Monday, August 30, 2010

We Would Like To Caveat That

Over at sigma1, Corey Wallace has produced a review of the final version of report of the Council for National Security and Defense Buildup in the New Era (Arata na jidai no anzen hosho to boeiryoku ni kan suru kondankai), the non-partisan, non-bureaucratic advisory commission charged with drawing up an outline for the eventual the National Defense Policy Guidelines (for background see "Japan's National Defense Program Guidelines" and "Preparing for the NDPG", both courtesy of Twisting Flowers). The commissioners delivered their final version of the report to the Prime Minister last Friday (Photo).

Wallace quotes from the English summary, which lays out the basic points in the report. Unfortunately, the summary fails to give a sense of the push and pull that went into the preparation of the report. In particular, the summary fails to mention a big step outward taken in the original draft that subsequently has been largely withdrawn.

The topic in question is Japan's Three Non-Nuclear Principles - i.e. that Japan will not possess, will not produce and will not allow the transit of nuclear weapons over its territory or through its territorial waters (motazu, tsukurazu, mochikomasasezu). Revisions of principles one and two were not on the agenda. However, number three -- non-introduction -- was on the agenda, as a part of Japan's ability to defend itself as a non-nuclear nation surrounded on three sides by nuclear powers (China, Russia and the DPRK, for those keeping score). It seemed odd to the authors of the report that Japan purposefully tie the hands of its ally, the United States, in responding to a threat posed to Japan's security by nuclear weapons, with a principle that American weapons platforms bearing nuclear weapons cannot even transit Japan's territories and territorial waters. It seemed to the commission a daft restriction to place upon an ally, so they wrote:

"For the security of Japan, what is most important is that for those countries possessing nuclear weapons 'that they be forced to not use them.' So for us to unilaterally tie the hands of the United States and the United States only beforehand based upon a principle, is definitely unwise."
As the author of Twisting Flowers surmised back in July, the opening of of a back door for a weakening of the "will not accept the introduction" principle did not survive intact a review by the powers that be inside the Democratic Party of Japan. The sentence above still remains--but it is prefaced now by a declaration:

"Emphasizing, in terms of the three non-nuclear principles of 'Japan will not possess, will not produce and will not allow the transit,' there is no situation compelling a revision for purpose of providing for the security of Japan at this time. However, at the heart of the matter...
So the Three Non-nuclear Principles remain inviolate in the eternal present...but at some future date indescribable except as being the time when applying the Third Principle will seriously damage the U.S. military's ability to protect Japan, the Third Principle will be extremely foolish to obey.

So that's that.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ozawa Ichiro Is Not Popular

As expected, Kyodo conducted a snap telephone poll in response to Ozawa Ichiro's announcement on Thursday he would be challenging Kan Naoto for the leadership of the Democratic Party of Japan. Also as expected, Kyodo found that the public really does not think highly of Mr. Ozawa's idea:
69% of Japanese polled prefer Kan to Ozawa as DPJ leader
Kyodo News

A majority of Japanese people polled want Prime Minister Naoto Kan to stay on as leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, far surpassing those who support party kingpin Ichiro Ozawa, according to a Kyodo News survey released Saturday.

The telephone survey conducted Friday and Saturday showed 69.9 percent of those surveyed backing Kan in the Sept. 14 DPJ leadership election, compared with 15.6 percent for Ozawa... (
That is really 70% for Kan versus 16% for Ozawa but who is counting? (Pollsters - Ed.)

The eye-opening number in the survey is that among Democratic Party voters Kan is even more popular and Ozawa less popular than amidst the public at large. A little over 82% of self-described Democratic supporters want Kan as the party leader and only 13% are in favor of Ozawa. While there is no such thing as a primary system, where members of local districts elect the candidates the party will be sending to the general election, the lack of support for Ozawa among core Democratic voters will have at least some effect on legislators who are wavering or even leaning toward supporting Ozawa. Nobody wants to discourage the core voters, as one needs their numbers and enthusiasm at election time. This is especially true for those Democratic members of the House of Representatives representing districts that have long been bastions of the Liberal Democratic Party.

Also bringing a crinkly smile to the lips is the dramatic jump in the Cabinet's popularity seemingly in the face of the threat of an Ozawa prime ministership. Two weeks ago support for the Kan Cabinet was at 39%, with the percentage of those not supporting the Cabinet at 45%. A month prior to that support was at 36%, with those not supporting at 52%. From the poll conducted Friday and yesterday, support for the Cabinet has rocketed to 48%, with those not supporting the Cabinet falling back to 36%.

The dramatic shift cannot be all about a fear of Ozawa -- but it sure as hell is mostly about him.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

What Remains of His Days

They must come to him at night, standing around him as he awakens from a deep sleep -- or sitting round the table in the great tatami room, translucent and glowing in the darkness. Kajiyama Seiroku, Hashimoto Ryutaro, Okuda Keiwa, Nakagawa Sho'ichi with his head buried in his arms or leaning to one side...and always, at the head of the table or the foot of the bed, a stern, thick-lipped Obuchi Keizo.

Those who were and might have been.

Okuda died first, in 1998, aged 70. Then Obuchi in 2000-- Obuchi whom Ozawa betrayed, breaking up the tripartite LDP-New Komeito-Liberal Party coalition. He suffered a stroke and died two days later -- though his body was kept on a respirator, nominally alive and deteriorating, until the middle of May.

The Prime Minister as vegetable.

He was 62 years old.

Then Kajiyama, his bar code hair straight back and gleaming, died just five weeks after that - at 74 years of age a Methuselah for this group.

Then Hashimoto, horribly of septicemia, in 2006, aged 68.

And of Nakagawa what can be said? An hidden yet well-known alcoholic, never pulled aside to seek treatment for his disease. Disgraced by a drunken episode in Rome in February 2009, he loses his seat in August and in November is dead one knows. No tries to know.

