Saturday, December 19, 2009

Japanese Media Swallow Copenhagen Spin Hook, Line, and Sinker

The headline on the official website reads: A Copenhagen Accord it is. The lead:
“An agreement drawn up Friday night by leaders from the US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa has been recognized Saturday morning by the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.”
However, buried in the actual story:
“The conference of the parties takes note (my italics) of the Copenhagen Accord,” says a final decision.”
In other words, no agreement. Nevertheless, the Japanese media to a man, it seems, uses the word 承認, or “recognition,” to describe the outcome. The Washington Post reporter, for example, has gone to the trouble of actually reading the website report.

So I guess my question is: Why bother spending real money to send functional illiterates to cover an overseas event?

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Persistence of Incumbents and Hatoyama’s New Year Holiday

Slate has a feature entitled “The 10 Worst Predictions for 2009”, and coming in at number six is the widespread media speculation that Prime Minister Gordon Brown would be resigning in the face of the MP expense account scandal. It’s yet another reminder of the staying power of unpopular prime minister in the face of electoral disaster, actual or looming.

I’m referring, of course, to the succession of one-year-and-out LDP Prime Ministers that preceded Prime Minister Hatoyama’s own motley crew of a coalition government. (In hindsight, does that look like a garage sale before they foreclose on the mortgage or what?) Shinzo Abe lost badly in the 2007 Upper House election but the LDP allowed him to keep his job when, very much to most people’s surprise, he decided to forge ahead. After the gods took mercy on the LDP by forcing him out with a debilitating chronic illness took him out, Yasuo Fukuda took over, only to see his own poll numbers fall over the course of a year. Still, he went out on his volition, passing the torch to Taro Aso—under whom the LDP marched willingly to certain defeat in the August Lower House election like a horde of lemmings.

This is something to keep in mind in considering the beleaguered incumbent’s fate. Some of the tabloids are having fun speculating about a Hatoyama resignation, but it will take more than a couple of even significant oops—inevitable given his personality and circumstances—to force his or, more importantly, Ozawa’s, hand. And I predict that Hatoyama is in for a few months of relative calm.

Hatoyam’s weathered the worst, really. His political financing scandal appears to be nearing media closure, as neither his ex-policy secretary nor his mother will be charged criminally. He messed up the Japan-US relationship as much as he could, but he kicked the US military presence in Okinawa down the timeline, and the flap over China—President Hu Jintao’s meet-and-greet for Ozawa and his 143 Diet-member, 600-strong entourage in Beijing and the even more controversial dustup over China’s No.6 securing an audience with the Emperor—was mostly optics. He got sandbagged by PNP leader Shizuka Kamei into coughing up an additional 4.1 trillion for the upcoming supplementary budget bill, when initial plans called for 3 trillion yen, adding to the general impression that he is susceptible to bullying. Still, that’s a done deal; once the FY2010 budget and tax bills are set—admittedly not an easy process, likely to spill over into the new year—Hatoyama will have the numbers to push them through the two Houses against all opposition. The LDP will try to attack the Hatoyama administration for backing off some key campaign promises—for example, the coalition government will impose an income ceiling on the child allowance proposal and is likely to push the abolition of the gasoline tax surcharge back at least one year—but the embarrassment of the about-face will be offset by the sense of relief at the show of realism regarding measures that had been controversial to begin with.

That said, Hatoyama has been tagged, fairly or not, with the notion that he is a waffler, indecisive, easily swayed and susceptible to bullying, yet stubborn*. And of course, everyone believes that it is Ozawa who wears the pants in the family. Unless I’ve missed something big, there doesn’t seem to be much upside to the man. If my guess that the media narrative has pretty much been written for Hatoyama is correct, the DPJ will face the 2010 HC election under a weakened prime minister. Its saving grace is that the LDP is unlikely to present itself as an attractive alternative.

* Some people look at the wild swings in his comments and see someone who is “unstable. I wouldn’t go that far, but one thing that I’ve noticed that does not receive mention in what I’ve read or heard is this: His voice and articulation change drastically with the occasion. He ranges from the near-falsetto crescendos of his inaugural Diet speech to the baritone mumbling when cornered by reporters. I’m not aware of any significant public figure whose emotions are so transparently observable. And he rambles, on and on, leaving his interlocutors to decipher exactly what he meant.

The Hatoyama Cabinet Has Good B Team

Based on what I’ve seen and heard, I’d say that Defense Minister Hiromi Kitazawa, Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Kazuhiro Haraguti (sic), and Economy, Trade and Industry and Minister Masayuki Naoshima have been doing credible jobs of managing their portfolios. Of course the media has generally seen Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii as a steady hand, a welcome contrast to Ozawa, Hatoyama and other more flamboyant headline makers. In fact, it is interesting to me that the top-tier leadership has been found wanting (some more than others) while these second-tier players have flourished. It’s a good reminder that the desirable skill sets for running for office and managing the office are two different things. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ozawa tabbed Haraguti as Hatoyama’s replacement, if it came to that. For Haraguti has something that the other three cabinet members that I mentioned favorably don’t: good relations with Ozawa.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why the Flip-Flopping on Income Ceiling for Child Allowance?

According to media reports, bowing to fiscal reality, the DPJ is now considering an income ceiling for the child allowance that it had promised in its election manifesto—and had already decided to cut by half for FY2010 for budgetary and other concerns. But the DPJ is not the only one doing a flip-flop. According to Yomiuri and Mainichi, the three-party talks this morning (Dec. 16) to hammer out an agreement on major budget items could not come to a conclusion on this point because the DSP was reluctant to agree to a ceiling. This interesting because the DSP had openly favored an income test at the beginning of the Hatoyama administration two months ago.

Now this may turn out to be an internal schism; SDP leader and Minister of State for Consumer Affairs and Food Safety, Social Affairs, and Gender Equality Mizuho Fukushima and SDP policy head Tomoko Abe, who represented the SDP at the meeting, reportedly do not get along with each other. But it’s also possible that the DSP is doing this just to embarrass the Hatoyama administration. The best DSP bet for surviving the 2010 House of Councilors election, i.e. deny the DPJ or a DPJ-PNP coalition an absolute majority, is to pry away as many floater voters away as possible from the DPJ and hope that they’ll at least abstain if not vote for the DSP. To that end, it should want to go into the election under a weak, unpopular Hatoyama administration, much in the way that the LDP did under the Abe and Aso administrations. Note that the perception that Hatoyama can be bullied makes defiance easier.

The DPJ and PNP will continue to test the limits of the coalition by doing their best to show up the Prime Minister and the DPJ. This is a part of the political dynamics that bears watching.

Namahage, Meet Krampus

Krampus, meet Namahage.

Happy holidays.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

GHG Emissions and Demographics; Japan and the US

Prime Minister Hatoyama announced that he would push for a GHG reduction target that would reduce net Japanese emissions to 75% of 1990 levels—the equivalent of 67% of the 2005 level. Caveat: the Japanese target is contingent on major fence-sitters—read US and China—coming up with their own comparable sacrifices. The Obama administration has just come out with its own goal that aims to reduce US emissions to 85% of the 2005 level, or 97% of the 1995 level. The Japanese figures look far more impressive than the corresponding US figures. Does this mean that Hatoyama has far greater ambitions than Obama?

What’s missing from the ongoing debate in Japan is the demographics perspective. The Japanese population plateaued in the post-bubble years and peaked in 2005 at 3% above the 1990 level so it will be back to the 1990 level when 2020 rolls around. The US population, in contrast, was at 21% above the 1990 level in 2005, and is expected to be 38% above the 1990 level in 2020. Do the arithmetic and you’ll find that, on a per capita basis, the Japan target represents a 25% reduction from the 1990 level and a 33% reduction from the 2005 level, while the US target represents 30% and 33% reductions respectively. In per capita terms—the most equitable yardstick according to many pundits as well as most developing countries lacking oil export capacities—the US target is arguably more ambitious than the Japanese one.

There are too other important factors that determine existing energy/GHG-emissions profiles to say anything definite about the relative merits of the goals that state actors have been pushing on behalf of their constituencies. Still, a cursory look at the demographics indicates that the Obama administration’s target is nothing to sneer at compared to the corresponding figure for the Hatoyama administration.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

”Hatoyama vs. Obama”? Doesn’t the Emperor Count?

The following is adapted from my response to a visiting scholar whose friend back in the US wanted to know if there was any veracity to this article in Shūkan Bunshun, a weekly general interest magazine whose sensationalism is around 5 on a scale of 1 to 10 in this publishing category. The scholar notes that the Free Republic is a far right blog. He himself comes across as a moderate Republican—hey, if you’re recruiting, HA and LG…

Short answer: Who knows? But leaving aside my views on the veracity of independent (i.e. not published by the major dailies) weeklies, including the authenticity of their sources, the article boils down to two points:
1) The Hatoyama administration is dithering over Futenma because the DPJ fears the SDP.
2) The two sides got into a diplomatic pissing match because Obama administration is pissed off at the Hatoyama administration for dithering over Futenma.
1) is only partly true. SDP’s internal dynamics—the election manifesto, the leftish elements, its unanimously anti-military base Okinawa contingent, Hatoyma’s personality, Okada’s personal attachment to the Kadena option—have at least as much to do with the confusion as the SDP’s position does. To look at it from another angle, I don’t think this is a coalition breaker for the DPJ.

As for 2), this is the first time that I heard speculation that Obama had delayed his departure one day to express his displeasure. I’m sure there has been some speculation about Hatoyama’s motives. Me? I think a tit-for-tat would not be conducive to a satisfactory resolution of the problem. But then, maybe none of the advisors on either side is smarter than your average kindergartener.

I can think of perfectly legitimate reasons for Obama not leaving Washington immediately after a top-priority, inconclusive NIC session with no easy conclusions, leaving most of the principals behind to wrestle with the question in his absence. (Now that would have been Kobe beef for the right-wing media/blogs.) Of course anything is pure speculation unless one has access to his full itinerary—which I assume that the Japanese writer is likewise not privy to.

As for Hatoyama, the reason given in Tokyo was that he left because he didn’t want to skip the APEC inaugural dinner. And what’s wrong with that? So he should have accommodated the last-minute changes in Obama’s itinerary by staying on for the last, ceremonial leg of Obama’s visit and given up engaging, as a newly-minted Japanese PM, in Asia-Pacific summitry in Singapore? What kind of message would that have sent to Japan’s neighbors, especially when he would be hosting next year’s APEC summit? The clincher in my view is our Emperor, who, from a ceremonial perspective, is better than a run-of-the-mill [head of state]. The Chinese authorities have been using their Hu-Wen tag team (and odd-couple Jiang-Zhu before that) to great logistical advantage; now, Moscow is putting Medvedev and Putin to the same task. True, the Emperor has no power—but does Dmitry?

