Thursday, January 31, 2008

Now that the Other Presidential Candidates Are Going, Going, (Mostly) Gone

The Democrats are down to the two I already did. Now let’s take a look at the two Republicans remaining with a chance to win to see how they see Japan.

Mitt Romney’s Foreign Affairs essay is an easy one. Japan is missing, except as, together with Germany, as a country that the US defeated. In fact, most of the known world has been left off his roadmap. Instead his entire focus is on national security, and the Middle East is the only place and Muslims - the bad ones only, mind you - are the only place and people outside of the US that matters*. Even free trade agreements are invoked to solve the Middle East problem. Near the beginning of his essay he does tell you that “…[t]he economic rise of China and other countries across Asia poses a different type of challenge. It is easy to understand why Americans -- and many others around the world -- feel so much unease and uncertainty.” But this thread is never picked up. He is playing to national security conservative Republicans. Nothing else matters on foreign policy until he wins the nomination.

John McCain’s essay is another thing altogether. Now his Middle East policy is basically Bush on steroids - altius, citius, fortius. He sees Japan and Asia from a similar perspective, and is effusive in his praise of Japan, whether it is for “serving alongside” the United States as a “democratic all[y]” in Afghanistan as part of Mr. McCain’s grand strategy of “Uniting the World’s Democracies”, or exerting “international leadership and emerg[ing] as a global power” as part of Mr. McCain’s grand design for “Shaping the Asia-Pacific Century”. It is no surprise then, that a President McCain will “encourage its admirable ‘values-based diplomacy,’ and support its bid for permanent membership in the UN Security Council,” while speaking favorably of the "'arc of freedom and prosperity' stretching across Asia."

As for North Korea, future talks with it “must take into account [it]s ballistic missile programs, its abduction of Japanese citizens (my italics), and its support for terrorism and proliferation.” China is given even more attention, but not necessarily in ways that the Chinese authorities will appreciate, his conclusion being: “until China moves toward political liberalization, our relationship will be based on periodically shared interests rather than the bedrock of shared values.”

John McCain, a President that the Prime Minister can only love. Prime Minister Abe, that is. And therein lies the… I can’t quite find the right word, but you know what I mean…

Actually, there’s little about Mr. McCain’s thoughts about Japan that goes against official policy here. Yet I cannot escape the feeling that Mr. Fukuda must be hoping that Mr. McCain’s bark is worse than his bite.

* In fact, Mr. Romney’s limitless capacity to live in the moment is one of the secrets to his past successes. It is essential to his ability to slip seemingly effortlessly into any role that he chooses to take on. The downside of all this: The simultaneous, granular attention that a presidential campaign casts brings to all his characters and lines reminds me of that Martian shapeshifter who has a meltdown in a Ray Bradbury story whose name escapes me.

(UPDATE) The Martian, from The Martian Chronicles. Thanks, MTC

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Gasoline Tax Surcharge Update: Was I Right After All?

I don’t know how the President of the Lower House Yōhei Kōno (LDP), in consultation with his Upper House counterpart Satsuki Eda (DPJ) managed it - the media will no doubt come out with their backstories later - but he has convinced the ruling coalition to withdraw its 60-day extension bill that was going to be passed from the Lower House to the Upper House within the month, setting the stage for a supermajority override and would have enabled the gasoline tax surcharges to be extended without a hiatus. The gist of the agreement according to the most detailed online source on this point, the Asahi:

(UPDATED to full text printed in January 31 hardcopy Yomiuri)

1) In examining the full budget (FY2008 budget proposal) and revenue legislative bills (such as bills concerning taxation), we shall reach a certain conclusion within this fiscal year after conducting thorough deliberations including public hearings and question and answer sessions of witnesses.

2) The legislative body shall amend any items over which agreement is reached between the political parties with regard to tax law through deliberations in the Diet.

3) The so-called safety net (bridge) legislative bill (interim bill) shall be withdrawn where a clear agreement has been reached with regard to items 1) and 2) between the government parties and opposition parties under the auspices of the two Presidents [of the Houses].

And they’ve agreed.

There’s enough ambiguity in the wording to enable either side to walk out of the deal under extreme circumstances. Still, it looks like a process along the lines of what I had envisioned, hoped for, really, is going to unfold, with a commitment to finish up by the end of fiscal year 2007. The DPJ commitment is somewhat squishy, but it is a commitment. And the deal is vested with the authority of the two House Presidents. All in all, it has been a good day for the political process in Japan.

Dangnabbit, You Dastardly (South) Koreans!

Turning to sports, to stop the replay of the Asia handball qualification finals for the Beijing Olympics, Sheikh Ahmed Al Fahad Al Sabah, the Kuwaiti President of the Asia Handball Federation, tried to bribe Japan with support for the Tokyo bid for the 2016 Olympics, but Japan has gone ahead with it anyway. The muslim countries that had played in the original qualification finals that were canceled by the International Handball Federation are boycotting the replay, so it's being played between Japan and South Korea in Tokyo.

Now that’s thirty Middle East votes out the window right off the bat for Governor Ishihara's* Olympics bid. Since both the men and women’s South Korean handball teams are a notch above the Japanese teams, in effect, the Japanese world of sports is taking a huge hit for South Korea's sake. This must have been a factor when the South Koreans decided to intiate the challenge.

So South Korea, you owe us one. And what do you do?

This. Isn’t. Fair. I mean, how could you expect us to root for the home team against this?

You want home court advantage, pay for home court advantage. Sheesh.

* Our Governor Who Can Say No must be thinking, So much for the 9 billion dollars to pay for the Gulf War. Next time, Kuwait, don’t call us, we’ll call you.

Idle Speculation over Ichirō Ozawa's Sherman Act

Do you really think that Ichirō Ozawa will serve if elected? He looks so uncomfortable being the face of the DPJ that I find it hard to believe that he’ll consent to being the face of Japan.

If Mr. Ozawa bows out and lets the other boys do rock-paper-scissors for the honor, it won’t be the first time. In 1991, many LDP leaders begged him to be the successor to the hapless Toshiki Kaifu but he declined, giving his callow age (49!) as the reason. Makes you wonder.

Gasoline Tax Surcharge Update with Ozawa Chaser

In a neat ideological split of newspaper editorials, Asahi and Mainichi oppose the two month-extension bill for tax measures that are scheduled to expire after March 31, while Yomiuri and Sankei support the stop-gap bill. However, look at their positions on the underlying issues with regard to the gasoline taxes*:

Asahi: put gasoline tax revenues into general budget, consider maintaining surcharge as environment tax
Mainichi: put gasoline tax revenues into general budget (negative reference to 10-year road construction plan), consider maintaining surcharge as environment tax
Yomiuri: put gasoline taxes revenues into general budget, maintain surcharge*
Sankei: rethink road construction plan and the dedication of gasoline tax revenues thereto

It looks like there’s a pretty good consensus that the 10-year, 59-trillion-yen road construction plan is excessive and that a good way of getting the reform that Prime Minister Koizumi left unfinished back on track is to put the tax revenue from auto fuels into the general budget and by implication making it harder for the construction lobby and the LDP construction tribe to get their hands on that money. Other than Sankei, the newspaper of record for economic conservatives, they all appear to be resigned to taxing auto fuel over and above the “normal”, i.e. sans surcharge, rate.

The DPJ position under which it won the July election is not inconsistent with this consensus. No, its policy manifest did not explicitly mention gasoline taxes ***, but the manifest did advocate the abolition of all special budgets, and one of the consequences of this is that legally dedicated sources of tax revenue would disappear. There was no indication with regard to the tax rate or its name, so it could have gone any which way on it.

Unfortunately, under Mr. Ozawa, they’ve been busy outdoing the LDP at the bribe-them-with-their-own-money game, and the gasoline tax surcharge has not been spared. But they could, in the context of an environment surtax that goes into the general budget (with some of it no doubt going back to roads), peddle back without completely abandoning their stand on the surcharge. This is but one element that will surely be considered in the search for a compromise - a three-year timeout is my pet idea*** - once the dust settles and the DOJ goes back to work with the backing of the mainstream media, and holds the coalition accountable for its non-transparent road construction plan and more broadly its erosion of this key item of the Koizumi reform.

Right now, the DPJ is using brute force to make a spectacle of the parliamentary process, but that is so Showa Era, a game plan more befitting a “ten-thousand-year opposition party”. It must come to its senses soon, get to work, and bring the debate back to the underlying issues that it only hinted at in its policy manifest. If nothing else, it already has promised too much on too many issues; it does not need yet another thirteen-digit check to make good on in the unlikely event that it takes over after the next Lower House election.And it will have the mainstream media’s support. And the coalition will bend to placate public opinion, if its overtures during the failed talks with regard to the temporary extension bill are any indication. Besides, itthe DPJ needs to keep Yasuhiro Oé and his surtax-friendly DPJ friends onside***, and this is a good way to do it.

* There are other tax measures at stake, though they are irrelevant to this post. If you’re new here and are interested, please read this. The first three sets of items listed there have been submitted as one tax bill per set.

** See January 24 editorial.

*** I went over this point in this post.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Two-Month Extension Means Gasoline Tax Surcharge Will Prevail - Stay Tuned

The LDP-New Kōmeito coalition decided they couldn’t run the risk of allowing the gasoline tax surcharge to lapse after March 31. Today, it told the opposition parties that they would submit a bill to the Lower House tomorrow for a 2-month extension, which would surely give it ample time to use its Lower House supermajority to override an Upper House veto (or inaction after 60 days). They obviously figured that the confusion of a temporary lapse and the public backlash from reinstating the surcharge would be too much of a political risk to run*.

