Friday, August 28, 2015

He's The One


Feelin' just peachy...
Why don't we stop foolin' ourselves
The game is over.
Over.
Over.
No Good Times.
No Bad Times.
There's no Times at all...'cept the New York Times.

- Paul Simon, "Overs" (1968)

It's official: the Kishida and Ishihara factions of the Liberal Democratic Party yesterday declared themselves in favor of the reelection of Abe Shinzo as president of the LDP. Barring an accident or illness, Abe Shinzo is both the present and future leader of the party and the country (Link - J).

The question now -- and since the outcome is preordained it is not much of a question -- is whether or not there will even be an election. A candidate would have to come out of the ranks of the party's non-aligned members. While there are some leading lights among the non-aligned, even a few former candidates like Ishiba Shigeru, the sheer cussed pointlessness of setting up a run for the presidency when all 7 factions are lined up behind Abe should deter even the most ornery from running. The legions of the most ornery in the LDP are paltry indeed: only two Diet members -- the larger-than-life Murakami Sei'ichiro and the anti-Abe media favorite Noda Seiko -- even attempt to adopt the stance of opposition to Abe government policies.

It is possible that the leadership of the LDP might ask one of the party mavericks to at least try to mount a campaign. Such an attempt would benefit the party: it would foster of the illusion that democracy survives in Japan. One cannot imagine, however, how a pantomime fantasy farce candidacy would even leave the starting block. There is the little technical matter of a candidates's needing to corral 20 other LDP Diet members into supporting the challenge to Abe's leadership...Who could muster five, much less 20 Diet members into tarring themselves with the brush of "Not An Abe True Believer"?

When the September 8 declaration date rolls around, no one will stand against Abe. He will be reelected at the moment his aides register his candidacy.

Huzzah! Abe, Abe, he's our man! If he can't do it no one can.

No one.

Statiscally, politically, whatever. No one can.

Abe Shinzo: he's The One.

Image courtesy: Prime Minister's Residence

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Abe Shinzo's Secrets



About three weeks ago Timothy Langley and I had a long YouTube conversation about the implications of the Wikileaks release of July 31 (Link). The release itself featured rather innocuous information regarding Japanese trade and climate change thinking in 2007. What was stunning was the information demonstrated that the United States' National Security Agency was intercepting, translating and then disseminating the transcripts of the telephone calls of Japanese government officials in Tokyo.

At that time of our conversation Mr. Langley told me that despite efforts of the current governments to downplay the significance of this spying, the story was not going away.

Looks like he was right:
Abe Asks U.S. to Investigate Alleged NSA Spying on Japanese Government
Wall Street Journal

TOKYO—Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday asked U.S. President Barack Obama to investigate alleged spying by the National Security Agency on the Japanese government and companies, Mr. Abe’s spokesman said.

Documents posted online by WikiLeaks last month suggested that conversations involving government officials, central bankers and Japanese companies had been secretly intercepted by the U.S. agency. In a phone conversation Wednesday morning Tokyo time, Mr. Obama expressed regret that the issue has caused trouble for Mr. Abe and the government, according to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga...

(Link)
It is a rare instance where the United States feels a need to express its regrets to a leader of Japan. Abe, however, has received an apology of sorts (Mr. Abe now knows what it is like to hear "Regret" when what one wants to hear is "Sorry") both from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (Link) and now from President Obama himself.

During the recording of the podcast on August 7, I thought the issue with legs would be the hunt for the door openers. The extent and depth of the infiltration into the communications of government officials, particularly the extraordinary number of telephone numbers tapped inside Japan's Ministry of Finance, indicated full cooperation, either knowing or unknowing, of Japanese entities and individuals. My thought was that the current Abe administration would demand to know who allowed the NSA access to Japan's communications networks or even physically into the ministries and the Prime Minister's Residence, that these collaborators or dupes might be reprimanded or even punished.

My thinking now, in light of Prime Minister Abe and President Obama having a conversation on a subject that should have been closed by the previous conversation with Vice President Biden, is that the prime minister has a much bigger worry on his mind.

