Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Someday Son, All This Won't Be Yours

One would likely feel a lot better about the plans of certain members of Democratic Party to propose a ban on close relatives from inheriting district seats -- and think the plan worthy of the hastily-organized Sunday talk show panels of second-, third- and fourth- generation Diet members -- if it were not for the unfortunate reality that virtually everyone in charge -- this being in the leaderships of both the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan -- is a close relative of at least one other Diet member, past or present.

The requirement that the leaders of the parties volunteer to depose themselves, their descendants, siblings and cousins has me thinking that the chances of this reform's being instigated are remote. Seldom indeed has been heard the revolutionary rallying cry:

"To the Barricades, Comrades! Death to Me...and to those Closest To Me!"

Tobias Harris has provided a detailed overview of the current status of the proposal and his analysis of its political significance. Harris suggests that in proposing a rule that would prevent party leader Ozawa Ichirō and any of Ozawa's sons from running in the family seat in Iwate Prefecture (I am unsure how the Okada proposal handles definitional issues arising from the mid-1990s switch from medium-sized, multiple seat districts to smaller, single-seat districts - but that is for another time) -- Okada Tatsuya is making a play for the leadership of the DPJ.

The proposed rule is a rather peculiarly timed irruption against the hereditary political classes of Nagata-chō -- one where no real follow up has been done on the potential consequences of forcing sons and other close relatives into running in other districts (for a hint, I note that Kōno Tarō, son of Konō Yōhei, is one of the few LDP supporters of the Okada rule). Given the beating the DPJ has been taking in the polls recently over the Okubo Affair and Ozawa's refusal to step down for the good of the party, the proposed change could certainly be Okada's indirect request for Ozawa to hurry up and get out of the way.

However, the sweep of the proposal -- which would not only affect Ozawa but other core DPJ leaders like Hatoyama Yukio -- seems too broad to be simply an attempt to hoist Ozawa out of his post. That it is Okada offering the proposal opens up the possibility of a snide counterproposal, on the order of "Why not a rule against the sons of supermarket chain magnates running for district seats? Does not immense personal wealth offer an unfair advantage?" Furthermore, while Ozawa's insistence on remaining party leader has had a deleterious effect on the DPJ's popularity ratings, it has not affected Okada personally. A showdown with Ozawa, on the other hand, carries considerable personal risks for Okada, should the attempt fail -- and could instigate the breakup of the DPJ into pro- and anti-Ozawa rump parties, should it succeed.

Okada's proposal is possibly not so much a call to arms as a rebranding effort. Under Ozawa, the DPJ has undergone a soul-stripping transformation from a party of the urban and suburban salaryman, with a focus on fiscal rectitude and politico-economic restructuring, to a national party modeled on the old LDP, with promises of profligacy for everyone. Okada's proposal revives the image of the DPJ as the party of reform and opportunity, putting the LDP in the position of defender of the ancien regime. That Okada's proposal has no chance at all of becoming policy is good for both Okada and the DPJ: one can benefit from the appearance of a conscience being at work without the messy business of actually putting one's principles into practice.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Tokyo Mondays - Temptation

What the commuter gets taunted with on the last Monday in April - a snow-capped Mt. Fuji shining under a brilliant blue sky, 90 kilometers away.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The New York Times Correspondent in Japan

Nota bene - This below is a rant, not an attempt to harm. I just cannot suppress an intense feeling of frustration with the subject.

Hello, do you know me?

I am Martin Fackler, Japan correspondent for The New York Times, the most powerful and influential newspaper on the planet. I am famous, or should I say infamous, for a certain article I wrote about an unknown performance artist's portable drink dispenser disguise being symptomatic of -- or was a metaphor for? -- oh, well, whatever -- a rising fear of crime in Japan.

That article earned me a special, special place in the hearts of many, many of Japan's inhabitants.

Anyway, you may have noticed I have been on a tour of Japan outside the metropole. In my contact with real persons, rather than Japan corporate image- and foreign relations-management types, I have managed to craft a set of decent reports, including an admirable one on Hamada's Marine Bridge which provided background to the debate on Obama Administration's fiscal stimulus proposals, contrasting the American situation with the runaway Construction State's despoilage of Japan's environment and finances.

Now a lot of you might be thinking, "Hey, all that Fackler needed was to get out of the Kantō Plain to stop producing vignettes that obsfucate rather than illuminate."

To this I say, "Phooey!"

Witness what I have produced today, "Hime Island Journal: A Workers' Paradise Found Off Japan's Coast". From out of a cynical joke regarding a bronze statue of a mayor erected by his son, I manage to misrepresent an LDP local heavy's whitewashing of his family's having leveraged public money into the creation of an impregnable, hereditary electoral lock as being a socialist, workshare arrangement offering an alternative to the liberal reforms proposed by former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō.

It is a tour-de-force of buying into the proposition with a bemused, side-long glance.

Of course, I could have detonated the whole, sunny charade by asking a few, simple questions:

"But where do the funds for the worker's paradise ultimately come from?"


"If the village government is the major employer on the island, could not the mayor threaten to cut off families of workers who ask, say, to be paid at a rate closer to the national average?"

But if were to ask the tough, critical questions, then I would lose the "backlash against economic liberalism of the Koizumi Era" angle I so desperately want to offer in microcosm.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Voice of Reason on Pakistan

A long while back, I tried to write up a list of 100 intellectuals working in Japan whom it would be good for the rest of the world to know. Due to my own lack of knowledge of Japan's intellectual faculties, I faltered before completing the task.

