the DPJ, counterparts to the study groups that bedeviled (and still continue to bedevil) the Liberal Democratic Party.

Furthermore, maintaining the current concentration of the crafting of policy in Ozawa's hands is not desirable. The man is far-seeing but he is not omniscient. The party needs to have a means of generating alternate lines of thought as regards policy, so that the leadership is at least choosing from amongst a number of potential viable options.

However, Ozawa's insistence that freshman DPJ Diet members forget about contributing to policy making is quite reasonable. Ozawa caught no end of grief last fall for having pulled the freshmen off the Government Revitalization unit panels at the last minute. His insistence that the freshmen had far more important work to do getting themselves acquainted with their electoral districts seemed ridiculous given that the last House of Representatives election had taken place only three months earlier. Many of these freshmen appointed to the panels had expertise in finance, accounting and public administration. For many, it seemed that Ozawa was stripping the GRU panels of needed personnel merely in order to spite his intra-party critic, the then-state minister for revitalization Sengoku Yoshito.

However, there is a method in the madness of Ozawa's forcing talented freshmen to give up policy in favor of politicking...and it has nothing to do with concentrating policy making in either the Cabinet or in his hands. Having the freshmen and other fairly fresh DPJ members in their home districts, week after week, meeting and greeting their constituents, forces the LDP into having its Diet members and potential Diet members doing the same. The LDP has found it difficult to mount an effective counteroffensive in part because its forces are pinned down in defensive actions. It takes all the LDP's efforts and resources to simply match the efforts of the DPJ's cohorts, whose travel expenses and salaries are paid for by the taxpayer.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Hatoyama Ali

It is becoming a pattern.

The media and opposition parties, realizing that despite the latest round of political hysteria, the Democratic Party of Japan did not magically lose its 300+ seat majority in the House of Representatives nor its coalition majority in the House of Councillors, begin raising expectations for a coming confrontation that will this time, assuredly, bring the downfall of the Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, DPJ Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro, the Cabinet, DPJ unity or possibly all four together. The media predicts a showdown; the LDP, an exposure of the true shallow evil of the DPJ and its ruling duarchy.

And then the big day dawns. The cameras are in place, the announcers and LDP stalwarts predict a startling show...and then...poof, the spectacle collapses into an inconclusive fog of evasions, apologies and repetitions of "we'll get back to you on that."

The latest iteration of recurring nightmare took place on Wednesday when Hatoyama faced Question Time from LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu and New Komeito leader Yamaguchi Natsuo. Here at last, going one-on-one with the sharp-tongued leaders of the opposition, the PM would be held to account for his party's purported revolution's purportedly running off the rails.


The affair lasted 48 minutes. Some 36 of those minutes, according to the calculations of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, were spent on the Prime Minister's and Ozawa's fishy political fund organization accounts. About 10 minutes were spent on fiscal deficit and tax issues. A whopping 2 minutes were spent on the relationship with the United States.

No bombshells were dropped. No knockout blows were delivered. Editorials in the Mainichi Shimbun and the Nikkei both complained that Tanigaki and Yamaguchi brought nothing new to the table, that the talking points were recycled from earlier question-and-answer sessions of the Budget Committee. The Ehime Shimbun went so far as to characterize the contest of wits as the most mediocre theater, a huge letdown after the thrilling Japan-U.S. women's preliminary qualification round curling match that had immediately preceded the Hatoyama-Tanigaki-Yamaguchi debate.

The Asahi Shimbun in its editorial criticized the debate's lacking substance. However, the paper admitted that is was natural for opposition parties to want to dent the image of the ruling party by dwelling upon shady political donations.

It was, as the Nikkei Shimbun pointed out, also traditional. The very first question asked Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo in the very first Question Time session in February of 2000? "Why were the NTT DoCoMo-related shares belonging to a dead man assigned to the secretary described as your right-hand man?" The person asking the question: the then DPJ leader Hatoyama Yukio.

Yes, Virginia, there is irony here.

Each and every editorial decried Question Time's having deviated from its true purpose of debating the policy issues of greatest concern to the nation. That the media has played a crucial role in turning everyone's attention away from policy issues and toward the scandals real and imagined did not, of course, merit examination or comment.

