Saturday, June 30, 2007

Mr. Fujimori May Complicate Post-Election Maneuvering for Micro-Party.

BBC follows up on the prospective Alberto Fujimori candidacy for this month's Japanese Upper House election. The former Peruvian president, who has dual Japanese-Peruvian citizenship, "is currently under house arrest in Chile, facing extradition to Peru on human rights and corruption charges". Shizuka Kamei, the LDP outcast and Kokumin Shinto leader, had sought him out, and Mr. Fujimori apparently is game.

From a purely electoral perspective, this a smart move for the Kokumin Shinto. Mr. Fujimori is a popular figure in Japan. Not only is he the proverbial hometown boy made good - the political equivalent of Ichiro - he assuages the residual sense of guilt we feel for the hardships that Japanese emigrants underwent in Latin America. He will likely suffer some reputation risk from this incongruous act. (An ex-president of Peru running for a Diet seat in Japan from house arrest in Chile? Peter Sellers would have loved to do the movie.) However, like the case of Kyouko Nakayama, the abductee-and-family minder, or Hiroyuki Yoshiie, the teen-thug-turned-teacher-turned-self-styled education guru, both running for the LDP, the people who are disappointed in his meddling in Japanese politics are not otherwise supporters who will take this hard and turn around and cast their vote for an opponent in protest. Like the two LDP celebrity candidates, he will only add to the party tally for the proportionate representation votes.

No, the problems, if any, will come after the election. Assume that Mr. Fujimori gains a seat, and the Kokumin Shinto is holding the casting votes in the Upper House. The price for cooperation will be steep, and a Cabinet seat is not out of the question. So imagine the embarrassment of having Mr. Kamei or Tamisuke Watanuki in the Cabinet demanding every time there's Cabinet meeting that Mr. Fujimori be released. Not to mention having a Diet member under house arrest in Chile.

It's one thing to refuse to extradite Mr. Fujimori to Peru (the Peruvian indignance was a political stunt, actually, since, lacking an extradition treaty, there was no way the authorities could have detained his against his will and forcibly shipped him out), and totally another to have to keep demanding that Chile return him ASAP so that he can fulfill his political duties.

Can Mr. Abe pull it off? The Kokumin Shinto seems to have made it harder for him to cobble a coalition, and that narrows its options.

The available options, of course, depend on how many seats the LDP manages to scrape together. The DPJ's efforts to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory may yet save the LDP, much of the dire outcry from the LDP is surely designed to push the party faithful to action, and the freefall in public support has bottomed out. But the outlook is still grim for the LDP, and, Mr. Fujimori or no Mr. Fujimori, there is a serious possibility that any talk of Kokumin Shinto joining the ruling coalition will be rendered moot.

Have a Nice Weekend

Yes, he is, that Leonard Pitts.

Have a nice weekend, Mr. Pitts.

The Blog Plays Assistant as Trend Spotter Flies in from New York New York

JK is in town with his trend spotter wife. As far as I can gather from what he tells me, a trend spotter gets paid to go to fashion hotspots like Tokyo and Shanghai and walk around soaking up the latest next things. JK, who has the face of a Roman senator and the body of an Ivy League fullback, and I decide to help out by doing a little trend spotting of our own. We quickly agree that all the hot Tokyo women are wearing short shorts. That, and denim cutoff microskirts. And we mean micro. I later find out that there are no hot women in Ginza.

Hey, we were only trying to help.

Smelly, dirty, noisy New York, where everybody walks as fast as the rest of the world runs; the big fat capital of the global community; the Naked City where The Naked Cowboy is but one of the eight million stories; what other place could be so American?

Ah, America, the only major power where a serious demographic crunch does not loom. No wonder Russia and China are scared. Russia has the more immediate problem, an imploding male population, but China does not have a natural resource crutch (curse?).