His father committed suicide, but Sho'ichi...

Nakagawa was all of 56 years of age.

Hashimoto, Kajiyama, Obuchi, Okuda...four of the Seven Magistrates of the Takeshita Faction (Takeshitaha shichinin bugyo). Two became Prime Ministers. One became Chief Cabinet Minister, the likes of which has not been seen since. Hashimoto, Obuchi, Nakagawa...who all whom got a head start in their political careers because their fathers' having died young.

Ozawa Ichiro must look at the fates of those like unto him and wonder.

Of the Seven Magistrates of the Takeshita Faction only he, Watanabe Kozo and Hata Tsutomu survive. Watanabe, The Talker, has had so many health issues the television news shows have to put subtitles on for people to make out what he is saying. And Hata, good old faithful Hata, has come out in support of Ozawa's bid even after the way he got burned in 1994.

Of those who jumped the to the head of the line in politics thanks to their father's getting out of the way, surviving are himself, Koizumi Jun'ichiro and Abe Shinzo -- and of them all it is Koizumi, the weirdo, the exception to the rule, who is the only one with nary a thing wrong with him.

Hata, Koizumi and Abe -- all of them have been Prime Minister.

Ozawa Ichiro has watched most of his contemporaries in the political world die off or be felled by health problems far earlier than normal for Japanese citizens. He himself is said to be dogged by ill health, hiding his condition from the public and confederates, taking medical vacations overseas.

He is 68 years of age. His father died at age 69.

Perhaps he has always been not like us. For him, perhaps now more than ever, there is no tomorrow -- there is only today. For those of us with expectations of living into our mid-eighties, his impatience, his willingness to smash the toy he has constructed because it would not do what he wanted it to, smacked of selfishness and conceit.

We see him that way still, and the polls this weekend will likely show our fellow believers are in the tens of millions.

Yet we should stop perhaps and consider what may have gripped him, what may haunt him, what may drive him to simply not care what we think -- that what remains of his days are few, and he seeks and has always sought a glittering prize -- one that decidedly lesser men have seized or had handed to them.

And but for a questionable investigation into a land registration issue that had it been anyone else's problem would have been dealt with by a simple fine and an expression of remorse -- except for this investigation that seasoned and publicity-seeking prosecutors have twice judged pointless to pursue -- the prize would already be his.

No matter what the cost to reputation of the the Democratic Party of Japan, no matter that it will look stupid - three prime ministers resigning in a space of 13 months -- Ozawa is racing the darkness.

We should perhaps judge him in that light.

Photo image: Sunset over the Imperial Palace on August 24, 2010. Photo credit MTC.

Later - This post has been edited for greater clarity

They Want More

The Japanese education system is plagued by its monsuta perantsu and its flabbbergastingly high levels of kids refusing to go to class -- even imperial princesses cannot stay in school.

China has problems seemingly on the end of the spectrum -- odious overachievers -- kids who are fantastic in their classes and unfortunately know it.

Off topic somewhat, but Jiang Xueqin's essay "When Good Students Are Bad" is a spectacular, must-read encapsulation of what may turn into a future business management and perhaps even public order issue for the world's most populous nation.

Friday, August 27, 2010

If Ozawa Becomes Prime Minister Can He Be Indicted?

Not according to the Constitution of Japan and nominal notions of reality, he cannot.
Article 75 -

The Ministers of State (naikaku kokumu daijin), during their tenure of office, shall not be subject to legal action without the consent of the Prime Minister. However, the right to take that action is not impaired hereby.
That prime minister himself is a minister of state is made clear in Article 66. So if Ozawa prevails in the DPJ leadership contest against Kan Naoto and is elected Prime Minister, the Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution can indict him until they are blue in the face, but to no avail, unless of course Ozawa decides that for the good of the country he should be subject to the indictment.

Which I am guessing he will not do.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Your Constant Companion

So Ozawa Ichiro goes to it.
Ozawa to challenge Kan in DPJ leadership race
Kyodo News

Ichiro Ozawa, one of the most powerful figures in the Democratic Party of Japan, told reporters Thursday morning that he will run in the ruling party's leadership election next month, challenging Prime Minister Naoto Kan for the party leadership...

Do your know what I love about this story? Paragraph three.
Hatoyama told reporters separately that he will support Ozawa in the race since he had been the one who had invited Ozawa to join the party. Ozawa joined the DPJ in 2003 when he and a small party he then headed merged with it.

Why do I love paragraph three so? Because it is followed by paragraph four.
The declaration of support by Hatoyama, who leads an intraparty group of about 50 lawmakers, came after he had told Ozawa during a meeting on Tuesday that he would back Kan's reelection as DPJ leader.

Proving once again the Nagata-cho political adage that the shortest distance between two points is the distance between the tips of Hatoyama Yukio's fingers and the wheels of a bus.


Noda Seiko -- legacy politician, crusader for the right of married men and women to bear separate surnames, everyone's pick during the LDP years as the woman most likely to become Japan first female prime minister, is pregnant. (Link to NHK report)

Using a donor's eggs, sperm from her partner (or as the newspapers put it "really her husband") and a clinic in the United States, the 49 year old politicians, who documented her struggles with infertility in numerous books and articles, will give birth, if all goes well, in February, when she will be 50 years of age.

Of course, there is the antediluvian legal issue: since the eggs are not hers, is she really the mother? The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labour has issued a report recommending that children born of eggs from donors be considered legally the children of the woman who carries the baby to term. The Diet (Who back there said "of course"?) never codified these recommendations into laws. The Ministry of Law (let us just dispense with the notion that it is a Ministry of Justice, shall we?) finds that until now, all legal decisions regarding these cases have recognized the birth mother as the legal mother.

All Noda-sensei has to do now is find a hospital in a ward, city or township office without some blood-and-semen arch-conservative running it, that she might register the birth in peace.

