Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Japanese Government Threat to North Korea

The Japanese government prepares to shoot down the North Korean ballistic projectile if it looks like it will fall on Japanese territory, and that’s a “threat to shoot down N. Korean satellite”? Since when has the C in CNN stood for “commie”? Who do they think they are, BBC?

Kidding. In fact, the article itself is pretty tame—again, reminding us of BBC.

The quest for online eyeballs can be pretty pathetic, though. For example, yesterday’s CNN segment on its reporter stalking AIG employees in London (after a NYT op-ed had already effectively eviscerated the mainstream media, CEO Edward Liddy and everybody in Washington including Obama) was Samantha Bee on The Daily Show without the laughs. If I am seeing the future of the media, it looks a lot like Geraldo.

The Ideal Boss: from the Meiji Yasuda Poll

Each year, Meiji Yasuda Life polls newly graduating corporate recruits and publishes the results on their web site. The main feature—from the media’s point of view at least—is the list of choice for the ideal boss, male and female. This year’s top ten:
1.Ichiro, professional baseball player
2.Shinsuke Shimada (comedian, actor, TV/radio show host)
3.Tsutomu Sekine (comedian, actor, TV/radio show host)
4.Tamori (comedian, actor, TV/radio show host)
5.George Tokoro (comedian, entertainer, TV/radio show host)
6.President Obama (has great comedic timing, host of greatest talk show on earth)
7.Tomomitsu Yamaguchi (comedian, actor, TV/radio show host)
8.Shinichi Tsutsumi (actor)
9.Atsuya Furuta (former baseball player, manager, and current commentator)
10.Toru Hashimoto (lawyer, current Osaka Governor).

1.Miki Maya (actress)
2.Miho Kanno (actress)
3.Ryoko Shinohara (actress)
4.Masami Hisamoto (comedian, actress, TV/radio show host)
5.Makiko Esumi (actress)
6.Hitomi Kuroki (actress)
7.Yuko Ando (TV newscaster)
8.Yuki Amami (actress)
9.Yukie Nakama (actress)
10.Harumi Edo (comedian, actress)
Note that they are almost all media-generated personalities. Even Governor Hashimoto, one of the two politicians on the list, first became famous as a gabby conservative lawyer-talking head on TV before he ran for governor. President Obama’s popularity is also very much that of a media sensation, though it is bound to wane as reality catches up with it: The global and US economies as well as Iran, North Korea and an assortment of international woes will quickly erode his prominence in Japan as well.

Within the parameters of media visibility that determines public taste, there is a clear gender gap. Five of the top ten male bosses are vaudevillians who parlayed their comedic skills into a successful acting—mostly though not exclusively limited to comedic roles but rarely authoritative—and hosting careers. They are of course media creations but, within that world are almost exclusively genuine authority figures, sort of on-stage directors. Even active ballplayer Ichiro’s popularity can be attributed to some extent to the real-world virtual captainship of the national team that the media ascribed to him in the Japanese victories in both of the two World Baseball Classics tournaments.

Not so the women. Except for the one comedian who can credibly list show host among her credentials and the one newscaster, they are all actresses—albeit many of them highly accomplished in other performing arts—who have in recent years portrayed lawyers, doctors, cops, businesswomen and other professional roles on TV and film. It is not their public personae but the sum of the fictitious roles that each persona assumes that the new corporate recruits in the survey see as the “ideal female boss”. Their “leadership” is twice removed from reality.

I suspect that this gender gap is more a reflection of the realities of Japanese TV—the subsidiary role of women there—than the actual mindset of the new recruits who were polled. The presence on the list of one of the few prominent females among the large number of show hosting comedians and the one female newscaster, as well as the preponderance of professional roles reflected in the choice of actresses is likely telling us that young people at least are willing to accept women in leadership roles. After all, when I was growing up, these people, these roles barely existed if any. But I’ll never have any measure of certainty until there is a poll that allows only a single, gender-free choice.

On another, related track, a five-nation world youth survey just released by the Cabinet Office (yet to appear on the CAO web site) shows that of the five nations surveyed (Japan, France, South Korea, U.K., U.S.), Japanese youths scored highest in terms of their interest in politics. Given such interest, it is a sign of the times that the only two politicians who made the top 20 in the Meiji Yasuda poll were two governors (the other being Miyazaki Governor Hideo Higashikokubaru, the comedian(!) turned politician, who placed 12th) and a foreign president. (Ten more actresses rounded out the top 20 for women.) Few things better symbolize the state of Japanese politics today, don’t you think?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Weekend Digression on an Oppressed Minority—the Gaijin

I should be telling you how the Public Prosecutors Office has been going after Toshihiro Nikai, the METI Minister, and how his case looks at least as bad as Ozawa’s and what I think that means and how that ties into the pox-on-both-houses public opinions polls that we’ve been seeing recently. I should then be comparing them to Elliot Spitzer and Thomas Dewey and other crusading, elected prosecutorial officials in the United Sates and what that means to governance. In short, adding to the greater debate. Alas, I do not have the time. And I am already drunk. So instead, I’m going to post an email response of mine, edited partly to protect the guilty, mostly...oh, enjoy.

But first, for those who are not permanent residents of Japan and do not follow the Japanese gaijin scene with slavish devotion, Arudo Debito is a naturalized citizen of Japan born in the United States who has devoted much of his public life to exposing and lobbying against what the gross mistreatment of foreigners in Japan. He achieved public reknown when he exposed heinous Hokkaido bathhouses who imposed a blanket ban on gaijin in an ostensive attempt to keep out Russian sailors who repeatedly failed to observe house rules (such as washing yourself before you plop into the communal tub). Okay, there’s more to this story. But you get the idea.

Now, fast forward to 27 March 2009. I receive an email from a cross-dressing, heterosexual, lambada dancer NTTIAWWT that carries a report alleged to be the work of said Mr. Debito entitled: Punishing foreigners, exonerating Japanese. The essence of the report:
“So let's summarize: If you're a foreigner facing Japan's criminal justice system, you can be questioned without probable cause on the street by police, apprehended for ‘voluntary questioning’ in a foreign language, incarcerated perpetually while in litigation, and treated differently in jurisprudence than a Japanese.

Statistics bear this out. According to [Professor David T.] Johnson, 10 percent of all trials in Japan had foreign defendants in 2000. Considering that non-Japanese residents back then were 1.3 percent of the Japanese population, and foreign crime (depending on how you calculate it) ranged between 1 and 4 percent of the total, you have a disproportionate number of foreigners behind bars in Japan.”
Maybe, maybe not. But the facts and claims that the report attributes to Mr. Debito appear to be open to some question. And this is where my email, somewhat edited, comes in:

The report claims that in “the case of Lindsay Ann Hawker, who was allegedly murdered by Tatsuya Ichihashi in 2007[, Ichihashi] is just accused of “abandonment of a corpse”. Yet in the, Ichihashi is being sought by the Chiba Police for, you wouldn’t guess, murder (and abandoning a corpse).

Mr. Debito also refers to other
“other crimes against non-Japanese women, like those of convicted serial rapist Joji Obara. His connection with the Lucie Blackman murder has been well-reported, particularly the botched police investigation despite ample material evidence—even videotapes of his rapes. Regardless, in 2007 Obara was acquitted of Blackman's murder due to ‘lack of evidence.’

“Obara did get life imprisonment (not death), since he was only charged with ‘rape leading to death’ of nine other women (one of them foreign). But only after strenuous appeals from Blackman's family was the acquittal overturned in 2008. Obara became guilty of ‘dismembering and abandoning’ her corpse. Again, guilty of crimes to their dead bodies, not of making them dead.”
Leaving aside the magic by which one corpse—one too many, I hasten to add—becomes “dead bodies”, the report neglects to add that there was compelling evidence to cast at least a reasonable doubt that Obara had no intent of causing physical injury to at least one of his two dead victims—the other six (not seven?) survived—and fails to make any claims regarding such intent towards Ms. Blackman. In fact, the facts of the Obara case as asserted by the report itself suggest that his punishment, a life sentence, was about as far as it could possibly have gone, since it is next to impossible for a Japanese court to impose the death penalty in a homicide case without a finding—again beyond a reasonable doubt—of such intent (unless you want to claim that Obara actually got a disproportionately heavy sentence—after all, the courts found only one death attributable beyond a reasonable doubt—only because he was a naturalized citizen, an ethnic Korean, who everyone knows has the hardest time of it). And the following doesn’t even make the faintest of sense:
Generally, in these situations the survivor goes down for "too much self-defense" (kajo boei), regardless of intent. That precedent was set in the 1980s by Steve Bellamy, a British martial artist who intervened in a drunken altercation and killed someone. Bellamy was acquitted of wrongdoing, then convicted on appeal, then acquitted again.
I have nothing to say about the other specific cases because I don’t seen anything hese except allegations and assertions. The gaijin may or may not have been wronged. But it does them little benefit to have their cases lumped together with the other allegations.

As for the statistics cited in the opening quote, gross prosecution numbers are greatly distorted by the large number of immigration law infractions, which are naturally mostly committed in Japanese jurisdiction by non-Japanese. Subtract them, and you can actually argue that Japanese courts go easy on gaijin, who are significantly more likely to get suspended sentences than Japanese citizens for regular crimes. But I won’t, because you have to look closely at the data and as variety of circumstances and conditions before coming to conclusions either way with any degree of confidence. A careful examination of the data available here may tell us whether there is or is not a meaningful bias one way or the other.