The Wikileaks release featured analyses of internal communications from Abe's first term in office. The list of high priority targets includes "EXEC SCY TO CHIEF CAB SCY" - the executive secretary to the chief cabinet secretary -- meaning that the U.S. was listening in on the calls made by the executive secretary of the person who is the operations command center of Japan's bureaucracy, the Cabinet and the Prime Minister's staff.

Bad enough news for the alliance-- one has to have a serious attitude problem to dare tap such a nexus of power in a country that supports the U.S. in almost every instance (not to mention figures out how to pay for a lot of what the U.S. wants to do).

The timing of the tapping activity and closeness to the center of the intercepts, however, raises a searing question for Abe: what, if not everything, the United States government knows and has shared about what transpired inside the Prime Minister's Residence in late July, August and early September, 2007.

The facts that his Diet colleagues do not know.

The facts that his supporters do not know.

The facts that possibly only his closest aides, Aso Taro and Yosano Kaoru know.(Link)

The sports newspapers and the weeklies accounts of Abe's last weeks in office in 2007 were pretty wild and woolly. Abe has been insulated from the repercussions of these "revelations," however, because everyone knows the sports newspapers and weeklies will print anything, no matter how implausible, misrepresented or just plain made up.

But if the U.S. was listening in to the calls being made by Yosano's executive secretary, then some folks, maybe a lot of folks, might just know...the truth.

------------------------------------

Only semi-prophetic was I on Monday. While I did guess correctly that a close associate of the prime minister would claim the Abe administration's prudent stewardship of the Japanese economy was the reason for the sudden surge in the value of the yen, I missed guessing the identity of the perpetrator. I had hoped the claimant would be LDP Political Research Council Chair Inada Tomomi. Instead, it was the equally close Friend of Shinzo, Economic Revitalization Minister Amari Akira, who checked in with the fundamental stability claim (Link).

Image courtesy: Prime Minister's Residence

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

"Jobs, Jobs, Jobs," He Said

And now a little Japanese politics/Japan public affairs pornography.

New York, sigh.



Coolest company on the planet sigh.



More coolest company on the planet sighing.



Well, enough of that. Back to the salt mine.





Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Where We Go After Down


US Dollar versus JPY over the last eleven hours

After a Monday of global stock market instability and collapse the Abe government will be facing questions about what it can do to protect Japan’s economy from damage. The Cabinet will have its regularly scheduled Tuesday meeting. Afterward media organizations will ask Chief Cabinet Minister Suga Yoshihide what if anything the Abe government intends to do to restore confidence in Japanese markets. Prime Minister Abe likely faces as similar fate in the Diet, the opposition homing in on the unfair but entirely reasonable question of what he as prime minister will order his subordinates to do.

The answer Suga and Abe will not own up to is that there is virtually nothing the Abe government can do except watch the screens with dread. This government is tapped out when it comes to either deploying cash or inspiring confidence. Increased fiscal stimulus was already in the cards for this autumn; it is now a virtual certainty. Such fiscal stimulus is designed, however, to cope with the heretofore obstinate refusal of the Japanese economy to respond to the ministrations of the Bank of Japan, not to quell current market turmoil.

Liberal Democratic Party hacks will be tempted to argue that the public need not be worried, that equities markets are wrong and Japan's future is bright because of the yet-to-be realized growth effects of the Third Abenomics or robotics or some other such rigmarole. I am waiting for some peppy puppy (please, please, please let it be Liberal Democratic Party Policy Research Council Chair Inada Tomomi) to say, "Just look at how much the yen strengthened yesterday! It is a sign that global investors appreciate the opportunities and stabilities created by the Abe program!" That the effect any of the major proposals of the Third Arrow would be deflationary, exacerbating the market's fears about growth, will not trouble any part of the soft squishy heads of the Abe True Believers, of course.

Had we a ruthless, determined opposition in this blessed land, television shows this morning would feature street smart and mean-looking (yes, I am thinking of Renho) MPs complaining that the Japanese government would have the capacity to deploy assets to calm markets, making Japan the global leader Abe Shinzo always blabs about, a except of course that Team Abe robbed the national piggy bank to inflate the profits of its zaikai and construction industry friends.