But that is all in the future. Until then, omedeto gozaimasu!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Is That All You Got, Ozawa Ichiro?

At long last, have you left no other cards to play?

On Sunday, Yamaoka Kenji, a vice-president of the Democratic Party of Japan and the ring leader of the Diet members pressing hard for Ozawa Ichiro run in the September 14 party election, revealed on television the reason why members and supporters of the DPJ should hope that Ozawa Ichiro runs for the position of leader of the party and vote for him if he does:

Yamaoka hinted on a TBS program that a Diet dissolution would not be necessary if Ozawa became prime minister. "Lower house members have a tenure of three more years," he said.

Asked why the lower house would have to be dissolved if Kan kept his post, Yamaoka pointed to the divided Diet, with the ruling parties holding the majority in the lower house while the opposition parties control the upper house.

He said Ozawa, who has strong connections with New Komeito, can surmount difficulties in the divided Diet, but under Kan's leadership the Diet would be completely deadlocked until spring, when the ruling and opposition camps are sure to clash in the Diet over the fiscal 2011 budget.
Laying aside for a moment the ridiculousness of a purported clash over the fiscal year 2011 budget -- the one kind of legislation which is guaranteed to pass through the Diet without rancor due to Article 60 of the Constitution -- this is what Ozawa has, after 40 years in the Diet, the founding and breaking up of a half-a-dozen parties, a small shelf full of books published of his ideas, a huge court at his beck and call and leading underdog parties to national victories not once but four times.

Ozawa is better than Kan because has good relations with the New Komeito.

Ozawa, who is almost certain to be indicted on accounting fraud charges in regards a real estate deal involving land he bought for a dormitory to house members of his personal staff, a man whose very presence in the Diet is opposed by 70% of voters, is the best man to lead the DPJ and the government of this blessed land because he has a good relationship with a party that worked against DPJ in the last election, instructing its voters to vote for the district candidates of the DPJ's arch-rival, the Liberal Democratic Party and which is widely recognized as the political arm of an authoritarian religious organization.

The ruling DPJ-People's New Party are 12 seats short of a majority in the House of Councillors and 9 seats short of a two-thirds override supermajority in the House of Representatives. In either case, a hook up with the New Komeito would supply sufficient votes for the new ruling coalition to pass any legislation it may so desire. Such is the terror of a nejire kokkai -- a "twisted" Diet where a single party or coalition does not control both Houses of the Diet that it is indeed worthwhile for the membership of the DPJ to elect the fraught Ozawa so that the party may grasp the hand of the even more fraught New Komeito.

Hilarious! Twisted and hilarious!

But you cannot deny the genius of it. Here is Ozawa, with the connivance of the press that hates him, raising to the level of national threat the boogie man he himself created. For it was under his tutelage that the DPJ turned the 2007-2009 negire kokkai into a graveyard of LDP-sponsored legislation and government appointments. It was under his leadership, following his example of utter intransigence, that the DPJ pushed the prime ministers and chief cabinet secretaries of the LDP into hysterics, frightening them so that they even considered, under Fukuda Yasuo, a grand coalition with the DPJ -- a plan that fell through only when the DPJ leadership aside from Ozawa gagged, believing that, yes, there were some things you should not do in order to seize power.

Be afraid of Kan because he will be defeated by the negire kokkai? Balderdash. Ozawa Ichiro is the negire kokkai. Only he would have the stubborness, the ruthlessness, the utter disregard for national priorities and the intestinal fortitude to take his opponent to the mat, no matter how much the editorialists and TV pundits screamed how irresponsible his "No" would be.

Which is the secret that Ozawa and his allies hope that Kan and his allies never, ever unravel: that no one in the current opposition, not LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu, not LDP Secretary-General Oshima Tadamori, not LDP House of Councillors Diet Affairs Chairman Nakasone Hirofumi, not Your Party leader Watanabe Yoshimi, has the guts and the gall to vote against legislation in the nation's interest just for the purpose of injuring the DPJ. That the opposition has no Ozawa Ichiro to go the brink, and then over it, is the crack in the facade of fear. All who could block the Diet's business out of a cussed desire to do so are each and every one too nice, too intent on being liked, to push his enemies to the wall.

The negire kokkai without Ozawa as the antagonist is an annoyance, not a tragedy. He or she who realizes this will be free of fear of the negire kokkai's supposed awful power to thwart good policy and necessary legislation. He or she who has faith in the opposition's lack of will can press forward with his or her agenda, certain that by hook or by crook an able talker can cobble together alliances of like-minded legislators, incorporate the demands of opposition parties into legislation and invoke the art of compromise for the good of all.

And without the fear of a insoluably constipated Diet, Ozawa's candidacy for the leadership of the DPJ evaporates into a puff of smoke and a smear of dust.

Which is sad, because Ozawa has earned the right to go out as a dignified senior statesman, a politician who fought tooth-and-nail to win against incredible odds, who cut corners and betrayed allies with scarcely a hint of remorse, but who, when it came time for him to step aside for the good of his party and his nation, had the grace, wisdom and forbearance to do so.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Ozawa Candidacy Frenzy


At one point, it is the question one has to ask.

"Why is Ozawa Ichiro, architect of both the Democratic Party of Japan's stunning victory in the August elections of 2009 and the stunning defeat in the July elections of this year, going through the motions of running against current prime minister Kan Naoto for the position of DPJ party leader, when no one aside from his cronies or acolytes wants him to? He is despised by the public, or at best deeply mistrusted. He would be electoral poison for the party in local elections. His policy platform, as outlined in the 2009 Democratic Party Manifesto, cannot be enacted, either due to the lack of funds in the national budget or the inability to pass enabling legislation through the opposition-dominated House of Councillors. Ozawa faces indictment by the the Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution for falsified political fund reports, an almost inevitable event that will trigger his immediate resignation from all public and party posts.

