Thursday, June 24, 2010

Why Would Obama Want to Fire McChrystal?

This article all but shout out the lack of judgment/discretion on his—and far more materially his staff—but military officers saying rude things about their civilian overlords? How different is this in substance from what employees are likely to say about hard-ass/blowhard bosses in any firm? I say they make up, and McChrystal goes back to Afghanistan; it’s what he wants to do.

Sorry, I’ll get back to Japan later in the week..

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Could DenominationRedenomination* Be the Answer to Japan’s Economic Woes?

* Thank you, Anonymous.
Back in the day, my hopes for Japan’s future diminished every time otherwise serious politicians—I think PM Fukuda Pere was one—suggested denomination as a means to boost Japan’s economic performance. I mean, seriously…But I’m much older now yet no wiser, so my faith in human wisdom is not what it used to be. Now, Daniel Ariely, one of my favorite people that I don’t know personally, has this to say about the irrational hold that numbers have on us. Now, I’m not so sure it won’t have Read the whole piece, and, if you liked it, go look up his other stuff.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Quarter of South Korean Households with TVs Watch Late-Night Japan-Cameroon Match

According to this Kyodo report courtesy of the Japanese tabloid Sponichi, the South Korean equivalent of the Nielsen TV ratings reached 24.1%* for the 14 June Japan-Cameroon game in the World Cup in South Africa—a match that began at 11PM Seoul (and Tokyo) Time. Two questions came to mind: First, what was the percentage of the Japanese TV audience that watched South Korea thrash Greece? Second, what was the percentage of the South Korean audience that rooted for the Japanese side?

That is about as good a snapshot of the asymmetry in the cross-straits relationship as there is.
* It peaked in Tokyo at 49.1%, just before the match eneded.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Legea Is Not Planning to Sell Any Sportswear in Japan Any Time Soon

Oh…kay… Legea has also signed up the Zimbabwean and Iranian national teams as well, according to this Yomiuri report.

So I guess my question is, what do they have that Myanmar doesn’t? Explain it to me, Legea.

Friday, June 11, 2010

My Two Yen(=0.018182 Euros) on the BP Spill

I was talking to a business strategy consultant today when talk turned to communication strategy, which reminded me of BP and its continuous oil spill. That is, how can BP, pump so much obvious money into corporate branding, then fail so badly when the shit hits the fan? Haven’t they heard of Yukijirushi? Okay, Enron? And every other corporation whose media minders and top executives put stuff out that was likely to be contradicted later for no visible motive other than to snatch a short reprieve from public scrutiny?

It’s cold comfort to know that we in Japan are not alone.

Even more surprising, though, is the amateurish look of the effort to stop the oil spill. They look like a ten year-old kid and his friends, coming over while his parents went out, who set the kitchen on fire; they’re doing their best to put it out before the parents come home—but they’re ten year-old kids!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Re Mark’s Wish List for Realignment says that the following response to Mark’s comment is too long, so I’m posting it here. Sorry I don’t have time to post on the ongoing chicken race between Kamei and the DPJ. Will Kan call Kamei’s bluff? Stay tuned.


As a typical floater voter, I have my own set of wishes, but my aunts stubbornly refuse to turn into teacarts. So you’ll have to content yourself with what I think is likely/unlikely as per my current line of work, and I’m not going in the policy implications:

Now that it seems likely Japan will realign its political parties, I thought I’d weigh in with some suggestions.

I’d like to see the SDP and the JCP merge. This new party would focus on providing social security, child care, health care, and education. It would support government spending in those areas, but not necessarily in public works. It would try and raise taxes on the rich (particularly the capital gains tax). It would oppose raising the sales tax. It would try to reduce defense spending and it would do its best to uphold Article 9. It would call for a reduction in U.S. forces in Japan. It would also call for strong regulations for industry.

Policy-wise, a merger makes sense. It won’t happen. There’s too much history behind them. Besides, the remainder of the old Socialists that form the SDP are too unruly a group—reminds you a bit of the US Democratic Party—to be able to submerge themselves in the orderly, disciplined world of the JCP.

I’d like to see the Ozawa faction split off from Minshuto and form a new party called the Rural Revival Party. This party would be a sort of pork barrel politics party, focused on spending money in rural areas to win votes. It would, of course, oppose redistricting. I think Kokumin Shinto should get merged into this new party, as the new party would try to boost Japan Post and its affiliates, particularly in rural areas. This party would also oppose raising the sales tax. It would support infrastructure projects.