I’d be happy to do a more thorough investigation of this matter, and I suspect that it will turn out to be a total takedown of the report. Actually, there is nothing that I’d like to do more, since, as all my acquaintances know, I am naturally mean and enjoy nothing more than... life, however, is so short; so many flowers to pluck, so many nuns to kick. In the meantime, though, will someone please tell whoever wrote that report that I do heavy-duty fact-checking for $200/hr.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Old Rules No Longer Applicable to “Government Sources” in Yet Another Stage in Tectonic Shift

A couple of weeks ago, media reports told us that a “government source” thought that it was unlikely that no arrests would be forthcoming on the LDP side in the Nishimatsu scandal. According to the mainstream media, “government source” is their code word for Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretaries and the Prime Minister’s Secretaries speaking under condition of non-attribution. Given the widespread reports in this case, it was obvious that this was not a single-outlet leak but comments during one of those informal kisha club briefings outside the confines of regular, on-the-record press conferences*. Moreover, the nature and content of the source’s speculation pointed to someone who could bring authority and/or experience to the issue. The properly incensed DPJ connected the dots, fingered Iwao Uruma, the former top cop handpicked against recent precedent by Prime Minister Aso as the Administrative DCCS—to serve in tandem with two Parliamentary DCCSs under the Chief Cabinet Secretary—as the culprit, and decided to grill the top bureaucrat in the Diet. Asahi got wind of this—it is not difficult to get information on who is being summoned to Diet committees—and decided to report on the upcoming grilling, effectively scooping the other media outlets on the identity of the “government source”. The Aso administration quickly capitulated to circumstances and fed Uruma’s identity to the wolves. Now, it is difficult to claim Asahi actually had a hand in outing the loquacious A-DCCS Uruma—after all, the story would have been in the next day’s media outlets anyway—but it certainly did link the “government source” to a real name before anyone outside this code of omerta was able to the media an open excuse to do so. In the event, the A-DCCS gave an account that happened to be at odds with notes taken by the media and, perhaps not coincidentally, tilted to slide responsibility off of his shoulders and on to an uncomprehending media, further compounding his predicament.

Fast forward to another “government source”, this time telling the world that it would be futile to try to intercept the North Korean ballistic projectile—launch pending—with the AEGIS and Patriot missile defense systems that are eating up huge chunks of our defense procurement budget (see Yomiuri report translated below**). Given the outdated assessment—the state-of-the-art has progressed since such skepticism was widely expressed, though how the systems will perform in a real-life situation, perhaps lucky for us, remains to be seen—and, more revealingly, the tone-deaf nature of the comment—it cast doubt on Japan’s main defense system just as one of the surely few instances during which it would be invoked in earnest was about to arrive—it had the feel of an outburst from a not-too-bright political appointee; and not the speculations of a seasoned bureaucrat who understood the potential as well as the risks involved in tying our national security interests to a technology that is still unproven under combat conditions. This time, Socialist leader Mizuho Fukushima made yet another educated guess today and took the occasion of question time in the Upper House Budget Committee to squeeze out a confession from Yoshitada Konoike, one of the two P-DCCSs, that he “[thinks] that it is quite difficult to hit a bullet with another bullet”—echoing the very words of and all but (but not quite) confessing that he was that “government source”. So why was the A-DCCS so poorly briefed on the upcoming North Korean missile launch and the Japanese response? (For that matter, why was Konoike allowed to keep his fig leaf while Uruma was stripped and forced to brave the elements on his own?)

What is evident here is a huge disconnect between the Prime Minister’s immediate environs and the rest of the Japanese bureaucracy. Prime Minster Aso’s attempts at what he may have thought would be relatively minor attempts to shake up the support staff—imposing a senior Ministry of Internal Affairs (and Communications) official on what had been a four-man MOF/NPA/MOFA/METI team of Prime Minister’s Secretaries and going against precedent to appoint a police official as A-DCCS—have backfired. Now this could be dismissed as mere coincidence and a display of the Prime Minister’s personal lack of judgment. But I feel that it is yet another step in the deterioration of the relationship between the political and the administrative that began in the Abe administration, the consequences of which were revealed on a massive, institutional scale in the unimaginative and disastrous rollout of the Late-Term Elderly Medical Care Insurance Program during the Fukuda administration.

I’ve talked before about the institutional fatigue on the political side with regard to the successive misfortunes of the increasingly vulnerable LDP regime under the Abe, Fukuda and Aso administrations. The rot appears to go beyond the merely political, the system is showing its age, the moment is there to be seized. It is then the greatest of ironies that the one—as of this moment, if not for long—most advantageously positioned to avail himself of this opportunity is the one DPJ leader most closely associated with this homegrown ancien régime that appears to be in slow but inevitable decline.

Conventional Wisdom Watch to come.

* Some ministries and agencies now routinely post on their websites.

** Government Source Sez “No Way” Intercept of North Korean Missile “Will Score a Hit”
Regarding the [Japanese] government’s intent to use the missile defense (MD) system to intercept a ballistic missile if North Korea launches it under the guise of an “artificial satellite”, a government source on the 23rd expressed his understanding that interception would be difficult, stating that “The other side shoots a pistol and we shoot a pistol, and there’s no way that [the two] will hit each other.” He also said, “There’s no time for Defense Minister Hamada to report to Prime Minister Aso after the missile has been launched [to seek his permission to launch the MD missiles]. They’re probably preparing beforehand.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Mainstream Media (Mostly) Calls for Ozawa’s Head

All the major dailies carried editorials on the Nishimatsu case on the day after Ichiro Ozawa’s publicly installed (i.e. explicitly paid with the taxpayer’s money) secretary was indicted for political financing violations. The titles show where they stand:
The Nishimastsu Political Contribution Scandal—[DPJ] President Ozawa Should Resign (西松献金事件―小沢代表は身を引くべきだ) Asahi
Mr. Ozawa’s Secretary Indicted Continuing as [DPJ] President Is Unpersuasive (小沢氏秘書起訴 代表続投は説得力に欠ける) Mainichi
Publicly Installed Secretary Indicted The Thorny Path Ahead as [DPJ] President Ozawa Stays on (公設秘書起訴 小沢代表続投後のイバラの道) Yomiuri
Publicly Installed Secretary Indicted Mr. Ozawa Staying on Won’t Do (公設秘書起訴 小沢氏続投は通らない) Sankei
Asahi, Mainichi and Sankei also agree that:
1) It’s not really about the legal infraction per se, it’s the suspicion of a quid pro quo regarding public works.
2) The rest of the DPJ are wusses.
3) Pox on both (DPJ and LDP) houses.
Yomiuri is the only one not calling on Ozawa to resign. But that is not the only point on which the Yomiuri editorial differs from the others. In fact, it skips most of 1) through 3) and concentrates instead on disclosure, and is the only one that mentions the need for disclosure on the part of the Public Prosecutors Office, given the proximity of the arrest to a Lower House general election. Do you think Yomiuri’s (relative) sympathy has anything to do with its leader Tsuneo Watanabe’s past efforts to promote a grand coalition between the DPJ and LDP—an idea that went down very well with Ozawa? Just sayin’.

Now most voters do not make it a part of their daily habits to read newspaper editorials. But many opinion-makers do, including reporters, whose reporting is bound to be colored by the desires of their employers. The rest of the media are likely to want to see Ozawa go down, if only because of the news value. They don’t want to grant the LDP’s fondest wishes and let Ozawa stay, the Yomiuri possibly being the only notable exception.

That is not to say that the Yomiuri doesn’t have a point about the Public Prosecutors Office. It carries a report regarding the PPO’s actions with former prosecutors speaking out—on the record—on both sides of the issue. What comes through in their comments is their perception of the PPO’s role as a self-appointed guardian of public morals that goes beyond the letter of the law, a subject that I took up here.

Iwakuma Is “as Thin as a Flag Pole”? That Got Me to Wonderin’

The rivalry between Japan and South Korea extends a lot deeper than who scores the most runs in a game. There is still lingering friction between the countries because Japan invaded Korea and officially annexed it in 1910. The Japanese did not leave until after World War II ended in 1945.

Although Japan left more than six decades ago, there are still Koreans who remember those years or who have been told stories about the experience. The countries have a relationship, but it is more a grudging association than a friendly rapport.

Now the Japanese and the South Koreans will have to wait four years before they potentially meet in another Classic. The wait will undoubtedly feel much longer for the South Koreans. But the Japanese will savor every day between now and then because they can call themselves the best in the world. Suzuki made sure of that.
This story implies a symmetry that isn’t there. If you don’t believe me, here’s a thought experiment: Which would have been more satisfying to the average Korean/Japanese fan, beating the Japanese/Korean team for the championship or the U.S. team?

Incidentally, Iwakuma is listed at 86 kilos, or about 190 pounds, not the “169 pounds” that made “Iwakuma [look] as thin as a flag pole as he stood on the mound.” He’s thin, but no one actually watching the game would have mistaken him for a flagpole, or even Randy Johnson. This is but a small example of the dangers of replacing real journalism with your imagination.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Flap over the AIG Bonuses Reveal Our Origins

Looking at the flap over the AIG bonuses, I couldn’t help thinking, we’ve been there…
Does anyone remember the flap over the rollout of the Late-Term Elderly Medical Care Insurance System last year? You know, how all the old folks were offended by the name “Late-Term" and how elderly dependents were killing themselves in despair because a couple of thousand yen or so were being automatically deducted from their public pensions instead of being billed to the heads of their households (mostly one of their children) and...and I could go on, but my point is: This was the watershed event (or “tipping point” as pundits call it these days) for the short, unhappy life of the Fukuda administration, while all the while the infinitely more important question of the long-term viability of the Japanese pension system was given a pass. And how often has this pattern been replicated over the last three Japanese administrations?

Fast forward: President Obama’s enemies are saying, It’s 165 million f@cking dollars, while his friends are saying, It’s only 165 million dollars… Guess who wins? So Obama’s kingdom is to be lost for want of a nail?

We focus on the emotive, the tangible, the immediate—it is what we are comfortable with, what served us so well for so many years—while we neglect the detached, the abstract, the distant. We are, at heart, the little band of apes that only yesterday stepped out of the African savannas, when survival was about the here and now.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Look at the Antipiracy Bill

On March 13, the Cabinet submitted an antipiracy bill to the Diet. The bill, if enacted, will allow Japanese gunships to come to the assistance of non-Japanese ships and enable them to act beyond the confines of strict, self-defense doctrine. It is yet another step in the expansion of the role of the Self-Defense Forces on national security issues. I finally located the text here and found what I wanted to know. In fact, there are several points that I’d like to share with you.

