Showing posts with label Tanigaki Sadakazu. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tanigaki Sadakazu. Show all posts

Friday, September 19, 2014

Tanigaki Pulls Out The Fire Extinguisher

A bit of good news that might otherwise slip by...

Remember how last month, in response to The Asahi Shimbun's retractions of a number of its stories on the comfort women from over two decades ago, the Liberal Democratic Party's Policy Research Council (PARC), under the direction of the now Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Takaichi Sanae, announced its intention to demand that Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide formulate a new Statement to replace the Kono Statement? (Link)

Funny thing about that demand: it had to get past the desk of the LDP's secretary-general.

Now if the LDP secretary-general were still Ishiba Shigeru, the gentleman who really wants to replace Abe Shinzo as president of the LDP and prime minister, the demand might have had a chance of receiving the necessary stamp of approval. Ishiba needs the votes of the freshmen and freshwomen of the Houses of Representatives and Councillors if he is to have even a chance against Abe or Abe's anointed successor in the LDP's internal elections for president. These Diet newcomers are for the most part stubborn on issues of national pride and national honor. Ishiba would have had no choice but to acceded to the PARC's nihilistic demand.

Ishiba, however, has moved on to the possibly greener pastures (it is still unclear whether his choice is a coup or a trap) of wandering about the least populated areas of the country making promises about economic and demographic revival the government cannot possibly keep. In his place at LDP secretary-general is certified Friend of China Tanigaki Sadakazu, who harbors not the least hope or desire to become the party president again.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Tanigaki was asked about the pending demand for a new Statement to replace the Kono Statement. Tanigaki replied:
"Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga has said on numerous occasions that he will not revise the Kono Statement. I would like to be with him on this."
(Link - J)

Tanigaki's response is weak-sounding. Paradoxically, flaccidity makes the response all the more credible. Tanigaki has a history of tripping himself up whenever he has played the implacable tough guy. Saying that he would merely "like to be with" the chief cabinet secretary on the matter of not revising the Kono Statement, however, is in character and thus plausible. Tanigaki's phrasing also leaves plenty of space for him to tell the militants in his party, "Look, I only said 'like to be' -- not 'will,' you know."

For as long as Tanigaki is secretary-general, it seems, the LDP will not be submitting a formal request for a Statement replacing the Kono Statement. This is regardless of Takaichi's having been replaced at PARC chair by Inada Tomomi whose revisionism no less feral than her predecessor's.

All in all, a very good bit of news -- for the Kono Statement is the keystone of the Japan-South Korea relationship. Mess with it and the architecture collapses.

Original creen shot courtesy: NHK News

Friday, August 15, 2014

Who Is Up For A Yasukuni Visit Today?

UPDATE1: as of 09:45 JST, cabinet ministers SHINDO Yoshitaka and FURUYA Keiji have both visited Yasukuni Shrine, with Furuya declaring he signed in as "Minister of State Furuya Keiji." HAGIUDA Ko'ichi has also paid a visit, delivering Prime Minister ABE Shinzo's donation.

UPDATE 2: Minister of Japan Cool And Much Else INADA Tomomi paid her respects in the afternoon in the company of the History and Creativity Association, her small group of Diet member fellow travelers (here is their post-Yasukuni group shot from last year Link)completing the list of the Terrible Trio. Policy Research Council chief TAKAICHI Sanae, as at seemingly every major shrine event, was front and center of the Association of Diet Members For Everyone Making Visits To Yasukuni Together multi-party mass visitation. (Link - J)

Credit Abe Shinzo for having some sense. He has told the press that he will avoid making, either immediately prior to or immediately after the national ceremony commemorating the end of World War II, a visit to Yasukuni Shrine today. With his relations with the leaders of China and South Korea still in the deep freeze (Link), Putin acting like a woman scorned (Link or Link), investors showing less and less confidence in his economic reform program (Link) and world in general in turmoil, he has decided to not set the region on fire with a gratuitous end-of-The-War day visit. (Link - J video)

Instead, Abe will reprise his restraint of last year by having an aide make a a cash donation in his name instead.

So who should we be on the lookout for today at Yasukuni's gates?

Hagiuda Ko'ichi - it has been a quiet couple of months for the man who last year seemed to be speaking directly from Abe Shinzo's limbic system. If the Big Boy from Hachioji (where the Imperial tombs are located, as he will happily tell you) is once again the bag man for Abe's donation to Yasukuni, he should once again be viewed as the wide back door into Abe's chamber of secrets.

The Terrible Trio - Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Shindo Yoshitaka, State Minister for Japan Cool And A Lot Of Other Stuff Inada Tomomi and Chairman of the National Safety Commission Furuya Keiji -- the Terrible Trio -- have said nothing about going but will be going. Shindo and Furuya will probably not survive the Cabinet reshuffle on September 3 (somebody has to lose his/her job to make space for cabinet hopefuls and it is easier for Abe to dump his male Best Friends) so have an incentive to go out in a blaze of glory, signing the registers as "Member of The Abe Cabinet." Inada, who is rumored to be taking over for Taka'ichi Sanae at the Liberal Democratic Party's Policy Research Council (and one cannot think of a better way of cementing the continued irrelevance of the PARC - Link) will visit but probably either early in the morning or in the late afternoon in a private capacity. Not that she has to, mind you: Takaichi herself will be once again the smug front and center of the phalanx of Diet members paying their respects in today's heat.

Shimomura Hakubun - The arch-conservative and token poor person in Abe Shinzo inner circle has had a very quiet one and a half years, indulging in his inner revisionist only once in a florrid and ultimately pointless bid to stop the tiny Okinawan town of Taketomi from using a social studies textbook of its own choosing (Link). Oddly, he has not been mentioned among the cabinet members who are going to be retained in the reshuffle, despite his incredible patience in not carrying out the wholesale smashing of the education system long promised by Abe Shinzo loyalists and allies. If Shimomura shows up at Yasukuni today he will be signaling that he knows he will not be leading the revolution after September.

Any Other Cabinet Minister - If any other of the Cabinet's members pay their respects, it will be pretty much a declaration of his/her being in the "Shatter and splatter/Pitcher and platter/What do we care?/We won't be there!" category of September non-survivors. Since having the image of being "better than Abe at least" in terms of sensitivity to Chinese and Korean sentiments is one of the few selling points a challenger can offer, one cannot expect any of the bigwigs or factions leaders (Tanigaki, Ishihara, for example) to show up.

Ishiba Shigeru - If LDP Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru shows up today, it means he is most definitely trolling for a "even more patriotic than Abe" reputation. Ishiba is looking to challenge Abe for the LDP presidency in September next year if the LDP's performance in local elections over the next nine months is less than stellar -- which is looking pretty likely (the  next two big tests, the Fukushima and Okinawa gubernatorial elections, look incredibly tough for the party). Ishiba has already planted his flag in more militant territory than Team Abe in the matter of a Diet examination of the recent recantations by The Asahi Shimbun of certain of their stories on the comfort women (Link). A Yasukuni visit today would indicate Ishiba is making a serious play for the affections of the radicals in the party.

Later -Yes, I too will be glad when this day is over, so I can stop talking about The War -- at least until December when Abe does make his annual pilgrimage to Yasukuni.

Image: Prime Minister Abe Shinzo laying a wreath at the atomic bombing memorial in Nagasaki on August 9, 2014.
Image courtesy: Abe Shinzo official Facebook page.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Live Blogging A Tanigaki Sadakazu Press Conference

Four minutes before the hour - Lugubrious, sardonic thought: "What's the difference between Japan's dovish Minister of Law and its hawkish Minister of Defense? The dovish minister gives out orders to kill people and they get carried out."

15:00 Tanigaki comes in, bowing and smiling, not wearing his trademark glasses, without tie.

15:05 He wants to talk about immigration regulations, reform in corporate law and what the Law Ministry is doing to facilitate the recovery of the tsunami, earthquake and nuclear meltdown affected areas of Northeast Japan.

Aside from substantial changes to immigration procedures, if he ends up talking about such, not much in Tanigaki's opening remarks for non-Japanese journalists to chew on.

15:10 Ten minutes in and Minister Tanigaki is still talking about minor changes to immigration control ("We now have automatic gates at Immigration!" Signs are that the good minister is eating up the clock with a drone of facts like Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide did last week (Link)

15:15 Still talking about immigration procedure reform. Leaves me wondering whether the first, annoyed questioner will ask about Japan's death penalty or the arrest of women who distributed data allowing a a 3-D printer to reproduced with a 3-D printer a perfect 3-D copy of her genitalia (Link). Am rooting for the genitalia option.

15:20 Substance makes a sudden appearance: Tanigaki condemns the abusive employters of foreign technical training visa holders - a system that has been compared to bonded labor.

15:25 Why is a Law Minister talking about corporate governance? Is this not a mission for the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry?

15:33 It is official; Minister Tanigaki is just burying foreign journalists under unprintable dreck.

I am not sure he knows why he is here, unless it is to whip the attendees into a vengeful anger.

