Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Twofer Post: The Two Policy Research Council Chairmen Go Head to Head; Chief Cabinet Secretary Grilled on Diesel Fuel for USS Kitty Hawk

On Sunday Project - surely the TV program most often cited (if often not credited) by the national print media - it's Sadakazu Tanigaki batting for the LDP doing what he does best and likes most, which is talking about policy issues, and the need to raise taxes. Up against him is the new DPJ policy chief Masayuki Naoshima, an ex-salaryman with extensive labor union background, someone that I'm not sure even Tobias Harris has seen. At the end, I am left wondering, what the hell was Mr. Naoshima doing there? He clearly had read the DPJ policy manifest, but did he know anything beyond it? Did he even believe it?

Soichiro Tawara, the Tasmanian Devil of political journalism, pounds Mr. Naoshima mercilessly on public pension reform. And with good reason too, because Mr. Naoshima is maddeningly vague on the details, basically copping a plea, that they are working on a bill. Mr. Tanigaki is at his enthusiastic and congenial best as he brings his command of details as well as his understanding of the broader fiscal implications to talk rings around Mr. Naoshima. Significantly, he emphasizes the underlying commonalities between the two positions, and suggests that there is plenty of room for a dialogue here. Mr. Tanigaki, like the Prime Minister, is by temperament and talent supremely suited to the soft-sell approach, and it shows.

On the contrast between the existing government policy to favor consolidating agricultural acreage and the DPJ proposal to extend income supplements to all farmers, Mr. Tanigaki scores at least a debating point when he argues against the wisdom of giving money to aging part-time farmers, an allegation that Mr. Naoshima lets pass without denial or counterargument. Moreover, Mr. Tanigaki handles the issue within the metropolitan center-boondocks dichotomy context. He believes that the persistence of public works that the prefectures conduct with their own revenues (in contrast to the public works subsidized by revenue transfers or direct subsidies) indicates that there are better ways to boost local economies. Is this a pitch for raising the consumption tax rate? Of course. Is he hinting at a possible escape valve for local pressures against the annual 3% cut in the national public works budget allocations? Maybe. But Mr. Naoshima does next to nothing to hit back, or even to defend himself.

Before, the DPJ could cite a recalcitrant bureaucracy for the lack of detail to its proposals. But control of the Upper House has greatly augmented the opposition's Diet investigation authority (Constitution, Article 62), and the bureaucracy has stepped up its cooperation with the DPJ, no doubt with the blessing of the LDP-New Komeito coalition. Ignorance is no longer an excuse for the DPJ.

Actually, only a very small fraction of this will show up in the Monday morning editions of the major dailies. At least not in the way that I have described them. And the DPJ will surely knock Mr. Tanigaki for stating that, in order to achieve primary balance in FY2011, the consumption tax rate will have to be raised higher than the 8% that Heizo Takenaka has suggested, and it may well find sympathetic editorial writers and even LDP discontents. If Mr. Naoshima clearly lost a round, he did it on a TV program that is only about as popular as a Sunday morning talk show on politics and the economy can be. Still, if this is any indication of how the policy debate is going to unfold, the DPJ will run the risk of being labeled not ready for primetime.

The LDP is clearly out to treat the relationship between consenting adults and to do its best to make a show of wooing the DPJ, and this actually comes naturally to Mr. Tanigaki. Ichiro Ozawa clearly wants to make war, not love. But the message does not seem to have reached his party policy chief.

Nobutaka Machimura, Chief Cabinet Secretary, also appeared on the program and was grilled at length about the controversy over the alleged diversion of JMSDF diesel fuel from counter-terrorism surveillance activities to the Iraqi War. Mr. Machimura basically kept repeating that such diversion, if true, was a serious matter and that they were talking to the U.S. side to find out the truth. Mr. Tawara pushed hard to make him say that an extension would be taken off the table if it turned out to be a lie, and Mr. Machimura showed himself at his firm, confident, and congenial, stonewalling best.

I've written quite often on and around this matter, but this is the most useful post because it points to great investigative work by Peace Depot. I think that the U.S. is going to explain the 800,000 gallons as a regrettable but honest logistics and communications mix-up in the accelerated and incredibly complicated lead-up to the Iraqi War and admonish Centcom or some other part of the U.S. forces for the error. No, it will not show up in the service records of individual military officers. The explanation and the accompanying show of contrition will be accepted by the Fukuda administration, Asahi will make some noises, and a new, refueling-only law will be passed by a supermajority override, sometime late this year.

Two caveats:

One, the Fukuda administration will have to come up with a plausible explanation for the 200,000-800,000 discrepancy. My sixth sense says that this is the easy one.

Two, it better be just the 800,000 gallons. If systemic diversion beyond that intial phase of the Iraq War is uncovered, then all bets are off on the extension, and Mr. Fukuda, Chief Cabinet Secretary at the time, will have some very serious atonement on his agenda.

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