Friday, November 28, 2014

Live Blogging The FCCJ Press Conference Morishita Joji, Japan's Delegate To The IWCF

14:30 Nobody's home. Or almost nobody.

There is a reason, of course. The Foreign Press Center two days ago hosted a Morishita press conference. A lot of the foreign press went to that press conference. Today only 35% of the seats in this small room are occupied.

This is the second embarrassingly under-attended press conference I have been to this week. Wednesday's press conference of Eda Kenji on Wednesday, the urbane and erudite co-leader of the Japan Innovation Party, one of the only two significant non-Communist opposition parties, had rows of empty chairs in the working press -- despite our being in the midst of a crucial and increasingly combatative House of Representatives election campaign.

Then again, Morishita answers a length with a lot of victimization complaints, which can be a tremendous turn off.

He did answer my question on the scientific bases of the Revised Management Procedure (RMP) and a Minke harvest when the Minke are under pressure from larger Fin and Humpback. Seems to me that taking only animals from a population under pressure gives one a very skewed sense of the ecosystem's functioning.

Morishita is far more convincing, more accessible and more personable when he is discussing the possible scientific results from animal sampling. He should stay on arguing the science, exclusively. The "Us vs. Them" narrative simply irritates.

Later - Two observations

a) Morishita-san in his answers makes an unusual assumption: that their are folks who are interested in hearing how oppressive it is to not be liked.

b) that the under-attendance at both the Eda Kenji event and the Morishita event have a same cause: the sch Foreign Press Center's scheduling and promoting the first Morishita press conference two days earlier at the basically the same time as the FCCJ's Eda press conference.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Live Blogging The FCCJ Press Conference OF Tokyo Governor Masuzoe Yoichi

Note the empty chairs on both sides...

15:30 Introductory remarks, laughing, explaining what he has been doing in regards the Chinese poaching fo jewelry coral, and then it hits you - Holy crap Governor Masuzoe is holding his press conference in English WITHOUT A TRANSLATOR PRESENT. It is just the governor and David McNeill up there on the rostrum.

15:40 Reading from prepared remarks - and surprisingly, or not so, his English pronunciation is better when extemporizing or riffing on the prepared remarks than when he is reading.

OK, enough of the incredible bravery of the governor of Tokyo giving a press conference in what is his third language.

15:42 Brings up the possibility of regulations banning smoking in restaurants.

15:44 Talks about his visits to London and Moscow in city-to-city diplomacy. Great times with London's Boris.

15:45 Now the biggie - turning Tokyo into a more important financial center.

- one stop, English-language subsidiary registration for foreign cos

- more international schools, hospitals

Talks about the importance of foreign workers, notes the incredibly high percentage of foreign workers in London (real London envy/admiration from the git-go of this press conference)

15:48 Supplementary Tokyo assembly budget will subsidize Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to the tune of 1 million yen per vehicle. Tokyo will subsidize the building of 80 fueling stations.

15:52 Wild rhetorical flourishes to wind up the prepared remarks, calling the Olympics the last best way of reviving Japan.

15:56 Fireworks as a Japanese blogger (?) accuses the Governor of shady political financial declarations. Re of Masuzoe's eyes stand out as he cuts the questioner off, saying that all the questions on this subject have been answered at his Japanese press conference. Young man continues to try but Mazuzoe cuts him down. McNeill has to ask the young man to sit down.

16:00 Asked about 24 hour ATMs, asks questioner to consider the possibility of cashless, Internet banking. (In truth, probably in 6 year's time, we may be using cash a longtime).

16:06 Woman asking about the expansion of the size of the road expansion and whether it is not budget busting? (in Japanese)

Mazuzoe taks of a political leader is prioritization. If one does not create packages of policies, rather than an item here, an item there.

(Moderator should have the right to check the intentions of the questioners. Some folks show up just to complain...)

16:12 Casinos? Masuzoe does not say he is against them but he wants a deepened, national discussion.

16:14 The cost of the Olympics, materials and labor costs have indeed gone up.

