Sunday, September 30, 2007

Talk about an Axis of Evil…

with one to spare…

America heart Taiwan heart Nicaragua heart Iran.

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.

Kenji Nagai Is One of Many Murdered in Rangoon and It's Been Raining in Tokyo

The U.S. press statement on September 24 calls on the Burmese government to exercise restraint and engage in dialogue with its people for transition to a civilian, democratic government. By the 26th, things had taken an ominous turn in Burma with the security forces firing on the demonstrators. The joint U.S.-EU press statement on that day adds threats of sanctions against the Burma/Myanmar government. (The EU, unlike the US or the equally decisive Japan (see below), cannot make up its collective mind on what to call the mafia state.) On the 27th, President Bush has even harsher words for the "brutal military regime" and calls on "all nations that have influence with the regime to join us in supporting the aspirations of the Burmese people and to tell the Burmese Junta to cease using force on its own people." On the same day, the U.S. Treasury broadens sanctions on certain Burmese individuals. The following day, the State Department follows suit with more visa restrictions. Mr. Bush's wife issues a statement similar to her husband, but somewhat longer and even more harshly worded. The White House Press Secretary also let's us know that EU is also considering sanctions. Meanwhile, in Japan…

The Japanese press statement on the 25th basically makes the same points with the Myanmar government as the 24 September State Department statement did, in the typically mild-mannered Japanese way. On the 26th, his views on sanctions on Myanmar is the first question put to new Foreign Minister Komura in his first regular press briefing. He sidesteps the issue, and repeats the call for restraint on the part of the Myanmar government and says that he will be watching the situation carefully. Senior Vice Minister Onodera gives a longer regular briefing saying essentially the same things. On the 27th, Japanese freelance cameraman Kenji Nagai is murdered, shot in the back pointblank, by a Myanmar government soldier. By the 28th, Mr. Komura is in New York for the US General Assembly Plenary, and holds a talk with his Myanmar counterpart. In a press briefing there - no official records; this is as unofficial as the burasagaris, which became a bone of contention between Prime Minister Abe and the media - he reveals that he reiterated Japanese calls for restraint and dialogue and told his counterpart that the Japanese government "strongly seeks the revelation of the truth" with regard to Mr. Nagai's shooting. He remains noncommittal on sanctions.

You can see the differences in words and deeds, small and large, and imagine the time and effort that the bureaucracies expended in putting them together. And more sanctions may still be on their way - who knows, from Japan? Yet these are of little to no significance to an authoritarian natural-resource state. It's always the same: stop the cash flow; or the security forces refuse to fire on civilians, which also will be a long time in coming, if ever.

A certain Ibrahim Gambali visited Naypyidaw on the 29th, no doubt to be told that all is in order, there's nothing to see, please keep moving. You know, he should - to Thailand, and, even more important, China. Don't bother going to India, India will stay away if China does; and Russia is only following the money. As for Japan, Mr. Gambali may come, if he wishes, to express his condolences.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Why Hereditary Diet Members Prevail

Looking at Japanese-language blogs, you would think that hereditary Diet members are on a par with the Devil's spawn. Of course if the blogosphere were the sole basis of democracy, Ron Paul could be the Republican candidate. And the media is somewhat kinder, but they are still generally unfavorable. In fact, despite such public outcry against nepotism, about a third of the LDP Lower House members are sons (and in rare cases daughters), sons-in-law, and a few brothers, nephews, and grandnephews of former (usually Lower House) Diet members. This is somewhat lower than before the 2005 general election, no doubt because of the expulsion of the Post Office rebels (many of whom did not even make it back to the Diet) and the huge influx of their assassins and other non-pedigreed rookies as the result of the Koizumi landslide victory. The DPJ is not blameless; likely one-fifth or thereabouts of their Lower House members also guard their family heirlooms, including a few from old Socialist Party lineages.

(Oddly, all the convenient online data bases seem to cover the 2003 general election; the only comprehensive post-2005 data base available online is on Wikipedia, which may or may not cover the Upper House as well, and it is too time-consuming for this blogger to confirm it one way or the other.)

Lower House members toil long and hard to cultivate their local constituency. During this process, they build up powerful electoral/political machines around local notables and worthies and just plain enthusiastic people. Of these, the prefectural and municipal assemblymen are of particular importance because of the grass-roots support that they can muster. In fact, they appear to form the nucleus of many, perhaps most, of the prefectural party apparatuses and can on occasion overrule nationally prominent Diet members with impunity. They by no means hold absolute sway over the choice of Lower House candidates, but it is mighty hard to become the next Sultan without the support, or at least acquiescence, of the Janissary.

Over time, I am sure that the relationship can become intensely personal, and thus the electoral/political machine may find it difficult to refuse the last wish of the retiring politician to bequeath his seat to his beloved son or son-in-law (who in most though not all cases will have gone through the name-changing legal adoption process). And the son would more likely than not have served the incumbent father as a political secretary, thus easing the transition. But what of the frantic recruitment of the reluctant offspring or even more distant relative – in the case of sudden intestate, as it were, departure? Is personal loyalty so fungible as to be transferred to persons whose local ties and/or political inclinations are tenuous at best? Why don't the local politicians see this as a chance to stand for themselves?

In fact, I assume that, in many cases, that is exactly what they do. However, it is quite likely that there is no unity within the electoral/political machines behind a single candidate. A battle would disrupt the equilibrium, which, even if restored, would be drastically altered. There will be one mighty winner and his minions on the one side, and there will be losers, large and small. And this would be the case even if there had been a primus inter pares among the politicos to begin with. This looks like a risky proposal for all the members of the machine, not just the main contestants. So here is a powerful incentive to maintain the equilibrium at all reasonable costs. A hereditary successor usually meets this very important, though not essential, condition.

(That same desire, I believe, is the main reason why so many members of the much-maligned central bureaucracy manage to continue to parachute in to run, more often than not successfully, for the governor's office – in some cases whose only link with the prefecture would be a typically two-year term on secondment as a deputy governor (not an electoral office in Japan). The powers-that-be desire to maintain equilibrium; who better to do so than a (hopefully) neutral outsider? Why, then, I ask myself so inconveniently, are there few if any hereditary governors? I suspect that it has to do with the fact that you actually have to govern. Running a prefectural government is not a task for the fainthearted. But I'm going to continue thinking about this.)

I have no way of knowing, or even guessing, whether such a process is good or bad, or that it can be substantially altered. Humans like stability, and there are some very good reasons for it. However, whether those reasons are good for the nation as a whole in the case of political succession in the specific case of the Lower House, I have no idea.

Here, I note that conventional wisdom apparently decries the lack of political vision and reformatory zeal in politics and places at least some of the blame on the preponderance of hereditary politicians. But second-generation Ryutaro Hashimoto matched Yasuhiro Nakasone's scope and depth, if not success, as a reformist Prime Minister. And the man who beat him the second time around, Junichiro Koizumi - so fresh in your memories - is a third-generation Diet member. Second-generation Keizo Obuchi may not exactly have been a reformist, but he succeeded beyond all expectations (actually, there was little, so the bar had been set low, but still…) in steering his administration through the most difficult of economic and political times. The case for the conventional wisdom looks inconclusive.

So I have written all this when I don't even know if it's a good thing or a bad one. But I do believe that I have found a way to look at a very important determinant of the makeup of a very important element of the Japanese political landscape. I also believe that looking at such structural elements is essential, whether your intent is to describe, or to prescribe any aspect of Japanese politics. For example, I intuitively feel that the very size of the DPJ has made a significant realignment of the political parties along ideologically more consistent lines very difficult, and believe that this can be demonstrated by examining both DPJ and LDP within the current electoral rules. I have something like a combination of the thinking in this post and this examination of the New Komeito in mind.

Of course, I may be totally wrong about all this, or, worse, have reinvented yet another wheel, that is, pointed to something that has been obvious to everyone but me or worked over to death by real political scientists. I welcome your suggestions and other comments. If anybody wants to work with me on this in more detail, let me know.

My thanks to Mentor. I now realize that his answer, some time back, to my question was somewhere in the back of my head when I dreamed up this argument.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Asahi Polls Give the Fukuda Administration Good Numbers Too

The Asahi poll gives 53% to the Fukuda administration. That's only a 4.5% spread under Yomiuri's 57.5%. Mainichi has 57%, so they're in the right order. Still, the spread is nearer the short end of variations. I credit this to what looks in hindsight like a uniformly favorable – albeit uniformly cautious and caveat-filled - press coverage. Let's see how Mr. Fukuda's media-friendly, soft-sell personality and tactics work in advancing statecraft, most immediately when he fills out his policy laundry list when the Diet recommences in full. Then, with the fight over the extension of the JMSDF refueling operations and the expected flurry of DPJ sponsored-bills, it's open season on the Fukuda Cabinet.

TIME Did It Again, This Time on the LDP Election

"Abe's failure to address [many important issues, including the handling of over 50 million lost pension records, rural economic stagnation and tax reforms] cost his party control of Japan's upper house, and yet like their fallen predecessor, both Fukuda and Aso preferred to highlight their foreign policy differences — Fukuda called for open talks with Japan's neighbors, while the hawkish Aso took a conservative stance on the Yasukuni war shrine, a sore point in Asian relations. Both favored postponing a general election until next spring; both have also inherited Abe's insistence on continuing Japan's support of coalition forces in Afghanistan through its refueling operations in the Indian Ocean.