The Check Is in the Mail; The National Interest

I've been saying to everyone who will listen, i.e. KM, HO, RT, and one family member, that I'm appearing in The National Interest. Well, it turns out that I'd already been published. The catch? Not here, but here. Essentially, I've been telling the world I won a BMW in a raffle, and I come home to find the FedEx guy at my front door with this.

So, was the experience worth losing all my liberal friends? YES, in capital letters. Because they are paying real money, unlike the English language version of Japanese national daily X. My joy is palpable in the following email (slightly edited) I wrote in response when they asked for my mailing address:

"To be truthful, I'd be happy to write for The National Interest for free. But please by all means pretend you didn't read that (I was only speaking hypothetically anyway) and send the money. Since The Communist Institution that disguises itself by the name of The International Banking System rakes off an exorbitant share of the moolah when redeeming a check at an overseas location, my favorite mode of payment is the following:

Mail the money in unmarked hundred-dollar bills to:

Jun Okumura

Barring that possibility, please mail a money order to the same address.

Wiring the money to the following account runs a poor third:

Account number:
Holder of account: Jun Okumura

As for the fourth option, namely a check in the mail, personally serving cognac and salmon roe to Kim Jong-il would be more fun. But it beats not getting paid at all.

Yours sincerely,
Jun Okumura"

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

How Media Figures Make Use of Nominally Hostile Mediums and What This Means

dunno, actually.

Here and here, Andrew Sullivan thinks he sees Ms. Coulter "wither and flinch" and "melt". Not so. The discomfort is palpable only in the context of the coolly calculating M.s. Coulter, and she does a workman's job of running out the clock by shamelessly repeating the sound bites that she knows will go down well with her constituency. And you know that she will go back to her turf and tell her fans that she went into the lion's lair (never mind Chris Matthews' bipartisan bark and bite) and faced those hypocrites down, and she knows that they will applaud. Mission accomplished. BIll Kristol repeating on The Daily Show is similar. It's all media jujitsu.

To be fair, you only have to remember the third-tier liberal academics who used to appear on The O'Reilly Show (do they still do that?) for their fifteen minutes of fame in exchange for being for being eaten alive like the Christians in the Forum to know that this phenomenon is not limited to the right.

Even the most serious of politics is spectacle. And those who entertain are rewarded, always handsomely, sometimes disproportionately. (Remember comedian Yukio Aoshima, the comedian and writer winning the Tokyo governorship without campaigning?) I have wondered for at least a couple of years how this can benefit us in the evolutionary sense. Perhaps we have not yet had the time to evolve from the prototypical humanoid who usually spent his/her whole life in a small roaming band of people who come into close contact with each other very day and thus did not have to worry about being fooled by people whose intimacy exists only in our imagination.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Video Clip, to Sustain You for the Week: Sixth Installment

Missy Elliott. Is my memory failing me, or is this much, much funkier than the version I remember hearing on the radio?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Can the Communist Party Help the LDP-Komeito Coalition?

Bryan Walsh produces a TIME article on the Japanese Communist Party that identifies it as the go-to party for people whose patience with the mainstream political parties has reached its limits. In fact, in the 1998 Upper House election, a tanking economy and a consumption tax hike allowed the JCP to pick up 15 seats, giving it a total of 23, at the time one more than the now LDP coalition partner Komeito. The voting system for the Upper House has changed somewhat since then. Still, with the enigmatic DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa running well behind the beleaguered Prime Minister Abe in the latest Yomiuri poll (feel-good percentage: Mr. Ozawa 23%, Mr. Abe 35%), a lot of those unaligned voters could vote again for the JCP.

What then, are the consequences of the JCP siphoning off the protest votes from the DPJ? After all, t's not as if the JCP will enter into an unholy union with the LDP-Komeito coalition, will it? As veteran journalist Sam Jameson patiently pointed out to me when I foolishly challenged his formidable knowledge of the Japanese Constitution (as with everything Japanesy), the Lower House can overturn an Upper House vote or, in the absence of an Upper House vote, revote after sixty days, to enact any bill without the consent of the Upper House. And the requirement is a two-thirds supermajority, which the current coalition does have, which is why Sam made this point.

