Wednesday, April 30, 2008

My Take? No Harm, No Foul


Oh, to be young again.

Not that I ever did anything like that...


Hey, I’ve Got an Idea, Why Don’t We All Sit Out the Revote?

Do you remember Ichiro Ozawa, the head of the DPJ, being raked over the coals for skipping the House of Representatives revote on the bill that allowed the JMSDF to resume its refueling operations and going off to campaign for the DPJ gubernatorial candidate in Osaka, and Yukio Hatoyama had to make some lame excuse to the media? This time, on the revote for the gasoline tax surcharge, they’re all sitting it out. This time, Mr. Hatoyama claims that “to take the lack of a vote [in the House of Councilors after 60days] and deem it a vote down is an act of violence that leads to the argument that the House of Councilors is unnecessary”.

Did Mr. Hatoyama forget what happened at the end of the 2007-2008 extraordinary Diet session? Did Mr, Hatoyama forget the Japanese Constitution?

As if. See, if everybody’s offside, then nobody’s offside.

Mr. Hatoyama has found an ingenious way to keep the DPJ players in line. I guess we’ll have to wait till autumn to see which LDP and DPJ Diet members cross the aisles on the gasoline taxes.

ADD: It’s almost 11 PM, and I still don’t see this in the mainstream media. Have I scooped them all, KNC?

Follow-Up on Toms, Dicks, and Harrys

I’ve struck up a dialogue of sorts with Siegfried Knittel, who has confirmed that he is indeed the guy in in this article. (It was hard to imagine two German freelance journalists named Siegfried Knittel who share an interest in things Japan.) However, he also tells me that he is not the white guy in the photo, in case you wondered. With his permission, I’m taking a passage from his email as the jump-off point for a post, a follow-up to this one.

About your thoughts about names. I think specially first names have a lot to do with identity or who people would like to be. Often parents have some ideas what kind of people their child should be, what kind of character it should develop. So if Asian parents give their child an English name, they think, I guess, the child should live like the Americans do, should be wealthy, successful like the Americans. But I think it's a burden for the children. I am German and I feel, think, eat like a German. I like Italian, French, Japanese food very much, perhaps at home I cook more Italian style than German style, but I guess my last meal should be a special meal from the region of Stuttgart, where I was born. When Germany was divided, the people from East Germany could not travel to the southern Europe countries like Italy or Spain. So they gave their children Spain names like Carmen or Manuela—or English names like Mike but mostly written Maik. Their children should fulfill the wishes of their parents. I think it's not the best preparation for their lives.


It is true that Asian parents can be overbearing, and burden their children with impossible expectations. But one’s given name is the least of those problems. Besides, in the case of the Taiwanese, their English names are more often than not adopted when they get a passport. That means that they can make their own choices. And remember, under the Confucian tradition, a member of the upper classes assumed a new, permanent name on reaching adulthood (a chronologically flexible concept BTW), a name that expressed the person he aspired to be. The old name would be left, I assume, to be used among old intimates, in private. In that context, don’t you think that leaving your home country for the first time would be a perfect time to take on a new name?

Your story about the East German names is touching; it’s also a significant piece of social history of the Cold War history. You may be know that many Cubans gave their post-revolutionary children Russian names, with their spelling often altered to conform to Spanish pronunciation (similar to the German Maik). To those Cuban parents, Russia must have been the beautiful country that many good things came from and only the chosen few were able to visit. In retrospect, there must have been better places for the parents to wish their children to aspire to, but I don’t think that much harm came of it. And if it gave them a reason to wonder about the big, unseen world out there, that would have been for the better, in all.

Closer to home, Japanese names have changed and mutated enormously throughout history, particularly after the Meiji Restoration, so we are used to name changes over and beyond the Confucian tradition. Moreover, we do not have the Christian, Jewish or Islamic heritage of an unchanging core group of names grounded in scripture. (An extreme example of a somewhat similar phenomenon may be the nation of Sikhs, where everyone's surname is Singh.) Thus, any half-way decent name goes in Japan, although Akuma (phonetically, Japanese for devil) was rejected by the authorities.

If You Remember the Original, Chances Are You Also Remember Gas Prices During the First Oil Crisis a follow-up to this post...

Oh well there’s Chaves on my left arm and there’s Harper on my right,
And Abdullah is the guy that I’ll be buying from tonight
And when he asks me which one I love the best
I tear open my shirt and show
Car Owner on my chest
'Cause I'm a panderer, yeah, a panderer…

I could easily have done this for our own domestic scene, but I’m not ready to pick sides yet. I’ve voted with the public sentiment the last two general elections, and that’s where I am right now.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

There are Gasoline Taxes (i.e. Gasoline and Diesel Taxes), and There Are… There Are Gasoline Taxes

What does this remind you of? Hmm?

To quote:

Mrs. Clinton said the tax on the oil companies, which have been reporting record profits as oil prices soar, would cover all of the lost revenue from the federal tax on gasoline and diesel fuel. She also said no highway projects would suffer.

Mr. Obama derided the McCain-Clinton idea of a federal tax holiday as a “short-term, quick-fix” proposal that would do more harm than good, and said the money, which is earmarked for the federal highway trust fund, is badly needed to maintain the nation’s roads and bridges.

Ahmadinejad Sates Bloggerlust


Is Anyone Reading This Old Enough to Remember IFAD?

You are probably of a certain age or a development aid professional if you know what IFAD stands for. For the rest of you, IFAD is short for the International Fund for Agricultural Development. It was set up in 1977 with money from the developed countries and OPEC members to help cash-strapped developing countries in the aftermath of the First Oil Crisis. It’s a reminder of a time when oil producing countries actually had a sense of embarrassment about the effect that their windfall boon was having on their less fortunate brethren. Could it have been the zakat thing?

But one of the more striking features of the latest energy crunch is that there has been no talk about recycling Arab (or Iranian) oil money to the rest of the Third World. Instead, it’s all about the Gulf states competing to become a global financial and (except for Saudi Arabia) tourism center. Greed is good.

It’s not just oil producers either. Until very recently, the Western media and politicians were paying very little attention to the effects of $50-100/bbl oil on poor nations. Not that development aid is anything close to a panacea, but the relative indifference still is remarkable. Have the triumph of the market economy and the end of the Cold War coarsened our market instincts?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Fareed Zakaria Being Sensible about John McCain’s League of Democracies

Here, I posted a warning about John McCain’s democratic embrace. Fareed Zakaria plays the game much better, as he looks at it from the U.S. perspective. Not to worry though; the Democratic candidates can pop off on NAFTA because they know that Canada and Mexico are not going to renegotiate, while the Republican candidate can talk about kicking Russia out of the G-8 because he knows that the rest of the original G-7 will never let him do it. At least our politicians’ pandering is (mainly) about money, and our own at that.

Sorry, that wasn’t nice. Actually, the resemblance to a child throwing a tantrum is only superficial, for there’s a reason why the U.S. gets away with this and much, much more. Like it or not, the U.S. is the ultimate guarantor of the global system. None of us, not the EU, not Russia, not China, certainly not Japan, are willing to share the very real responsibility that the U.S. has staked out for itself.

Can it go on much longer? Should it?

Yamaguchi By-Election Revisited, with Some of Its Implications

Hideo Hiraoka, the DPJ candidate, wins the House of Representatives by-election for the Yamaguchi Prefecture 2nd District seat by a hefty margin of 116,348 to 94,404. A DPJ victory had been the closest thing to a sure thing, with the virtual incumbency of Mr. Hiraoka and the absence of a Communist Party candidate figuring substantially in the outcome. But the unusually high turnout for a by-election (69.00% of eligible voters, was only lower 3.45% lower than the 72.45% district turnout in the 2005 general election) and the results from the exit polls show that the troubled rollout of the Late-Term Elderly Medical Care Insurance System, as well as the road money issues, took a heavy toll on the LDP-New Komeito candidate*.

A robust and appealing fiscal reform package is the only thing that can raise Prime Minister Fukuda’s political fortunes. But that requires going up against powerful vested interests, a daunting task for a politically weakened, consensus-oriented Prime Minister.

Within the media, even the reliably pro-establishment Yomiuri appears to be slipping off the Fukuda bandwagon. Reports indicate that the DPJ will ease up a bit to ensure that the Fukuda administration will die a slow and politically painful death. This all means that the mainstream media will give increased coverage to speculation over the succession within the LDP, as the prospects of a snap election under Mr. Fukuda fades away.

Three related items: First, the Late-Term Elderly Medical Care Insurance System requires the insured to pay roughly 10% of the costs, with 40% coming from other public pension systems and 50% from government revenues. The DPJ wants to eliminate the 10% insurance premium, and its representatives are repeating their by now-familiar mantra that the money will come out of unidentified savings on public expenditures. Now I beg to differ with the DPJ’s suggestion that there is enough government fat to finance its multitrillion commitment to pensioners present and future, small-scale farmers, car drivers, and now the late-term elderly, and hold the line on the ever-growing public debt. But it is tempting to see what it could do, relatively free of the pork-barrel vested interests that encrust the political establishment, on the cost-cutting side.