Occam’s Razor, I think.

That said, if some people want to take a single tabloid article as gospel, that's their problem, not mine.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I Should Be Responding to the People Who Stuck with Me…

But I’m weary to my bones, so—and the slacker that I am and to save LCH the trouble of googling—for those of you who come to my blog not named DM… I give you… Jonte Moaning! Channeling J.P. Polnareff?

FYI, that’s his real name, Jonte Moaning, Jefferson High School, class of 2001.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

There's Less to U.S.-Japanese Frictions than Meets the Eye

From The Call, a little perspective on Japan-U.S. relations as things heat up around troops realignment. It got out there a little more slowly than I’d hoped because of unavoidable circumstances that I won’t go into here, but it’s not as if it’s already dated, so there you are.

Here’s an earlier piece if you want to know what our thoughts were on the outlook immediately after the DPJ victory. What’s striking to me is that on both issues (refueling operations, Futenma), the Hatoyama Cabinet has been consistently sending mixed signals that add to the problems. I think that I see this elsewhere, and it’s usually a bad thing. If Hatoyama is not careful, the media and hence the voting public will begin dealing with him as a continuation of the recent string of ineffectual prime ministers.

Monday, November 16, 2009

“‘Oasis of the Seas’: Go Inside the World’s Largest Cruise Ship”?

The underlying message of this PR video not even pretending to be a work of journalism is that you can do everything on this ship that you can do in Tokyo/New York/Florida. Hmm…

My personal takeaway? A reminder of how inherently boring it was on the high seas oh so many decades ago when I crossed the Pacific on a ship—because it was cheaper.

And you wonder why they mutinied on the Bounty.

Twitter: Yuriko Koike

No, I don’t twitter, and I don’t follow anyone either. But in the course of work this morning (I was looking up the World Economic Forum), I bumped into this. Dig around her tweets and you’re bound to run into other LDP twitterers, in case you want to know what they’re up to these days.

Just thought you might want to know. Okay, back to work.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

How They are Doing: The Odd Couple

Rarely does a week go by in the two month old Hatoyama administration without news of yet another outrageous Ozawa incursion on Hatoyama territory. The most spectacular and embarrassing example has been the crackdown on Government Revitalization Minister Yoshito Sengoku and Yukio Edano, the head of Sengoku’s team of parliamentary examiners tasked to squeeze a minimum of 3 trillion yen out of the 95 trillion yen FY2010 budget request submitted by the ministries and agencies as well as the pile of money—buried treasures?—already stashed in their public and private affiliates. Specifically, less than a week after the appointment of 32 examiners, Ozawa showed Sengoku and Edano and by extension the entire Hatoyama administration who was boss, forcing them to drop first-term members from the team; Sengoku/Edano eventually wound up with only 7 Diet members leading a team of 56 private sector experts to comb over the budget requests (closely aided by budget cutters from the Ministry of Finance). Also highly visible has been talk of Ozawa’s support for Diet member sponsored legislation for the extraordinary Diet session in direct contravention of his own ban on freebooting. (Most legislative bills are submitted by the Cabinet, although this is not what the framers of the Japanese Constitution envisaged.)

Such talk actually highlights Ozawa’s religious observance of his division of power. First, regarding the crackdown on the Task Force: Ozawa had installed an around-the-clock program for rookie Lower House members elected in the 30 August landslide victory. The Government Revitalization Task Force appointments, made without his knowledge, clearly interfered with that regimen; Sengoku and Edano, two Diet members with at best chilly relationships with Ozawa, had invaded the latter’s turf. The Task Force reassembled, Ozawa and his closest associates have maintained total silence on its actual work there. Second, talk of Ozawa’s contravention of his (constitutionally sketchy) ban on DPJ Diet member sponsored legislative bills appears to be mostly talk, and not necessarily coming from Ozawa himself. For the only bill that is likely to survive the ban is aimed at assisting hepatitis victims suffering as the result of government malfeasance—a bipartisan undertaking that dates back to the LDP administrations under popular MLHW Minister Yoichi Masuzoe. A couple of other legislative proposals have gone by the wayside, including a controversial if inconsequential—apologies to Yoshiko Sakurai and Sankei Shinbun—proposal, long championed by Ozawa and Hatoyama and Foreign Affairs Minister Okada among many (but opposed by coalition partner PNP’s leader Shizuka Kamei), to give permanent residents the right to vote in local elections. This one has been tossed back, if reports are to be believed, by Ozawa himself to the Hatoyama Cabinet—which appears to be shelving it for the foreseeable future.

In all this, it has often appeared that it is less Ozawa himself than associates of this enigmatic, often laconic, figure to using the shadows that he casts to push their own personal agendas. In truth, Ozawa has not weighed in on any of the substantive issues that are headliners in their own right. Contrary to headlines both mainstream and non, Ozawa has remained faithful to the compact that allowed him to exercise an iron hand on party matters while putting Hatoyama and his cabinet in control of policy.

Does this mean that all is well in Tokyo? No. Ozawa’s failure to discipline his henchpersons (yes, “henchperson” is recognized as a word by Bill Gates) still leaves Hatoyama vulnerable to charges that he is a figurehead for whom Ozawa calls the shots. Now, Hatoyama is doing more than his share to create political distraction by his own stream-of-consciousness explications of his political intent. He doesn’t need the media’s help to further erode public perception of his political authority—a turn of events which would seriously harm DPJ prospects come the 2010 Upper House elections there the DPJ hopes to rack up a simple majority, which would allow it to rule without the help of its demanding coalition partners.

In the meantime, the problem can spill over into substance. The downsizing of the Task Force (which also forced Sengoku and Edano to pick from multiple-term Diet members who had been passed over by Hatoyama and his ministers for sub-cabinet portfolios and by Ozawa for top party and parliamentary appointments) has forced it to narrow its focus, limiting the potential budget savings from its inquisition of the ministries and agencies and their cling-ons.

Failure to meet expectations plus a growing sense of powerlessness, if illusionary, nevertheless will spell a deadly combination for the Hatoyama administration. The Prime Minister must project a credible sense of being in control; otherwise, he runs the very real danger of allowing the situation to slip by him and create a future that will definitely not be to his liking.

Sorry, have had enough time/energy to go over new comments.

Friday, November 06, 2009

How They Are Doing: Akira Nagatsuma

Now, one of my big misses:

I predicted that he would be a headline generator for the Hatoyama administration. And he was. For a while. For the most trivial of reasons, as well as a more serious flap over the Late-term Elderly Medical Care Insurance. But the news cycle quickly shifted to meatier issues such as Futenma threatening to cast a pall on Japan-U.S. relations, the campaign promises that threaten to break the bank, and, of course, the laborious process of setting up operations (including the inevitable Ozawa questions), leaving Nagatsuma to toil away in relative quiet.

That said, Nagatsuma’s own actions have helped deflect media attention keep the spotlight off his turf. He has genuinely recognized his shortcomings—basically, a lack of any experience in the field except his admittedly substantial investigative efforts—and made a conscious decision to reach into the bureaucracy to learn the explore the territory before striking out on his own.

Nagatsuma showed good judgment on the Late-term Elderly Medical Care Insurance System as well. As the DPJ looked to ways to fulfill its campaign promise to scotch Late-term Elderly Medical Care Insurance, the local governments threatened to revolt over yet another makeover only a couple of years into the new system. In the first place, the unpopularity of the Late-term Elderly Medical Care Insurance had stemmed not from any major flaws in its substance but from trivial complaints* that a bad rollout plan (or lack thereof) had been magnified in the media glare against a background of resentment and mistrust toward the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. As an effective anti-MHLW crusader for the DPJ—his pursuit of the missing pension accounts scandal was arguably the single most important factor in the DPJ takedown of the LDP-Komeito regime—he carried none of the political baggage of his LDP predecessors. Thus, when he quickly backed away from the situation and tabled the matter for future action—most likely as part of a more thoroughgoing reform of the national healthcare insurance system—there remained no substantial vested interests to demand a return to the old system and hence little media attention to the issue. The long-term issues remain, but, at a minimum, he’ll have the rest of this Hatoyama administration’s term to work out a plan—with the cooperation of the bureaucracy.

Of course Nagatsuma’s portfolio is only one lethal genetic mutation away from being overwhelmed with a swine flu pandemic. Which brings me to another point: He is likely to have his hands on the MHLW portfolio for the next 3-4 years—more than enough time for health-related catastrophes large and small to occur. His leadership and communications skills will be tested, when everything will turn on his command of his troops. The much-maligned MHLW has, in the public eye, performed with few miscues on swine flu up till now, so it is to his credit that he has worked to play down his reputation as an MHLW nemesis.

* 1) The name “Late-term Elderly (後期高齢者)” was deemed callous and disrespectful.
2) Deducting the premiums from their public pension checks was deemed callous and disrespectful. But this actually affects only the cases where a) someone else (the oldest son?) other than the beneficiary is paying the premium and b) that someone decides to take the opportunity of the switchover to stop doing so.
3) There were complaints over higher premiums. But they actually fell on average, though they did rise in some municipalities because local subsidies were dropped in the switchover to management at prefectural levels.
4) The new system caps the transfer from the rest of the national healthcare insurance system. This means that the (currently very low) copayments will rise for the elderly as the population ages. This figured less in the public outcry than the trivia, though, most likely since otherwise the DPJ and the media would have had to present alternatives.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

How They Are Doing: Shizuka Kamei

I suggested at the beginning of the Hatoyama administration that Kamei Shizuka, the Minister of State with the double portfolio of Financial Services and Postal Reform, would be the wild card in the Hatoyama deck. He has not disappointed so far, predictably putting down his marker on Japan Post and more surprisingly, to everyone’s alarm, calling for a moratorium on bank loans to small and medium businesses—as well as speaking up on other issues as the head of the junior-most coalition partner People’s New Party.