Which makes receiving Igawa Shuichi's essay on Pakistan for AJISS - Commentary such delight. Here is a voice worth listening to, presenting a distinctive, creative and yet sound analysis of the problems of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Me likes what I read much, and makes me want to read more.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Why Missile Defense Could Be A Bad Idea

One truly big problem with actually trying to knock down DPRK missiles with other missiles: one would be betting that the Russians, who can be a bit heavy-handed in the defense of their Pacific airspace (as for the Eastern side, well, ask Mathias Rust) will, upon seeing the images of missiles streaking toward them, simply sit back and hold their fire.

Not something I would want to wager on, even if I were a risk-junkie.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Oh Well, Scratch That

Now the papers are saying the boosters did fall inside the exclusion zones, if just barely.

Oh well, now if we only knew what happened to the much discussed third stage...

Now Everyone Calm Down

The North Korean rocket, even with the full kick from the Earth's rotation, did not fly in the promised path, its pieces crashlanding in the ocean hundreds of kilometers away from and short of the stay-clear zones. Its payload failed achieve orbit--something the Iranians, with a much younger rocket program, managed to do.

(This should not be construed to be a knock on Iran's achievement. Rocket science is hard.)

The Taepodong does not represent much of an improvement in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's strategic or economic positions. "You do as I say, or else I might target the Diet Building, possibly hitting Niigata or Utsunomiya," prompts a smile, not fear. The incredible inaccuracy demonstrated undermines the sales pitch ("Target Tel Aviv and you might hit Damascus! Hey, come back!")

Somehow all the buildup and brouhaha about the rocket's potential reach and destructive power, the rather pedestrian point of North Korea's having hundreds of thousands of its citizens already on Japanese soil, capable of wreaking havoc if ordered, seems to have been forgotten. If actually hurting citizens of Japan or destroying the Japanese government were ever a goal, why would a rocket be necessary? In 1995, a small band of ideologically-driven crazies was able to kill 12, maim hundreds and shut down the main arteries of transportation at the vital center of Japan's capital. Imagine what a few hundred North Korean agents could do. That the North Koreans have heretofore not made use of this immense tactical advantage indicates that North Korea's government and leaders are not really in the "let's destroy Japan" business in a serious way.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The DPRK's Damn Big Firecracker

Well, the DPRK has fired off its rocket. The exhausted booster rockets fell into the sea outside the declared exclusion zones (no surprise there) but the pieces of the DPRK's rocket did not seem to have hurt anyone (a relief).

In other words, another less-than-successful launch of the three stage Taepodong, with the only likely casualties being members of the Taepodong design team and the Japanese government's sense of proportion. Right now on the television, commentators are pounding away at the issue of whether this launch should be charaterized as a seemingly off-kilter ballistic missile test or a seemingly off-kilter satellite launch. Of course, the difference is important in regards to whether or not the launch will result in new UN Security Council resolutions and actions. However, as there are no casualties and no damage, I do not see the Chinese in Japan's corner on this launch--which makes the distinction rather moot.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, several hundred innocents will die today, for incredibly stupid, easily remedied reasons. No press conference is scheduled to explain or even note their deaths. Go and buy something.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

They're Closing the Wrong Bureau

Okumura Jun reports that Newsweek has closed its Japan bureau.

Whither Caryl-san and Kashiwagi-san? Somebody has to report on this blessed land.


Still, with doom in the offing, the bureau was able to deliver a final devil-may-care parting slap on all our behalfs.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Editors of the Sankei Shimbun Will Be Thrilled...

...until one of the staffers calms down enough to read paragraph four.

This fellow is quoted by the AFP (Spy agencies believe NKorea has nuke warheads ) as saying that unspecified intelligence agencies are convinced that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea possesses "five to eight" nuclear warheads capable of being mounted atop Nodong missiles in one or two day's time.

"Intelligence agencies believe the North Koreans have assembled nuclear warheads for Rodong missiles, which are stored at underground facilities near the Rodong missile bases," Pinkston told AFP.
Considering that the dude is a veteran of the Monterey Institute and he is now working for the International Crisis Group, this claim is really scary.

Of course, it would be a lot scarier if he not said, in the next paragraph.

"It might be right, it might be wrong -- but if others believe it is true, it has implications for the psychological aspects of deterrence," he said, describing the assessment as "quite significant."
I like that kind of reasoning.

Call me on AFP, please call on me!

"Intelligence agencies believe that Japan Prime Minister Taro Aso is the uncrowned king of the Telluridi, a race of space lizards that came to the earth long ago in search of refreshments and entertainment," MTC told AFP.

"It might be right, it might be wrong -- but if others believe it is true, it has implications for the psychological aspects controlling the timing of the House of Representatives election," MTC said, describing the assessment as "quite significant."
Maybe not.

Before getting hopped up about potential North Korean warheads small enough to be mounted on the nose of Nodong, I will await the analysis coming from Jeffrey Lewis and the gang.

Meanwhile the Kongō and the Chōkai will putter about, the PAC-3 missile men dispatched to the northern prefectures will scan the sky hoping nothing falls out of it (have they fixed the mobile phone band interference problem yet? That would be reeeeeally helpful) and everybody will pray that the DPRK's damn big firecracker either disintegrates before getting too high up or does exactly what the DPRK has been saying it will.

Later - Then again, the DPRK is not a state: it is a performance.