As I’ve said, there’ll be no turning back now. However, both sides will keep a close eye on public opinion (the DPJ in particular – it’s their modus operandi, while the LDP is more responsive to the status quo). You can bet the LDP and the DPJ will be running private polls of their own through major PR agencies to guide them through the turbulent months ahead. All this is bad for statecraft, mind you, but it will provide much fodder and guilty pleasure for us bloggers.

* Objectively speaking, this is a very sensible thing to do, no matter what the ultimate conclusion winds up being. But given the fact that no coalition member stands ready to be swayed by arguments to the contrary, I understand the opposition’s fury.

I had guessed here that the coalition would take a more conciliatory approach. Not for the first time... I’ll keep making these calls, though, because it’s an excellent learning tool. It helps me understand the political process, as well as my strengths and weaknesses. Looking back, I do appear to have a bias towards the softer conclusions. Wimp. In the future, I’ll try to follow more closely my rational, fact-based self.

Time to See What Mr. Obama Has to Say about Japan

A long time ago, I promised I’d look at Barack Obama’s Foreign Affairs essay and what it had to say on Japan. Since he’s been surging with the south Carolina blowout and endorsements from Democrat heavyweights (Ted (and Caroline) Kennedy, Kathleen Sibelius), this is a good time to make good on it. However, I wound up with so little to say - not entirely my fault - that I expanded a footnote and made this a two-part post.

Members of the Japanese establishment who seek a more aggressive national security and foreign policy stance must be disappointed to find that “Japan” is mentioned only once in Mr. Obama’s Foreign Affairs (2007 July/August) essay. No, not because China is mentioned five times. After all, the European Union appears only once as well, and none of the West European nations are mentioned by name. By contrast, Iraq comes up no less than 15 times. Chances are, if he mentions you, you are part of the problem or, in terms that the amiable presidential candidate prefers, a challenge. To quote:

As China rises and Japan and South Korea assert themselves, I will work to forge a more effective framework in Asia that goes beyond bilateral agreements, occasional summits, and ad hoc arrangements, such as the six-party talks on North Korea. We need an inclusive infrastructure with the countries in East Asia that can promote stability and prosperity and help confront transnational threats, from terrorist cells in the Philippines to avian flu in Indonesia.

Here, it is notable that Mr. Obama sees Japan on the same plane as South Korea and, to some extent, China. This must reflect the views of his foreign policy advisors on the Japanese government’s not-quite-forthcoming approach to North Korea. The European Union does not appear in flattering circumstances either. In fact, it comes up in a most embarrassing manner as he covers climate change. Namely, in a list of “those that pollute the most: the United States, China, India, the European Union, and Russia.”

As for his take on China:

I will also encourage China to play a responsible role as a growing power - to help lead in addressing the common problems of the twenty-first century. We will compete with China in some areas and cooperate in others. Our essential challenge is to build a relationship that broadens cooperation while strengthening our ability to compete.

Relationship, not partnership; a challenge, in his own words.

Onside nations are for the most part anonymous counterparts in “alliances” and “partnerships” and “institutions”. And speaking of institutions, there is one that is mentioned by name, and six times at that - NATO. Mr. Obama wants “NATO allies to contribute more troops to collective security operations and to invest more in reconstruction and stabilization capabilities.” In Afghanistan, he wants “to remove the limitations placed by some NATO allies on their forces.” You wonder, does he realize that Japan is missing from this picture? Does he even mind? Japan may not be part of the problem, but, outside East Asia, it is not part of the solution either. So much for aspirations to be a normal “normal” country.

The essay, of course, addresses the US public first and foremost. Moreover, it was written before the US surge in Iraq had begun to show much effect and subprime lending problem had not yet reached crisis proportions. Thus, economic and financial issues per se are ignored other than as a Third World issue. For instance, there is barely a hint, a fleeting shadow of FTAs, and the Doha Round is not mentioned at all. To quote:

As president, I will double our annual investment in meeting these challenges to $50 billion by 2012 and ensure that those new resources are directed toward worthwhile goals. For the last 20 years, U.S. foreign assistance funding has done little more than keep pace with inflation. It is in our national security interest to do better. But if America is going to help others build more just and secure societies, our trade deals, debt relief, and foreign aid must not come as blank checks. I will couple our support with an insistent call for reform, to combat the corruption that rots societies and governments from within. I will do so not in the spirit of a patron but in the spirit of a partner -- a partner mindful of his own imperfections.

Note that “trade deals” are mentioned in the context of foreign aid and come with strings attached. But where Hillary Clinton would “enforce labor standards” (albeit through the ILO), Mr. Obama does not use these labor-union-friendly code words here and focuses on “corruption”.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

From the Davos Political A-List: Questions for a Slow Day

The list of public figures at the 2008 Davos Forum include the following 21 heads of state or government. The geographical breakdown: Western Europe (6), Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union (5), ASEAN (3), Middle East (3), Central Asia (1), Latin America (1), Sub-Saharan Africa (1); and, of course, Japan(1). The highest ranking US official on the list is the highest ranking Condoleezza Rice*. For Western European heads, Davos is a short hop and a ride from home**. Leaders from Eastern Europe and the former USSR republics were first invited in the early 90s as transition economies, the new thing; apparently, some of them keep coming. Likewise, President Karzai was invited in a show of endorsement from the global community. No doubt parallel invitations to Palestine*** and Israel heads (and their attendance) also have political significance. None of the BRICs are in this group, though Jacob Zuma, the odds-on favorite to become the next President of South Africa, is on the list.

So, why were Prime Minister Fukuda - and Ichirō Ozawa - invited, and why did they both accept? Did Mr. Fukuda go to Davos solely for the purpose of announcing a climate change program? To get an i-Pod from Bono? In the midst of a regular Diet session? And why did Mr. Ozawa keeping dithering, going back and forth on his trip, until he cancelled it at the last minute? Just askin’.

Valdas Adamkus, President of Lithuania (EE&USSR)
Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan (EE&USSR)
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Prime Minister of Malaysia (ASEAN)
Jan Peter Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands (WE)
Sali Berisha, Prime Minister of Albania (EE&USSR)
Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom**** (WE)
Pascal Couchepin, President of the Swiss Confederation and Federal Councillor of Home Affairs (WE)
Salam Fayyad, Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority (ME)
François Fillon, Prime Minister of France (WE)
Yasuo Fukuda, Prime Minister of Japan
Alfred Gusenbauer, Federal Chancellor of Austria (WE)
Ferenc Gyurcsany, Prime Minister of Hungary (EE&USSR)
Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan (CA)
Lee Hsien-Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore (ASEAN)
Gloria Macapagal, Arroyo, President of the Philippines (ASEAN)
Shimon Peres, President of Israel (ME)
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Prime Minister of Denmark (WE)
Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al Thani, Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar (ME)
Alvaro Uribe Velez, President of Colombia (LA)
Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, President of Nigeria (Af)
Viktor A. Yushchenko, President of Ukraine (EE&USSR)

* The Secretaries of Homeland Security and Education are on the list as well, but Rice outranks them in order of succession to the US Presidency.

** But is it a coincidence that France is the only representative from Latin Europe?

*** Palestine is not a sovereign state, but I’ve included it here. I would do so if the Chen Shui-bian were on the list, but don’t expect Klaus Schwab to be issuing any such invitation.

**** The UK is also heavily represented at cabinet level, no doubt the result of heavy lobbying by Tony Blair, one of the seven co-chairs of the meeting.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

An Outlook for the Gasoline Taxes and Some Comments about What the Political Dispute Occludes

The DPJ is calling this Diet session the Gasoline Diet, an incendiary title if ever there was one, and making the extension of the temporary surcharge on the gasoline taxes the signature issue this time around. If they had known that they would do that, they might have called the one that ended on January 15 the Diesel Fuel Diet then, since 76 days out of the 128-day session were devoted mainly to the bill to extend (and later to resume) JMSDF refueling operations in the “Indian Ocean” in support of counterterrorism activities. But they hadn’t known (as I will show later). In any case, the DPJ’s plans have been the same in both cases: force the LDP-New Kōmeitō coalition to exercise what the DPJ hopes will be a deeply unpopular supermajority override, pass an Upper House censure motion against the Fukuda Cabinet, and use the momentum to force a snap election under favorable conditions. If the LDP caves - according to opinion polls, two-thirds of the public oppose the extension, so it’s not inconceivable - fine; the DPJ has made an impressive show of its might with the backing of the people’s will. That too, augurs well for DPJ prospects of power.

There is another neat parallel between the two issues though.

The policy manifest* with which they went into the July Upper House election includes many useful ideas and could serve as a good starting point in building towards a working national consensus to transform a nation with chronic difficulties. However, as much as the DPJ likes to claim a mandate from that victory, the refueling operations (or for that matter, the War on Terror) do not appear in the list of proposals. It must have been a deliberate omission, since the War in Iraq (DPJ position: get out, now) was explicitly included. The manifest did not mention gasoline taxes either, while devoting an entire item to Making Highways Toll-Free.

The late add-on in both cases is no coincidence. The DPJ positions were taken partly as the result of conviction, but also out of convenience. They are both the brainchild of DPJ leader Ichirō Ozawa, who forced them as party policy in the face of significant internal opposition.