The bill defines acts of piracy in Japanese and international waters and makes them punishable under Japanese law. It carefully draws a protective circle around sovereignty by excluding acts committed in foreign territorial waters or with government and government-operated ships. So my advice to criminals who intend to commandeer a military gunboat to use in acts of piracy is this: Make sure you use a helicopter or swim to get there—do not use a skiff, or fishing boat—if you want to escape the fearsome might of the two Japanese escort ships. But before I call this a nod to domestic concerns about a military drift on the part of the Self-Defense Forces, I’d like to know if there are similar, if any, national restrictions on the activities of the other navies. On a related matter, I also note that there is nothing in the bill concerning hot pursuit into territorial waters.

The bill delineates antipiracy activities as policing actions. As such, it puts the matter under the jurisdiction of the Japan Coast Guard. The Self-Defense Forces are an auxiliary means, to be invoked by the Defense Minister on the authorization of the Prime Minister only when there is a “special need”. The head of “other relevant administrative agencies” must be consulted but there are no explicit provisions for coordinating with the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard personnel posted on the JSDF ships to conduct actual police work (arrests, etc.) appears to be there as an administrative measure that is beyond the scope of this particular bill.

There is no coordination with the South Korean Navy either. South Korea had hoped, I had hoped, that the JSDF refueling ship presumably accompanying the two escort ships—the refueling ship for the counterterrorism activities in the Indian Ocean is too far away to be of help, which is also one reason the escort ship protecting the refueling ship is not being made available to antipiracy efforts of the Somalia coast—but that, apparently, is not meant to be. In fact, there are no provisions in the bill for any international coordination at all beyond some brief Article One Objective boilerplate mention of international cooperation. This indicates that the JSDF is not going to join the U.S.-U.K.-led patrol brigade but will concentrate on “escorting” mostly if not solely Japanese ships.

All in all, the bill is a conservative document, with a carefully circumscribed role for the JSDF. Even so, the DPJ is looking at the possibility of putting the JSDF ships under Coast Guard control as a way to avoid opposing the popular measure. I understand the DPJ’s need to keep its left wing onside as well as to mollify its Socialist allies’ claimed fears of the Japanese military running amok, but I can see some practical problems in such a wholesale arrangement. More important from a political point of view, the healthy majority of the Japanese public that support antipiracy measures and, perhaps more importantly, the mainstream media will not look kindly upon a delay resulting from a deadlock over the perceived need for such window dressing. I suspect that the DPJ will instead extract its pound of flesh in the form of greater parliamentary oversight before it lets the bill pass.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Conventional Wisdom Watch: The Failure of Japan’s Export-Oriented Economic Strategy

The latest piece of conventional wisdom that has been coming down the pike is that Japan must drop her export-oriented economic ways and increase domestic consumption in order to have any hopes of avoiding a national catastrophe in the face of the global financial/economic crisis. Now there’s a certain arithmetical truth to this line of thinking and I have a lot of respect for the people who had been warning us all the while of the risks inherent in what turned out to be a five-year export-reliant recovery. But I want some value-added from the Johnny-Come-Latelies, the people who are discovering post facto the follies of Japan’s export-dependent economic strategy (assuming there is someone/are people who answers/answer to the name of Japan to whom a “strategy” can be ascribed), a plausible proposal to raise Japan’s marginal collective propensity to consume. And if their answer is “a better safety net”, they have to explain why the United States, with arguably the worst social safety net in the OECD, had managed to live beyond its means for decades before the house of cards came crashing down. They also have to explain why a high external savings rate is wrong for country that is likely to go into a long period of structural external deficits in the not-too-distant historical future. There’s immigration, but do they think we haven’t heard about that already? My aunt is not going to grow wheels any time soon.

No, I didn’t see this coming either, though I had wondered out loud seven years ago how long the U.S. economy could hold itself up by building yet more homes. (Ask the people who were there at JETRO NY if you don’t believe me.) But, like Greenspan, I’d lost my sense of unease over the “irrational exuberance” when everything kept going up—that is, until the current crisis gave me a painful reminder. Incidentally, two other countries have had just as rough a fourth quarter in 2008 as Japan—Brazil and South Korea. The latter is even emulating Japan’s high suicide rates. Go figure.

Next up on Conventional Wisdom Watch: Japan’s Two-Tier Economy, tomorrow, hopefully, after I get over a hangover.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Why Ichiro Ozawa Is the Target: My Take

This is my answer to questions raised in a comment on the previous post. It is already too long and has taken up too much of my time, so I’m putting it out here to see if anyone has any thoughts on it one way or the other.
First of all, my guess is that not only does Ozawa believe that he is innocent, he actually is innocent: that is, I believe that he has managed to sufficiently shield himself from a) the active involvement of his political aide under arrest in setting up the Nishimatsu political action committees and b) personal knowledge of the fictional=dummy nature of the PACs that he will not be indicted under the Political Funds Control Act as a principal or accomplice for personally accepting corporate funds. An indictment for negligence subject to a criminal fine under the PFCA is theoretically possible, but that will be very hard to prove before the courts, making the legal and political risks of an Ozawa indictment too high for the Public Prosecutors Office. In any case, a mere negligence charge is no doubt irrelevant in Ozawa’s mind. I believe that he has likewise shielded himself from indictment under the politically more serious Act Regarding the Punishment of Gains, Etc., through Acts of Intercession by Persons Holding Public Office, Etc. It looks increasingly likely that his top political aide, his primary publicly-accredited secretary will be indicted under this law (not to mention the first law), in which case I don’t see Ozawa being able to hold on much longer, but that’s a political question. Ozawa’s situation is probably closer to plausible denial than the innocence of a babe, but that’ll do as far as legal consequences are concerned.

On the possibility of a political motive for the Public Prosecutors Office, Ozawa does have a certain point there. Based on what I’ve read over the years and some credible hearsay, I’ve come to believe that public prosecutors see themselves as something akin to a fourth branch of government that is entrusted with keeping corruption in the legislative and administrative branches within reasonable limits. As such, they will go where the evidence leads them. They are not vigilantes though, and do not disregard prospects for finding corroborating evidence and actively see out individual politicians or political parties as targets to go after. Now I would be extremely surprised to learn that the prosecutors were not aware through its normal information gathering process that a lot of construction money was flowing to the Ozawa camp and that a disproportionate amount was coming from Nishimatsu. They might even have had a hunch that the homebound Nishimatsu money had found its way into political pockets there, including the Ozawa camp’s. But note that the criminal investigation into Nishimatsu began only after a former Nishimatsu executive—as opposed to its no doubt more gruntled executives past and present—walked in and started blabbing about amassing a huge slush fund and illegally remitting a big chunk of the money to Japan (in addition to bribing Thai officials and helping himself to some of it). You don’t waste your finite resources on tips and allegations unless you have the leverage, and the ex-employee was that lever. The former Nishimatsu bagman came to the PPO, not the other way around.

So this is what politicians, both LDP and DPJ, have to worry about—the PPO may have what amounts to a political agenda, but it’s the PPO’s own agenda. Should the public mind as well? I’ll leave it at that.

Now at this point, someone will be thinking, What about Toshihiro Nikai, the METI Minister? Why aren’t the prosecutors going after his secretary? And what the hell was the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary—a former top cop at that—thinking when he said that there wasn’t enough money in the other cases to warrant an arrest? Wait, Okumura is an ex-METI official! Aha, now I get it! Well, as I’ve looked into the law and heard a real legal expert hold forth on it, it has become clear to me that it is extremely difficult to pierce the corporate veil and charge a politician or his political aide with accepting political funds directly from Nishimatsu and not from its two dummy PACs—unless the prosecutors can prove that the PACs were nothing more than pieces of legal fiction and that the recipient were aware of this. Even then, I don’t think it’s an open-and-shut case; it is a criminal case, where the courts tend to interpret the law restrictively, and also happens to be without a relevant precedent. But it’s certainly worth exploring for the PPO. In any case, if the PPO doesn’t think it won’t obtain enough stuff to indict Nikai’s political aide, it will be very reluctant to pursue the matter in the highly public form of an arrest.

Here, I believe that there was an important difference between Nishimatsu’s money for Ozawa and the money that went to the other, mainly LDP politicians, including Nikai,that is reflected in the disproportionate amount (itself not totally irrelevant) that went to the Ozawa camp. Simply put, the Ozawa money was more than just Ozawa money—it was faction money appropriated as party money that ultimately appears to have wound up in his personal political pocket. As such, it took some legal maneuvering to maintain it through the twists and turns of Ozawa’s post-LDP career. The construction money flowing to the Ozawa camp is likely to have its origins as the construction money that the Tanaka faction as successively inherited had been raking in. When Ichiro Ozawa took the lead in taking the Hata faction (which was a significant portion of the old Tanaka faction) out of the LDP in 1993 and creating the Japan Renewal Party, he established the Kaikaku Kokumin Kaigi (People’s Congress for Reform) as the repository of the JRP’s share of the construction money and other political funds that had been accruing to the Hata faction when it was still in the LDP. At that point, all the construction money going to the Ozawa side was made to flow into the PCR, and continued to be the case through Ozawa’s New Frontier Party and early Liberal Party years. However, in 2001, for reasons that I have been unable to figure out, about half the money began to flow into Ozawa’s personal camp; after 2003, when the Liberal Party merged with the old Democratic Party to form the DPJ, the Ozawa camp took over all future receipts from Nishimatsu, leaving the PCR a dormant repository of funds previously amassed as well as a large sum of money received from the old Democrats as part of a political dowry*. Another way of looking at this is that Ozawa took the Liberal Party private and maintained it as a private fiefdom. The challenges of the financial restructurings that these political rearrangements precipitated must have been further complicated by the shifting relationship between Ozawa and his party of the day. Thus, it is likely that the political aide in question had to become deeply involved with the details of any relevant arrangements, including those with the disproportionately munificent Nishimatsu. This would have been much less of a necessity for Nikai’s treasurer given the solitary nature of his boss’s wanderings, not to mention the treasurers of Nishimatsu beneficiaries who had never left the LDP in the first place.

