Sunday, September 26, 2010

Coming Up for Air after My First PowerPoint Production

Not very fun weekend, as I have just finished (hopefully) my first PowerPoint for presentation, on Tuesday…on a webcast. It’s in ugly black-and-white—except the tables, which the software automatically colored my tables and I couldn’t figure out how to turn that function off. Two days, in fact, which brings the hourly rate for the speaking fee to… wait, I’m not going to let the thought spoil my after-work hours, when I’m getting my drink on and then breaking off to cook dinner. In fact, I’ll probably won’t even be going back to my most recent posts until after I’ve made the presentation; there’s other work when the weekday dawns too.

That said, I can’t help mentioning how godawful the Kan administration’s response to the Senkaku Islands crisis was. No, I couldn’t have done any better—I am the last person that you want to turn to for crisis management (just ask my old METI friends)—but would you believe me, I actually foresaw a similar issue there and featured it in a piece of work that I was doing some time back? And you’d think that the government would have had a crisis management plan in place for such contingencies, don’t you?

Never mind, let’s see if an emboldened Chinese government sees fit to actively challenge Japan’s effective control over the islands. I think that this has emerged as a real, if still small, possibility.

I’m signing off for the day. I generally check my email, even when I’m dead drunk, so that’s where to find me if you’re in a hurry, okay?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Is Anybody Watching Straight Talk Tomorrow?

On CNBC, at 7:30PM Tokyo Time? Just sayin’.

Okay, back to my deadline work, for multiple clients. And liquor. There’s always liquor.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Maeda, Meet Nifong; Nifong…

Sheesh. I can’t find a good word for it, since I don’t want to disrespect “shit,” a perfectly respectable word that is now having hard times the last few centuries. FYI Maeda’s arrest is the first arrest that the Supreme Prosecutors Office has ever made on its own, according to a media report.

Silver lining? Gives the lie to big bad conspiracy theories about the Japanese bureaucracy and the public prosecutors. Hey, you take what you can get.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Chinese Authorities Escalate and My Dialogue with Sun Bin Continues

The Chinese government made front-page headline news in Japan as it upped the ante on the Japanese government’s refusal to give up the fishing boat captain without a trial, announcing its unilateral suspension of ministerial-level exchanges, suspension of bilateral consultations on increasing airline routes between Japan and China, and postponement of the Japan-China Comprehensive Conference concerning Coal. It has already postponed scheduled high-level talks on the joint development of the East China gas fields and the dispatch of a National People’s Congress delegation.

By going public with these measures and accompanying them with belligerent language, the Chinese government is making it even more impractical politically for the Japanese government to coax the Public Prosecutors Office to give up the fishing boat captain without taking the criminal case to court, as it is in the PPO’s discretion to do (somewhat adulterated by a legal amendment that allows the Committee of Inquest for Prosecution the authority to force prosecution against the PPO’s will, but this is irrelevant for all practical purposes in this case).

The saving grace here is that the Chinese side is not taking any action to challenge the effective control itself of the territorial waters by the Japanese government. It actually appears to be keeping Chinese vessels from launching expeditions to the Senkakus. Also significantly, as Sun Bin notes in our ongoing dialogue, criminal prosecution sets precedence of a legal shading, an undesirable development from the Chinese perspective, at least in the court of public opinion.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Anybody Still Interested in the Chinese Fishing Boat?

If so, there is a dialogue between Sun Bin and me in the comments here that you might want to look into.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

And Finally, One of the Most Beautiful C&W Songs Ever Written…

…and mostly forgotten. Reid Jamieson—no, he’s not George Clooney’s evil, underfed brother—presenting Is It So Strange as an Elvis Presley tribute.

May, Schmay, Might, Schmight… Could, Schmould? But You Get the Idea

I shouldn’t be saying bad things about the MSM; my livelihood depends in part on their interest in what I have to say. Still, this Newsweek headline:
Murkowski May Launch Write-In Bid, but It Might Not Change Election's Outcome
is pretty obscene. Yes, and:
“The Cow May Jump over the Moon, but the Fork Might Not Run Away with the Spoon…
A more honest headline would read:
I Don’t Know If Murkowsky Will Launch a Write-In Bid, and I Don’t Know If She’ll Win If She Does
One of my favorite putdowns is that “it’s not even wrong.” This one doubles down with a may-might compound hedge.