The Prime Minister apologized the distress he and Ozawa have caused the people. He apologized for being so unaware of the goings on inside his own political funding organization. He apologized for not being able to guarantee that either Ozawa or his former secretary Ishikawa Tomohiro would testify in the Diet about the accounting problems at the Rikuzankai. "But if there were a reason for Ozawa to testify," the PM countered, "I would certain be in my rights to broach the topic with him, I think."

The PM was one sorry dude.

However, it seems clear that the Hatoyama's recondite behavior, his evasions about what he intends to do about Ozawa and his on-again, off-again awareness of what is going on around him are not just personal failings. They also constitute a strategy, luring the media and the opposition parties into returning again and again to the funding organization scandals until the public's patience reaches a breaking point--whilst off to the side, out of the spotlight, the DPJ-led coalition pushes its agenda through the Diet with nary a peep to the contrary.

The Hatoyama Cabinet has suffered serious declines in its popularity due to the political funds scandals. The DPJ has suffered somewhat less dramatic but still serious declines. However, it is a long, long time until July when the House of Councillors election will have to be held, or even until mid-May, when the government faces a deadline on an alternative plan for the replacement for the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station. Until then Hatoyama, Ozawa, the Cabinet and DPJ will can afford to lean back and let the media and the LDP exhaust themselves or exhaust the nation's patience with their continuous but ineffectual pounding away at Hatoyama's and Ozawa "politics and money" (seiji to kane) shortcomings.

It's the Rope-A-Dope strategy.

And as long as it appears as though the DPJ and its current allies might fail to protect the majority they hold in the House of Councillors, the leaders of the New Komeito will remain convinced it is in their interest to pull their punches, on the chance that if they play nice, come August the New Komeito will be back in the government as the DPJ's essential coalition ally.

A Simple Rule

If Peter Tasker suggests it, it's probably a good idea.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Men of Defense on the Defensive

In response to Defense Minister Kitazawa Toshimi's sending a letter of reprimand to Colonel Nakazawa Takeshi for his having made a disparaging reference to the Prime Minister in a speech at the opening ceremony for a joint U.S. Force Japan-Japan Self Defense Forces drill last week, the Liberal Democratic Party's defense tribesmen are denouncing the disciplinary action. Ishiba Shigeru, the defense otaku and head of the LDP policy research council, complained, "What the colonel said was actually self-evident...When you say, 'It's outrageous!' it is troubling that you are not saying what it is that is so outrageous." Nakatani Gen, a former SDF officer, chimed in with a suitably duplicitous, "If you punish someone in front of the troops simply for indicating the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance, you will damage morale."

Nakatani-san, Colonel Nakazawa probably did not receive his stiffly worded letter because he was expressing a high opinion of the Japan-U.S. security relationship.

Anyway, Mssrs. Ishiba and Nakatani have through their protests almost certainly locked up the frustrated former SDF officer vote.

A voting bloc both of them already had in their pockets anyway.

Then again, when the LDP is growing more feeble and fissiparous by the day, it is perhaps best to make sure one has nailed down even the most loyal of loyal constituencies.

Ding! We Have A Majority in Both Houses!

Very quietly yesterday, without any fuss, House of Councillors member Yoshimura Kentaro Gotaro formally registered himself as a member of the Democratic Party of Japan-People's New Party-Shinryokufukai-New Party Nippon caucus. Yoshimura, a district seatholder for Fukuoka Prefecture, had joined the PNP on Tuesday after having quit the Liberal Democratic Party at the very end of last year.

Yoshimura's registration as a member of the DPJ-dominated caucus brings the total number of the active members in the caucus to 122, which is 50% plus one of the 242 seats in the House of Councillors.