Second, the substantial boost that the Communist party gave to the DPJ candidate by staying out highlights the importance of the interaction between discontent and the opposition parties. Here, microparties, as well as to a lesser extent the Communist Party, face a dilemma. They all want to topple the LDP (since they remember what happened to the Socialists the last time they slept with the enemy), but they don’t want to be the schmear on the bagel when the DPJ pulls up to the breakfast table. Sure, the DPJ will yield a few districts here and there to Socialist and other fellow traveler-party candidates. But that is no assurance that any of them will be the first past the stile. More importantly, a wholesale shift of the discontents to the DPJ—and that’s what it’s going to look like if and when the DPJ wins an HR general election—means that the little guys will be starved for votes in the (mostly) multi-prefecture proportional districts, where party-name write-in plays a crucial role. When elephants…

Third, if it was obvious even to an outsider like me that Mr. Yamamoto was a goner from the git-go, why did the LDP fail to portray him as the underdog, something which would have taken the pressure off the two national issues in the event of the loss? This may be a small matter compared to the botched Insurance System rollout, but it adds to the impression of a political party without a game plan. After all, it did become an national event.

* It is impossible to make an estimate of the relative effects of the various factors without access to the full results of exit polls. It is pretty clear that Representative-elect Hiraoka got a big push from the discontent vote and that the absence of a Communist Party candidate helped him substantially in that respect. The hardcopy Yomiuri does give us some figures from its exit poll covering 1,607 voters at 48 voting stations. Here’s what it has to say:

The most important issue in the election: public pensions and medical care 38%; the economy 15%; gasoline taxes and other matters regarding the road money 14%; (income and regional?) disparities 6%; Prices 3%; national security and diplomacy 3%; no answer 21%. Of the 38% who answered public pensions and medical care, 67% voted for Mr. Hiraoka, while 29% voted for Shigetaro Yamamoto, the LDP-New Komeito candidate.

Party preferences: LDP - 25% Hiraoka, 72% Yamamoto; New Komeito - about 20% Hiraoka, under 80% Yamamoto; Communist Party - over 90% Hiraoka; no preference – Hiraoka 73%, Yamamoto 21%. The report mentions that in the 2005 election, a little under 60% of Communist supporters voted for the Communist candidate, while the LDP and DPJ candidates each got about 20% of their votes.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

More on Latest Revelations over North Korea-Syria Nuclear Ties

Siegfried Knittel sends me this post on the blog China Matters and wants to know what I make of the speculation “that Kim Jung Il revealed information about the plant as a confidence-building measure to advance North Korea’s agenda with US negotiators, while hanging the Syrians out to dry. Maybe those incriminating pictures inside the purported Syrian reactor were snaps by a North Korean technician that Dear Leader passed on to Chris Hill.” The blogger probably does not realize it, but it would echo the revelations that Great Leader made to Prime Minister Koizumi regarding the abductees. So it's an interesting hypothesis, and it’s pretty clear that Israel/US had access to official or semi-official records, not “just a few furtive snapshots taken by a daring spy”.

However, the access most likely consisted of clandestine operations by the Israelis, the Mossad, and not through a Kim Jong Il leak. Think, Occam’s Razor. Besides, letting Chris Hill know that you've given assistance to a clandestine nuclear program of a third country (and a “state sponsor of terrorism” at that) while continuing to deny it publicly would be a strange way to go about getting a deal accepted in the US.

In support of his guess, the blogger assumes that John Bolton is holding back on his criticism of the State Department people because he knows what’s going on. To quote:

Specifically, I am not seeing the signs of orgasmic release I would expect from John Bolton if this revelation was a bombshell that promised to destroy the Six Party Agreement and shatter the reputations of his detested adversaries inside the State Department.But this not only assumes that he supports the deal, but that he somehow had access to the information, the Kim Jong Il leak, that had not been available when he resigned from the Bush administration.

Pardon the blogger’s French, but there's the following quote from the Washington Post:

On the conservative side, John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who has been critical of U.S. policy on North Korea, said: "I think this should drive the stake through the six-party talks. It shows why the North Koreans can't be trusted, why you need intrusive verification of anything they say."

Sounds to me like one happy guy, IYKWIAS. I'm sure he said much more, but there are so many other newsworthy sources closer to the action, such as angry Republican Senators and Congressmen, that there’s only so much ink to spare for someone who is at present no more than a talking head. And now to the real point of this post:

If you don’t find something in the media, that doesn’t mean that the media hasn’t carried it. But if you do find it in the media, that doesn’t mean that it has happened. And if the media didn’t carried it, that still doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.

Part of the reason why I blog, actually.

ADD: Incidentally, I think that the main reason why Israel didn't go to the IAEA with the information is because it didn't want to face questions about its own nuclear weapons program.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The First Habatsu Home Page?

The Seiwa Seisaku Kenkyuukai--Seiwaken for short--opened its home page on Tuesday. Seiwaken is the largest faction in the LDP and has produced the last four Prime Ministers, including the incumbent.

As far as I’m aware, this is the first habatsu home page. Now if only we could get all the other factions and caucus groups to start theirs…

Maybe it's just me, but it looks like a website for air fresheners and deoderizers IYKWIAS.

Bush Administration Delivers the Goods on North Korea’s Assistance for Syria’s Nuclear Program

I speculated here in essence that the Bush administration was getting ready to a) give North Korea a pass on its uranium enrichment program as well as its cooperation with Syria and b) delist North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism and release it from restrictions under the Trading with the Enemies Act. My point was that Japan would be called on to begin easing its sanctions (and, now that I think about it, also pitch in with some aid) if and when the entire plutonium cache and its status had been verified and the destruction process began. I saw the easing of sanctions as the logical conclusion of the reasoning and circumstances surrounding the 2006 October determination by the Abe Cabinet. I had intended to look at the implications of such a politically sensitive operation. But I think that I should put it off in light of the latest developments on persuasive evidence regarding North Korean assistance for a Syrian nuclear program. WaPo appears to have the most for a single news outlet. (I searched WaPo for (north korea nuclear), in case you want to skip the rest of my post/posts and fill yourself in on the story.

ADD: This is the briefing video.)

The consequences of the unexpected revelations, more than six months of silence after the Israeli attack on the facilities site and less than ten days after White House Press Secretary stated almost offhandedly that President Bush was on board the tentative deal that Chris Hill had struck, are unclear. What is clear is that getting the deal past Congress has become even more difficult.

One question that intrigues me (a lot of people, actually) is: Why now? The well-sourced David Sanger appears to be leaning towards the view that it’s an attempt by Vice President Cheney and his people to sabotage the deal that Chris Hill cut with his North Korean counterpart, ending his report with this paragraph:

“[Chris Hill]’s feeling pretty abandoned by Rice and Bush,” one of his colleagues said Wednesday. Mr. Hill did not respond to messages.

I’m not sure about that. Mr. Hill doesn’t seem to be the kind of person who would let on even if he felt that way. My money is on a deal between the two sides in the Bush administration: If we’re going to give North Korea probation on everything but the plutonium stockpile, let the world know that we have the goods, and see if the deal passes the stink test.

Okay, it does kinda stink, now that they tell us.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Can DPJ Dissenters Join the Ruling Coalition on the Other Side of the Road Money?

I swear I've never spent so much time on a single post. And it still needs editing. But I’ve run out of energy. Now back to life…

Tetsuro Yano is a three-term member of the House of Councilors (HC) whose only claim to national fame came last August during the wholesale Cabinet reshuffle that Prime Minister Abe undertook in a vain attempt to revive his political fortunes after the disastrous HC election the month before.

Many people, including Mr. Yano himself, had believed that he would be appointed to the Cabinet as one of two slots always reserved for the HC. Unfortunately, Mr. Abe was not among them, and kept Mr. Yano waiting in vain for the phone call that never came. (Mssrs. Yoichi Masuzoe and Shinichi Izumi got the nod.) Mr. Yano is not one to take things lying down, and made his displeasure known on national TV. He also called Mr. Abe and, if media reports are true, delivered a 25-munite diatribe.

Now, Mr. Yano is in the news again for giving a talk on April 23 in his home district where he claimed, “Some people are now emerging [among the DPJ HC members] who are willing to work with us. Pretty soon, those people are going to set up on their own.” The bone of contention is, of course, the gasoline tax revenue and its uses.

Coming from most people, this would be dismissed as mere pre-election tongue-wagging. That Mr. Yano is a member of the Ibuki faction--Bunmei Ibuki is the hardtalking Secretary-General of the LDP--raise more flags. However, the HC is a clubby place, and Mr. Yano worked closely with the opposition as the Chairman of the LDP’s HC Diet Affairs Committee between 2004 and 2007, so he should have a better-than-average idea of what’s going on in the hearts and minds of the people across the HC aisle than most of his LDP colleagues do. Then there’s Yasuhiro Ōe, the rebellious DPJ Councilor who claimed more than a month ago that he had the signatures of 39 DPJ Diet members (including 25 in the all-important HC) on a petition opposing the elimination of the surcharge.

But will enough DPJ Councilors break ranks and vote for or at least abstain from voting on the Fukuda administration’s tax bill to reinstate the surcharge? And if they do, will they break away to form a new party, or even join the LDP? If I had to make a guess, I’d say, possible, but unlikely.

On one hand, public works brings together one of the most powerful agglomerations of vested interests imaginable. Representatives of the provinces, whose economies are highly reliant on public expenditures, not to mention other old school, pork-barrel politicians, will find their beseeching hard to ignore. On the other hand, the DPJ wants to push the Fukuda administration and the ruling coalition over the edge on the issue, so the party leadership will come down more heavily on dissenters than in the case of the BOJ appointments*. In fact, there appears to be a real likelihood that the DPJ leadership will make it so uncomfortable for any members who vote with the ruling coalition on the tax bill that they will have no choice but to, in the words of Mr. Yano, “set up on their own”. Here, note that two of the likely ringleaders, Yasuhiro Ōe (2007), next to last, and Hideo Watanabe (2004) hold proportional seats. This is important.