A standstill on the privatization process for Japan Post had been a foreordained conclusion since the portfolio fell to Kamei, who had been exiled from the LDPO when he opposed then Prime Minister Koizumi’s privatization plans. Thus, most of the media attention, mostly unfavorable, fell on the choice of Jiro Saito, a former MOF Vice-Minister, whose appointment (as well as the nomination of another ex-MOF official to the board of directors) was attacked (unfairly in my view) as a “decent from heaven,” as the new Japan Post CEO, while Ayako Sono, the 78 year-old conservative Catholic novelist, also attracted some attention as a celebrity appointment to the JP board. What was overlooked in all this, though, was the overall, old-school LDP look of the new JP leadership. With two ex-MOF officials and one ex-Vice-Minister of the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications (now folded into MIAC) on board as well as Hiroshi Okuda, the previous Keidanren Chairman, and a top executive from Canon, which currently holds the Keidanren chair on the board, it’s about as “1955 System “as it can get without being an LDP selection outright. Sono herself has graced many a government advisory board and was brought in as chairman at the Nippon Foundation by the Sasagawa family to clean up the image of their fiefdom. Also notable is the fact that there is only one member of the board with banking experience, a former executive at the failed Long-Term Credit Bank.

More surprising and potentially far more damaging, at least in the short run, was Kamei’s call for a 3-year moratorium on bank loans to small and medium businesses. Taken at full face value, the populist measure would have wreaked havoc on commercial financing. Subsequent negotiations whittled it down to a non-mandatory measure with a 60% semi-government guarantee and reporting requirements—not that far beyond the scope of past counter-recession measures (though the reporting requirements will serve to exert public pressure on the banks) . In fact, it is likely that the exercise will be repeated if there is a second dip in the economic recovery as many fear and some predict.

What does the future hold for the DPJ with regard to Kamei’s antics? Not much, actually. I think that he’s basically shot the works. He buried Koizumi/Takenaka’s legacy, and made his mark on his other, financial, portfolio. His populist instinct will no doubt lead to more outbursts as we go along, but I believe that we’ve seen the best (or worst, depending on your perspective) of his achievements. And he should be happy with that.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Hatoyama’s Money Woes

I’ve been telling people who’ll listen for some time that there’s a small but non-negligible chance of Hatoyama leaving office before the next Upper House election in September 2010. It’s unlikely that he’ll be indicted, but there is a fairly good chance that the media will conclude that he knew of the arrangements that had funneled personal and family money to his political operations in violation of the political financing law, likely from the very beginning of his political career. He has a fairly good chance of riding it out, though, because he’s not being accused of taking money—essentially, he’s a miniature Bloomberg/Corzine. Still, his past statements regarding LDP politicians who have run afoul of the political financing laws—he has consistently called for their heads regardless of their personal complicity—are coming back to haunt him. His problems are compounded by his consistent fumbling, rambling and bumbling on the issues. He’s definitely undershooting the high hopes and low expectations of the public that swept the DPJ into office. But, as veteran economist AS said, it still beats no hopes, no expectations. (Now what could he have been referring to, hmm?) So he can still win by default.

From the Indian Ocean to Offshore Somalia?

I’ve been telling people that taking the JSMDF escort ship/destroyer that has been accompanying the refueling vessel for the counter-terrorism operations on the Indian and redirecting it to the counter-piracy operations off the Somali coast would be a low cost way to square the circle. It appears that MOD and now the Hatoyama administration are also taking a serious look at this option. Let me put it this way: It certainly beats throwing even more money at the Afghan police than the Japanese authorities are doing right now—for which I’m not sure that the Afghan public in general would be grateful to Japan.

Translating the Titles of Government Officials

I intend to do a one-by-one follow-up of what I hoped were educated guesses about the personalities in the Hatoyama administration as well as the relationship between the Prime Minister and Ichiro Ozawa. I don’t think they’ve been that far off the mark, though some of the actual incidents have caught me by surprise.

In the meantime, for your amusement:

The Prime Minister’s Office’s lists of the English-language titles of cabinet and sub-cabinet political appointees, specifically the Ministers (大臣), Senior Vice-Ministers (副大臣) and Parliamentary Secretaries (政務官) here. Note the MOFA (and MOFA-only) substitute of the preposition “of” with “for”. MOFA has subtly distinguished itself in this and other ways with regard to its English-language titles, but has really gone overboard on its own website, where it calls its Senior Vice-Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries “State Secretaries” and “Parliamentary Vice-Ministers” respectively. I’m not sure how long MOFA has been doing this, but I do recall that an across-the-board Parliamentary Secretary-to-Parliamentary Vice-Minister upgrade was set in motion during the Koizumi administration when METI Parliamentary Secretary Satsuki Katayama (Lower House) reportedly complained that she would be mistaken for a “secretary.” When the authorities were slow to respond, she took the matter into her own hands and bestowed the “Vice-Minister” title on herself. Soon, all the “Parliamentary Secretaries” were calling themselves “Parliamentary Vice-Ministers.” I looked in fairly recently to find that they had for the most part reverted to “Parliamentary Secretaries” but that the Ministry of (not “for”) Foreign Affairs had retained the upgrade and given its “Senior Vice-Ministers” an additional twist. (Or had things always been so there?)

METI, incidentally, substitutes “of” with “for” in the case of its Parliamentary Secretary but not the Minister or Senior Vice-Minister. I understand the logic behind it— “of” and “for” are used discriminatingly for the non-political appointees as well for basically the same reason.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

East Asia Community

Anyone who talks about an East Asia Community should be forced to define that term and stick to that definition through that particular discourse. Otherwise, any talk is at best meaningless. I think that this is a rule that should be generalized through all public discourse. It’s the only way to enforce basic rules of logic.

That’s it for today. Thanks for visiting.

Forward and Backward in Time

I found that I was not the only person with a college degree who had problems with intuitively grasping the meaning of “forward” “ and “backward” in time when I saw the following passage in an analysis of prospects for sanctions on Iran.
“[T]he new revelations will quicken the sanctions timeline, bringing it back to late 2009.”
No one should have problems figuring out that the analyst meant that the sanctions were now likely to come more quickly (this was near the end of September), so the error went mostly undetected, but the correct phrase should have been “bringing it forward.” The antonym phrase is “push back.” It’s confusing for us, who have lived under unidirectional, chronological time for at least a couple of centuries, to have to come “back” from the future, but I didn't write the rules for Christian Europe. If you think I am sampling a Benedict Anderson riff here, you’re right. And not without shame either, since I have an aversion to anything that carries even a whiff of post-modernist narrative and yet I cannot deny that Imagined Communities is a masterful, insightful book.

Note that time travel eliminates the “unidirectional, chronological” nature of time. That is why “Back to the [already existent] Future” makes intuitive sense.

DPJ Crosses Red Line with Support for Anti-Helicopter Base Candidate

I’ve believed, like many people here, that if only Prime Minister firmed up and took the heat for sticking with the 2006 agreement to move the U.S. Marine helicopters on Futenma Base to a base to be built offshore of Camp Schwab on the coral seas of the remotest part of Nago City, everyone except the pacifist SDP would fall into line, the bulk of the Marine forces at Futenma could be relocated to Guam, and Futenma would revert to Japan to be used for non-military purposes. After all, the DPJ manifesto and the subsequent DPJ-SDP-PNP policy pact had only carried a vague reference to revisiting the U.S. troop realignment, and even the reprisal in the policy pact—hammered out on the DPJ side by Katsuya Okada—had been a grudging concession to the SDP. The DPJ would—did—have more than enough on the domestic agenda without U.S. relations becoming an unwelcome distraction. The projected landfill might be something of an eyesore, but few people would notice, as Henoko, the part of Nago where Camp Schwab now resides, is one of the most sparsely populated areas in all of Okinawa. More significantly, the helicopter base would bring welcome Tokyo money. Perhaps that is why Nago has elected three pro-base mayors—albeit professing great reluctance and a powerful sense of public duty—in a row. Thus, I had believed Foreign Minister Okada’s most recent brainstorm to relocate the helicopters to Kadena Air Base to be no more than a strawman, to be knocked down by the U.S. side—which the Obama administration promptly proceeded to do at all levels from the Defense Secretary on down—and by the Okinawans themselves—which the good assemblymen of the Kadena township immediately proceeded to do, in a unanimous vote that rejected the idea and, for good measure, called for easing the burden on their own shoulders.

So there the matter would end, and the DPJ administration would have to bow to the inevitable. But what do I know? For Okada has continued to pursue the Kadena option as his “personal proposal,” and at least one news report claims that a senior member of the ruling coalition (phrasing that indicates that the person is not a member of the Hatoyama administration) has sounded out the locals with a scrap-and-build plan to move 28 out of the 48 U.S. F-15s stationed on Kadena Base. I am sure that the Obama administration will be very surprised, and not in a nice way, if the Hatoyama administration ever puts this on the negotiating table. I cannot believe that the Hatoyama would put placating the DPJ (and its own most radical, ex-Socialist elements) ahead of Japan and the United States’ individual and joint security concerns, but, as Okada himself admits, there’s no way of moving the helicopters to Kadena if it increases the net burden. Besides, the U.S. side has made it clear that air traffic control requirements preclude the location of the helicopter fleet conjointly with conventional aircraft on the existing space in Kadena.

So is Okada, and by extension Hatoyama, continuing to play the Kadena card as a show of exhausting all possible avenues? Perhaps. But in the meantime, the locals are getting restless. The good assemblymen of Nago have become irritated at the dithering and are threatening to rescind their offer to host the helicopters. An even more ominous turn in local politics, has the DPJ reportedly deciding to back an anti-helicopter base candidate against the pro-base incumbent in the January mayoral election. This, to me, effectively precludes the possibility of the Hatoyama administration giving the nod to Nago as the site within the year—for good, if the DPJ-backed anti-base candidate wins,

What will the fallout of the birth of an anti-base administration in Nago be like? In the near future, nothing—on the ground at least. The relocation of the U.S. troops from Futenma grinds to a stop, and everything is frozen in situ. But frustration and mistrust will build up among everyone involved—the people of Futenma, the Obama administration, the U.S. military, the Japanese national security establishment—with longer-term, negative consequences all around.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

My Thanks Go to You

To those of you who have inquired, I thank you for your concern. Family matters have kept me preoccupied. I hope to resume soon, if possible, tomorrow.

Thanks again.

Jun Okumura

Monday, September 21, 2009

Shakedown, or… Shakedown? The First Days of the Coalition

The following is my response to Mark’s comment here. Personal circumstances have forced me to neglect my self-assumed obligation to people who comment on my blog. I’ll cover them all in due course, but now that I have a little more time (for today at least), I’ve decided to adopt the LIFO principle for my backlog. (Sorry, Matt, etc.)