For those keeping score at home, the numbers in the House of Councillors are:

DPJ-led four party caucus 122
LDP-Reform Club 82
New Komeito 22
Communist Party 7
Socialist-Rengo 5
Independents 5

If I were Fukushima Mizuho or any other member of the Democratic Socialist Party, I would be thinking hard about keeping my chin up, my eyes bright, a smile glued to my face and, if anyone tries to goad me into offering a comment on whether or not Ozawa Ichiro should testify in the Diet about his accounting troubles, pretend I was stone deaf from now until just after 8 p.m. on election night.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dribs and Drabs

Thanks to The Asahi Shimbun we now know two more attributes of the mysterious "Association of Those Seeking the Truth" (Shinjitsu o Motomeru Kai), the group of amateur Javerts who have been pressing the Public Prosecutors Office into investigating the finances of the Rikuzankai, Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro's main political fundraising organization. According to Satuday's Asahi, the group has "around ten members" and these include "former teachers" (moto kyoshi). On Friday, the group filed an appeal asking that a citizen's review panel reverse the Tokyo Public Prosecutors Office's decision to not indict Ozawa as a co-conspirator in a plot to violate campaign finance laws -- the third action the group has taken in the past year pressuring prosecutors into tying Ozawa to Rikuzankai violations of the law.

So the relentless, unsleeping nemesis of Japan's most powerful politician is "a citizen's group composed of former journalists, administrative scriveners and former teachers and the like with about ten members in it" -- and that is all that the whole media news complex colossus of Japan deems we need know about it.


A Right And Proper Military

Over at Twisting Flowers, Ethan Chua has a meditation upon the uproar over Colonel Nakazawa Takeshi's seeming mockery of Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio last Wednesday in a speech at the opening ceremony for a joint U.S. Forces Japan / Self Defense Forces exercise. Colonel Nakazawa supposedly said that the Japan-U.S. alliance...
"...cannot be maintained by diplomacy or political rhetoric. Least of all can it be maintained by the words ‘trust me.'"
The colonel has received a written reprimand for these remarks, which are clearly in reference to the assurance to "Trust me" that the Prime Minister reportedly gave to President Barack Obama last year on finding a replacement site for the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station on Okinawa.

A written reprimand, no matter how strictly worded or damaging to Nakazawa's record, seems hardly sufficient. By disparaging one of the phrases that has become indelibly associated with the Prime Minister, Nakazawa clearly indicated his ultimate loyalty is not with the civilian leadership of his country. Instead, it seems he posited some higher power as giving him he right to mock, however indirectly, the PM. Whether that entity is the Alliance, the U.S. military or the defense of Japan is irrelevant - that Nakazawa should have thought that his service put him in the position of criticizing the Prime Minister is unbelievable. That he should have done so seemingly in the presence of U.S. military officers at a public ceremony is unforgivable.

It is a measure of the Democratic Party of Japan's dangerous intellectual disengagement from military matters that this matter is being allowed to be swept under the rug without a vigorous public debate. Though many are drawing parallels between Nakazawa's remarks and the Tamogami affair, Tamogami's firing was done in the glare of camera lights, over what was, in the grander scheme, a difference of opinion about history. Nakazawa's transgression is being quickly papered over, despite its begging the question as to whom Colonel Nakazawa felt he owed his ultimate loyalty.

Since the incident occured as a part of a joint SDF-USFJ exercise, the U.S. Ambassador and the Commander of USFJ would be full in their rights to go to Defense Minister Kitazawa Toshimi and explain to him that the U.S. takes insubordination very seriously -- and that a military with officers who do not see themselves as fundamentally loyal to their own government is of no use to the U.S. as an ally.

Later - It seems that the Defense Minister is suitably furious at Colonel Nakazawa's remarks.

Now the trick is to find out from whence this morning's English language version of The Asahi Shimbun could derive this gem of a paragraph:
Kitazawa said Nakazawa's remark represented "an extremely dangerous thought" that could lead to a coup.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Hatoyamas Have Things Made Up

A distinguished professor of Japanese Studies emailed me a while ago asking me about one bit of Prime Minister Hatoyama's policy speech which he found incomprehensible, rather than just reprehensible.

"Urakudari (裏下り)?" the good professor wondered, "I am unfamiliar with this term." He asked me whether I had come across it.

I confessed that I had not. A cursory search of the Internet turned up no definitions.

The good professor was flabbergasted. Surely the PM would not use a made-up word in his official policy address to the Diet?

Well, I have some good news and bad news.

The bad news is that, yes, there was no such term as urakudari.