Kaieda Shows Roots in Pushing Zero-Interest Government Bonds

Banri Kaieda, the new State Minister for Fiscal and Economic Policy, is promoting zero-interest, estate tax-free government bonds as a cheap means to finance the public deficit. This is an idea that was already advocated by notable economic gurus Shizuka Kamei (most publicly when he held the Financial Services and Postal Reform cabinet portfolios) and Ichiro Ozawa (during the DPJ leadership campaign). This Yomiuri report states without further comment:
“The objective [of the zero-interest bonds] is to sop up tansu yokin (ed. ”Tansu yokin” is the Japanese equivalent of “mattress money”) and other assets that are lying about unused in households with government bonds and put the [funds] to good use.”
This is rubbish. Most people in Japan do not keep their savings in their bureaus (or their mattresses). Instead, they put the money into better use as financial assets, bank deposits, mutual funds, and the like. And guess what those banks (and Japan Post Office), fund managers, and the like purchase with the money…

So what’s the point of it all? Japanese inheritance tax law gives us the answer. The first 50 million yen of an estate is tax-free and there’s a 10 million deduction for each legal heir, so there’s a minimum 60 million tax-free to begin with. (There are other deductions that vastly complicate the picture, but let’s keep it simple. Besides, I’m not a tax attorney.) Beyond that, the marginal tax rate is highly progressive, beginning at 10% for the first 10 million but rising quickly to peak at 50% for anything over 300 million. At its simplest, the inheritance tax-free bond would result in massive windfalls for the heirs of the rich and elderly while the government avoids modest interest payments over the lifetime of the bonds. You don’t need to do the math to see that the government will be the big loser in terms of present value, while accepting more volatility in its long-term cash flow (interest payments being more predictable than mortality profiles of the eventual bond purchasers). It’s boondoggle, that’s what it is.

Then why are these politicians advocating the zero-interest, inheritance tax-free bonds? Well, Kamei and Ozawa are old men who have accumulated plenty of personal assets over their lifetimes. It is conceivable that they have a personal interest in pushing the measure. More likely, though, is the input that they get from the company they keep. As conservative political leaders with an ironclad grip on their Diet seats, their most important constituency consists of the rich, i.e. the members of the moneyed class who find vicarious pleasure in sponsoring their favorite politicians, much in the way that they might spend money on racehorses or professional sumo wrestlers.

I suspect that the reason for Kaieda’s support for the bonds is somewhat different, although it’s still represents doing favors for the rich. Before he became a politician, he had built up something of a reputation as an economic analyst. However, it appears that it was not as just any kind of analyst. A look through his bibliography shows that he was essentially a personal finance guru, more Suze Orman than Paul Krugman, Kazuyo Katsuma than Heizo Takenaka. And if an inheritance tax-free bond isn’t a personal finance advisor’s dream, I don’t know what is.

Case closed.

This does not, of course, bode well for economic policymaking under the Kan administration. It also does not speak kindly of the MSM in terms of economic literacy. On the other hand, this kind of nonsense gives me material for this blog, and in a very roundabout way helps put food on my table. So who’s complaining?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ozawa as Warlord-Oracle

From a well-earned, long lunch-break spent on the Internet, where still I’m unable to drift too far off the reservation.

Sankei, if not always the firstest among the MSM outlets, for sure posts the mostest on its media website. And here it is, reporting on the blame-game among the Ozawa forces, where the fingers point to: The Four Heavenly Kings, the keepers of the world, keeping, according to the complaints in the report, the world from the Dharma. (Confession: To show you how little I actually know, I wasn’t even aware that Ozawa had “Four Heavenly Kings” surrounding him.)Then there is, of course, majordomo Kenji Yamaoka, who led the election campaign for Ozawa and kept issuing cheerful “Imperial General Headquarters announcements” till the bitter end that only served to aggravate the anguish of defeat.

It’s the identities of the Four Kings that intrigued me though. Two of them, Koji Sato and Kazumasa Okajima are second-generation Diet members, sons of Ozawa allies who now dwell in that Great Big Diet Building in the Sky. If you’re dead, then there’s no danger of the falling out that plagues ever other associate sooner or later, is there*? Another King, Takeshi Hidaka, left his day job early in his professional career and joined the horde of Ozawa aides**. A few years later, he married one of the daughters of a Diet member and—you guessed it—Ozawa ally, and a very trusted one too, before he retired. There is something visceral and atavistic about these relationships, casting on Ozawa an aura of a feudal warlord. The fourth King, Kenko Matsuki, the only one without such clear ties, started out with the LDP, where his father was the head of a small local chapter, but his career only took off after he joined the Ozawa camp.