Makes a lot of sense. And don’t rule out the possibility of likeminded friends in the LDP joining them. Think big, Mark.

I’d like to see Your Party merged into what’s left of Minshuto. Yoshimi Watanabe, Yukio Edano, Seiji Maehara, Katsuya Okada, and Renho would be in this party. This party would focus on transparency, accountability, and the control of the bureaucracy by the politicians. This party would focus on reducing wasteful government spending, particularly public works spending.

What do you mean, “what’s left of Minshuto”? I’m willing to take under 100 in the over/under on the number of Diet members that Ozawa will be able to take with him if he decides to split. That said, your “New Party” does make sense—in the mid- to long-term. I don’t think that will happen before the next lower house election though; The post-boomers in Your Party has to see how far they can take its current configuration before they decide to submerge its identity in a bigger whole.

I’d like to see Shinzo Abe, Shigeru Ishiba, and Yuriko Koike move over to Tachiagare Nippon. This party would focus on international affairs. It might call for revising Article 9. It might call for increasing the ODA budget. It would call for reducing social welfare spending and public works spending. It would try to balance the budget.

Did you say Tachigare Nippon? Kidding. No. they are not a good fit.

What’s left of the LDP can form a new party called Kanryoto. This party would include Shinjiro Koizumi, Tadamori Oshima, and Taro Aso. This party would let the bureaucrats do what they want while the politicians did their political theater.

Doesn’t make sense, and that’s not what they are about, individually.

I don’t think it’s necessary for Japanese parties to have different trade policies. Japan already has low tariffs, which means making trade deals makes sense for Japan. The only thing Japan has to protect is its agriculture sector. Given that Japan only produces 40% of the food it consumes, I don’t think it makes sense for Japan to reduce protection in that industry.

But we could have a more rational agricultural policy, which would call for a different trade policy.

I don’t think immigration should be a focus of the new parties. I don’t think Japanese voters want a substantial increase in immigration and I don’t think it makes sense for Japan to do that. There aren’t many politicians who want that anyways. Hopefully, in the next election, Hidenao Nakagawa will lose and go away.

Don’t worry, it won’t be. Not yet.

As for the other parties, I’d break them up and have their members join the remaining parties.

That’s possible only when (if?) Daisaku Ikeda passes away.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Koshiishi to Ozawa, No Hard Feelings, Just Business?

New Prime Minister Naoto Kan quickly moved to sideline Ichiro Ozawa, political regent to nominal DPJ head Yukio Hatoyama, first verbally with a barb telling him to lay quiet for a while, then naming Yukio Edano, Ozawa’s archenemy, to replace the latter as secretary-general. (As secretary-general, Ozawa had controlled the DPJ purse strings and party appointments.) The nomination of Yoshito Sengoku as Chief Cabinet Secretary could not have pleased Ozawa either. These maneuvers led to news reports about Ozawa and his associates issuing veiled threats to challenge Kan in the September DPJ presidency election—Kan is serving out the remainder of Haotyama’s term, which in turn was the remainder of Ozawa’s original two-year term. But if this Sankei report is correct, Azuma Koshiishi, an abrasive 74 year-old former Nikkyoso leader and head of the Upper House DPJ, is having none of it, warning that an “engaging in something that looks like an internal battle and we would never gain the trust of the people.” Koshiishi had been one of Ozawa’s closest associates as his DPJ second-in-command and frequent go-to guy for dropping the hammer, but he’s standing up for his people (and himself; he faces a competitive election for his Upper House seat), and his people are in the Upper House. It reminds you of the Era of the Warlords.

I’ve been telling people that Ozawa doesn’t have relationships, he has alliances. In fact, I’ll be surprised if he is able to take a hundred Diet members with him in a formal split. I think that the 140-150 Diet member count for a hypothetical Ozawa group is one that has been greatly inflated by the December trip to China, when he took a large number of the rookies with him. I assume that most of the “Ozawa Children” hate that nickname. These are grown men and women, most of whom had enjoyed success in their respective professions, which they’d put on hold or dropped to place a bet.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Futenma to Henoko: Easier Said Than Done

Sorry I missed your previous comment, Janne. Actually, Futenma doesn’t need a legislative bill to go forward. It needs the following:

1) The Okinawa governor’s permission for the landfill that is necessary for the runway.
2) Appropriation in the FY2011 budget.