And I promise to get back to those writing proposals of mine as soon as I can. Sorry, GD, NF.

Mark: Sadly for those of us who need a major Japanese politic theater fix, given the huge DPJ victory in the 2007 HOC election, nothing short of a miracle will give the LDP-Komeito coalition an HOC majority in the 2010 election. That being said, the main bumps on the road so far:
Minister of State for Postal Reform Shizuka Kamei’s turf fight with MIAC Minister Kazuhiro Haraguti, as Haraguti dares to opine on the future of Japan Post, an institution over which he, as MIAC Minister has formal jurisdiction and knows inside out.

Minister of State for Financial Services Kamei’s turf fight with MOF Minister Hirohisa, as Fujii expressesd reservations over Kamei’s 3-year moratorium for bank loans to small and medium enterprises. The MOF Minister has partial or total jurisdiction over all financial Japangos, and will have to cough up the fiscal resources necessary to compensate the banks in the event the Hatoyama administration decides to implement the PNP proposal.

PNP leader and representative for the Intra-Cabinet Party-Leader Trilateral Shizuka Kamei’s verbal jousting with MOF Minister Hirohisa over the DPJ’s promise for an across-the-board child allowance. Kamei wants to set an income ceiling, so as not to benefit the wealthy…

…do I see a pattern emerging?

BTW, in the last endeavor, Kamei is joined by:

SDP leader and representative for the Intra-Cabinet Party-Leader Trilateral—as well as Minister of State for Social Affairs—Mizuho Fukushima.

Speaking of the Intra-Cabinet Party-Leader Trilateral, the third party will not always be the Prime Minister. In fact, the DPJ participant is more often than not likely to be Naoto Kan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for National Strategy, who happens to be p!ssed off (if media reports are to be believed) because his DPJ policy base has been kicked out from under his other foot as Ichiro Ozawa (and Hatoyama) abruptly decided to abolish the DPJ Policy Research Council—not a bad decision per se, considering the new setup replacing it that will potentially tighten the hold of the Cabinet over the policymaking process. (Here, I disagree with some of the MSM thinking on this measure.) The idea (again according to media reports) was to have Kan assume the PRC Chair, which would have made him the Policy Czar, the double-headed eagle as far as substance was concerned.

MLIT Minister Seiji Maehara’s public works woes assumed as the consequence of including the cancellation of the Yanba Dam construction, in Maehara’s words “because it’s in our manifest” (in my view carelessly inserted), as well as JAL’s business woes precipitously dumped in his lap. I didn’t see these two coming, and neither of these lend themselves to easy solution. Yanba Dam reminds me of Tokyo Governor Yukio Aoshima’s fulfillment of his campaign promise to shut down the Tokyo Expo—a very unpleasant precedent for the past and future DPJ would-be-king.
There may be more, but I think that’s enough. I have no idea if these are portents of things to come—in which case the whole of the Hatoyama Cabinet will be much smaller than its parts—or merely a shakedown process of an untested policy vehicle that will soon hit its stride.

Stay tuned, folks.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Quick Note: More on Hatoyama Cabinet Trouble Spots

Bad week for me; so, from my latest email:
Nagatsuma's body language was all wrong. If he'd come in smiling and waving, he would have received a standing ovation accompanied by a collective sigh of relief. In personal relationships, it's easy to get what you wish for, I guess. Just as troubling if not more so has been the report that he wanted the public pension so badly he was willing to take the Deputy Minsister's post. The Hatoyama administration needed him as one of the faces of the administration, so it forced a switch on Sengoku, who had to take the administrative-reform at-large portfolio instead. This, if true—indeed Nagatsuma is only a 4th-term HOR (I like this abbreviation)—highlights Nagatsuma as an obsessive, insensitive figure. It enhances my fear that he will be unable to make the transition from crusader to administrator. That, and Kamei's bully instincts, then Kan, is how I rank the Hatoyama administration's potential fault lines.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Preliminary Thoughts on the Hatoyama Administration

My life has been taking/may be about to take some dramatic turns, so I don’t have enough time to generate meaningful stuff for this blog right now. So for the time being, much of what you see here will be material produced for other purposes. Such as following, which is my end of a Q&A as the response to an email that I received last night soliciting my comments regarding the Hatoyama Cabinet, typos corrected:
1. Very solid Cabinet, the strongest across the board that I've seen in a long time, if ever. Remember, Hatoyama, Kan, Okada, and Maehara are in a sense a throwback to the LDP faction leaders of the 50s and 60s, men who built, not inherited, their power bases from scratch. And old-school Kamei and SDP Fukushima are just as powerful personalities, if not more so. I'm not aware of any weak spots, though Toshimi Kitazawa came as a total surprise to me, with one year as the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the House of Councilors as his only significant exposure to the field. I did go through a few Committee records, where he came across as calm and collected, competent. I was also mildly surprised at not seeing Yoshihiko Noda, the other center-right leader, in the Cabinet*. But otherwise, it's a very Ozawa-Not Cabinet.

2. I don't know enough about the appointees to rank them. I'll give you the following instead.

Nagatsuma and Maehara will generate the most important headlines because they will be going after big game: the healthcare and pension systems, and public works. On the MHLW portfolio, Nagatsuma must remember that it's more than going after the missing pension accounts and the people responsible for that. He must show that he is more than a crusader, that he has the policy chops and leadership skills to bring the two systems in line with our future needs and fiscal constraints. Maehara's job is to slash public spending--a difficult task that is sure to alienate local powers. But he has to do it, if only to go some ways to finance all the spending promises and tax cuts that the DPJ has promised. I see two potential trouble spots: a restless Naoto Kan clashing with the Ministry Ministers, and a turf battle between Haraguchi—by all accounts one of those articulate, new-school policy wonks—and Kamei over the Post Office. Both the DPJ and PNP oppose the Koizumi privatization, but beyond that, I'm sure people like Haraguchi have a rather different view of where to go from that. Also, Kamei's heterodox views regarding financial services, his other portfolio, has a chance of bringing him into conflict with other Cabinet Ministers and the BOJ. I think Kamei is the joker in the pack, particularly since he has less to lose than the other Ministers. Fukushima has a safety portfolio, I think.

3. None of the people that I have an opinion on is "weak." That will be the weakness if Hatoyama is unable to keep everyone on message. He's probably as good as anyone else in the DPJ for that role.

4. It's Hatoyama's Cabinet, and Ozawa's party. Am I the only one that thinks it looks a lot like the Nakasone-Tanaka LDP of the 80s? That didn't turn out too badly, did it? Personally, I don't think Ozawa will meddle on the policy side. I think he has his dream job, another crack at sticking the knife into the LDP heart without the distasteful job of being accountable to the media.

That's it. Back to work. And preparing a late dinner.

Jun Okumura
Perhaps I should have also referred to Fujii in 3. That may have been my contrarian streak kicking in. Let me add that I’m pretty impressed with the way the Hatoyama administration is handling the administrative appointments as well. The message seems to be: If you’re okay with us, we’re okay with you. He trusts (but will verify) that the bureaucracy will follow where his administration leads—which is something I’ve been predicting for a while. He looked klutzy and indecisive throughout the lead-up to the election, but I’m impressed by the javascript:void(0)post-election process. For my sake—as far as I see it, I’m stuck with Japan—I hope the rest of his regime goes at least half as well. Otherwise, there are plenty of floater voters like me, if you catch my drift.

Sorry about your comments. I’ll get back to them later. Honest. I really, really feel bad about not responding, since dialogue is the point of it all.

* Noda is reportedly being taken care of with the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary’s job on the HOR side, not exactly a political embarrassment, especially for a policy wonk like him.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Quick Note: The Ozawa Party and the Ozawa-Not Administration

I may have touched on this before, but take a look at where the names fingered by the media for the Hatoyama Cabinet were when the Hatoyama-Kan DPJ, the Ozawa Liberal Party and lesser mortals merged to create the bigger, better DPJ in 2003:
Hirofumi Hirano, Chief Cabinet Secretary: independent from moderate labor union and close associate of Hatoyama
Naoto Kan, National Strategy Bureau Chief: DPJ
Hirohisa Fujii, Finance Minister: premerger Liberal Party, but bad blood between when he went public with his desire to see the latter step down during the political finances scandal
Katsuya Okada, Foreign Minister: The People’s Voice, parted ways with Ozawa when the latter split the New Frontier Party
Masayuki Naoshima, METI Minister?: DPJ
Yoshihiko Noda, ?: DPJ
Seiji Maehara?: DPJ
Tatsuo Kawabata?: DPJ
If you think that this looks a lot like the DPJ leadership minus Ozawa’s people—say, Diet whip Kenji Yamaoka and House of Councilors DPJ Chief Azuma Koshiishi—you’re right, it does. So Ozawa and his people run the party while the rest of the party runS policy? The resemblance to the old LDP becomes more than passing if you remember that Hatoyama beat Okada only with Ozawa’s help—shades of the unholy Nakasone-Tanaka union—and that Ozawa’s rivals lead their own group of likeminded Diet members, in contrast to the caretaker faction heads of today’s—yesterday’s?—LDP.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The DPJ leaders reportedly joining the Cabinet are more than just political players. They are mainly first-generation politicians who have shown genuine policy chops over their careers. And Yasuhiro Nakasone turned out pretty well for the DPJ—and Japan.

I won’t be surprised to see surprises tomorrow, when Hatoyama and Ozawa come to an agreement on Cabinet and major party assignments, but this looks like the shape of things to come, so I thought I’d mention it here.

Incidentally, I now think that tomorrow’s assignments will be completed without a major hitch. I still believe the second and third-tier Diet member assignments to the ministries and agencies as well as to secondary party posts is going to be a messy affair—unless Ozawa directs the traffic.

Now, back to work.

Quick Note: DPJ Decision to Let Cabinet Ministers Choose Their Own Political Appointees Will Come Back to Haunt It

I called the looming political challenge over the DPJ rollback of the FY2009 supplementary budget. The next problem in my view is the reconciliation of the Ministers’ right under the Hatoyama edict, the Cabinet’s pro forma right to choose political appointees, and Ichiro Ozawa’s free hand in selecting DPJ members for party and Diet posts? If deciding how to make the Ozawa group swallow Hirohisa Fujii’s candidacy for the MOF portfolio, imagine how difficult it is going to be to decide what to do simultaneously with 17 Cabinet posts and more than 80 other Diet member political appointees, as well as… You see the point.