All this is in sharp contrast to the popular image of men and women accomplished in their respective professions making a mid-career shift in response to DPJ solicitations, and comes across as more the product of old-school conservative politics typical of the LDP, now making a painful shift to the public solicitation process and limitations on heirloom candidates***. You wonder how many of the new breed will be inclined to follow the 68 year old Ozawa into the wilderness if he decides to pull up stakes and leave.
* Actually, Okajima’s father did leave Ozawa’s party, but later lost his Diet seat and died while plotting a comeback, having returned to Ozawa’s wing, after the appropriate apologies.

** You may remember his name from the recent Ozawa financial scandals, where Tomohiro Ishikawa, the main defendant, implicated him in the cover-up.

*** Yamaoka is, unlike the other four, Ozawa’s generational cohort who left the LDP with him to form the Japan Renewal Party.

While I’m on Ozawa’s throwback tendencies, let me mention that I wasn’t the only one who was surprised to see the New Ozawa, the one full of smiles and handshakes and emotional speeches, and opening himself up to the press, any press, when the campaign started. That Ozawa may have been one of those Terminator robots from the future (or is it the other way around?), though, because the smiles and open access vanished in a political instant when the September 14 election ceremonies ended. Leaving the conference room, Ozawa stared down the throng of journalists waiting for his comments and left without a word for public consumption. Words leaked out from that night’s gathering, including his vow to return to “one common foot-soldier to work for the party” (according to media report a phrase known to be use by Ozawa to express the equivalent of “you’ll have to pull all my teeth with a pair of pliers to see if I cooperate with the bastard”). This has been Ozawa’s usual Oracular mode of communication; he seems to have reverted immediately to type.

Sorry if I’m boring you with Ozawa trivia, but for me, it’s a welcome diversion from an assortment of Kan admin stuff that I’m working on. And Ozawa is a fascinating diversion.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Scattered Thoughts on and around the DPJ Election

All the suspense went out of the process when they announced the party member/official supporter voting results 249 – 51, giving Kan an insurmountable lead. And the 206 – 200 Diet member split (412 – 400 for the point count) that gave Kan the victory in a 3 – 0 unanimous decision (60 – 40 for the municipal and prefectural assemblymen vote) has symbolic value. More significant, though, is the fact that nearly half of DPJ Diet members and two-fifths of the party-faithful preferred someone who had to give up control over the party coffers and party assignments due to political financing scandals that may result in his criminal prosecution as early as next month. That’s not exactly a vote of confidence for Kan.

I do not think that Ozawa is going to try to engineer a split any time soon, if only because a mere fraction of the 201 is likely to follow him into penurious exile. There will be much greater temptation to foment rebellion as the August 2013 deadline for the next general Lower House election approaches, but my money is on a strong challenge from one or more candidates—not Ozawa—in July 2012, when Kan comes up for reelection as DPJ chief. At that point, temptation will be strong to elect a new leader, who can call a snap election before the afterglow dies off. The DPJ can worry about the 2013 Upper House election later. There’s also a good chance of switching party allegiances and maybe even major realignment just before the Lower House election. If Ozawa is going to make a move, it’s most likely to happen then.

Kan did well in the metropolitan areas, while Ozawa did well in the periphery. I think that this reflects real, substantive differences that were evident even if many of Ozawa’s major policy pronouncements were opportunistic and ill-thought out. Can the DPJ forge a coherent set of policies that makes sense for the long-term wellbeing of the Japanese economy while satisfying both ends of the political geography?

Is Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku Prime Minister Kan’s Masaharu Gotoda? He sees to have the intellect and some of the moxy of Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone’s majordomo, and also manages to cloak his personal ambitions, if any (Gotoda was biologically too old and politically too junior to have any), for higher office. Of course any analogy breaks down at the Kan/ Nakasone level…

Forging an official bicameral majority that shares cabinet and sub-cabinet posts seems next to impossible to me. (I happen to think that, contrary to the majority view, it would have been even more unlikely under Ozawa. But we’ll almost surely never know.) However, flexible, multiple, issue-oriented alliances are eminently doable; if you don’t believe that, look at the substantial, if diminished, amount of legislation that got done without resort to a Lower House override after the LDP-Komeito coalition government lost its Upper House majority in the 2007 election. I’m going to explore this angle and others in a talk that I’ll be giving in a couple of weeks and getting paid for! I may dribble some of my thoughts out over the coming days or, more likely (I’m a terrible procrastinator), present them after the event.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Diplomatic Process Enters Home Stretch on Chinese Fishing Boat and Crew