The incentives for his running all point in the negative direction. If he wins the contest, he destroys the party: either metaphorically through the collapse of its public support or physically as large groups break off, forming new parties. If he loses a formal leadership contest, he gashes his aura of awesome power. The humiliation of losing could indeed drive him to leave the party, with a passel of his followers in tow (taking his ball and going home -- which he has done time and time again).

Given all the bad an Ozawa candidacy could cause, why are we seeing his followers and dependents -- Yamaoka Kenji , Mitsui Wakio, Tarutoko Shinji et al falling over one another in ever more grandiose and sycophantic predictions of how inevitable and wonderful an Ozawa candidacy should be?

An enervated political press

We are still in August, after the July elections yet before the fall extraordinary session of the Diet. In normal times - that is to say Liberal Democratic Party times - there would be would be nothing much to report on in terms of political stories aside from who was playing golf with who in Karuizawa.

However, this year, the reporters have the September 14 DPJ election. Reporting upon what is happening in the election itself would be too much. It is actually three different elections being conducted under three different sets of rules, with far too many participants -- regular party members and supporters, DPJ members of local assemblies, and then and only then the DPJ members of the Diet. Keeping track of all of as it evolves organically, especially what the hundreds of thousands of party members are thinking, is simply too for a single reporter or even a gang of them to follow.

Why not then invent a false narrative, of a champion rising up to challenge the party status quo -- which has been the status quo, mind you, for all of two and a half months. A first attempt to promote Kaieda Banri fizzled out, not the least of which because replacing Kan, a battle-hardened, willy, Tokyo-based party founder with a mop-haired, sallow,Tokyo-based party tag-along did not meet basic plausibility standards.

So began the speculation that the Man, the Dark Lord, the Hidden Power would himself challenge Kan for the post of party leader. What a fantastic story! Ozawa with his legion of loyalists and dependents, calling in all the various favors so many in the party owe to him in order to defeat Kan, whose support is a shallow agreement that he is probably the best man for the job and the best person to represent the party before the people. Ozawa, who crawls back from the humiliation of Kan suggesting he remain quiet for the sake of the party and his own good, to force Kan to himself taste the bitterness of defeat. The return of the driven proponent of profligacy and centralization of power against the more circumspect advocate of moderation in policy and delegation of powers and responsibilities.

And oh the palace politics! The screams, whispers and crashes from behind the shoji screens! The dueling sound bites from the partisans on either side!

That's entertainment!

Yes. Precisely.

Which is why the television and print news media, which swarmed around the Ozawa's stroll into Hatoyama Yukio's garden party in Karuizawa on Thursday like a media rush around the Narita gate arrival of a South Korean boy band, should be ashamed of themselves. They are not reporting the news, they are manufacturing it, then hyping it, all in the hopes of drawing viewers to believe important a struggle that in objective terms may not even exist.

There is no such thing as bad publicity

One of the ancillary features of the coverage of the purported Ozawa challenge to Kan's leadership is the driving out of any serious coverage of what other parties are doing. Closely following the machinations and covert meetings of the groups of the DPJ, most of overlap in many ways (you would need a Venn diagram of intersecting circles to give a sense of the structure of the DPJ, when all you needed for its predecessor the LDP was a list of the factions names and their members' names) crowds out all other national political news, relegating reporting on other parties (Does anyone remember the last time Watanabe Yoshimi and the Your Party made the evening newscast?) to the margins.

The DPJ is on the news? No, the DPJ is the news!

Of course, focusing so much attention on a real/unreal/surreal (chose one) battle within the DPJ runs the risk of reminding the public of the raging factional battles of the unmissed LDP. Minister Ren Ho specifically mentioned this danger on Friday.

Regaining some measure of respect

As suspiciously high number of those most active in the promotion of an Ozawa candidacy are the Diet members who lost the most in the transition from the Hatoyama to the Kan administrations. The poster boy for this movement is Hirano Hirofumi, who made a complete hash of the position of Chief Cabinet Secretary during the Hatoyama Cabinet. He has been attending all the meetings that either openly or surreptitiously are in favor of drafting Ozawa to challenge Kan.

Having seriously damaged individuals like Hirano as the most visible advocates is possibly an indication that Ozawa himself is not planning to mount a challenge, and is only lending his name to others so that they may regain some of their former stature -- however, temporary that elevation to their former statuses may be.

Titanic ego

In the end, this dramatic buildup may lead to an even more dramatic announcement later this week or early next (the candidate list is formalized on September 1). Ozawa may indeed actually believe that he and not Kan Naoto should be leader of the DPJ and by extension, the prime minister of Japan. He may be surround by yes-me and yes-women convincing him that he not has the right, he has the votes to prevail.

If he does announce himself a candidate, then all hell breaks loose. Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya, who is rarely a wordsmith, still put the problem most succinctly:

"That a person who has a chance of being indicted should become the party leader and the prime minister leaves me with a sense of uneasiness."

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Don't Count On the Dead

I was talking with an investment professional a while back about capital accumulation. At one point in the conversation, the investment professional insisted that Japan's inheritance laws prevented the accumulation of family wealth, with serious adverse consequences on the rate of new company formation -- the assumption being that you need a wealthy class of risk takers, either family members or angel investors, to provide the capital entrepreneurs need to start new businesses. I cannot remember whether the investment professional was criticizing the requirement of equal division of the property of the deceased (surviving spouses get 50% - otherwise legitimate heirs get equal portions of the property) or whether he was complaining that the level of the inheritance tax was too high.

Anyway, the purported stupidity of the inheritance laws was a big deal.

The memory of this conversation got me to thinking about inheritance taxes and what effect they might be having on the state's fiscal balances. The number of persons is increasing, surpassing the number of those being born first in 2005 and unstoppably from 2007 on. In between 1984 and 2009, the number of those dying annually has increased by 54%. It seemed to stand to reason that the state's total take from the estates of Japan's deceased must be increasing year-by-year, largely line with the increases in the number of deaths.