Note that 1) is unlikely to be forthcoming in the immediate future, although the Japanese and US authorities have agreed to come to a definitive conclusion by the end of August if I remember correctly. 2) is not hard to do. But once the US side has its own 2011 budget in place and actually starts spending the money, something is going to hit the fan and it won’t be pretty. Or at least that’s how I see it.

Hatoyama’s Resignation and My 176 Seconds of Fame

Here, in related videos, I’m talking just after the news broke on NHK that Hatoyama had announced his intent to step down. They posted the second half only (and only an excerpt at that), which is a good thing actually; I was in the usual storytelling mode in the first half so I got cut off in mid-paragraph every time that I tried to answer a question. I went off for a few minutes while they delivered more news, during which the producer told me to try to make to brief. It worked, as I hope the clip shows. “Don’t bury the lead”—it’s even truer in the electronic media.

At the time, the media did not know that Ozawa was also going to step down, and I thought that I responded adequately to a follow-up question on that point in the second half. Note that they’ve edited this out and otherwise clipped the interview (the question to my first point doesn’t appear in the clip) so that the excerpt will lose its freshness as slowly as possible.

I learned many things in just that one experience. Like I’ve really, really aged. I also think that I enjoyed myself too much. That gave me a little insight on what got into the heads of those liberal wusses who show up on the O’Reilly Show for their 15 minutes of ignominy.

Back to work.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

DPJ Schism in the Works?

The other Magistrates, all with arms-length or worse relationships with Ozawa, appear to have lined up behind Kan, who was supposed to be in good standing with Ozawa. Is this about DPJ 1.0 reasserting its DPJ-ness against tenant-turned-squatter Ozawa and his allies? Stay tuned。

Who the Heck Is Fifty Year-Old Shinji Tarudoko?

He’s one of the Seven Magistrates, the up and coming (at the time) boomer/post-boomer DPJ members—the others being Yukio Edano, Koichiro Gemba, Seiji Maehara, Yoshihiko Noda, Katsuya Okada, and Yosihito Sengoku—that Kozo Watanabe, long-time ally and now noisiest critic of Ichiro Ozawa, brought together during the Koizumi administration as the future of the DPJ, that’s who. The reason that we had heard so little of him in contrast to his more illustrious cohorts may have been due to the inconvenient fact that he was out of office at the time of the Gathering…that, and the fact that he appears to be the only one among the Magnificent Seven who has not distanced himself from Ozawa, if his reported support base of second-tier and younger Ozawa followers in tomorrow’s DPK presidential election is any indication. So maybe we’ll finally learn how strong the fear-free support for Ozawa is. Or not.

In the meantime, overwhelming favorite Naoto Kan has added insult to injury in a way only he can in a press conference today (3 June) announcing his candidacy, when he said, “Since Secretary-General Ozawa invited the suspicion of the Japanese people, it is for the good of himself, the DPJ, and Japanese politics that he keep quiet for a while.” ZING!

Oh Kan. And you wondered why Kan isn’t popular with his colleagues. No matter. Ask Michael Jordan’s former teammates if winning doesn’t beat nice every time. Stay tuned. Until 11 July.

Q&A, the Day Before Hatoyama Resigned, Taking Ozawa Down

As a timesaving measure (for me), here’s a Q&A that I had to fill out in the course of my work broadly defined the day before Hatoyama resigned. The copy right to the Qs belong to someone else, but he won’t complain, I’m sure, even if he noticed.

-Why are the DPJ's supporting rates keep falling? It is because of how they handled Okinawa issues or are other factors in play?

There’s a host of problems beyond the inevitable post-honeymoon let-down, most prominently and persistently the terrible handling of what was really a local issue—the Futenma helicopters. But the persistent political financing scandals of Ozawa and his retainers, and to a lesser extent Hatoyama’s, also played a major role. Significant policy questions that sapped Hatoyama and the DPJ’s popularity include the ballooning public deficit and the Hatoyama’s administration’s inability to control it, the balance between highway tolls and highway construction, the rollout of the child allowance, etc., etc. That’s not an exhaustive list, but this is what happens when a political party comes to power with a big policy agenda and has to come to grips with the realities of governance. So the 70 % plus figures had to come down, but that would just have been a return to normalcy, par for the course*.
* Ross Schaap had a less understanding view of the Hatoyama administration’s inability to present a coherent set of policies and explain what they meant in addressing national concerns, and I had to agree with him. Thanks again, Ross. (No, he’s not the one who put the questions to me.)
-If Hatoyama resigns, how much will that help the DPJ ahead of July upper-house election? What implications will his resignation have for the Japanese market?