That Japan lacks a serious opposition means of course the country will not be tying itself into knots, each side blaming the other. Of course it also means that the country will generate zero ideas on what it is that the government must do, as members of the parties in power will merely keep repeating the idiot mantra, "Markets go up. Markets go down. The important thing is to not panic. Wait for the government's current policies to bear fruit."

Image courtesy: Yahoo! Finance Japan

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Will Abe Take A Trip Down Yasukuni Lane This Day?


Yasukuni Shrine seen from Hosei University. 25 July 2015.

Will Abe Shinzo make the short trip to Yasukuni today? The smart money says, "No."

However, given

- that yesterday's Cabinet Statement contained all the magic words the international community wanted to hear, if without the tone or sense of agency the international community wanted,

- that the security legislation and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics have become embarrassments

- that Xi Jinping is not in a position to be open to chummy photo opportunities with Abe thanks to the tanking the Chinese markets and insecurity among the cadres engendered by the spreading anti-corruption campaign, meaning the loss or gain of a summit is not in play,

- that the construction plans for a Henoko replacement facility for USMC Air Base Futenma have come undone

- that Abe himself faces an LDP party leadership election next month,

I am willing to entertain the notion that the barriers preventing Abe from paying a surprise visit today are a lot lower than most analysts are willing to admit.

True, the chances of such a visit setting off serious anti-Japanese rioting in South Korea and China are not zero. Japanese companies, especially the big names, would likely suffer significant property damage and business losses. Given that Abe's second run for the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party and second turn in the premiership are largely seen as having been framed as a quid pro quo with with the barons of Big Business, the chances for a provocative Yasukuni visit would seem slim.

And he said on August 12 that he won't go (Link - J).

Then again, despite many warnings not to, Abe paid his visit on December 26, 2013...


Yasukuni Shrine, 15 August 2014.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What Has Been The Abe Cabinet's *Real* Popularity?



A week ago my good friend Dr. Paul Scalise made an effort to provide some perspective on the danger Prime Minister Abe Shinzo may be in following a recent significant loss of public support. The many hours of Diet debate preceding the votes for the collective security bills saw the PM and his allies making a bonfire of his political capital, with his poll numbers heading south as an immediate consequence.

Dr. Scalise argues that despite the conflagration, Abe himself is in no danger. As compared to his predecessors, he is still enjoying significant levels of popularity, at least as measured by voter support for his Cabinet.

The graphs below, which Dr. Scalise first posted to Facebook, have been since been shared by Professor Daniel Aldrich on Twitter. I hope that reposting Dr. Aldrich's tweets causes Dr. Scalise no heartburn.

The first set of graphs, posted to Facebook on July 21, show the Cabinet popularity rating of the second coming of Abe Shinzo and the popularity ratings of other recent premierships, the data set being the Nihon Keizai Shimbun monthly pol, with a smattering of Asahi data thrown in:



Partly in response in my opining in comments that the real comparative for Abe 2.0 is not the crash-and-burn-in-one-year prime ministers but The Great Koizumi, Dr. Scalise followed up with a comparison between The Celebrated Mr. K and the present intermittent occupant of the Prime Minister's Residence:


Dr. Scalise argues that despite all the supposed public rage at the collective security legislation, other repressive legislation like the Designated Secrets Act, public unease at the restart of nuclear power plants and the typhoon of contempt in response to the abandonment of the National Stadium's design, Abe is nevertheless sitting pretty as compared to even the illustrious Koizumi.

One can quibble on the details, noting that Dr. Scalise's graphs do not contain the latest information from Nikkei. Not surprising, really: the latest Nikkei poll was not published until the 27th. In its latest polling Nikkei found that the percentage of voters saying they support the Abe Cabinet fell in July to 38%, while the Do Not Support percentage rose to 50%. This lacerates the Abe Cabinet with its first net negative rating of -12%. (Link - J).

So the black line in the graph immediately above should be diving below the 40% line, into sub-Koizumi territory.

Even after the resolution of that quibble though, I would still have a problem with Dr. Scalise's argument. Not with the graphs mind you, nor the argument that the Cabinet of Abe 2.0 has been enjoying comparatively more popularity than its predecessors. Heck, here is my own graph from the talk I gave at Temple University Japan on 9 January 2015, the most recent of my annual policy outlooks:



The big knobbly red line is Abe 2.0's support ratings as measured by NHK's national poll. As indicated, Abe's record as of 25 months in office compares very favorably with the records of other prime ministers, including that of The Great One (green line with triangles).