15:45 First question is on...Abenomics. Uh, Tanigaki was Finance Minister in the...Koizumi Cabinet.

15:48 Second question is on legislation against hate speech, from a Singapore journalist. Is she asking about insults to the Lee Family? They seem to handle such speech in a most...liberal-minded way.

15:50 Four minute answer -- someone send a bouquet to the poor translator.

15:53 Ah, an appeal to his vanity as regards his knowledge of China. Carried away his love of traditional Chinese high culture, he is talking way outside his remit. Oh Mr. Minister...

15:55 Thank you Richard! "What do you feel when you sign the death warrants...?"

16:07 The conference is winding up. Tanigaki is still talking but folks are heading out.

The big takeaway - the Minister of Law wants greater protection for the low-paid workers brought in through the technical training visa program. He admits these visa holders have been abused by unscrupulous employers.


Image: Minister of Law Tanigaki Sadakazu at the FCCJ
Image courtesy: MTC

Saturday, March 29, 2014

On Hakamada's Survival

For I'm as free as a bird now
And this bird you cannot change
Oh, no I can't change.

- Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Free Bird" (1973)

Amid the flurry of articles about the freeing of Hakamada Iwao (Link) a key point is not being emphasized enough.

Hakamada is still alive.

The list of persons on death row not very long -- with Hakamada's release for retrial 131 men and women are in prison awaiting their hangings -- and Japanese Ministers of Justice are rarely squeamish about ordering executions. Tanigaki Sadakazu, the current minister, is reputed to be a soft-hearted soul. He has, however, signed eight death warrants since his appointment. Even Chiba Keiko, a death penalty opponent, ordered executions during her term in office. (Link)

Despite there being a very short list to choose from and pressure to press forward with executions, Hakamada's name never came up.

It's the dog that did not bark in the night.

A long time ago, probably long before the Supreme Court confirmed Hakamada's death sentence in 1980, Justice Ministry employees must have determined that their colleagues across the street at the National Police Agency had conned the prosecutors and the judges. Perhaps "Not Hakamada. He is innocent" was a part of the secret lore passed on by each Justice Minister to his or her successor.

However it happened, what could have happened did not happen.

So as we decry the injustice of an almost certainly innocent man spending more than half a lifetime on death row, let us remember that upon death row is where he stayed. Somehow for decades persons whose identities will remain a secret prevented his sentence from ever being carried out.

In a country where public support for the death penalty clocks in at around 80%, that is amazing...and encouraging.

Photo image: Umineko (Larus crassirostris) and yurikamome (Larus ridibundus) off of Ito City, Shizuoka Prefecture on 23 March 2014.
Photo image courtesy: MTC

Monday, October 07, 2013

The Eternal Sunshine Of Noda Yoshihiko’s Spotty Recollection

The DPJ's Gang of Six
Former Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko, who inexplicably called an election last December which led to his party's extirpation, is now doing P.R. for himself under the Bold, Mature and Sober labels.
Noda 'chose tax hike over being premier'
The Japan News

Former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said in a recent interview that he placed more importance on raising the consumption tax rate than remaining prime minister when he decided last August to approve the increase.

As head of the then ruling party, Noda agreed with the then two opposition parties on comprehensive social security and tax system reforms, including the consumption tax hike.


Noda said he had intended to resign from his Diet seat if he could not pave the way for raising the consumption tax.

"At the time I thought I might have to choose between the consumption tax hike or my post as prime minister," Noda said. "After also considering that I would have to choose between the tax increase and my own party [many members of which opposed the increase], I said I was willing to bet my political life. I meant that I intended to resign as a Diet member."

During the meeting of the leaders of the three parties last August, Noda was urged by then LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki to specify when he, as the prime minister, would dissolve the lower house. At the time, the LDP wanted the lower house election to be held soon as it expected to score a major victory in the election, while the DPJ leadership wanted to delay the election as much as possible.

Noda said he replied: "I'll use an abstract expression but in a way that is as clear as possible. Both 'in the near future' and 'sometime soon' are all right with me."

After Tanigaki said, "I prefer 'sometime soon,'" Noda agreed to use that expression to describe when his administration would call an election, he said in the interview.

About the meaning of "sometime soon," Noda revealed that he had been determined to dissolve the lower house by the year-end.
“The only choice was [dissolution] by year-end. That was the bottom line. It was better for the nation considering the effects on preparing and implementing the budget," he said.


No, no, no, no and no.

That Abe Shinzo with his assault on the Bank of Japan and his profligate budgets would be reviving the animal spirits of the Japanese economy in 2013 was not something Noda could even vaguely foresee in mid-2012. Abe Shinzo was not the president of the LDP at the time. Noda was negotiating with Abe's hapless predecessor Tanigaki Sadakazu -- a mark demanding a double cross* if there ever was one -- whose economic policies were as no more expansionist than the DPJ's were. "LDP president Abe" to whom Noda would ultimately surrender, was still only a gleam in the eyes of revisionist and fantabulist members of the business establishment.

As for the excuse Noda makes for a November dissolution followed by a mid-December election, it does not hold water. An orderly process of compiling a budget is important, yes. However, is a sideshow if the DPJ has, as it did, a majority in the House of Representatives. The Constitution makes it clear that whatever the hell else happens, Japan's budget cannot be held hostage to a minority (the relevant passages are in Article 60, in case you are wondering).

What Noda did achieve, through his sobriety and iron-willed determination, was the electoral destruction of his party, the upending of a two-decade long process of building up a two-major-parties-alternating-as-the-party-of-government system and the short-circuiting the redrawing of the House of Representatives electoral map so as to reflect the Supreme Court's rulings on disproportionate representation -- all this, into the dumpster, in order to get the LDP to vote in favor of an LDP policy manifesto item. Furthermore, by calling the election in December, Noda made sure that the DPJ would suffer a huge cut in its 2013 government subsidy, making the financing of a return to power any time soon all the harder. Had Noda simply waited until January 2 for his announcement, his party, even if it lost a lot of seats in the subsequent elections, would still be on a decent financial footing.

Noda did not twist the LDP's arm, they twisted his, and his mind too. Snapping the spine of the DPJ was their job and Noda did it for them. If, as Noda indicates in this interview, it was either win the LDP's and the New Komeito's support for raising the consumption tax or resign from the Diet, I can think of hundreds if not millions of persons ready to cry, "Why the heck did you not resign from the Diet then?"

Furthermore, the Democrats cannot rid themselves of their portly DINO. He won his district handily last December by a greater margin than in August 2009. In addition, of all the members of the so-called "Gang of Six" of neither-entirely-cooperative-nor-entirely-helpful center-right leaders of the party (Noda, Edano Yukio, Azumi Jun, Okada Katsuya, Gemba Ko'ichiro and Maehara Seiji - Link - J), only Noda was able to bask in the glow of a DPJ candidate winning a seat in his home prefecture this past July.

Since the Democrats (and the rest of us) are stuck with Noda, the least we can ask for is that news organizations assign reporters willing to corner him on his dunderheaded management of the DPJ.

* How hapless was Tanigaki Sadakazu? He could be lulled into a debate over whether the House of Representatives should be dissolved "sometime soon" or "in the near future" and into choosing one of the two alternatives, allowing him to walk out of the building thinking he had extracted a concession from out of Noda.

Original image courtesy: Sankei Shimbun

Friday, April 26, 2013

Dead, Again

Just two months after a last round of executions and only four months into his term, Minister of Justice Law Tanigaki Sadakazu signed off on the hangings this morning of two former gang members, both of whom were convicted of committing a double murder in April 2005. (Link)

The reason why the crime was so heinous: the convicted killed their victims by inviting them to a family-style (no, not that kind of family) restaurant and opening fire. (Link - J)

Guns in a place where families go to give Mom a break...bad, bad, bad.

With these executions, the number of persons left on death row is 134.

Later - Yes, I do note the timing of these executions. I recall at least one previous instance of a Liberal Democratic Party minister of justice law "clearing his desk" prior to a string of national holidays.

Image courtesy: Mainichi Shinbun

Saturday, February 16, 2013

More On East Asia's Aristocracies

While political dynasties are a perverse development in democracies around the world, the case of East Asia is alarming. I have posted briefly and unremarkably here and here on the topic, which deserves far more attention. Over at the East Asian Forum, Julius Trajano and Yoes Kenawas bring me up to speed on the political dynasty situation in the Philippines, which I was aware of, and in Indonesia, which I was not (Link). Their analysis of the causes of dynasty formation and their proposed solutions indicate a parochial focus, though, rather than a broad-based comparative approach.

A big book to be written, or big conference to be organized. Problem: who will fund a deep look into such a discomforting subject?

Back in this blessed land, the members of the Cabinet revealed their assets yesterday, with caveats. As the Wall Street Journal reports, members of Abe II are by and large significantly better off than the members of the Noda Cabinet. (Link)

My morning dead-tree news delivery device devoted a full page to the members of the Cabinet and their holdings:

I had always wondered what was the juice behind Inada Tomomi, the card-carrying Friend of Shinzo and lawyer whose leaden pronouncements of doom have been a page-filler of the right wing press for the past decade. The answer seems to be her husband's diversified equity holdings and a bewildering number of small Tokyo rental properties the couple co-own.