But as we agreed then (I think), the composition of an Upper House opposition majority does matter. For if the LDP maintains a plurality of the seats in the Upper House, it will enable them to maintain control of the House Presidency and a host of important committee chairmanship assignments. That should make it easier to keep the legislative process flowing. The ruling coalition does not want to have to wait sixty days on each and every issue before it can force it to a vote in the Lower House. It won't have to do that if it can control the flow, and that plurality will be much easier to maintain if the JCP splits the protest vote.

In 1998, the LDP muddled along under Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi for almost six months with an Upper House minority before cobbling together a shifting coalition, ending up with the current cohabitation with the Komeito that has lasted for the last seven years. But none of the opposition parties threatened to take a plurality at the time.

Have a Nice Weekend

From Chicago.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Nanking Massacre Report from Whom? You Must Be Imagining Things.

A group of MPs from Japan's governing party is claiming the Chinese have exaggerated the number of people killed by Japanese troops in Nanking in 1937.


But the announcement by these lawmakers will make life difficult for Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a well-known conservative.

He will no doubt now be asked repeatedly whether he shares the views of this large contingent of his own party.

But watch for the response of the Chinese.

A measured response will signal that they are not prepared to allow history to dominate discussions between Beijing and Tokyo in the run up to this important anniversary. An angry one could signal trouble ahead.

Actually, the BBC article does a good job of summarizing the issue. What will, then, the response be? The key to the answer, actually, lies in the article itself.

Note that it is "China" on one side and "these lawmakers" and (elsewhere in the article) "some in Japan" on the other. The Chinese authorities know that we are a pluralist society. They understand the difference between the government and the political parties, and are even capable of making finer distinctions. That is why, for example, even in the darkest days they could let the Japanese side know that only the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and the Cabinet Chief need stay from Yasukuni and all would be forgiven.

Their cognitive powers extend to the LDP as well. As this report shows (read this, if you can read Japanese), on June 19, President Hu Jintao gave a fabulous reception for renowned nationalist and ex-prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and his mutual friendship delegation a fabulous welcome to Beijing, and the Chinese media gave the full monte to the event the following day. But then, why not, when the LDP website pretends that the report by the group of LDP lawmakers or indeed the group itself, doesn't even exist?

No need to watch for the response. It's already there, and it was totally predictable. Both administrations have their own reasons for making nice, and Mr. Abe has had some painful lessons on the need to curb his penchant for overexplaining. And it's a good thing for us.

Seriously, I don't have anything to add to the debate on the number of Chinese casualties or their nature. Instead, I'll focus on a number that I can actually wrap my mind around, and what it's trying to tell us.

One small episode in the Nanking Massacre (if a hundred lives is indeed a small number) is the Contest to kill 100 people using a sword. Mirroring the overall debate, it comes with its own claims of denial.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that it was all a sham. In fact, there is a good argument that fifty each is a technical impossibility. But if everybody in Japan at the time said it happened, and rejoiced in the event, then, for all practical purposes, did it not in fact happen? What then, does it say about the Japanese military, whose reputation denialists seek to resurrect? The media? The public? (In fact, this was but one vignette in a history of media complicity dating back most famously to their role in the rioting that followed the settlement of the 1904-05 war with Russia.)

The two army officers who allegedly conducted the contest were executed, also mirroring the fate of the army commander during the Nanking Massacre. If the two did not in fact commit the acts they were convicted of, that does not diminish in the least the fact that they died real deaths for a metaphorical truth, to atone for the sins of the collective.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Video Clip, to Sustain You for the Week: Fifth Installment

Message? Togetherness, in four letters.

