Showing posts with label Edano Yukio. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Edano Yukio. Show all posts

Monday, May 28, 2012

Ecce Homo

Today former prime minister Kan Naoto is appearing before the Diet's "Tokyo Electric Power Company's Fukushima Power Plant Accident Investigative Committee" (Tokyo denryoku Fukushima genpatsu jiko chosa iinkai). Kan's testimony is the culmination of the Committee's investigations, which have seen former minister after former minister summoned to tell his version of what happened during the first few hours, days and weeks of the Fukushima Dai'ichi disaster. Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio had his day before the Committee yesterday (On a Sunday! The Diet is normally like Melina Mercouri -- never on a Sunday!).

Today, however, is the grand finale, the final act, where the biggest fish in the sea is hauled out and interrogated about his actions and decisions in the most hectic and desperate days this blessed land has known since 1945.

The Committee's chairman is Kurokawa Kiyoshi (bio), a Fellow at National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) and an emeritus professor of Tokyo University. Despite the pointed, possibly highly technical questions it might ask, the Committee is likely to not be the kangaroo court the opposition and members of the news media desire.

Nevertheless, the news media and the opposition will hover like vultures over Kan's testimony, trying to find sentences to misconstrue, quote in isolation and otherwise tease and torture until meaning is drained from them. The colossal politico-media-entertainment squid bought into and promoted a narrative that the PM was an impediment to those who were fighting a panicked and ultimately failed effort to prevent meltdowns, explosions and the release of many terabequerels of radiation. Its members even went so far as to accuse him of initiating cascades of events that worsened the disaster.

So far, the news has accentuated the negative:

Japan refused US offer of nuclear experts in PM office

Edano: PM's office did not block use of 'meltdown'

Japan government spokesman says he didn’t deliberately mislead public on nuclear crisis
(Check out the accompanying photo. Shameless!)

As can be expected, each of the participants has used the occasion of his testimony to exonerate himself (E - photo issue as above). As a consequence, the final report of the Committee is likely to present a braid of different narratives, rather than a definitive chain of causation.

Most desperate to get their version out are the Tokyo Electric Power executives, who were not interviewed for the most recently compiled comprehensive investigation into the Fukushima nuclear disaster, produced by Funabashi Yoiichi's Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation (Link - J). If anybody has had a story to tell (and I do mean story) it is TEPCO executives, particularly as then president Shimizu Masataka checked himself into a hospital less than two weeks into the crisis. (E)

In the end, the report will disappoint those who want someone to blame. A giant earthquake and a towering tsunami hit a nuclear power station designed to resist the greatest natural blow this blessed land had heretofore experienced, not a black swan event. With the main and backup systems gone, everyone, with the possible exception of the TEPCO executives and the unprepared public information service of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, performed heroic ad hoc efforts to bring the nuclear reactors under control and ensure the public's safety.

So while the wire services, the nightly news on the anti-DPJ channels and even the reports the neutral channels, out of a misunderstanding of the concept of fairness, will bore in on the confusion and improvisation in March and early April 2011, and tomorrow's newspapers will echo and elaborate upon tonight's themes, the truth is that individuals like former Prime Minister Kan and plant manager Yoshida Masao, by following their better instincts, led others to do the same, and prevented a disaster from becoming a cataclysm.

Hold up your chin, blessed land, for producing men and women such as these.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Reputed: On Sengoku And Hatoyama


Oi naru
Chaban ni ikari

Anger over
The grand farce of Oi
We pass it by

Alternate (see the below acknowledgment)

The grand farce of Oi
Leaves me beyond anger

This morning's Tokyo Shimbun has an exclusive report with a screaming banner headline stretching across the whole top of the broad sheet:
「チーム仙谷」再稼働主導 首相・閣僚4者協議 形だけ

Leading the (Reactor) Restart Is "Team Sengoku": The Prime Ministerial Council of Four is a Figurehead

Link -J)
The article purports that the four-man (yes sadly, all men) council charged (pun unintended) with deciding whether the nuclear reactors of Japan, starting with Kansai Electric Power Company’s Oi Power Station Units #3 and #4, will restart or not, has been superseded by a five-man team (ibid) led not by the prime minister but Sengoku Yoshito, the Acting Chairman of the Democratic Party of Japan’s Policy Research Council.

One part of the shock value of this report is supposed to come from the revelation that the prime minister is not primarily responsible for leading a decision of such immense magnitude and significance. The other is that the real leader is a person of operating from a post of relatively minor status, nominally far below those of the ministers he is leading.

The membership of the Council of Four is Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko, Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu, Minister of Economics, Trade and Industry Edano Yukio and Minister of the Environment and State Minister for the Nuclear Accident Settlement and Prevention Hosono Goshi. "Team Sengoku" is supposedly composed of Sengoku, Edano and Hosono together with State Minister for National Policy Furukawa Motohisa and Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Saito Tsuyoshi.