As regards Fukushima, he receives no special information from the government. However, Tokyo will go from 6% renewables to 20% renewables in X years. Damn, how many was it.

16:25 Governor enthusiastically answers my question on Tokyo's responsibilities to share its good fortune and enrich the other prefectures as well. He argues that the relationship between Tokyo and the other prefectures must not be zero sum but instead win-win. His caveat is that Tokyo cannot be the only engine: Osaka, Fukuoka, Osaka must pull together with Tokyo (interesting implications for the shu-sized administrative unit plan, which would tend to divide the major cities and set them to competing with one another).

Very Kind Of Them #33

The day after Abe Shinzo made his announcements of

1) delaying the imposition of a 10% consumption tax until April 2017, and

2) his intention to dissolve the House of Representative and call an election

Mr. Steve Miller of Asia Now and I had a conversation on the roll up to the election and the possible aftermath. Mr. Miller recorded and edited our conversation and has posted it to the Web, illustrated with a great image of what must be the Tobu World Square model of the Diet Building:

I make one slip. I say at one point that the coalition controlled 66% of the seats in the House of Representatives. What I wanted to say was that the coalition had a greater than two-thirds majority (326 out of 480, just under 68%).

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Where Things Could Go Right For The DPJ

Today's Nihon Keizai Shimbun makes a big deal about the Democratic Party of Japan's running 90 fewer district candidates in this year's election than in 2012 and about 100 fewer than the LDP is running. (Link - J)

Pretty stark numbers, underlining the seeming the failure of Japan's single member districts to do as foretold and give rise to a two major party system.

Well, maybe.

In 2012, in a record low turnout election, a demoralized DPJ had candidates running in 264 districts. In 227 of those districts, the DPJ candidate was running against both an LDP candidate and at least one other non-Communist major party candidate.

Fast forward to today.

The Your Party, 69 candidates in 2012, is no more. Two of its members just joined the DPJ last week. In 2012 the Your Party received 5.2 million proportional seat votes.

The Mirai Party, 121 candidaters in 2012 and 3.4 million proportional votes, is no more. Mirai's remnant, the Life Party, is down to five legislators after two defected to the DPJ last week. Life will be running 17 candidates in this election.

The Japan Restoration Party ran 172 candidates in 2012 and received 12.2 million proportional seat votes. Its two fission products, the Japan Innovation Party and the Party of the Next Generations, are running 73 and 34 candidates, respectively. In the most recent polls, support for the JIP stood at about half the support for the DPJ. NexGen polls at 0%.

In 2012, the DPJ basically fought the election with both hands tied behind its back, having to defend a legislative program that was not even its own. There were non-LDP, non-DPJ viable national alternatives.

Not this time.

This year is much more a two party race, with the JIP having to choose whether to play the role of regional champion or national nuisance. It is the LDP and Abe who are running on their records.

The road of course is bumpy. DPJ and JIP candidates are running against each other in 24 districts. The DPJ is running against another non-Communist party in 22 more districts. In total the DPJ is running against non-Communist opposition in 53 districts.

Last time I looked, 53 out of 173 is a better ratio than 227 out of 264.

Hence the crippling importance of believable, inspiring leadership. The numbers are there for the DPJ to mess up Abe Shinzo's December 14 plans. A flag carrier the voters could believe in would have a huge impact, driving turnout and moving the marginal voter to wish to punish the LDP and Abe for their broken wheel of good fortune.

Whatever happens, the 2014 election will result in a great winnowing of the parties. NexGen and Life will collapse into nothingness; the Socialists may join the pair in final, pathetic oblivion. JIP will lose many of its proportional seats.

What will remain is the ruling coalition's two parties, a revived DPJ, a pugnacious but rump JIP and the Communists.

Not quite a two party system, but lookin' more and more like one.

Later - Check out the intelligent points from A. Sutter in the comments.