Romancing the Kokumin Shinto

The LDP will suffer a disastrous loss. To the contrary, this is making us quaver, because if the LDP loses too badly, (the Kokumin Shinto) will lose its significance.
(Shizuka Kamei: June 14, at a meeting held in Tokyo)

Suddenly, everybody is in love with Kokumin Shinto leader Tamisuke Watanuki, whom some affectionately call the ugliest politician in Japan. According to the June 17 Yomiuri:

On the occasion of the House of Counselors Election Kick-off Convention [the Kokumin Shinto」 held in a Tokyo Hotel at night on the 15th, an elated Watanuki… said, "The Upper House Election is a great opportunity. The Kokumin Shinto getting as many seats as possible will change Japanese politics."

Following him, DPJ deputy leader [Naoto] Kan and Socialist Party deputy director-general Fumihiro Himori, as well as former Lower House member from the LDP and former [cabinet minister] Takami Eto stepped up to the podium.

The presence of Eto is particularly revealing. Eto's former Lower House seat is now occupied by his son Taku Eto. If you recognize the name Taku Eto, you are a true Japanese politics otaku. Eto 2.0 was one of the twelve Lower House members who returned to the LDP out of the 37who had been kicked out of the LDP for voting against the privatization of the Japanese Post Office. There is no ill will between the returnees and those who have stayed out. Thus, the presence of the now retired Eto 1.0 at the convention struck a perfect balance for both the LDP and the Kokumin Shinto between tantalizing overture and unseemly flirtation.

The Yomiuri article goes on to tell us:

[Toranosuke] Katayama, the LDP secretary-general for the Upper House, made eyes at the Kokumin Shinto on a commercial satellite TV program on the 13th saying that coordination with the Kokumin Shinto "is possible. Our policies are almost the same. Mr. Watanuki in particular is a most LDP-ish politician."

Perhaps in part to explain what Mr. Katayama meant by "most LDP-ish", the article, after quoting an unnamed LDP source and a wary Yukio Hatoyama, co-deputy heaed of the DPJ, closes with the following:

As if in recognition of these voices, Shizuka Kamei, the Kokumin Shinto deputy leader emphasized at a party held for a [DPJ] Upper House candidate on the night of the 14th, "Our party doesn't have the kind of people who'll go back [to the LDP] sobbing, 'I want to go back to the LDP, I want to go back'". [boo-hoo.]

I think that this is more a matter of nuance, rather than a reflection of any real difference in outlook between the co-leaders. Mr. Kamei has always been known for his combativeness, while Mr. Watanuki is far more the get-along guy, and they are acting out the perfect good-cop, bad-cop routine. Given the numbers in the Upper House election and the dismal outlook for the LDP, the chances are quite good that the Kokumin Shinto's four Upper House seats (of which two are up for reelection; the Kokumin Shinto already has 22 candidates (including the two incumbents) and counting) and possibly more will hold the casting vote in a neatly divided Upper House. In this case, the Kokumin Shinto would do better to wield disproportionate power as the crucial third party in a coalition with the LDP and the Komeito.

Who, then, might lead the coalition? Actually, Shinzo Abe, the current prime minister, very reluctantly voted for Post Office privatization, and expended substantial political capital with the public in bringing back twelve of the thirteen rebels who wanted to return to the LDP. Conveniently for Mr. Abe though with no malice on his part, Takeo Hiranuma, the one rebel who has the gravitas and political capital to make a serious run in the LDP to unseat Mr. Abe, could not return because, unlike the other twelve, he refused to sign what was widely considered a humiliating document. (He stood on principle!) Even more fortunately for Mr. Abe, Hidenao Nakagawa, the fearsome LDP secretary-general, took all the heat for holding the torch for Junichiro Koizumi and keeping Mr. Hiranuma out. Thus, for Mr. Abe, dumping Mr. Nakagawa may be enough to bring the Kokumin Shinto around. It also helps Mr. Abe that there are no pretty LDP faces around poised to take over in the case of defeat.