According to the report, Noda and Fujimura are so busy with ushering through the legislation needed to raise the consumption tax to 10% that they have ceded formal operation of the Council to this unofficial group.

If this report is accurate, the ceding of the restart decision to a group led by Sengoku seems great news for advocates for a quick return to nuclear power. Sengoku is seen as the great pragmatist, with an overarching view of national goals far beyond immediate politics and traditional stances. According to the report, he also in his years in the opposition was close to the power industry, a closeness he maintained during his time as the head of the national strategy office and as Kan Naoto's Chief Cabinet Minister.

However, opponents to nuclear power should take heart from the report as well. Despite his much lauded smarts (E) Sengoku has a black thumb: everything he touches seems to turn to mud.

Like Liberal Democratic President Tanigaki Sadakazu, Sengoku has a reputation for policy brilliance that outstrips his achievements. Unlike the featherweight Tanigaki, however, Sengoku's stumbles have had serious consequences. His almost indescribably bad resolution of the Chinese ship captain arrest crisis, carried out while Prime Minister Kan was out of the country, not only made him a marked man (the House of Councillors eventually censured Sengoku, forcing his resignation as Chief Cabinet Minister) but fatally wounded the Kan administration.

Sengoku's farsightedness, while admirable in isolation, possibly makes him blind to present day reality.

Speaking of reputations, former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio has got himself into a heap of trouble with his ill-considered private visit to Iran.
Hatoyama on his own after 'private' Iran trip

The administration distanced itself Tuesday from the brewing controversy stemming from a visit by former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama to Iran, which was carried out over government objections.

Hatoyama was quoted by Tehran as criticizing the International Atomic Energy Agency for "applying double standards" to the country in his talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but the former prime minister denied making such comments after he returned to Japan on Monday…

Admittedly, "ill-considered" is superfluous in a sentence about Hatoyama. One strains to remember a decision he has made which has avoided descent into the "ill-considered" category. One may laud his decision to resign as prime minister and his commitment to take Ozawa Ichiro with him as "salutary" – but was his decision in that instance "carefully considered"? No.

As for the Iranians, all congratulations to them. Clearly they have been reading up on Hatoyama. They knew that they could print whatever passel of nonsense they could dream up, fully aware that when Hatoyama returned home and complained that he had never said anything of the things attributed to him, no one would believe him.

Regarding the senryu at the head of this post, it comes from what was an excellent batch printed in the Tokyo Shimbun three Saturdays ago. The last two weekends have been disappointing, with little to share in terms of topicality or clever word play.

The key in the above is oi naru. Oi is written in the kanji of the Oi nuclear power station. Naru would then be a classical version of the modern no. However, oinaru, if written only in kana (おおいなる) or with the kanji dai means "great" or "grand" (大いなる) becomes the adjective oinaru, meaning "great."

So oinaru chaban is at once "the Oi farce" and "the grand farce."

Later - Credit where credit is due: the senryu above is by Tezuka Tatsuo, a resident of Yachimata City, Chiba Prefecture. Printed in the Tokyo Shimbun of 12.03.24.

Later still - Many thanks to reader AG who has pointed out that if you curl around the last line break and add the article o, you get the phrase ikari o torikoshi, which means "beyond anger"

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Article 51 Exemption

During the Friday's House of Councillors Budget Committee session, the first Liberal Democratic Party questioner was the painfully little-known Ishizaki Yosuke (OK, try; try to name whom he represents. See? Neither could I. I had to look it up).

Ishizaki Y. (there were, unbelievably, two LDP questioners in Friday's budget session with the surname Ishizaki) began his questions with the following speech, none of which had anything to do with the business of the day:
Last year on March 29, in a session of the Budget Committee with the purpose of reviewing what had happened, I was seated at this seat.

This was the first session of the Budget Committee after the Great Easter Japan Disaster. Prime Minister Kan and the members of the Cabinet were all in emergency disaster relief uniforms. I asked, "Was it not strange for the supreme commander of the disaster relief effort to board a helicopter for the nuclear power station? For the prime minister to go before Tokyo Electric Power Company, going about yelling at them, "What are you going to do?" I asked, "Was not the venting [of the reactor vessels] and the provision of seawater to the reactors slowed down by this?"

What I got in return was, "At at time of national crisis, to question whether or not government the government was harassing [TEPCO and its workers] -- give us a break (keshikaran)"

Yet now, a year later, if you look at the news reports of today, we have come to learn that almost everything I insisted at the time was true. [Isolated shouts]"
Uh, no. In either retractions of previous stories, reports from the news outlets contradicting their own previous assertions and from reports on the investigations of outside organizations, nearly every one of the things you asserted on that day, Senator Ishizaki, turned out to be false.