Data source:

"Surely," thought I, "though the total take from personal income has been decreasing from lower bonuses, less overtime, greater use of lower-temporary workers and a decreasing workforce -- at least the ever increasing cohort of those running down the curtain in a given year will be doing their share to make up for losses elsewhere. Yes, the fall in the values of most classes of assets post-Bubble and in the Lost Two Decades since will have seriously eroded the inheritance take...but with the increasing number of the deceased, the state should be enjoying at least a mild, if ghastly, increase in revenues from the dearly departed."

Not so. Not by a long shot.


The light blue bars are the total inheritance tax collected by the state, according to the Ministry of Finance. Inheritance revenues peaked in Heisei 5 (1993) at a little under 2.94 trillion yen. They have fallen precipitously and consistently since then. Last year (2009 - Heisei 21 - not on the graph) the state collected 1.52 trillion yen in inheritance taxes. Revenues have thus fallen 48% since 1993 even as the numbers of those "paying into the system" have risen 30%.

So despite their rapidly increasing ranks, not even the dead have been of much help in the Japanese state's search for a way to put its fiscal house in order. At some point the downward trend in inheritance revenues should reverse itself, probably sharply, as the immediate postwar generation begins passing into the Great Beyond, leaving behind their hoards, or whatever may be left of such after the postwar generation's having lived for so very long, for the state to plunder tax.

It ain't happened yet, though.

Credit Where Credit is Due - Obon 2010 Edition

Tobias Harris has published the best analysis of the political environment surrounding the Kan Statement on the 100th anniversary of the annexation of Korea. However, it is D of Japan Without the Sugar who wins the plaudit for the most stinging rebuke (Warning: quote contains sarcasm and rough language) of criticism of the Kan Statement:
Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of the LDP criticized the government's decision, describing Kan and Sengoku as "foolish" and "ignorant" about dealing with historical issues. Japan Times

One may disagree with ol' I-quit-'cause-I-gotta-sh*t Abe, the fellow with a long history of denying that the Japanese Imperial Army recruited women to serve as sex slaves during the war and who got into hot water for boldly stating same as PM, but one can not question his expertise on being "foolish and ignorant about dealing with historical issues."
The full post can be found here.

As regards the other sujet du jour being given the "examine it until it drives people nuts" media treatment, the missing centenarians story, essayist Balefire has posted a thoughtful and informative piece on the peculiar inability of local governments to keep an accurate records of who is alive and who not alive in their bailiwicks.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Winning Leaves the LDP in a Quandary

One of the great prizes lost, possibly the greatest prize, in the Democratic Party of Japan's House of Councillors election defeat on July 11 was the ability of the ruling coalition make appointments to governmental and quasi-governmental entities without consulting the opposition. Unlike budget legislation which becomes law 30 days after the House of Representatives passes it, or regular legislation, which can be passed by a two-thirds majority override in House of Representatives should the House of Councillors either vote down or not act on a bill for 60 days -- bills of appointment become null and void without the approval of the House of Councillors. The DPJ's losing so many seats on July 11 means that Japan has reentered an era where the parties out of formal power become the gate keepers for non-bureaucratic government appointments.

Nullifying appointments is the one real power the House of Councillors. The DPJ, in the "Twisted Diet" (nejire kokkai) period of July 2007 to August 2009, used this power 28 times to stymie the appointments plans of the then ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The most famous appointment's struggle occurred in 2008 over Fukui's Toshihiko's replacement as Governor of the Bank of Japan. The DPJ-led House of Councillors first rejected one, then a second nominee for the post, claiming that the LDP's nominees' connections to Ministry of Finance made them incapable defending the Bank of Japan's independence. The LDP, unable to push forward one of its favorites, relented and approved a third, non-BOJ tied nominee, the then Deputy Governor, BOJ lifer Shirakawa Masaaki.

This fight over the appointment of the governor of the BOJ, which left the country without BOJ governor during a three week span of the global financial crisis, has become engraved in LDP lore as the proof of just how grubby the DPJ is at its core -- that the DPJ is so low it would be willing to put the country's and the world's financial stability at risk. LDP president Tanigaki Sadakazu has promised that no matter what powers the LDP may now have in the House of Councillors, never again will Japan will be without a Governor of the Bank of Japan.

What of other posts though? What is the point of having a power if one is not willing to use it? The desire to do unto the Democrats as the Democrats did unto the LDP must be overwhelming, particularly among the younger LDP members of the House of Councillors.

There are currently 13 vacant posts requiring Diet approval before they can be filled, including the heads of the Deposit Insurance Corporation of Japan and the Securities Exchange and Surveillance Commission. Another 30 posts are to become vacant by the end of this year. Where if anywhere will the LDP choose to make its stand, or make its point, and reject a DPJ-supported appointee? Of course it can reject the occasional one, but how many is too many? At what point will the media turn against the LDP, denouncing it for torturing the DPJ using the same tactics the DPJ used to torture the LDP?

Of course, the problems of what strategy to pursue in the House of Councillors regarding appointments is a part of the larger problem for the LDP of how it should behave in opposition in general. Confrontation on every level, such as the DPJ used against the LDP in the 2007 to 2009 period, is enticing. However, despite its recent electoral victory in the House of Councillors, the LDP is still a secondary level force as compared to the DPJ nationally. The LDP's support numbers are only two-thirds those of the DPJ, and they have been falling, both over the long and the short term. When the Yomiuri Shimbun asked whether the LDP should return to power as soon as possible, only 16% of respondents thought this desirable. Organizationally, the party is in no way ready for a general election, with sources inside the party saying that one third of the House of Representatives districts lack even an LDP election office head.