Later still - The Mainichi Shimbun has checked in with its English-language version of the story. (Link)

Tweeting In All Directions - 25 November 2014 Edition

Tweets from the last 24 hours or so:

JPN Education Reform Watch - D. McNeill article on Shinto organizations shows the fastest route to moral power is through being certifiably nuts
So the father of the current Shinto Seiji Renmei chair was the chief priest at Yasukuni. I had no idea. Kind of undermines the excuse sampai apologists always toss out that Yasukuni is an independent religious corporation unconnected to the national management organizations for the shrines.

Trying this again - check out Rikki Kersten's sharp look at the Dec 14 JPN House of Reps election via @LowyInstitute
Puts the matter more succintly and acidly than anyone else so far
Japan Diplomacy Watch - I cannot wait to read actual texts of the query put to the Abe Cabinet and the Cabinet's reply on the non-agreement with China

Japanese voters see no way of expressing disastifaction with Abe gov't (J) but you knew that…

In Japan's one bastion of mildly violent feudal obesity, a Mongolian giant now shares record with a half-Ukranian giant

Japan Nuclear - Why must it take until next summer for LDP to proposed a best energy mix for the country? (J)

I actually watch the Nichiyo Toron debate described in the last link. I spent the whole time cringing at the responses from the various policy chairs. Liberal Democratic Party Policy Research Council Chair Inada Tomomi's tone, pitch and speed were so over the top that opposition panelists wavered between shaking their heads in amazement and breaking out in laughter. As her counterparts from the main opposition parties were men, however, they kept their reactions in check, not wishing to appear to be sexist pigs.

The following two articles have serious compositional problems, which is too bad as they are trying to introduce tough subjects in a balanced way:
JPN Labor Watch - terrible half-article on under-supervised foreign trainee program. Problems serious; article not

Fractured Ito Masami article on limits of Abe's Womenomics demonstrates difficulty of framing abstract with concrete
Dr. Mireya Solis writes a strong essay on two main competing free trade areas for the Asia-Pacific. The final attempt to rouse Americans from their torpor on the Trans Pacific Partnership seems misplaced, though: if China is interested in free trade and pushes its agenda in its region, where’s the negative? The U.S. should not have to be and should not be on the forefront of everything.
China flexes its muscles at APEC with the revival of FTAAP -

Monday, November 24, 2014

Catching Up, The Main Opposition

With one week to go before the fixing of the lists of candidates for the December 14 election, the Democratic Party of Japan has 173 district candidates, up from 149 a week ago. As of Friday the Japan Innovation Party had 72 district candidates, up from fewer than 50 a week ago.

It might be useful when looking at the relatively small number of candidates being fielded by the moderate and conservative opposition partie to remember these parties have no illusions about their seizing power. Since they cannot fight a broad, comprehensive battle, they are free to pursue a lily pad strategy. They can choose to fight only for strategic districts or districts where they have institutional advantages, leaving the hopeless, primarily rural LDP baronies of the west and southwest for the LDP incumbents who, for the most part, will be far greater irritants for Abe Shinzo in his reform efforts than any opposition representative could be.

In other words, the DPJ/JIP can do serious damage to the pretensions of the current leaders of the Liberal Democratic Party/Komeito by

1) not seeking a win but only the prevention of the ruling coalition from achieving its victory numbers, or

2) just relieving the reformist elements of the LDP of their seats.

As for the DPJ, believers should be taking heart that candidates are coming out of the woodwork to run under the party's flag. In addition to the inception of two members of the defunct Your Party and two members from the Life Party, including that party's secretary-general, word has come that Suzuki Takako, the sole candidate of Hokkaido regional party New Party Daichi and daughter of the party's notorious leader, former LDP pork king Suzuki Muneo, will be running as a DPJ-supported candidate in Hokkaido District #7. (Link)

The grand purpose of this coming election may be just one soft, fuzzy mass of guff. The ground war, however, is coming into focus.

Later - The ever sharp Okumura Jun sees very little standing between the ruling coalition at a >300 seat finish. (Link)

Photo image credit: MTC

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Abe Shinzo's Mock Test Election

Yesterday Prime Minister Abe Shinzo dissolved the Diet and called an election of the House of Representatives. Constitutionally, the Emperor dissolved the Diet upon receiving the request of the full Cabinet. Realistically, this was one man's decision, that man being Prime Minister Abe.