How do the members of the Diet get away with continuing to hold to positions that are demonstrably untrue? How do they get to repeat them, so that they are once again entered into the historical record?

First, no one is watching. Well, I was watching -- but what good does that do? Actually that is not true either. My old Mizuho Bank branch used to have the Diet sessions on for the edification/entertainment/sedation of their customers waiting their turns. Many municipal office waiting areas have the broadcasts on for similar reasons. So I was not exactly the only witness to Ishizaki's attempt to rerewrite history.

Second, there is the little business of Article 51 of the Constitution. What Senator Ishizaki was insisting was true was a slander of former Prime Minister Kan Naoto. Even though it was not in his initial slanderous remarks, Ishizaki went on later to implicate and by doing so slander the then Chief Cabinet Minister, now Minister of Economics, Trade and Industry Edano Yukio, seated not four meters away.

What could Edano or Kan do to stop Ishizaki from perpetuating lies and damaging their reputations? Absolutely nothing. It was his Diet time, in which he can say any damn thing about any damn citizen he chooses, because, under Article 51:
Members of both Houses shall not be held liable outside the House for speeches, debates or votes cast inside the House.
Unless his own colleagues censure or expel him, a costly process in terms of political capital and time, he is going to have a lectern at which he can spew outrageous (keshikaran) calumnies forever.

Ishizaki Y. is truly blessed. Contrary to the adage, he can have not only his own opinions but his own facts.

For the video of the session, click here, and do a little digging.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Poetry of the Everyday – Part I – Messages

On March 5 haiku poet Mayazumi Madoka gave a lecture in Washington on haiku and 3/11.

Though I was not there, I am skeptical that what she said had much relevance to the triple disaster, whose one year anniversary we are swiftly approaching.

The composition of haiku is unimaginably difficult in the best of times. In most hands it devolves into mere metric pretention. At their very best haiku pin down in 17 syllables the intersection of a time and a place in a manner that is at once considered, playful, serious and artless.

Given its intense brevity, haiku requires an immense body of knowledge to appreciate. Most of that physical knowledge has been irrevocably lost in the vast increase of personal material wealth and the disassociation of individuals from nature and its rhythms since haiku’s golden age. As for the literary historical knowledge, so many centuries have passed and so many poems composed that only scholars and devoted amateurs could place in context particular words, phrases or themes. Those without a knowledge of what has been said before would be lost. In 1994, while on a visit to the United States, Emperor Akihito (the Heisei Emperor) paid a visit to American school teaching Japanese language. In a short presentation on composing haiku, the emperor took Basho’s famous verse on the frog (kawazu) leaping into a pond, but changed the protagonist from a frog to an old turtle. The emperor was commenting on his own visit to the school, where the children were awaiting an appointed magical moment only for an old turtle to show up. The old turtle, was, of course, the emperor himself, in a charming bit of self-deprecation – a turn of phrase that was, unsurprisingly, completely lost on everyone present.

But beyond the technical and literary historical problems thwarting attempts to bridge the gap between haiku and 3/11, haiku is just not an art form amenable to comprehending cataclysm. Guernica gives a sense of cataclysm. Fortuna et Imperatrix Mundi gives a sense of cataclysm. Haiku, with its requirements that there be a season word (Who wants to remember the light snow falling in Iwate?) and an essential simultaneous disassociation from time and the capture of a moment, all in 17 syllables – cannot suffice, I am afraid.

Which is not to say that brevity cannot capture the terror and pathos of the events of 3/11. The hearts of the country had been captured by the story of "the voice of the angel" Endo Miki, 24 year-old Minami Sanrikucho civil servant who kept broadcasting warnings about the impending tsunami over the town’s loudspeakers until the waves drowned her. Her body was found in early May. However, it is the last minute emails of her high school classmate and co-worker at the disaster center, the also 24 years-old Miura Arisa, whose body was not found until January this year amid the town's rubbish heaps, which have become the words befitting the disaster.

In her last message, to her mother, which her mother was not to receive until several days after March 11 due to the back up of electronic traffic, Ms. Miura wrote:


Buji desu ka!?
6 metoru no tsunami kimasu
Yakusho nagasaretara gomen

Are you OK!?
A six meter tsunami is coming
If the public offices are washed away sorry (forgive me)

The waters that were to engulf Miura Arisa, Endo Miki and 39 of their fellow disaster relief workers were much higher than 6 meters. The only persons who managed to survive the tsunami did so by clinging to the metalwork atop the purportedly tsunami-safe three story structure.