The good news is that everything has been all cleared up. Based on an inquiry from Yamauchi Koichi of the Everyone's Party -- who like the professor wanted to know what the heck he is supposed to think urakudari means -- the Cabinet passed an official proclamation (kakugi kettei) on Friday determining that henceforth urakudari means "reemployment that cannot be confirmed to be amakudari conducted via the good offices of government ministries and agencies but that nevertheless cannot help but raise suspicions that it is amakudari conducted as a matter of routine through these good offices."(「府省庁によるあっせんは確認されていないが、事実上の天下りあっせん慣行と疑念を抱かせる再就職」).

So there.

Oh Hatoyama-san. Isn't it great to have a Cabinet that can retroactively define the words you make up?

Too bad the Cabinet does not have a similar power to retroactively erase Yosano Kaoru's astonishing line of questioning in the Diet on Friday, when he used a story he heard from your gnat-brained brother to accuse you of being not just "the king of tax evaders" but also guilty of lying to the Diet and the populace about your knowledge of your mother's donations to your political funding organization? He also called you a yakuza for having your underlings take the fall for crimes you pushed them to commit -- but that was more a theatrical flourish than a crippling accusation.

Wow, talk about a blindsiding by a member of the Diet who until Friday was known for his geniality, perspicacity and tact...and betrayal by another stupid man (for it is a stupid man indeed who places party above family) whom until Friday could smilingly call you aniki.

All that is destroyed now. No Cabinet proclamation can repair the damage that has been done.

Friday, February 12, 2010

More Smart Stuff To Read

David Fedman's East Asia post of last Friday on Japan's New Asianism.

But Ozawa Ichiro Is A Bad Man

You may recall among the purported crimes of Ozawa Ichiro, one so heinous that even the threat of having to explain it in the Diet helped convince Fujii Hirohisa to resign as Minister of Finance, was the pocketing of the leftover elections funds provided to Ozawa's Liberal Party under the public campaign financing law. Under the prevailing cant of January's reporting, Ozawa was clearly a dirty politician, for if he weren't he would have handed this money, which is specified as being solely for the financing of elections of a particular party, back to the national treasury.

Well, the folks over at the Chunichi/Tokyo Shimbun decided to take the radical step of actually checking whether or not handing the money back was what honorable men, or politicians for that matter, actually do.

The results of their research: of the seventeen parties that have received public elections financing under the campaign finance laws which either folded later or were absorbed into another party, not one has ever returned a single yen to the nation.

Not one.

The report can be found here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ozawa Derangement Syndrome

What is it about Ozawa Ichiro that drives normally liberal and forgiving persons crazy? How can so many be assured of his guilt of political finance crimes, or of his being somehow being too unethical or too tainted for high party position or public office?

For the general populace, the wish to dismiss is relatively simple to explain: investigation for political crimes and arrest of subordinates carry a presumption of guilt. All this disturbance of good social order -- so distressing. Besides, all of the newspapers would not be lying to us, would they?

For elites who know better, the near-autonomic ostracism of Ozawa seems more of a lazy tribal marker, a means by which one can signal to one's peers that one is for all the good things and against all the bad things, without having to be too specific about what those good things are or how one came about determining their goodness.

Sure Ozawa has expressed some discomfiting ideas and shamelessly pandered to constituencies. However, proposing radical changes to national policies and pandering to powerful electoral blocs is in the nature of the business Ozawa is in, which is seizing power through the ballot box.

As for the purported campaign scandals, whatever happened to presumption of innocence and the importance of evidence? How is it that it is considered fair play to be calling for Ozawa's head, when the prosecutors have decided they have no case against him, and the prosecutors have heretofore only been pushed to act at the insistence of shadowy citizens groups?

It is confusing that Democrats -- the American kind (the folks ostensibly in charge of Washington) -- have not been especially wary of the "Dump Ozawa" juggernaut. The parallels between the current investigation and reinvestigation of Ozawa and the relentless investigation and reinvestigations of the Clinton White House should have by now stimulated some reflection as to validity of the conventional wisdom regarding Ozawa and his politics.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Taking in Chinese Pride of Place

On February 2, Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro had a long-overdue meeting with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell. In a press conference this past Monday, Ozawa confirmed that Campbell invited him to visit Washington during the Golden Week holidays, preferably with a retinue in tow similar to the one that Ozawa brought with him to China in December. During his stay in the U.S. capital, Ozawa and his people would have the chance meet with various Administration officials and inside-the-Beltway power brokers.