Then why isn’t the LDP piling on? Well, a lot of LDP names have come up, and the court of public opinion will not look as benignly as the criminal courts do on claims of legal distinctions that I’ve tried to explain here. I took Nishimatsu’s money but the public prosecutors can’t prove I took it illegally and I took Nishimatsu’s money but the public prosecutors can’t prove it was a bribe don’t quite make it. Besides, only the politicians who have been fingered know for sure, so the others are well-advised to be cautious in the first place.

Of course any or all of my conjectures may prove to be wrong. But the one significant alternative, which is to believe in a vast conspiracy theory involving among others a corps of highly motivated elite lawyers (as well as yours truly) as the handmaiden of the LDP, seems a little too far-fetched to me.

*Search “Yukio Edano” on this blog if you want to see my take on one aspect of that event.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ozawa Drops a Political Financing Bomb on the LDP

I didn’t think that there would be anything noteworthy to write about on the Nishimatsu scandal till the 24th, now that the DPJ and LDP were warily circling each other because the blowback could be as damaging as any attack either one could inflict on the other. There were two things that the DPJ could do that would turn the issue into its favor; Ichiro Ozawa has come out with one of them.

In 2003, the DPJ’s leadership council issued a decision in the name of Katsuya Okada, then Director-General, on political finance reform that included a self-imposed ban on accepting money from the 63 members of the Japan Federation of Construction Contractors (including Nishimatsu Corporation). In 2005, the DPJ, now under Okada’s leadership, fought a Lower House election under a policy manifesto that carried the following promise:
We will impose a total ban on political financial contributions from businesses that receive contracts for public works (公共事業受注企業からの政治献金を全面禁止します)*.
But Prime Minister Koizumi’s bet on Post Office privatization paid off and the LDP won a landslide victory. Katsuya Okada resigned as DPJ head, and when Gen-X conservative Seiji Maehara stumbled badly over a minor political scandal, the DPJ turned to Ichiro Ozawa, who led the DPJ to victory in 2007 under a new policy manifesto that merely stated, “The DPJ has introduced a legislative bill to eliminate in one fell swoop political corruption through such measures as a ban on rerouted contributions, elimination of improprieties such as intercession and mediation by politicians (the original is poorly drafted: 民主党は、迂回献金の禁止、政治家によるあっせん・口利きといった不正の根絶など政治腐敗を一掃するための法案も提出しています). According to a Sankei report, the proposal had been dropped on Ozawa’s insistence. Now, Ozawa has gone on the counterattack and is moving not only to revive it but to raise the stakes by calling for a ban on all corporate and organizational contributions.

Ozawa first floated the idea in his regular Tuesday press briefing, surprising even his fellow party members. Wednesday, he asked Yukio Hatoyama, DPJ Secretary-General and now-faithful Ozawa spokesman, to have Katsuya Okada, the head of DPJ Political Reform Headquarters come up with a credible scheme. In a subsequent press conference, he left it up to the party to decide if it would be put into the party platform for the Lower House election.

A ban will affect individual politicians differently—that is why the DPJ itself has been divided on this issue—but as a whole, the LDP has far more to lose than the DPJ. (Read this earlier post for some background.) The Japan Communist Party and New Komeito, each with its own hardcore constituency, will be not be affected, but they do not stand to gain much either due to their inherently limited electoral appeal.

Thus, the proposal will be an excellent tactical move for the DPJ going into the Lower House election. However, there is an uneasy air of political convenience to this last-minute conversion. Predictably, LDP members are calling it a little rich for Ozawa of all people to be pushing the idea. Of course Ozawa could cut down skeptics with one stroke by resigning as DPJ President, and he hasn’t closed the door to that.

* A DPJ legislative bill introduced in 2002 before the 2003 merger that created the DPJ in its current form and resubmitted in 2003 and 2004 had not contained a ban on political financial contributions from businesses that receive contracts for public works.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

When Tom Friedman Begins Raving about the Next Really Cool Thing

Okay, this is it, for what it’s worth.

Thomas L. Friedman is good at spotting megatrends just before they peak and pushing them with every other column and best-selling books. Just look at the war of choice in Iraq, the global economy… hmm. Well, now it’s climate change and energy future, and it’s laser-powered fusion as the silver bullet that kills the beast. Now this may or may not be true. The problem is, Friedman does an awful job of addressing the issue. Let me explain:

Friedman’s point is this: Existing renewable energy technology, such as solar, geothermal and wind power, is fine, but we’re going to keep using coal anyway, so unless we find a “game-changer”, climate change is “going to have its way with us” (whatever that means). I note that there are two important things missing from this story: carbon sequestering, and energy efficiency and conservation—more broadly, changes in the way we consume energy*. But carbon sequestering is… not sexy? And why complicate the story with inconveniences like lifestyle changes and transportation modes, right? And yes, nuclear fission technology—the conventional nuclear energy that we already use extensively—is messy, but why dismiss it altogether? Moreover, he fails to talk about the other two fossil fuels. (Oil and gas contain carbon too, and one of them feeds America’s insatiable appetite for gasoline.) But I’ll leave these discussions aside for the moment.

Now, first paragraph:
If you hang around the renewable-energy business for long, you’ll hear a lot of tall tales. You’ll hear about someone who’s invented a process to convert coal into vegetable oil in his garage and someone else who has a duck in his basement that paddles a wheel, blows up a balloon, turns a turbine and creates enough electricity to power his doghouse.
I think he made them up. I say this partly because I’ve seen in the past that he’s not above using special effects to enhance the facts in the service of his narrative. But also because the stories don’t make sense. Now somebody may actually have claimed to have invented a process to convert coal into vegetable oil, since…since in one sense it can be done. Coal can be liquefied and gasified to produce anything from heavy oils to gasoline to the lightest hydrocarbon gases. It’s called coal chemistry, a body of organic chemistry first widely used by Nazi Germany and later adopted most notably by Communist China and apartheid South Africa, two states that had serious national security issues regarding oil but were blessed with coal deposits. It is no doubt only a few more steps of organic chemistry to get from there to vegetable oil. But it won’t, of course, be vegetable oil, even if a vial of the stuff matched, say, a vial of palm oil in composition molecule for molecule. That would be the chemical equivalent of a vegetable oil but not “vegetable oil”, analogous to the way that an American wine made from the same grapes as burgundy wine cannot be the latter. Friedman is probably using “vegetable oil” in the sense of renewable energy. But this makes even less sense, because turning coal into the chemical equivalent of vegetable oil (to run diesel engines presumably, although why process it any further if diesel oil will be the inevitable intermediate product?) does not make it a renewable source of energy. In short, I believe that he made up this ill-fitting story from some vaguely remembered factoids. Which makes the other, more outlandish—if contextually more appropriate—story suspect as well. It comes with a Rube Goldberg-like engineering improbability that only a caricature or DIY joke could have.

So much for the two stories, one meaningless, the other suspect. Now to the nucleus of his story:
What if a laser-powered fusion energy power plant that would have all the reliability of coal, without the carbon dioxide, all the cleanliness of wind and solar, without having to worry about the sun not shining or the wind not blowing, and all the scale of nuclear, without all the waste, was indeed just 10 years away or less? That would be a holy cow game-changer.

Are we there?

That is the tantalizing question I was left with after visiting the recently completed National Ignition Facility, or N.I.F., at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
This is a pattern that we have become familiar with over the years. Friedman visits a call center, a laboratory, or an industrial park (actually I sorta made the last one up, but I’m pretty sure he did so why bother fact-checking?) interviews the visionary proprietor of the facilities and then is seen bubbling with unqualified enthusiasm. And I say unqualified here as well, because he goes on to tell us in effect that we’ll be helpless in the face of climate change unless we get this technological fix. That’s betting a lot of future on something that hasn’t happened yet and nobody knows if it ever will. I mean, you have to be pretty hyped up on the technology to be so upbeat. But achieving energy gain, or what he very loosely explains as “produc[ing] more energy from the pellets than the laser energy that is injected”, is only the beginning. Extending that nanosecond or less of net output long enough so that meaningful amounts of energy can be extracted for use is going to take technological advances that can only be imagined, and only in terms of many decades, not years, if ever. (Or so I remember from my work on climate change in the 1990s.) It’s a long shot, and it’s a long ways off.

It’s not as if Friedman ignores the near-term—and here I’m reckoning by Galapagos Tortoise years:
President Obama’s stimulus package has given a terrific boost to renewable energy. It will pay lasting benefits. And we need to keep working on all forms of solar, geothermal and wind power. They work. And the more they get deployed, the more their costs will go down.
Now that’s true. Up to a point. But beyond the inherent limits imposed by the physical nature of solar and wind energy, there’s only so much improvement that you can hope for with regard to heat exchange technology (in the case of geothermal power) or mechanical engineering and aeronautics (in the case of wind power). In the case of geothermal technology, many of the easiest sources have already been exploited—Iceland, the Philippines, even Japan—so costs could easily go up with deployment. These points are trivial to his main argument, since he thinks that they are not enough. But is a good example of his carelessness with the facts, something that I find distressing in works of journalism, since I can’t expect myself to already know something about everything I read. How can I trust someone about something I don’t know when I can’t trust him about something I do?

Back to the main argument. If, as Friedman says, solar, geothermal and wind are not enough and if nuclear fusion, as I claim, is a long-shot and a very long-term one at that, are we doomed? No, not if the three of the four things that I mentioned near the beginning come through. They come with their own issues, but they’re certainly more plausible than nuclear fusion. So, it is irresponsible and misleading of him to dismiss one as messy and ignore the other two altogether out of ignorance or possibly to play up his nuclear fusion epiphany. Friedman may not be an engineer or scientist, but he’s an advocate on energy and climate change issues and a well-known one at that, so I can’t cut him too much slack here.

So that’s it, I think. Martin Frid will correct me if I’m wrong.

* Here, I am using the word “consume” in a broad sense, to include energy use in the production of goods and services including energy itself.

TIMEly* Report on Ichiro Ozawa and Japan’s Future

*Couldn’t resist it.