[W]ith Fukuda still unclear on how he intends to solve Japan's domestic economic issues, the LDP has until next spring's general elections to prove it can answer to the country's needs."

- TIME, 23 September 2007/09/27

I had started writing a post about how bad the article was, ran out of time, and left it in my draft file. Somehow, news on the Fukuda administration's poll numbers reminded me of it, so I dug it out. It would be a waste of time; it would be too long. So above you see what I think is the most egregious stretch of bad journalism.

If the correspondent had bothered to read the policy manifests of the two candidates, she would have known that that ["preferred to highlight their foreign policy differences note: later added for clarity while excising repeated sentence in the excerpt"] was the farthest thing from the truth. Then why did it appear as if they were talking about those subjects? Because those were the things the media chose to ask the candidates and highlight. Blame your Japanese colleagues. It's like Al Gore inventing the Internet.

As a matter of fact, in Mr. Aso's case, this point in the article has more than an echo of Al Gore's misfortune. If the correspondent had bothered to read this and this, she would have known that Mr. Aso has a very different view of what we should do about Yasukuni from, say Shoichi Nakagawa, and is, among other things, quite open to the idea of taking out the Class A War Criminals.

In passing, I'll mention that the general election is scheduled for September 2009. It's actually quite significant, at least to me, because Mr. Fukuda has never said that he will call an election in spring. He's been coy, if you listen to him carefully. I think that it will be later, and in any case when he thinks it's the right time to go to the public.

As you can see, there was nothing really wrong with the ending (except the writer's presumption that Mr. Fukuda must call an election in spring). But you don't need a whole error-filled article to say it.

As you can see, there was nothing really wrong with the ending (except the writer's presumption that Mr. Fukuda must call an election in spring). But you don't need a whole error-filled article to say it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

It's a Yomiuri Poll So Asahi Readers Get up to a 10 Percentage-Point Discount

In a show of how quickly the tide can turn (and turn again), the latest Yomiuri poll gives the Fukuda Cabinet 57.5% support against 27.3% opposed. 47% favor the extension of JMSFD refueling activities in the Indian Ocean while 40% oppose it.

Asahi should have its own numbers in tomorrow's morning edition, and early polls - likewise the JMSM – always go easy on the newbie. Still, it's something to think about for Ichiro Ozawa.

The Prime Minister Sets Out to Charm the Press. Hey, It worked for President Bush…

"It's also fun to meet young people like this, right? For now..."
- Yasuo Fukuda, Asahi, 26 September 2007

The Prime Minister agreed to return to the traditional twice-a-day, burasagari, ask-the-PM-on-the-move format that Shinzo Abe had tried so hard to cut in half, and threw a kiss at the media butt for good measure, finishing it off with a dash of that (Fukuda-family) rarity among other Japanese politicians - irony. You could just see the reporters lapping it up.

All will not always be well. But when things go bad, the good-will cultivated with the media could spell the difference between victory and defeat. Just ask George Bush and Al Gore.

There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, it is the measure of a true leader of The Third Chimp. Mr. Fukuda is showing us how he had charmed the entire Kantei press into longing for his triumphant return.

Klieglight-shy, humorless Ichiro Ozawa needs to understand that he's up against a Chance the Gardener with some brains.

Random Firings of the Synapses on the New Fukuda Cabinet, Factions, Reformist Prime Ministers and Stuff

Got a long email from Mentor, gave a shorter response. Lightly edited and excised of personal stuff, here it is:

- Yasuo Fukuda takes over from Shinzo Abe, and there's only one new face in the cabinet. Is there anything that better symbolizes the LDP? Shoichi Nakagawa could take over one year from now and, if he could stay away from the Yasukuni Shrine, I don't think we'd notice the difference.

- habatsu; or, faction: a Japanese sport, played mainly by LDP men. Most cognoscenti of the sport consider the heydays of the SanKakuDaiFuku League the Golden Age of competitive, full-contact habatsu, when the weakest teams usually had at least one superstar and a legitimate chance to win it all.

Contemporary habatsu is an intramural-recreation game. After the game is over, all the players on all the teams get together and throw a big karaoke party. What can I say, it serves a useful objective. If nothing else, it proves that man is a social animal.

The DPJ plays a more primitive, freestyle game, but the objectives seem to be converging. The DPJ players want a big fat karaoke party of their own, and are beginning to smell the fried chicken and beer.

The problem is, there's only one karaoke set, and the LDP and DPJ are now too big to fit into the one karaoke room at the same time. This, I think, is a variety of the two-party political system that allows small floaters to play both sides of the game. Let's call it, meta-habatsu.

Sorry, that's about all I can say now on habatsu. I'll see if I can come up with some meaningful thoughts on dissenters and discontents, and their effect on team cohesion.

- I've long believed that Ryutaro Hashimoto has been underrated. In terms of potential, I rank him up there with Yasuhiro Nakasone. And I'm not saying that because he came to love METI. But that's what happens when you lose. Twice. People think of Noboru Takeshita as a pol of pols. But he got the consumption tax done. Gave me hope for the entire LDP with that too.

A true reformer would have to overhaul the entire FILP from head to tail, and that means that he has to redo the Post Office thing. As for the highways – Junichiro Koizumi really botched that one; maybe he was no better than that – Mr. Fukuda has said stuff that suggests, hints, that he'll backtrack on that. Politically, it would make at least as much sense as throwing money at 90-year old small-plot farmers; as statecraft, it would leave something to be desired. But let's keep hoping.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

070925What the State Department Thinks of North Korea as a Sponsor of Terrorism

Ever wondered what the bureaucrat-vetted version of U.S. policy concerning North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism looked like? I thought so.

Well, I'm going to force you to read them anyway, with excerpts of the introduction to the chapter on State Sponsors of Terror Overview and the section on North Korea. For both 2005 and 2006!

They were both published in April of the subsequent year. Two major differences:

The introduction in the 2006 Report has dropped reference to North Korea altogether. This is no oversight. The 2006 introduction is much longer, 280 words to 2005's 127.

The 2006 section on North Korea has also been truncated. Moreover, it includes the ominous statement:

In the February 13, 2007 Initial Actions Agreement, the United States agreed to "begin the process of removing the designation of the DPRK as a state-sponsor of terrorism."

What of the abductees? The 2005 Report says:

Pyongyang in 2003 allowed the return to Japan of five surviving abductees, and in 2004 of eight family members, mostly children, of those abductees. Questions about the fate of other abductees remain the subject of ongoing negotiations between Japan and the DPRK. In November, the DPRK returned to Japan what it identified as the remains of two Japanese abductees, whom the North had reported as having died in North Korea. The issue remained contentious at year’s end. There are also credible reports that other nationals were abducted from locations abroad. The ROK government estimates that approximately 485 civilians were abducted or detained since the 1950-53 Korean War.

But the 2006 Report says:

The Japanese government continued to seek a full accounting of the fate of the 12 Japanese nationals believed to have been abducted by DPRK state entities; five such abductees have been repatriated to Japan since 2002.

What at the end of 2005 remained a contentious issue was now merely a continuing demand from the Japanese government for a full accounting. All reference to other abductees, including South Koreans, had been removed. Moreover, there was no evident link between the Japanese demands and North Korean de-listing.

What happened in between was, of course, the February 13, 2007 Initial Actions Agreement.

It had become something of a ritual, where Deputy Assistant Secretary Chris Hill would intimate de-listing without regard to the Japanese abductees, then the Japanese powers-that-be would claim that they had talked to President Bush, or Condoleezza Rice, and received reassurances that such was not the case. Now, the latest report from Washington says that Secretary Rice has also defected to the other side. I should not have been surprised, since, on September 16, I had already watched then LDP Secretary-General Nobuteru Ishihara kiss off the Six-Party Talks in a fit of anger at the U.S. "change of heart".

In turn, though, I wonder how Mr. Ishihara could have held it in so long, since February 13? And if he had needed any further confirmation to have the message sink in, surely he should have read the writing on the cyberwall when he saw the April 30 Report.

Or maybe, just maybe, these people had known what was going on all along?

Consider this post complementary to this.

Country Report on Terrorism (2005)
Released by the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism
April 28, 2006

Chapter 6 -- State Sponsors of Terror Overview

Libya and Sudan continued to take significant steps to cooperate in the global war on terror. Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Syria, however, continued to maintain their ties to terrorist groups. Iran and Syria routinely provide unique safe haven, substantial resources and guidance to terrorist organizations.

State sponsors of terrorism provide critical support to non-state terrorist groups. Without state sponsors, terrorist groups would have much more difficulty obtaining the funds, weapons, materials, and secure areas they require to plan and conduct operations. Most worrisome is that some of these countries also have the capability to manufacture WMD and other destabilizing technologies that can get into the hands of terrorists. The United States will continue to insist that these countries end the support they give to terrorist groups.

North Korea

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.