Quick Note: “Right-Wing” LDP Looks to Tanigaki to Lead It Out of the Wilderness? Figures

The most recent reports have metrosexual, preternaturally youthful sexagenarian—and notable dove—Sadakazu Tanigaki declaring for the LDP Presidency with party elders’ blessings. It’s somewhat depressing, if, with 20/20 hindsight, inevitable that preternaturally youthful baby Nobuteru Ishihara wimp out, but it’s more distressing that his fellow quinquagenerian Shigeru Ishiba continues to dither on the sidelines. Their reluctance to challenge their elders continues even after the historic defeat.

The silver lining is that a Tanigaki leadership will lay to rest once and for all imbecilic pronouncements such as, “Analysts say the party seeks to reverse Japan’s growing isolation in the region under decades of right-wing Liberal Democratic rule.” Any report that is able to ignore all of Japan’s relationship with its Northeast Asia neighbors since no later than its historical accord with China in 1972 under Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka except the fallout from Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s stubborn insistence on visiting Yasukuni Shrine is not to be trusted. More to the subject of this post, I cannot help but point out, the LDP switched leadership from a dove (Kozumi) to a hawk (Shinzo Abe) to a dove (Yasuo Fukuda) to a hawk (Taro Aso) before it yielded the stage to the DPJ—which, incidentally, is the closest thing to the old-school, Sankakudaifuku LDP in Japan today, with its own Darkseid overlord and powerful faction leaders—unlike the desiccated “LDP” that desperately needs a business model remake. More about this later, I hope.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Quick Note: Is It the LDP Who Cannot Afford an Alliance with Komeito?

I’ve speculated before that Komeito might be better off without the LDP as its main squeeze—policy-wise, the DPJ would be a more natural ally—and the Komeito leadership has been doing nothing to dampen such speculation. Increasingly evident Komeito antsyness suggests that it’s time to ask, Can the LDP afford an alliance with Komeito?

The DPJ may be Komeito’s more natural ally, but as Ozawa’s aborted efforts at a Grand Coalition in 2007 show, the DPJ is also the LDP’s more natural ally. In fact, a permanent alliance with ideologically narrower—and perforce smaller—parties is inherently confining in that it requires perpetual accommodation of such coalition parties’ defining positions. Thus there is something to be said for the discretion to fight an election on its own undiluted platform, leaving the compromises for later maneuvering.

But what about the Komeito tithe? True, 10 percentage points represent a lot of votes. But it wasn’t that long ago that the bedrock support for the LDP was, say, 10 percentage points higher than the same for the DPJ. And media polls suggest that 1/3 of the voters are floaters. Keeping Komeito in the fold is likely to call for a lot of concessions, new and old, concessions that the LDP cannot afford too many of if it is to position itself opportunistically against the DPJ while lying in wait for the accumulation of a host of DPJ gaffes and errors, the kind of gaffes and errors that, over a period of 3 years and Prime Ministers, consigned the LDP to a severely truncated opposition bench. The odds might be better for the LDP if it went off on its own for the time being, honing its own message; the better to attract the floater vote, which will be looking for the next political black, ready to abandon the DPJ, the same way that it jilted its long time flame, the LDP.

I’m not ready to hazard a guess one way or the other, but it’s at least useful to remember that the coalition entailed costs for the LDP as well.

I’m seriously behind on counter-comments. Sorry, later. Things happening.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Would It Make More Sense to Translate It as “Conventional State”?

You know, that “normal country” thing. I do believe that post-WW II Japan has been an “unconventional state,” constitutionally speaking. And it worked. But “abnormal country”? I think not.

No time for anything else today. Tomorrow for sure.

Monday, September 07, 2009

“A More Perfect Death”?

Mortality has absorbed more of my attention lately…

Richard Ross (one wonders if this was not some kind of Freudian slip) Douthat makes an ingenious argument against assisted suicide in this NYT op-ed. In place of the usual death-panel argument of the slippery slope, “especially under government-managed health care, to some sort of death-by-bureaucrat,” he offers the idea that “in the profligate, Promethean United States, it probably won’t lead to rationing-by-euthanasia. It’s just as likely to become one more ‘intervention’ that we insist every health insurance plan should cover — on our way, perhaps, to a rendezvous with fiscal suicide.” On the way, he argues that American “instincts run so strongly toward unlimited spending that it’s much easier to imagine the government going bankrupt paying for extreme life-saving procedures than it is to imagine a suddenly cost-conscious bureaucracy pressuring doctors to administer lethal overdoses.” In other words, assisted suicide is the cherry on top of the exploding fiscal cake of nationalized medicine—America the profligate, in death as in life.

Douthat’s argument against assisted suicide sets aside the familiar, ethical objections and ventures into the culturalist realm. As such, it immediately sends my skepticometer readings through the roof. Still, it’s more logically consistent than any death-panel argument I’ve heard so far from opponents of universal healthcare with a public option.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Choices for Komeito

I think that Komeito has three plausible choices in the run up to the next HOR election:
1) Stick with LDP and hope that the changing winds will blow a few HOR SMD seats their way.
With Komeito’s 10%+ available for LDP SMD candidates, it remains a plausible option for at least one more HOR election.

2) Go with the DPJ and get a seat (or two) at the cabinet table.
As your comment implies, this yields immediate benefits for the Komeito leadership. And like you, I can’t figure out a way for the DPJ to help Komeito in the 2010 HOC election either. Moreover, the DPJ will have a hard time making concessions in the next HOR election because it will have incumbents in all the SMD seats that Komeito covets.

3) Go independent and become an HOC/HOR-PR party, offering its support for policy concessions.
Be the party of conscience, standing up for the little guys and keeping the big boys honest. Who knows, non-Sokagakkai voters may decide to give it a second look. Come to think of it, that’s what the Komeito game plan used to be. With two major, middle-of-the-road parties to choose from, Komeito could be the ultimate swing party. It could even join an administration or two if it thinks it’s getting enough concessions. And the DPJ might need them sooner rather than later, depending on the outcome of the 2010 election.
I think I remember Gerry Curtis suggesting something like 3) between the 2004 and 2005 elections.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Cabinet Begins to Take Shape

Naoto Kan, National Strategy Bureau chief (he will do double duty as the DPJ policy council chairman); Hirohisa Fujii, Finance Minister; Katsuya Okada, Foreign Minister—that’s definite, according to the media. No surprises there if you’ve been following rumors the last few days. The Foreign Ministry is not much of a consolation prize if you want to be at the heart of DPJ policymaking, where the domestic agenda will scarf up all the political capital that the Hatoyama administration can muster. Foreign policy and national security issues will be unwanted distractions to Ichiro Ozawa’s 2010 plans. The silver lining for Okada is that he’ll be insulated from the fallout if the economy and/or DPJ manifesto goes bad, which would put him in a place to pick up the pieces in the event of a 2010 House of Councilors election disaster, not yet a likely event by certainly a plausible one.

I expect Fujui to acquit himself well; Kan’s performance depends, I’d say, on the quality of the staff that he manages to assemble around himself.

Ozawa, for Better or Worse and Other Hatoyama Thoughts

The political world continues to revolve around Ichiro Ozawa as he is tapped by Yukio Hatoyama to take over the DPJ Secretary-General post. Several things indicate that Ozawa is not going to make it easy for anybody, including the Prime Minister in-waiting:
1) Hatoyama had planned to hit the ground running by pick the head of the National Strategy Bureau, the Finance and Foreign Ministers, and the Chief Cabinet Secretary as soon as the election was over, but quickly gave up the idea when allies SDP and PNP objected for fear of being marginalized in the policy formation process. Now, he has settled on a Chief Cabinet Secretary—close associate and reputed troubleshooter Hirofumi Hirano—as well a new Secretary-General, both decisions precipitated at the instigation of the Ozawa crowd if media reports are to be believed.

2) This slap in the face to incumbent Secretary-General Katsuya Okada undermines his authority just when he needs all the support that he can get from the party leadership in the ongoing negotiations with his SDP and PNP counterparts for a policy agreement as the prerequisite to a coalition government. From their point of view, why bother negotiation with a lame duck when the real power has shifted elsewhere—assuming that it had ever been otherwise?

3) Ozawa already held sway over much of the Diet rank-and-file through his domination of the election process from choosing and grooming candidates to managing their campaigns. As Secretary-General, he will hold the keys to the burgeoning party coffers—the DPJ’s government subsidy alone leaps from 11.832 billion yen (2009) to 17.32 billion yen (2010) while the LDP drops from 15.733 billion to 10.467 billion. Registers—as well as handle appointments to party positions. For most practical purposes, it’s his party now.

4) According to the Yomiuri,, on August 3, Ozawa arrived at party headquarters around 10:30PM to meet Hatoyama. He went into the party President’s room with a frown and came out with a smile because he had received a request—accepted—from Hatoyama to be the Secretary-General. As he is leaving the room, in full view of the press, he says to Hatoyama, “I was having dinner; so, I’m sorry I was late.” It may be nothing more than just another gauche moment for Ozawa; if this were a movie, it would be a classic “I made you, I can break you” putdown.
The Hatoyama-Ozawa storyline is a godsend for the post-election media, and Ozawa is not exactly starving the beast. Other incidents such as Hatoyama’s flip-flop over the impromptu, burasagari-clinger interviews, where the interviewee talks to the reporters in the corridors, in transit and his notorious ”anti-globalism screed*, not to mention the looming political financing prosecution of his ex-aide, suggest that Prime Minister Hatoyama, like his most recent predecessors, will be generating his due share of distractions.

* I am aware that there is a much longer text on his website, and that the condensed version distorts his views. Indeed, the original is prefaced by a lengthy explanation of the democratic impulses that gave rise to the concept yūai. However, I’m not sure that explaining yūai as a response to “totalitarianism, which tried to achieve equality at all costs, and capitalism, which had fallen into self-indulgence m which according to his people,” then depicting Japan as a nation “caught between the United States, which is fighting to retain its position as the world's dominant power, and China which is seeking ways to become one” is not overly impolitic. Note also that the original text repeatedly calls the United States a hegemon (覇権国家) and China as a nation seeking to become one. That is not the language of fraternité.

A New Excuse for That Midnight Snack

“Because it’s good for you.”