With the LDP unprepared for a sudden House of Representatives dissolution, the outlook would for cooperation rather than confrontation in the resolution of upcoming appointments -- and perhaps other Diet business as well. This is almost the exact opposite of the situation of the DPJ in the 2007-2009, when the DPJ was in the position to demand, on a daily basis, the dissolution of the Diet and a general election

It seems that almost exactly one year after the LDP's fall from power, after significant failures and disappointing behavior on the DPJ side, and the sudden acquisition of an ability to halt virtually all Diet business thanks to the results of the July elections, the LDP still has not acquired significant leverage in the Diet nor developed a clear strategic path to use the powers it has in opposition.



Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Politics of Reality

One of the enticing prospects of the auto-coup that saw scandal-dogged Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio and Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro replacing themselves with Naoto Kan and Edano Yukio was the possibility that DPJ policy could start reflecting Japan’s true position, rather than being a ragbag of collection of some seriously wonderful ideas alongside ludicrous aspirations and irresponsible promises made to every imaginable interest group.

The shine of the switchover to a more realistic politics wore off in what seemed an instant due to what turned out to have been a non-sequitur. The newly minted Prime Minister Kan, spooked as the whole world was to how close Greece came to default, tried to demonstrate the depth of his seriousness by suggesting Japan needed raise the consumption tax (in addition to several other fiscally contractionary measures) to return the country to the path toward fiscal balance, a path from which -- according to his former subordinates at the Ministry of Finance -- it had perilously strayed.

The public response to this proposal was swift and negative. Kan’s cabinet support ratings fell by a third. Support for the DPJ dropped also, though by a lesser proportion.

Part of the public response was a natural knee-jerk reaction against a tax rise. Greater possibly was a sense of betrayal, as a promise to not raise the consumption tax for at least four years had been a crucial part of the DPJ’s campaign literature.

However, a not insignificant amount of public opposition to Kan’s musings about raising the consumption tax came from the understanding that private consumption is highly sensitive to rises in this tax, and that an immediate rise in the consumption tax could lead to a catastrophic drop in consumer demand. Kan’s attempt to be responsible, to replace government borrowing with consumption tax revenues, was laudable, all other factors being equal. That all other factors are not equal, however, is something of which the Japanese public is painfully aware of after the country’s two decades of battles with slow growth and deflation.

The sudden deflation of confidence in the Kan government played a significant role the DPJ’s unexpected loss of ten seats and coalition control of the House of Councillors on July 11 -- though the huge losses suffered should more properly be attributed to the presence of the non-DPJ anti-LDP alternative Your Party candidates in a number of crucial districts and New Komeito vote trading with the Liberal Democratic Party in several others.

In response to the electoral loss, members of the DPJ most closely associated policy framework promoted by Hatoyama and Ozawa and tossed out by Kan and Edano, demanded the resignation of one of the policy makers closest to the Prime Minister --most vocally for Edano's resignation, as the secretary-general of the party perceived to be the person most directly responsible for the outcome of elections. Ozawa and Hatoyama loyalists also demanded a return to the policy line that existed prior to the takeover, a concerted effort to implement the entire 2009 DPJ Manifesto, compiled as it had been under Ozawa's tutelage.

Rather than take the usual route of sacrificing a close associate or his principles, Kan opted for a much harder route to redemption: abnegating himself.

Part of the choice of this approach was probably personal: on three occasions previously he has either stepped aside from a position of leadership or committed himself to acts of contrition and penance in response to what he saw as personal failures.

A larger part, however, is a simple admission of fact: the 2009 Manifesto was a document designed for winning a House of Representatives election in 2009, not for the running the country at any time. It is a core document of the DPJ’s, or more properly Ozawa Ichiro’s, road map to electoral victory. It cannot be cited as chapter and verse, as it was during the brief Hatoyama era, on how the country should be run.

In terms of policy, the 2009 Manifesto is the politics of unreality. There is not always a lot there there, and in some places there never was.

So during the final week of July and the first week of August Kan endured, in internal party meetings and in the Diet, complaints and abuse regarding his “mistake” of stating that Japan needs to get real. Rather than defiantly return fire, he was relentless humble, calling attention to his own mistakes and offering the hand of peace to opposition in the Diet, no matter how violently that hand was slapped in return.

The bravery (or foolishness) in choosing this path of self-abnegation becomes evident when one considers immanence of DPJ’s leadership contest, scheduled for September 14. Taking responsibility for everything that has gone wrong and not responding when challenged, either internally or externally, is hardly the route one chooses if one wishes to instill a sense of confidence in one’s leadership, and asks for a person’s vote.

Nevertheless, the path extreme self-abnegation seems to be beginning to pay off for Kan. He has kept his team together, despite pressure, minor though it may have been, from within the party to have a leadership shakeup. More stunningly, the public opinion polls are also showing the support numbers for his Cabinet stabilizing or indeed rising while the Do Not Support numbers weaken.

Polls from the end of the first week of August (figures from the previous poll in parentheses throughout).

Q: Do you support or not support the Cabinet?

Asahi Shimbun

Support the Cabinet 36% (36%)
Do not support the Cabinet 43% (46%)

Yomiuri Shimbun

Support the Cabinet 44% (38%)
Do not support the Cabinet 46% (52%)

Kyodo News

Support the Cabinet 39% (36%)
Do not support the Cabinet 45% (52%)


Support the Cabinet 41% (39%)
Do not support the Cabinet 43% (45%)

In addition to the improving numbers of the Cabinet, the DPJ as a whole has seen a tiny rebound in its fortunes, with the Asahi, Kyodo and Yomiuri polls all finding stabilizing or rising support for the DPJ with concurrent and consistent declines in support for the main alternatives, the LDP and the Your Party (Minna no To).

Q: Which party do you support?