Mssrs. Ōe and Watanabe and other HC proportional members in the DPJ, with their strong though limited local ties, are likely to find the siren call of the vested interests and assemblymen and mayors and governors hard to resist. But they have little appeal beyond their immediate environs, and as a result will have a hard time attracting votes over and above what they can carry over individually from their old DPJ haunts. Banding together, they will manage to elect the top vote-getters on their proportional candidates list, but the others will surely wind up losing their seats. They could stand for election in the prefectural districts in parallel, but that’s where they would be in the first place if they had sufficient local appeal, wouldn’t they? In fact, many of them are local losers who made it on the national list, so they would wind up being caught in the crossfire as the quasi-LDP, third-party candidate.

It turns out that Mssrs. Ōe and Watanabe are perfect examples of those likely losers. The DPJ won 19 proportional seats (allocated on a national basis) to the LDP’s 15 in the 2004 HC election, enabling Mr. Watanabe to scrape through at the very bottom, as the 19th highest vote-getter among the DPJ candidates. The DPJ was even more successful in the 2007 HC election, winning 20 proportional seats to the LDP’s 14, DPJ landslide victory, where Mr. Ōe slipped past the stiles in, yes, 19th place. In other words, in both cases, if the DPJ margin of victory in the popular vote had been much lower, they would very likely be out of a job now.

Would it help them to join the LDP outright then? Not necessarily. Mssrs. Ōe and Watanabe both received substantially less votes than the LDP proportional Councilors-elect with the least individual votes in the respective elections. Barring an LDP victory of 2004/2007 DPJ proportions, it is likely that they will lose their seats in their next elections.

Likeminded DPJ cohorts may be in a better position to bolt and hold onto their proportional seats. But remember, the number of seats that a party receives will be determined by the total of the votes for the entire party. A splinter party consisting of members with no national name recognition and without the money to field a large number of candidates with local appeal will be little more than the sum of its parts. A safe proportional seat in a big party would be at serious risk in a minor upstart. Those figures would be advised to switch to the LDP, rather than start a new one. Since we don’t have their names, it is impossible to be sure how many of them there are. What is clear is that their interests are not necessarily consonant with those of the two of the most prominent dissidents.

Yoshitake Kimata voted for Toshirō Mutō and was slapped with a one-month suspension, and is thus seen as a possible co-conspirator. He is elected from Aichi Prefecture, so he will not suffer from the same constraints that make a rebellion problematic for many proportional seat-holders. So could he join the LDP. But Aichi is a DPJ stronghold, with support from its powerful, moderate wing of the labor movement, with which global industrial giant Toyota has enjoyed very good relations. Mr. Kimata was himself one of two DPJ Councilors elected in the 2007 victory. The lone 2007 LDP incumbent will be very reluctant to compete against another LDP incumbent for what is likely to end up as one, not two, LDP seat in the 2013 HC elections. Other Councilors elected from prefectural districts may have an easier time of it, but in the 18 multiple-seat election provinces (with 4 or more seats, so that 2 or more are contested in any election), they could face fierce opposition from the LDP incumbents. Mr. Kimata and his non-proportional cohorts do have the option of setting up a party of their own. Good luck contesting the next elections as a small, quasi-LDP offshoot from the DPJ.

What is likely to happen, then?

Assuming that it continues to receive the unanimous support of the 105 LDP and Komeito Councilors, the Fukuda administration needs 17 non-coalition votes, 33 non-coalition abstentions, or combinations thereof for a HC majority. With more to lose either way, many potential DPJ dissenters will be strongly tempted to catch the flu, miss a connecting flight, anything, just to avoid voting at all. So if I’m reading the situation correctly, dissent will be expressed mainly through abstention and there won’t be many outright crossovers. That means that the coalition will require a fairly large number, much closer to the maximum 33 than the minimum 17, to step out of line if it is to gain a working HC majority. That seems like a tall order, though I don’t have the data to do a one-by-one analysis.

So far, I’ve argued that the opposition is more likely than not to be able to hold the line. But since I’ve been wrong quite often--not that professional pundits do a particularly good job of foretelling the twists and turns of the political game very well--it’s probably prudent to do a what-if and consider what sufficient crossover would mean to the coalition’s fortunes.

It is easy to think that this would yield immediate benefits to the LDP. They could very likely do more than just pass the tax and road bills without resorting to the House of Representatives supermajority override vote. In fact, in the case of an irrevocable DPJ split, they would be able to pass other contested bills as well.

But would the tactical success be a good thing for the LDP’s fortunes? I don’t think so. The would-be rebels are not going to bolt the DPJ just to put off the transfer of the gasoline tax money to general-purpose funds to FY2009 as the Fukuda administration intends instead of immediately as the DPJ demands, or just to reinstate the surcharge for the greater good as the Fukuda administration claims, but to keep as much of the money as possible for roads, earmark or no earmark. The would-be rebels will surely spare no effort to leverage their hold on the legislative fortunes of the coalition to achieve that aim.

This leverage that vested interests will be able to exercise on the end uses of the gasoline tax revenue will be bad enough on its own. But Prime Minister Fukuda has promised, with the post facto approval of the ruling coalition, to eliminate the earmark as part of “thoroughgoing” tax reform this autumn. In other words, Mr. Fukuda, he has linked the maintenance of the surcharge with what is very likely to be a substantial, albeit phased in, hike of the consumption tax, currently standing at 5%.

Now the public understands, in principle, the inevitability of a greater tax burden. But it has seen ample evidence of waste, corruption, and plain indifference; it will be ill-disposed to accept any tax package that is not accompanied by credible reform on the administration and expenditure of public funds. The public pension and healthcare systems are an obvious example of this; the road development and maintenance program is another. Mr. Fukuda faces a formidable task in putting together a publicly credible package by autumn. It will become even more daunting if vested interests could hold the gasoline tax revenues as hostage in return for their political support.

The coalition should be careful what it wishes for, don’t you think?

* I posted on the matter here. The three dissenters merely received “severe admonishments”.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

See AP Spin the Latest Yasukuni Visit

It’s on the CNN, WaPo, and NYT (but not the BBC) websites under the headline Japanese Officials Visit War Shrine. According to the AP wire:

Eight top government officials and more than 150 lawmakers prayed at the Yasukuni Shrine, which reveres 2.5 million war dead, including executed war criminals, said organizer Yoshinobu Shimamura.

It goes on to say that:

The pilgrimage marking an annual spring festival comes at a sensitive time -- the day after the South Korean president's visit and only two weeks before a planned trip by the Chinese president. Provocative, no?

The AP report does tell you that “Prime Minister Fukuda did not attend”. What it doesn’t tell you, though, is that Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura, Foreign Minister Masahiko Koumura, and Shigeru Ishiba also didn’t go. Call them the Big Four--the Chinese authorities told the Koizumi administration that if they stayed away, it would be okay with them (if not with the South Koreans). Prime Minister Koizumi wouldn’t listen, but the Abe administration did. So has the Fukuda administration, but that’s no surprise; there aren’t that many people in the LDP to Mr. Fukuda’s left, as far as foreign relations is concerned. No. The real news is that no Cabinet member joined the Yasukuni-fest, and how often do you see that happen?

The Fukuda administration is floundering, and the last thing that it needed was a distraction involving China and South Korea. Unable to do anything about the timing of the spring rites or the two heads-of-state visits aand the Japan leg of the Olympic torch run, Mr. Fukuda must have made sure that no one in his Cabinet - mostly handpicked by Mr. Abe - would step out of line. That's the real story.

And I had thought that wire services were above that sort of trick. Fooled me once.

Post Mortem on the Late-Term Elderly Medical Care Insurance Rollout

I’ll have to alter my assessment of the political impact slightly, now that we’re seeing some serious coverage. I don’t see the deduction issue having a serious impact, but more broadly, the rollout reports feed into the now-familiar incompetence issue adding to the image of a bumbling, indecisive administration. However, that’s an already well-established trope, and these latest troubles are a temporary blip compared to the other far more serious problems of the coalition and more specifically the Fukuda administration.

MK kindly reminds me that even after I altered my assessment of the impact of the Late-Term Elderly Medical Care Insurance System, I still didn’t see the deduction issue having a serious impact. So true. I guess that’s why I’m not a political strategist. And speaking of political strategist, where was the LDP strategist who failed to make the following points and push them relentlessly through the media before the rollout?

1) The new insurance system is designed to ensure the viability of the national healthcare system.
2) On average, low income households will pay a little less, while high income households will pay a little more.
3) We’re leveling costs across municipalities, so some households will see their bills go up, while others go down. We’re taking measures to alleviate the hit.
4) We’re deducting the monthly payments from pension payments for your convenience and to cut costs.
5) Our local and national offices will be on call to answer any questions and solve any problems that you may encounter.
6) For details of the makeover, here’s the url, or call or visit our representatives at…

The message should have preceded the rollout, initiated by a series of informal talkfests-by-invitation (complete with box lunches/cake-and-coffee and dog-and-pony shows) between matched members of the administration (Prime Minister; the Minister of Health, Welfare and Labor; and top MHWL bureaucrats) and the media (editorial writers and reporters on the MHWL beat, i.e. MHWL kisha club members), accompanied by a print-and-broadcast PR blitz that emphasized these points. That way, they could have formed the basic contours of the narrative, which would have put the grumbling and bumbling in context. In the event, the grumbling and bumbling became the context.

A well-designed and well-executed might not have stopped losses altogether, but it certainly would have stemmed the tide. Most importantly, it would have given the Fukuda administration a boost in the competence department, where its biggest deficits lie. The DPJ is not making much headway here either, indicating that the political battle here is not so much over substance as over form.