“State Councillor Dai Bingguo Urgently Summons Japanese Ambassador to China regarding Japan’s Illegal Seizure of Chinese Fishing Boat in the Waters around Diaoyu Islands” was the September 12 headline news item on the Chinese Foreign Ministry Website. Let me try my hand at a translation of the rest of the Chinese MOFA post:
In the pre-dawn hours of September 12*, State Councillor Dai Bingguo urgently summoned Uichiro Niwa, Japanese Ambassador to China, regarding the illegal seizure of a Chinese fishing boat and its crew in the waters around the Diaoyu Islands, gravely expressed the Chinese government’s serious concern and stringent position, and urged the Japanese side not to misjudge the situation but to make a wise political decision and immediately return the Chinese fishermen and fishing boat.

Ambassador Niwa stated that he would take this Chinese position and report it immediately and accurately to his home government**.
On one hand, the Chinese message contained nothing new: there were no or-else threats, and the Chinese challenge of the legality of the “seizure” was included in the post but not in Dao’s comments. On the other hand, a past-midnight summons to an ambassador plenipotentiary seemed pretty heavyhanded. And with the extraordinary State Councillor card now on the table, the only recourse left to the Chinese authorities would be a Wen (but heavens not Hu)-to-Kan hotline call.

The events of today (September 13) show that the fix indeed was in. The crew (but not the captain) returned to China on an aircraft chartered by the Chinese side and flight arrangements obviously expedited, perfectly legal and according to Japanese criminal procedure law; the Japanese authorities expressed their displeasure at the insult of the late-night summons; and the Chinese MOFA spokeswoman—why do I think that we have heard the last of the State Councillor?—demanded the release of the captain. The Japanese legal process will most likely grind on. How about a plea of guilty from the Chinese captain including an expression of remorse—to be retracted immediately on his return to China?—for not showing proper civility to the Japanese authorities while avoiding any explicit recognition of Japanese sovereignty over the Senkakus, a request from the Public Prosecutors Office for a suspended sentence expeditiously granted by the bench, and deportation as soon as the deadline for appeals passes?

A question lingers in my mind though. I might be imagining things, but these maritime incidents seem to be occurring just as the DPJ is having problems managing the Japan-Us relationship. It’s as if they were designed to drive Japan back into Uncle Sam’s arms when the DPJ leadership might—just might—have been inclined to turn more decisively towards China’s way. I would not have these thoughts but for parallel reports of the verbal altercation between Japanese and Chinese research vessels this side of the EEZ median line (this Sankei report predictably being the most alarmist among them). If there’s a fatal accident, or an exchange of fire between a Chinese research/observation vessel and a Japanese Coast Guard vessel, all bets are off.
* The first online MSM report in Japan came from ASAHI, with a 3:48AM byline (most likely following an immediate briefing for the Japanese media by the Ambassador or his spokesman), so it was more of a post-midnight summons. More significant, of course, is that this fourth summons came from the State Councillor in charge of foreign policy.

** If anyone is wondering, Ambassador Niwa talked back to the State Councillor to the effect that Japan remained unchanged in its position regarding the legal status of the Senkakus and that it would properly deal with the incident according to Japanese law, according to the Japanese media—which fact, if true, the Chinese MOFA chose to ignore in its press release.

This AP wire had the most useful factual account of the facts as of this posting. I want to flag that.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Question to the Internet-Savvy Regarding Spamposts

Has someone invented a spam-posting program that enables spammers to post on your blog in a way that the blogger can’t delete it because it doesn’t appear on his/her browser or what? Someone using the names of actresses has been posting the following message on my old posts according to Blogspot notices but the spamposts don’t appear on my browser. If anyone knows anything about this phenomenon and ways to get rid of the garbage, I’ll be very much obliged.
EARN GLOBAL MONEY gives you instant access to a dynamic, scalable, dedicated and responsible development program - a committed to meeting the highest standards, committed to delivering on promises, and committed to ensuring every program success.

China Finds a Dodge from the Senkaku Incident (I Think)

RS: Some warm-up exercises for the real thing.