I’ve knocked Coco Masters’ reports before*, so I might as well give credit where it is due. The TIME cover article on Ichiro Ozawa and Japan’s future that she co-wrote with Michael Elliott is good. I think it does a fine job of capturing the sense of the man, the paradox and the ambiguities that make him so compelling at the core of the DPJ, rendering a profile of Japan at a crossroads, and bringing the two together. There are captivating turns of phrases, such as “backroom maverick”, but there are also some points that I disagree with, which I’ll lay out there, because that’s what I am.

Convincing Japanese of the need for change is never easy, but Ozawa finds himself tantalizingly close to power precisely because the country so urgently needs fresh ideas. The global recession has hit Japan harder than any other developed nation. Exports are plummeting, Japan's economy is contracting at double-digit rates and the country's industrial giants are reeling. Rarely has "stay the course" seemed so grossly inadequate as a solution, yet the LDP seems unable to mount a credible recovery effort, and the public is fed up with the bumbling half measures of party hacks.
The report mixes two things. One is the Japanese public’s sense of sheer incompetence and institutional rot directed at the LDP despite the latter’s desperate efforts to blame it all on the bureaucracy that had been accelerated by the collapse of two short-lived administrations and led to an Upper House general election defeat even before the economic downturn set in. (I mention in passing that I think that it is more a crisis of confidence in the LDP than any “new ideas” that the DPJ has been putting forward, but that’s just my opinion.) The other is the consequences of the economic fallout resulting from the global financial crisis that began in earnest in 2008 4Q (the economic fallout, that is), which more or less coincided with the beginning of the Aso administration. Here, questions over Aso’s competence were magnified by the bumbling around what ended up as the 2 trillion yen giveaway in the second stimulus package. But this is only tangentially related to what the report somewhat misleadingly appears to be calling “stay the course” and relates to the more enduring problem that the report narrates. It is notable that the DPJ has been very quiet regarding its own ideas about dealing with the economic ramifications of the global financial crisis. Nobody has good ideas, at least the kind that has staying power.

The donations [from Nishimatsu Construction] are alleged to have been funneled through Ozawa's political fund.
Actually, nobody is denying that the Nishimatsu money was funneled to Ozawa’s political funds. What is in question is the legality of the arrangement and the extent of involvement by and criminal complicity (if any) of Ozawa’s secretary and (less plausibly) Ozawa himself.

China's economic model is now admired around the world as a model, as Japan's once was.
Admired? Really? Feared, yes, just as the Japanese model was also feared as an alien, inimitable system. But if there have been management books and op-eds exhorting North Americans and West Europeans to emulate the Chinese model, I’ve yet to see them. Some authoritarian regimes may see the Chinese system as a way to perpetuate themselves in power and welcome and emulate the Chinese government’s policy of keeping its hands out of values issues in host countries, but is that what the report means by “widely admired around the world as a model”?

Asia has never seen a time when both China and Japan were simultaneously strong. That does not mean such a state of affairs is impossible; it does mean that both nations will need wise leaders if they are not to turn into bitter rivals.
Now I know that this suggestion of a major, structural geopolitical conflict between Japan and China is a very popular piece of conventional wisdom; I happen to think that it’s a piece of rot. It’s not worth going into at length now; suffice to say that there are few politically and militarily contentious issues between Japan and China and the one that there are happen to be minor and, more important to the issue at hand, have little to nothing to do with the rest of Asia (except (only obliquely) with the two Koreas). The “rivalry” is actually a mish-mash of political and economic talking points that reside mainly in the imaginings of journalists, academics and conservative-nationalist politicians. They gain some currency in the real world when people in positions of some influence begin to take voiced concerns seriously. I’ll be more than happy to deal with this in more detail in an appropriate forum. And no, I’m about as far from a pacifist internationalist as can be without seeking nuclear weapons of our own.

Japan's spectacularly successful export-oriented industries were responsible for creating the world's second largest economy, and their lifetime-employment policies, with generous benefits, obviated the need for a comprehensive social safety net of the sort familiar to Western Europeans.
There’s a lot of truth to this particular piece of conventional wisdom, but keep in mind that a large part of the Japanese labor force had always lived outside this system. Japan, playing catch-up, was for a long relatively poorer than the rest of the West. It was the family, immediate and extended, that bore a large part of the burden of maintaining the social safety net.

After financial markets were liberalized in the 1980s, Japan went on a debt-fueled binge that made modern Americans look as thrifty as Amish farmers.
Really? Do you have the numbers to back that up? In passing, I note that “Japan” and “Americans” belong to two very different categories; journalists routinely make these logically jarring juxtapositions. I suspect that they are all English majors.

The last section Getting Out of a Funk has a logical flaw that fails to properly connect the first two paragraphs to the remainder and the last paragraph is the kind of empty rhetorical flourish that I hate, but everybody seems to do it, so it’s probably just me.

All in all though, I think that this is a good report; my comments are mostly about subsidiary facts and issues. Besides, any time a sentence like The question is not simply whether someone who is as deeply steeped in Japanese political culture as Ozawa — who at times seems as motivated by replacing the LDP as he is by a clear analysis of where Japan should be headed — can be a sexy agent of change. captures the essence of the man for Western readers, it’s worth the read.

Okay, too much time on my hands today. That’s it for now.

* Though not nearly as thoroughly and devastatingly (I hope) as I slammed another TIME reporter back in the day. And I’m planning a lulu of a hit on Thomas Friedman’s latest op-ed…

Monday, March 16, 2009

What Do You Make of the New U.S. Ambassador in Tokyo?

I thought so.

Well, as long as people don’t notice and wouldn’t care if they did…Actually, I’m posting this to use my negative powers of prediction to hasten the nomination of whomever. And it’s probably not Joseph Nye. There, I’ve said it. Now, place your bets.

Seriously, the tranquilizing effect of a 1.5-hour interview in Washington and a three-day trip to Tokyo is amazing. Japan is definitely low priority on the Obama agenda; every nation should be so lucky.

Third Time’s the Charm? Yet Another Stimulus Package.

I’ve just been surprised to hear from RS that the English-language media has been talking down chances of a big fiscal push from Japan in the wake of the ongoing G20 process. The Aso administration has been touting a third stimulus package for some time now. There’s been some rumbling about filling the demand gap, which could put the amount as high as 20 trillion yen. On Sunday, two LDP figures, Suga Yoshihide, Deputy Chairman of the Election Strategy Council, and an unnamed member of the Policy Council, put a floor of 10 trillion yen under “freshwater (真水)”, or actual fiscal outlays, as opposed to lending facilities, loan guarantees and other financial facilities that often require little or no additional budgetary allocations*.

Given the ruling coalition’s need to raise public confidence ahead of the Lower House general election and Prime Minister Aso’s desire to remain relevant, it is now inevitable that they will mount a spring offensive for “the largest supplementary budget in history”**. The size of the package means that government scrip—really an imputed tax on financial assets including cash—is no longer out of the question.

* People often discount the monetary value of these official lending facilities that usually comprise the bulk of the announcements. I note that they haven’t done so as Congress, Bernanke and the Obama administration have come forward with TARP and subsequent installments of the U.S. efforts. Moreover, in Japan, where direct and indirect public facilities comprise a significant if small portion of borrowing by small businesses in the best of times, these facilities play a major stabilizing role—many people will argue that this has serious long-term side effects—during economic downturns.

** In the words of Hiroyuki Sonoda, Acting Chairman of the Policy Research Council, addressing the LDP prefectural chapter in Kumamoto on Sunday.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Ichiro Ozawa Confronted by Two Potential Indictments

It appears to be all but inevitable that Takeshi Okubo, Ichiro Ozawa’s top aide-de-camp, will be indicted no later than March 24 for violations of the Political Finances Regulation Act, which forbids individual politicians and their political aides from accepting political funds from corporations under pain of criminal prosecution. There are questions regarding the interpretation of facts and the law, some of which may not be resolved until the appeal process is exhausted, so this is not an open-and-shut case for the PPO. Nevertheless, after all the political capital it has expended on the very public investigations (including the arrest), the PPO will be compelled to bring the case to court. It should have enough material to do that, though conviction is open to question.

The charge of financial irregularities alone is unlikely to be enough to topple Ozawa from his perch atop the DPJ before the Lower House general election. But the PPO is also looking for evidence of the more significant charge of unlawful intercession in exchange for economic benefit by an elected official or his political aides. Such quasi-bribery, criminal acts were banned by a special law that came into effect in 2001 designed to plug a loophole in the Criminal Code provisions for ordinary, run-of-the-mill bribery. This investigation could linger even after the political financing irregularity charge has gone to court, beyond the September deadline for the Lower House general election.

Ozawa serves at his own pleasure and will be able to survive the first indictment of his top political aide. But if the second one comes down the pike, I believe that the mounting public pressure on Ozawa to step down before the general election will prove irresistible. The Japanese media and the Japanese public do not have much sympathy for Ozawa. The circle of DPJ Diet members who will stand by him does not extend much beyond his 40-strong loyalists. So the question for the DPJ boils down to: Can it win with him? And the second ones looks fatal.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Ozawa Wants Jejudo…Not. But Who Wants to Know?

“Mr. Ozawa asks, ‘What do think about Tsushima?’, so I’m like, ‘I’m very worried about Tsushima now. It’s likely to be bought up by the won economy,’ and Mr. Ozawa replies, ‘That’s true. But more than that, if that’s what you’re going to worry about, there’s a great opportunity now.” So I ask him, “Why”, and he’s going, “The yen is appreciated now, so buy Jejudo.” The reason I’m telling [this story] is because such incredible things come out of that seemingly serious and upright mouth of his”.
That’s more or less how the conversation went between the two, at least according to Kiyoshi Sasamori (former head of Japan Trade Union Confederation aka Rengo), who related the story on Wednesday at a party for a DPJ Lower House candidate in Nagasaki Prefecture, where Tsushima belongs*. The roots of the conversation lie in a conservative-nationalist campaign that Sankei has been pushing over the influx in recent years of South Korean tourists and investment into Tsushima, a Japanese island lying between the Kyushu mainland and the Korean Peninsula. Some South Koreans like to press territorial claims against the islands, likely in a tit-for-tat against Japanese claims on Takeshima, the uninhabited outcrop that is currently administered by the South Korean government. South Korean claims lend piquancy if not quite credibility to the national security worries of a South Korean invasion on the part of Takeo Hiranuma and his conservative, mostly LDP, Diet-member colleagues. However, given the labor union’s overall support for progressive causes, Sasamaori’s intent was unlikely to have been intended to whip up such nationalist sentiments with this story.