Asahi Shimbun

DPJ 31% (27%)
LDP 19% (21%)
Your Party 7% (9%)

Yomiuri Shimbun

DPJ 29% (28%)
LDP 21% (24%)
Your Party 8% (12%)

Kyodo News

DPJ 32% (32%)
LDP 26% (28%)
Your Party 15% (16%)

Finally, even though non-party members do not have a vote in the DPJ’s leadership election, the public at large seesm to want Kan elected as leader of the DPJ in a formal party election, with him carrying on as prime minister. That there are voices calling on Kan to give up his leadership of the DPJ seems to be based not on issues of policy or personality but simply on the expectation that Kan, as the leader of a party that suffered an electoral defeat, should perform the traditional act of self-sacrifice and resign. What is interesting is how low the numbers are for this traditional act, considering the seriousness of setback the party suffered in the July elections.

Q: Would you like Prime Minister Kan continue as leader of the DPJ and as prime minister, or do you think he should not continue?

Asahi Shimbun

Should continue 56%
Should not continue 27%

Yomiuri Shimbun

Should continue 57%
Should not continue 30%

Q: In September the DPJ has a leadership election. Who would you want to be the leader of the DPJ?

Kyodo News

Kan Naoto 37%
Maehara Seiji 15%
Okada Katsuya 8%
Ozawa Ichiro 5%
Haraguchi Kazuhiro 5%
Edano Yukio
Others >1% each
Do Not Know 23%

The strength of these numbers is likely what is behind Kan’s boldest and riskiest gambit to date: formally repudiating significant parts of the DPJ’s 2009 electoral manifesto. The English-language report of the plan mistakenly identifies the source of the movement as the DPJ as a whole, when indeed it is a throw of the dice by the PM and those around him. The article thus misunderstands the disowning of parts of the 2009 Manifesto as “backtracking” when it is really the champions of a politics of reality dumping in the trash the parts of the Manifesto that could not be made to fit inside the nation’s budget or its present international political situation.

While reaching back in time to rewrite the 2009 Manifesto makes sense in terms of policy, it of course asks serious questions about the validity of promises the party will make going forward. Party members close Ozawa Ichiro, who led the compilation of the Manifesto, could possibly rebel and threaten to leave the party. Opposition parties will be merciless in their accusations of betrayal of the public trust, and endless in their insistence that no one can ever trust anything the DPJ promises ever again.

A loss of credibility as regards the 2009 Manifesto is a gamble that Kan, Edano, Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito and others of their circle nevertheless seem willing to make. They are likely not sacrificing any sizable fraction of the electorate’s support. Even at the time of its promulgation, fewer than one voter in ten believed that DPJ would be able to convert all the 2009 Manifesto’s promises into concrete actions.

Disencumbering the party leadership and indeed the whole DPJ of the strictures of the 2009 Manifesto would leave the party open to three years (the terms of the House of Representatives and half the House of Councillors will both come to an end in mid-2013) of unfettered attempts to solve current and future problems of the country, rather than the passive fulfilment of promises to special interests. Certainly, transforming these policies proposals into law without a formal majority in the House of Councillors will be difficult. However, if public support numbers for the alternatives to the DPJ slide, as they have already begun to do, it is not outside the realm of the imagination to think that in a few months’s time a number of LDP and Your Party legislators will see wisdom in making common cause with the DPJ’s new realists on specific laws, or even to junking their affiliations with the parties of “No!” in favor of giving the DPJ either a working majority in the House of Councillors or a supermajority in the House of Representatives.

Of course, before any of the above can happen, Kan must survive the DPJ leadership election. A huge block of Diet members owe their seats to Ozawa Ichiro's electoral genius or were indeed personally recruited to join the party by him. They represent a huge hurdle over which Kan must leap if he is to remain party leader. Just how much realism Kan will have to jettison in order to win over enough party votes for him to come out on top on September 14 will be the question dominating Japanese politics over the next four weeks.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

They Will Not Play Nice

Today's Tokyo Shimbun editorial derides Liberal Democratic Party President Tanigaki Sadakazu's questioning Prime Minister Kan Naoto. In asking the prime minister a question, listening to his answer, then moving on to the next question, rather than locking his jaws onto inconsistencies and not letting go, the LDP president was being simply too gentlemanly (shinshiteki - 神士的 ).

If Tanigaki were acting like a gentleman in the Diet yesterday, then he should hardly be the target of criticism. Instead should be held up for praise or at very least put into a glass case for public display as an entity from another place and time.

The buzzwords of the talking heads in the Diet and the press for the past three weeks have been shinshi ( 真摯 - sincerity) and teinei ni ( 丁寧に - politely, with care) the attributes the members of the Kan Cabinet and the Democratic Party of Japan will have to demonstrate if they wish to have the Diet conduct any business in a meaningful way. With the ruling coalition's loss of its majority in the House of Councillors on July 11, the Kan Cabinet lacks the ability to push bills through the full Diet by brute force of numbers. The Democratic Party of Japan does hold 306 seats in the House of Representatives and its ostensible coalition partner the People's New Party holds an additional 4 seats. The pairing of these forces leaves the government still short of the 319 votes currently necessary for a 2/3rds majority House of Representatives override of the House of Councillors. Under these "twisted" (nejire) conditions, total legislative gridlock on anything except the budget can be avoided if and only if the government shows the necessary spirit of humility and deference to the concerns of the minority and if the minority parties show the necessary spirit of cooperation with the majority party for the sake of the nation good.

Which seems rather unlikely to occur given the developments of the last few days.