Pyongyang in 2003 allowed the return to Japan of five surviving abductees, and in 2004 of eight family members, mostly children, of those abductees. Questions about the fate of other abductees remain the subject of ongoing negotiations between Japan and the DPRK. In November, the DPRK returned to Japan what it identified as the remains of two Japanese abductees, whom the North had reported as having died in North Korea. The issue remained contentious at year’s end. There are also credible reports that other nationals were abducted from locations abroad. The ROK government estimates that approximately 485 civilians were abducted or detained since the 1950-53 Korean War. Four Japanese Red Army members remain in the DPRK following their involvement in a jet hijacking in 1970; five of their family members returned to Japan in 2004.

Country Report on Terrorism (2006)
Released by the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism
April 30, 2007

Chapter 3 -- State Sponsors of Terrorism Overview

State sponsors of terrorism provide critical support to non-state terrorist groups. Without state sponsors, terrorist groups would have much more difficulty obtaining the funds, weapons, materials, and secure areas they require to plan and conduct operations. Most worrisome is that some of these countries also have the capability to manufacture weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and other destabilizing technologies that could get into the hands of terrorists. The United States will continue to insist that these countries end the support they give to terrorist groups.

As a result of the historic decisions taken by Libya's leadership in 2003 to renounce terrorism and to abandon its WMD programs, the United States rescinded Libya's designation as a state sponsors of terrorism on June 30. Since pledging to renounce terrorism in 2003, Libya has cooperated closely with the United States and the international community on counterterrorism efforts.

Sudan continued to take significant steps to cooperate in the War on Terror. Cuba, Iran, and Syria, however, have not renounced terrorism or made efforts to act against Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Iran and Syria routinely provided safe haven, substantial resources, and guidance to terrorist organizations.

Venezuela was certified by the Secretary of State as "not fully cooperating" with U.S. counterterrorism efforts. The designation, included in Section 40A of the Arms Export Control Act, was based on a review of Venezuela's overall efforts to fight terrorism. Effective October 1, the decision imposed sanctions on all commercial arms sales and transfers. It remains in effect until September 30, 2007, when it may be renewed by a determination by the Secretary. (Venezuela is the only nation certified as "not fully cooperating" that is not a state sponsor of terrorism.)

North Korea

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) was not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987. The DPRK continued to harbor four Japanese Red Army members who participated in a jet hijacking in 1970. The Japanese government continued to seek a full accounting of the fate of the 12 Japanese nationals believed to have been abducted by DPRK state entities; five such abductees have been repatriated to Japan since 2002. In the February 13, 2007 Initial Actions Agreement, the United States agreed to "begin the process of removing the designation of the DPRK as a state-sponsor of terrorism."

And the Winner Is… Makoto Koga? and Other Post-LDP Election Trivia

"…When I requested a meeting with Ichiro Ozawa, head of the DPJ, I had decided to resign, in view of my health. On that basis, I had intended to ask him to build a relationship of trust."
- Shinzo Abe, Sept. 24 press conference

At first, I am thinking, is he nuts? Did he really think giving himself up would convince Mr. Ozawa to stop trying to knock the LDP out of power? Then I realize that Mr. Abe is channeling those medieval warlords and - dare I say it? - our previous Emperor, who offered their lives in order to save their people. Still, this is odd; The LDP may have lost the battle, but, with an overwhelming majority in the decisive Lower House, it certainly hasn't lost the war. President Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor seeking truce with Japan by offering to commit seppuku? Hmm, still doesn't quite work.

As new election czar, Makoto "I Am Prettier than Tamisuke Watanuki but Not as Cute as Shizuka Kamei" Koga wrests substantial power out of the hands of the Secretary-General, effectively making the LDP party leadership The Big Four instead of The Big Three. Post-Upper House election reports said that Mr. Koga had refused Prime Minister Abe's request to be the General Council Chairman, the least powerful among The Big Three. Asked by Yasuo Fukuda, he refused again, instead, asking for and getting the election portfolio.

Let's see: Secretary-General, Bunmei Ibuki, 69; Toshihiro Nikai, General Council Chairman, 62; Sadakazu Tanigaki, 62; Makoto Koga, 67. Well, at least they're all younger than the Prime Minister…

The LDP and the New Komeito leadership meet and agree to require receipts for all expenditures regardless of amount (there is currently a \50,000 floor for declaring individual expenditures). Prime Minister Abe had pushed the idea before the election, but had let it slip as his power continued to deteriorate. I thought that would be disastrous, tantamount to sticking out your neck, then giving Mr. Ozawa a sledgehammer. This is a smart, if obvious, move.

The Foreign Ministry looked like the only plausible place to put Taro Aso. Now it is opening up, as current Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura is switching to Chief Cabinet Secretary. True, there are philosophical differences between Mr. Fukuda and Mr. Aso, but exogenous constraints (make nice with China, make nice with the US, keep hands and eyes on abductees issue, etc.) will confine any dissonance to symbolic, not substantive, quarters. Besides, what did Lyndon B. Johnson say about Edger J. Hoover? Long-time readers of my blog know, of course, that my predictive powers are on a par with Sylvia Brown and Uri Geller…

ADD. You know, Tobias Harris makes a good point about Mr. Aso here. No, I mean here. Actually, I thought that there would be a very high likelihood that Mr. Fukuda would offer the post, but it appears from the Sankei link that Mr. Aso is saying that if offered, he will not serve We'll know soon.

Monday, September 24, 2007

If You Want to Know Who's Afraid of Japan, Take a Look at the Three Nations Survey

Yomiuri has released the results of this year's joint three-nation opinion poll (Japan: Yomiuri; China: 瞭望東方週刊 Liaowang Dongfeng Zhoukan? (Shinghwa Agency) ; South Korea: 韓国日報社 Hanguk Ilbo) taken between August 21 and September 9. Yomiuri on-line has articles centering on environmental concerns and mutual sentiment. The hard copy version has the full results with plenty of commentary in a two-page spread. I don't have the time to give it justice - in a nutshell, it's better all around than last year (July 2006), mainly due to Prime Minister Abe staying away (we think) from the Yasukuni Shrine and Chinese authorities engaging in heavy-duty public communications at home - but one data set not taken up in the articles that made it online struck me as singularly illuminating.

Question: The countries and regions that you think will be a military threat to your nation (multiple answers allowed)

Japan: 1. North Korea (73.6%); 2. China (46.1%); 3. Russia (24.3%)
China: 1. Japan (78.2%); 2. U.S. (75.2%); 3. Taiwan (36.6%)
South Korea: 1. North Korea (71.0%); 2. China (46.6%); 3. Japan (37.5%)

Should 1.3 billion Chinese fear us more than twice as much as 46 million South Koreans do? Amazing what purposeful education and other state propaganda can do over the decades, isn't it?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mr. Fukuda Is the Next Prime Minister

Just before the vote, the newscaster divulges the outcome of the Prefectural chapter votes; Yasuo Fukuda has a comfortable though not overwhelming 76 to 65 edge. So there goes the last vestige of what little suspense remained, and you have what must be the most boring secret vote in TV history, if you want to watch.

Yes, secret vote. Imagine; the LDP Diet members, mostly men, grown ups all (there's you-know-who, but otherwise), are afraid to stand up and be counted.

Final tally: Fukuda 330, Aso 197 (one vote is void). So the Diet members went: Fukuda 254, Aso 132.

note: For what it's worth, the Yomiuri survey of the Diet members had given Mr. Fukuda 263 votes as of yesterday.

Mr. Aso must be feeling wistful; at 67, this is very likely his last hurrah, unless Mr. Fukuda fails badly and the LDP needs a caretaker Prime Minister for an early general election. Still, in an uphill battle against most of the leadership in the factions, he has fought a good fight, made a very respectable showing, yet has not quite embarrassed Mr. Fukuda either. This makes it easier for everybody to kiss and make up; in fact, they'll have to.

Mr. Fukuda delivers a brief speech, appropriately humble, thankful, determined. He tells the audience… Wait, are they… Yes, those are Diet members, arms extended, snapping I-Was-There pictures on their cell phones… The new LDP President tells the audience that he wants to revive an LDP in deep difficulties with everybody's help and recover public confidence in it. Later, Mr. Aso joins him on stage; the two greet each other warmly, they all do the customary three banzais for Mr. Fukuda, and suddenly, it's all over.

So, restructuring continues, with a human face. Achieving primary balance by FY 2011 is still in, and expanding public works is still out. Combine this with his dovish outlook, and we have a Koga-Tanigaki-Yamazaki-Koizumi-(yes, Koizumi)-friendly Prime Minister on deck. Mr. Fukuda will fill out his statecraft package when he delivers his first policy statement address; after he is elected Prime Minister by the Diet and anointed by the Emperor, and assembles his Cabinet. (He is expected to maintain all or most of the main players there; which is unlikely for the party leadership, beginning with Mr. Aso, the Secretary-General.) I only wish that I'll have something interesting to say when he does that.

The first item on the Prime Minister to-do list is, of course, pushing a counter-terrorism extension bill. Mr. Fukuda has steadfastly refused to say that he'll resort to the supermajority override. I firmly believe that this is merely part of the LDP charm offensive, beginning right after the Upper House election, when Nobutaka Machimura and other party worthies talked up the DPJ and even hinted at a Grand Coalition. This has continued with Mr. Fukuda's repeated talk of a negotiated Lower House dissolution (hanashiai kaisan)and general election, depending on prevailing sentiment after the FY 2008 budget is passed. (I still believe that it won't happen until well into the summer, and possibly later.) When the moment comes, however, he will, reluctantly and with no ill will of course, pull the trigger.