In terms of landholdings, the very wealthy Taro Aso (whose dandyism is now a subject international commentary) and Prime Minister Abe Shinzo are the barons. In terms of number and variety of declared holdings, however, National Safety Commissioner and Abe family retainer Furuya Keiji puts all other Cabinet members to shame. He lists 62 real estate holdings, 9 of which are of less than 10 meters square. Three of his listed properties are only 1 square meter in size (total assessed value = 60,000 yen) while nine parcels of forest and field land are given an accounting value of zero (which means that the parcel is worth less than the cutoff point of 10,000 yen).

The person with the shortest report is, unsurprisingly, child of dire poverty Shimomura Hakubun. His holdings are not just small, but sadly unimaginative: his home, 200 million in bank savings accounts and 60 million in postal savings. Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide and State Minister for Declining Birthrate and Consumer Affairs Mori Masako, two of the Cabinet's coolest and most celebral members, are also asset-light.

Winners of the "we know what the rules are" awards are the earnest sons of privilege Sadagaki Tanigaki and Ishihara Nobuteru, both of whom list savings accounts with the guaranteed amount in them -- and not one yen more.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Keeping An Eye On Ishiba Shigeru

Abe Shinzo should be in the clover right now. His cabinet and the Liberal Democratic Party are basking in high and rising popularity ratings. The LDP's nominal rival, the Democratic Party of Japan is in disarray on both the policy and public relations fronts. Abe's continued striking of poses dear to the right wing, albeit not when he is on center stage, steals the thunder of Ishihara Shintaro-Hashimoto Toru's Japan Restoration Association. Unless a set of scandals emerges to debilitate Abe II the same way the Matsuoka office accounts and pension records scandals did in Abe I, the man from Minami Azabu Choshu seems set to rule this land for a long time.

However, Abe cannot sit in complete comfort...and not for the reason you are thinking.

Despite the heavy presence of Friends of Shinzo in cabinet and sub-cabinet posts* Abe has only a tenuous hold over the party membership. It is not by coincidence that where there are not Friends of Shinzo there are Faction Heads Who See Abe As A Means Of Furthering Their Own Goals.

Abe led the LDP to victory in the December election. However, it was with candidates approved by the Tanigaki Sadakazu-Ishihara Nobuteru leadership regime, which, given Tanigaki's arrested adolescence, means that the freshmen are most likely tacit Ishihara Nobuteru partisans.

In July, Abe will again be leading his party into a battle, this time for control of the House of Councillors -- a battle he is sure to win. However, the new faces and many of the old faces in the races will likly again not be beholden to Abe. Instead they will likely be quiet allies of Abe's second-in-command and rival, Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru.

Abe beat Ishiba for the LDP presidency in a runoff election last September in a count of just the votes of the then shrunken LDP Diet membership. Ishiba had won the first round where the votes of the local party chapters were included. Appointing Ishiba the party's secretary-general was necessary from the standpoint of maintaining party unity. However, from the standpoint of controlling the levers of party power, the move made zero sense ("Appoint the guy I beat on points to run the party while I have my hands tied running the government? Great idea!").

Abe has not been negligent as to the threat Ishiba poses. He has declared, as he did in 2006, the status of the post of chairman of the Elections Strategy Committee (Senkyo taisaku iinkai) to be equal to that of the posts of secretary-general, policy research council chairman and general council chairman, turning the sanyaku into the yonyaku. He has appointed fellow Yamaguchi Prefecture member Kawamura Takeo to the newly elevated position.

Though the election measures chair may now be the nominal equal of the secretary-general, responsibility for the outcome of elections remains with the secretary-general. It is difficult to imagine that the PM or his proxy Kawamura will prevail in a contest with Ishiba over candidate selection.

Those whom Ishiba cannot choose directly he can buy -- since the position of secretary-general also gives him control of the party's purse strings.

One of the major stumbling blocks between Ishiba and greater power, however, is unity of the faction heads and former faction heads in support of Abe -- even when as individuals they have had serious policy disagreements with the current party president (yes Komura Masahiko, I am talking about you).

Which makes a pair of proposals put forth at the February 6th meeting of the LDP Political System Reform Headquarters (Seiji seido kaikaku honbu) most interesting.

The body, chaired by Aizawa Ichiro, a fellow alumnus of former Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko's in the Matsushita Institute of Management and Government's inaugural class, has proposed:

1) the move of all faction offices into the main LDP headquarters building, and

2) the banning of factional
a) searches for new candidates,

b) education of newly elected members of the Diet,

3) financial support for election losers,

4) distribution of party and government posts

(Link - J)
A list to which a faction head might respond drily, "Ummm, anything else you do not want us to do?"

Proposals to defang the factions have been tabled before, most importantly by former prime minister Koizumi Jun'ichiro, and reforms of the party structure have been undertaken that have weakened the influence of factions. Asking for the utter dismantlement of factions, the gist of the above proposals, is a serious throwing down of the gauntlet. The party is only just emerging from its longest, darkest period of relative weakness. An attack upon the party's structure coming from within after a major electoral victory is extraordinary.

While we are on the subject of Koizumi Jun'ichiro and factions, Koizumi Shinjiro (Koizumi Version 4.0), a better, if it can be believed, politician than his father (and so handsome he melts camera lenses), so controls the LDP's Youth Division (Seinen kyoku) as to be a defacto faction leader -- with a base of followers (81 Diet members are members of the Youth Division) that puts him at the front line of party powers.

A rising power that Ishiba hopes, possibly against hope, to coopt. (Link - J)

Not bad for a guy with a whopping two elections to the Diet.

* For a fright, check out Asia Policy Point's translations of the prime minister's daily schedule (Link) for the amount of time the PM spends in the company of Seko Hiroshige, the "Stupidest Man To Ever Serve In The Kantei" until Hirano Hirofumi wrested the title from him in 2009.

Monday, December 24, 2012

No Country For Gentlefolk

Harold Abrahams - "You know, gentlemen, you yearn for victory just as I do. But achieved with the apparent effortlessness of Gods. Yours are the archaic values of the prep school playground..."

- Chariots of Fire (1981)
According to Yuko Nakano, research associate at the Center of Strategic and International Studies:
The LDP, with its coalition partner Komeito, controls 325 seats in the Lower House which is more than the two-thirds majority that is needed to overrule the Upper House. However, the ruling parties cannot fall back on this "super majority" every time they try to pass important legislation. Such a legislative practice can be seen as a sign of "arrogance" by the public and the LDP and Komeito do not want to create a public backlash against them, especially before the Upper House election next year. It is precisely for this reason that the LDP and the Komeito may seek some form of partnership with others in the parliament.

According to Okumura Jun of Global Talk 21:
The LDP will maintain its position as a dominant mainstream party by virtue of its 1/4 bedrock share of the voting electorate plus an enduring coalition with Komeito (and its 1/10 bedrock support base) that includes intimate coordination at the SMD level (making Komeito the virtual pacifist-wing of the LDP). Moreover, the coalition has a House of Representatives supermajority that must be used sparingly from a media-management perspective but will enable it to pass annual tax legislation, which, coupled with the ~FY2012, blanket deficit-bond authorization, will enable it to keep the government running without regard to the configuration of the House of Councilors. This means that if the LDP does badly in the 2013 HoC regular election, it can jettison Abe in favor of a baby face and continue in power without calling a HoR election until December 2016, when its current term ends. The outcome of the 2013 HoC election is crucial for Abe's long-term survival as prime minister, but is only a speed bump for the LDP.

Were it that it were so. Were that there were a body of unwritten rules recognized by all; a compulsion to obey those rules out of a desire to be seen responsible and just; and an eagle-eyed news complex to keep one in line if one transgresses.

However, the above highlighted portions have nothing to do with Japanese politics of December 2012 and beyond. History tells a different tale as to the mores of this blessed land:

- On July 30, 2006, the last business day of the regular session of the Diet, when the one Abe Shinzo was basking in the sunlight of a majority in the House of Councillors and a supermajority in the House of Representatives, bill after bill was rushed through in the morning House of Councillors session on identical votes of 123 to 96, 123 to 96, 123 to 96 During lunch, the powerless opposition decided to give up, with only the Communists returning for the afternoon session. (Link - J)

- On March 19, 2011, eight days after the disaster of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and seven days since the meltdowns of the Fukushima Dai'ichi nuclear plants began, Prime Minister Naoto Kan called his Liberal Democratic Party counterpart Tanigaki Sadakazu. Kan proposed the establishment of a government of national unity with Tanigaki as the vice premier.

Tanigaki spurned the offer. The LDP's attack dogs went into action on the talk shows, rubbishing Kan's offer to share power in a time of national emergency.