So, against this background, there were at least three possible ways to go with this story:
1. Ozawa is stupid enough to believe that we can/should put together Japanese money to buy up Jejudo.

2. Ozawa had said in effect, Chill out, guys, it’s not as if the South Koreans are going to chop up Tsushima and ship the pieces back to Korea. We could buy Jejudo and that wouldn’t mean jack either.

3. Ignore it.
This being an Ozawa story, the Japanese media did not take the sensible route (guess which one), nor either of the other two, and just reported Sasamori’s comments without commentary, most of them initially touching only on Ozawa’s purported words. The last point seems to have confused the South Koreans, who are up in arms over what is most likely an imaginary affront. The LDP and the Communist Party, comrade in arms, have taken this as the cue to pile on. Now I am no fan of Ozawa, but isn’t a politician allowed a little irony? However, Ozawa being Ozawa, he has done a poor job of ‘splainin. Which brings me to my next point:

Nobody is going to cut Ozawa any slack. The media don’t like him in the first place; they’re not going to give a Prime Minister Ozawa the benefit of the doubt. He has few if any friends in his own DPJ beyond the 40-strong contingency personally beholden to him, the opposition alliance is a marriage of pure convenience, and most of the other old-school politicians who might share generational sympathies are back in the LDP. (He has already alienated his erstwhile colleagues in what is now New Komeito.) Perhaps worst of all, Ozawa is ill-equipped to handle this constant public, often hostile, attention to every detail of his actions. Since the Nishimatsu scandal exploded over his head, he has been doing his best to be accessible, and smile at the camera and offer harmless non sequiturs, as his handlers have obviously telling him to. But he’s no Mitt Romney; he has a hard time playacting for a day, let alone forever—which is what the Prime Minister’s job will feel like.

* The Japanese original comes from an excerpt posted here by Sankei, who taped Sasamori’s original talk.

For what it’s worth, Tsushima is a group of islands 708.7 km2 and a population of 41,000, while Jejudo is an island with an area of 1,845.55 km2 and a population of 560,000. Tsuyoshi Shinjo, the former New York Met and sometime underwear model, is Tsushima’s most famous export, and I once had a crush on a girl from Jejudo when the Earth was young and the gods walked among us.

If North Korean “Satellite Launch” Impacts Japan-U.S. Alliance, It Will Be by Accident

Question: If North Korea claims that it is a launch of a satellite, would you still consider such a launch to be a target of interception?
Minister: As far as such a launch has any impact on Japan, I would consider it a matter of course to respond to it…According to Article 82-2 of the Self-Defense Forces Act, the subject of our interception consists of “missiles and other objects that are deemed to cause serious damage to human life and property due to their fall and are not aircraft”, so even if it is a rocket, an artificial satellite that has the possibility of going out of control and falling on our country is obviously included, so I think that it is natural to respond to that situation.
—from Defense Minister Yuichi Hamada’s March 3 press conference; the English-language abstract is available here
Sounds reasonable. The United States will be in a similar situation with regard to its own territory. So within minutes after North Korea launches the latest version of the Taepodong, the U.S. surveillance system will calculate the trajectory of the projectile and determine where it is likely to fall. If it is determined that it is likely to fall on Japanese territory, the two AEGIS-equipped destroyersescort vessels currently deployed by the JSDF will attempt to intercept it. (The Land Forces’ Patriot missiles will intercept it on the way down if the AEGIS system fails to do the job.) The half-dozen U.S. AEGIS-equipped vessels in the neighborhood should also be obligated to attempt an intercept under the Mutual Defense Treaty, although I’m not as sure on this point.

However, if it’s determined that the projectile is likely to land on U.S. territory, the Japanese AEGIS system cannot intercept it under the current official interpretation of the Japanese Constitution regarding collective self-defense. Although North Korean authorities would never dare to aim the launch at U.S. (or for that matter Japanese) territory, the rocket does have a long range if there’s any truth to the speculations, and there’s a fairly good chance that the rocket could accidentally go astray at or immediately after the launch.—at which point there is a small but undeniable possibility that this asymmetrical and technically remediable gap in the “mutuality” of the national security relationship will pass from the theoretical to the actual.

Satoshi Morimoto, my favorite North Korea expert in Japan—he always seems to know what he’s talking about—has a fairly detailed explanation of the technical and political issues in a Sankei column.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Staying Power of Incumbents?

For all the recent messiness regarding the Nishimatsu political money, Ichiro Ozawa and the DPJ for the most part still led or at least tied Taro Aso and the LDP in the weekend opinion polls. On Tuesday, the DPJ leadership met and closed ranks behind their leader (though many lesser members apparently kept talking otherwise—anonymously—to the press) and vowed to support him through the upcoming Lower House election. Following the leadership meeting, a newly contrite Ozawa held a press conference where he issued an apology to the Japanese public but made it clear that nothing short of his secretary being convicted of bribery* would force him to leave under anything but his own terms. Sankei will continue to push for his resignation, and Yomiuri will be hard put to contain its disappointment when (and if) the indictment comes down and Ozawa holds on, but it looks increasingly likely that RS is right and Ozawa has dodged the bullet for the time being. If, as RS believes, Ozawa’s continued presence will deny the DPJ an outright victory=simple majority, so be it, it seems.

Given the smallness of their own improvements in the polls even after what was supposed to be a devastating blow to the opposition leader, I would think that LDP members could read the writing on the wall and be getting busy pushing the Prime Minister out of the kantei and replacing him with one of any number of electorally more palatable alternatives. Except that they aren’t. In fact, if anything, the tide seems to be flowing the other way.

Last week, when ex-Prime Minister Koizumi followed through on his vow to sit out the March 4 Lower House revote on the legislative bill authorizing funds for the 2 trillion yen handout, only one LDP member, one of his secretaries when he was Prime Minister, flowed suit. The same day, the LDP youth (and not-so-youth) movement Sumiyaka na Seisaku Jitsugen wo Motomeru Kai (Association of Concerned Diet Members Who Seek the Speedy Realization of Policies) shed its hardcore anti-Aso members and renamed itself Jimintō wo Sasshin-shi Nihon wo Saisei-suru Kai (Association to Reform the LDP and Regenerate Japan). Koizumi Kids protector Tsutomu Takebe is still openly calling for an election fight under a new leader, but even he is willing to let Aso serve out his term. Nothing that has happened since the weekend polls indicate that the Aso administration is facing a serious challenge from the party faithful.

In hindsight, I feel that I should have remembered that the LDP meekly acquiesced when Shinzo Abe decided against all expectations to stay on as Prime Minister after the 2007 electoral debacle. The Upper House loss had put the LDP-New Komeito coalition well behind the DPJ there with little hope of regaining the majority for the next two three-year election cycles. Still, Abe managed to hang on until his health gave out and left him with no other choice but to pass the baton to…Yasuo Fukuda, who also quickly earned the disapproval of the Japanese public but likewise managed to leave under his own volition after an admittedly brief reign.

As for Ozawa, given the 2007 landslide victory, he has a greater claim to intra-party legitimacy than Aso. Plus, he has more troops, both relatively and absolutely, who are loyal to him than the LDP mini-faction leader. There’s still plenty of noise in the DPJ, but it’s all behind-the-scenes. Although the electoral benefits of Ozawa fading into the background seem pretty obvious as well, there’s a common thread running here of allowing party leaders to choose their fate regardless of the short-term consequences to the parties themselves. All this may only mean that everybody believes that the prospects for an early Lower House election are diminishing and is consequently taking a wait-and-see approach. But it is a pattern that I’ll take into greater consideration going forward.

* I’ve mentioned before that there are two types of bribery on the books: the garden variety wairo (bribe) involving shūwai (the receiving) and zōwai (the giving) that ordinary public servants take part in and the more nebulous assen (intermediation) that Diet members and their publicly-installed secretaries engage in. I am referring to the former here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Diet Members’ League to Examine the Issuance of Government Paper Money and Inheritance Tax-Free, Zero-Interest National Bonds Toils on…

Today, the Diet Members’ League to Examine the Issuance of Government Paper Money and Inheritance Tax-Free, Zero-Interest National Bonds presenting its recommendations to the Ministry of Finance and the LDP Policy Research Council. If you can’t guess what they are recommending, this highly negative take on the two ideas should shed a little light on the issue. I’m posting on this issue again because a media report says that the inheritance tax reduction (apparently, the DMLEIGPMITFZINB has backed away from the “tax-free” idea) is “intended to increase the liquidity of personal assets”.

Now I don’t know exactly what the DMLEIGPMITFZINB means by “personal assets”, but we won’t be losing much by way of logic if we limit consideration to financial assets and real estate. It’s probably safe to assume that people do not have hundreds of millions of yen in paper money lying around the house unless it’s the kind of money that, to put it gently, they don’t want people to know that they have. Bank accounts are another matter, but I don’t see how using that money to buy government bonds “enhances” the liquidity of personal assets. They could sell government bonds already in their possession, but I again fail to see any changes in “liquidity”, the only effect being a trade-off between lower inheritance tax revenues for smaller interest payments whose consequences for the national treasury is dubious at best. If they sell corporate shares to purchase the government bonds, then you could argue that “liquidity” has been enhanced. However, in these times, you want to encourage people to buy shares, not sell them. Same thing goes for real estate, whose prices have resumed their downturn in metropolitan areas as well. (It has never bottomed out in the provinces.)