Ozawa explained that he had responded positively to Campbell's invitation, provided two points were made crystal clear aforehand:

1) That those meeting Ozawa would understand that the visit was not in order to discuss policies but to forge a basis for friendly relations between the U.S and the DPJ, and

2) That he would have a lengthy and well-publicized meeting with President Barack Obama.

Tobias Harris, who has taken a long look at Ozawa's seeming jump into the foreign policy arena sees the two demands as contradictory to Ozawa's ultimate goals.
At a press conference Monday he said that policy discussions are the job of the government, i.e. if the US government thinks that it can treat with Ozawa in order to find a breakthrough on Futenma it will be disappointed. Instead Ozawa views a Washington trip as necessary to build relations between the DPJ and the Democratic Party — and accordingly he wants a guarantee that a meeting will be scheduled with President Obama. That strikes me as an odd condition considering that Ozawa stated that he will not be going to discuss policy. Why should the president meet with a party official there on party business? LDP officials may have met with the US president when they visited Washington — Abe Shinzo, for example — but if foreign policy is being made by the cabinet, what business does a party official, even the secretary-general, have making a meeting with the president a precondition of his visit?
Ozawa's probable answer to this seeming conundrum is not so difficult to work out. As the quotes in the Sankei Shimbun's version of Monday's press conference indicate, Ozawa is looking at the visit to Washington through Chinese eyes. In December, the Chinese made their own president Hu Jintao available for a long one-on-one sit-down meeting with Ozawa, who is formally only the leader of the Japanese party with the largest number of seats in the Diet. Hu also accepted being used as a political prop, standing for hundreds of individual handshake and group photographs with Ozawa's traveling party.

If Ozawa were to accept only a short, perfunctory meeting with President Obama, one with minimal publicity, the Chinese would surely feel as though Ozawa were indicating that presidents Hu and Obama were not on the same level.

So Mr. Harris should expect Ozawa to ignore his advice...
If Ozawa is serious about not interfering with the Hatoyama government's foreign policy making, he should make a point of having only brief, perfunctory meetings with administration officials, especially considering that sometime around Golden Week the government will presumably have reached a decision regarding the 2006 realignment plan. favor of keeping his own council.

In the grander scheme of things, one must remember that Ozawa plays for the very long term. The Chinese trust Ozawa, possibly even like him...and it has taken him 25 years to cultivate this relationship. Ozawa is also concerned most of all with defending that which he has already achieved.

Relations with the Obama Administration? A spring chicken, a puff of air, a work not even in progress yet, by comparison.

Problems Solving Themselves?

Unification in sight?
Taiwan to Build US$178 Million Bridge to Mainland

Feb. 9 – Taiwan has approved plans to build a bridge from the Taiwan-held Kinmen group of islands to the mainland reflecting improving relations between the two...
Well, I guess with peace and brotherhood breaking out across the Taiwan Strait, the Futenma/Henoko base controversy is pretty much moot, the Marines on Okinawa now being unnecessary have something to say, Agence France Press?
Taiwan to build bridge off China

TAIPEI — Taiwan on Monday gave the green light for building a bridge between two small islands that it controls off China, in what officials called a first step towards connecting the islets with the mainland.

A bridge linking the Taiwan-held Kinmen group of islands with China would be a powerful symbol of improved ties between Taipei and Beijing, as the area is so far best known as the scene of their bloodiest battle in the past 60 years.

That prospect has now moved closer with the decision by Taiwan's Council for Economic Planning and Development to approve the 5.3-kilometre (3.3-mile) bridge from Kinmen proper to neighbouring Little Kinmen.

"The bridge that has now been approved can be seen as a part of the project to connect with the mainland," Kinmen county magistrate Lee Wuo-tu told reporters.

The bridge will cost 5.7 billion Taiwan dollars (178 million US dollars) and is expected to be completed by 2016...