As for the final gomen, it is the jagged edge of sadness, the apology of a child for committing the unfilial act of dying whilst in the line of duty, leaving her parent behind to mourn. (J)

Last week's issuance of the civilian report on the Fukushima Dai'ichi nuclear power plant meltdown had in it another brief yet eloquent passage worthy of repetition, describing the clash between the tedious mentality of the everyday with the forces arrayed against the country.

On the first morning of the catastrophe, when the Tokyo Electric Power Company was failing to inform the government of the situation at the plant, Prime Minister Kan made the difficult decision to visit the plant himself to get a grip on the situation, in both meanings of the term.

Hearing of the PM's determination to visit Fukushima Dai'ichi himself, Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio warned of what he thought were the likely significant consequences:

枝野官: 絶対にあとから政治的な批判をされる。

Edano: Zettai ni ato kara seijiteki na hihan o sareru.
Kan: Ato kara no hihan to kono jiten de genpatsu o kontororu suru koto to dotchi ga daiji nan da.
Edano: Wakatte iru nara dozo.

Edano: There is no doubt about it, afterwards you will be criticized politically.
Kan: Between being criticized afterward and getting control of the nuclear power plant, which is more important right now?
Edano: As long as you understand (the situation), please, go ahead. (J)

Edano, the saintly Edano who had a Twitter stream begging him to get some sleep in the aftermath of the disaster, is here revealed as the political operative, thinking about how the issue of Kan's visit would be perceived in the poisonous political atmosphere of Nagatacho. Meanwhile Kan, the selfish Kan who would not give up his premiership until he got his three wishes granted, is clearly in control of his senses, if not the situation up at Fukushima, where the #1 and #2 reactors had already melted down and the building housing reactor #1 was only hours away from exploding.

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.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

And the Home of the Brave

Just four weeks ago, we were looking, with not an insignificant amount of despair, at a 2010 House of Councillors election being fought over whether or not the PM is such a dufus that did not actually know how $14,000,000 of donations from his mom were handled in his accounts; whether Ozawa Ichiro is or is not Richard III; over whether the Democratic Party of Japan should be castigated for making promises it could not keep (because they were fiscally unsound) or for not keeping those promises; over how far backwards the DPJ was willing to bend -- to the small-scale farmers, to the trucking industry, to the postmasters and the postal unions -- in giving them what they wanted to the detriment of the national weal.

An ugly, dispiriting exercise, in other words.

Now, just a few weeks later, with Hatoyama Yukio, Kamei Shizuka and Ozawa Ichiro sent to the sidelines, the public is being hit with a hard, inconvenient truth -- the country takes in too little revenue to pay for the services the public has come to expect, meaning that taxes will have to be raised -- and that the voters will have to make their choices in the election booth based in large part on the soundness of their plans the various parties have put forther confronting that inconvenient truth.

On May 2, just a month and a half ago, the Tokyo Shimbun ran an explainer article, a little Socratic dialogue about the struggle inside the ruling coalition over when the subject of raising taxes will be broached: before the election, after the election or never.

Q: "So if the experts and the politicians both are thinking the same way, then it is in fact already decided that tax rates will be raised?"

A: "No, no, no. While you are likely to hear expressions like 'We will have to with haste grapple with fundamental reform of the tax system, including the raising of the consumption tax", nobody is brave enough to say what the new tax rate will be or when it will come into effect. Because whatever the government's plan is, it will be in effect a part of the DPJ's manifesto for the House of Councillors election."

Q: "And the DPJ has made a public promise to raise the consumption tax before, hasn't it?"

A: "Yes, in the DPJ's 2005 House of Representatives election manifesto the party put forth a plan to raise the consumption tax rate exclusively in order to stabilize the pension system. However, in that election, the DPJ suffered a landslide loss."
Nobody is brave enough...while it is true that Prime Minister Kan Naoto, DPJ Secretary-General Edano Yukio and Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito are calling the bluff of the Liberal Democratic Party, which had challenged the ruling coalition to show some guts and talk about raising the consumption tax to 10% - a number the LDP never dared mention when it was in power save as a hypothetical -- it is not hyperbole to say that they have proven the Tokyo Shimbun wrong. The DPJ's new core leadership knows that talk of raising taxes is political poison. The party has taken a body blow (as did the LDP before it under Takeshita Noboru and Hashimoto Ryutaro) for talking honestly about Japan's fiscal situation and the unpleasant business of rebalancing the whole.

Let the tough talk continue. Hurrah.

(This post has been reedited for clarity, based upon a reader's comment. - MTC)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

House of Councillors Election 2010 - the District Elections

The other day I took a look at the historical vote totals in the proportional party list half of the House of Councillors elections, then tried to make a prediction (since updated) of how the proportional seats will be apportioned out in the upcoming election, if current trends in the public opinion polls reflect of the preferences of the voters on July 11.