The depths of the potential schisms were revealed most recently on two very recent occasions. On January 24, according to the Yomiuri, “[t]he JMSDF escort ship Murasame set sail to conduct refueling activities in the Indian Ocean under the new counterterrorism act… attending the ceremonies in addition to Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura and ex-Prime Minister Abe were approximately 20 Diet members from the LDP, New Kōmeitō, and the DPJ. As political events go, though, this was completely overshadowed by an incident the previous day, when three DPJ Diet members, Ōe Yasuhiro, Hideo Watanabe, and Yasuo Yamashita, joined LDP and New Kōmeitō leaders in meeting and greeting approximately 450 prefectural assemblymen, mainly from the LDP, who gathered to kick off their lobbying efforts to maintain the temporary surcharge on the gasoline taxes and keep the money for roads. According to the hardcopy Yomiuri, Mr. Ōe claimed to have 39 signatures from DPJ Diet members, including 25 from the Upper House on a petition opposing the elimination of the surcharge.

All this explains why the DPJ leadership has kept looking over its shoulders for a cue from the public every time the media has asked it how far the DPJ is willing to push the coalition on this issue***.

Where do things go from here? The first determinant of things to come may come as early as next week, if coalition Diet members introduce and pass a 3-month extension in the Lower House, sending it to the Upper House by January 31. This way, the Lower House will be able to use the Lower House supermajority override to enact the full 10-year extension (together with the rest of the special tax measure extensions slated to expire as of March 31) without missing a beat. In this case though, the bridges will have been burnt, and there will be no turning back on the part of the coalition.

But the public does not look favorably on the supermajority override. Moreover, the surcharge itself faces serious public opposition. Thus, the coalition may choose to sit on its hands for the time being in the hopes that a conciliatory approach will help them sway public opinion over the coming weeks. It may help mollify the opposition sufficiently so that some kind of compromise could be worked out with the opposition, or parts thereof. I have no way of knowing what a workable compromise might look like, but a three-year extension - a steep pullback from the ten years in the coalition proposal - while the Diet looks at the entire automotive taxes fits in nicely with the political schedule (at least one Lower House election, and one Upper House election, to seek a public mandate) as well as the DPJ’s still-nebulous plans for fiscal reform.

Foregoing the in-your-face three-month extension runs the very real risk that the DPJ will try to run out the clock. After all, a temporary lapse will cause confusion at the pump, as service stations try to work out what they are going to pass on to the customer and how to go about it. Thus, reinstatement of the deeply unpopular surcharge may be out of the question once it lapses. However, the People’s New Party, with four Upper House votes, appears ready to back the government. More ominously, Mr. Ōe claims to already have 25 Upper House signatories within the DPJ in support of the extension. Since it is impossible for the DPJ leadership to compel any dissenters to give up their Diet seats****, there is a strong likelihood that the coalition can actually pass the relevant tax bill in the Upper House. If it comes to a choice between compromise and the risk of exposing the internal rift, I believe that the DPJ will choose the former. Thus, at this point, I believe that the coalition will forego a three-month extension and a compromise is the most likely outcome. But then, I don’t call the shots, and political strategists here do not read my blog, so your guess is as good as mine.

Now so far, I have written about the issue as if it were the be-all and end-all of the current Diet session. Of course it isn’t. Or shouldn’t be. But in all this, the other, more significant part of the DPJ proposal on gasoline taxes, which is to put the revenue into the general budget (and rename them as a global warming tax), has been all but forgotten. More seriously, the singular focus on the gasoline taxes draws public attention from the other important issues that the DPJ manifest raises.

Another significant foreboding of things to come is the DPJ promise to fully compensate local governments for the roughly trillion (out of the total 2.6 trillion ) yen shortfall in their budgets that the termination of the surcharge will cause in total. If I understand correctly, it promises to do this by relieving local governments of all copayments for public works that are under the direct responsibility of the national government. This is also part of the now-familiar pattern of DPJ behavior under Mr. Ozawa where, in search of political victory, it has made expansive promises that will undermine the wholesale transformation process that it seeks to realize when they take control of the Lower House.

* The DPJ Policy Manifest has 50 policy proposals divided into seven major policy fields. From this, three Promises (on public pensions, child payments, and agricultural subsidies) were chosen to be the headline issues of the Seikatsu-First election campaign.

** Item III-5 in the December 25 DPJ Tax Policy Research Council decision on tax policy for fiscal year 2008 and adopted the following day by the DPJ Shadow Cabinet. It is not clear if the decision received the approval of the full Policy Research Council or the Standing Officers Council. In mid-November, Mr. Ozawa himself had already made a few headlines in the Fuji-Sankei media by advocating the termination of the temporary surcharge. See for instance this Sankei report. However, at the time, he seemed to be leaving room for compromise and specifically mentioned toll-free highways as part of a quid pro quo. This news item did not receive much attention at the time because everyone was focused on the now so-yesterday extension of counter-terrorism bill. In any case, the decision to oppose the extension of the surcharge appears to have substantially postdated the July election.

*** The DPJ behavior with regard to the counterterrorism bill can be explained in a similar way as the result of the lack of a specific mandate and the existence of significant internal dissent.

**** Mr. Kan’s admonished Mr. Ōe for insinuating that he would leave the DPJ if necessary to support the extension and insinuated that he give up his seat, since he was only a proportional seat holder. It appears to be forgotten in the discussion of this issue is that Mr. Ōe has a substantial following in Wakayama Prefecture, where he had a long political career as a second-generation before he ran successfully on the Liberal Party ticket (under Mr. Ozawa, as did Mr. Watanabe) for a proportional seat in the Upper House. In fact, it is reasonable to assume that the personalized votes he received (which enabled him to beat out the DPJ candidates with fewer personalized votes; the sum of party votes and all personalized votes determines the number of seats each party gets, but in the DPJ’s case, it appears to have chosen not to give preference to any of its candidates in the July election so the candidates with the most personalized votes gained all the seats) come exclusively from Wakayama. Thus, Mr. Ōe can claim a mandate of his own and as a practical matter could plausibly take with him a substantial number of electoral votes and a support machine whose loyalties are to him and not to the DPJ itself. That is why I think that Mr. Kan’s veiled demand only appeared to cover his defection from the party. Note that Mr. Watanabe, also a proportional candidate (and with a large home constituency of his own) was not similarly threatened. It goes without saying that Mr. Yamashita, with his prefectural district seat, was not either. All this suggests that unless the DPJ leadership can plausibly threaten dissenters for their next elections, voting in favor of the extension will not affect their status as Upper House members in any significant way.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Why the Major Dailies Make Lousy Line Dancers and Things Opinion Polls Tell Us about the Fukuda Administration

I compared the latest public opinion polls from Asahi, Mainichi, Yomiuri, and Sankei-FNN.

Polling Dates
Asahi (January 11-12)
Mainichi (January 19-20)
Yomiuri (January 12-13)
Sankei-FNN (January 13-14)

Nothing spectacular happened on the political scene between January 11 and 20, so I assume that the numbers are roughly comparable. Now look:

Fukuda administration
Asahi : support 34%, not support 45%
Mainichi : support 33%, not support 45%
Yomiuri : support 45.6%, not support 41.6%
Sankei-FNN: support 36.6%, not support 47.3%

Support political party
Asahi : LDP 26%, DPJ 25%
Mainichi : LDP ??%, DPJ ??%
Yomiuri : LDP 35.5%, DPJ 16.9%
Sankei-FNN : LDP 32.1%, DPJ 25.0%

There’s the Who do you want to win, which yields better results for the DPJ. But as I always say, watch the trends, not the numbers. So take a look at this:

2007: July 24-26, Abe administration
2008: January 12-13, Fukuda administration

2007: support 36.5%, not support 51.8%
2008: support 45.6%, not support 41.6%

Support political party
2007: LDP 32.2%, DPJ 25.6%
2008: LDP 35.5%, DPJ 16.9%

The 2007 July poll was the last one Yomiuri took before the July 29 Upper House general election that resulted in a landslide victory for the opposition.

I am somewhat skeptical of the conventional wisdom that the Japanese electorate uses Upper House elections to punish/reward the LDP while it plays it safe in Lower House elections. Still, it is reasonable to infer from the latest numbers that the DPJ has a ways to go before they can be favored to gain a plurality in the Lower House election. It’s not enough to have the LDP look bad. On the other hand, it’s highly likely that the LDP-New Kōmeitō coalition would be substantially diminished if Prime Minister Fukuda called a snap election now. So where’s the hurry for the LDP?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Chris Rock

As a law-abiding citizen and non-practicing not-quite lawyer, I would never advise you to watch this before copyright lawyers come and take it down.

Japanese Establishment Launches Bottom up Political Reform, Seeks Diet Member Takers; Call Back in February

This is what I was talking about here, at the end, off-topic. It turned out to be a little less overwhelming than I had hoped for, but the jury is out.

The Sunday inauguration of the *Chīki, Seikatsusya* Kiten de Nihon wo Sentaku(Sentaku) suru Kokumin Rengō (「地域・生活者起点で日本を洗濯(選択)する国民連合」. People’s Union to Launder/Choose Japan from the Standpoint of the Regions and the People; my translation) or Sentaku for short, was duly noted in all the major dailies; Asahi, Mainichi, Yomiuri, and most notably Sankei, whose website also carried articles here, here, and here.

The Sentaku prospectus decries the political passivity on the part of the public and the reliance on the central bureaucracy and seeks to launch a thoroughgoing reform in the way we live and work by way of a new bottom-up, people’s rights movement.