I am not making it up. This is how it’s done. The government typically has six months to one year to design and implement the public relations campaign between the Diet vote and the actual rollout. The Koizumi-Abe-Fukuda administrations had two years to prepare after the Diet voted to do the makeover. So what happened?

I really don’t know. I’ve written before about problems in the kantei, and it certainly was the job of people in the Prime Minister’s Office to keep tabs on this issue (among many others) and coordinate public communication efforts. But the MHWL should have been doing it on their own initiative in the first place. Incompetence? Loss of will? Both? Your guess is as good as mine.

So much for Monday morning quarterbacking. Now, back to work.

Monday, April 21, 2008

At Least He Didn’t Blow Us off Like Mr. Rudd. But No Lee Myung-bak Bump, or for That Matter…

The new South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak visits Prime Minister Fukuda on his way to meet President Bush. My favorite quote from this AP report:

Fukuda thanked Lee for choosing Japan as one of the two destinations of his first presidential trip abroad.

"That shows President Lee's policy to prioritize his country's relations with Japan," Fukuda said.

I’m giving a qualified yes to his sentiments. But, when you have to be thankful that your next-door head of state who was born in your apartment and still lives next door drops by on his way to his first real outing, you are in trouble. Mr. Fukuda’s gracefulness still has not completely lost its uses in his current job, but, untempered by any show of the iron fist in the glove, is now mostly raising his wimp quotient. It’s hard to see Mr. Fukuda gaining a diplomacy bump from visiting President Putin during Golden Week, welcoming Chinese President Hu Jintao to Tokyo next month, or hosting the Hokkaidō Summit in July. Japan is not going to get the Siberian oil pipeline spur any time soon, China is not going to budge on the East China Sea gas fields, and the real world ikmpact, if any, from the talks in and around the G-8 on global warming will be minimal. North Korea doesn’t look like a winner for him either. And we still don’t know the extent of the global fallout from the financial difficulties touched off by the collapse of the subprime loans market.

Things do not look too bright for the beleaguered Prime Minister. But there’s a silver lining for Mr. Fukuda. Ichirō Ozawa, the DPJ leader, is even less popular, with a 28% positive rating to Mr. Fukuda’s 32%. And mind you, that is coming from an Asahi telephone poll. ...Oh, a telephone poll... The DPJ has gained in support, up to 22% from 20% in the last poll, but still trails the LDP, at 26%, down from 31%. (Coalition at 28%, down from 34”) But None of the Above consolidated its formidable lead, at 41%, up from 39%.*

There’s clearly a huge overhang of the undecided that injects an enormous measure of uncertainty into the next House of Representatives election. It’s like tinderbox, waiting for something not necessarily policy-specific to touch it off. It is no wonder, then, that there is talk within the LDP and DPJ, as well as the ever-eager media, of abdication, and regicide, before the next House of Representatives election. I don’t yet have a firm take on it. Let me sleep on it.

* All this talk ignores the fact that most of these figures come within the margin of error. So don’t take it too-too seriously. Still…

Off topic: I’ve seen this guy on the New York subway. Have you?

WordPlay: Cut to the Quick

The following stems from an exchange with Janne in Osaka on this post, which shows if nothing else that he doesn’t mean to hurt you when he cuts to the quick:

Cut to the quick is an interesting idiom, with basically two meanings that are reflections of each other. Look.

This, this, and this are some examples of the positive usages of this metaphorical idiom. Here's another example. This and other reference sites, though, are inclined to give only the original, hurtful sense of the phrase. I think that a big reason for this is sloth, the online tendency of “sources” to mindlessly copy each other. More importantly, all the positive examples I’ve found use the active voice, while the reference uses the passive voice. Note also that the usage in the Sweeny Todd is particularly effective because it channels the original, pre-idiom, hurtful meaning. In short, it’s good to cut to the quick, but it’s bad to be on the receiving end.

So you sometimes hurt their feelings when you cut to the quick? Better that, than to hedge your comments and drain them of any real meaning.

Unless you’re a politician.

I’m something of a word nerd, in case you haven’t noticed.

Why All Those Chinese Toms, Dicks and Harrys, and Other Thoughts about Names and Identity

I wrote the following off the top of my head, with no fact-checking. If you have any information or views regarding the matter, you are even more welcome than usual (if such a thing is possible) to share them here.

RD writes that the Chinese in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore routinely take on Western first names, and some mainland Chinese do it as well, while Koreans rarely do that. And it is also true that members of the Chinese diaspora have taken on local names in many places in Southeast Asia (Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia come to mind; Malaysia, less so, unless they convert to Islam) while usually maintaining their Chinese names as well, even after multiple generations. Do the Chinese blend in better than the Koreans?

However, the perceived difference between the Chinese and Koreans may only be a historical accident. The majority of pre-WW II Koreans who were compelled, politically or socially, to take on Japanese names after the occupation and annexation but stayed on (or in some cases moved into) Japan after WW II retained their Japanese names (though in custom only: I’m sure the Korean authorities would not issue passports under Japanese-sounding names) did not revert to their real names until many, many years after the war. In fact, a large number continue to use their Japanese names. We all do what we need to do in order to blend in, though the Chinese appear to do a good job of maintaining their Chinese identity*.

(sidebar: In contrast, I think that we Japanese tend to melt into the scenery after the first generation. It’s probably relevant here that Japanese surnames not of samurai origin are heavily geographical and/or topographical. Also informative, a Philippine diplomat once noted that Philippine and Japanese ex-pats and immigrants, unlike most other immigrant groups, do not form enduring clusters.)

Whence the Chinese custom of adopting English first names? I have no way of proving it, but I suspect that the Hong Kong people (Hong Kongians? Kongese? Kongites?) and Singaporeans began doing it under British rule, and it spread to the Taiwanese when they moved closer to the U.S. during the Cold War*.

I think that there's also a generational factor mixed in somewhere, probably in the first decade or so after WW II, when anti-Asian racism was still overtly present in Western society. You'll probably find that fewer Japanese businessmen adopt those Anglo nicknames (Tad, Bud, but never Miguel, never Juan) these days. So the generational factor may be a major reason that the custom is far less prevalent among the late-emerging mainland Chinese. (Chip-on-the-shoulder nationalism could be another, but I don’t think it is a major factor.)

* For what it’s worth, I’ve been told by NW, a young Taiwanese who studied in the US, that the Taiwanese usually choose their English names when they file for a passport though some do get them earlier.

…okay, back to work…

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Japanese Healthcare Revisited

I received the following comment for this post. The answer became fairly long, and I did promise to revisit the issue, so I’m uploading it as a separate post on its own. I find it amusing that it retains the feel of a comment.

What if you are critically ill and in an ambulance and the crew cannot find a hospital that will accept you? Perhaps they are busy, or think you might have a contagious disease. And you die. Then what?

That's just one of the puzzling questions I had after watching the Old Japan Hand. I have more when I read the newspapers or see how my mother-in-law was treated when she had a serious illness and required long-term hospitalization. Well, the cost was low to us at first, so I guess that's all that is important.

I'm sorry to hear about your mother-in-law, Dan. She apparently got much worse treatment than my grandfather, who spent his last years in a hospital.

Cost is, of course, always important, and in the long run, you end up getting what you pay for, and vice versa. So you have to strike the balance somewhere. This means that every public healthcare system will fall short of the ideal and only the wealthy will get everything they ask for, at their own cost.

One way to cut costs is queuing. That’s why you see those piles of months-old magazines and used comic books in waiting rooms. Some queues can be much longer, and systemic. For example, some national healthcare systems keep you waiting for months for surgery, which could result in serious harm to the health of the patient.

Another way is to cut services altogether. It’s clear from the video that many hospitals are facing financial difficulties, and one of the consequences beyond the purview of the documentary appears to be a deterioration of emergency services in some areas. I don’t know how pervasive this problem is (not in my neighborhood, if personal experience is any gauge - which admittedly may merely highlight the dangers of the anecdotal approach - particularly with the extra money the local government has put been putting into its medical services in recent years), since I haven’t followed the issue closely enough to see any statistics. I also do not know how much of the problem is due to local budgetary constraints (which would give added urgency to the promised reassignment of gasoline tax revenues to general purpose funds) or management issues (for someone has to coordinate the system, and governments, local and national, can be slow-moving and unimaginative, to put it gently, which means that your relatives on your wife’s side should vote early and vote often - I mean, every chance they have).

Doctors and medical institutions game the system on the revenue side too. I think that the documentary mentioned the high proportion of money going to medication. That’s one price you pay, pardon the expression, for a fairly rigid pricing system. Then there’s the sagaku beddo, where the hospitalized patient pays extra for an accommodation upgrade.

So Japan, like most countries, winds up with an imperfect (from a Bill Gates or Sumner Redstone perspective anyway) system. T.R. Reid finds the Japanese public satisfied (define satisfied, yeah, of course), and that conforms to his personal experience from his Tokyo days as WaPo Bureau Chief. I think that I can say the same for myself as well as that of my immediate family.

Of course, all is not well with the system, and the documentary touches on those points as well. But it just might be that T.R. Reid has accentuated the positive more than other foreign correspondents in Japan do. If so, that may owe something to his sunny and positive outlook. Still, it’s good to have someone let the world know that we’re not all a bunch of whale-killing, kangaroo-slaughtering, right-wing, walking vending machines.

ADD April 20: The “walking vending machines” is a reference to this all-time low in NYT Japan-Is-Weird stories. I say “low” not because of the subject of the story but because the gullible writer apparently missed the joke.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Chris Hill’s Latest Foray Yields Tentative Agreement, or a Half: Some Implications

...needs more editing, but I ran out of time and energy...

An agreement on the implementation of phase two of the 2007 February 13 Six-Party Action Plan is in the air.