Money quote: “A low thigh circumference seems to be associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease or premature death.”

“Japan's new government and its first tough call”

This Foreign Policy post* grew out of a memo that I wrote in anticipation of the DPJ victory. One part of the memo will be incorporated in a document that goes to Eurasia Group clients and another became the seeds of what you see there, on the call, which is basically a Eurasia Group blog. (The rest lies undead, in a hard disk here, hard disk there; such is the fate of the unwanted children of our feverish imaginings.)

You won’t see much of me there; I rarely offer my opinions unless asked. Besides, Ross Schaap knows and understands far more than I do the arcana of Japanese politics and—crucial to the Eurasia business—its interaction with the economy. Also, there’s the little matter that Japanese politics did not have much of an effect on the economy. To put it another way, Japan was not a significant source of political risk for investors and more broadly the markets. Until now. You can actually see the side effects of the lack of interest in the quality of the hastily cobbled together post-election coverage in the English-language media.

In any case, the call*, as the subtitle “political futures from Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group*” suggests, the posts are about the likely, not the should be.

* Ian skipped so many grades he’s known as the Doogie Howser of political science. The side effect of that is that he never learned to use capital letters properly.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Sw!nger Komeito?

Komeito went into to the 30 August House of Representatives election with 31 seats and came out with only 21. Not satisfied with giving the junior coalition member a haircut, the Japanese electorate kicked out the Komeito leadership—all the single-member-district candidates including the party leadership had declined to take out insurance policies in their local proportional representation blocs, and were summarily rejected by their SMD constituents—in the bargain. Media reports carry understandable grumbling from the rank-and-file about the wisdom of the current relationship with the LDP.

As the proprietor of the Shisaku blog has pointed out in another forum, Komeito supporters, i.e. 8,000,000 or so eligible Sokagakkai voters, swung roughly 10 percentage points of the overall vote to the LDP in the proportional representation blocs*. This appears to have also been the case in past HOR elections under the current mixed membership-single non-transferable vote system. That’s a 20 percentage-point wing that the Komeito-Sokagakkai team can engineer at will, if their steadfastness within the coalition during the maelstrom was any indication. I also note that the DPJ majority’s center-left leanings are closer to Komeito thinking—pro-Asia, pro-individual, pro-handout—than the somewhat more rightish LDP core. Look at the manifestos, and the old Sokagakkai-Ozawa liaison.

Speaking of Ozawa, Gakkai-Ozawa animosities are widely considered the biggest obstacle for a potential DPJ-Komeito matchup. Perhaps. But this is politics. From the DPJ’s point of view, Komeito is a more natural ally policy-wise than the Social Democratic Party to the left and the People’s New Party to the right. And still has 21 seats in the House of Councilors after two election losses of its own, a baseline number that in a coalition would give the DPJ a wide margin of error in the 2010 HOC election. From Komeito’s point of view, the downside of a pre-HOC election deal is that after the switch, it may have to wait as many as 3 years before it receives the payoff in the next HOR election. An HOC payoff is just about impossible to engineer because there are only 29 single member districts in the HOC and none of them favor Komeito, predominantly urban party.

* If you can read Japanese, it’s easy to make this out from the third table in this Wikipedia entry (source: Jiji Tsūshin). Shisaku does more arithmetic here.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Shūchoku Nakagawa Please Stand Up…

…and please…leave the room?

Page one of the evening edition Yomiuri is putting up, as I expected, Masuzoe, Ishiba and Ishihara—the headline belongs, of course, to Hatoyama, but at least they made it to page one without committing a crime, and that should count—and…do my eyes deceive me? Sadakazu Tanigaki? Oh well, so much for my predictive powers. At least Hidenao Nakagawa’s ambitions have been relegated to page two.

What those four men—Masuzoe, Ishiba, Ishihara and Tanigaki have in common, of course, is that none of them lost an SMD election—Masuzoe is an Upper House member. And Big Nakagawa lost. It’s as simple as that. But where’s the right-wing shift that experts have been looking for post-election? Why Tanigaki’s—yes, I find even the speculation hard to believe, though I find him personally so likeable—LDP old school-left to Ishihara’s LDP technocrat-center?

In a word, face. The LDP right does not have a convenient babyface on deck. You can bet that if the LDP right had a Hiranuma in waiting, it would have forced him on the rest of the LDP, and the rest of the LDP would have gone along.

As if we shouldn’t have expected this from a party that was willing to elect in succession a nativist-moderate (Yoshiro Mori), an opportunist-dove (Junichiro Koizumi), a nationalist-conservative (Shinzo Abe), old-school-dove (Yasuo Fukuda), and a nationalist-moderate (Taro Aso) after the first one turned out to be a PR disaster.

I’ll get back to that, Ross. But for today, I am whacked, it’s 10 PM already.

Recomendations for a DPJ Administration: The Sequel

I met Tobias Harris last night, when he reminded me that he had responded on his blog to this post on my blog. It did point to a serious technical error in my original comments at the very beginning, so perhaps an acknowledgement of my mistake is overdue...

1. Oops, I forgot about the FY2009 budget. Remind me not to contest the numbers from a Japan strategist. Of course, you are right, Ms. Fink, that was not the core of my argument, which is that, basically, much of the “large pool of capital, much of which has yet to be dispensed, ripe for spending to boost the economy,” may in fact be gone or will be hard to revisit, as the DPJ says that it intends to do. To put it another way, “Mr. Hatoyama and other party leaders’ chances of boosting “their credibility by offering a more realistic stimulus plan, which will establish more concrete funding,” appears to be low and very risky as far as FY2009 is concerned simply because half the fiscal year will be gone before the DPJ can put a hold on things and another month, minimum, before it can put its own plan into action. Much of the money will be gone, or as good as gone well before the next FY.

2. I’ve always had grave personal reserves about dipping into the FX Special Account profits. The Account looks very much like the biggest second biggest carry-trade operation on the planet. Unless you ignore currency risk, I don’t understand how it can be considered less costly than borrowing from the market. Between tax revenues and government bonds, it is much closer in nature to the latter than the former. I don’t see that as “buried treasure” at all. But maybe that’s just me. (Note also that not all of the 4 trillion—in a good year!—will be available for stimulus, since a large chunk of those profits has more or less become incorporated into the annual revenue for the General Budget.) The budgetary effect of lending the money to JBIC depends on the spread between JBIC borrowing from the market and the interest rate on the loans to JBIC (LIBOR+0.3%, for 5 years, apparently). My guess is that it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the 88 trillion yen General Budget.

3. I have no quarrels about the long-term desirability of balancing the budget. I had grave doubts about the desirability, policy- and politics-wise, of your suggestion that “the DPJ should offer measurable annual targets for deficit reduction” ahead of the polling. Making up numbers out of thin air in the last ten days of the political campaign appeared not only to be a act of technocratic folly but would also put a big fat “kick me” on the DPJ butt for the LDP aim at for the next 4 years. I think I made my case sufficiently clear in the original post, but there you are.

4. Going forward, I have no objection to the points that you make here to the extent that arguments regarding FY2009, 2010 and beyond are properly distinguished.

5. A “promise to postpone indefinitely any increase in the consumption tax” is a political, not economic statement. As such, it will be judged politically. Now the DPJ has pretty much said so in exactly if not in exactly those terms (as properly translated into Japanese). I think we should agree to disagree now about the political implications of explicitly putting “indefinitely” into play while at the same time setting primary balance targets.

6. As for widening the tax base, eliminating/cutting back on special tax measures, even under revenue-neutral constraints, is technically not that difficult to do, though it will encounter political resistance from vested interests. I will not offer any substantive comments on your suggestion stricter enforcement of existing guidelines, since I know next to nothing about the laws and regulations—how strictly they are enforced, in whose favor ambiguities are resolved, and whether the tax authorities have enough underutilized human resources to make the extra effort—to guess what kind of impact such action will have on government finances, and how soon.

7. Regarding your final counterpoint, my answer: Yes, but. All op-eds, at least in media outlets for general consumption, occur within a commonly shared context (or a commonly shared set of conflicting contexts). I see your op-ed as basically a call for the continuation of the wholesale reform that Koizumi politically and Takenaka technocratically set in motion yet left woefully uncompleted—or its logical extension. But, with ten days to go between your op-ed and the election, the K-T reform had been rejected in rhetoric and manifesto by the leaderships of all the parties except perhaps the Your Party (whose tentative feelers for a post-election coalition were summarily rejected by the DPJ Secretary-General). Now, Ms. Fink, you are an economist. You have the right to say, “Well, this is the best course of action for the DPJ and possibly Japan. You comments occur within the political realm, which is not where my opinions in this instance are unfolding.” But Tobias, you are a political scientist. Do you really think that an op-ed that does not give any recognition to the basic political context into which your recommendations are being injected is appropriate? In fact, you do acknowledge the political context of your technical opinions when you write of the DPJ/Hatoyama’s “credibility.” I do not believe that you can reject the consideration of the political and likely technical difficulties and impossibilities of your recommendations and argue for their political efficacy at the same time.

That’s about it.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The LDP: “Who’s Up Next?”

You’ll be reading all about why the DPJ won/LDP lost, and what tasks it faces in governing/rebuilding. I assume that most of the commentary will be at least plausible—the takeover has been three years in building, with at least many months to coalesce, so there’s a high degree of consensus—and it’s Monday. So I’ll post later if and when I come up with something to add. In the meantime, the side story to the LDP side story:
I think that Shigeru Ishiba is the most natural choice, given his national appeal as an honest broker, defense and agriculture creds, and a moderate/progressive outlook that will not alienate the urban floaters. And he gets to keep Aso’s Akiba crowd. Okay, he’s a little weird, but he's relatively youthful, projects sincerity, qualities that the LDP desperately needs. I’d say Nobuteru Ishihara is highly unlikely to emerge on top, though he will have obvious uses as a babyface. I expect Yoichi Masuzoe to be given a very prominent role, given the need to win the 2010 House of Councilors election. Ichita Yamamoto, another articulate middle-of-the-road HOC member, will also be promoted, at least in the media. Oh, and I think Yasufumi Tanahashi is the favorite to emerge as the U-50 leader, though I see him as more an operator than public face.
It’s my response to an inquiry from a colleague, edited for public consumption. If I’m spot on—something that I’m not too good at—the public face of the LDP will have a geographically balanced rural/provincial/urban profile with a surprisingly moderate/progressive profile. I say “surprisingly” because some experts see a rural, conservative shift, given the drubbing in the metropolitan centers and among the Koizumi Kids.