- On March 21, 2011, two days after the LDP's spurning of Kan's offer, the news media began spreading the vile rumors that Kan had halted a last ditch injection of salt water into the reactor cores and interrupted plant worker efforts in an emergency visit to the plant on March 12. On March 28, Kan had to withstand withering Diet questioning of his judgment and calls for his resignation for contributing to or even causing the nuclear disaster...

...except of course that Kan during his emergency visit to the plant had given the order to enter the #1 reactor building that the plant managers had been awaiting from the management of Tokyo Electric Power...and the interruption of the injection of salt water had never taken place, the heroic onsite plant director having overruled a direct TEPCO order to stop the injection.

- On August 29, 2012 the LDP, angered by Prime Minister Noda's letting slip an LDP deadline for a Diet dissolution, voted for a motion of censure against the Noda government. However, due to a procedural rule, the LDP could not vote for its own motion of censure. It had to vote for a motion submitted by seven other opposition parties in the House of Councillors, including People First, the party of LDP's arch-enemy Ozawa Ichiro. The language of that censure motion condemned the raising of the consumption tax and the Triparty Agreement of the Democratic Party of Japan, the LDP and the New Komeito which had ensure the passage of the consumption tax bill. The New Komeito, seeing it impossible to vote for a censure motion that condemned its actions, walked out before the vote. The LDP contingent remained, voting against itself.

- On December 15, 2012, all the major newspapers published editorials on Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko's dissolution of the Diet. The Yomiuri Shimbun, the enemy of the DPJ, declared unwavering support for the dissolution whilst outlining in detail how the election would be illegal. The Nihon Keizai Shimbun somehow found the illegality of the election less important than Prime Minister Noda's having missed the LDP's August 8 deadline for a dissolution. The Sankei Shimbun endorsed the dissolution without a mention of the legal and constitutional issues at all.

The most crushing, however, was the The Asahi Shimbun editorial. In what can only be seen as a concerted effort to complete an alignment with the most famous lines of William Butler Yeats' "The Second Coming" – "The best lack all conviction, while the worst. Are full of passionate intensity. "— The Asahi Shimbun acknowledged the illegality of the upcoming election only to endorse the dissolution as "something one just had to live with" (yamu o enai suru mono). (Link)

Adhere to an unwritten rule? The news media was unwilling to demand that the Prime Minister and the House of Representatives obey the law!

If there decency is to survive the incoming administration, hope must be placed in the influence of the New Komeito.

However, hope, they say, is not a plan. Rather than relying on heretofore unseen gentility in the LDP and a sudden growth of a spine in a crusade-leery news media complex, we need a new set of rules befitting the challenges ahead:
Jim Malone - "He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way!"

- The Untouchables (1987)

Sunday, December 09, 2012

A Time For Puppets

Shan gao huang-di yuan.
The mountains are high; the emperor is far away.

was the aphorism that came to mind in response to the joke. It is the same sentiment—that those who would disapprove are not around to stop us from doing what we want—that had the Beatles singing, “No one will be watching us/Why don't we do it in the road?”

Looking up the origins of the above proverb, I learn that it has a bleaker twin: "Heaven is high; the emperor is far away" – i.e., the sources of moral order are nowhere near, so you are at the mercy of the local authority.

* * *

The Bunraku puppet theater of Osaka is in residence in Tokyo until December 16, performing at the National Theater. The program is one of education, introducing the art form to adults. It starts with a kyogen adaptation, followed by a pair of brief explanatory lectures by representatives of three principal classes of performers, and then a long (one hour) tragedy.

Although the bunraku is one of the treasures of Japanese art and culture, the it has fallen on hard times. Audiences and private patronage are dwindling. Its stars, being less than one and a half meters tall and made of wood, have a hard time moonlighting in modern theater, television and cinema, as kabuki performers are able to do.

Part of the reason behind the decline is that the bunraku is based in Osaka. Once a rival center of influence and affluence to Edo/Tokyo (the country's major news media groups have their origins in Osaka, for example), Osaka is now a decidedly second tier city, beloved of its citizens but otherwise seen as scruffy, unattractive and in chronic economic decline.

For any classical art form to survive in Osaka would be difficult. For one as labor intensive as the bunraku, survival depends on the government subsidies.

Enter Hashimoto Toru, the boisterous and impatient mayor of Osaka and true leader of the Japan Restoration Association (Link). A crusader against waste and featherbedding in his hometown, Hashimoto has taken the axe to expenditures and Osaka-style governance to the cheers of an exhausted Osaka citizenry.

Among the targets of his axe have been Osaka City subsidies of the bunraku. Hashimoto has argued that the citizens of the city should not be forced to provide financial support an activity enjoyed by only a few. He has, under duress, seen the bunraku twice, hating it both times, finding the art form and the association that controls it hide-bound, fusty and inappropriate for the times.

For background on the Hashimoto-bunraku war, consult this and this
and this and this and this.

While Hashimoto strikes a populist pose, his views are not widely shared. The bunraku's tour in Tokyo is indeed supported by:

The Tokyo Metropolitan District
Chiba Prefecture
The Kanagawa Prefecture Board of Education
The Saitama Prefecture Board of Education
The All Japan Federation of Boards of Education
The Nippon Keidanren
The Keizai Doyukai
The Tokyo Chamber of Commerce

Business organizations, professional organizations and corporations have bought blocks of seats for the cultural advancement of their members and employees.

The performers have worked in a little bit on their struggles with Osaka's mayor into the explanatory lecture in between the two plays. It has the tayu, the chanter of the joruri text, trying to give a modern equivalent for one rough and tumble character in a story:

"He's a sort of an Antonio Inoki* figure."

At which point the shamisen player derisively butts in:

"Oh, come on. How can you use such an old example? If you use that kind of relic as your illustration, you will make Hashimoto-san upset."

The audience cracks up. The tayu, smirking to the audience, replies:

"It is not an old-fashioned example...and who is this Hashimoto of whom you are speaking, anyway?

To which the shamisen player, his face also in a smirk, chirps:

"Why...Hashimoto Shinya**, of course."

At which the audience roars in approval.

It is unlikely that the bunraku, begging as it is at Hashimoto Toru's doorstep, would dare include this bit of cheek in a performance in Osaka. But the puppets and their masters are in Tokyo, where no one (except, of course, the occasional decidedly odd Japan politics blogger) will make a big deal out of a brief stab at Osaka's uncouth and self-adoring leader***.

Hence my reflexive thought of the Chinese proverb at the head of this post.

* * *

Hashimoto Toru's war with the bunraku and the theater's bit of fun illuminates some darker facets of this election.

Taking aim at an art form, one which puts Osaka on the map of world culture, shows Hashimoto's populism to be unfocused. Indeed, it is not populism at all. It is philistinism—a proud, even arrogant ignorance of culture and aesthetics.

Such ignorance would be acceptable if it were not coupled with a will to power—a will that Hashimoto has in spades.

The mating of the two elements results in Hashimoto's lashing out at everything he does not understand, no matter the actual significance of a particular item,. In action unbecoming, he uses the power of his tongue and office to crush whatever it is that has earned his ire on a particular day (tattoos on public workers, teachers who are not patriotic, public employees unions).

Hashimoto's inability to sort enemies from annoyances—and react to each according to its rank of importance—marks him as unworthy of higher office. The great populist Koizumi Jun'ichiro, whose family origins are almost as rough as Hashimoto's, made sure to take on powerful entrenched interests. Hashimoto's tendency to go after butterflies with sledgehammers should disturb those who might otherwise be lulled into inattention by his mastery of the quip, the riposte and details of policy.

* * *

That Hashimoto is a philistine is unremarkable. He is, after all, a self-made man of rough circumstances. He may ask, "What does traditional high culture have to do with me?" without transgression. One could go over with him the humble, outcast origins of great artistic traditions like the No theater...but one would first have to find a way around his defensiveness about his origins.

What is remarkable in this campaign is that the main party leaders, with the bold exception of Ishihara Shintaro, all seem to be philistines. Ishihara has literature, Koizumi had Elvis Presley (and XJapan). However, for the majority of the political leaders currently clogging our airways and textual news, one would be hard-pressed to identify a single art either practiced or enjoyed by any them. The only art that interests them seems to be the art of politics, which either paradoxically or inevitably, considering their fastidious concentration on it, not one of them practices with any finesse.

Expanding upon the paradox Okumura Jun noted in his exegesis on my post about the calligraphy of the leaders of the parties—that among those who profess to want to lead Japan back to its traditions are persons who are ignorant of them (Link)—the current crop of party leaders seem to want to be leaders of the Japanese people without taking joy in either being Japanese or people.

It is possible that it is not so much Noda Yoshihiko's duplicity, Abe Shinzo's radical reactionary beliefs, Kada Yukiko's willingness to hold Ozawa Ichiro's hand, Fukushima Mizuho's girlishness, Yamaguchi Natsuo's Gumby hair, Watanabe Yoshimi's accepting of public money only to use it to support his habit of yelling of insults from the sidelines, Shii Kazuo's aggressive anti-fashion or the sheer preposterousness of the micro-party leaders that is driving the voters away. It is the absorption of the political leaders into the job of being political leaders, where earnestness masquerades as determination, which makes it so hard for the public to take a shine to any of the leaders or their parties. Hobbies and interests alone cannot save one, as Aso Taro's and Tanigaki Sadakazu's stints as Liberal Democratic Party president demonstrated. However, a lack of identifiable trivial pursuits shows a disrespect for the human—an unnatural woodenness, as it were.