It is hard to say which indicator is worst. On July 30, Nishioka Takeo was elected the new Speaker of the House of Councillors. The LDP had briefly sought the cooperation of all the other opposition parties in the House to have an LDP member elected Speaker. When the other parties, in particular the Communists and the Socialists gagged at this idea, the LDP went directly to work out a deal with the DPJ. In return for accepting a DPJ Speaker, the LDP demanded and received the promise of the DPJ of the #2 and #3 posts of the Diet, Deputy Speaker and Chairman of the Rules and Administration Committee (giin un'ei iin kaicho). On the day of the elections for the House posts, however, a spirit of cooperation seemed entirely absent. Nishioka was elected by the barest of majorities, with 88 of the ballots - over one third of the House's 242 possible votes - completely blank (votes in the House of Councillors are in written form). This was the largest number of blank votes to be returned in a House Speaker's election since 1983, in a contest tainted by the then candidate's association with the Lockheed scandal. By contrast, Otsuji Hidehisa, the LDP candidate for the post of Deputy Speaker, was elected with 235 votes, with only 5 ballot papers coming back blank.

It should be noted that Nishioka has been chairman of the Rules and Administration Committee for the last three years and has exercised the powers of that committee chairmanship ruthlessly, infuriating the LDP and New Komeito members of the House. Having made so many enemies in the #3 post, he was hardly likely to be the overwhelming choice for leader of the entire House.

[An aside, but ceding the chairmanship of the Rules and Administration Committee is not necessarily a show of the weakened state of the DPJ. Indeed, as Nishioka's case illustrates, the chairmanship of Rules and Administration is an extremely hot position. If you are too deferential to your own party in scheduling House Councillors activities, you are accused of being a tyrant. If you are too deferential to other parties, your own party members will call you weak or even a traitor. So good luck on finding the right balance, Suzuki Seiji!]

Then there was Prime Minister Kan's assertion last week that he will try to fulfill one of the pledge's in the DPJ's Manifesto - the reduction in the sizes of both Houses of the Diet. The proposed deep cuts -- of 80 seats in the House of Representatives and 40 seats in the House of Councillors -- represent either the blindest faith in the desire of Diet members to help the country's finances by eliminating their own jobs; the most sincere wish to indicate to all the minor parties how much he loathes their very existence; or the biggest "I love you" card imaginable to the LDP -- for under such dramatic cuts in the numbers of Diet seats only the DPJ and the LDP have the possibility of surviving as parties, with a vestigial New Komeito as perhaps the only other political entity to escape extinction.

If you want make nice with the little parties, hoping that in the absence of a formal majority coalition to cobble together coalitions-of-opportunity on a bill-by-bill basis in the Diet, then telling the little parties, "Hello, I want you dead" is hardly the greeting of choice.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Meet Me in the Budget Committee

Today Prime Minister Kan Naoto and the rest of his Cabinet will face their first Budget Committee questioning siince Kan took office in June. Four the next four days, first on Monday and Tuesday in House of Representatives, then Wednesday and Thursday in the Houses of Councillors, the PM and his ministers will face a battery of questions, most of which will have only the most vaguely discernible connection to the budget. The initial questions will not be hostile ones, as they will be coming from members of the Democratic Party of Japan. The chances of these questions making the evening news or being quoted in the newspapers are close to nil. It will be in the afternoon, when Liberal Democratic Party President Tanigaki Sadakazu, LDP Policy Research Council President Ishiba Shigeru and others get take their shots at the PM and his party that the media-worthy fireworks are likely to take place.

The PM is caught between a rock and a hard place in this question-and-answer session. Stuck in a position where no reasonable combination of the existing parties can be cobbled together to form a majority in the House of Councillors, he and his Cabinet have an incentive to appear conciliatory to the opposition, in the hopes of cajoling oppositions parties or even individual members of opposition parties into cooperating with the government on certain bills. This will mean jettisoning some of the party's stated aims and even swallowing whole some opposition bills seemingly in contradiction with promises made in the DPJ's 2009 manifesto. At the same time, the PM has the opportunistic and hungry members of his own party, mostly acolytes of former party secretary-general Ozawa Ichiro, who will expect him to defend the items in the party's 2009 manifesto tooth and nail -- for it is their view that the loss in the House of Councillors election was due to the Kan Administration's repudiation of its promises, overly numerous and unrealistic as they may have been. With the September party election just over the horizon, the PM cannot appear supine before the opposition, if he wishes to win over the party members in the local chapters and the DPJ assembly members in the nation's municipal and prefectural assemblies.

Knowing of the tough balancing act the PM faces, LDP Secretary-General Oshima Tadamori told the Sunday morning talk shows that his party will home in on the parts of the 2009 manifesto that the country clearly cannot afford or that the DPJ has no possibility of enacting, asking the PM whether he really believes in the manifesto's detailed items or not.

The opposition questioners will likely try to pin the PM down on a mass of other issues, such as his statements about raising the consumption tax as a part of a plan to bolster the country's fiscal position and the probable extensive delays in the implementation of the May accord on moving the Futenma Marine Corps Airbase to a new site off Henoko (the papers have just published yet another plan of how the new runway might be constructed). The Komeito has indicated will waste its time on examining the office expense accounts of Minister for National Strategy Arai Satoshi ("So these comic books expensed to your office, were they...salacious?"). While it seemed for a while there were going to be questions about the ability of Justice Minister Chiba Keiko to direct her ministry after her loss of her Diet seat the July election. Chiba's having ordered then witnessed in person (the first Justice Minister to do so) the execution of two death row inmates on July 28, despite her personal opposition to the death penalty, probably has knocked the wind out of anyone who may have been planning to question Chiba's ability to make tough decisions and issue tough directives.

None of these issues will be as difficult for the PM and his ministers to handle, however, as the fundamental contradiction in the present DPJ -- that it is run by persons who believe in the politics of reality, of the feasible and the functional -- who hold their majority in the House of Representatives and thus control the government based upon Ozawa Ichiro's politics of unreality, where there are no limits to the promises one can issue, because there will be no day of reckoning -- a politics of winning elections, not of running a country.

Well, the days of reckoning start today -- and it will take all of Kan Naoto's considerable political smarts to stay out of the line of fire when Ozawa Ichiro has been providing the opposition with the ammunition.