Now as which candidates will win the 73 district seats up for grabs on July 11, a number of factors will affect the outcomes.

- In this telegenic ages is the candidate a handsome, outgoing, energetic person or a warmed over lump of human flesh? (Then again, in 1995 the elfin Aoshima Yukio, a member of the House of Councillors, ran for Governor of Tokyo by making only the mandatory taped five minute free televised speech, then spending the rest of the campaign period locked in his apartment -- and still won.)

- Does he or she have any scandals or embarrassing statements to live down?
(Then again, in 2004 Suzuki Muneo and in 2007 Tsujimoto Hitomi, both convicted felons at the times, both finished just out of the running in their House of Councillors district races. Both are now members of the House of Representatives)

- Is he or she an LDP hopeful in Eastern Japan or a Democrat in Western Japan, as the country is largely split into a Democratic East and and an LDP West?

Nevertheless, there are some questions that seemingly will have significant impacts, particularly in the rural, single seat prefectures, where the reversal of Ozawa Ichiro's reforms of the DPJ will tend to support a reversion to historic norms in voting patterns.

To whit:

- Where will the estimated 300,000 to 1,000,000 post office-related voters cast their ballots? It is not likely that they will plunk down their vote for the Democratic Party of Japan after the government let the postal reform bill die on Wednesday. However, can the postmasters and their unions go back to supporting LDP candidates, seeing as how the LDP was the party that passed the original privatization law, in overwhelming fashion and furthermore, lacks the votes in the House of Representatives to be a force capable of sponsoring legislation in the post office's favor?

- How will the farmers vote? They received their price supports, as promised in the 2009 DPJ manifesto and the current manifesto promises continuing efforts. However, the guarantor of the farmers actually receiving similar supports in the future was former DPJ Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro, who is gone from the scene, at least for no. The new DPJ leadership team seems to be entirely the sort of urban- suburban- white collar cost-cutting and budget rationalization crowd that will target farmers and other primary good producers as inordinately well treated members of the public.
Should farmers, fisherman and foresters trust that the Kan Naoto/Edano Yukio-led DPJ will continue to coddle agriculture in the name of preserving food security? Or will the debacle of the foor-and-mouth disease in Miyazaki prefecture prompt every single farmer in the land to abandon the DJP?

- The government of Hatoyama Yukio failed to follow through on the DPJ campaign promises regarding the elimination of expressway tolls and rescinding of the temporary fuel taxes. Unsurprisingly, the nation's parcel delivery and short- and medium-haul trucking industry is furious. Will they go back to voting for the LDP, even though the LDP has no fiscally sound way of satisfying the requests of the trucking industry?

- Are the voters still in the "let's throw the bums out" mood they have been in since pretty much 2001? Due to the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, should the DPJ can pretty much write off Kumamoto and Kagoshima Prefectures, the neighbors of the stricken Miyazaki? Will Aoki Mikio's selection of his son to take over his seat in Shimane Prefecture blow up into a minor public relations fiasco for the LDP in the Chugoku region?

- Will a relatively early election increase turnout, generally seen as a plus for the DPJ?  July 11 is well before the midsummer break for the schools; before the time workers start to leave their electoral districts on their summer vacation; and before much of central Japan heats up like a furnace, wilting both campaigners and voter patience?

However, the big kahuna in this whole election -- and the only reason that Ozawa Ichiro was able to cling to the position of Secretary-General for so long, despite every indication that his presence in a leadership position was unacceptable for 80% of the electorate -- is the LDP's district performance in the likely absence of electoral cooperation between the LDP and the New Komeito.

Look at these two sets of numbers:

2009 House of Representatives

Total votes for party proportional seats,
by party
DPJ 29,844,799
LDP 18,844,217
New Komeitō 8,054,007
Communist 4,943,886
Socialist 3,006,160
Total votes for party candidates,
by affiliation of candidate

DPJ 33,475,799
LDP 27,301,892
New Komeitō 782,784
Communist 2,978,354
Socialist 1,376,739

In 2009, when the LDP and the New Komeito were coalition partners, LDP district candidates received a net 8 million votes from New Komeito voters - a full one quarter of all votes cast in the districts for LDP candidates.

If the members of the New Komeito do not ride to the rescue of the LDP at the last minute, it is unlikely the LDP will defend all of its current seats or seize a single DPJ seat in the upcoming election.

This must have been Ozawa's ace in the hole - the reason why the DPJ's plummeting poll numbers did not fret him.