ADD. Mr. Fukuda has been elected to complete Mr. Abe's term as LDP President, which ends on 30 September 2009. According to party rules, he can (theoretically) serve two full three-year terms after that.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

North Korea's Impeccable Sense of Timing

Talks Held between WPK and Syrian Political Party

Pyongyang, September 21 (KCNA) -- Talks were held between Choe Thae Bok, secretary of the C.C., the Workers' Party of Korea, and Saaeed Eleia Dawood, director of the Organizational Department of Syria's Baath Arab Socialist Party, on September 21.
Present at the talks were officials concerned from the DPRK side and the director's party and the Syrian charge d'affaires ad interim here from the Syrian side.
At the talks both sides informed each other of activities of their parties and exchanged views on the issue of boosting the friendly and cooperative ties between the two parties and a series of issues of bilateral interest.
The talks proceeded in a friendly atmosphere.

- Sept. 21, Korean News

Israel, U.S. Shared Data On Suspected Nuclear Site
Bush Was Told of North Korean Presence in Syria, Sources Say

Israel's decision to attack Syria on Sept. 6, bombing a suspected nuclear site set up in apparent collaboration with North Korea, came after Israel shared intelligence with President Bush this summer indicating that North Korean nuclear personnel were in Syria, U.S. government sources said.

- Sept. 21, Washington Post

Do they need failure to thrive - like the Tamil Tigers, ETA, and the IRA?

Asahi and Yomiuri Continue to Prowl the Battle Lines on the Counter-Terrorism Act

Yomiuri is in favor of continuing the refueling operations. Asahi to the best of my knowledge has not yet come out with an editorial that flatly comes out and says no, but it's obvious where its sympathies belong. The battle continues in the latest Yomiuri and Asahi articles, as the former dutifully recounts the press interview MOFA Vice Minister Itsunori Onodera gave on his return from a trip to OEF Headquarters in Bahrain. He claimed to be reassured that the Japanese diesel fuel was being used solely for OEF. Asahi all but says, no way, and interviews the Captain of the USS Enterprise, who freely admits that the ship under his command at the time received fuel directly from JMSDF supply ships, giving the lie to the "I don't know what they did with that stuff" defense.

On Afghanistan – yes, that is how the issue is perceived here, as elsewhere - the Japanese public is fairly evenly divided between pro, con, and indifferent. I'll try to take another turn on the effects of the revelation after the new Cabinet is installed.

Peace Depot Uses USNS Logs and Other Evidence to Assert JMSDF Fuel Oil Was Used In the Iraq War

The Peace Resource Cooperative, or Peace Depot for short, mainly using the U.S. Freedom of Information Act to access ship logs and other U.S. Naval Service documents as well as a GAO report, has made a strong case that the 786 thousand gallons (not 200 thousand gallons, as previously claimed by the Japanese government) of diesel oil that the Fleet Replenishment Oiler USNS Pecos received in 2003 from the JMSDF oiler Tokiwa had been used to refuel the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, which went on to participate in Operation Southern Watch (OSW) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) (not Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), as previously claimed by the Japanese government). OSW maintained the Southern no-fly zone in the period between the Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm; 1991) and the Iraq War (OIF; 2003- ). OIF was launched very soon after the Kitty Hawk arrived in the Persian Gulf.

Do you remember this and this? At the time, Nobuteru Ishihara as much as admitted that the US Naval ships in question were patrolling Iraqi waters, but claimed that they were watching for possible terrorist shipments and movements. After all, the Persian Gulf was part of the counter-terrorism act mandate. In the meantime, the offending US Centcom web pages had been taken down. However, Peace Depot kept digging until they came up with the evidence, put them together, and released its conclusions, together with copies of the relevant documents.

According to Asahi, the Director of the International Cooperation Division of the Ministry of Defense has admitted to an accounting error. He also backtracked a bit on the use of the diesel fuel, saying, "It is not that we are aware of all about everything". The article also depicts an unnamed LDP Defense zoku Diet member and anonymous MOD sources voicing suspicions of such use. Ironically, the article quotes then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda claiming that it would be impossible to use the fuel on iraq-related matters. Mainichi has more details on the official MOD explanation, but does not cover the reaction.

The DPJ will make good use of this information when the coalition government submits a new counter-terrorism bill as expected. I'm not quite ready to say that the extension is now in serious danger, but there is no doubt that this is a big problem for the (presumptive) Fukuda administration. The only excuse I can think of is, they must have been keeping watch on Al Qaida in Iraq…

Funny, where did I hear that story before?

It's too bad that the Peace Depot press release itself is available only in Japanese. But most of the documents are in English.

TIME (Again) Takes a Breather from the Real World and Ventures into Tabloid Journalism

Tabloid journalism usually takes undeniable facts, makes defendable assertions, engages in some plausible speculation, and, from these elements, concocts entertaining stories that often have a tenuous relationship with the truth. Let me give you an example:

Undeniable fact: Elvis Presley really existed.
Defendable assertion: Elvis Presley had a powerful libido.
Plausible speculation: Intelligent extraterrestrial life exists.
Entertaining story: I am the love-child of Elvis Presley and a space alien!

Actually, this is not so bad. In fact, it is much better than the article that I took up here. Still, there's so much that is wrong about it that it makes me wonder what's going on at the TIME Tokyo bureau.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I've Been Reading Some European History Lately, and It's Hard to Escape the Impression that Multination States and Popular Rule Are Not a Good Fit

Look at this story on Belgium about what looks like another step towards partition.

From what little I've read about modern European history - only recently – it looks like much of the post WW II stability in the region owes itself to massive relocation/ethnic cleansing, a sorting out (and in at least the case of Jews attempted liquidation) of the different peoples, accompanied by some redrawing of national borders. Where those things did not happen, there has tended to be violence.

In Belgium, where the different peoples already lived apart, they managed to co-exist in a largely, increasingly autonomous relationship. But like a long-separated couple, the Flemish and the Walloons seem to be moving inexorably towards divorce. And the issue, as it so often does in such cases, boils down to money. That is not so, when there has been a lot of domestic violence and mental cruelty along the way and there is no viable supranational body like the EU to precondition states to diminished sovereignty.

More generally, popular vote tends not to work when there is a clear split in communal identities. I suspect that this is old hat to political scientists, but, late to the game, it's something that I've only come to realize by way of the disaster that is Iraq. And the Bush administration too late, unless even now...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Straw Hat Recipe

Here's your straw hat recipe, MTC.

I wonder how you would ever get by if I didn't keep rolling your logs for you like this?

They're working on Ubik?!

If you're a science fiction fan, track this blog to the L.A. Times article on Philip K. Dick's legacy. "Right now, Hackett (note: Dick's daughter) said, there are six film projects that are in various stages of negotiation or development, including advanced talks that would finally bring one of his signature works, 'Ubik,' to life as a feature film."

Keep your fingers crossed.

Ubik, in case you haven't read it, is the ur-god of every science fiction novel whose setting is in cyberspace from William Gibson's masterpieces to the vastly overrated Snow Crash.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

LDP Presidential Election Procedures and Related Trivia

In 2001, hopeless underdog Junichiro Koizumi swept 123 of the 141 Prefectural chapter electoral votes with less than 60% of the popular vote. (42 of the 45 chapters that decided to hold party members votes had opted for winner-take-all). This put enormous pressure on the Diet members to fall in line, and Mr. Koizumi was elected LDP President. The rest, as they say, is history.

To make sure history would not repeat itself, the LDP changed its election rules. While making party member votes mandatory, it made the D'Hondt method, a variation of proportional representation, mandatory. Moreover, it made sure that the popular vote would not unduly influence the Diet members by stipulating that the results would be disclosed simultaneously with the Diet member voting. However, emergency situations such as the current election were not covered by the new rules. In fact, technically, anything goes, and it is this loophole that the Aso campaign placed its hopes on, as is discussed here, in my original post as well as the comments. Today's Yomiuri gives more detailed information on the matter, though not as much as the hard copy version. Here are the salient points:

Of the 47 chapters, 35 will hold popular votes by all party members. Of the rest, six will hold votes by a limited number of local leaders and delegates (between 80 and 851; the size of the chapters vary, so the individual numbers do not necessarily indicate the levels of representation), two are undecided, two have already chosen their favorite son candidate (Gunma, Yasuo Fukuda; Fukuoka, Taro Aso, but more on that later), one leaves it to the discretion of the local party leadership, and one will make its decision in a way that, with the very limited information available in the Yomiuri article, I can only call osmosis.

The top-down Fukuoka decision to give it up for Mr. Aso does not please some people there. In fact, six of the 12 Diet members there have lodged a formal protest with the chapter chairman, a Prefectural assemblyman, so far to no avail. Two of the Fukuoka Six happen to be Taku Yamazaki and Makoto Koga. Both are faction leaders in their own right, and, of course, Fukuda supporters.

Of the 35 chapters that have opted for universal suffrage, as it were, only ten have chosen winner-take-all, while two others have yet to decide. So, at most, 12 out of the 35 will chose winner-take-all, which favors Mr. Aso, the underdog and therefore risk-loving candidate. Of the seven Kanto area Prefectures, to which I now assume that Nobuteru Ishihara was referring on Sunday Project, five have indeed opted for winner-take-all. The other two are Mr. Fukuda's Gunma Prefecture and Ibaragi Prefecture, the latter having left it to the discretion of the local party leadership.