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Dark Side Of the Moon

"The Association of Those Seeking the Truth" (Shinjitsu o Motomeru Kai).

No one seems want to say much about who they are -- or if there is even a "they" there.

On February 5, the Asahi Shimbun printed the most extensive description of them so far:
Gyōseishoshi ya motoshinbunkishara de tsukuru Tōkyō no shimin dantai...

"A citizen's group of the Tokyo Metropolitan District composed of administrative scriveners, former journalists and the like..."
That's it.

That is all we know about the citizen's organization that filed the first request last year for an investigation of the relationship between the Rikuzankai and the Nishimatsu Construction Company...and that is filing a request to have a citizen's inquest into the decision by the Public Prosecutor's Office to not indict Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Ozawa Ichiro over the misleading accounting of a loan Ozawa extended to the Rikuzankai, an accounting sleight of hand that has led to the indictments of three of Ozawa's former secretaries.

An organization that has plunged Japan into political crisis twice in the last ten months and is set to do so again, taking advantage of legal reforms whose intent had been to give citizens the ability to prod prosecutors into taking on the politically powerful.

Who are these activists seeking truth on the behalf of the citizens from out of the shadows? Cat's paws for the Liberal Democratic Party, trying to undo the via the Prosecutors Office what cannot be undone at the ballot box? A front for regressive elements of the bureaucracy, attacking the government throught the Trojan Horse of a concerned citizenry, forcing prosecutors into investigations without merit?

Would you not feel better if the Shinjitsu o Motomeru Kai had a website? A published interview of one of its main members? A press conference?

Until such time as it turns out to be a handful of crochety, gray-haired former Waseda university graduates with too much time on their hands, permit me to feel scared out of my mind.

Kudos to Isabel Reynolds for bringing this group to world's attention.

Later - Many thanks to reader WA for pointing out the spelling and word usage errors.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Sharp People Making a Go of It

Two persons regularly posting serious and readable essays on Japan's place in the world:

David Fedman, writing from San Francisco

Ethan Chua, writing from Tokyo.

More and More from Moriya

Michael Merserve has posted to the NBR Japan Forum a translation of a fascinating interview with disgraced former Vice Minister of Defense Moriya Takemasa.

While it is easy to dismiss Moriya as a scandal-besmirched crank, a kettle who needs to paint everyone else black, his descriptions of the venality of Okinawan elected local officials rings remarkably true. It also enrichs the otherwise rather flat image of the Okinawans, who in most accounts of the Futenma-to-Henoko dispute tend to come out sounding like noble savages.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Waiting for the News

A view of Mt. Fuji from the train platform this morning...

Nearing 6 p.m. it is...and still no word on the purported imminent indictments of Ishikawa, Okubo or anyone else.

I guess the forced retirement of Mongolian yokozuna Asashoryu has sucked all the air of this news cycle...

Later - In its 5:55 newscast, NHK has announced that the prosecutors have indicted Ishikawa, Okubo and Ikeda on charges stemming from filling of false reports on the provenance of 400 million yen used to purchase a plot of land in Setagaya Ward. As predicted, prosecutors have decided to not indict Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro as a co-conspirator.

Praise for Ozawa Ichiro and His People

In a few hours' time, if the news media have it right, Ishikawa Tomohiro, Okubo Toshinori and possibly Ikeda Mitsutomo will be indicted for violations of campaign finance law. These indictments will be a travesty of justice and an insult to simple decency.

That the actions of the prosecutors shall not be a dagger into the heart of democracy is due to the fortitude of these three men, as they resisted in giving the prosecutors what they had been seeking all along: a pretext to arrest Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro.

In Ozawa, the prosecutors had the perfect villain: smarmy, arrogant, secretive, tough toward the United States and in cahoots with the Chinese leadership, treacherous (fatally treacherous, in the case of Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo), insincere, a former confidant of Tanaka Kakuei, willing to promote bad policy in search of votes and most importantly, physically ugly.

People would cheer his downfall.

The only problem was, the prosecutors did not have a crime...and going though all of the material seized from Ozawa's home and offices for months and placing Ozawa's former aides in prison for 23 days in mid-winter did not lead to the discovery or the manufacture of one.