I will do a district-by-district run down for the country...but it hardly seems worth the trouble. Without the New Komeito by its side, the LDP is set up for a huge fall.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Background to the DPJ's Ongoing Counter-Reformation

Prime Minister Kan Naoto has nearly completed filling up the holes in the new line up of Democratic Party of Japan executives and the Cabinet. From announcements and speculation printed in the nation's newspapers, it is clear that the DPJ is undergoing a massive shift away from the course it has been following since 2005.

When Kan and former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio founded the DPJ in 1996, the party's core faith was that Japan suffered from an excess of government spending on slow growth or even loss-making endeavors. The key to reviving Japan's health was the removal of the control of spending from bureaucrats (who were supposedly using the budget compilation process to featherbed organizations and industries that would supply them with sinecures following their formal retirement from government service) and assaults on the system of subsidies and supports for industries and activities (agriculture, construction, package delivery) with close ties to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Under the classic DPJ paradigm, government would have a limited role in directing the economy, with the focus of policy on the cutting away of the relations of economic dependency. The goal was a more open, failure-tolerant structure, where a social safety net would catch those who fell out of those industries undergoing shrinkage.

Two major events post-2000 forced the party to junk this policy framework. The first was the wholesale larceny of the party's ideas by Koizumi Jun'ichiro, who ran against the traditional policies of his own party, the LDP, promising change almost identical to the changes proposed by the DPJ.

The second was the landslide loss in the 2005 House of Representatives election, where a glum Okada Katsuya seemed to be campaigning on the slogans of "no fun anymore, suffering for everyone." Against improbable optimism of Koizumi, Okada's grim warnings of disaster were a total electoral downer. Unsurprisingly, the party fell flat on its face, getting wiped out in urban and suburban districts, its supposed impregnable electoral fortresses.

Rather than switching to a Koizumi-like bon vivant with a taste for the spotlight, the DPJ opted for the leadership of Ozawa Ichiro. Like Koizumi, Ozawa had a flair for the irresponsible and insincere promise. Unlike him, he was disdainful of the press, preferring to build his political machine out of the knitting together a thousand normally mutually exclusive promises to a thousand different interest groups. Recruiting local worthies to his cause through patient courtship, he built up a huge electoral bank of persons he could run as candidates who were primarily reliant on his political wiles for their educations.

This was, of course, the classic LDP Tanaka/Takeshita faction's winning playbook. Under Koizumi, the LDP abandoned its traditional method of building coalitions of interest groups and patient local recruitment in favor of a media-driven presidential and national mode of rule. As the LDP set about "modernizing" itself, Ozawa moved into the gap, dragging the DPJ, kicking and screaming, in with him.

The new DPJ had a successful test drive in the 2007 House of Councillors elections, where it prevailed over the LDP. It can be argued, however, that the DPJ did well due more to latent disgust at the LDP (particularly over the pension scheme fiasco and other policy missteps ) than thanks to the DPJ's new look.

Ozawa's DPJ received its real test in the 2009 House of Representatives elections, where it completely flipped the country's districts from LDP to DPJ control. The touchstone of the election was the DPJ's policy manifesto, which contained so many concessions and promises to so many different constituencies as to be internally incoherent, and impossible to implement as a whole. A strategy of promising everything to everyone made perfect sense in political terms, however: the electoral map having been drawn by the old time LDP in such a way as to favor the party that could make the most improbable promises.

The results of the 2009 vindicated Ozawa and bolstered his standing in the party to immense heights. A grateful Hatoyama, who found himself in the position of being the party's candidate for Prime Minister thanks to Ozawa's having rigged the snap 2009 party leader election, granted Ozawa the position of Secretary-General and the ability to fully complete the transformation of the DPJ into his personal policy and elections machine.

Events, however, began eating away at Ozawa's authority within the party faster than he could remake the party to his own needs. The global economy began recovering from the 2008 crash much earlier than anticipated, reducing the intense need for the deficit spending tthat undergirded his promises to interest groups and shifting attention toward countries with seemingly unsustainable debt increase paths, of which Japan was one. Prime Minister Hatoyama's political finance difficulties turned out to be far, far worse than imagined, composed of hundreds of real, repeated criminal acts involving hundred of millions of yen. The Futenma base problem turned out to be insoluable, no matter that most of the country believed that the Okinawans had been shafted by previous LDP governments.

What seems to have broken the camel's back, however, was Ozawa's shutting down the DPJ's Policy Research Council. While nominally a move to concentrate policy formation in the Cabinet, the abolition of the Council looked like shutting down the only forum for anti-Ozawa elements to argue that the party manifesto was a laundry list of promises, not a plan -- and an electoral liability for a ruling party. Whether or not this contention was true on not is debatable -- but by abolishing the Policy Research Council, Ozawa seemed to be declaring that that debate would not ever happen.