The LDP-Komeitocoalition losing its Upper House majority and Mr. Abe still in power? Don't bet against it. All it takes might be just a little bit of lovin'.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Have a Nice Weekend

From New York.

What the LDP-Komeito Coalition Needs in the July Upper House Election: The Arithmetic

The following came out of a dialogue with a few friends, including Ross Schaap at Eurasia Group. I thought it would be useful to show you where that "the LDP needs 20 seats, etc., etc." talk comes from..

Yomiuri (June 7) did a two-page spread, a roster of the 119 incumbents, including their voting records on the main issues. It shows that the LDP has an incumbent in every multiple-seat district (18) except Niigata, but they lost that in a by-election (and should be able to regain this time around), which should be canceled out by the one of the two they currently have in Kanagawa by way of a by-election (of which they will likely lose one in the July election). Unless the LDP-Komeito coalition is so lame that the LDP and Sokagakkai jointly fail to put their LDP man no worse than second place in a two-seat district (four seats, actually, of which two come up for election every three years), this will give them 18 as starters. Add 13 for the pro rata seats they managed to retain in the disastrous 2004 election, and you get 31. Assuming Komeito retains its 13, the LDP needs 20 more out of the 29 single seats (actually, the ones that comes up for election out of the two-seaters, plus/minus the variation in the PR results, to reach the 64 seats needed for a majority in the Upper House. I can see this is where the district-by -information really counts.

Now I would very much appreciate someone pointing me to free online sources that give facts and figures for the candidates, individual districts and overall situation and other information pertaining to the election. Hopefully, someone out there knows someone who just can't help him/herself and has to do that stuff on his/her own.

Friday, June 08, 2007

For Those of You Who Were Disappointed China Didn't Go after the Abe Administration for Letting Lee Teng-Hui Come to Japan…

It could have been worse.

For those of you who cannot read Japanese, the headline reads: Wei Jinsheng, the Chinese Democracy Activist Denied Entry at Narita Heads to the US. I'll be happy to translate the rest of the article for a fee.

"Cool Earth 50"?

In an obviously calculated attempt to avoid being blamed for causing this blogger to flip his wig, the authorities have decided to translate Shinzo Abe's "美しい星50 Utsukushii Hoshi 50 (Beautiful Star 50; my translation)" as "Cool Earth 50", no doubt plagiarized from my New Earth 21 (in turn an homage to Gene Wolfe's The New Sun).

2050… If nothing, it's clear that Mr. Abe intends to remain in power well beyond the July elections.

Incidentally, everybody is ready to write off Mr. Abe, what with his poll numbers coming to resemble President Bush's. So let's say the LDP-Komeito coalition falls a few seats short, even after bringing in, as they usually do, a couple of "unendorsed" conservative winners. If Mr. Abe works up the nerve to ditch Big Nakagawa, the Secretary-General, then Shizuka Kamei, with his Kokumin Shinto posse, would find it hard to resist a plea from the very sympathetic sitting prime minister.

Mr. Kamei has been coy recently, batting his eyelashes to all and sundry. But think about it: which would you prefer if you were Mr. Kamei; being a very junior member of the opposition, hoping that Upper House troubles will force the coalition to call a general election for the Lower House and take your chances, or bargaining with the LDP to maximize the price for helping them maintain control?

Actually, for Mr. Abe, steeling himself for making Big Nakagawa fall on his sword shouldn't be that hard to do. He did it himself in 2004.

And the economy really looks good, as far as the July elections are concerned, so that puts a floor on the downside for the coalition.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Don't Oil Prices Matter Any More?

It can't be more than three years since analysts were telling us that the world economy could withstand 30-, even 40-dollar/bbl oil, but that it would run into serious difficulties if oil reached 50 and stayed there. Now, it hovers consistently around 70 dollars, and nobody is complaining. Well, only complaining.