In his speech explaining his decision to dissolve the Diet to the members of his party, Mr. Abe insisted that the name of this Diet dissolution is "the Abenomics Dissolution" -- and that the election is a de facto referendum on his whole economic program:

"Will Abenomics go forward? Will it come to a complete stop? That is what this election is asking. Are our economic policies mistaken? Are they correct? Is there some other choice? That is what I wish to ask the voters."

(Link - J)

This statement is, of course, a concatenation of nonsense. The origins and evolution of Abe's decision to dissolve the Diet are known and they have little to do with putting to the voters a decision on the success or failure of the Three Arrows of Abenomics. (Link)

Abe's adamant attachment of a name to dissolution is not an idle exercise, however. First, it satisfies the cultural imperative for a label explaining the cause of the dissolution, differentiating the current dissolution from its predecessors. There has been a lively, mostly sarcastic, debate in the press and online over what this particular dissolution should be called. Candidates have included the "Life Extension Program Dissolution," the "'The Reason for Dissolution is Classified' Dissolution,"the "Moron's Dissolution" and "I've Got Personal Problems Dissolution."

Second, and more importantly, Abe has probably succeeded in focusing the purported debate in this election on his economic program. One has to say "purported" because there cannot be a real debate on Abenomics, not in the existing political environment.

If Abe wanted a real debate, he would want a real debating partner. However, none of the potential main opponents in this election -- the Democratic Party of Japan, the Japan Innovation Party or the Communists -- have the full set of weapons necessary to take the fight to Abe and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party/Komeito coalition. The DPJ has the national organization and the gravitas but has a terrible leader, no alternative economic program and an insufficient number of candidates running. The JIP has two good leaders in Hashimoto Toru and Eda Kenji and is a regional power but is still seen as a lightweight organization nationally. It also will be running too few candidates. The Communists have the candidates, the alternative plan and the national reach. No one could ever accuse them, however, of being seriousness in terms of policy.

Abe has furthermore stacked the deck in setting his pass/fail level in the number of seats at an absurdly low level. The ruling coalition had 326 of 480 seats in the just dissolved House of Representatives -- a greater than two-thirds majority. However, in his speech announcing his dissolution plan, Abe said he would consider the coalition's holding on to a majority in the new slimmed-down 475 member Diet -- i.e., 238 seats -- as his victory line.

The thought that a prime minister could voluntarily call an election, see 88 of his allies go down to defeat, then blithely go on about his business is absurd. The secretary-generals of the ruling parties, meeting after Abe's declaration, came up with a figure of 270 seats as the pass/fail line -- four more than the crucial 266 seats required to have dictatorial control over all the committees of the House of Representatives.

The chances of the ruling coalition losing 88 seats is unimaginable. That it will lose even 56 requires a vivid imagination.

What Abe, the ruling coalition and Abenomics are going to is not a real test. The test is on a fictional subject of the prime minister's choosing; it is (essentially) impossible to fail. In Japanese, this should be the 模擬試験解散 (mogi shiken kaisan): the Mock Test Dissolution.

I expect Abe-san to pass it.

Photo image credit: MTC

Friday, November 21, 2014

Looking At The Opinion Polls And The DPJ's Short To-Do List

It pains me to say it. It pains you to hear it.

Results from the first post-dissolution announcement public opinion polls are out. They are from Kyodo News, the newswire jointly owned by the nation's local newspapers -- which trends hard anti-Abe -- and The Asahi Shimbun, which despite the reputation of its editors being congenitally and irrationally anti-Abe, trends in the middle of the pack, at least in terms of its public polling results.