There is a genuine possibility that the results of the popular vote will influence the decisions of the Diet members. In fact, in a bizzarre twist, the six Diet members from Kanagawa Prefecture have gone overboard by pledging their own electoral votes to the eventual winner of the local votes, making the Kanagawa vote a nine electoral vote winner-take-all event.

More generally, to prevent such undue influence, LDP headquarters had implored the local chapters to withhold disclosure of their choices until the Diet members' vote, on the 23. However, only 11 agreed to do so (of which Kanagawa's disclosure is moot because its six Diet members have already pledged their own votes to the winner). 29 will announce their decisions on the 22nd - the day before the election, two on the 21st, one on the 19th, and two on a date to be determined. Gunma and Fukuoka have already made their decisions.

So there is a real chance that pre-release of the Prefectural results can influence the ultimate outcome. But because of the widespread adoption of proportional representation, it will take Mr. Aso an overwhelming victory in the Prefectural vote and defection of enormous proportions from the ranks of Diet member Fukuda supporters to pull it off.

Thus, the details that I provide here in no way make me alter my conclusions of yesterday. However, I thought the making-it-up-as-you-go-along feel of the process has its own charms, the political game in the purest of meanings. So I thought that I should provide a little explanation for the benefit of those of you who cannot read Japanese but enjoy the thrill of the hunt.

And the answer to your question, Anonymous is, yes, I do need a life. But boys will be boys.

Now, back to work.

Monday, September 17, 2007

I'm Now Willing to Bet the House On Mr. Fukuda

…before I start work…

The Yomiuri and Asahi polls (Sept.15-16) show Yasuo Fukuda holding an overwhelming lead over Taro Aso (Yomiuri 58%-22%, 61%-27% among LDP supporters; Asahi53%-21%, 56%-27%). The Yomiuri also canvassed the 387 LDP Diet members. Of the 258 who stated their preferences, 213 supported Mr. Fukuda against 45 for Mr. Aso. Among other things, both the public and the LDP Diet members see Mr. Fukuda as the figure that provides a sense of stability.

The party members who will take part in the Prefectural "primaries" (3x47 electoral votes) should be somewhat more nationalist in their outlook than the general public, or even less committed LDP supporters. They should also be somewhat less fearful of the consequences of winding up on the losing side of the battle than the Diet members. Still, they are human. They are not going to buck this trend. I would be astonished if Mr. Fukuda does not take a sizeable majority of the 141 Prefectural votes. I would lose my house if he does not carry a simple majority… if betting were legal in Japan, which it's not.

The policy statements of the two candidates are basically all-inclusive lists (Mr. Aso's marginally less so), none of whose items would be rejected outright except by extreme contrarians. Or Kim Jong-il. To the best of my knowledge, none of the national dailies have posted them on their online websites. So far, the LDP has not posted them on its candidates' profile page either. Mr. Fukuda's manifest can be found on his official website here; not so with Mr. Aso.

Never mind; whatever happens, the contest has sucked the life out of the DPJ PR machine for the time being, and that is a nice, albeit temporary, takeaway for the LDP.

Tucked away at the bottom of the Yomiuri list of questions is one that asks for the currently preferred party. It's LDP 31.9%, DPJ 27.1%, and no preference 31.6%. The LDP, DPJ, and undecided, in roughly equal proportions: the battle for the big fat middle ground of fencesitters resumes in a minute.

Incidentally, the New Komeito received only 2.7% support, on a par with the Japan Communist Party. Extrapolated over the roughly 100 million eligible voters, that would come to about 3 million supporters. NK regularly receives 8 million votes nationwide, give or take a few hundred thousand. I suspect that there still is a tendency to hide your Sokagakkai leanings, a holdover from its earlier cultish, proselytizing years. I mean, how many people do you see on the commuter trains clutching Seikyo Shinbun? Okay, more than the Akahata, but you see my point?

Now, to work.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Candidates Talk the Talk Differently; Will They Walk the Walk Differently Too?

The two candidates are seen as ideological opposites, but their differences seem more style than substance, if their appearance on today's Sunday Project is any indication.

On the domestic front, they both favor reform, duly corrected to take account of those left behind, particularly in the less populated areas beyond hailing distance from major urban centers. (Does anyone have a good translation for 地方(chihou)? Does anyone even know what地方(chihou) means?) But neither wants to throw more money at them by way of more public works. They want to be more selective, is want they want. And the details that they gave were too spotty and anecdotal to come to any kind of conclusions.

They both favor a 1% consumption tax hike in order to cover shortfalls in the public pension system. Their differences there seem to be more of an accounting issue than anything else.

At first glance, they appear to be miles apart on the abductees issue. Nobuteru Ishihara, the LDP Secretary General, who came on at the beginning of the program, clearly believes that the US is abandoning the abductees issue. He looked about as furious as he is capable of, and all but came out and advocated pulling out from the Six-Party Talks. When the question is later put to the candidates, though, Mr. Fukuda - as with everything and everyone else, you sometimes feel - advocates dialogue, with the North Koreans here of course. Mr. Aso, alarmingly, appears to endorse Mr. Ishihara's views. But then, he leans forward and, with a cagey grin, tells Soichiro Tawara, the septuagenarian host of the long-running program, that the Six-Party Talks are about North Korea's nuclear program and the abductees issue; so guess who has the most to gain? In one fell swoop of illogic, he has bridged the gap between Mr. Ishihara's anger and Japan’s need to keep talking..

They are not that far apart on Yasukuni either, at least where its international implications ar concerned. Mr. Fukuda advocates a secular, national memorial, while Mr. Aso favors secularizing Yasukuni itself. Both believe that the WW II leaders executed as Class A War Criminals do not belong there. Of course, Mr. Aso explicitly supports Yushukan, the war museum with its singular take on history issues, which would require substantial reworking before it becomes acceptable to our neighbors. But neither plan is much more than a gleam in the eyes of the beholder, and even a Prime Minister Aso can be expected to stay away from Yasukuni for the time being, which is what counts.

As for the more pressing extension of the counter-terrorism act (or, increasingly more appropriately, continuation of the refueling activities), Mr. Fukuda, unlike Mr. Aso, refuses to a priori accept the hypothetical resort to a revote, and predictably repeats his dialogue mantra. But, like Mr. Aso, he does say that he would put the national interest above public opinion, after Mr. Tawara prods him mercilessly like a stray doggie.

Of course, Mr. Aso advocates The Arc of Freedom and Prosperity, which explicitly excludes China. (I've always failed to see the point of this concept, but maybe that's just me. Or it makes me a Panda hugger. Whatever. But I digress.) But he also went to great pains to stress that he was all for a prosperous China. Mr. Fukuda confined himself to stating his opposition to exclusionary undertakings. On the other hand, both candidates expressed concern at the Chinese military build-up.

If this face-off is any indication, style aside, there will be no major break from the Koizumi/Abe years, no matter which one wins. It is yet another demonstration of how the LDP, whatever its leaders desire individually, cannot go beyond the policy constraints that Japan faces without precipitous consequences. And that goes for the two candidates.

It could be worse.

Taro Aso's Chances Take a Twist and a Turn

For a while, Taro Aso's ability to take advantage of the local votes for the 3x47 Prefectural electoral votes seemed in doubt. According to the Mainichi article (I first saw this link on Japan Observer but hadn't read it at the time), voting in the 37 Prefectural chapters that have elected to hold plebiscites (the article says that the number will reach 40) would mainly use a form of proportional voting called the D'Hondt method that essentially requires Mr. Aso in a given Prefecture to outpoll Yasuo Fukuda by more than three to one in order to sweep the three electoral votes. Moreover, four Prefectures would limit suffrage to Prefectural assemblypersons, local chapter heads (mostly though not exclusively Lower House Diet members) and other party worthies.
This did not look good for Mr. Aso, who wants to make an overwhelming showing in the initial battle for the 141 electoral votes available in the Prefectures.

But that was then. Today, Nobuteru Ishihara, the current LDP Policy and Research Council Chairman, appeared on Sunday Project and disclosed that the Tokyo and 7 other Prefectural chapters in the neighborhood (ed. I think he said "7 other Prefectural chapters in the neighborhood", but I can't be absolutely sure; I may have to correct this when the newspapers get around to reporting it) had decided to hold winner-take-all votes, and would announce the matter the following day. This is significant for several reasons:

First, winner-take-all is the preferred method for Mr. Aso, the underdog who desperately needs the momentum from a powerful, even overwhelming, showing in the Prefectural chapters, who enjoys all the upside benefits and assumes none of the downside risks from a lopsided outcome in the Kanto Plains and its environs.

Second, the media is concentrated in Tokyo. A victory there and its environs will receive far more attention than a victory in the outlying Prefectures, because Tokyo is where most of the reporters and camera crews hang out and political leaders make themselves available for sound bites.

Third, the fact that Mr. Ishihara – conveniently the head of the Tokyo chapter - was able to convince his Kanto cohorts to go along with a procedure that clearly benefits Mr. Aso could be an indication of where the sentiments of those chapter leaders lie. For his part, Mr. Ishihara is clearly an Aso sympathizer, so his high-minded (and yes truthful) explanation of the decision - that's the way the election should be held in the first place - should be taken with a grain of salt.