And no, Noda's noted fondness for alcohol does make the grade.

* Born in 1943.
** Born in 1965
*** That Osaka is seen as an uncultured pit of a city, particularly by Tokyo denizens, is another reason the joke can be inserted into the Tokyo performances.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

What The Editors Are Saying About The Dissolution Pledge

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

- W. B. Yeats, "The Second Coming" (1920)
As regards the Prime Minister's decision to dissolve the Diet on November 16, with an election on December 16:

Yomiuri Shimbun: Supports the Prime Minister's decision despite the lack of a legal map of electoral districts. Admits that producing a proper map would take months. (Link - J)

Mainichi Shimbun: The editors declare that they want to value (hyoka suru) the prime minister's decision highly. Do not explain the choice of "want" instead of "do." Ignores the constitutional issues, frets that not even the minimal +0/-5 bill can be passed in time for the dissolution. (Link - J)

The Asahi Shimbun: Finds the decision unavoidable (yamu o enai suru mono to) then explains at length how it will produce a Diet of suspect legitimacy. (Link - J)

Nihon Keizai Shimbun: Shows umbrage at the prime minister's having not heretofore honored his August 8 promise to Tanigaki Sadakazu to dissolve the Diet soon. Applauds Abe Shinzo for having made the tough decision to promise to examine a cut in the number of at large seats in the Diet session, in return for voting for the +0/-5 bill that the LDP itself submitted (that's courage?). Calls the passage of the minimal +0/-5 bill a surety (tanpo) for reforms to be carried out later. Concludes with an attack on the unkept promises of the DPJ's 2009 electoral manifesto. (Link - J)

Sankei Shimbun: Like the Mainichi Shimbun, wants to to value the prime minister's decision highly. It furthermore wishes to do "forthrightly" (sochoku ni). Does not mention the constitutionality issue or the +0/-5 bill even once. The constitution is mentioned only in a plea to make revision of the constitution one of the banners parties hold aloft in the election campaign. (Link)

Akahata: pending (no link)

Tokyo Shimbun: The longest editorial, running from top to bottom of the broadsheet. Is torn that the story it imagined -- that Noda and his Cabinet forced to resign for having gone back on DPJ promises to not raise the consumption tax without taking the decision to the voters -- is not what is happening. Instead is filled with a sense of dread at this forced rush into an election without the major constitutional problems having been fixed. Asks what the prime minister thinks he is doing forcing an election when the value of votes in the various districts remains apportioned unfairly. (Link)


Here is what the newspaper editors are really saying:

Yomiuri: Sure it's illegal. We don't care; our guys have the votes to pass the +0/-5 bill. Neither the emperor (who holds the right to dissolve the Diet, but defers to the wishes of the prime minister) nor the Supreme Court will lift a finger to stop us!

Mainichi We want an election because...we do not know why. We just want to have it. Can we have one?

The Asahi Shimbun I am appalled but I feel a sense of ennui coming on...

Nihon Keizai Shimbun All the important decisions that have been left alone to fester, they will all be dealt with in the near future. We are sure of this and so should you be. Noda Yoshihiko and the DPJ are liars, which is much worse than breaking the law.

Akahata -- Does anyone remember the password for the computer?

Tokyo Shimbun -- This is wrong, wrong, wrong. We have attacked Noda mercilessly for the consumption tax rise. Did we go a little too far in our hobbyhorse crusade?

Later - The text has been edited to add previously unavailable information.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Noda And The DPJ's Ultimate, Black-Hearted Double-Cross

When the Divine wants to punish you
It answers your prayers...
In his most recent post to his blog GlobalTalk 21, Okumura Jun offers some guesses as to why the Liberal Democratic Party, which has until recently sworn it will boycott and block all Diet business unless Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko commits to dissolving the Diet and calling elections in December, has, while not swerving from its commitment to December elections, suddenly de-escalated the crisis over the bond issuance bill and the formation of the commission in charge of implementing the social welfare reforms package. (Link)

Okumura-san sees three main drivers behind the LDP climb-down. I do not disagree with his first two, that

1) the Keidanren and other business lobbies are shouting in the LDP's ear to not play politics with the nation's economy and

2) the LDP leadership senses that the party is so far ahead in the polls its mandate is to avoid doing anything stupid, rather than trying to provoke change.

To those screaming in the ears of LDP Diet members I would add prefectural and local officials, the vast majority of whom are members of the LDP. The message they are screaming? "When the government is reducing budget outlays and is threatening complete cutoffs of all distributions because of your opposition to the bond issuance bill, we are the ones getting killed. Are we in the same party or what?"

As to Okumura-san's third point, I agree that the LDP does not want Noda to resign. However, Okumura-san does not go far enough in imagining the LDP's worst nightmare. His nightmare scenario is that a) Noda resigns and b) the telegenic DPJ Policy Research Council chairman Hosono Goshi takes over as party leader and Prime Minister.

I see two weaknesses in this nightmare scenario.

First, having Hosono "Hot Lips" Goshi as the Democratic Party of Japan's new leader seems insufficiently terrifying. The DPJ's party support and "which party are you going to vote for in the proportional list vote" numbers are so awful that the popularity bump from Hosono's handsome face and youth will merely shift the needle of the DPJ's post-election outlook from "essentially extinct" to "irrelevant."

Second, a Noda resignation and a Hosono takeover will leave unchanged the fights over the bond issuance bill, the formation of the social welfare commission and, most critically, the electoral district reform bill.

That last item is about to take a turn for the worse, if Acting Secretary-General Azumi Jun's Friday announcement is any indication. According to Azumi, DPJ members will need more than a week to talk about the bill amongst themselves (Link) -- which is pretty much a confession that whatever the DPJ leaders are cooking up will be significantly different from the bill they submitted in the Regular Session, which they pushed through the House of Representatives only to watch it die on the doorstep of the House of Councillors.

It is also a fair bet that even if the LDP cooperates this coming week on the bond issuance bill and the social welfare reform commission, Noda will not reward the LDP with a palatable electoral reform bill.

He never gives up a centimeter on anything.

The LDP leadership is not unaware of Noda's ability to lead his enemies into moving too quickly and thus squandering their advantages. The LDP therefore has an incentive to cooperate on the bond issuance bill and the social welfare reform commission, but at a glacial pace, in order to at least try to pressure Noda into offering a reasonable deal on an electoral district reform bill.

If everything grinds to a halt on the bond issuance bill or the LDP devises some other sort of mischief to hobble the prime minister, Noda and his Cabinet could very likely resign…...but not because they would have to...because they would want to.

Because if the Cabinet resigns, Noda and the DPJ can deploy the most vengeful, most malicious and most wicked weapon imaginable against Abe Shinzo's LDP: hold an immediate vote for a new prime minister and vote, one and all, as a party -- for Abe.

Implausible? Not really.

Make Abe the prime minister: heck, that is what he wants, is it not? All at once the problems bedeviling Noda and the DPJ -- the government's having neither operating funds nor a means of conducting a constitutional election – become Abe's problems – which he would have to address immediately and, because he could not call a constitutionally valid election, he and the LDP could only tackle in a coalition with the DPJ -- with the DPJ, as the larger partner in the coalition, calling most of the shots.

Insane. And brilliant. Insanely brilliant. Brilliantly insane.

What is more, there is nothing the LDP or any other party could do to stop Noda and DPJ from dumping the nation's problems in Abe's lap. The House of Representatives elects the prime minister (Constitution of Japan - Article 67). Even if every member of every other party boycotted the premiership election, and even if a few flabbergasted DPJ members refused to back the plan, the remaining DPJ members of House of Representative would still be numerous enough to form the quorum (Article 56) able to vote Abe into office.

It cannot be for no reason that LDP's cry is "dissolve the Diet" (kaisan) – this even though everyone knows that dissolving the Diet without the passage of an electoral reform bill would plunge the country into a constitutional crisis -- and not "Resign!"

Aha, but did not Prime Minister Noda say on Friday, in response to a question from LDP House of Councillors member Nomura Tetsuro, that

"As for a resignation of the Cabinet, I believe that would represent a prime minister abandoning his responsibilities." (Sojishoku ni tsukimashite wa naikaku soridaijin to shite no sekinin o hoki suru mono de aru to kangaete orimasu)?

Yes he did.

However, as former LDP president Tanigaki Sadakazu found out, what one thinks a phrase means and what Prime Minister Noda thinks a phrase means can be two very different things.

Reading the sentence again, Noda does not say, "I will not resign!" does he?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Maehara Blows Up The Plan

In the 1994 movie Speed, antagonist and bomb maker Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper) shouts over the phone to bomb squad officer Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) to forget about trying to outsmart him:

"Jack, nothing tricky now. You know I'm on top of you! DO NOT attempt to grow a brain!"