While members from the DPJ's middle ranks fought with Ozawa over the elimination of the Council, it was likely that they did so under the supervision of senior members of the party, many of whom understood that their own influence was in danger of being usurped. Until the abolition of the Council, the claims that Ozawa sought to establish a dictatorship could be explained away as fanciful LDP scare stories. After its abolition, and the sidelining of dozens of longtime DPJ policy wonks, these scare stories seemed suddenly far less farfetched.

The turning point, it seems, was the Ubukata Affair. When Ubukata Yukio went to the media with the case against Ozawa, the party directorate announced that Ubukata would be stripped of his Deputy Secretary-General post. This decision did not last the weekend. Announced on a Thursday, the dismissal was rescinded on the following Monday.

Several weeks ago I wondered why the Seven Magistrates of the DPJ did not follow Ubukata's lead and rid themselves of their wounded and troublesome Secretary-General and his associates. At the time, I rationalized the inaction of Sengoku Yoshito, Edano Yukio and others as their decision to take the path of least resistance: clashing with Hatoyama and Ozawa head on was risky, picking up the pieces after a disastrous House of Councillors election would be child's play.

Following the collapse of support for the Cabinet and the Party in the wake of the Futenma climbdown and the dismissal of Fukushima Mizuho from the Cabinet, the Seven Magistrates found themselves in the situation where they could carry out the prophesied coup -- because, as every poll indicated, the House of Councillors election was lost.

[Yes, a paradox: anti-Ozawa forces could move in and alter the course of future events only after the course of future events was inevitable.]

Since seemingly winning over Hatoyama Yukio to their cause, the anti-Ozawa leaders have moved with staggering efficiency and dispatch to eliminate Ozawa's influence over both policy and party management. Fiscal conservatives are now in all the party's and the government's top policy setting positions (bureaucrat bête noire Ren Ho, who had been slated to take over for Fukushima at Consumer Affairs, will take over for Edano as Minister of Government Revitalization), the Policy Research Council is being revived and the PM has told former Secretary-General Ozawa to keep his thoughts and advice to himself.

Today's party position announcements and tomorrow's new Cabinet lineup will be sending a message, one that will have repercussions well beyond its already mesurable impact on the fortunes of Kan & Company in the upcoming House of Councillor's election.

The DPJ, the classical DPJ, is back.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Kan Declares, Others Mull Their Chances

Finance Minister Kan Naoto has said that he wants to run for the post of leader of the Democratic Party of Japan and thus become prime minister. State Minister for Administrative Reform Edano Yukio has said he does not. Minister for Land, Transport, Infrastructure and Tourism Maehara Seiji is not sure.

Various groups (don't you dare call them factions) of the DPJ are holding evening meetings, weighing the options of putting up a candidate or declaring support for another group's likely candidate.

What do the citizens think? Though they have no vote in the DPJ's leadership election, the party membership has be thinking about which candidate is most likely to win the public's trust and fire the public's imagination. Who is it that the voters think is most appropriate to replace Hatoyama Yukio as PM? Who has momentum?

Though it is a very crude measure, the Kyodo News poll of Monday, May 31 gives some hint of the persons the public perceives as prime minister material. DPJ members are in bold; the number in parentheses is number from previous poll conducted over April 28-29.

Q: Who amongst politicians do you think is the best suited to be prime minister?

Mazuzoe Yoichi 15.7% (18.3%)

Kan Naoto 9.3% (5.6%)

Ishiba Shigeru 8.9% (6.2%)

Maehara Seiji 8.3% (10.6%)

Watanabe Yoshimi 7.8% (6.7%)

Okada Katsuya 6.5% (5.3%)

Hatoyama Yukio 3.5% (6.0%)

Ozawa Ichiro 2.7% (1.9%)

Edano Yukio 2.5% (1.1.%)

Tanigaki Sadakazu 2.0% (3.0%)

Hamaguchi Kazuhiro 2.0% (1.3%)

Yosano Kaoru 1.5% (0.9%)

Hiranuma Takeo 1.3% (1.3%)

Sengoku Yoshito 0.8% (0.7%)

Of course, the big favorite with the public was "Don't Know/Can't Say" -- with 23.9% (29.5%).

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Ozawa and Hatoyama Resignation Charade

When God is trying to punish you
He answers your prayers

National Strategy Minister Sengoku Yoshito is reckoned to be one of the smartest and most reputable members of the Democratic Party of Japan's top leadership. He gets great press. The public also seems to hold him in high regard. He has won the mantle of a bold and steadfast politician the hardest way: by consistently opposing DPJ Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro's policies and party power mongering.

Sengoku Yoshito is fretting nowadays, however. Not because he and his allies might fail in their long war against Ozawa -- but that they might succeed too soon.