If Mr. Aso captures a sizeable majority in the Prefectures, it will look awkward for the LDP Diet members to deny him victory in the final tally. And his chances for just such an outcome will be substantially improved if Mr. Ishihara's strategy bears fruit.

If Mr. Aso manages to make a strong showing but not good enough to put himself over the top, Mr. Fukuda will have some extra ground to make up in the legitimacy column when he assumes the Prime Minister's chair. The Mentor tells me that such a turn of events is likely to cause long-term damage his standing with the local activists who have benefited in recent years from the high-profile campaigning efforts of Mr. Aso, in contrast to the far less visible Mr. Fukuda.

A same-day (Sunday) Asahi report says that 35 Prefectural chapters have decided to hold preliminary votes by all local party members. 19 are opting for proportional allocation (presumably by the D'Hondt method) of the three electoral votes, while 9 have chosen winner-takes-all.

Incidentally, Mr. Aso appeared far more prepared and articulate than Mr. Fukuda on Sunday Project. Mr. Aso has been on the main stage with few interruptions since the Koizumi administration while Mr. Fukuda, since he resigned as Prime Minister Koizumi's Chief Cabinet Secretary in May 2004, surfaced only briefly, and elusively at that, during his non-candidacy to succeed Prime Minister Koizumi. And it showed.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

I've Been a Greenspan Skeptic for Some Time

It all began when Alan Greenspan talked about "irrational exuberance", then later climbed on the bandwagon when the market kept rising. In later years, I heard a staunchly Republican economist of some note talk about Mr. Greenspan pumping the economy in time to avoid an economic downturn for the 2004 election. And this was more than a year before the election.

Yet, when I come across the following excerpt from his memoir, I am not surprised. In fact, it explains perfectly to me why Mr. Greenspan is now heaping praise on Bill Clinton.

Selectively truthful?

Greenspan was intensely criticized for endorsing a large tax cut in 2001 in congressional testimony during the first weeks of the Bush administration. He notes that he was recommending any tax cut, even a smaller one proposed by some Democrats. But he acknowledges that those who had warned him about the perception he was backing Bush's plan were right. "The tax-cut testimony proved to be politically explosive," he writes.

Yet, he adds: "While politics had not been my intent, I'd misjudged the emotions of the moment. . . . Yet I'd have given the same testimony if Al Gore had been president."

Some Thoughts on The Fukuda Administration and Somewhat Beyond

Some pungent words were used in the creation of this post. They have been maintained in the interests of preserving the original intent of the author. This is in no way to be interpreted as a general endorsement of offensive language in public discourse.

Here are my answers to questions that I received, as well as my comments on some points to the article that was attached to it. They have been edited for use as a blog post. I've omitted anything that has become irrelevant, such as comments based on the article's assumption (as well as mine at the time that the article was written) that Taro Aso R.I.P. was the likely successor. If my comments appear to be selective and disconnected, it's a long article, and I merely touched on the points where I believed that I had something meaningful to add.

1. Here, near the bottom, is my latest take on how long it will be before the next Lower House general election. As a subsequent development:

Yomiuri quotes Takeo Yasuo Fukuda saying,"I would like to search [for the right timing to dissolve the Lower House]. At a minimum, the (FY 2008) budget should be passed." This gives us a May election at the earliest. He adds, "When there is an important bill (in the regular Diet session), there could be an occasion to discuss the timing of dissolution with the DPJ and other opposition parties."

If I had to parse his words, I'd say that he's telling us that if the DPJ is so obstructionist that it won't let anything pass without a revote and the public sees the DPJ in that light as well, he's willing to let the LDP take a few losses, mainly Daizo Sugimura and other flaky specimens from the Koizumi Kids gang, in exchange for a near 3-year extension on the Lower House mandate for the coalition government. In that case, he'll fill out his term and, if it's what he wants, possibly (ed. inadvertently omitted when first posted) more.

2. I don't think that Mr. Fukuda needs to make that many changes in substance in the course that the Abe administration had been taking on its own. I firmly believe that Mr. Abe's fall is attributable to the who's and how's of his rule, or lack there of. Mr. Fukuda is being welcomed as the antithesis there. Having said that, I expect him to talk with a wee bit more honesty about the consumption tax, but I think that the majority of the public will support him there, as long as he looks competent in keeping down expenditures while immediately shifting a good portion of it - say 500 billion yen? – to high-profile, disparity-correcting measures.

Mr. Fukuda will be smart to keep Yoichi Masuzoe to deal with The Public Pension 50,000,000. (He, along with Masahiko Komura (for purely political reasons in his case) and Nobutaka Machimura and/or Kaoru Yosano (for mainly but not purely political reasons), would be my holdovers.) There's only so much you can do about that shit, so the Fukuda administration must show that it is peeing "bloody urine" to that end, and make sure that the bureaucracy is seen to be paying for the mess. Mr. Masuzoe is the ideal hit man/public face for that.

I'm relatively skeptical about the conventional wisdom of the importance of the disparity issue to the Upper House election results and, more generally, the unpopularity of the Abe administration. However, it has become the trope, the problem, so the Fukuda administration must be seen to be doing something effective about it, or it will fail to claw back those Upper House seats in the outlying Prefectures. But the ruling coalition must to be careful; there's the urban lower-class phenomenon as well. These are two very different sets of the dispossessed.

3. In talking about Abe's vision for a broader Japanese role in the region, it must be kept in mind that revision of the "pacifist clause" in Article 9 and the reinterpretation of the concept of collective self-defense are connected but not necessarily synchronistic. The conceptual reinterpretation can be put into play and implemented if and when it is convenient to do so. It will take the aligning of many stars; still, it's a far cry from the difficulties of the Constitutional amendment process. Moreover, that is sufficient in order to expand Japan's regional role. It is, I believe, in the context of Japan's global aspirations that Constitutional rearrangements are in order.

4. True, the Fukuda administration will have to prioritize regaining public support, which may come at the expense of attention to key foreign policy issues, most significantly the North Korean nuclear issue. Still, this is at least better than the virtual paralysis under the Abe administration at its most potent. Even a cautious, tentative Fukuda administration has some chance of easing economic sanctions - the Abe administration rashly if understandably linked them to the abductees issues in October 2006 - if a nuclear deal is in the offing.

5. The speed with which the LDP rallied around Fukuda and the structural soundness of the LDP-New Komeito, which I explain here argues strongly against the return of the string of weak, short-term Prime Ministers during much of the '90s.

6. Barring a stunning turnaround by Ichiro Ozawa, there's going to be a one- to two-month gap in the JSDM refueling operations while the coalition engineers a low-key, Lower House revote event, and no amount of yelling and screaming by anyone, including US policymakers, is going to prevent it. So they should sit back, and quietly let on that it's going to be a very unfortunate turn of events in term of short-term logistics, but no big deal politically. I'm not worried. US policymakers are not that stupid, and, besides, neither the Bush administration nor the Congress has the people (in the former case) or the time (in both cases) to worry about this shit.

Friday, September 14, 2007

TakeoYasuo Fukuda Runaway Victor?

In case you haven't checked out the usual suspects (Shisaku must be busy today), Fukushiro Nukaga dropped out because most of his fellow members in the Tsushima faction (67 members) threw their support behind Yasuo Fukuda. The Machimura (80), Niwa-Koga (46), Yamazaki (38), Ibuki (25), and Nikai (16) factions also decided to support Mr. Fukuda, leaving the Komura faction (15) as the only one that has not made up its mind yet. Thus, Mr. Aso's support among the 387 Diet member voters is limited to his own faction's 15 members, some of the 69 unaligned members, plus whomever he can pry away from the other factions. There may be some hope for him in the 47 Prefectural chapters, with three votes each, where several secretary-generals have expressed a preference for Mr. Aso. However, most of the chapters are chaired by locally elected Lower House members, many if not most belonging to one faction or other. Thus, unless a significant number hold popular elections and Mr. Aso sweeps all or most of them, the boost he receives here will be very limited.

What is most striking to me is the swiftness and thoroughness of the shift towards Mr. Fukuda. I can't wait for the story to emerge, as it surely will, if only to have a better idea of how factions function today. Meanwhile, I'm left to wonder why. Are they trying to exorcise every last vestige of the Abe administration? Do they fear that a one-man, verbal gaffe machine will pick up where Abe's Cabinet choices left off?

In any case, the resurrection of the moderate, China-friendly Mr. Fukuda makes warnings of a revisionist surge in Japan ring hollow. Staying in power is what unites the LDP, and they've decided that a Fukuda administration works.

Immediate policy implications should be minor. A new counter-terrorism act will be passed by a supermajority revote, now in late November at the earliest, the refueling ships will return to the Indian Ocean, and life will go on without a new general election for the better part of next year, possibly more. The chastened LDP-New Komeito coalition will, however, be reluctant to exercise their supermajority on other issues, lest the media join the opposition in accusations of tyranny of the majority. Instead, it will do its best to maintain good relationships with the opposition and muddle along the best it can. Beyond that, I'll wait for the new Prime Minister's first speech, and his list of Ministers. It's remarkable how little I know of Mr. Fukuda's views. Further down the line, the evolution of the policy and political processes evolve through the cohabitation Diet period - it may last three years, until the 2010 Upper House election - will be a fascinating thing to watch.