After what Minister for National Policy Maehara Seiji said to reporters today, I can imagine the normally imperturbable prime minister Noda Yoshihiko screaming into a phone to Maehara:

"At what point, since you graduated from pre-school, did you think you had GROWN A BRAIN?"

Maehara is, like the prime minister, a graduate of the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management. He should ostensibly be of somewhat better than average intelligence and education.

Nevertheless he manages to get into scrapes that leave one wondering, "What was he thinking?" -- which one then immediately repunctuates, "What? Was he thinking?" or even "What? Was he...thinking?"

Prime Minister and Democratic Party of Japan leader Noda Yoshihiko was coming off a very successful Friday meeting with Liberal Democratic Party President Abe Shinzo and New Komeito leader Yamaguchi Natsuo -- successful in that despite the warnings put to DPJ Secretary-General Koshi'ishi Azuma throughout the week by his counterparts in the LDP and New Komeito that if Noda did not offer a date for a House of Representatives election in line with the promise the PM made to former LDP president Tanigaki Sadakazu to have an election "soon" (chikai uchi ni) the Friday meeting would be pointless -- the PM, when pressed by Abe and Yamaguchi, told them, "Sorry, can't say when the election will be."

Asked about his promise to Tanigaki, Noda explained, "I have been focusing on taking responsibility for the weight of the words 'Putting matters to the voters soon.' However, for me to make that decision requires preparations of the environment in various ways. I have no intention to extend the life of this administration through dilly-dallying." (Link - J)

That dilly-dallying, stalling, procrastinating, whatever you many want to call it is exactly what the prime minister and the DPJ have been doing (Link) and want to continue doing is, of course, the whole point.

Abe and Yamaguchi stormed out of the meeting, furious at the PM for having the gall to desire a forestalling his own and his party's execution at the hands of the voters...

[A bit of anachronism, but this weekend's polls, partly due to the deeply embarrassing Tanaka Keishu Affair, have been an across-the-board disaster for the Cabinet and the DPJ. The Asahi Shinmbun poll shows Cabinet support diving to 18% and the LDP slaughtering the DPJ in the "Which party will you vote for in the party list half of the ballot?" question (Link - J)]

Harrumphed Abe and Yamaguchi, "We heard nothing from the PM about 'soon'!"

To which any jaded political observer would say, "Yes. Your point being...?"

All of the prime minister's carefully choreographed insouciance as regards the personal appeals of the leaders LDP and the New Komeito is in tatters, however, after Maehara's truly bizarre swerving off of the script on Sunday. In a discussion of the semantics of "soon" on a morning talking show, then an even clumsier attempt to make up for the earlier blunder by attempting to polish the prime minister's reputation, he detonated a landmine under the PM and the DPJ.

On Fuji Television's morning talk show, Maehara said, regarding the concept "soon":

"If I am to relate my own feelings, if the Diet is dissolved after the beginning of the New Year, that is not 'soon.'"

(Link -J)

Ay Caramba, you maniac! Have you looked at calendar recently? Do you know what the date is today? Are you aware that under the election laws there have to be 12 days between the presentation of the list of the names of the candidates and the holding of an election? Have you forgotten also that the current electoral district boundaries are unconstitutional and that no real DPJ plan to rectify the unconstitutionality has yet seen the light of day? And that the DIET IS NOT IN SESSION YET?

But did Maehara stop there? No, he had to dig deeper. Way, way deeper.

Speaking to a reporters' gaggle after his startling Fuji Television performance, he said:

"One cannot say that having a dissolution of the Diet after New Years is 'soon' -right? I for one believe that the prime minister is the kind of person who keeps the faith taking responsibility for his own words."

(Link - J)

Hold it right there. Let me see if I have this straight. If there is no dissolution of the Diet by the end of the year, the prime minister, in your opinion, Mr. Maehara, is not "the kind of person who keeps the faith taking responsibility for his own words"?

Holy moly, one would hardly have thought it possible when this weekend began, but Maehara may be out of the Cabinet earlier than Tanaka Keishu.

In one of the most delicious of ironies, if one plugs Maehara's phrase for "keeps the faith" (shingi o mamoru) into Eijiro, the best regarded of the free online dictionaries, out pops the following quote from Chapter XVIII of Machiavelli's The Prince:

"Therefore a wise lord cannot, nor ought he to, keep faith when such observance may be turned against him, and when the reasons that caused him to pledge it exist no longer."

Read your damn Machiavelli, Maehara-san, whether or not you are still around a few hours from now. If you are not, then you will have plenty of free time to study of this the most basic text on political survival.

Keep the faith, brother you jackass.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Can Anyone In The Opposition Play This Game?

On Friday I speculated that the Democratic Party of Japan, faced with a determined and suddenly invigorated Liberal Democratic Party, had out of desperation moved to the Four Corners Offense, where the point is to dribble the ball interminably and pass the ball back-and forth pointlessly so as to keep the other side from ever getting control. (Link)

I was therefore surprised when LDP Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru was able to twist enough arms as to secure a Monday meeting of secretaries-general of the DPJ, the LDP and the New Komeito, the only three parties that matter.

[An aside - Japan does have other parties, a stunning plethora of them. The DPJ's coalition partner, the People's New Party, seems content to have the DPJ speak for it. The opposition parties outside the LDP-New Komeito alliance are, by contrast, frothing at the mouth, furious that they are never invited to meetings of any consequence. Instead, their leaders gather together to issue condemnations of the "three party cabal" ruling Japan.

No combination of any of the other opposition parties adds up to any meaningful number of votes in the House of Representatives for either the LDP or the DPJ. In the House of Councillors, the other opposition parties could come together to help the government pass legislation. However, due to ideological incompatibility with the DPJ’s current political course, they have taken to side with the LDP, whose politics they dislike even more, to just say "No" to every important government bill landing in the House of Councillors.]

Ishiba's success in gaining meeting on what the next working day seemed a harbinger for a more aggressive LDP and compliant DPJ. True, it was only a meeting to set up another meeting, the next step being a meeting of the leaders of the three parties to talk about and perhaps agree on a date for the opening of the extraordinary Diet session and the sequencing of the government's presentation of its bills. Ishiba and his New Komeito counterpart Inoue Yoshihisa went into their meeting with DPJ Secretary-General Koshi'shi Azuma determined to draw out of the DPJ's man an acquiescence to the the LDP’s and New Komeito’s demands that Prime Minister Noda honor the promise he made to former LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu to dissolve of the Diet "soon" (chikai uchi ni).

What Ishiba and Inoue came out of their meeting with Koshi'ishi was...a promise to meet again on Thursday.

Koshi'ishi opened with the gambit that he would want the heads of the three parties to meet later this week and for the extraordinary session to begin by the end of the month. In both cases, he was lying. However, having placed these ideas on the table put the onus on his counterparts to characterize him later as being close-minded and merely trying to delay the opening of the extraordinary Diet Session.

Koshi'ishi continued with the standard DPJ trio of suggestions -- not demands. First, that the bond issuance bill be passed soon so as to prevent a disruption of the lives of the citizens. Second, that an electoral reform bill be passed 1) eliminating any question as to the constitutionality of the boundaries of House of Representatives electoral districts, and 2) reducing the number of House of Representatives seats, this in order to demonstrate to the citizens, who have been asked to accept a doubling of the consumption tax, that the government is making a best effort at cutting back on its size and spending. Finally, the DPJ would want the convocation of the the National Council on Reform of the Social Welfare System (Shakai hosho seido kaikaku kokumin kaigi) in order to begin discussions of the implementation of the reforms passed along with the consumption tax bill.

Ishiba countered with a concession that he would not want his party to be seen as holding the bond issuance bill, an electoral reform bill and a convocation of the National Council hostage to his and the New Komeito's demands. However, he continued, two months has passed since the prime minister made his promise to dissolve the Diet "soon" (Link - J). Inoue piped in, saying that given the deadlines for the compilation of the national budget, the time limit for the holding of an election is early December. (Link - J)

Let us take a moment to consider Inoue's demand. Article 54 of the Constitution mandates that an election take place within 40 days of a dissolution. However, the Constitution is silent as to the minimum number of days that can pass between a dissolution and an election. Article 31 of the Public Elections Act, however, requires that a final determination of the candidates up for election must be made at least 12 days prior to election day. (Link)

Given that an election is almost invariably held on a Sunday, and the process of the Diet's electing a new prime minister, the new PM’s selection of a Cabinet and his/her delivering a Diet policy address eats up a week, and compiling of a rushed budget will take at least three weeks, the realistic December date for an election is December 1. Working backward 12 days from there brings us to Monday, November 19.

So whatever happens, the extraordinary Diet session will have to finish up all its business in a little less than a month. That is the relevant House of Representatives committees discussing the bills, then voting on the bills, sending them to the plenary session for an up/down vote, then presenting the bills to the House of Councillors, with their committee discussions, votes and final plenary session up/down vote.