The promoters of Sentaku, however, are not some wild-eyed radicals or woolly-headed New Agers. For Sentaku has been launched by an elite group of five academics including Masataka Kitagawa, the highly regarded ex-governor of Mie Prefecture and Tsuyoshi Sasaki, former President of Tokyo University; two business leaders, four incumbent governors including Hideo Higashikokubaru, comedian turned politician; one mayor; one prefectural assembly chairman; one moderate trade union leader; and one ex-Vice Minister of METI and former head of the Dentsu Institute. Mr. Kitagawa heads the 15-man (no women!) team, which is calling on Diet members who sympathize with their objectives to establish a parallel, nonpartisan Diet caucus that would work with Sentaku to develop a common understanding and make sure that the next Lower House general election will be “a truly historical election for the sentaku (in the “choose” sense) between [alternative] administrations”.

Sentaku is a direct outgrowth of the Atarashī Nihon wo Tsukuru Kokuminkaigi (The People’s Conference to Create a New Japan; my translation), which also goes by the name of “21 Seiki Rinchō” (21st Century Extraordinary Advisory Council for the Promotion of Administrative Reform; my translation). Although 21 Seiki Rinchō is not a government advisory council like its namesake**, it marshals an impressive selection from the A-list of the Japanese establishment, including the incumbent Keidanren Chairman (formerly Toyota’s Okuda, now Canon’s Mitarai) as the head of its 23-member Board of Special Advisors, which brings together an impressive array of business leaders, academics, a former head of the Japanese Federation of Bar Associations, and Nobuo Ishihara, Prime Minister Koizumi’s bureaucratic majordomo. It is headed by four “Joint Representatives”, four “Deputy Representatives”, two “Chief Examiners”, 152 “Managing Council Members” and 28 members of a “Joint Conference of Governors and Mayors of Cities, Towns and Villages”. The major media groups (those with major dailies) are well-represented in the Managing Council. All in all, it is a moderate***, centrist, establishment movement that, together with its two earlier incarnations since 1992, has sought to influence the political changes that have shaken but only partially transformed the post-1955 regime. In fact, the 15-member promotion group draws most of its members from the 21 Seiki Rinchō leadership, with the only two non-21 Seiki Rinchō additions being the newly elected Governor Higashikokubaru and the Mie Prefecture Assembly President.

Why the need for a new organization? Many other nonpartisan efforts to influence the political process (the Shintō Seiji Renmei; or Shinto Association of Spiritual Leadership, comes to mind) establish parallel nonpartisan Diet member caucuses to further their cause. But 21 Seiki Rinchō and its predecessors have never done so, preferring to work through ad hoc exchanges as well as proposals addressed to the Diet and the general public. Another difference is the inclusion of a Prefecture Assemblyman in the list of Sentaku promoters. In fact, 21 Seiki Rinchō appears to have studiously avoided any institutionalized involvement with the legislative branch at any level. In contrast, 21 Seiki Rinchō has a Joint Conference of Governors and Mayors.

It may have been possible to alter the direction of 21 Seiki Rinchō instead of starting a new organization. But organizations take on lives of their own, and it could have required too much effort to change a practice that had continued since the early 90s. Perhaps just as important, a milestone event must have been considered desirable in drawing the attention of the media and calling on Diet members to sign on. And in the interests of nonpartisanship, it may have been considered unavoidable to let the Keidanren Chairman off the hook, in view of the Keidanren’s close association with the LDP****.

Will this actually have an effect on the political process? The jury is out. The group seeks to have the Diet member group up and running in February, but nothing in the media gives even a hint as to the extent of nemawashi among potential participants. If it manages to bring together a substantial number of Diet members from both sides by then, then it will thrive. If not, it will flop. Media coverage will no doubt play a role*****. In this respect, the absence of any media representation in the promoting group is a little disappointing. I’ll file a report when I know for sure. I’ll let you know if there are significant new developments in the meantime as well.

* This is one of the most difficult things to translate that I’ve ever come across. First, there is the awful pun with “sentaku 洗濯(選択)”, which I translated literally as Launder/Choose. They’ve decided to call it “Sentaku” ( せんたく in hiragana) for short. More illuminating is “seikatsusha 生活者”, which means roughly “people as individuals in their daily roles as family, workplace and community members”. In fact “seikatsu 生活” itself is difficult to describe without resorting to the same lengthy explanation. I copped out, writing “people” and putting it in italics to order to indicate that I did not mean “kokumin 国民 (which is commonly translated as “the people” but strictly speaking excludes non-citizens)” or 人々 (literally, “people”). This is not as trivial as you might think, since words by themselves shape and alter our thoughts. More specifically, it presents a problem in understanding the Japanese political environment, now that the LDP and DPJ are placing top priority on 生活 and 生活者 - forget about constitutional amendment, forget about the war on terror, etc. - and littering their policy platforms and speeches with those words. It also highlights the difference between American and Japanese politicalspeak (or more broadly social and cultural mindsets), since “individual” would usually be the word of choice in an American setting, when the word seikatsusya is used in Japanese.

Note that the translation of Prime Minister Fukuda’s January 18th policy speech also goes with “the people”. “The people” is used profusely in the translation for kokumin as well, although these are two quite distinct concepts.

** The self-appropriated nickname channels previous administrative reforms, no doubt in particular the Second Rinchō (1981-86), which propelled the ascetic Keidanren Chairman Toshimitsu Dokō to national hero status and played a significant role in Yasuhiro Nakasone gaining the Prime Minister’s seat (1982-87).

*** Tarō Yayama, one of Prime Minister Koizumi’s closer advisors, is the only recognizable figure in 21 Seiki Rinchō that is associated with the political right.

**** Keidanren members do give some money to the DPJ, but the amount is dwarfed by their contributions to the DPJLDP. In fact, one of the reasons the DPJ is hesitant about an early general election is the need for time to replenish their coffers after the July House election.

***** Tsuneo Watanabe is not involved with 21 Seiki Rinchō, though the Yomiuri group itself is well-represented. Perhaps this has something to do with the relatively small Yomiuri coverage, on the left upper corner of page two in its hardcopy version. 21 Seiki Rinchō, with its emphasis on change through political choice and the need for a bottom-up approach to national reform, does not look conducive to an LDP-DPJ handshake any time soon.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Let’s Get over It, Says KimLee Myung-bak. Or Did He?

A speech by South Korean President-elect KimLee Myung-bak at the Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club went completely ignored by the Western media*. That’s a shame because the headline No More Demands for Apologies From Japan: Lee from this Chosunilbo report alone should have turned some heads. To quote:

“It's true that Japan has so far only made perfunctory apologies or self-examinations in the past, and such apologies failed to move the Korean people to a large extent. But I'm sure that Japan will conduct a mature diplomacy regardless.”

Sankei gives a somewhat different Japanese translation that suggests that Mr. Lee would like Japan to do it without being asked, and I have reason to believe that it is more accurate than the Chosunilbo English rendition. My retranslation from Sankei**:

With regard to apologies, self-examination, it is true that Japan has been doing them perfunctorily and because of this could not move the hearts of the Hanguk People. But with a view to a mature relationship between the two countries, I will not seek apologies and self-examination. I think that Japan will conduct a mature diplomacy where Japan can say such things even if there are no demands

It doesn’t look like the Japanese authorities can completely ignore the issue and not expect repercussions. Still, with Yasuo Fukuda as his Japanese counterpart, downplaying the history issues and building on the broad and deep bilateral relationship that exists regardless should work. In another development, Fukuda told Mr. Lee’s emissary, his brother and Deputy Chairman of the South Korean Parliament, that he would do his best to attend the inauguration ceremonies in February. Plans are also underfoot to have Mr. Lee do a stopover in Tokyo on his return from a March trip to Washington.

* It was of course picked up by the Japanese media. Predictably, The Sankei website carries a fairly extensive account of the speech here - it differs on a key point from the Chosunilbo translation; for linguistic reasons, I believe that Sankei’s Japanese translation is more accurate - while Asahi runs this article on the criticism from President Roh’s supporters under the headline 李・次期大統領の「日本に謝罪求めず」発言に批判 韓国 President Lee’s “Won’t See Apology from Japan” Statement Criticized: South Korea”. Apparently, South Korea consists solely of President Roh’s supporters in the minds of the Asahi copy editors.

** 謝罪、反省の問題では日本も形式的にやってきたのは事実で、そのため韓国国民にそれほど感動を与えることができなかった。しかし、自分としては成熟した両国関係のために謝罪や反省は求めない。日本も要求がなくてもそういう話ができるような成熟した外交をすると思う。

Friday, January 18, 2008

Five Bills Face March 31 Deadline in Twisted Diet; BOJ Governorship Also on the Line

I looked into this to satisfy my own curiosity, but I thought that people who cannot read Japanese but are into the facts might be interested. I’d be happy to do a more detailed analysis, but hey, there’s only so much I can do without getting paid.

There will be five bills on the table that face deadlines. By the end of March, the main battlefront will be the gasoline taxes. The fight over the replacement for BOJ Governor should also be over by then. Let’s look at them one-by-one. Bill to:

1. Amend Income Tax Act and Others: The extension of national special tax measures is the main purpose of this amendment. The “temporary” supercharge on the volatile oil tax, set to expire at the end (March 31) of the fiscal year is the main event in this Diet session. The local road tax, collected as a national tax and distributed to local governments, also expires as of March 31. These two taxes, collected at the point of purchase on gasoline sales, comprise what I have been calling the gasoline tax. In the future, I will refer to them in the plural, as “gasoline taxes”, so as not to confuse them with the singular volatile oil tax.

2. Amend Local Tax Act and Others: Similar to 1, for prefectural and municipal taxes. The “temporary” surcharge on the automobile acquisition tax, collected and used by prefectural governments and also distributed to municipalities, expires as of March 31. The “temporary” surcharge on the automobile weight tax, collected as a national tax and also distributed to municipalities, expires as of April 30.