On, April 8, Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill’s held talks in Singapore with his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye Gwan. After the talks, he flew to Beijing the same night and on the following day briefed his Chinese, South Korean, and Japan colleagues in the Six-Party Talks process (and the Russian Embassy in Beijing). After returning to Washington, on April 10, he briefed U.S. lawmakers in a closed session. According to this well-sourced Reuters report, Mr. Hill and his North Korean counterpart reached a tentative agreement along the following lines:

Several people familiar with Hill's [April 10] briefing said he gave U.S. lawmakers the impression he hoped to bring about such a [North Korean] declaration [on its nuclear program] within weeks. According to these people, the declaration would have three parts:

-- North Korea's disclosure of its plutonium stockpile, which Pyongyang has estimated at 66 pounds (30 kg), as well as records that would allow the United [S]tates to verify this figure;

-- a U.S. "bill of particulars" laying out U.S. concerns about North Korea's suspected uranium enrichment program as well as its suspected nuclear proliferation activities;

-- North Korea's acknowledgment of the U.S. concerns.

On Monday, April 14, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino confirmed in a press briefing that President Bush is also on board. Like it or, not, everybody has been duly informed; the clock is running again. But to what end?

Now even if - we’re talking about North Korea - the deal goes through, such a declaration by no means concludes phase two. As Ms. Rice stated in her remarks on April 11:

Any document that we get, any declaration that we get, has to be verified and it has to be verifiable. And we have to make certain that we have means to assess what the North Koreans tell us, and we have to have means to verify what the North Koreans tell us.

Now, you can’t verify overnight some of these complicated programs that the North Koreans have been engaged in. But we have to be absolutely certain that we’ve got means to do it. And by the way, it’s not just the United States. It is all of the members of the six parties that have to be a part of this process of accounting for the North Korean programs and then verifying what we’ve been told and then finding ways to dismantle them.

So it does not necessarily amount to a U.S. copout, unless, of course, the Bush administration delists North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism and releases it from restrictions under the Trading with the Enemies Act before “accounting for the North Korean programs and then verifying what we’ve been told and then finding ways to dismantle them.” After all, if past behavior is any indication, North Korea will do its best to wrest as many concessions as possible every step of the way. And that’s assuming that it really wants to move forward on phase two. In this respect, it is little short of flabbergasting that more than four months after the December 31 deadline, we still don’t know what the situation is in Yongbyon, as Ms. Rice readily admitted in the same April 11 remarks:

The North Koreans, of course, also have obligations in terms of disabling the Yongbyon facilities, and so we are not yet at a point where we can make a judgment as to whether or not the North Koreans have met their obligations and we are therefore not at a point at which the United States can make a judgment as to whether or not it’s time to exercise our obligations. But when we have made that judgment, we will be prepared to exercise the obligations that we’ve undertaken.

So, it is hard for me to believe that the Bush administration will make moves that give up any meaningful leverage unless they are paralleled by significant moves in the right direction. At a minimum, North Korea’s entire plutonium cache and its status would surely have to be verified before it does. But the uranium enrichment program is a different animal. Merely recognizing U.S. concerns however explicitly they are stated is not a declaration at all. It does not on the face of it require any further North Korean action. Read Ms. Rice’s comments again:

Any document that we get, any declaration that we get, has to be verified and it has to be verifiable. And we have to make certain that we have means to assess what the North Koreans tell us, and we have to have means to verify what the North Koreans tell us.

I ask you, how do you verify an acknowledgement of concerns? You can’t. The uranium enrichment program appears to have been put aside, mothballed, if you will, as an issue.

This is the height of irony. Remember, we wound up in this lengthy process because in 2002 October, James Kelly, Mr. Hill’s predecessor, challenged North Korea with allegations of a clandestine uranium enrichment program. In the meantime, North Korea conducted ballistic missile tests and likely a nuclear test (albeit incomplete at best). Iraq, Iran, and now, North Korea. I know that in my case it’s mostly hindsight, but, still, I can’t help thinking - the Bush administration hit the trifecta of evils. But I digress.

However, will Congress accept this bill of goods? It can stop the executive branch from delisting North Korea, you know. And why would the Democratic Party want to give the Bush administration a pass on this, in an election year to boot? Some Republicans - presidential candidate and Mr. National Security John McCain for one - also may not want to cave on the uranium enrichment program and leave the mysterious Syrian facilities obliterated by Israel as well as allegations of possible North Korean ties to Iran on hold. Then, there’s also the human rights angle. Remember, the state sponsor designation still rests in part on the abductees issue, albeit highly toned down in the State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2007. Could a majority of the U.S. Congress ignore appeals from the families of the Japanese abductees, especially after adopting the Honda resolution on the comfort women? Will the Korean-American lobby stand by and ignore the plight of the far more numerous South Korean victims, especially now that the sunshine policy has been occluded (if only in part) by Roh Moo-hyun’s less sympathetic successor?

So there are serious uncertainties concerning the prospective agreement between nailing it down with the North Koreans, bringing Congress on board, and executing it. I still remain highly skeptical of North Korea’s intentions, I also have serious doubts about a lame-duck administration that has no one with a stake in pushing the agenda in the presidential election (no, Ms. Rice is not going to run for Vice President) being able to get the double delisting past Congress.

But what if it does happen? Who knows, maybe the North Korean regime has come to the conclusion that going forward on its plutonium program actually enhances its chances for survival. What would that mean to Japan?

To consider that matter, first let me remind you what the other members of the Six-Party Talks process want from Japan. That consists of two things: 1) give massive aid to North Korea as the consequence of the normalization of the bilateral relationship in the event of a successful conclusion; and in the meantime 2) Give humanitarian, economic, and energy aid to North Korea and ease/drop economic sanctions thereon as quid pro quo for progress.

Unlike South Korea (or, of course, China or Russia), Japan’s position is based not only on concerns over North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction but also the fate of its abducted nationals. With regard to point 1), i.e. normalization, it is in essence a bilateral issue, and the other members of the Six –Party Talks process should be expected to live with whatever Japan and North Korea, with the standoff over the abductees issue, manage to do with it. But point 2) is different. Given the fact that North Korea’s nuclear arsenal (assuming it has one) is basically targeted at Japan*, it is Japan that has the most to gain in terms of national security. Accordingly, it makes sense for the other members to look to Japan to come forth as progress is made.

The United States is also linked to the abductees issue, but only tangentially through its designation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. The Bush administration has been mindful of the political sensitivity of the issue to its Japanese allies - Kim Jong Il’s admission and apology in 2002 when Prime Minister Koizumi attempted to normalize bilateral relations backfired and created the first major crisis for the Koizumi administration; the problem remains intractable today - but the 2007 February 13 Action Plan implicitly allows that the US will go forward with its own normalization agenda on the basis of the progress on the nuclear issue alone. As we have already explored here, the Bush administration is clearly prepared to move ahead.

As we have also seen, Congress could get in the way. But if the process does move forward, the Fukuda administration will be put in an increasingly awkward spot in the Six-Party Talks process unless a viable way in terms of domestic politics can be found to delink the abductees issue from the North Korean nuclear program. The politics of the matter are complicated, and I hope to explore the subject on another occasion. In the meantime, let me repeat the following footnote to this December 19 post:

****** In the unlikely event that North Korean side does declare its nuclear stockpile, I’m sure that the Bush administration will move to delist North Korea. The Japanese authorities will acknowledge the matter gracefully; they have no choice. It will be useful to remind the Japanese public that Japanese sanctions against North Korea were first linked to the abductees issue (to the best of my knowledge) in 2006 October, when restrictions were tightened in response to the North Korean nuclear test. Thus, if there is meaningful progress toward actual destruction of the stockpile (as opposed to mere declaration), Japan will be rightfully expected to begin rolling back those sanctions. But that is a bridge that will not be reached in the foreseeable future.

It looks likely that where “the unlikely event” is concerned, half of it has prospects of occurring, the U.S. Congress willing**. In the following months, we will see if “the foreseeable future” stretches beyond the Bush administration.

* Narushige Michishita has this 2007 article that among other things illuminates this point.

** An early indication of the extent to and speed with which the Bush administration intends to move forward should appear in the State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2007, to be issued as early as the end of this month.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

T.R. Reid on Healthcare (Japan Included)

Old Japan hand T.R. Reid was last seen reporting from Colorado on the Kobe Bryant rape charge as the first, only, and probably last WaPo Rocky Mountain Bureau correspondent. (There was a video clip on the WaPo website back in the day, when it was hip to say back in the day (or so we thought).) Now, he has taken time out from writing his book on healthcare to star in a documentary on… what else? Healthcare. Enjoy.

Surprising for a Nihongo-phone like T.R. Reid, the video erroneously says that there’s no wait in Japanese hospitals. So very not so, sir. Otherwise, it’s to the point. Also, fair and balanced. No kidding.

Actually, I’ve been giving some thought to Japanese healthcare, and I’ve come to the conclusion that queues are essential to an affordable, effective and, yes, efficient universal healthcare system. I think that I’ve also come across some other features of the Japanese healthcare system that make more sense when you stop depending on conventional wisdom and outdated news reports to make your case.

ADD April 18: I've noticed that my last comment could be misconstrued as an attack on Tom. Not so, I am criticizing commentary that is diametrically opposed to his take. The Japanese healthcare system has many shortcomings, but so much of conventional wisdom does not take into account the fact that they are so often the result of unavoidable choices when the government is compelled to directly intervene in a market that is not a natural monopoly.

Stay tuned.

Would Yasuo Fukuda Envy Gordon Brown, or Does He Even Think about Things Like That?