Of course, the two Houses could look at identical texts of bills at the same time, pass them at the same time, come together and decide that the bills are the same and thus law.

Except, of course, all of this speculation may be moot. Bringing the House of Representatives district boundaries into conformance with requirements set down Article 13 of the Public Elections Act requires months of research, analysis and compromise, not just a few days of politicians bargaining over legislative band-aids.

So what the LDP and the New Komeito are demanding as regards an election "soon" may be possible but will be illegal.

Koshi'ishi knows this. However, he did not have to pull this card out of his sleeve on Monday when Ishiba and Inoue pressed on the dissolution. Already on the 15th he had made clear that he was not going to say diddly about a date for a dissolution on the grounds that a dissolution of the Diet is a solemn duty and privilege of the prime minister and not something he can just lightly say whatever he may think on the subject. (Link)

After 20 minutes of back and forth, the trio broke up, agreeing to meet again on the 18th.

A clearly frustrated Ishiba then went and put his foot in his mouth. Angry that he came out of the meeting having neither learned nor won anything, he told reporters that unless the atmosphere becomes less duplicitous, having a meeting between the heads of the parties will lead nowhere. (Link -J)

Rule #1 of adult behavior: never shut down avenues. Never say that you will not meet to talk.

How long can the DPJ's torture of the LDP and the New Komeito continue? The first and foremost hurdle that must be vaulted is the passage of the bond issuance bill. That has to happen sometime soon, though just when is rather murky, The Prime Minister Noda and the DPJ, weakened as they are, can call an extraordinary session of the Diet and then dare the opposition to allow the government to run out of money. It is a risk the PM and DPJ seem increasingly confident in taking.

As for how long the public will put up with the DPJ's dodging and weaving whenever the LDP and the New Komeito start talking about holding elections, there may be a limit there. Editorialists will start to castigate the DPJ secretariat for stalling just to avoid the certain electoral defeat awaiting them. Guests on this morning's Asa Zuba! news program complained that, "If they are members of the Diet, and they don’t want to go into session, then they should just quit."

However, as regards the delays in convening of an extraordinary session, Koshi'ishi, who has no limits to his ability to state the chapter and verse on any subject, can tell the press, "Look, an extraordinary session is just that, extraordinary. The National Diet Act requires us to be in session for 150 days. We went way past that mark in the regular Diet Session. We have earned our salaries for the year. If the opposition cleans up its act and stops trying to extort Diet dissolutions from our prime ministers in return for votes on normal government bills, then we can go back to work in extraordinary session."

So on my score sheet, after the first round, it is Dead Pharaoh 1, Python 0. (Link)

Friday, October 12, 2012

The DPJ Goes To The Four Corners

Yesterday, Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko had a first face-to-face good-fellow-well-met confab between himself and the recently elected Liberal Democratic Party President Abe Shinzo.

By "recently elected" I mean 16 days ago.

Accompanying both men were the main members of their new party secretariats.

By "new" I mean appointed 14 days ago.

The delay in getting the two party leaderships together is understandable. Noda had to reshuffle the Cabinet: that happened on October 1st. Then the new Cabinet ministers had to get comfortable in their new chairs. Then there was the Sports Day three day weekend...

OK, so the scheduling may not have been done with any degree of expeditiousness.

However, yesterday, the two lineups of men (and yes, it was all this really an advanced post-industrial society?) got together over a table and got down to work.

And, after an eventful and likely exhausting five minutes, they ended their meeting.

Prime Minister Noda, with a dramatic flourish, told Abe that the two of them really have to together soon with Yamaguchi Natsuo, the leader of the New Komeito, to discuss the extraordinary Diet session. (J)

Meanwhile, in another part of the Diet Building, six members of the Administrative Oversight Subcommittee of the House of Representatives Committee on Audit and Administrative Oversight sat twiddling their thumbs.

The six members of the subcommittee -- four from the Liberal Democratic Party, one from Ozawa Ichiro's People's Life Party and one from the New Komeito, had responded to a call from the subcommittee's chairman, a member of the LDP*, to an emergency, extra-Diet Session meeting to examine dereliction of duty in the disbursal of the funds from the supplementary budget for the recovery and reconstruction in the disaster zones of the Tohoku and Fukushima Prefecture.

The reason the six members of the subcommittee were hard at work developing their thumb muscles was that none of the eight Democratic Party of Japan members of the subcommittee showed up to the emergency meeting. Had even a single member of the DPJ showed, the committee would have had a quorum, and could set to work investigating the allegations of fraud and mismanagement. (J)

Or at least they might have tried to do so, only to be stymied by the DPJ-led government's having told the summoned relevant ministry officials not to leave their offices to appear at a meeting that was not going to happen.

The DPJ had an explanation for not responding to the chairman's call. The lengthy process of winnowing through the appointments of new senior vice ministers/state ministers and parliamentary vice-ministers after a Cabinet reshuffle had turned out to be just that, lengthy, and the DPJ secretariat had not had the time to select a new Ranking Member for the subcommittee. Without a Ranking Member how could any of the other members show up?

You know how it is...

Tick, tick, tick...

Funny thing that Abe and Yamaguchi are learning about Noda. If, following your election, or in Yamaguchi's case reelection, to the position leader of your party the first thing you promise to your followers is that you will bring them the head of the current government on a platter, that head is not terribly inclined to facilitate your delivering on that promise. Indeed, however he might not want to embarrass you in front of your peers, he has an incentive to stall, delay, prevaricate, stonewall -- all to keep his head right where it is.

Noda Yoshihiko promised the hapless former LDP president Tanigaki Sadakazu in a private one-on-one meeting that in return for cooperation on the package of social welfare reforms bills including the consumption tax bill, the bond issuance bill and a bill reforming the electoral districts, he, Noda, would dissolve the Diet "soon" (chikai uchi ni).

Both Houses of the Diet passed the package of bills on social welfare reform, including the consumption tax bill.

However, when it became clear that Noda and the DPJ were stalling on the submission of the two additional bills, this in order that the two bills would fail to wend their way through the relevant Diet committees and plenary sessions before the September 8 end of the regular Diet session, Tanigaki lost his nerve. He tried, ex post facto, to get Noda to commit to a date certain for the Diet dissolution. He failed to bullrush the stolid Noda. At which point all hell broke loose: a fumbled no-confidence motion; the DPJ's ramming through the House of Representatives its versions of the two bills; the LDP voting in the House of Councillors for a motion of censure condemning its own actions; and the crashing to a halt of the House of Councillors session well before the deadline, leading to the death on the doorstep of the House of Councillors of the bond issuance and electoral reform bills.

Quite an interesting summer.

Anyway, with the two bills dead and Tanigaki gone as LDP president, the seemingly imperturbable Noda is now looking to Abe and Yamaguchi to forget all about that silly "soon" business.

As for Azumi Jun, the former minister of finance, who went about the halls of the Diet sweating and writhing throughout the month of August, it seems possible he may have lied exaggerated about the extent to which Japan faces fiscal disaster should the bond issuance bill fail to be passed this month.

Oh, the duplicitous knave -- I mean, DPJ Acting Secretary-General!

Certainly no one is doing now the panic dance he was doing just two months ago.

So what's bottom line? When will the Noda and DPJ stop their delaying tactics and start playing ball?

Oh, how Abe and Yamaguchi would love to know the answer to that question.

Perhaps they will find out when the two of them have their têtes-à-tête with the prime minister.

Sometime soon, just like he said.

* While the committee chairs in the House of Representatives are all held by members of the ruling coalition, subcommittee chairmanships are distributed to members of the opposition out of courtesy.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Four LDP Candidates At The FCCJ (Continued)

Of the four candidates present, Ishiba Shigeru seemed to be most confident.  At the initial four-way handclasp, his was the broadest and most assured of the smiles.  In his answers he was precise, eschewed generalities and tied current hot button issues to the underlying history of the policies involved.

A reputed wonk's wonk who actually is one, unlike the man he wants to succeed.

The only time he lost his cool was when one questioner (whom I respect immensely) asked the four candidates whether they will continue to follow the Tanigaki Line on the bond issuance bill -- i.e., the current Liberal Democratic Party strategy of refusing to approve of the issuance of new bonds to cover the costs of the budget, threatening the government with a shutdown as early as October.

One after the other, the four candidates repeated the party line that the Democratic Party of Japan-led government's budget was full of pork-barrel projects, so that the LDP was merely exercising a bit of ex post facto fiscal prudence. Furthermore, the survival of the current government was intolerable, so any act pressuring Noda into dissolving the Diet and calling elections was worth the risk.

After giving this stock response, Ishiba leaned away from the mike and grimaced.

At first I thought Ishiba was furious at the questioner. Upon reflection, he was more likely disgusted with himself. Back when his candidacy was just a notion, he was a thorn in the side of the Tanigaki-Ishihara leadership group. He would argue that the party leadership's policy of just saying "No" to everything, refusing to release the membership to vote for vital bills unless the prime minister promised to quit, was short-sighted, borderline unpatriotic and stupid.