3. Amend Customs Tariff Act and others: Here, the key is the Temporary Customs Tariff Measures Act, under which the government reduces rates on much of its imports. The temporary reduction on beef expires as of March 31.

4. Adopt Special Measures Act on the Issuance of Public Bonds: Each year, the Diet passes a law to authorize the government to issue a set amount of so-called akaji kokusai, or national bonds to cover the national budget deficit*.

5. Extend Extraordinary Measures Act on Financing Funds for the Improvement of Fisheries Processing Industry Facilities: It authorizes government-backed, long-term, low-interest financing for… the improvement of fisheries processing industry facilities, what else. It expires as of March 31.

Let’s deal with the easy ones first. No.5 looks like a gimmie. Nobody wants to annoy the fishing lobby, though they could wait a few weeks for a Lower House override if it comes to that. No. 3 is an even easier call, since nobody wants to piss off, in no particular order: all consumers, all developing countries, the United States, and Australia, the world’s largest kangaroo meat exporter, to name just a few.

No.4 will pass eventually; the opposition cannot deny the short-term reality that without the authorization, the government will grind to a stop at some point during the fiscal year. The opposition will look highly irresponsible if it lets the bill linger in the Upper House into the new fiscal year before the Lower House passes it with the override, likely at some point in April. The DPJ is apparently willing to give a pass to a bill that will be submitted as part of the FY2007 supplementary budget package** to authorize local governments to issue deficit bonds to cover FY 2008 revenue shortfalls, and I see the same thing happening with regard to the FY 2008 national deficit bonds. Along the way, the opposition will surely criticize the ruling coalition for, say, “the long years of fiscal mismanagement that created this mess”. I think that this particular debate will be more like a wash, since the ruling coalition can also score some points by demanding that the DPJ account for the multitrillion coverage for its public pension funding, subsidize-the-microfarmers and childcare subsidies and other proposals.

So it boils down to Nos. 1 and 2. They are a package, but it is the gasoline taxes that really matter. I expect the Fukuda Cabinet to submit a bill that is allows for a possible hiatus between April 1 and the eventual enactment of the bill in the case of the gasoline taxes, since, unlike tax benefits, they cannot be made retroactive***. If they don’t, it probably means that they are daring the DPJ to play a game of Chicken. A relatively short delay in the tax benefits will not have a serious effect on the macro-economy, since the tax benefits mostly cover capital expenditures that can be delayed. A promise at some point from the ruling coalition that it would exercise the override (and thus make the measures retroactive) should erase any concerns in the market. But the gasoline taxes revenue during the gap will be lost forever. Somewhat less important, the two technical adjustments as the tax rates go down and back up again will cause confusing at the points of sale. All this assumes that the ruling coalition will exercise the override. That, I think, is the most likely outcome, given the balance of interests that both sides must consider. However, both sides will also be driven by public opinion and media coverage, so a compromise is possible. What I don’t think is possible: a snap election before the session is up; or total ruling coalition/opposition capitulation on the gasoline taxes.

Addition: The gasoline taxes in No.1 are taxed to the producer/wholesaler at the point of sale to the retailer, not at the pump as I had erroneously assumed. Thus, the “technical” adjustments will be far smaller than I had anticipated. However, difficult pricing decisions remain at the retail level and should cause confusion at the pump, where drivers will expect instant gratification while the lower tax rates must work (or not) their way into the retail price over several weeks. The light oil transaction tax, the local (prefectural) tax that is the diesel engine equivalent of the volatile oil tax (this is an important item that I'd originally missed; I have to see the eventual bill to produce definitive lists of the included items), is taxed to the retailer (non-gasoline, non-light oil hydrocarbon fuel used in internal combustion engines is taxed to the producer/wholesaler; kerosene is specifically mentioned, but alcohol fuel should be covered here), so the time lag between tax incidence and the final sale will be much shorter. This means that a temporary adjustment is much easier for trucks and buses than for passenger automobiles. Also, expect a drop in auto sales in the coming months in anticipation of a tax reduction after March 31 and a corresponding jump after that as auto buyers rush to take advantage of what I believe will be a temporary situation. (December 19)

Something else is set to expire as of March 19. Toshihiko Fukui’s term as the Governor of the Bank of Japan is coming to an end, and he has only a marginally better chance to be reappointed than President Bush has to be elected to a third term. In the past, Toshirō Mutō, currently Deputy Governor and former MOF Vice-Minister, would be a shoo-in, but the DPJ is strongly opposed to his appointment. It requires the consent of both Houses, and there are no provisions for an override. The Cabinet could reappoint him to the BOJ Board of Directors any way - his term is up as well, but it can do that without the Diet’s consent - and name him acting Governor, but it probably wouldn’t be the same. At a minimum, it will send a negative signal about Japanese governance when the global financial market may still be in the throes of the subprime-driven crisis. With the uncertainties in the Middle East, the inhospitable climate between the US and Russia, the US Presidential election, and the potential for acts of global terrorism, a BOJ leadership that lacks firm political backing is an unpleasant plan B. Both sides will be looking at public opinion polls and media coverage for guidance here as well, as they grope towards a compromise whose outlines nobody can ascertain as of now.

* Funding for roads, dams, development loans, etc. are covered by “national construction bonds”. These expenditures do not go into the budget deficit in the first instant because they create assets. I assume that depreciating assets must be amortized, but I have to check it.

** Every fiscal year, the Cabinet submits one supplementary budget (sometimes two) budgets to take care of unforeseen matters such as additional expenditures to cover earthquake damages and additional deficit bonds to cover increased tax revenue shortfalls, as well as additional expenditures and tax relief to goose the economy.

*** Actually, I think it would be unconstitutional.

Off topic: The media says that Masataka Kitagawa, the highly-influential former Governor of Mie Prefecture and reportedly first choice of the DPJ to challenge Shintarō Ishihara in the 2007 Tokyo gubernatorial, is getting together with businessmen, academics and other local political leaders to start a new policy study group. Could this movement be the catalyst for a true makeover of Japanese politics? If so, then it’s something that many people including me have been hoping for since the 90s, when many of the best and brightest of the establishment elite with political ambitions began to put national politics on hold and go into local politics. I’ll see if there’s more to post after they make the official announcement tomorrow, on Saturday.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Ichirō Ozawa: Trickster and Guy Thing

Kankichi Ryōzu, Ryō-san to his friends, is hands-down the worst policeman in Japan. For Ryō-san is a selfish, stupid scofflaw and egomaniac, whose every scheme that he hatches on a near-weekly basis* (while lurking in the Kameari Kōen-mae mini-police station where he has been permanently exiled) seems to end in mayhem and chaos, harming everything and everyone in the process.

Ryō-san is also the most popular policeman in Japan. In fact, he is so popular that not only has his antics adorned the pages of Shūkan Shōnen Jumpu (literally, Weekly Boys’ Jump; the Microsoft of manga comic books) uninterrupted since his first guest appearance in its 1976 June 22 edition and subsequent appearance three months later as a regular feature, he has been honored by two life-size bronze statues of him at the JP Kameari Station near his fictitious mini-station, and a group of best-selling novelists got together to celebrate Ryō-san’s 30th year in print by producing an anthology featuring Ryō-san and their own highly popular characters together. And these are just a few of the many ways that his multitude of admirers has chosen to honor him.

Now, Ryō-san is not without some redeeming traits. For one thing, he loves kids. In a way, he is a kid himself. He’s also a sucker for sad sack stories, though his help often winds up being worse than the problem. In fact, it’s probably his saving grace that his schemes almost always fall through. Oh, and one more thing. Ryō-san will say he’s sorry under pain of death, but for not much else. Does that sound familiar?

Kazuhiro Kiyohara is a blockhead. In the straight-laced (some will say hypocritical) world of pro baseball in Japan, the often-boorish Mr. Kiyohara is the guy who stretches the rules till they snap, shows up on game day with a hangover, picks fights with the coaching staff, and lords it over his lesser teammates. Though more successful in his chosen profession than Ryō-san in his, he has never realized the enormous potential he showed straight out of high school, winning Rookie-of-the-Year honors as a .304-31 slugger and third baseman with a cannon-arm; and at age 40, injury-riddled and long past his physical prime, he never will.

Yet teams are still willing to pay him millions (dollars, not yen) to make him come and play for them, or at least DH. For Mr. Kiyohara was and still is one of the most popular baseball players in Japan, one of the biggest draws for just showing up, especially now that the best players (and not a few lesser players) routinely leave in their prime for the Major Leagues, with their bigger stadiums and bigger bucks. The colorful Kiyohara is Japan’s answer to Jose Canseco, a Bizarro Nagashima** if you will.So it will be a sad and sobering day when he leaves the ballpark for good. The weeklies and “sports” dailies will be sorry to see him go too, when he takes his bagful of tabloid fodder and fades into the background.

And we love these tricksters. Ryō-san is an extreme case, but manga heroes (the male heroes anyway) usually follow the same pattern. They are outsiders, rogues, misfits. They don’t need the mainstream alter egos of a Superman or Spiderman, the Amecomi superheroes; they are just being themselves, one-face-fits all characters. And even as the media heap scorn on a Kiyohara, the salaryman, the shop attendant, all of Japanese guy nation seeks vicarious glory in his antics c’mon, you can get away with it, one more time. (Yes, he aims to please.) It's a guy issue, really..

This is nothing new. In fact, an entire genre of classical theater, the Kyōgen, grew up around Tarō Kaja, a non-lethal Loki character if ever there was one. We’ve got to be free, and admire those that are.