I know the emerging market economies and other developing countries are doing just fine too, because the IMF has completely fallen off the radar screen and Paul Wolfowitz is the only reason we hear about the World Bank. (Sidebar: By all accounts, Robert Zellick is the best bureaucrat everybody loves to hate.)

The only reason those analysts haven't been burned at the stake is because they didn't get it wrong the other way. That is, it's harder to make people lose money (in absolute terms) in a rising market.

Friday, June 01, 2007

What’s the Most Depressing Thing about the Latest Public Pension Scandal?

Tough question. But for me, it's the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare estimate that approximately 250,000 people may have lost an average of 380,000 Yen each due to the five-year statute of limitations on pension claims. That's a good number of zeroes, but it's a little over 3,000 US Dollars (the rest of the world please do your own math), enough to allow an elderly couple live comfortably, provided they've already paid down their mortgage and don't face catastrophic medical costs (and their kids stay in work, and out of jail), for a month. They could probably stretch it out to two, or even three, provided they didn't go out much.

True, MHLW may have an incentive to underestimate. But it doesn't look like a very generous deal to begin with. What's it like for you back home?

Publisher Drops New History Textbook; A Victory for China and South Korea? Not So Fast

Yomiuri and Asahi tell more or less the same story: Fusosha, the publishing arm of the conservative media conglomerate Fuji-Sankei Group, has decided to drop the controversial New History Textbook written by the members of the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform and publish a new textbook that "receives broader support from all layers of society". After ten years, only 5,000 students, or less than 1% of the national total, use the textbook , and Fusosha could not take it any more, it seems. JSHTR is going to seek a new publisher. The JSHTR named Nobumasa Fujioka to replace the previous chairman, who had opposed the attempt to continue to publish the New History Textbook.

So, a victory for China, South Korea, and Japanese liberals?

No. Mainichi adds some crucial details. Fusosha is going to cooperate with the Nihon Kyouiku Saisei Kikou, or Japan Education Rebuilding Organization (my translation; its website does not display an English name) to produce the new one. Sankei goes even further and gives the name of the new Fusosha partner as the soon-to-be-established Kaisei Kyouiki Kihonhou ni Motozuku Kyoukasho Kaizen wo Susumeru Yuushikisha no Kai (Committee of Learned People Promoting the Improvement of Textbooks Based on the Revised Education Basic Law; my translation again) and the name of its head as Taro Yayama.

If Nihon Kyouiku Saisei Kikou, or Japan Education Rebuilding Organization, sounds familiar, take note that it was established on 22 October 2006, twelve days after the Abe administration's Kyouiku Saisei Kaigi or Education Rebuilding Council (official translation), and one of the six JERO advisors is Taro Yayama, a writer who is reputedly a close confidante of Shinzo Abe. Terumasa Nakanishi, the conservative historian, is a JERO advisor as well, and also has the prime minister's ear. However, neither the NKSK chairman, nor any of its six advisors nor 112 elders serves on the ERC.

Incidentally, one of the 112 elders is Tadashi Kobayashi, the deposed JSHTR chairman, and would be one of the three advisors to the new textbook committee. (The others would be Taro Yayama and Shuji Yagi, the JERO chairman.) There should be other overlaps in membership, which will likely be unwound in JERO's favor.

What does all this mean? I think Mr. Abe or his friends have engineered a masterful coup within the conservative ranks. Or, more gently stated, they put an old workhorse to pasture. Without financial support from the Fuji-Sankei Group, the money losing New History Textbook will surely wither away.

JERO, of course, has a much broader agenda (education rebuilding) than JSHTR; and a distinctly conservative one too, unlike the high profile and sometimes-unpredictable ERC. Mr. Abe may or may not long outlast the July Upper House election, and public acceptance of the conservative agenda becomes highly suspect, once you begin trying, for example, to define "patriotism". Yet, at worst, he will leave a legacy of an institutionalized advocacy in education for the conservative cause with the backing of a powerful national media group.