On September 7, a Japanese Coast Guard patrol boat tried to board and inspect a Chinese fishing boat in the territorial waters around the Senkaku (Diaoyu to China and Taiwan) Islands. A collision ensued as the fishing boat tried to escape. The patrol boat chased down the fishing boat in the adjacent EEZ*, arresting the captain for the crime of obstruction of performing a public duty. The rest of its crew were taken together with the boat for questioning to Ishigakijima, the nearest well-populated island in Okinawa.

I was curious to see how the Chinese side would react. The diplomatic response seemed par for the course: protests and claims of sovereignty over the uninhabited islands as well as demands for the release of the fishing boat and its crew, issued from the Chinese MOFA spokesman and ambassador in Tokyo and through the Japanese ambassador in Beijing. Meanwhile, the Chinese public also reportedly went into its usual routine consisting of angry media reports, public protests in front of the Japanese embassy, burning rage in chatrooms and the like. What occupied my thoughts were the possibility of boycotts of Japanese products and assaults on Japanese embassies and consulates and their personnel, and further actions that the Chinese authorities would take to keep such threats of civil unrest to a minimum.

The first and more alarming Chinese act was the September 9 announcement of the dispatch of a fishing observation vessel belonging to the Ministry of Agriculture to the Senkaku waters to protect Chinese fishing boats. Such an action may be standard practice for the Chinese authorities**, but it would set the two sides up for a clash the first time a Japanese patrol boat tries to board and inspect a Chinese fishing boat—one news report provides an estimate of 160 such boats plying the disputed waters at any time—and the Chinese observation vessel intervenes. Necessary for domestic consumption perhaps, but the Senkaku Islands are under the effective control of Japan, much the way the Northern Territories and Takashima are held by Russia and South Korea respectively. What happened to possession as nine points of the law? Oddly, Minister of Defense Hiromi Kitazawa stated during a press conference the following morning (September 10) that the Chinese observation vessel had already left the nearby waters. What gives?

I suspect that the answer to the second question lies in the Chinese announcement the following day (September 11) that China was unilaterally postponing the bureau director-general level talks for a East China Sea gas field joint development treaty, scheduled during the second ten days of this month. Note that this is an issue on which the Chinese authorities have been dragging their feet forever, partly because of the highly negative response to the concession—largely illusory, as I have pointed out before on this blog, but Chinese netizens are not among my most avid readers—from the Chinese public. Thus, the announcement should play well with the Chinese public. The reaction from the Japanese public is less of a concern; collectively, they lack the nationalist fervor of their East Asia counterparts. Moreover, the Japanese authorities, at least a DPJ administration, could let the issue remain without closure and not suffer any political consequences as long as the Chinese side does not unilaterally begin commercial production on their side of the median line (at least if I understand the underlying economics correctly). So, if my reasoning is sound, the Chinese side has found the optimum solution to the conundrum: appease the Chinese public and government hardliners while minimizing the risk of escalation—you can be sure that the Japanese authorities do not have another tat for the Chinese tit—that could arise from Chinese action in waters controlled by the Japanese authorities.

That said, the large and growing number of Chinese fishing boats meeting the demands of an increasingly affluent domestic population is bound to increase the chances of similar incidents. And if any one of them results in a casualty, all bets are off.
* According to my recollection, one media report, which I cannot find, mentioned that a Maritime Self-Defense Force aircraft assisted in tracking the fishing boat. Some people are making calls for closer coordination between the civil-service Coast Guard and the “military” JSDF to meet such threats to Japanese sovereignty.

** According to media reports, the Chinese MOA observation vessels vary in size, at least one of them over 4000 tons, and are often armed. They have been active around the South China Sea and beyond, where China has aggressively pushed its territorial claims against several ASEAN member states, sometimes with military force.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Ozawa and the Sokagakkai Effect; Plus No-D Kan as Placeholder

Remember my caveat regarding the Sokagakkai effect, i.e. the reluctance to disclose one’s true preference for a socially controversial choice, a phenomenon that could result in undercounting the Ozawa vote? I now have some corroborating evidence.