Ichirō Ozawa is the Loki of Japanese politics. He was never so Ozawa as when he yet again snubbed his nose at pleas from his domesticated deputy Yukio Hatoyama, for an apology for his absence from the anti-terror bill revote, and the entire media, tabloid and non-. It can be no coincidence that the DPJ polls better among men than women.

Mr. Ozawa being who he is also renewed his pledge to put his career on the line on beating the LDP in the next Lower House election. To that end, he has led the DPJ away from the tightwad fiscal policies of the wonks and has steered it towards a strategy that aims to beat the LDP at their own (bribe them with their money) game. Barring a couple of LDP disasters, though, I’ll be highly surprised if the DPJ gains more seats than the LDP*** (let alone the coalition as a whole). And I’ll be sorry then, because we’ll see the most compelling political figure of our times leaving center stage.

* the Kochikame has featured the same main characters, including superheel Ryō-san, over the years, and the stories usually end with that issue, the longest story arcs lasting a few weeks at most. This contrasts starkly with most other long-running manga such as Dragonball or JoJo Bizarre Adventure. It is more reminiscent of the four-frame daily comic strips than the usual long-running manga. Gorgo 13 offers a parallel of sorts.

** Shigeo Nagashima has always been more popular than the more successful (baseball-wise - he was also the first recipient of the Kokumin Eiyo Shō, or People’s Honor Award) Sadaharu Oh. Although the fact that Mr. Oh is not a Japanese citizen probably has figured in this, it is clear that Mr. Nagashima’s exuberance and glamour (college baseball star, beautiful, accomplished wife, the ability to make the simplest plays look difficult, etc.) and spontaneity on the field in contrast to Mr. Oh’s staid, often dour demeanor and no-pain, no –gain approach to the game were by far the biggeest reason for the popularity gap. You respected Oh; you loved Nagashima.

*** I’ve written about this before, and I would be happy to take a bet, where the loser shaves his head. A bald guy must wear a wig for the time it would take his hypothetical hair to grow back.

... So Angry I could Whack a Kangaroo

Compare this Reuters video clip with this BBC report. Note that Reuters tells the story from an exclusively Australian perspective, while BBC is evenhanded. Reuters has edited the video in a way that leaves the impression that the Japanese side has not refuted the Sea Shepherd’s claims. The Australian media, if news reports are correct, basically toe the Labor government line. Or is it the other way around? It all seems to make sense, when you remember that BBC has hitched a ride on the Greenpeace boat. And Greenpeace does not see eye to eye with the Sea Shepherd.

If you look past the cultural and racial undertones of the Anglo-Saxon drumbeat, though, whaling does raise an important existential question; namely: How do we define humanity*? If you think that the word “humanity” is confusingly metaphorical, let me put it this way: Where do “we” end and “they” begin? We grapple with this question in many ways, on many levels, in many different situations. Sometimes, little more than a nod, a handshake is at stake. In other cases, it’s literally a matter of life and death. In that sense, whaling is in the same category as genocide, eugenics, abortion, stem cell research, and all the way out to wholesale carnivorism**.

Having said that, it raises my hackles when I see Australia use its unilateral territorial claims over Antarctica to pull off a legal stunt like this. I’m somewhat sympathetic to whales - it’s not an easy call when you think about it - so it doesn’t make me want to kill one just to spite them. But I just might go over there and whack a kangaroo. That should make the Australians upset, shouldn’t it?

* This recent piece by Steven Pinker does not address the issue directly but illuminates the ways in which we deal with the questions as well as their consequences.

** Some definitions of “us” can cause communities to reject carnivorism. Jainism requires its followers to be vegetarian. The Japanese became a substantially vegetarian nation as they became Buddhists. The concurrent fall in the average height of the Japanese population is arguably attributed to the switch to a largely vegetarian diet.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Yomiuri Says Fukuda Support Down to 46%; Asahi, Up to 34%

According to the January Yomiuri poll, public opinion is still running 45.6% (December: 52.5%) to 41.6% (35.3%) in favor of the Fukuda administration. However, Mr. Fukuda must act decisively to stanch the alarming drop in his popularity. He can take comfort from the fact that the DPJ failed to capitalize on his travails, as support for the LDP and the DPJ remained virtually unchanged at 35.5% (35.3%) and 16.9% (17.1%) respectively. More ominously for the DPJ, only 29.2% thought that the DPJ was capable of taking over the administration while a healthy majority of 59.8% believed it was not.

According to the January Asahi poll, the beleaguered Fukuda administration may have turned the corner as support edged up, albeit to a still anemic 34% (December: 31%). Still, Mr. Fukuda has a long way to go on his road to recovery, since the public continues to favor a DPJ-led administration over a LDP-led one by 35% (41%) to 27% (28%). The two parties are running neck and neck in public support with the DPJ at 25% (25%) and LDP 26% (27%), but independents are leaning heavily towards the DPJ, which leads the LDP in current voting preferences 36% (38%) to 25% (23%) for the Lower House proportional districts.

There is the usual 5-10 percentage-point Yomiuri-Asashi gap that reminds you that you are still in the multiverse that is the Japanese media. Still, why the anomalous downturn in the Yomiuri results, in contrast to Asahi’s and other polls that have been coming out the last few days with the Fukuda uptick? The answer is simple: Yomiuri conducted its December polling on the 10th and 11th, while the Asahi did it on the 19th and the 20th. And it was on the 11th that the likelihood of 9 million public pension accounts ending up untraceable to their rightful owners hit the media. You may remember that it was the cavalier manner in which Mr. Fukuda and his Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura treated the information and the promise then Prime Minister Abe and the LDP had made during the July Upper House election that truly incensed the public. The ten percentage point drop, more or less, between November and December can be attributed mostly to this incident. The December Asahi poll reflects this, while the Yomiuri one doesn’t. Since Yomiuri did the January polls on the 12th and 13th and Asahi on the 11th and 12th, the January differences mostly reflect the ideological gap between the two media giants. But the trend lines, which usually parallel each other, in this case do not.

There is a subsidiary question here. If my memory serves me right, Yomiuri and Asahi normally conduct their polls during more or less the same period, over two days around the weekend closest to the 10th*. Then why did Asahi conduct its December poll on the 19th and 20th? Here’s what I think: Asahi actually had finished or nearly finished one when the news broke on the potential magnitude of the missing pension accounts and the botched response, and decided not to release the results in the belief that the results would be misleading. Is this manipulation? In a sense, yes, though I don’t think that it is a serious violation of journalistic ethics. Still, I would be happier if they had released the original results with the proper caveats and done the late version as a one-off poll. They all do that when they believe that the occasion warrants.

* I am working from memory here, so I’m not sure. If you can confirm the matter one way or the other, I would be happy to know.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Fragmentation in a Global Society as Seen through the Eyes of a Soccer Near-Great

The great paradox of the world today is that as individuals transfer more of their social, economic and cultural identities from sovereign states to a trans-statal community with increasingly permeable borders populated by para-statal institutions of public and (increasingly) private origins, the same individuals use the Internet, telecommunications and other contemporary media to coalesce in smaller, intimate, (often) largely virtual communities. Globalization and fragmentation go hand in hand.

No, that doesn’t sound right. In fact, it sounds awful. I think that I should be talking about the Evangelion community and neo-Nazi websites and Daily Kos and Rush Limbaugh and what have you. But I don’t have the time or energy to do it. So I’ll just link to the this article on Brazilian soccer players, which started me on this jag a week ago.

The Diet Takes a Two-Day Winter Break and I Take a Brief Look Ahead

an update of sorts, on this

The 128-day 168th Diet session, extraordinary in more ways than one, closed today, after passing 26 laws, 14 of them submitted by the Cabinet, 12 by Diet members. (For more details, dig here). The big trophies were: the new stripped-down anti-terror act, campaign financing reform legislation, and the compensation bill for blood-transfusion-related hepatitis C victims. In case anybody wondered, the Cabinet batted 14 for 19, including four leftovers from the 163rd and 16th sessions. If this were the Japan Series, the Cabinet would be a serious MVP candidate*. This being the political game, let’s just say that the two sides showed that they can work together, with results somewhere between the best and worst case game-theory scenarios.

The Fukuda administration emerges battered and bruised, though not down and out. From Mr. Fukuda’s perspective, the main blows were more or less self-inflicted, more with regard to the hepatitis C and pension record misspeaks, less in the case of the Defense Ministry corruption scandal(s). I have for some time believed that the refueling controversy ceased to be of much importance to the Japanese public; nothing has happened to make me change my mind. Although the January Yomiuri polls have not come out yet, I assume that Mr. Fukuda’s popularity has edged back slightly there as well, and overall currently hovers in the mid-thirties ~ mid-forties range, depending on the poll that you consult. It will continue to inch forward ever so painfully as long as the administration keeps looking reasonably competent and the coalition can avoid serious mishaps, like the criminal indictment of a Cabinet Minister. I think that the public pension accounting scandal has run its course as far as public perception is concerned; unless there are further major revelations, the public will wait to see the quality of the repair work before it passes final judgment. On the other hand, I don’t see anything on the horizon for the duration of his term that will enable him to ramp up his popularity like Prime Minister Koizumi did for himself in 2005, nor does he have the ruthlessness and the flair to seize such a counterintuitive moment if it did come his way.