Here, you may think that Prime Minister Brown is merely hitching Britain’s wagon to the US Hummer. But that’s what you do, unless you’re the big dog in the junk yard. It’s Churchilesque, actually.

Short of giving up the national language, there’s no way that we can emulate the Brits, but that’s all the more reason to rethink the ways that we engage the world. We don’t have that safety blanket. At the end of the day, America will not save the last dance for us.

There must be many people here who find the political divide between the superpower fantasists and the head-in-the-sand minimalists utterly unproductive. There must be many people here who believe that there’s something wrong with a nation that has so many self-imposed taboos on the debate over national security and diplomacy.

We’ve had a good sixty-years-and-counting run outsourcing all that mess. (Watchdog-sama? Honestly…) But I have a hunch things are changing and we’re not paying attention.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Yamaguchi Prefecture 2nd District Should Go to the DPJ

Yamaguchi Prefecture is known as the “conservative kingdom”. It has produced a disproportionately large number of Prime Ministers and other political leaders since its Edo precursor and daimyō fiefdom the Chōshū han became one of the two main players (the other was the Satsumahan, i.e. Kagoshima Prefecture) in the revolution that culminated in the Meiji Restoration. Of its four House of Representative electoral districts, the 2nd District includes Iwakuni, the city that plays host to a large US military presence. Until recently, the district was represented by Yoshihiko Fukuda from the LDP. Mr. Fukuda resigned his seat and ran successfully in February for mayor of Iwakuni against the DPJ-supported incumbent. A by-election will be held on April 27 to determine his HR successor. Today, on the first day of the official campaign period, Mr. Shigetarō Yamamoto from the LDP and Hideo Hiraoka from the DPJ filed for candidacy, both ex-national bureaucrats, as is so common in the provinces. Mr. Hiraoka in turn resigned from his HR seat, which he had received when he lost his 2nd District seat to Mr. Fukuda in the 2005 Koizumi landslide. Mr. Takashi Wada assumed the proportional seat under the Public Election Act.

So, you would think that the LDP has at least an even chance of retaining this seat, don’t you? Actually, I don’t think that the LDP candidate stands a chance. Here’s why:

First of all, the opposition has always done well in this district. They failed to take it in 1996, the first HR election under the new election system, but the two candidates from the New Frontier Party (led by Ichirō Ozawa, it included the Kōmeitō) and the Democratic Party (which later absorbed Mr. Ozawa’s people to form the current DPJ) together received 112,372 votes to the LDP winner’s 81,108*. In the 2000 election, Mr. Hiraoka, the DPJ candidate, defeated the incumbent by a healthy margin of 104,372 to 97,355. Three years later in 2003, he won more easily in a return match, 109,647 to 91,087. He did lose an extremely tight race to a newcomer in the 2005 Koizumi landslide, 104,322 to 103,734. Still, it is clear that even in the best of times, the LDP has had a hard time taking the 2nd District outright.

Second, the Communist Party is not fielding a candidate in the by-election. In the past four elections, The JCP candidates have taken in anywhere from 11,721 to 18,064 votes. There’s no way of telling how many of those voters are mere discontents ripe for the picking and not diehard communists, but the fact that Mr. Hiraoka is not only the better-recognized face but is also a well-established member of the DPJ left should help to attract the usual protest votes. Remember, in 2005, if only a few hundred of the people who voted for the JCP candidate had gone over to Mr. Hiraoka, the DPJ would have kept that seat through the Koizumi landslide. Fighting to regain his seat, there’s every reason to believe that he could do just as well, all by himself.

Speaking of the protest vote, it is to be remembered that Mr. Fukuda won the Iwakuni mayoral election at least in part because the national government all but promised to release money that it had been withholding due to the incumbent’s opposition to the transfer of the US naval air base from Atsugi. There are no such obvious sops available to buy the by-election, if you’ll pardon the expression. In fact, this time around, it’s the DPJ that is trying to take credit for the good news on the tax surcharge.

You can see that other things being equal, it’s the DPJ that has the better chance. Given the unpopularity of the Fukuda administration, it is no wonder that the LDP is playing down the importance of the by-election, while trying to avoid giving the impression of defeatism. The opposition, meanwhile, is doing its best to portray it as a national mandate on the ruling coalition, while trying to keep attention away from the inherent strengths of the DPJ position.

More on the Late-Term Elderly Medical Care Insurance System (Featuring Yōichi Masuzoe the Teflon Minister)

The Yomiuri poll continues to amaze me over Yōichi Masuzoe, the Health, Welfare and Labor Minister overseeing the troubled cleanup of the missing public pension accounts - poll results: 34.9% positive grades, 62.7% negative grades - since only 11.8% agreed with the opposition that he should resign, while 84.1% said that he didn’t have to. The DPJ leadership has always made clear that a House of Councilors censure resolution will turn on public opinion. It appears that he remains in the clear.

The public confusion over the rollout of the Late-Term Elderly Medical Care Insurance System does not seem to have hit him yet either. That is not too surprising, since mainstream dailies (with the notable exception of the Sankei) had not been giving the troubles heavy coverage until quite recently*. I believe that this is changing.

Moreover, public pension account holders are paid on the 15th, and today is the first occasion of the deductions under the new Insurance System. The opposition hopes to make this a bigger problem than it is by connecting it in the minds of the public with the public pension accounts scandal. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll see how successful they are. I suspect that Mr. Masuzoe will escape any serious consequences. It will generate some negative coverage for the Fukuda administration if the media goes around quizzing the recipients, but I doubt that it will translate to a plus for the DPJ, or any part of the opposition for that matter, except perhaps the Communists

Having said that, I’ll have to alter my assessment of the political impact slightly, now that we’re seeing some serious coverage. I don’t see the deduction issue having a serious impact, but more broadly, the rollout reports feed into the now-familiar incompetence issue adding to the image of a bumbling, indecisive administration. However, that’s an already well-established trope, and these latest troubles are a temporary blip compared to the other far more serious problems of the coalition and more specifically the Fukuda administration.

* I believe that at least part of the reason for this is that the subject is too complicated to digest without help from the authorities (this leaves you vulnerable to spin) and the facts of the rollout are too diffuse to capture without some serious digging (this means that management must decide whether it’s worthwhile to send reporters out there beyond their regular beats and kasha clubs).

The Yomiuri appeared to have been going particularly lightly (though it did begin hitting in earnest over the weekend), which some observers may attribute to its pro-government stance. Note that Sankei, although more conservative in some respects than the Yomiuri, always hits hard at incompetence and corruption in government and more generally the public sector, as well as at any backsliding from and during attempts at reform. However, for me, the evidence is too circumstantial to say anything more definitive. DPJ advocates will be less unsure.

Yomiuri Poll Update: None the Big Winner

Fukuda Cabinet ↓ (March 33.9%→ April 30.0%), LDP ↓ (33.1→30.6), DPJ ↓ (17.6→17.4), New Kōmeitō ↓ (2.7→2.6), People’s New Party ↓ (0.3→0.2), Communist Party ↓ (2.5→1.7), Social Democratic Party ↓ (1.1→0.5), New Party Japan ↑ (0.2→0.1), None ↑ (41.9→46.0)

Now most of these numbers, taken individually, are within the margin of error. But do we see a pattern emerging? The Yomiuri face-to-face interview poll took place on April 12-13, with 1753 out of 3,000 randomly chosen eligible voters responding.

Want to know more? Only 29.0% favor a House of Representatives supermajority override that will resurrect the gasoline tax surcharge, while 60.8% oppose it. Neatly mirroring these figures, 62.8% support the handover of the road-specific funds to general purpose funds, while only 26.7% oppose it. However, a majority 50.7% do support the extension of the surcharge (although only 8.7% support keeping it for roads only), while 40.2% support its elimination. Actually, this apparent contradiction is nothing new. The majority of the Japanese electorate accepts the taxes, but won’t let the road tribe and its fellow travelers have their way with the money. That’s where Prime Minister Fukuda, under pressure from all sides, wound up. However, this bit of serendipity isn’t getting his administration anywhere in the polls.

As for the future, 45.4% want an administration that involves the LDP one way or another (current LDP-New Kōmeitō coalition 19.5%, LDP stand-alone administration 6.7%, LDP-DPJ-led coalition 19.2%), while 39.9% want an administration that involves the DPJ (DPJ-led coalition of opposition parties 16.4%, DPJ stand-alone administration 4.3%, LDP-DPJ-led coalition 19.2%). Only 18.4% want an “administration under a new framework with a realignment of the governing and opposition parties”. That is good news for the existing party leaderships. The electorate appears to be willing to give those parties another chance, and leaning - albeit unenthusiastically - toward giving the DPJ a whack at the piñata as well.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Fareed Zakaria Gets It Right on Tibet

Read it here. Making a show of boycotting the opening ceremonies is certainly counterproductive. Not to worry, though. The Australian Parliament is not going to pass a resolution on this one. Nor will the European Parliament for that matter. Unlike the case with liberal democracies, the Chinese government can hit back.

Speaking of governments, when did heads of state acquire the habit of attending Olympic ceremonies held in cities that they have nothing to do with? Don’t they have work to do elsewhere? More importantly, shouldn’t we give the Olympics back to the cities, like it used to be before Hitler figured out how to use it for a state propaganda stage (or so I’d to imagine)? After all, it’s the Olympic leadership itself that is claiming that their games have nothing to do with politics.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

As Big as the Gasoline Tax Surcharge Is, There’s a Much Bigger Tax (and Spend) Issue in Play

Two important bills have been passed by the House of Representatives and are now in the hands of the House of Councilors: the tax bill that, among other things, extends the gasoline tax surcharges for another ten years to 2018 March 31 (passed by the HR and sent to the HC on February 29); and the bill that extends the minimum level for the dedication of the gasoline tax revenues to road development and maintenance for the same period (passed by the HR and sent to the HC on March 13). The extension of the two measures is a logical consequence of the new ten-year Road Development and Maintenance Plan, which covers the same period.