Now that Ishiba was a candidate, however, he had had to tell a lie -- that he would continue the policy of pushing for elections, unconstitutional as he most likely knows they would be, even at the cost of the government of Japan's credibility.

Having to lie did not kill him...but it left him pretty darn ticked off.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Japan's Politics Stomps On The Accelerator

In The Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens entitles one of the chapters "TOO FULL OF ADVENTURE TO BE BRIEFLY DESCRIBED."*

I feel the same way about events in politics these past few days.

-- Liberal Democratic Party president Tanigaki Sadakazu faced reality yesterday, giving up on even running for reelection (E). That he waited so long, forcing his second-in-command Ishihara Nobuteru to forego advance preparation for his own bid for the presidency, either represents faith triumphing over observable fact, or payback for Ishihara's only half-hearted expressions of support for Tanigaki's running for a second term.

Though Ishihara appears to be on course for a victory in the presidential race, and, after the next House of Representatives election, the premiership, it bears noticing that historically his presidential bid is an aberration. Only two secretary-generals have taken over as president since the peaceful, negotiated transition from Nakasone Yasuhiro to Takeshita Noboru in November 1987.

The first was the closed-door, five person negotiated agreement for Secretary-General Mori Yoshiro to take over the premiership from the brain dead but still on life support Obuchi Keizo, three days after Obuchi suffered his fatal stroke.

The other instance of a secretary-general succeeding a party president was Aso Taro taking over for Fukuda Yasuo when Fukuda suddenly resigned on September 1, 2008. Aso had only been in office a month, having been named secretary-general in a leadership shakeup on August 1.

The Aso case points out the main reason why most secretary-generals cannot usually make the direct transition from the party #2 position to the presidency. Under normal circumstances, the secratary-general has been the right-hand man to the president, as much responsible for the daily decisions, right or wrong, as the man in the #1 spot. The secretary-general has also always been seen as bearing ultimate responsibility for the LDP's performance in elections. Many a leadership transition was triggered by the party having a poor showing in an election, mandating that the secretary-general resign and serve a brief stint in limbo.

However, in this instance, the abrasiveness and shallow party roots of Ishihara's main challenger, foreign and security policy specialist Ishiba Shigeru, seem to be showing a green light for Ishihara's election, possibly even in the first round vote of the LDP local chapters.

The other challengers in the LDP race -- former prime minister Abe Shinzo, Machimura Nobutaka and Hayashi Yoshimasa -- seem to be in the race for tactical or public relations reasons.

Hayashi is the Washington think tank candidate -- fluent in English and a familiar face in Washington. He is, however, a member of the House of Councillors -- whose members are seen as not having a personal investment in the party's performance in the House of Representatives.  Hayashi is seen as being only technically available to step into the position of prime minister.

Machimura is the faction head candidate, participating so that the list of candidates has at least one faction head in it. Machimura's candidacy presents another hurdle for Machimura faction member Ishihara, as he would normally count on the votes of his faction as the core of his support in the Diet members' round of voting.

Abe is entering the race for purely tactical reasons. He used to be both the ultra-conservative and Washington think tank candidate. His breakdown while in office, unsurprisingly cooled most Washington and national interest. He does remain, however, the most recognizable of the unapologetic, fantastic history-believing nationalists. He is thus probably running in order to play the part of kingmaker in between Ishiba and Ishihara, extracting a promise of accelerated militarization and anti-Chinese and anti-South Korean stances in return for the votes of his supporters.

-- The window for declaring oneself a DPJ leadership candidate closed yesterday. With Hosono Goshi having been talked out of running on Friday last, a field of four candidates-- deridable as "Noda Yoshihiko and the Three Dwarfs" -- now are set for a whirlwind campaign ending on September 21. (E)

As Okumura Jun has noted, the explosion of interest in a Hosono candidacy last week was prima facie evidence that the three remaining Noda challengers -- Haraguchi Kazuhiko, Akamatsu Hirotaka and Kano Michihiko -- do not inspire. In speeches yesterday, each of the candidates, whilst criticizing the prime minister and his policy of accommodation with the LDP-New Komeito alliance, revealed his particular weakness. Haraguchi fulminated about the public's loss of faith in the party due to the abandonment of the promises in the 2009 manifesto. Haraguchi seems unaware that 1) manifesto author Ozawa Ichiro and his most of his acolytes decamped a few months ago, leaving a very small audience, at least among Diet members, for the "we have forgotten our roots" message.

Akamatsu's and Kano's candidacies seem more tactical, given their comparatively advanced ages (Akamatsu is 63; Kano 70). Akamatsu represents the potential votes of the party's under-appreciated socialists, while Kano can offer the votes of his own group and the votes of the members with a visceral hatred/fear of a DPJ commitment to participate in the Trans Pacific Partnership. Kano already has a history of vote trading, his support having been a crucial component of Noda Yoshihiko's victory over the Ozawa-supported Kaieda Banri in the 2011 leadership election.

Both Akamatsu and Kano railed against the three-party agreement that made the passage of the social welfare and pension reform bills possible. Noda defended it, and defended the extension of the three party agreement into the fall extraordinary session. Both sides are just blowing smoke, however. The three party agreement has falls into abeyance with Tanigaki's withdrawal from the LDP presidential race and the automatic evaporation on Spetember 8 of the bond issuance bill and electoral reform bill.

-- Osaka City mayor Hashimoto Toru on Sunday hosted a symposium (E) introducing the ideas that will vault his regional movement into a national political party, the Nihon (or Nippon) Ishin no Kai (the Japan Renewal Party or Japan Restoration Party. By the way, forget about running a search on 日本維新の会 -- what you get is the Facebook page of a Haraguchi Kazuhiko study group of the same name). At the seemingly interminable meeting (five hours in real time) Hashimoto introduced the seven members of the Diet who will today (Tuesday) tender their resignations from their current parties in time for the the JRA's coming out reception on Wednesday. That three of the seven are House of Councillors proportional seat members of the Your Party indicates the prescience of Michael Penn's private circulation article, of August 27, "Yoshimi Watanabe's Your Party in Terminal Crisis."

Of the remaining four defectors, three come from the DPJ and one from the LDP. Matsunami Kenta of the LDP is a proportional seat member of the House of Representatives, and from the Kinki bloc where Osaka is located. That the majority of the JRA's Diet members are proportional seat members indicates the cautious attitude district seat holders are taking with towards to Hashimoto's leap into national politics. That the majority of the defectors are also from the House of Councillors, rather than the more volatile and politically significant House of Representatives, indicates a further lack of certainty among those dissatisfied with the status quo that Hashimoto has coattails.

Also attending and speaking at the meeting were the usual suspects of devolution of power to local governments: former comedian and Miyazaki governor Higashikokubaru Hideo and two of The Three Hiroshis: former Kanagawa Yokohama pretty boy governor mayor Nakata Hiroshi and former revisionist textbook inceptor and Suginami City mayor Yamada Hiroshi, whose Spirit of Japan Party (Nihon soshinto) went nowhere. (J)

That Hashimoto featured these pre-August 2009 election retreads at his talk fest, and indeed wants them to run as Nihon Ishin no Kai candidates, indicates that for all the media interest and public opinion poll enthusiasm for the new party, there is little meat yet on the bones.

-- The deployment of MV-22 Osprey aircraft to the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in Okinawa received what was ostensibly a significant blow on Sunday from a mass protest (E). Organizers claimed 101,000 persons participated in the rally. Aerial images on television seemed to indicate the size of the crowd was closer to 20,000, though it is possible thousands were, like crowd at the July 16 nuclear protest, hiding under the trees from the blazing sun.

Given that signing off on Osprey operations is electoral poison, it is likely that the final OK will be given by a lame duck Cabinet after after the results of a House of Representatives elections are in. That the U.S. Marine Corps generally gets what it wants means that the effectiveness of the protest is about as doubtful as its crowd numbers.

-- The purported suicide of Financial Services and Postal Reform Minister Matsushita is still the top of the news -- as a such a rare occurrence should be.

I loathe conspiracy theories and theorists but the official narratives so far regarding this case do not hold together. We are supposed to believe that a man found toppled over had hanged himself, or strangled himself with cords of some kind. We are being asked to believe that his security detail did not have a key to his condominium, having to use Minister Matsushita's wife's key to open the condominium front door. We are being asked to believe that he left goodbye messages to his wife, Prime Minister Noda and the Cabinet. We are being asked to believe that the imminent publication of a Shukan Shincho expose of a purported mistress may have pushed Matsushita to take his own life. (J)

As to the last claim, when you are seventy-three, recovering from prostrate prostate cancer and are revealed to have engaged in extra-marital shenanigans, you are well past the "this will ruin my career" stage.

Next up should be revelations of the content of the purported three goodbye notes.

Do I expect to be seeing the actual texts, ever?



* Demonstrating that British comic writing has been in the dead-pan, self-referential subversion of the narrative voice business for a very long time.