On the other side, I am mildly surprised by the good numbers that the DPJ has been getting in the polls. In fact, it’s outpolling the LDP. That, after the internal disarray, as well as all the mess that Ichirō Ozawa has been creating, and leaving poor Yukio Hatoyama wiping after him. In fact, not yet sated with walking out on the anti-terror bill revote, he has the next no-show lined up already, deciding to fly off to Davos instead of fronting his party at the questioning session following the Prime Minister’s policy speech at the beginning of the 169th Diet session, set to commence on Friday. Some people are Teflon politicians, the mud never sticks; Mr. Ozawa just swallows it like No Face and looks as strong as ever, if not more so. Mr. Ozawa is telling us, get used to it - and we are**. We are getting used to this mad scientist in our midst, the nutty, rich uncle; and it’s a plus for him. Going back to the numbers, I also suspect that some of the positives for the DPJ is a reflection of the public dissatisfaction with the LDP and, more broadly, the coalition.

The consequence of all this is that Mr. Fukuda is not going to call a snap election any time soon. It helps him that the public doesn’t want it either. If he really tanks, the coalition will force him to resign - they will shoot him if he tries to dissolve the Lower House - and turn to someone else in their fold to see if he can turn things around. Right now, Mr. Asō is the most likely candidate***.

The problem with this situation for Mr. Fukuda is that, without the snap election threat in his hands, the DPJ has that much more room to push without fear of negative political repercussions. That in turn will make Mr. Fukuda look weaker and less decisive. I have no way of quantifying this effect, or even confirming its effects, but I’ll let you know when I think that I see it.

I am running out of time. Briefly, before I go back to work and get smashed, more or less in that order:

The big crunch comes with the special tax measures that expire on April 1, and most acutely in the case of the temporary surcharge on the gasoline tax. I explored the technical reasons for this here, which I think was prescient in a clever, minor-key way****. But the real problem is more than substantial, since a multitrillion-yen chunk of revenue is at stake, with internal dissent rampant in both political camps and interest groups raising hell all over the political landscape. I can only guess what will happen. Let’s leave it at that, since the rest of my thoughts are of little meaning, even to me.

Looking somewhat more to the future, here are two other milestones: Two laws that are a crucial part of the quid pro quo in Japan’s alliance with the U.S. are set to expire next year, the new Anti-Terrorism Act (the legislation authorizing the resumption of refueling operations in the Indian Ocean) on January 11*****, and the Act Concerning the Implementation of Humanitarian Relief and Reconstruction Works Activities and Safety Ensuring Activities (this one is for Iraq) on August 1. Therefore, if the Emperor with the advice and consent of the Cabinet dissolves the Lower House before January 10, extension bills for both acts will die in the Upper House when the time comes, unless the coalition retains a supermajority. A later but pre-July 31 dissolution will most likely doom the Iraq bill while sparing the anti-terror bill. But so much can happen between now and then. For example, Democrat in the White House will ease any pain on dropping the ball on Iraq, but not on Afghanistan******. On the other hand, the DPJ and the ruling coalition may come to terms with a permanent bill, though I’m betting against it, since anything that is acceptable to Mr. Ozawa will be anathema to the LDP right and vice versa. Still, anything can happen between now and then, and this is no exception. Whatever happens, you have been forewarned.

Finally, I have to confess that I have not touched on any of the big questions with regard to statecraft. Unfortunately, I have no idea how we are going to deal with, in no particular order, the public deficit, the long-term health of the public healthcare and pension system, aging demographics, transition to a post-industrial energy profile, and climate change. (I’m sure that I’ve missed something, and more.) I am hoping with fingers crossed that one side or the other will, against all expectations, come up with a credible program to address them properly and convince me that they’ll do something about it.

* Speaking of Japanese baseball, I was right, the Celtics are in a slump. They’ve been tiring in the second half. Now, the first half isn’t looking too good either. They have to rest Garnett, and probably Ray Allen, even at the cost of losing some games. Which means it’s a good time to be a Patriots fan as well, only I started out as a Montreal Alouettes fan, and had lost interest in football by the time they folded in 1981. Fact: The current Montreal Alouettes were set up in Baltimore, U.S.A., then moved to Montreal and assumed the old Alouettes name. It claims the records of the old Alouettes as its own but does not recognize the Baltimore records. It’s a case of up yours, vous Americains, I suppose. In any case, this all somehow reminds me of the Imperial succession debate. Just sayin’.

** This is somewhat reminiscent of Tokyo Governor Shintarō Ishihara bullying the Tokyo government press club into submission. Hey, I’ve got an idea. Let’s call these people: theButté Media.

*** I mention this here only because it gives me a chance to say this: I know that if it happens, those so-called experts over there will resurrect their alarm over yet another “hyper-nationalist” resurgence, only to be deeply embarrassed again to find that little of consequence will have changed. Broken clocks that nevertheless never manage to... There are important, fundamental questions that need to be addressed here. I am working on it. Stay tuned.

**** I say “minor-key” because I gave some more thought to the question and soon realized that the potential legal flaw can be patched if they draft the extension clause in a way that anticipates a possible (but not definite) hiatus. However, there is no way to get around the confusion at the pump in the likelihood of a switch and switchback in price and tax accounting.

***** To be precise, it expires at 0:00 AM, like a pumpkin.

****** I am, of course, ignoring Ron Paul here.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

So Mr. Ozawa Skips the Anti-Terrorism Bill Revote. Do You Think the Good People of Osaka Mind?

According to an entry in an official record of criminal cases in the early Edo Era, an itinerant professional storyteller was caught in Osaka praising Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the warlord who unified Japan after the turbulent Warring States period and made Osaka his capital, and badmouthing Tokugawa Ieyasu, the Shogun who eliminated the Toyotomi clan and and inaugurated the three and a half century Tokugawa regime. Dissing the Tokugawas apparently went down well with the people of Naniwa. After all, as the old commercial and financial center of Japan whose glory days stretch back at least one and a half millennia, Osaka had even more reason to hold a grudge against the upstart samurai who lorded over them from the new capital in Edo.

This was eased only in part as Osaka caught up to and passed the pre-WW II city of Tokyo during the heady years of economic expansion. But the postwar years saw a steady draining of its economic might, as banks and trading companies transferred their headquarters to Tokyo. Now, Osaka ranks behind Yokohama in population, and a resurgent Nagoya is hard on its heels. The prefecture of Osaka has shared the city’s fate; the prefectural government has resorted to creative, if legal, accounting to balance its books while Tokyo is wallowing in so much cash that the national government has dipped its hands into Tokyo coffers to subsidize less fortunate prefectures. All this, needless to say, only exacerbates the four-century Osaka resentment of the Kantō upstarts…

The entire Japanese media was up in arms because Ichirō Ozawa dared to skip Friday’s Lower House revote on the new anti-terrorism bill. The reason? A prior commitment to campaign in Osaka for the DPJ gubernatorial candidate. Mr. Ozawa, as is often his wont, refused to explain the act of disrespect. Even his faithful deputy Yukio Hatoyama was at a loss for words over this snub.

At this point, it is important to remember that Mr. Ozawa has always emphasized the importance of the campaign, never missing a chance to tell his people that the battle is won in the trenches. So it would not have been an easy thing in the first place to lose the entire afternoon of pressing flesh in what promised to be a hard-fought campaign to cast a vote where the opposition was certain to lose anyway.

As for flipping the bird at Tokyo? Do you think that the good people of Osaka mind that Mr. Ozawa cares more about them than what Tokyo and its talking heads think about him?

The following day, Mr. Ozawa attended the funeral of Takashi Yamamoto, elected to the Upper House last July from the DPJ while terminally ill with cancer, the funeral being an event prominently featured in the national news. Imagine how widely it played in Osaka.

Whatever the Tokyo-centric media says, Mr. Ozawa has been spending a productive weekend so far, in Osaka.

The itinerant storyteller was banished from Osaka and suffered other punishment which I no longer can recall after reading about it so many years ago.

Norimitsu Onishi Reports on the Anti-Terror Bill Override

In forcing through the legislation, Mr. Fukuda, who took over the leadership from former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in September, risks a backlash from a public that is divided over the mission. The public remains much more concerned about the economy and other issues.

“Mr. Fukuda’s approval ratings have fallen into the 30s because he has been unable to pass other legislation in Parliament since taking over as prime minister.”

“Mr. Fukuda does not have to call a general election until the fall of 2009. But with the impasse in Parliament, he will probably be forced to do so and seek a popular mandate later this year.”

- from “Japan Approves Bill on Afghan War”, 2008 January 12, Norimitsu Onishi

For a mainstream daily, Mr. Onishi’s articles are usually well-sourced and well-informed. I also have a sneaking admiration for his understated style. But what to make of the three paragraphs excerpted in order above, which, strung together, appear to be the essence of the guidance that he has to offer?

In my view, the first paragraph should be rewritten as follows:

”In forcing through the legislation, Mr. Fukuda, who took over the leadership from former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in September, risks relatively little backlash from a public that is divided over the mission but remains much more concerned about the economy and other issues.

Now I may be wrong about the magnitude of backlash, but it’s hard to discern the logic behind Mr. Onishi’s connection of the potential backlash to the public’s concern about other issues. That is, it’s hard until you read the second excerpted paragraph, which basically says that Mr. Fukuda has lost public support because he has been ineffective in addressing them. Maybe, maybe not. But the drop had at least as much to do with how as with what he did or didn’t do. Besides, if Mr. Onishi had been reading my blog, he would have known that getting legislation enacted had not figured as much of a problem as a casual glance at the Japanese media would have led you to believe.

Still, since just about everybody seems to feel that a snap election could be called any time after the Hokkaidō Summit in July, nobody will call Mr. Onishi out if it doesn’t happen*. Thus, the last paragraph is the safe call to make. But if the article is not backed by the basic facts behind the assertion, this article has about as much value as a broken clock that gets it right twice a day.