So far, I have implicitly assumed that the assets in question are domestic ones. But they need not be. In fact, if people sold off foreign assets to finance the purchase of the government bonds, the immediate effect would be that that government can finance its deficit spending without crowding out domestic borrowers. Although there is a whiff of that beggar-thy-neighbor stench, it might be a nice way for all those people who have been losing money in the forex market to recoup some of those losses through the tax break. But I detect no movement to limit the measure to overseas assets.

This idea is as bogus as it gets. So, if you see Kaoru Yosano, please tell him to read my blog so he won’t have a change of heart. Thanks.

As for government scrip, I still believe that it’s a dangerous idea. But at least it makes as much sense as helicopter money.

How Many More Shoes to Drop in Construction Money Scandal?

If there’s one Japanese-language news item to read today on the unfolding construction money scandal, it’s this one. According to the Asahi report, there is a document (or documents) that shows four general contractors (Shimizu Corporation, Obayashi, Taisei Corporation, and Toda Corporation) in addition to Nishimatsu Construction Co. giving money through subcontractors and other means to the “Ozawa side”—the media’s term for the trio of: Ichiro Ozawa’s political finance management organization, the DPJ local chapter for the Iwate Prefecture Fourth District (Ozawa’s electoral district), and the DPJ’s Iwate Prefecture association of local chapters. The source (sources?) claims that the money flowing from the five zenecon to the Ozawa side amount to about 100 million yen annually and that the Public Prosecutors Office is aware of the document(s). All the other media outlets must be scrambling furiously to follow this story. Now if you think this is bad for Ozawa…

Public works are the Ichor of economies and politics, local and national; As such, it was always doubtful that Nishimatsu was the only zenecon that would take a proprietary interest in the financial well-being of the “Ozawa side”, or that the zenekon’s interests would all be focused on the “Ozawa side”. Moreover, as an industry long used to “competing and collaborating (競争と協調)”—over the years, they have provided the stage for a long-running, whack-a-mole saga of collusion scandals—it was always likely that as one led, others would follow; and that this pattern would be repeated to no end. In any case, the PPO got a foot in the door by way of Nishimatsu, got the Nishimatsu people talking, got to look at the Nishimatsu books, and as the result is now able to broaden the scope of their investigation. I expect the PPO to begin looking into the other four zenekons, talking to their people, examining their books, to see what they reveal.

Ladies and gentlemen, the cancer has metastasized. The story is no longer (if it ever was) Nishimatsu, no longer Ozawa, no longer even the DPJ/Ozawa-LDP/Nikai Mexican standoff; it’s the whole shebang.

Monday, March 09, 2009

One Last Point on Ozawa Before I Go

We still don’t know where Ichiro Ozawa is going to stand for election. It’s amazing; it’s hurting DPJ chances in the single-seat electoral districts that are being kept open for Ozawa in case he decides to transfer out of Iwate Fourth District. It doesn’t help the DPJ’s chances in the proportional districts that include those single-seat districts either. So what’s going on? Two indisputable facts:
There is a strong movement within the DPJ to ban heirloom candidates from standing for election in the electoral districts of their decedents.

Ozawa has three sons.
It is also to be remembered that there was some grumbling among the locals when Junichiro Koizumi’s late, unexpected decision not to seek election left too little time for any option other than to turn to his second son for what was then expected to be an early election. Add to that the assets amassed in his political organizations estimated to be a billion yen or more, and it becomes tempting to connect the dots.

This is trivial, though, and the LDP is obviously not throwing stones here; if this is a glass house, then the LDP lives in a glass tower. Still, I’m not sure that even the tabloids are picking it up yet, so I thought I’d just take note here, for your amusement.

METI Minister in the Hot Seat; The Good News-Bad News Story of the Weekend

News reports say that Toshihiro Nikai, in his second tour as METI Minister, has been singled out by the Public Prosecutors Office for special attention out of the rest of his LDP colleagues on the take from the Nishimatsu (alleged) dummies. This is obviously good news for the DPJ because it spreads the…manure around. Adding spice to the….okay, what’s particularly…delicious is the fact that Nikai is a sitting Cabinet member, which means that the Aso administration is taking a direct hit and that the Prime Minister’s judgment and leadership are yet again being called into question. Less obviously, I think that this story has extra legs because Nikai’s relationship with one of the main Nishimatsu figures goes all the way back to his days as Wakayama Prefecture assemblyman—an heirloom that he inherited from his father. In other words, other things being equal, there is a greater likelihood of establishing a direct politician-donor link for Nikai than Ozawa. This is significant because the bar is high for the PPO when it comes to bringing indictments under the Political Finances Regulation Act against individual politicians for acts committed by their political finances management organizations and making them stick.* The DPJ won’t look any better, but the LDP will look worse, which is almost as good for escaping the hungry bear.

Nikai’s plight is actually bad news for Ozawa, though, if he really wants to stay on—something that I’m not completely convinced is the case. A Nikai resignation will touch off media pressure on Ozawa to follow suit, and “we’re no worse than the LDP” is not good, as an excuse or a campaign slogan. Now a Cabinet member, who serves at the pleasure of the Prime Minister, is far easier to get rid of than a party president, who can in principle stay on if he//she so desires short of being kicked out by an intra-party majority. Moreover, taking leave from the Cabinet, like so many of his LDP colleagues have done in recent administrations alone, is personally less damaging as political careers go. So Nikai is much more likely to take leave, which will ratchet up media (and hence voter) pressure on Ozawa. If I knew game theory, I’d probably be saying that the odds of the DPJ rank-and-file not in thrall to Ozawa will anticipate such an LDP move and raise objections to Ozawa’s continued stewardship have improved as well. In fact, I think that there is now a good chance, depending very much on how the criminal investigations unfold, that both Nikai and Ozawa will end up resigning by the end of the month, allowing the latter to concentrate on the experientially more comfortable and physically less taxing role of political strategist/fixer extraordinaire. Needless to say, that would not be good for the Prime Minister, whose LDP support base has always been tenuous and is increasingly so.

* A politician is criminally liable for acts committed by the chief financial officer of his/her political finances management organization only if he has failed to exercise due diligence in the appointment and oversight of that officer. Japanese jurisprudence places the burden of proof on this judgment call squarely on the shoulders of the prosecution. A direct link is easier to make a call on the evidence and conviction carries far greater penalties—potential jail time, if most likely suspended, and suspension of the right to stand for election, which leads to automatic disqualification for elected officials—than mere lack of due diligence, for which there are provisions only for a fine and the suspension of political rights is at the discretion of the courts.

I’ll post on the weekend opinion polls later if I have the time. Suffice to say that they look bad for Ozawa, and that the DPJ and LDP have traded a few percentage points of support between them. The Aso administration shows a slight improvement as well. Given the circumstances, this all looks like a case of dead cats bouncing on the part of the ins. The media will seize on this though to put more pressure on Ozawa, who in turn is likely to dig in. Which brings the story back to the first point; that is, the fate of the METI Minister. The probably indictment two weeks later is likely to be the inflection point.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Reuters Comes Out on Top on the Nishimatsu Political Financing Scandal

There are two events and one plot line really worth watching: the indictment that is highly likely to come out in two-week’s time and the rash of public opinion polls taking place over the weekend, and the fate of the METI Minister. In the meantime, I’ll see if I can find the time to construct a timeline. It’s easy to forget the improbable series of events that have led to this state of affairs. The Prosecutors Office apparently blundered into this one. I’m reminded of the discovery of penicillin. But for now, a bit of Media Watch:
Minor inaccuracies aside, Linda Sieg for Reuters (here) and here) and Martin Fackler for the New York Times (here) are doing a competent job of covering the unfolding scandal for the freely-accessible, day-to-day, English-language media. Sieg does better though—in fact, I think that she consistently outperforms WaPo and NYT correspondents, the two U.S. newspapers left standing in Japan, at least when it coming to reporting on the fly*—except for the title ”Poll shows most voters want Japan opposition head to quit”. I know that it’s common usage in the United States, but I still have problems with calling “almost 60% (actually 57%)” “most”. Lyndon B. Johnson beat Barry Goldwater 61.1% to 38.4% in the 1964 U.S. Presidential election, but people don’t say that LBJ won “most” of the votes, do they?

* There’s a good case to be made that foreign newspaper correspondents are feature writers, not reporters, which raises the question: Why should general-purpose newspapers maintain expensive bureaus staffed with ex-pats in the first place? I can see a future where The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal are the only English-language dailies competing with wire services to offer original, day-to-day, worldwide content. The rest will rely on those very wire services for regular reporting and on cheaper local labor and freelance ex-pat writers with reliable track records for feature articles. To put it another way, if you were the NYT desk, wouldn’t you rather receive our fashion tips from, say, néojaponiste W. David Marx than “Vending-Machine” Martin Fackler?

Not that the FT writer appears to be able to rise above her go-to-commentators either here, here, or here.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Ichiro Ozawa’s LDP Challenger Allegedly Worked Out Nishimatsu Construction Money Scheme

There’s so much going on around the Nishimatsu Construction case but I still can’t imagine anything happening between now and the almost inevitable indictment of Ichiro Ozawa’s aide-de-camp that will change the minds of anyone that matters regarding Ozawa’s fate and its impact on the political scene. However, in the strangest of plot twists, the ex-secretary that set up the arrangement between the Ozawa camp and Nishimatsu Construction appears to be Yoshinobu Takahashi, current head of the local LDP chapter in Iwate Prefecture, Fourth District, poised to run against Ozawa in the upcoming Lower House election. Takahashi was Ozawa’s right-hand man for many years and even served as a Lower House member for the DPJ in 2000-2003, but defected to the LDP in 2004.