Which among us could undergo similar scrutiny and not be found guilty of some violation? Very few, I would suspect.

That the prosecutors are predicted to be throwing in the towel despite having burrowed through mountains of evidence should indicate how utterly we have been manipulated into hating Ozawa and assuming his guilt. We have been fed heaps of horse manure by the conservative politico-media complex, and for the most part, we have accepted what were fed as fact.

Ozawa is an unpleasant man to look at and listen to. I am for one am glad he is predicted to continue assaulting my senses for some time to come.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Lictor, Ignosce Mihi, Quaeso

I have to laugh sometimes at the low hanging comedic fruit.
Mahatma’s teachings echo in Japanese Parliament
The Hindu

NEW DELHI: Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama invoked the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi during his policy speech at the 174th session of the Japanese Parliament, Diet, to outline the challenges facing Japanese society and the path to their amelioration.

Beginning the speech by narrating the seven social sins inscribed at the Raj Ghat, Mr. Hatoyama confessed that he was struck by how Mahatma Gandhi’s words “incisively” pointed to the problems facing Japan and the world today. The moment he stood before the Gandhi memorial, he resolved to begin his government’s major policy speech by narrating the seven social sins listed by the Mahatma...
The words of the Mahatama were not the only things echoing in the Diet. According to press reports, Prime Minister Hatoyama’s reading of the first two of Mahatma Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins – “Politics without Principle” and “Wealth without Work” -- led to a chorus of catcalls from the Liberal Democratic Party side of the chamber of “Hey! That’s you!” and “Pay the taxes!” –- the second shoutout being a reference to the gift taxes owed on the donations made by Hatoyama’s mother to the PM’s political fund organization.

Parliamentary democracy does not get any better.

Click on the title above to read to complete article from The Hindu…and since you are culturally sensitive readers you are not going to titter at the surname of the article’s author. The chief minister of Delhi has exactly the same name.

The North Koreans Are Just Like Us

I was watching "Kaabee" -- Yamada Yoji's 2008 star vehicle for the ever luminous Yoshinaga Sayuri (is is hard to wrap one's mind around the concept that she is 64) on television Sunday night. The story is a familiar one but well told of a saintly mother trying to raise two children in Meiji Constitution Japan, struggling mightily to maintain her dignity and a roof over her family's head as the increasing paranoia, poverty and military adventurism of the state grinds her loved ones and acquaintances into dust.

The scene at the train station, where the family is seeing off the happy-go-lucky uncle whilst all around them families are saying goodbye to their young men being sent to the front in China, all under the watchful eyes of the Kempeitai, prompted my viewing companion to remark:

"It looks like North Korea."

Hmmm... Meiji Japan's occupation of the Korean Peninsula taught the Koreans everything they ever needed to know about how to run totalitarian military dictatorship ruled by living gods...a point Christopher Hitchens fails to make his essay for Slate magazine because he is a) unaware of it and b) it does not suit his purposes.

Renting the "Kaabee" DVD would be a good way to remind oneself of how intensely, sickly weird this blessed land was in its pre-1945 incarnation, and how sick a person has be to think of the Meiji State as representing a more dignified and beautiful Japan.

Later - More bluntly still, just as many in Japan see their country as a preserver of real Chinese culture (see Banyan's piece in this week's Economist on this point) the DPRK should be proud of its meticulous maintainance of the essence and practices of Meiji Constitution Japan.

Why Japan is Still Not Unique

From Paris, Guy Sorman draws parallels in between the actions of the Tokyo Prosecutors Office in the Ozawa case and the actions of magistrates around the world.

Some would call it treason...

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Futenma\Henoko Dispute Reviewed

In a few paragraphs from the estimable Peter Ennis, as posted to the NBR Japan Forum.

At least the American side of the equation.

For all those at ringside at today's Security Subcommittee meetings.

Monday, February 01, 2010

I Want to Give Up On Hatoyama Yukio

In the first book of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, protagonist Arthur Dent escapes Earth as the unwelcome guest of the Vogons -- a race of nasty-tempered, ugly-minded, hideous-looking space-faring bureaucrats infamous for being the third worst poets in the Universe.