The hard-copy version of this Yomiuri survey, conducted on September 8, says that of the 411 DPJ Diet members (305 Upper House, 106 Lower House; one Diet member no longer has voting rights since he left the DPJ in the wake of the conviction of one of his political operatives), 262 (202 LH, 60 UH) responded to the Yomiuri questionnaire. Based on the questionnaire and other information, Yomiuri concludes that Kan has secured support from 168 Diet members (127 LH, 41 UH) while Ozawa has 171 (127 LH, 44 LH). But does this mean that Kan has closed the gap among Diet members, despite the low marks everyone seems to be giving to his campaigning? I’m not so sure. This Yomiuri report gives the list of Diet members who agreed to allow their names to be disclosed. Of the 168 Kan supporters, 113 (87 UH, 26 UH) agreed to disclose their names for a disclosure rate of 67.3%, but only 86 Ozawa supporters (68 LH, 18 UH) were willing to reveal their preferences for a disclosure rate of 50.3%. Clearly, Ozawa supporters are more reluctant to declare publicly for their candidate of choice. I suspect that this reluctance carries over to the remainder, that Ozawa leads Kan among the 52 (411 – 168- 171) “stealth” members whose preferences not even “other information” would indicate.

The first Yomiuri report continues to give 60~70% of the 300 party member-supporter vote and the 100 assemblymen vote to Kan. But the Sokagakkai effect may be in play here as well. I still think that a Kan victory is a sure thing, but the tally will be closer than the raw numbers currently indicate.

Incidentally, much of Kan’s inability to shake the publicly unpopular Ozawa is attributable to his sheer ineptitude as a campaigner. This flaw has come as a surprise to seasoned insiders. Kan has come across throughout his career as an effective debater, but he was always on the offensive then. Now, he is utterly incapable of projecting himself as an effectively leader as Ozawa attacks him at will. There is no D in Naoto Kan and it shows. That will not be good going forward. Even odds, I’d bet against Kan surviving the next DPJ leadership election (2012) or the next Lower House general election (no later than 2013), whichever comes first. This means, of course, that the DPJ has another crack at choosing a new party head to lead them into the next Lower House general election. If I were a DPJ election strategist, I would ask myself, Why would I want to waste political capital now by picking a new prime minister with all his PR baggage plus his proven ability to generate enemies and alienate allies, when I can always go into the next general election, possibly a double election, without the downside of either one of the two current contestants? From this perspective, Kan is at worst the better placeholder.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Everything Has a Price, Even South Korean Fishing Boats

“North Korea to free seven fishermen detained last month”. Would you believe it; they’re returning the boat too? While the United States is still waiting for the Pueblo…
The move comes at a time of a slight thaw in tense relations on the peninsula. South Korea announced last week that its Red Cross would donate $8.4 million to help with flood aid in the North.

Monday, September 06, 2010

The DPJ Leadership Election: It’s Kan’s Race to Lose

If the Mainichi report giving Ozawa a tentative 185 to 164 lead over Kan (with 63 not showing any preference) in support among the 416 DPJ Diet members is to believed, then the odds against an Ozawa victory appear to be insurmountably long. Barring an unforeseen disaster for Kan—a deeply wounding personal scandal might do the trick—or an as-yet undetected Sokagakkai effect of significant proportions, Kan will prevail in the overall vote on 14 September. I think that Ozawa has seen the writing on the wall. That might be the real reason why he looks so cheerful on the hustings; he knows he won’t have to be prime minister after all.

Anyway, here’s my arithmetic.

(The Diet member vote)
Let’s assume that none of the 185 + 164 already indicating their preferences changes his/her mind and that the remaining 63 Diet members break out in the same 185:164 ratio. This gives Ozawa and Kan 33.4 and 29.6 more Diet members respectively. Since each Diet member has two votes, Ozawa receives 436.8 votes and Kan 387.2. I’m giving Ozawa the benefit of the doubt here, since nothing is happening to make these fence-sitters jump to Ozawa’s side. To the contrary, subsequent opinion polls paint a bleak picture for Ozawa, as the Kan administration’s approval ratings have been shooting well above pre-election levels even as Ozawa’s deeply negative numbers show no sign of a turnaround.

(Official party members and supporters)

Early estimates put support for Kan and Ozawa in the 60-70% and 20% neighborhood respectively. More specifically, media reports put Ozawa ahead in only his home prefecture Iwate and no-to-US-military Okinawa. But let’s be improbably generous to Ozawa and give him 40%, or 120 of the 300 votes available and Kan only takes 60%, or 180.

( Local assemblymen)
Media reports say that Kan hold an edge here, but let’s be generous to Ozawa and split the 100 votes evenly, giving Ozawa and Kan 50 votes each.

Kan : 387.2 + 180 + 50 = 617.2 votes
Ozawa: 436.8 + 120 + 50 = 606.8 votes
Kan wins!