It’s weird, and I don’t know what to make of it, except to see it as proof that you never know what’s going to pop up as the investigation unfolds.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Ozawa’s Troubles Bigger than I Suspected

Media reports today suggest that Ozawa is in deeper trouble than I had suspected. An arrangement that funneled Nishimatsu money to the Ozawa camp reportedly began in 1995, when Ozawa was wresting control of the New Frontier Party, the first credible threat to the LDP since the latter’s founding in 1955, from his intra-party rivals. The arrangement called for 25 million yen annually, with some of the money going to Ozawa’s financial management organization, and the rest of it going to the Iwate Prefecture 4th District chapter—Ozawa’s electoral district and Iwate Prefecture chapter association of the New Frontier Party and now the DPJ. In the beginning, at least some of the money came directly from Nishimatsu Construction and its real estate subsidiary but later increasingly, after 2003 exclusively, funneled through two Nishimatsu dummy organizations. The money going to the Ozawa organization allegedly violates both the letter and the spirit of the law, which since 1999 has banned financial management organizations—think, PAC on steroids—through which all political funds to individual politicians must flow, from accepting political from accepting corporate money.

What’s relevant against this timeline is the fact that the top publicly-funded secretary who was arrested joined the Ozawa office in 1999 as a private secretary after losing a mayoral election. Thus, he could not have been involved in making the initial arrangements with Nishimatsu in 1995, nor the beginning of the shift to the two Nishimatsu dummies in 1995 and 1998. It is also unlikely that he had any significant role in making arrangements to circumvent the ban that came into force in 1999. In other words, someone other than the secretary was responsible for setting up the initial arrangement and most likely the alterations to camouflage the corporate source after the ban. The secretary merely walked into a situation that he subsequently was promoted to oversee and has been left holding the bag. Moreover, given the scope of the arrangement that covered the entire Iwate Prefecture and the initial legality of corporate contributions, it is hard to believe that Ozawa had not taken an active interest in the 1995 setup for Nishimatsu money, though it is also quite possible that he subsequently used his political machine to shield himself with a don’t ask, don’t tell information barrier.

The PPO cannot go back beyond the 2003 contributions as part of the accusations; the statute of limitations on criminal prosecution expires at the end of this month on the 7 million (received in 2003) out of the 21 million yen that Ozawa’s financial management organization received between2003-2008 and this has been given as the reason for the timing of the arrest. However, my guess is that the Criminal Procedure Code does allow the introduction of pre-March 2003 facts and evidence to support the case against the post-2003 infractions. The court of public opinion, of course, does not follow the Criminal Code, and will hear the case with Ichiro Ozawa as the main, albeit unindicted, suspect against a background of the entire 1995 arrangement, multiple allegations of political finance irregularities, and the graveyard shadow of the Fuligin General himself.

The next chapter of this saga is likely to come rather quickly, as the PPO must indict the secretary by the end of the month, or the statute of limitations expires on the 2003 money. An indictment will ratchet up the political pressure. Of course it’s still possible that Ozawa will be able to muster enough support within the DPJ to hang on—any threat that he might pull his troops out must be taken seriously in view of past experience and DPJ leaders are voicing their support in public—but that looks less likely as the full scope of the case unfolds. His rock-bed, diehard supporters are substantial but clearly in the minority, and the others should have no compunctions in taking him out if they see the damage outweighing the desire for party unity.

The electoral implications are more ambiguous. My money had already been on Katsuya Okada, ex-party leader once removed, as the most likely DPJ alternative if Ozawa resigns. He looks more and more the favorite, as a middle-of-the-road reformist without Ozawa’s money baggage—it’s easier to keep your nose clean when your father is a self-made billionaire—or enemies—the flip side is that backroom wheeling and dealing is not Okada’s forte—who has been tirelessly making the rounds of the boondocks since he resigned as party head after the 2006 Lower House election loss, while quietly voicing his loyal dissent as he sees fit. His wooden campaign style—think, Al Gore, without the bombast—is no help, but Ozawa is no Obama either. In any case, Ozawa’s travails improves the chances of Taro Aso making it to a snap election, even more so if Ozawa defies the odds and stays on. The media (and electorate) would no doubt prefer a Yosano-Okada matchup, but I’ll be surprised if both cards turn up.

Yes, I think that in the beginning I underestimated Ozawa’s problem. I may have a bias in favor of the status quo. I’ll have to think about that.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Andrew Sullivan Not Coming Clean on Christianists and Porn

Previously, I complained about how Andrew Sullivan had uncritically cited a New Scientist report that had misrepresented a study on religion and porn. Now, he has a new post on a blogger who attacks the New Scientist article from a different angle. Oddly, Sullivan claims that “Henry Farrell [, the blogger in question,] fisks that religion and porn study.” No, he doesn’t. He “fisks” the New Scientist piece and by implication its uncritical acceptance by Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan isn’t dumb enough to make such a mistake, is he?

Of Course If Ozawa Tries to Stay on After His Secretary Is Indicted…

It’s a whole ‘nuther ball game.

Ozawa and DPJ Tough It Out

Ichiro Ozawa and, for the most part, the DPJ are taking the conventional route and toughing it out. Ozawa is staying on as DPJ President, and he and his top deputies are claiming political foul play. (In fact, prosecutorial collusion is not completely unthinkable, but will be near impossible to prove even if it does exist.) I had seen an outside chance of Ozawa using this political setback as an excuse to recuse himself from the Prime Ministership and concentrate on his first love, the political game. Apparently, if Ozawa decides not to serve as Prime Minister, he will do that under his own terms and not those forced on him by adverse circumstances. Fair enough.

The good news for Ozawa is that it is highly unlikely that he will be charged personally. Shielding principals from the down-and-dirty facts is one of the political secretaries’ main functions. In Japan, political secretaries rarely if ever turn state’s witness; some even take the phrase “taking one’s secrets to the grave” all too literally and prematurely. Ozawa’s role, if any, in the deceit, again if any, is surely safe with his top political secretary. The bad news is that politicians are usually obliged to take responsibility, legally in the case of certain electoral infractions, for the transgressions of their agents. I suspect that there are multiple reasons for this, ranging from cultural collectivism to assumptions that non-provable complicity. In any case, his top secretary’s arrest, and likely indictment and conviction—if they happen—will successively ratchet up the pressure on Ozawa to step down himself.

In Ozawa’s favor is the fact that LDP politicians have also been on the take. My guess is that they have been raking in more money collectively from Nishimatsu Construction than Ozawa and any other DPJ politicians put together have done. Having said that, at the individual level, Ozawa appears to have lapped the field as far as such beneficence is concerned—an embarrassing reminder of his status as a political dinosaur, the foremost heir of the construction-money dominion that the Fuligin General, the Late Great Kakuei Tanaka of the LDP, built. Paradoxically, this softens the pain for the DPJ somewhat, since the public already sees Ozawa as the symbol of DPJ ties to conventional politics-as-usual. To the electorate, Ozawa was never more than the grey knight of Japanese politics. The shorter they come, the softer they fall.

All in all, I do not think that this will turn the political tides. The scandal diminishes the DPJ but if anything does something similar for the LDP albeit on a substantially lesser scale. If this is a case of Ozawa just being Ozawa, Prime Minister Aso has more than matched it with his own impressions of scrambling ineptitude.

What (I Think) Ozawa Thinks, What (I Think) It Means What (I Thought) Ozawa Thought, What (I Thought) It Meant.

I came home to edit this and found after dinner that the dam had broken on Ozawa’s political finances. Oh well…
Ozawa wants Japan to be self-reliant. Who doesn’t? Ozawa wants to minimize the presence of U.S. troops in Japan. Who doesn’t? Ozawa doesn’t want to be dragged into U.S. military conflicts. Who the hell doesn’t? So why is the entire Japanese body politic from left to right up in arms about his February 24 national security pronouncement, forcing him and his minions to parse it till TGIF?

First of all, replacing U.S. troops in Japan costs money (not what the mainstream economic-conservative, Yoshida-Doctrine, small-military crowd wants) and requires beefing up the military (not what the proto-pacifist crowd wants). This, taken in isolation, likely pleases the nativist wing of the Japanese right, but few else.

His insistence on the UN flag also alarms the same people because it fronts a desire for a quantum leap for his previously-stated desire for Japanese on-the-ground presence, be it boots or clipboards. The Japanese opposition to Samawa was not based less on a principled stand on the war in Iraq than a primal fear of putting Japanese lives on the line of fire and likely a collateral dread of our troops shedding alien blood, most typically represented by but by no means limited to the proto-pacifist stand against Japanese presence beyond our shores. It goes less than half-way in appeasing nationalists though, because it precludes the possibility of Japan making up its own mind on the efficacy of sending its troops (and other human resources) in harm’s way.

Ozawa’s national security pronouncements have something to displease almost everyone. A non-starter, if ever there was one.

Public opinion polls have usually shown a majority or plurality supporting the maintenance of the status quo, which recognizes the right of collective defense but denies the constitutional right to exercise it. However, Yomiuri has consistently been able to make a majority of its sample support the opposite position by phrasing the question to tie it to Japan’s own national security. Moreover, several other polls also flipped in favor of collective defense between 2006-2007, when anxiety over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs reached a peak while “abduction fatigue” had yet to settle in. Add to this another 2007 poll that said more people expressed ignorance of “collective defense” than those who did, and it is hard to avoid the following conclusion: Half or more of the Japanese public has little or no understanding of “collective defense” and much of it tends to think of it exclusively in terms of Japanese security. This suggests that the more North Korea and China (and theoretically Russia) loom as threats to Japan’s national security, and the more the United States insists on a more explicit quid pro quo, the more Japanese public opinion will be accommodating to U.S. demands regarding collective defense*.

In this respect, we must be mindful of Taepodon 2. Now this is not getting as much Japanese press as previous North Korean stunts, partly perhaps because of “WMD fatigue”, but surely because a successful launch of the long-range missile will increase the security threat to the United States, but not Japan. In fact, it arguably dilutes the threat to Japan. However, the increased threat to the United States will lend urgency to the question: Is Japan willing to use its TMD weapons to shoot down missiles that are aimed at the United States? That, and not some abstract question about the constitutionality of collective defense, is what the Obama administration is likely to be concerned about.

The online half-lives of most media sources are distressingly short. The following are the mostly secondary sources that I have relied on in writing this post. One of them is a 2 Channeru thread, so, yes, it has its merits.

* This argument, of course, ignores the countervailing powers of the “you piss me off” effect, which in part was responsible for the miscalculation that led to the U.S. abandonment of Subic Bay.