Prime Minister Fukuda proposed – with subsequent quasi-official endorsement from the LDP and Kōmeitō leadership - to shorten the Road Plan to five years and more likely than not shrink its annual size based on new traffic demand estimates, and turn the road-dedicated funds (gasoline tax revenue) over to general purpose funds starting in 2009. He indicated, as an initial bid at least, to maintain the surcharge rate at its current level(25.1 yen per liter on gasoline), citing such reasons as global warming, international comparison of tax rates, and fiscal necessities. He intends to address that matter as part of a thoroughgoing tax reform. (This is extremely important. Please keep that in mind.)

Note that once you shorten and shrink the Road Plan, the surcharge (and, theoretically, even the base tax rate) must also be shortened and shrunk proportionately - unless the tax is delinked from its original purpose of developing and maintaining roads. By ceding the gasoline tax revenue to general purpose funds as part of a long-promised tax reform, the Fukuda proposal opens the door to keeping the gasoline tax at its current level indefinitely by subsuming the surcharge into the permanent tax rate. Within the LDP, this invokes the support of the fiscal hawks (people like Kaoru Yosano and Sadakazu Tanigaki), who want to take major steps to balance the budget but want to limit as much as possible what looks like an inevitable consumption tax hike; and the reformists (Junichirō Koizumi first and foremost), who want to complete unfinished business in the Koizumi reform (charitably describable as incomplete with regard to vested interests in the road money).

There is the predictable talk in the tabloids of the collapse of the Fukuda Cabinet as early as next month as the result of the battle between the reformists and the road tribe. I don’t see that happening. True, the bill currently in the hands of the HC extending the revenue dedication for another ten years - it is supposed to be eliminated in FY2009 - doesn’t make sense. However, the DPJ is holding out for an immediate discontinuation of the dedication, so it is unlikely to cooperate in amending the current bill now languishing in the HC to accommodate a one-year extension, and it doesn’t make sense for reformists to split the party and join hands with the DPJ just so the mandatory dedication can be discontinued a year earlier (while the actual budgetary allocation for this fiscal remains intact)*. It’s not impossible, but certainly improbable. Besides, on that specific issue, they can always split the party to far greater political effect if the LDP majority ultimately winds up rejecting the Fukuda proposal to end the dedication. That slightly more plausible but still highly unlikely event cannot happen until much later, in the lead-up to the throw-down with the DPJ over tax reform that begins in earnest in the fall.

The most serious potential for a reformist/roadist conflict lies in the debate over the substance of the Road Plan. The Plan will be by far the most important determinant of the eventual allocation of the revenue from the general purpose funds to road development and maintenance. There are two issues here: the length of the plan, and its size.

The five-year truncation will not be an issue, once the LDP and New Kōmeitō and the Cabinet take the necessary measures at the beginning of this workweek to bring the full authority of the ruling coalition and the administration to the Fukuda proposal. The New Kōmeitō is almost as well-disciplined as the Communist Party. In the LDP, the measure should have no trouble going through the Research Commission on the Tax System headed by fiscal hawk Shūji Tsushima and the Policy Research Council headed by the like-minded Sadakazu Tanigaki. The usually rubber stamp General Council gives the final authorization, but it is currently chaired by Toshihiro Nikai, who, together with Makoto Koga, head of Election Strategy Headquarters, are the two hetmen of the road tribe. However, the two kings of the roads gave their consent at the Wednesday meeting, so they will not give Mr. Fukuda any trouble here.

It is the determination of the amount that will give the Fukuda administration headaches. The fiscal hawks will make common cause with the reformists in battling the road tribe under the close scrutiny of the media and the opposition playing to an already mistrustful public. I expect that the coalition will come up with a new Plan, and agree to apportion the gasoline tax revenue accordingly. I have no idea what the public perception of the ultimate coalition package will be like. What I can be sure of is that the opposition’s response will driven largely by the public’s response, which in turn will largely molded by how it is received and depicted in the media.

But note that this is only part of the picture. At the same time, the ruling coalition must come up with a “thoroughgoing tax reform” package that places the gasoline taxes and the surcharge in proper context. The relationship is not trivial, by the way; the surcharge by itself is the rough equivalent of one percentage point of the consumption tax, currently at 5%.

A comprehensive tax package will have far greater political implications as an issue than the gasoline tax revenue. Fiscal policy perspectives cut across party lines, while the DPJ will also face a public reckoning of the fiscal consequences of the various promises that it has made under Mr. Ozawa’s leadership. This process will commence in full this fall and must be completed in substance by the end of the calendar year. Moreover, the ruling coalition must schedule possibly months of intensive negotiations with the opposition even if, or particularly if, it intends to exercise the HR supermajority override in the end. There will undoubtedly be major surprises as the process unfolds. The road money is a significant part of this process, but just that: only a part.

As a final note, it is important to remember that at least some of this can indeed happen under a different Prime Minister. Last Wednesday’s Diet faceoff with Ichirō Ozawa has been widely panned by the media and even some serious LDP politicians such as Tarō Asō and Kaoru Yosano, two men the media are playing up as pretenders to the Prime Minister’s seat. Although I only read an excerpted summary in the Sankei, in what I read, Mr. Fukuda came across as oddly querulous and plaintive, like an aging lover spurned in a 19th Century romance novel (or so one imagines). More seriously, this morning on Sunday Project, Mr. Yasano leveled strong criticism at the Prime Minister’s Office. Although it was an implicit indictment of Nobutaka Machimura, the Chief Cabinet Secretary who replaced him and perhaps the Administrative Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary as well, the hint of leadership failure at an even higher level was also hard to miss.

I do not yet think that a premature departure is more likely than not. A Prime Minister has substantial staying power if he is willing to use the full arsenal of weapons available to him, Remember, Prime Minister Abe stayed on even after the disastrous 2007 HC election defeat and only left when his health finally failed him. Still, compared to fiscal reform that requires a consumption tax hike, the gasoline tax surcharge is almost a gimmie. Prime Minister Fukuda will not be able to get away with forcing his will on a divided coalition the way he did with his proposal on the road money. He will need every bit of help from the reformists and fiscal hawks to survive. He will also have to draw in likeminded Diet members from the opposition, mainly in the DPJ. One thing for sure: the tax package will make or break the Fukuda administration.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

And I Thought David Brooks Was Writing about the Clintons

Seriously, given the title “The Great Forgetting” and the fact that I reached it through a link on the Real Clear Politics home page. Come to think of it, both Barack Obama and John McCain have also had embarassing memory lapses, though Mr. McCain’s continued confusion of the Islamic sects could be a function of age. Still, the Clintons must be setting a record of some kind.

Senator Clinton looked good in the Petreus-Crocker hearings, though. She looked... senatorial. Like, say, Sam Nunn. Most Democrats must be hoping that she'll resume working there full time now.

On a related note, Mr. Obama has been narrowing the superdelegates gap this week. The thirty-strong Obama endorsement never happened and Mrs. Clinton had been showing surprising staying strength (or the PLEOs, as they are known, kept finding reasons to stay on the fence) for several weeks, well after calls for her to shut down had surfaced. In hindsight, I think Bosnia was the last straw.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Robert Dujarric Gives Us the Good News and Bad News (about Japan, of Course)

Today, I went to the TUJ Mita Campus to hear our good friend Robert Dujarric give a talk. The good news? Japan is rich, stable, and peaceful. (Hey, that’s why he’s here, isn’t it?) The bad news? Japan is missing out on the 21st Century.

I’ve asked him to give a similar talk at another forum, sometime in June. If you’re interested and will be in Tokyo then, send me an email. It’s by invitation only, but it won’t be difficult to convince the sponsor; there’s no refreshments.

There’s another, related story that I want to tell here. It’s a ten, fifteen minute walk from the subway station to the TUJ Mita Campus, and, along the way, it’s mostly machine shops, little office buildings, restaurants, groceries, an odd Buddhist temple or two - the not old, but aging, face of Tokyo. This was the first time that I had been in the neighborhood in broad daylight, so I was surprised by the number of shuttered stored fronts and closed offices along the way.

They talk about the hollowing out of the provinces, the inaka, once teeming city centers that have lost their trade to larger metropolitan centers. They’re not the only ones. Do you remember the 2003 Tokyo office space market collapse that never happened? I think that I have some idea how the Tokyo real estate market absorbed it.

On the way back, I stopped off at Shinjuku and walked through Kabukichō. Do you know that short, wide street that looks like the center of Kabukichō, if anything that can be called that? Sure enough, there was an unmanned information center. Is the rot reaching the core…

The silver lining? I passed through the love hotel district (Kabukichō, not Mita), and all the hotels were open for business. There were even a few couples answering (or having answered) nature’s calls on the streets. One of Mr. Dujarric’s most serious charges is aimed at the very low, Japanese fertility rate. Let’s give those enterprising couples any encouragement we can give them, no?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Nose Knows: My Take on the Politics of the Late-Term Elderly Medical Care Insurance System Rollout

Anonymous said...

If you can pull your nose out of the comics for a minute, I would be grateful if you would comment on the possible political effects of the new changes in Japan's health care payment regime.
My understanding is that the elderly now have to pay more and their families have to shoulder more of the burden of taking care of their aging family members.