My guesstimate before the whole thing fell apart through the weekend for the DPJ had been 40-50 seats, 45-50 if I had to narrow it further, and I’m going back to it with the assumption that Hatoyama leaves. The coalition loses its upper house majority in any case. Caveat emptor: I used very broad assumptions about the overall voting patterns for the prefectural-district seats and the national proportional seats and reserve the right to change my mind on closer examination.

The plausible replacements—a couple of them are improbable—are all more policy-oriented, steady hands. That should be reassuring to financial market players. Naoto Kan, easily the leading candidate, has emerged as a fiscal conservative; he should have an immediate, positive effect. Longer term, Kan surely, but also any one of the others, is sure to push tax reform without abandoning the social safety net agenda. A future consumption tax hike definitely comes with sight, and the extremely high corporate tax rates should enter the policy agenda with a view to lowering them to internationally competitive levels. So it’s a positive story for the post-election scenario too.

-What other coalition partners are possible after the SDP quits (New Komeito?)

Komeito, obviously. It’s much easier to handle as a coalition partner, as the LDP will be the first to admit. Like the DPJ, it’s a predominantly centrist-left, urban middle-class party. As such, it’s more compatible for the DPJ policy-wise. If that’s not enough, it’s rock-base constituency allows it to be more flexible on policy issues. Also important, Komeito will wind up with 20 or so upper house seats overall, enough to ensure a coalition the upper house majority all by itself. There’ll be no need for the opportunistic, vested-interests PNP. The up-and-coming You Party just might be able to provide a majority on its own as well, but there’s a problem. It needs to create a singular identity with a view to the next lower house general election, likely in 2013, when the other half of the upper house also faces a general election. It can’t do that in a coalition unless it gets a huge portion of the policy-making pie. It doesn’t help that it’s very much in the Koizumi mold policy-wise, and that may be too much for the DPJ to swallow. In any case, it’s not going to happen before the election.

-Who would the next leader be for the DPJ?

My top four candidates: Naoto Kan, Naoto Kan, Naoto Kan, and Kazuhiro Haraguchi. Kan is highly ambitious, next in line, hasn’t made any major gaffes as a cabinet minister, and, very importantly, is on cordial terms with Ozawa. Haraguchi is an articulate and policy-oriented cabinet minister on good terms with Ozawa, but his time has not come yet. I don’t think that the DPJ wants to run the risk of people thinking he’s an Ozawa sock puppet. (Unfair, but that’s what many people also mistakenly saw Hatoyama as being.) Katsuya Okada: Ozawa doesn’t like him, and wasted some political capital with his handling of Futenma as well as the Japan-US secret agreements. Seiji Maehara: Ozawa dislikes him, worse in his political books, probably thinks he’s a political amateur. There’s also the small but undeniable chance that the JAL situation blows up in his face in the near future.

-What is the LDP doing to capitalize?

HAHAHA. Okay, that’s not really an answer. Actually, very little. Very little that works, that is. From a public communication point of view, a pleasant but lackluster leader in Sadakazu Tanigaki and lack of interest from the media mean that the LDP receives minimal attention. In the political game, one-time ally Komeito’s ardor has cooled, so the LDP has trouble putting up any kind of a united front against the DPJ. When it comes to policy, they’ve been a coalition of a variety of supplier-oriented interests for so long. They were able to do that because they were willing to put aside differences on emotive but non-essential issues—constitutional amendment for one. This works nicely when you are trying to maintain the status quo, but it’s very inconvenient when you are trying to put together a coherent, attractive policy platform for a general election. Which makes for an uninteresting media story—which brings me back to my point about public communication.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Do Any of You Watch Bloomberg TV?

If you do, why not tune in tomorrow (2 June) around 9:30-9:40AM Tokyo Time (that’s June 1, 8:30-8:40PM DST, in New York, I think)? You’ll be in for a surprise.

Just sayin’, you know.

Will the Prime Minister Take Last Orders?