Okay, that’s only a ten-vote difference. But look at the heroic assumptions that I’ve had to make to enable Ozawa to come close. Of course there’s another week to go, during which something unexpected might come up such as, say, 16 seconds of uncomfortable silence from Kan while looks for appropriate bullets from his crib sheet or an unexpectedly early, clean, and unequivocal bill of health (and I mean clean and unequivocal) for Ozawa from the committee investigating his political financing criminal case). But likely? Not.

The one factor that keeps me from betting the house on Kan is what I call the Sokagakkai Effect. Let me explain.

Komeito routinely outperforms public opinion polls by wide margins when it comes to actual election results. In fact, the margins are so wide that they cannot be explained away by extremely high turnout from its core support base, i.e. the members of the laic Buddhist organization Sokagakkai. The reasons for this can only be guessed at by this resource-poor blogger, but I suspect that it has a lot to do with the old social stigma attached to the cultish reputation that plagued Sokagakkai’s in its earlier decades of proselytizing through its faith-healing, marriage-saving, business-enhancing messages. I suspect that supporters don’t want to telegraph their Sokagakkai affiliation, not even to opinion poll canvassers at the other end of the telephone wire. (These polls only cover fixed line households.) Could the same think be going on with Ozawa admirers? Could they be too embarrassed to tell media reporters in the face of near-relentless criticism that they actually prefer that formidable old politico, political warts and all? More to the point, could there be enough such Kakure Ozawarians to deliver an unexpected victory to him come 14 September? For that one day, it’s surely as likely as if not more so than—the next Great Kanto Earthquake, the one event that the insurance companies refuse to offer a policy for my house.

Kan must of course also be careful around the media’s vested interest in keeping this a race.

The DPJ Leadership Election: Mainichi’s Remarkable Headcount

Mainichi canvassed all the DPJ Diet members to see where they stood on the Kan-Ozawa showdown. Adding information regarding their respective groups as well as the labor unions—(many DPJ Diet members rely to varying degrees on support from the labor unions), it has come up with a prospective breakdown of the votes. The resources of the local bureaus are being put to good use*, I see.

Upper House354625106
Lower House12913938306
LH rookies556523143

Other bits and pieces of information:

1. Although Ozawa leads Kan 185 to 164 in total support, the two are tied at 122 each in firm votes; the others are merely leaning towards one or the other and presumably could be swayed.

2. Of the lower house rookies, Ozawa leads handily 22 to 8 (with 5 undecided) among those who ran solely on the regional proportional ticket, but Kan leads 47 to 43 (with 18 undecided) among those elected from single-seat districts and those who ran on both tickets and got by on the regional proportional ticket. Take out the pure proportionals, i.e. Ozawa’s truly handpicked candidates, and the “Ozawa Children” look remarkably like the rest of the DPJ’s lower house members.

3. Mainichi attributes Ozawa’s upper house lead to the preponderance of labor union affiliates there.

4. The single biggest factor that has the potential to affect the numbers in the near-term is the collective intent (if any) of the 30 or so members of the old Social Democratic Party group. Media reports say that they are likely to make up their minds early in the week. One weekend report said the group would be opting on Monday (today) to support Kan**.
* Yomiuri carried a similar report, but I could not find it online. One of the more remarkable points in the Yomiuri report was that a few Ozawa group members intended to vote for Ozawa, while the Kan group also had its share of Ozawa supporters.

** Even if the ex-DSPers don’t reach a collective decision, I am now more confident that my call of a Kan victory is the correct one. More about that later.

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, the Wall Street Journal seems as good a place as any for a daily fix on the DPJ leadership election—if you can’t read Japanese. Just punch in a keyword or two and you should be able to pick up more WSJ and non-WSJ media links than is probably healthy for you. And if your interest in Japan is broader than that, you could probably do worse than using its Japan Real Time blog as a portal. Still, I don’t think that you’ll find the Mainichi report there, and it’s not often that you’ll find these kinds of numbers, so I thought I’d let you know.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

The DPJ Leadership Election: Ozawa’s Charm Offensive Only Skin Deep

The other Ichiro is opening himself up to the media or what? He’s been flashing his million yen smile through most of the obligatory photo-ops as well as the open-air, shades-of-Lincoln-Douglas, head-to-heads against Kan. Which only reminds me of his boast in a fairly recent book of his that he campaigned like hell when he ran successfully for the Iwate lower house seat that had been held by his father until his untimely death but never had to personally campaign in subsequent elections. Here’s definitely a guy who wouldn’t be kissing babies and eating rubber chickens if he could help it.