"On no account should you allow a Vogon to read poetry to you," warns the Guide.

Vogons, it seems, have nothing on Hatoyama Yukio's speechwriters.

Policy Speech by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama at the 174th Session of the Diet

I want to protect people's lives.

This is my wish: to protect people's lives.

I want to protect the lives of those who are born; of those who grow and mature.

I want to bring change to the sort of society where a young couple gives up having children because the economic burden is cause for unease. We must build a society in which children, who will support our future, are free to pursue their limitless potential.

I want to protect working people's lives.

Securing employment is an urgent issue. In addition to that, however, I want to create a society in which those who have lost their jobs and those who, for a variety of reasons, are continuing to search for work can remain active as members of the community, not losing their opportunities to interact with others. I hope to consider a new type of community in which all people can feel a connection with society, having a place where they belong and a role to play - through economic activity, of course, but also cultural, sports, volunteer and other activities...
The above is the official translation of the Prime Minister's policy speech to the regular session of the Diet.

The text seems off-kilter and off-putting. This is not the fault of the translators. Indeed, the translators should be lauded for their courage and forebearance. However awkward the speech in its English version, its defects pale to insignificance compared to the callow Japanese original. The translators having imposed structure, body, sense and decorum upon an avalanche of aspiration. In the original, the syntax is contrived; the rhetoric, incomprehensible; the diction, indefensible. At 51 minutes in length, the speech ties the record for the longest Prime Minister's policy address in history and is the second longest ever in terms of word count. Inochi ("life") makes 24 appearances. Hearing the Prime Minister deliver the speech must have been a near life-threatening experience for lawmakers sitting in the first few rows of the chamber. Had I been present in person, I would have sat, eyes like saucers, my fingers in tightening against each other in prayer, begging the Divine to please make the Prime Minister stop.

"I want to protect life. I want to protect life -- that is what I am asking for."
(Inochi o mamoritai. Inochi o mamoritai to negau no desu.)

What kind of opening line is that? What is it in response to? Has anyone ever started a policy speech with "I want to destroy life. I want to destroy life -- that is what I am asking for" in any venue other than a C-grade fantasy movie?

I sympathize with what I must assume is the foundation to Hatoyama's declarations of a strong desire to protect life. That which we call life in all its facets and forms -- life on earth, family life, life in the countryside, life’s golden age, working life – is under threat. In one way or in many, we all are standing upon the knife's edge.

However, by starting out with the solipsistic "I want..." Hatoyama reveals a complete misapprehension of his station. "I want to protect life" -- great, wonderful, become a volunteer fire fighter or a lifeguard at your local swimming pool. In the meantime, you are prime minister of Japan. Is it not time to start behaving like one, having your speeches begin with:

“Here are the problems our nation faces…”

shifting to

“Here is what I believe are the keys to solving our problems…"

building up to

“Here are the specific ways this government is going to deal with our nation's problems in the current Diet session…”

and ending with a mighty,

"I ask the cooperation of all here present to bring the plans of this government to fruition"?

Tobias Harris calls the Hatoyama approach professorial. Mr. Harris is too kind and his kindness obfuscates the seriousness of the dilemma facing the electorate. Prime Minister Hatoyama's approach to his jobs has been adolescent. He has viewed both leadership of the DPJ and the prime ministership as showcases for his creativity (Look at me! No one has ever delivered a policy speech like this before!) rather than crushing burdens. The serious business of being the duly selected leader of a people has been reduced to the level of a school art project, with its creator completely unconcerned about the marketability of his final product.

I have been willing to give Hatoyama Yukio the benefit of the doubt. The aggravating, misplaced and in the end foundationless idealism displayed in the essay he published last year in Voice could be attributed to either a lack of familiarity with the concept that words have consequences, or to a lousy ghostwriter. However, last Friday’s policy speech represents Hatoyama's second massive lapse in editorial judgment in less than a year.

A famed adage has it that while there is no shame in being fooled once, it is shameful to allow oneself to be fooled twice. I have had it for the time being with Hatoyama-san and his failures to respect the offices entrusted to him. His dilletantish approach to leadership is beyond me.

Original image credit: Reuters