Let me just add that many LDP elders are returning, and the ones that made it back on the SMD ticket need to be watched to see if they try to reassert their authority. Fat chance, you might think, but I suspect that Yoshiro Mori in particularly will have a hard time stepping aside gracefully.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

“The Most Touching Middle School Class Ever?”

Not really; everyone who has not had an unremittingly unhappy adolescence—it is not unknown—knows that he/she is privy to “The Most Touching Middle School Class Ever.” That being said, the YouTube clip is most… fetching, is the word for it, I think.

Yet I couldn’t help notice. Tell me, what do you notice that distinguishes between the two groups of children (Grade 6?) separated by the aisle? Besides the colors of their shirts?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Absentee Voting…Seals, Delivers Election for DPJ

According to media reports, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications announced (but annoyingly neglected to post on its website) that 10.94 million people cast absentee ballots between August 19-28. That’s an eye-opening 10.49% of eligible voters, up from 6.72 million in the 2005 HOR election and 10.80 million, the previous high, in the 2007 HOC election. With one more day left, the media speculation is that the ultimate total will surpass 12 million.

This is a clear indication that the overall turnout will be very high. The floaters are obviously are aroused; that is more bad news for the LDP, if there could be such a thing.

Some Thoughts on Gender, and Princelings, in LDP Politics

I have been looking at the election through a forum consisting mostly of Japan experts. It has been an educative experience. You can catch most of the recent parts if you join the SSJ Forum. The following started out as a comment on a thread on gender in Japanese (and particularly LDP) politics, but it morphed into something broader and meandering toward the end. Since cleaning it up and narrowing its focus to fit that thread will take too much time and effort, I’m posting it here. I know that a few people there also look into my blog from time to time, so it won’t be totally lost to the discussions there.

I have no doubt that the route to national politics is harder for women than it is for men. However, once nominated and elected, I wonder how important gender is compared to non-gender factors in determining the career paths of politicians.

Take “the phenomenon of female ‘assassins’ who win their first election but find themselves on the margins of the party structure, despite their seeming value to the party in terms of electoral battles.” Note that all LDP rookies regardless of gender have always found “themselves on the margins of the party structure.” I assume that virtually all the assassins regardless of gender are now running for their lives and that those that lost to Post Office exiles and had to get in by way of their parallel PR bloc candidacy have been forced to move over or move out in favor of the stronger SMD returnee—again, no gender bias here. In this regard, it is ironic that Yukari Sato has had to yield to another woman, the female princeling Seiko Noda.

Speaking of Noda, I find her case particularly instructive in looking at the LDP at the entry level. Noda got a boost very early in her Lower House career as a very young cabinet minister, in no small part because she was a woman. But unlike anther very junior cabinet minister, Kuniko Inoguchi (the relation between whose fate in the upcoming election on one hand and her gender on the other by no means clear on the basis of publicly available information), she was from very early on seriously talked about as future Prime Minister material, and I think that I understand why—beyond, of course, her undeniable personal charm and intelligence, which are useful attributes regardless of gender. For she was a princeling once removed (so, very strictly speaking not an heirloom Diet member, but still), and she first served, if somewhat briefly, in the prefectural assembly. In short, she did more than do it the “right” way, if the career paths of the last four LDP Prime Ministers including the incumbent are any indication. The irony is thus compounded by the fact that her electoral fate is in question precisely because of a local grudge—some of the local LDP politicians who sided with Sato have refused to support Noda—a traditional “bunretsu senkyo,” or “divided election.”

Yuko Obuchi is another female HOR member who has prospered early, and moreover cakewalking to a fourth term while still in her mid-thirties in an otherwise disastrous election for the LDP. Again, a princeling, who took the even more common, personal secretary-to heir(ess) route.

Noda and Obuchi, of course, are exceptions that prove the rule. Female princelings are and will be few and far between. For the two examples highlight one major reason why there have been so few female politicians in the LDP fold. The LDP has been an industry that has come to be dominated by small, family-owned businesses. And Japanese succession in family-owned businesses strongly favors the patrilineal, and daughters typically marry out, or take husbands who are then adopted into the family business. In the two cases, there were no males able and willing to rightfully claim precedent. It is also important in these two cases that they inherited young. If Prime Minister Obuchi had lived another ten years, to see his daughter marry and have children, would she have been in a position to inherit? Or would the mantle have been passed on to a more distant blood relative, or a non-relative personal secretary, or perhaps some local political figure acceptable to Obuchi supporters? Likewise Noda, whose family—she was adopted by her maternal grandfather Uichi Noda—skipped a generation.

Of course the closely-held firm as a business model may be in swift decline. The LDP, goaded by the DPJ, has followed suit by banning close relatives from running as official party candidates. Even if loopholes are found—ex. “independent” candidacies—politicians are likely to have fewer children, if they are anything like the rest of us Japanese. And the upcoming election may serve as a cautionary tale for only sons when they balance their 9-to-5 jobs in media conglomerates and Keidanren member corporations. Thus, chances will be greater that no potential heir, let alone a male one, can be found who is willing and able.

Now, for some answers…

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Did I Tell You I Don’t Twitter?

Money quote:
[Kristen Nagy, an 18-year-old from Sparta, N.J.’s] reluctance to use Twitter, a feeling shared by others in her age group, has not doomed the microblogging service. Just 11 percent of its users are aged 12 to 17, according to comScore. Instead, Twitter’s unparalleled explosion in popularity has been driven by a decidedly older group.
Actually, Roland was a dead giveaway.

You Know the LDP Is Doomed When…

Martin Fackler, as his wearable vending machine report shows, is as good as his sources—no more, no less. So, when he’s been mostly spot on in two consecutive articles here and here, on the imminent demise of the LDP, with appropriate anecdotes and interviews, then you can be sure that there won’t be any last minute reprieve for the Aso administration and its loyal supporters. Then, on what the proverbial two-handed blogger used to call the other hand…
Hokuto Yokoyama has run for political office four times, and lost four times, as an opposition candidate in this mountainous region known for its abundant apples, and its equally abundant loyalty to the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which has governed Japan almost continuously for more than a half-century.
It is true that Yuji Tsushima served 11 uninterrupted terms in the Japanese House of Representatives before he suddenly stepped aside on the eve of the upcoming election to let his son run in his place. It is also true that Tsushima had won Aomori District 1 in all four elections held since it was created in the 1994 conversion of the House of Representatives from the multimember single non-transferable vote system to the single-member district system. But this singular outcome obscures the fact that in those four elections, Tsushima only once managed to win a majority of the votes cast. In fact, he barely managed to raise his share of the total votes cast to 40.4% in the 2005 national LDP landslide from his personal all-time low of 39.7% in the 2003 election, while Hokuto Yokoyama put up a good fight in both elections. This hardly looks like an LDP stronghold to me. So what has been going on?

The last two election results causes Yokoyama’s claim that it was “a big turnaround from just a few years ago, when he still had to convince residents that the Democratic Party was not ‘a bunch of socialist revolutionaries’” to ring hollow. Besides, it’s hard to imagine anyone mistaking Yokoyama, an Ozawa acolyte, for a socialist. Couple Yokoyama’s close-but-no-cigar results with the consistently meager pickings for the Social Democrats and the Communists and we come closer to the truth. Aomori District 1 must be comprised of deeply traditional communities, where personal loyalties run deep. And past debts are not easily forgotten. Call it traditional, call it conservative, but do not call it LDP. And here, I go into some speculation. As one of the seven capos of the Tanaka action, Ozawa’s public works reach must have extended well beyond Iwate boundaries, and continue to resonate—and influence politics throughout the Tohoku region. Note that the DPJ does relatively well there compared to similarly conservative Kyushu. (This, incidentally, was what the Nishimatsu scandal was insinuating.)

Speculation, yes. But given the relative weakness of the LDP in Aomori District 1, shouldn’t Fackler have looked beyond the usual left-center-DPJ-kicking-LDP-butt narrative to possibly reveal the saga that may be playing out there? It almost makes you wish Norimitsu Onishi were here. But not quite. Because if he were, that might be the whole story.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

LDP’s PR Efforts

I haven’t been posting as much on the election as I might have done. In response to Mark’s comment, I give one big reason here, and, in the bargain, offer some thoughts on the LDP’s Hatoyamanova commercial (as I like to call it) and negative campaign efforts.

Some Speculation on the Causes of False Reporting in the Japanese Media

In my response to Janne’s comment here, I did some casual speculating about the reasons why the Japanese media is sometimes caught stretching the truth beyond legally tolerable limits. If anyone has any opinions or can point me to material (English or Japanese) on this subject, I would very much appreciate it.

Scott North in Asia Times: or, Why I Keep My Media Commentary to Major Media Outlets

A friend sent me this link. I don’t think that he’ll mind if I reprint my response here, somewhat edited to protect the innocent (i.e. me).
After six paragraphs, this essay goes seriously off track. More generally, I’ve noticed that many social scientists/sociologists of a certain generation are not really scientists/logists at all, but bad free association poets who happen to have put in five years earning PhDs, where they appear to have lost their last ties to reality. They are the kind of people who make Kim Jong Il and other anti-free speech activists almost tolerable.
To call this tripe is an insult to cow digestive organs. Robert B. Parker creates a spot-on imitation of such academics as the villain in one of his Spenser novels. Seriously, there are more appropriate bovine associations for this op-ed, if you know what I’m sayin’.

On the other hand, the Sudhir Venkateshes make up for the Scott Norths and then some.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Tabloids Are Divided

Japanese kiosk displays carry banners for the tabloids, which gives you a flavor of what the perceived focus of popular sentiment is on any given day. They got a lot of mileage the Noripi amphetamine incident, but the upcoming election has been a consistent headliner. Today’s headlines to the best of my memory:
LDP Showing Fundamental Strengths (52 districts); Yosano, Shiozaki, Koga Turning The Tide Yūkan Fuji

Tokyo 1 win, 24 losses [for the LDP in the SMD elections] Nikkan Gendai
Note that Yosano is one of the Tokyo candidates that must lose for the score to be 1-24. It helps to understand the gap when you remember that Yūkan Fuji belongs to the conservative Sankei media group while Nikkan Gendai belongs to the Kodansha group, a publisher which had its origins in the middle/low-brow market. Nikkan Gendai in particular takes a strongly anti-establishment approach. Every Prime Minister since I began taking an interest in those headlines has taken a drubbing in its pages, Koizumi coming across as little better than devil’s spawn.