The Second Day in the LDP Sweeps: or, I'll Work for Food

I lost my money, I lost my car, I lost my house

It looked like the revenge of the doves, with Makoto Koga (Niwa-Koga faction; 46 members), Taku Yamazaki (Yamazaki faction; 38 members), and Sadakazu Tanigaki (Tanigaki faction; 15 members); lining up behind Yasuo Fukuda (Machimura faction; 80 members). If each one of them were able to deliver all their member votes that would already give Mr. Fukuda 179 votes out of the 387 Diet member votes. None of the other faction heads have made a move to support Mr. Aso (Aso faction, 15 votes). The other possible candidate, Fukushiro Nukaga, belongs to the Tsushima faction, which has 67 members. The 47 prefectural LDP chapters have three votes each, so the candidates will be contesting 528 votes. Since the winner needs an absolute majority to win (if necessary, there will be a run-off between the top two finishers), Mr. Aso is not quite toast yet. Still, one day later, things are looking bad for him. According to media reports, two specific issues are being raised against him:

1) He is too closely identified with the Abe regime.
2) He unwittingly told the world that he'd known about Mr. Abe's desire to resign two days before the deed. So, the party faithful are blaming him for allowing the resignation to proceed in the most god-awful manner conceivable, embarrassing and compounding the political damage to Prime Minister Abe and the LDP.

ADD: The next key indicator will be how well Mr. Aso does in expanding his support base in the Prefectural chapters, where he jumped ahead initially.

Also, a faction will not, cannot, necessarily deliver all its votes to a single candidate. The Yamazaki faction, for example, has had its share of pro-Abe members, and Mr. Niwa, the co-head of the Niww-Koga faction, does not see eye to ey with Mr. Koga. But at least the faction numbers give you a sense of what Mr. Aso is up against.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why I Think that Taro Aso Will Win and Will Not Call Elections until Next August at the Earliest

I said it yesterday and I'll say it again: Taro Aso is the next Prime Minister, and his administration will last beyond the next regular Diet session till next August at the earliest. (Actually, I said September, but I look up the law, and I changed my mind, okay?)

Why Mr. Aso, who did not get his own micro-faction until he was in his sixties? Why a moderately engaging public speaker but also one who has been known to come forth with multiple verbal gaffes of not-quite "baby-birthing machine" proportions? The purported hawk who, as Foreign Minister, talked openly about conceding half the Northern Territories to Russia as a negotiations starter? There are good reasons why people have had a hard time taking him seriously as head of government material, even as he has scaled the highest echelons of the coalition government and the LDP party hierarchy; and why they, including the media, are not quite ready to concede the race to him. (The media do have an added interest in making this a real race, but that's beside the point here.)

First of all, the race will be conducted among the usual suspects. No Koizumi-type outliers will emerge as a serious candidate. The truncated, emergency selection process bypasses the normal popular vote by registered party members and puts the decision squarely in the hands of regional ward chiefs and Diet members. Not exactly smoke-filled room, it nevertheless rules out any possibility of the likes of Yoichi Masuzoe (who has anyway been torched mercilessly by the tabloid media for his purportedly prolific sexual achievements of past) being crowned by popular acclaim.

So let's take a look at the usual suspects. Yasuo Fukuda, Kaoru Yosano, and Fukushiro Nukaga are the most frequently quoted names, other than Sadakazu Tanigaki, whom I will get to later. In fact, they are almost, though not quite, the only ones being talked about.

The three men are safe choices, and you may have noticed that I have a thing for Mr. Yosano's hobbit-like charm. I also have warm feelings for Mr. Fukuda, partly from a fleeting look I had that showed him at his unassuming, considerate best. I have little feel for what Mr. Nukaga is like, but he seems to be a steady if unspectacular personage himself. But it is notable that none of them, all in their mid- to late-sixties, lead a faction. (In fact, Mr. Yosano doesn't even belong to one, which means he won't have a institutional power base to help him round up votes.) Choose one of the three, and you choose safety. Yes, safety over leadership, which was so damagingly absent in Mr. Abe.

And then there's Sadakazu Tanigaki, with his own micro-faction. Which brings me to my second point. Mr. Tanigaki shares another distinction with Mr. Mr. Aso: the pair actually ran for LDP president last time around against impossible odds. Believe it or not, this confers a certain measure of political legitimacy that is missing in the three did-not-runs. This is a matter of no small importance as the now chaotic, drifting LDP looks for someone to take the helm. This gives the pair an edge over all other candidates. Unfortunately for Mr. Tanigaki, his combination of overtly MOF-friendly fiscal conservatism and soft-walk, small-stick diplomacy will not allow him to gather the necessary votes to overtake Mr. Aso.

As for other possibilities, Nobutaka Machimura is one of the smarter and nicer people I got to know in METI, where he is from. But he is more of a caretaker than leader as the nominal head of the Machimura faction, and he has never ran for LDP president either. Besides, four successive PMs seem a little too much for the other factions to bear. He will not stand, and will not be elected if he does. There's always the Koizumi card, but he won't run either. I can't quite put my finger on it; it just feels so wrong. On what basis can he run? And what about his many, very real enemies? It goes against his formidable sense of political theater.

And that leaves Mr. Aso.

Why do I think that an Aso administration will last through next summer? Simply put, I don't see any advantages for Mr. Aso in calling for an early election. Either the Aso administration will prove unpopular, which means that they'll lose at least a very goodly portion of their Lower House seats, which is a truly stupid thing to do; or it will prove mildly popular, in which case they will still lose some seats and still leave the Upper House in opposition hands. As a matter of pure logic, it is not impossible that the Aso administration will prove so popular that and Mr. Aso decides that he wants a renewed mandate through a new election. I don't see how that can come to pass. Still, he will need an incredibly successful regular Diet session that requires a substantial extension to get things done in a split Diet. This at a minimum will take it very deep into June and likely some point in July, before the Lower House can be dissolved, after which Mr. Abe will have to wait a minimum of 24 days before the ensuing general election can be held. that should take us to August.

The problem with these predictions is that anything can happen in politics, as we have just seen in Mr. Abe's sudden resignation. Leaders fall ill, leaders die, and sex scandals explode, any of these of these things can happen to Mr. Aso as well within the month. Who knows, Mr. Koizumi might throw his hat in the ring after all. Beyond that, the economy might tank sooner rather than later.

And I could be just a plain, garden-variety of dead wrong. In which case, you'll understand why I'm not being paid to write this stuff. Unlike this precocious whippersnapper here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Just This Morning, Ian Bremmer Was Telling People at Keidanren…

Putin was likely to name someone you hadn't heard of as his successor. Now this.

A Funny Thing Happened to TIME Online on the Way to My Blog

I was going to write another snarky piece about a TIME online article that began with Prime Minister Abe coming back from the "Asia Pacific Forum (sic)"when I went online, but first, I opened my email and found a message from Sam Jameson that ended abruptly with the information that he had to sign off because the Prime Minister had just resigned while he – Sam, Not Mr. Abe - was writing the email. And that was it for me.

Now, I'm ready, and, whaddya know, the TIME article is no longer there.

If I hear a tree fall in the forest, but there isn't even a stump when I get there…

Actually, TIME does have a fairly good article by the same writer in the economic-recovery sub-genre with overtones from the Japan-is-funny mega-genre. As always, I have problems with the anecdote-only approach, but maybe that's just me.

Prime Minister Resigns

Boy, theseguys … are quick.

I think I hear a collective sigh of relief from the LDP. I have only one word to add: Unterschmuck!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Are Those an Arm and a Leg I See in the Seas Incarnadined? The Prime Minister Puts His Job on the Line.

The following are the main points of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's comments in the September 9 press conference [in Sydney, Australia, before his return to Japan].

(Opening statement) Japan, the US, and Australia held their first [trilateral] summit meeting, where the heads of the US and Australia expressed their high evaluation of and gratitude for Japan's contribution to the "War on Terror". On my side, I explained the [my? our?] will to continue the "War on Terror". I also explained it at the Japan-US summit meeting with President Bush. The Diet is in a very severe situation, but since this has become an international pledge, a big responsibility lies with me. I am determined that all efforts must be expended to continue the refueling activities of the Self-Defense Forces. I intend to put my job on the line in order to receive the understanding of the DPJ and other opposition parties.

Q. Are you submitting a revision bill that extends the counter-terrorism act, or are you submitting a new act from the beginning? Are you willing to hold a meeting of the party heads with the JPD and other opposition parties before submitting the bill?

A. We must submit a bill to continue refueling activities of the Self-Defense Forces and achieve its enactment. In submitting the bill, we must make the maximum effort to receive the understanding of the opposition parties, the DPJ in particular. For this purpose, I must seek their understanding by undertaking the matter with the thought of putting my job on the line. I would like to have the meeting of the heads with Representative (of the DPJ Ichiro) Ozawa as early as possible.

Q. You said, "put my job on the line." Are you prepared to have the Cabinet resign en masse if the continuation (of the refueling activities) is not able to be achieved?