But how about his direct dealings with the media? According to the headline for this Yomiuri report: “Regular Press Conferences If I Become Prime Minister,” he’s willing to make himself accessible—not. Here again, the new Ozawa is really the old Ozawa. In the text, he is quoted, “I think it would be better to do regular press conferences, rather than those ‘cling-ons.’ The prime minister should do press conferences as often as possible, once a month or twice a month.” Longtime followers of the Japanese political scene will remember that Prime Minister Abe tried to cut back the customary twice-each-weekday, cling-on sound-bite briefings to one a day and caught hell from the mainstream media. And you wonder why Ozawa gets such bad press.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

The DPJ Leadership Election: The Ozawa Referendum

The first of what I hope will be several observations about the upcoming DPJ leadership election, where Ichiro Ozawa is making what is surely his last (and first, when you come to think about it) bid for the prime minister’s office, against incumbent Naoto Kan:

The Kan administration has looked good in the public’s eye recently, bouncing back in the media polls from the mediocre (but not disastrous) 40%-plus counts around the upper house election to make it over the 50% threshold. DPJ local assemblymen* and party members and official supporters* obviously have their ears to the ground, and are leaning heavily toward incumbent, according to this Yomiuri report. Then why is someone who, just three months ago, resigned from his secretary-general post, giving up control over party coffers and appointments, and whose main support comes from Yukio Hatoyama, who took him down with him when he resigned as prime minister, running neck and neck with Kan for support among the 412 DPJ Diet members*?

Kan has proven to be singularly uninspiring. His pre-upper house election message on an eventual consumption tax hike not only proved to be politically ill-advised, but came across as muddled and equivocating, the very qualities that had proved disastrous to his predecessor Hatoyama. This almost all by itself precipitated the political equivalent of the Narita divorce, or at least chased enough votes away from the DPJ in the July upper house election to prevent it from capitalizing on the still-considerable lead that it held over the LDP and the rest of the field. The public’s recovering support, such as it is, remains at best lukewarm. Only a small fraction of the positive respondents in the polls give his policies or his leadership qualities as the reason for their support. Instead, the majority think that it’s too soon to ditch a second DPJ prime minister in just one year, after going through three new LDP prime ministers in just so many years. The voices of his Diet member colleagues reflect this; METI Minister Naoshima, for instance, says, “I have been thinking about this for some time, and I intend to support Mr. Kan, since it is my role to execute the policies that I have developed as a member of the cabinet,” not exactly a ringing endorsement of the prime minister’s leadership or his program, such as there is.

However, these supportive colleagues of his have been more forthcoming about Ozawa’s failings—his political financing issues and holes in his broad-stroke and sometimes alarmingly off-the-cuff policy pronouncements—if the media reports are to be believed. And that is as good an indication of what this leadership election is all about. It’s really a referendum on Ozawa, and what he stands for. And the DPJ Diet members are being forced to take a stand.

I still believe that Kan will win, and that the DPJ will not fall apart as a result. However, Kan does not seem to be the poster child for the new DPJ, if that is what it is going to be. It seems more and more likely that the current configuration of the DPJ will last at most until the dust settles on the next lower house election and that Kan will not be the last man standing then.
* The assemblymen, the official party members and supporters, and the Diet members account for 100, 300, and 824 votes respectively. That’s a total of 1224 votes. The assemblymen votes are allocated among the candidates according to the proportional D’Hondt method, while the official party members and supporters cast their ballots in their respective lower house single-seat districts, with the vote for each going to the top vote-getter first-past-the-post style. Each of the 412 Diet members receives two votes.

Janne: I think that we’ve come closer to a meeting of minds on Apple with your latest comment on my previous post. I intend to get back to that next week. But for now, it’s a subject that is well beyond my area of expertise, such as there is, so I need a little time to put my thoughts together as tightly as your comments typical demand, okay?

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Good News, Walkman Beats iPod…

According to BCS, near-realtime provider of ITC and digital home appliances sales data, the Walkman—yes, the brand lives—beat the ubiquitous iPod in retail sales last month for the first time since BCS began keeping score almost nine months ago, in 2001 November. Bad news? The real winner was the iPhone, which appears to have cannibalized iPod sales. Plus, iPod is about to launch new models.

Never mind the new iPod models, how’s the Xperia doing?