That being said, I laud the tabloids for being the first to begin publishing stories about a 300-150 (more or less) landslide. I’m now convinced that they had access to people who knew the contents of internal polls.

I still mourn the demise of Uwasa no Shinsō, the monthly magazine that published all the news that was not fit to print, and worse.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Some People Think Out Loud, While Taro Aso…

If you believe Asahi Shinbun (and there’s no reason not to), at a Sunday night talkfest with a group of students:
Student: Isn’t it because young people don’t have enough money to get married that people don’t married and that leads to fewer children?

Aso: It’s better not to get married if you don’t have money; I think so too. You better not do such a thing thoughtlessly. It wasn’t like I was someone who didn’t have money. But I married late. Can you be respected when you’re not earning any money? That’s pretty difficult.
…But admit it though, we do have to agree with our Prime Minister—Money must have been the least of his problems in getting married.

Incidentally, in a new, “non-”campaign pamphlet—sorry, unavailable on the LDP website— the LDP is accusing the Japan Teachers’ Union for (among other things) promoting promiscuity. Now you’d think that with the disastrously low birth rates, the Aso administration would be thanking Nikkyoso for pushing unprotected teenage sex. But what do I know?

ADD: My bad. Here’s the pamphlet. Wait, there’s more!

Brief Thoughts on Post-Election LDP: Faction Leaders, Babyfaces, Etc.

Prime Minister Aso is the only faction leader in a position to campaign on behalf of other LDP candidates, but he is a mixed blessing at best. Otherwise, LDP faction leaders are either retiring—Yuji Tsushima—or have their hands full fighting for their own political lives. Most of the other LDP notables and other elders are in the same situation. It is likely that many of them will not return, and those that do will not have earned any political points from their junior colleagues. In the event, this has left the field open for the one LDP babyface who is by definition able and willing—Yōichi Masuzoe, Upper House member and the one of two bright spots (the other being Shigeru Ishiba) in the ill-fated post-Koizumi administrations—to amass political chits.

Much attention is being given to the near-inevitable devastation to the ranks of the Koizumi Kids* and the likely LDP drift away from major urban centers—the LDP is doing particularly poorly in Tokyo and Osaka—but there seems to be little talk about the consequences of a diminished, discredited, leadership. Note also that one other publicly popular (if not so much with his peers) figure Nobuteru Ishihara is a safe bet to keep his SMD seat—in Tokyo.

* ...which somehow prompts me to ask, are you one of those people who feel sorry for Ponyo’s siblings, Star Wars Stormtroopers, baby sea turtles, the nameless extras who spend their brief moments in this universe to amuse us before they pass away, unseen, unmourned?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Rural and Urban? Think Again

Is it my imagination, or do I keep seeing English-language commentary about the rural-urban dichotomy in Japan? Specifically:
Rural (conservative, communal, loyal) Japan is losing out to (liberal, individualist, fickle) urban Japan economically (less income, fewer jobs) and demographically (fewer, older). The collateral argument is that rural Japan is overrepresented in the Diet, skewing public policy in favor of preserving an aging, decaying society.
There is a measure of truth to this line of argument, but it does the injustice of obscuring the much broader narrative:
Japan is a profoundly urban nation, where the agricultural (and forestry and fisheries) population is only a small fraction of the total even in the poorest provinces. Japan’s problem, as any one of you who reads Japanese will know, is the growing gulf between the center (中央) and the regions (地方).
Center and region, of course, depend on where you (literally) are coming from. Take Tokyo. From an Omotesando perspective—okay, even from a Tachikawa perspective—my neighborhood definitely belongs to the boondocks. But a 20 year old in Gifu might happily trade his lot for a freeter existence (and second guitar in an indies band) and a one-room apartment near my local train station. No, it’s not about foreclosed farms in North Dakota, it’s the shuttered storefronts on Main Street, Youngstown.

Pockets of vibrant anomalies aside—broadcast TV does not lack for anecdotes of successful municipalities and even prefectures—and barring massive fiscal transfers to the periphery—as advocated in principle by the DPJ manifesto—nobody has offered the general public a credible course of action that will stem this tide…assuming that it is a desirable course of action.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

“What to Expect in the First Year of a DPJ Administration?” Not Quite…

I’ve been doing most of my thinking on the next election at an online forum. Here’s my response to one question that appears to stand on its own; plus a comment that I added when I used it in a communication with an East Asia analyst:

“I think there will be two important, early tests for the DPJ—it must figure out what to do with the FY2009 supplementary budget and the FY2010 budget. It wants to roll back the first one, which will be a hellish task. How it handles the FY2010 budget creation process will give us a idea of how successful it will be in keeping its troops in line. So when it wraps up a budget bill—hopefully with plenty of time to spare before the current fiscal year expires—we will have formed a general impression of the Hatoyama administration's competence. I think that this will determine the tone of media coverage and perforce go a long way in determining the electoral fortunes of the DPJ in the 2010 UH election.

There is one matter (of far lesser political consequence) that needs to be dealt with, and dealt with soon, on the international front as well. The DPJ will have to decide conclusively what to do with the refueling operations in the Indian Ocean. In the less likely case that it decides to continue them beyond the January deadline, the Hatoyama administration must submit an extension bill in the extraordinary session it will summon in, say, October. If it doesn't, the LDP will submit its own bill. I think that it's a negative for the DPJ either way, but not a serious one.”

My comments at the time being such, I also note that an effective non-combat boots-on-the-ground presence in lieu would make the Obama administration happy. But remember that Ozawa had to shelve a similar idea, and the situation in Afghanistan looks even more desperate now.

The Ideal LDP Candidate; and Only Tangentially Related, Punting on Yoichi Masuzoe

The 21 August Yomiuri carries a district-by-district, bloc-by-bloc account of all 300 single-member-district seats and 180 proportional-representation-bloc seats in the upcoming Lower House election and basically confirms what the other media polls, including the tabloid have been telling us: the DPJ is on its way to a smashing victory, taking over 300 seats, while the LDP will be lucky to wind up with 140 in all. Although the Yomiuri assessment comes with the usual caveat, it is based on a methodologically sound (or so it appears to this layperson), random digit dialing poll with approximately 350 responses in each of the 300 SMDs—Asahi, with less generous bean counters, had settle for half the SMDs then doubling the result to come up with the total—and good old-fashioned legwork, so it probably beats my crystal ball as far as the 30 August outlook is concerned.

In the process, most, if not all, of the LDP elders not named Taro Aso are at best running neck and neck with their DPJ challengers. Case in point: Gumma Prefecture, with its five SMDs. In District 1, 76 year-old PR bloc incumbent Koji Omi, alternating with the LDP’s SMD incumbent, who is taking Omi’s place as the top-ranked candidate on the LDP’s PR bloc list, is running neck and neck with the DPJ’s 48 year-old PR bloc incumbent. In District 2, 73 year-old incumbent Yakashi Sasagawa is trailing the DPJ’s 37 year-old PR bloc incumbent. In District 3, 75 year-old incumbent Yoshio Yatsu is trailing the DPJ’s 43 year-old challenger. In District 4, 73 year-old Yasuo Fukuda—second generation Prime Minister!—is running neck and neck with the 44 year-old DPJ challenger. Only in District 5 does the LDP incumbent have a clear road to victory—the code phrase appears to be: antei shita tatakai—the 35 year-old Yuko Obuchi, whose main challenger is a 72-year old Social Democrat running (poorly) with DPJ support.

Obuchi and her SDP challenger bring to mind one other LDP who is doing the antei shita tatakai thing—70 year-old Yamagata District 3 incumbent Koichi Kato, whose main challenger is a 61 year-old—you guessed it—SDP challenger running with DPJ support. In fact, whenever you see an LDP candidate not named Taro Aso in the lead in an SMD race, you’ll win a lot of money by betting that the main challenger is an SDP/People’s New Party/New Party Japan candidate running with DPJ support*.

There is one significant LDP elder, though, who is putting up a good fight against his DPJ nemisis—71 year-old Kaoru Yosano is in a dead heat against 60 year-old Banri Kaieda. This is remarkable because Yosano has an unwanted reputation as a weak campaigner and does not hold a seat in the old-Tokyo shitamachi neighborhoods, and has a record of 2 wins, 2 losses in 3 races against Kaieda to support his critics. One LDP candidate in Tokyo who trails her DPJ opponent but who is given a fighting chance by Yomiuri—the code term is “ippo riido” for the DPJ candidate—is 48 year-old Yukari Sato, a PR bloc incumbent who lost out in Gifu District 1 to incumbent and Post Office Penitent Seiko Noda (who ironically is trailing her yuui ni tatakai wo susumeteiru DPJ challenger rather badly) and had to parachute in to Tokyo District 5.

From these and more general observations, a composite picture emerges of the ideal LDP candidate: a youthful, photogenic figure with recognizable policy chops and favorable national media exposure—whose main opponent happens to be an SDP/PNP/NPJ candidate running with DPJ support.

Of course LDP elders are by no means a doomed species. Even if they lose, they can make it back by way of their PR bloc candidacies. But it helps to remember that the path will be narrower this time around. For example, in Hokkaido, Yomiuri gives the LDP only 2 PR bloc seats, while claiming that Nobutaka Machimura (64 year-old Machimura faction leader and putative Prime Minister candidate), Shoichi Nakagawa (56 years-old, but 8 terms and multiple cabinet and party leadership appointments under his belt) and Tsutomu Takebe (68 year-old Koizumi right-hand man and Koizumi kids mentor) all trail trial their DPJ challengers. Besides, authority will be harder to exercise when you’ve snuck back in through the backdoor and are facing the prospects of going up in your late 60s and 70s against a much younger incumbent at the next opportunity.

So what will the post-haircut LDP look like according to the Yomiuri, in the event that it is unable to defy the polls in the actual voting? A band of about 90 proven (SMD) winners and 50 (PR bloc) half-losers, and 150 outright losers making new plans for the next 3-4 years—or the rest of their lives. And you know what? There won’t be a place in the new ruling coalition for them. If I had to place a bet, I would put it on a united (by necessity) LDP picking itself up under a taint-free, relatively youthful Yoichi Masuzoe. To think, one year ago, I would never have said that.

* Koichi Kato is one party elder who is lapping the SDP opposition