* Give me resonable odds, say 3 to 1, and I’ll be happy to bet against it happening within the calendar year.

So the question is: What happened here? First of all the NYT Tokyo bureau must be understaffed. Simply put, he doesn’t have a fact-checker. But second, and I think this is more important, he’s just not interested in straight, boring, just-the-facts reporting. His work so often consists of human interest stories, about the weak, the old, the loners in out-of-the-way places, the common man (or woman) in a ceaseless and ultimately futile struggle to maintain themselves and their dignity. His subject is humanity, in the lower case.

Iraqi Deaths Revisited

Here’s a link sent this way by a number-crunching political analyst that serves as a reminder to this blog that it is wiser to speculate only when it actually knows.

On the other hand, if I hadn’t posted this, I would never have been aware of the even wider dimensions of the debate, would I? No pain, no gain.

Incidentally, the linked article’s mention of political motives and the names of conservative bloggers reminds me of something that I’ve been thinking about for some time: how the media and the Internet create and sustain virtual communities with often radically different versions of reality by prescreening information. For example, I assume that Yomiuri and Asahi subscribers develop very different worldviews over time. Fox “News” and CNN? Town Hall and TPM Café? This situation is replicated at every level, everywhere.

ADD: Another one came in from said analyst. (Jan. 12, 13:30)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Look What the President of the United States Can Do If He Puts His Mind to It

Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity: before, after.

Let’s hope he can work the same magic on the Jews and the Moslems.


(translation of the previous post)

ヒラリー・クリントンが民主党の大統領予備選の本命に戻ったところで、“Foreign Affairs”の記事を読み返してみるのもいいのではないかと思いました。

ヒラリー・クリントンがForeign Affairsの「私が大統領に選ばれれば」シリーズに寄稿したエッセーは、日本の政官界のリーダーシップの間でかなりの動揺を引き起こしました。というのも、彼女が「我々と中国との関係は、今世紀で最も重要な二国間関係になる」と述べて、日本についてはほんのついでにしか言及しなかったからです。この動揺は、一つには、この人々の間で、一般的に言って共和党政権のときのほうがうまくいくと広く信じられている*ことに根ざしています。もっと具体的に言うと、かつてのクリントン政権のときは、中国に対しては全面的な友好外交を展開したのに、日米関係は通商問題をめぐる異例のとげとげしさの中で停滞しました。





「同盟関係の強化」- これは明らかにブッシュ大統領のユニラテラリズムと彼女が描き出しているものと対照をなしている - は、こうした挑戦に取り組むための彼女の戦略の礎石の一つですが、これには、それなりにもっと心配すべき理由があります。昔からの三極のもう一つの極であるヨーロッパは、「同盟関係の強化」に関してはトップを占め、また、アジアでは、日本をインドと豪州と一緒くたにして「オーストラリア、インド、日本、そして米国が効力してテロとの戦い、気候変動を制限するための協力、グローバルなエネルギー供給の保全、経済発展の深化を含め、共通の関心事項について協力するすべを今以上に追求する必要がある」と述べています。彼女はさらに「欧米が協力すればグローバルな諸目標も実現可能になる」と述べていますが、結構なことで。また、アジアのスターはインドであって、「新興経済国として、また、世界でもっとも人口の多い民主主義国として特別の意義を持っている。上院のインド関係議員連盟の共同代表として、インドの勃興が与えてくれる素晴らしい機会、そして国連等の国際、地域諸機関でもっとインドの発言力を強化することの必要性を理解する」とも述べています。



* 1・2月号には、ビル・リチャードソン州知事がマイケル・ハッカビー元州知事とともにFAの紙面を飾っています。クリス・ドッド、ジョー・バイデン両上院議員は、掲載の機会を得る前に脱落しました。フレッド・トムソンは、もし残っていれば掲載されるでしょう。だが、ロン・ポール上院議員やデニス・クシニッチ下院議員まで載せてくれるでしょうか。

** セオドア・ルーズベルトは共和党、フランクリン・デラノ・ルーズベルトは民主党でした。

*** 注**をご参照のこと。

Japan Is the Quiet Little Boy in Mrs. Clinton’s Class

Now that Hillary Clinton is back as the frontrunner, I thought that it would be worth my while to reread her Foreign Affairs article.

Hillary Clinton’s contribution in the Foreign Affairs series of “If elected I would” essays by the presidential candidates* caused considerable distress within the Japanese establishment because it said that “[o]ur relationship with China will be the most important bilateral relationship in the world in this century”, while mentioning Japan only in passing. Part of the dismay is rooted in the widely held belief among these people that, generally speaking, the alliance has gone smoother when Republicans have been in charge**. More specifically, the Clinton administration put on a full-court charm offensive on China, while Japan-U.S. relations languished under an uncommon level of animosity over trade issues.

So is this guilt by association? No. Not when Mrs. Clinton’s top foreign policy advisors, Madeline K. Albright and Richard Holbrooke, as well as much of the rest of her team also figured prominently in the Clinton administration. No. Not when she lists her eight years in the White House on her résumé under Experience. But…

First of all, in foreign affairs, top billing is often a mixed blessing, or worse. For China’s name first comes up in the list of “unprecedented array of challenges in the twenty-first century, threats from states, nonstate actors, and nature itself”. It would be hard to derive even a twisted sense of satisfaction from being mentioned in the same breath as “two wars, a long-term campaign against global terrorist networks, and growing tension with Iran as it seeks to acquire nuclear weapons[;] … a resurgent Russia whose future orientation is uncertain[;]… a rapidly growing China that must be integrated into the international system (my italics)[;]… an unpredictable and dangerous situation in the Middle East that threatens Israel and could potentially bring down the global economy by disrupting oil supplies[;]… and the looming long-term threats of climate change and a new wave of global health epidemics.” And you know what happened the last time we really challenged the United States***.

Mrs. Clinton goes on to explain her position on these challenges one-by-one, and it is in this context that “the most important bilateral relationship” must be understood. Indeed, Japan is first mentioned here as part of the solution, as she writes, “The United States should undertake a joint program with China and Japan to develop new clean-energy sources, promote greater energy efficiency, and combat climate change.”

“Strengthening Alliances” - in an obvious contrast to her protrayal of the Bush administration’s unilateralism - is a cornerstone of her strategy in meeting such challenges. Here, there is somewhat more reason for concern. The other corner of the old Trilateral, Europe, is given top billing where “Strengthening Alliances” is concerned, while in Asia, Japan is lumped together with India and Australia, as she says that “[w]e must find additional ways for Australia, India, Japan, and the United States to cooperate on issues of mutual concern, including combating terrorism, cooperating on global climate control, protecting global energy supplies, and deepening global economic development.” She claims, “When America and Europe work together, global objectives are within our means”, uplifting thoughts indeed. And the star of Asia is India, which “has a special significance both as an emerging power and as the world's most populous democracy. As co-chair of the Senate India Caucus, I recognize the tremendous opportunity presented by India's rise and the need to give the country an augmented voice in regional and international institutions, such as the UN.”

But we must be careful not to read too much into this seeming imbalance. Europe comes up in the context of the need “to reassure our allies.” Specifically, she says, “We must reestablish our traditional relationship of confidence and trust with Europe.” And India remains an “opportunity”, albeit “tremendous”. So you can look at it this way: From Senator Clinton’s point of view, its relationship with Japan is a mature, stable relationship (contrast India) that requires no healing (contrast Europe). To put it another way, we’re that quiet boy who used to be in your class, the kid who always did his homework and otherwise never made any trouble for the teachers.

Now is that such a bad thing to be? Especially since the Japanese public is not looking for more?

* Bill Richardson shares the Jan/Feb edition with Michael D. Huckabee, while Chris Dodd and Joe Biden dropped out before they got the chance. Fed Thompson will surely have his day if he stays in, but you wonder if FA will ever let Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich have their say.

** Teddy Roosevelt was a Republican; Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a Democrat. Case closed. Kidding.

*** See footnote **

Two Hillarys Pass Each Other in the Night

I guess I belong to the “I’m no fan of the Clintons, but” school, because I find this op-ed borderline insane. On the wrong side of the border. At least Bill Kristol smiles when he hates.

Speaking of whom, this is one Hillary that is not coming back from the dead. Not Sir Edmund’s fault at all, but I’m old enough to remember Norgay being seen as some sort of Tonto to his Lone Ranger*. The photo accompanying the article seems to say, not so.

And somebody is going to resurrect the old charge with regard to her recollection of how she got her name.

* There’s a great Gary Larsen cartoon featuring the Lone Ranger in his old age.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Upper House to Demand that Lower House Show Respect. Caveat: It Is a Sankei Scoop

I posted on the DPJ gyrations over the new anti-terrorism bill here in the expectation that the matter would finally die a merciful death. However, this article claims that the DPJ now wants to introduce an Upper House resolution that criticizes the Lower House in the event of a supermajority override vote. According to the Sankei, the DPJ wants the Upper House to demand a little respect from its more glamorous sibling.

One possibility is that some mucky-muck in the People’s New Party leaked it, just to spite the faithless DPJ. Remember, the People’s New Party is the DPJ’s main squeeze in the Upper House*, so it would be the first to know. Another is that somebody not named Ichirō Ozawa in the DPJ leaked it before the idea got out of hand.

* But not in the Lower House; such are the arcana that swirl about the hallowed grounds of the Japanese Diet.

ADD: Resquiat in pace. Please.