A couple of stories on the Sankei website here and here. In the first one, cabinet ministers including Naoto and Kazuhiro Haraguchi, the most likely candidates as Hatoyama’s replacement, line up behind the prime minister in support. Well, what else could these people, handpicked by Hatoyama himself, say when accosted by reporters, right? But it is a useful reminder that the business of government goes on, even while people like me speculate on the political game for fun and (modest) profit. And Hatoyama is indicating in his typically roundabout way that he intends to soldier on. The second one has Azuma Koshiishi reassuring the harried DPJ leadership that he (and Ozawa?) will resolve the problem within a couple of days.

So what happens when the hard-to-resist force meets the hard-to-move object? How about a lame-pigeon prime minister finishing up the legislative agenda in the next two weeks, then a DPJ presidential election immediately after the Diet session ends, and fighting the election under the new president, who would be elected prime minister in the post-election extraordinary Diet session?

Dead Man Walking; What I think It Means

Veiled grumbling and anonymous comments in the DPJ trying to wish away Prime Minister Hatoyama are quickly shifting to open calls to do the right thing. Two things coming together over the weekend, 1) the DPJ’s Sunday withdrawal from the three-party coalition and 2) the Monday publication of the weekend media polls that put the LDP ahead of or neck-and-neck with the DPJ for voter intent in the July upper house election, have emboldened the DPJ’s upper house leaders and members up for reelection to speak up. Later on Monday, Hatoyama huddled with Ozawa and his upper house right-hand man Azuma Koshiishi but failed to secure their immediate endorsement. The media appear to be reading this as open season on Hatoyama in the DPJ. The three will meet again today at Hatoyama’s request. In the mean time, a gathering of the DPJ leadership (with Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano sitting in on behalf of the prime minister) reportedly delegated the resolution of the matter to Ozawa and Koshiishi. All I can say to this sequence of events is that in the political game, the end comes swiftly once it becomes inevitable.

So it’s going to happen not after (as I had thought more likely) but before the July election. Ozawa’s immediate concerns should be the following:

1) Keep his DPJ secretary-general post. Ozawa is not one to inspire widespread loyalty. His powers of persuasion depend directly on his power to reward and punish. This means that he must force Hatoyama to resign “voluntarily” so that he can weather inevitable demands for his own resignation that will emanate from the media. Note also that an unwilling Hatoyama would try to take Ozawa with him, possibly by relieving him of his SG post (on which point the DPJ charter is vague).
2) Pass two legislative bills, one on the Japan Post reform process and another to tighten restrictions on the worker dispatching business. They’ve cleared the lower house and have been sent to the upper house. That will be the bottom line for the SDP when it decides how far to go in maintaining its collaboration with the DPJ in the July election. They are also necessary—the JP legislation in particular—to keep the PNP in the fold as its remaining coalition partner.
3) Keep the Diet session as short as possible. The current Diet session ends in a little over two weeks (on 16 June) and the selection of a new DPJ president and his election as the new prime minister is likely to take a week out of that. An extension looks inevitable but the DPJ wants to keep it to the absolute minimum necessary in order to avoid giving the opposition opportunities to draw media attention to DPJ shortcomings. From Ozawa’s viewpoint, renewed calls to investigate his political financing issues (if, as I expect, he retains his DPJ SG position) would be an obvious and highly undesirable ploy. This all means that many of the legislative bills submitted by the Hatoyama cabinet will be deferred to post-election sessions or allowed to expire.

Until I saw the latest media polls, I had been skeptical of past DPJ leaks about private polls—closely held to the vest by Ozawa—showing DPJ returns at 30-35, 35-40 seats. I thought at the time that they were an Ozawa gambit designed to force the DPJ candidates and rank-and-file to double down. My guesstimate at the time was 40-50 seats and, if pressed to narrow the range, 45-50. Not after the polls. But if Hatoyama’s successor is picked from among the likely prospects—Naoto Kan, Kan, Kan, and Kazuhiro Haraguchi—I’m reconfirming my guesstimate. And no, I don’t think Katsuya Okada makes the short list; he’s not Ozawa’s choice, and he’s also tainted by his role in the Futenma affair. Spending so much time and effort on the Japan-US secret agreements didn’t help him either. Seiji Maehara? I don’t see how Ozawa can ever swallow this one. Also, there’s an outside chance that JAL will blow up in his face as early as before the election.