In the crucial "Which party will you vote for in the proportional part of the ballot?" the numbers are:

Kyodo News poll (11/19~20)

LDP 25.3%
DPJ 9.4%
Komeito 4.9%
Communist 4.2%
JIP 3.1%
Socialist 0.9%
Life 0.3%
Next Generations 0.1%
Other 0.2%

Undecided 44.4%
(Link - J)

The Asahi Shimbun (11/19~20)

LDP 37%
DPJ 13%
JIP 9%
Communist 6%
Komeito 4%
Socialist 1%
Life 0%
Next Generations 0%
Other parties 2%

Undecided 30%
(Link - J)

The results are pretty supportive of a comfortable LDP/Komeito victory in the election. Winning even only a third of the 180 proportional seats puts the coalition on course for well over the 266 they need for "total control" of the Diet, the number of seats where ruling coalitions members chair all committees and the ruling coalition enjoys 50%+1 member voting majorities in all committees.

For the Democratic Party of Japan, the numbers are unimpressive. In pre-2009 days, the DPJ typically received twice the percentage of the final vote as was indicated in pre-vote polling. Assuming that this trend reemerges, the DPJ still polls well behind the LDP -- which means while it may claw back some seats from its disastrous 2012 showing, they will not be taken from the ruling coalition. Instead they will be taken from the JIP, Life and Next Generation. The latter two parties, the remnant vanity projects of the two tired anachronisms Ishihara Shintaro and Ozawa Ichiro, will mercifully wink out of existence.

The large number of undecided voters and The Asahi Shimbun poll's head snapping first finding of a drop of Cabinet support below the non support number (Supporting the Abe Cabinet 39%; Not supporting the Abe Cabinet 40%) means the DPJ's chances of making Abe Shinzo and the LDP look like the losers of the election are not beyond reach. Indeed to claim the mantle of the credible opposition to the LDP, the DPJ would need to do only two things:

1) Stop party leader Kaieda Banri from speaking

Kaieda (pictured above) seems a nice, educated guy. However, and there is no kind way of putting this, he has a black tongue. Anything he talks about turns to dirt. Just hearing two sentences from him on matters of policy sends one scrambling for the mute button.

Demoralized DPJ members and conniving conservatives within the party lofted Kaieda into the leadership position for one purpose only: to resign in remorse after the party's pre-determined poor showing in the 2013 House of Councillors. In a testament to his political deafness Kaieda failed at failing, refusing to fall upon his sword at the appointed moment, insisting peculiarly that his having been elected leader means he is a leader.

If Kaieda remains the face and voice of the DPJ in this election, the party will fail to capitalize on the Abe administration's troubles.

2) Talk about the transfer of the nation's spending power

The DPJ cannot talk about the crushing of the economy from consumption tax rise because a DPJ government proposed and passed the legislation mandating the rise. The DPJ cannot dismiss Abenomics outright because it has no alternative plan other than managed, precipitous decline.

What the DPJ can and should do is ask Mr. Abe and the ruling coalition how, after having realized a huge transfer of wealth from the common citizens to the corporate sector* through the devaluation of the yen, the ruling coalition intends to get that money back.

[Many thanks to Corey Wallace (@CoreyJWallace) and Michael Penn (@ShingetsuNews) for the first reports on Twitter linking to the above opinion polls.]

* And not the whole corporate sector either. The Tokyo Shimbun reported yesterday in a front page story that in the mid-term reporting season of the 1381 companies listed in the Tokyo Stock Exchange First Section 50.5% of the profits declared came from the reporting of just 30 companies. Making matters worse, with all the help that Abenomics is supposed giving the corporates, 122 companies of the 1381 in the First Section booked losses.

Original image courtesy: Kobe Shimbun

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Very Kind Of Them #31 And #32

It was nice to have a long exchange with Elaine Kurtenbach on the dissolution and the delay in the consumption tax. It was even nicer that she found something in our interaction worth sharing. (Link

Rather humbling is it for this electronic scratch pad's having received the attention of Andy Sharp, who found my assigning Prime Minister Abe Shinzo an "A" for effort and content worthy of mention. (Link)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Kickstarting Abenomics: A Possible Scenario

Click on below image to open in a larger window.

Later - Oh, serendipitous coincidence. (Link - J)

Original photo image courtesy: Sankei Shimbun