A. What I said was that all efforts must be made to allow the continuation. Under my responsibility, the responsibilities of my office, I must fulfill the responsibilities of my office by expending every ounce of my powers. (He fell silent for a while, but interrupting the moderator, who tried to turn to the next questioner, "well then, next…") Obviously, I do not intend to cling to my seat of office.
- Translation from September 10 online Mainichi

Although many people in the LDP are trying to parse this statement as an expression of his determination rather than his willingness to resign his post or, worse, if improbably, dissolve the Lower House for a general election, figures like the Yoichi Masuzoe, the outspoken Health, Labor and Welfare Minister, and (even before Mr. Abe's earlier Sept. 8 statement) Yasuhiro Nakasone, the ex-Prime Minister, are openly pointing to or even demanding, in the case of Mr. Nakasone, such an outcome.

The ruling coalition is not going to let Prime Minister Abe go the electorate on this issue if they can help it, nor do I think will they let him eat his words and stay. The thought of a new Prime Minister makes rejecting a compromise that avoids a maximum two-month hiatus a little less delectable for the DPJ. Still., it's hard to see what kind of calculations went into the Prime Minister's September 9 statement.

Bereft of a political justification, the only bit of amateur psychology that I can come up with is something I (think I) went over before in this blog: A seasoned political reporter who had covered the Prime Minister for many years told me that Mr. Abe wanted to be Prime Minister once, to fulfill his deceased father's – unrequited desires in accordance with his mother's wishes, but did not want it for himself. If you can believe that, then it makes about as much sense in the current case as anything else

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The "History Issues" Trope on Japanese Leadership Is a Crock

A popular trope among people writing about Japan is that Japan will never assume a leadership role in Asia unless it deals with its "history issues". I've never been able to understand it. Literally. I don't understand what they mean by Asia, and I don't understand what they mean by "leadership". I think I know what set of issues they mean by "history issues", but I have a very different understanding of "history issues" when it comes to the effect on our international standing. Let me explain.

When a pundit first stakes his claim, he begins by assuming that Asia begins and ends with China and the Koreas, and possibly though never explicitly Taiwan. As he develops his argument, he usually feels compelled to implicate ASEAN, and rely on Singapore and the Philippines for provenance thereof. The Indian subcontinent is rarely touched upon; West Asia, including the Anatolian and Arabian Peninsulas, are to be strictly avoided.

Now the Philippines are a mainly Christian, former US colony; Singapore is heavily Chinese. It is clear that the pundit is, for the most part, talking about the Northeast Asia, with arguments bleeding out to the broader Sinic civilization plus a Southeast Asian outlier. There is probably greater awareness on the part of the pundit since the Six-Party talks began and the Shangahai Cooperation Organization took off that Russia is also part of Northeast Asia. It is, however, is usually ignored when the pundit expounds on this theme, since the term "history issues" would take on a very different and inconvenient coloring if Russia were to be included in the narrative.

More generally, consistency is usually sacrificed to convenience of the story, as he wantonly switches from one geographical dimension to another without so much as a warning.

And what does he mean by leadership? On what? If we confine the question to security issues in Northeast Asia, the most important arena is the Six-Party talks. But Japan is not the one who holds the most important cards there. China and South Korea continue to provide sustenance for North Korea.

It is at least conceivable that if Japan agreed to normalize relations with North Korea and cough up the billions of dollars of assistance as the means to "settle the past", the argument could be made that Japan and South Korea could make peace with North Korea and tell the US that there is no longer a security threat in Northeast Asia so thank you we no longer need your services. Leaving aside my suspicions that the current North Korean regime will not like that turn of events, the one thing that is standing in the way of Japan amending its ways has nothing to do with the "history issues".

I am talking, of course, about the abductees issue.

So much for the situation on the Korean Peninsula. As for Taiwan, the one other substantial, if much smaller, cloud on the horizon, our strategic ambiguity is only remotely related to "history issues", in the sense that many pro-Taiwan politicians in Japan harbor a very positive view of the pre-WW II Japanese role there, which independence-minded Taiwanese exploit to the fullest. But it is far more driven by the need to accommodate the national security relationship Japan has with the US, again only tangentially connected with "history issues". For lesser issues, such as the disagreement over the Senkaku Islands and the more pressing dispute over the conflicting claims over EEZ covering most significantly offshore gas fields, there is little reason to believe that China would be any more accommodating if Japan were to officially and unconditionally accept Beijing's line on "history issues". On both issues, each state will do what it can get away with; at most, "history issues" have a marginal effect on the rhetoric.

More important in this respect are the low-key but substantive coordination based on mutual interests that continue between the two states. Most recently, Japan and China reached agreement on the substance of a bilateral treaty for mutual assistance on criminal law enforcement. More broadly and to the point, our military vessels and defense ministers are now calling on each other and the two states are gearing up to set up hotlines and other means of cooperation. And all it has taken is Prime Minister Abe staying away from Yasukuni Shrine.

The one example often given by the pundit that is related to the leadership question is China's opposition to Japan's bid to become a member of the UN Security Council. Leaving aside for this occasion the existence of other constraints (including US opposition to the substantial expansion of the Security Council to accommodate the wishes of other nations and groups there of that believe that they too should be permanently represented), as well as my highly skeptical views on the value of the UN, it has mainly been the US that has used the Security Council for its purposes. The other permanent members are either fellow travelers or obstacles for the US. Will it be any different with Japan on board?

The pundit's arguments have little to do with the realities on the ground and very much to do with the sequence of events that Prime Minister Koizumi's Yasukuni visits touched off that nobody, not least of all Beijing, wanted, and everybody but the pundit has worked assiduously to roll back, with the singular, symbolic act of Yauskuni abstinence on the part of our current Prime Minister.

A final point. By now, you may have guessed what my personal subset of "history issues" is. It is the legacy from the more than 90 years since the arrival of the Black Ships and more specifically since 1937 (1931? 1941?) up to the end of WW II. It is the resultant fear of overseas military engagement and, to a much lesser degree, the vague sense of guilt towards our Northeast Asian Sinic neighbors that is holding us back. Politicians, given their professional interests, tend to feel strongly about this, if the left and the right are diametrically opposed to each other in drawing their policy implications from this. For the public in general, this is a matter of decidedly low-priority. Having seen the awful outcome of international intervention in the Middle East, I tend more and more to side with the - relatively speaking - non-committal masses here.

Takeo Hiranuma, Stand-Up Guy

Takeo Hiranuma was one of the more credible candidates to succeed Prime Minister Koizumi until the rebellion over Post Office privatization took him out of the running and the LDP altogether. As the de facto leader of the expellees – at least those who did not make league with Shizuka Kamei and Tamisuke Watanuki, the other two major figures among the outcasts - Mr. Hiranuma successfully negotiated the return of eleven other expelled Diet members. However, he himself decided not to return, refusing to sign the confessional document that was the condition for reinstatement.

Mr. Hiranuma, however, did campaign for LDP candidates in the July Upper house election, and for that and other less obvious reasons, the LDP is going to waive the confessional. Only this time, it is Mr. Hiranuma that is saying, not so fast.

Wednesday morning, Mr. Hiranuma talked to the media and said that the process would take maybe another week because "I have to consolidate the views of the people in my support group back home. I also must clarify the treatment of the people who ran unaligned and lost." The media are rightly interpreting the second point to mean that his less fortunate cohorts must be allowed to return with him.

That is highly problematic for the "assassins" who took those seats from the rebels. (Incumbency may not ensure a return ticket next time around.) No doubt there will be an outcry from them, as well as many of the other Koizumi Children in their support. It will also bring some bad publicity in the media. Expect editorials and op-eds accusing the LDP leadership of wholesale abandonment of the Koizumi reform.

I think that Mr. Hiranuma will get his way. He is a very popular figure in the LDP, and is proving his manhood twice over. (Did I just write that?) Thus, he brings a welcome sense of principled leadership to a LDP in disarray. Besides, in excusing Mr. Hiranuma, the LDP already drank the kool-aid. To refuse his demands on behalf of his less fortunate colleagues now would leave the LDP looking even unprincipled without gaining anything for it. Mr. Hiranuma has the LDP up a creek.

Should the LDP worry about pending charges of symbolic abandonment of the Koizumi reform? Certainly. But not nearly as much as it would have a year ago. Beyond the return of the eleven, the ups and (mainly) downs of the Abe administration in public opinion polls have had little to do with reform and everything to do with credibility. Indeed, the reform issue has been subjected to second-guessing, as there has been much talk over the kakusa mondai, i.e. income and wealth disparity issue, and how it lost the outlier communities for the LDP. (A view to which I have reservations, but I'll take that up some other time.) Remember that the local Post Office has historically been a key element of local communities, together with the police station and the public schools.

The LDP took its lumps when Prime Minister made then Secretary-General Hidenao Nakagawa engineer the return of the eleven, and sees little to lose in Mr. Hiranuma's return. I think they are right.

Is this in fact another nail in the coffin for the Koizumi reforms and confirmation of the return to politics as usual? Will a bidding war break out between the LDP-New Komeito coalition and the DPJ for the right to buy off the electorate with monies from public coffers? I'm not so sure about the strength of those arguments, in the same way that I've become less certain that the kakusa mondai was a decisive factor in the Upper House election. I don't have a strong enough view on these matters, though, to write about them. And it's particularly hard to think about them right now because everything is colored by the upcoming battle for power in the Diet and the LDP itself. It's the season of 政局 (the political game) over 政策 (policy).