Mon Chére Anonyme:

There is too little media attention to determine the political impact. If anything, the lack of attention means that the impact will be small. To make it count in the next House of Representatives election, the DPJ must place it in the context of a larger program for healthcare reform that addresses the long-term solvency of the system. That in turn requires a full-bore challenge against the ruling coalition over the future of public finances and ultimately the future of the nation. The Fukuda administration has set the stage for just such a showdown after the summer holidays, but is saddled with the ruling coalition and the vested interests behind it. Here, the DPJ has much greater room to maneuver, due to its opposition status and the relatively ideology-free nature of domestic policy.

As it is, the DPJ appears to think that grabbing anything that they can get their hands on and worrying about the consequences later is good campaign strategy; I don’t. As the pattern emerges, the media buys into the notion of an unprincipled opposition party whose sole interest lies in pushing the ruling coalition over the brink. As this narrative takes root in the public’s mind, the political benefits from the failings of the ruling coalition - and they are many, both procedural and substantive - accrue only to None of the Above. I expect the media to be similarly unsympathetic, indifferent at best, to the latest DPJ gambit to connect the public pension scandals to a cancellation of the new Late-Term Elderly Medical Care Insurance System, as it is called.

This reminds me to give you some of what I believe are the reasons for the relative media indifference.

First of all, the Late-Term Elderly Medical Care Insurance System was enacted as part of the 2006 overhaul of the public healthcare system, and only now has gone into effect, as of April 1, after two years of preparations. Without a new context, it is yesterday’s story. The media cares little unless there is widespread confusion or negative outcry at the rollout. My guess - I am admittedly reaching here - is that the public will get over it relatively easily, albeit with minor grumbling. Some individuals for whom very small pensions are their sole or main source of discretionary spending money can feel a very, very sharp pain, but the provincial governments, which have the primary responsibility to administer the system, should, as a rule, be instituting measures to subsidize those most unfortunate souls*.

Moreover, it does not appear to have been a make or break issue for the DPJ in the first place. The DPJ did resist it as well as the other parts of the package; but, as was the case with its more consequential challenges against the ruling coalition - extension counterterrorism operations in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf, and the gasoline tax surcharge retention - it did not bother to put the matter in its Policy Manifesto for the 2007 House of Councilors election. This is striking in light of the attention that the Manifesto gives to the related but separate Long-Term Healthcare Insurance System. Have I missed something here?

Finally, there is the issue’s enormous complexity and interconnectedness. Publicly-funded healthcare is the most arcane and geeky part of the bureaucracy. (It budgeted two years of preparations for the implementation of its latest innovation!) It is unreasonable to expect a mainstream journalist on a one or two year tour of duty at the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor to master much more than the talking points that the bureaucracy and its opponents feed them. The media need something that they can understand before they go back and spend time with what is after all a two-year old story. Now let the elderly keep their pension is admittedly an uncomplicated battle cry. But the media by now has a larger, unflattering narrative for the DPJ that would supersede it. And when the matter is swept up into a broader opposition outcry for scrapping the system in the first place, the media would, if anything, rightfully ask, yes, but what then?

I have placed the issue within my own frame of reference, namely: The DPJ under Ichirō Ozawa is following a make-it-up-as-we-go-along-bribe-‘em-with-their-money strategy, so the LDP is losing but the DPJ is not winning. This is broadly similar to the Economist’s most recent take*, but I’m aware that there are people out there who do not agree with it.

* Regional disparities have been given some attention but they have always existed. I suspect that there is a noticeable, negative correlation between the level of insurance premiums and the average age of the local population. Incidentally, that’s useful to keep in mind when talking about devolution of power. Elective officials in marginal and other aging communities will be strongly incented to feed the present by starving the future.

**In fact, I have some grounds to believe that I actually influenced it. Not only are the broad contours similar, but the Economist piece also features a reference to the Manifest. I’m not aware of anyone else in the blogs, media or the DPJ who has the habit of checking the DPJ’s claims off its Manifesto.

There you are, Mon Cherie.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Would You Believe I’ve Actually Read…

… one of these? In the original hardcopy version? Ah, memories.

I took a look at this, too. The Katsuhiro Ōtomo influence is evident, almost pre-Akira at that. There are several manga-ka, the creators, who have changed the genre in their own ways, more often than not through both their artwork and narratives. That’s something you don’t really see in American comics.

The multitalented Mr. Ōtomo is one of those double threats.

When Does History Become History? And for Whom?

Watch this. Obviously, you can’t do this joke with the war in Iraq. But the Korean War?

For Daily Show viewers, it evidently works, but for Fox News viewers, surely not.

Ozawa Gets His Way on BOJ Deputy Governor

The House of Councilors voted to promote newly-appointed BOJ Deputy Governor and Acting Governor Masaaki Shirakawa to full-time Governor. However, it vetoed 121 to 115 the appointment of ex-MOF Vice Minister for International Affairs Hiroshi Watanabe, the Fukuda administration’s choice to replace him as Deputy Governor. From the DPJ, Hideo Watanabe*, Yasuhiro Ōe* and Masashi Fujiwara voted in favor of the latter appointment, while Tadashi Inuzuka**, Naoki Kazama, Yoshitake Kimata, Mitsuru Sakurai and Takashi Morita abstained. The Councilors who voted in favor will be duly punished. The abstainers will be excused, says Yukio Hatoyama, since “given the circumstances, it was inevitable.” Mr. Kimata, you may remember***, was already under a one-month suspension for voting in favor of promoting the ill-fated Toshirō Mutō. Although the Japanese Criminal Code does not have a three-strikes clause, two-time offenders can receive heavier sentences.

The DPJ showed remarkable discipline, “given the circumstances”****. All credible news reports contend that majorities of both the party leadership and the rank-and-file in the DPJ supported Mr. Watanabe’s candidacy, but Ichirō Ozawa shot it down. The irony is that it’s evidently payback for opposing Mr. Mutō’s original candidacy, which Mr. Ozawa had been inclined to support. I know that he’s cutting off the nose to spite the face - editorial writers and talking heads are going to have a minor field day over this - but it is vintage Ozawa. Sure, it’s a public relations setback, but he could have split the party over this, do the kind of nasty he has not hesitated to do from his LDP days. His colleagues knew this, so they had no choice but to go along. Besides, they have plenty of battle-scars from the BOJ appointment votes, so one more wouldn’t put them over the PR pain threshold.

There appears to be a fairly common perception, particularly among Mr. Fukuda’s LDP enemies, that the Prime Minister has botched the entire BPJ appointment process. I don’t know about that; the DPJ is worse off than the Fukuda administration, and that would not have happened if Mr. Fukuda had tapped Mr. Shirakawa (or Mr. Watanabe for that matter) in the first place. Remember, you only have to make sure that you run faster than the other guy to escape from the marauding bear. Still, it makes good copy for the media (snap election, please) and trope for pretenders (can’t fight election under that wuss), so expect to keep hearing it.

And with that, attention turns back to the gasoline tax surcharge. That’s Mr. Fukuda’s real touchstone. Is he as half as crazy as Mr. Ozawa - willing and able to wield his own nuclear weapon? That Prime Minister’s prerogative, together with normal party discipline, should see him through. Which, when you think about it, is a better-case long-term scenario for the DPJ, if not for someone who shares the very mortal Mr. Ozawa’s sense of urgency.

BTW, I’m beginning to feel a little sorry for Mr. Hatoyama, who has to keep going out there as Mr. Ozawa’s Deputy and explain things to the media. (At least one mainstream news report puts Mr. Watanabe’s name on a list of five acceptable candidates that Mr. Hatoyama gave to the LDP). How many more times does he have to first talk out of one side of his mouth, then another, before he yells, I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more?

* Mssrs. Watanabe and Ōe first came to the blog’s notice in January, when they joined mostly roadies and fellow travelers from the LDP at that road money retention meet-and-greet for prefectural assemblymen.

** Mr. Inuzuka claims that the voting machine must have malfunctioned, since he voted against both appointments.

ADD April 10: Today’s hardcopy Yomiuri has kindly provided a more complete list of the justifications/excuses, which I record here for future reference:
Voting in favor:
Hideo Watanabe: Making the decision with a view to the political game in disregard of the opinions in the organization will not earn the trust of the public.
Yasuhiro Ōe: The party was leaning towards agreeing [to the appointments]. We should act in a way befitting the largest party in the House of Councilors.
Masashi Fujiwara: The button I pushed says it all.
Tadashi Inuzuka: (His office stated that he said he pushed the “no” button.)
Naoki Kazama: I mistakenly pushed the wrong button.
Mitsuru Sakurai: It’s not right that we decided to oppose the appointment when more than 70% of the members of the [DPJ Public Finance and Financial Sector] Departmental Committee supported it. If people think that we’ll oppose everything, it will become difficult to seize power.
Yoshitake Kimata: (His office stated that he had returned to his home district and could not arrive in time for the vote.

Four DPJ members skipped the House of Representatives vote:
Masayo Tanabe: (Her office stated that she had to campaign for the DPJ candidate in the HR Yamaguchi 2nd District by-election.)
Hiroko Nakano: (Her office gave an injury as the reason for her absence.)
Hideo Hiraoka: (His office stated that he had to prepare to stand as the DPJ candidate in the HR Yamaguchi 2nd District by-election.)
Motohisa Furukawa: At one point, we had indicated to the government that Mr. Watanabe would be acceptable as

*** Posted, very briefly, here.

**** Showing less discipline but a rather keen sense of gallows humor, Kenji Yamaoka, the DPJ Diet Affairs Chairman left a message on Mr. Watanabe’s phone telling him that he wouldn’t have the votes to be affirmed. He claims that he called to soften the blow.