In a bit of irony, Sengoku and his party allies Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Maehara Seiji and Government Revitalization Minister Edano Yukio are finding themselves suddenly having to hit the brakes on their criticism of Ozawa and Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio. They have realized that in the plummeting popularity of the Cabinet, the public's frustration with Ozawa's seeming stonewalling and pseudopopulist pandering and the Prime Minister's failure to achieve even a minimal amount of progress toward the acceptance, by any group or person, of the government's plan for moving MCAS Futenma -- the current DPJ duarchs might just "do the honorable thing" and resign their positions at the end of the month.

Such a double resignation, or a even resignation by Ozawa alone, would throw the anti-Ozawa camp in the DPJ into chaos. The anti-Ozawa forces would have to choose a new secretary-general from amongst themselves -- there is little likelihood they would countenance a replacement of Ozawa with his youthful protege, Internal Affairs and Communications Haraguchi Kazuhiro. They would then have to sell their idea to the party rank-and-file, which is packed with Ozawa loyalists. The new secretary-general would then be responsible, in tandem with current prime minister Hatoyama or his most likely replacement current Finance Minister Kan Naoto, to try lead the DPJ to victory in the summer's House of Councillor's election -- on a ticket comprised almost in its entirely of candidates chosen by Ozawa.

Faced with such a prospect, it should be unsurprising that Sengoku, Maehara, Edano and party curmudgeon Watanabe Kozo suddenly are finding merit in making excuses for Prime Minister Hatoyama's failure to meet his own deadline for "solving Futenma." They have realized that last thing they want is to suddenly receive what they have been asking for all these months -- Hatoyama's and/or Ozawa's exit stage left.

In a delicious bit of irony, the anti-Ozawa forces in the DPJ find themselves in somewhat the same boat as Tanigaki Sadakazu and the Liberal Democratic Party. Tanigaki and the LDP have been taunting the anti-Ozawa forces in the DPJ into taking on Hatoyama and Ozawa. However, the last thing the LDP wants is to face a DPJ led by anyone aside from Hatoyama and Ozawa. Droning on and on about money problems of the DPJ's ruling duarchs and Hatoyama's tendency to debate with himself out loud are the LDP's only election weapons. Should Ozawa and Hatoyama step aside, the LDP's goose would be truly and utterly cooked.

So despite months of muttering and pontification to the contrary, those in the political world opposed to Ozawa's influence finds they have one thing in common -- they need him to refuse to answer their prayers.

Monday, March 01, 2010

The Seven Habits of Highly Endangered Public Interest Corporations

Last year's Government Revitalization Unit review process for government-supported programs was wildly and widely popular. Most of the public enjoyed in a quite visceral way the sight of members of the bureaucracy undergoing a thorough grilling, with the suffering being inflicted being minor in comparison to the arrogance of the administrators and the venal pointless of many of the programs.

Support for the GRU process was not unqualified, however. While some of the quibbles persons had with the process were just that, quibbles, some of the points raised in opposition were significant. A particularly apt criticism of the process was its capriciousness: nowhere was it spelled out what the GRU's commissioners were looking for in terms of red flags or red lines. Administrators of public programs and state aid recipients flailed about under the camera lights, trying to determine in the few moments they had before the commissioners what they needed to say in order to earn the commissioners' mercy.

Last Friday, State Minister for Economic Revitalization Edano Yukio [he has asked reporters to forego calling him "Mr. Minister" ("daijin") in favor of the simple "Edano-san" they had been using before his post was upgraded] took some big steps in the direction of transparency. The GRU would be using seven guidelines to identify public-interest corporations (kōeki hōjin) worthy of examination in the next round of reviews scheduled for this April. That the number of koeki hojin is astonishingly large (24,648, according to The Japan Times) probably played no small part in the decision to publish some rules of engagement in the battle of The Government (big T, big G) vs. government (little g).

The seven habits of highly endangered public interest corporations are:

1) receiving more than 10 million yen a year total from either the government or independent administrative agencies (dokuritsu gyōsei hōjin) in 2007

2) being founded on a mandate established by statute

3) receiving more than 50% of revenues from public-supplied funds

4) controlling over 1 billion yen in assets

5) receiving funding from local governments

6) accepting public-supplied funds to pay for outsourced functions

7) serving as a source of amakudari (post-retirement sinecures) for ex-bureaucrats.

The final standard brings up "the assen problem" of whether or not a sinecure that has not been directly arranged for "through the good offices of the Ministry" (fushōchō ni yoru assen) is eligible for examination. Edano has said that there will be no attempt to make a determination the extent of the involvement of ministries or agencies of the koeki hojin's hiring of former bureaucrats. All koeki hojin with former bureaucrats on staff should consider themselves suspect.