The part of the argument I do not buy is that Abe need not worry much about his recent losses of popularity. That is probably NOT true -- Abe is in significant trouble, significantly more than the raw numbers indicate.

The reason for this is simple: Abe has not had any competition.

Since his victory in the September 2012 race for the presidency of Liberal Democratic Party, Abe has enjoyed the ahistorical evaporation of the political capital of every single intra-party challenger to his position. Most of the time this was a result of exquisitely poisonous personnel management, such as appointing Ishihara Nobuteru to the Environment portfolio, giving Ishihara direct responsibility over the cleanup at Fukushima Daichi nuclear power station. In a few instances chance intervened, such as in the case of the stroke and recent decease of Abe's former faction boss Machimura Nobutaka.

In any case, Abe has none of the rival claimants to the LDP throne of a normal LDP leader.

Abe has been further blessed by the absence of a credible opposition to the LDP. The opposition vote has been until recently split between the Democratic Party of Japan, the Renovation-Restoration-Innovation complex of Hashimoto Toru and the Your Party vanity project of Watanabe Yoshimi. Even after the crack ups of these two latter political movements and the realignment of their remnants with the DPJ, voter support for opposition parties adds up to less than half the voters support for Abe's LDP.

The percentage of voters saying they are supporters of the LDP has, indeed, been at record highs.

Those highlighted words should set red lights to flashing. If the debased LDP of today is more popular than the LDP of the party's golden years of pork and economic advancement, then one has to wonder the depth and stability of this support. Indeed in the most recent Kyodo poll of July 16-17, support for the LDP fell 5 percentage points from a month before, from 37% to 31.9%. Most of the loss of support flowed into the floating voters pool (39.3%) rather than into the columns of any of the opposition parties. Nevertheless 5% is a huge chunk of support to lose in a month -- and the Kyodo poll was taken before Abe's dramatic and wounding decision to dump the Zaha Hadid-design for the National Stadium.

Abe Cabinet and LDP support numbers are displaying significant volatility; Abe lacks intra-party rivals or a muscular opposition. Comparing Abe's popularity versus the popularity of other prime ministers, given the vast differences in the political environment in which they operated versus the one in which Abe operates, may be a comparison of apples and oranges.

So perhaps we should be playing around with the concepts of "real" versus "nominal" support for the Abe Cabinet. A lack of alternatives may make Abe seem more attractive or be more attractive than he would be had the voters had credible options. Abe's numbers in this second term in office may be, in other words, inflated as compared to those of his predecessors.

How serious is this inflation? One way to find out might be by asking voters who say they support the Abe Cabinet the reasons why they support the Abe Cabinet:
I trust the prime minister 12.7%
I have faith in his economic policies 14.7%
I have hopes for his foreign policies 5.6%
I have hopes for political reform 2.6%
I have hopes for tax reform 3.6%
I have hopes for administrative reform 2.1%
There is no other appropriate person 31.4%
Other reasons/Don't Know/Can't Say 1.6%

Source: Kyodo News poll of July 17-18.
Stunning, would you not agree?

You would probably not be surprised to learn that until the Abe 2.0 Cabinet the response "There is no other appropriate person" has never been the #1 reason for supporting a PM, much less #1 by a more than two-to-one margin.

The implication must be that Abe's nominal support numbers are not just out of whack, they are seriously out of whack.

So what is to be done, if we are to assess to the level of danger Abe may be in?

One possibility is to raise the "line of death" for the premiership. Under previous regimes, the line has been around 20% support. Only one prime minister of recent vintage, Obuchi Keizo, managed to pull up and stay in power after approaching the 20% line (see my graph above).

A death line reading of 20% is overly generous to Abe. A "political death" line of 30% might be more appropriate, given the volatility of support from what would be otherwise floating voters or voters for a credible opposition. If so, then popularity readings of around 38% should be setting off sirens inside the LDP.

An alternative approach would be to deflate Abe's numbers overall, shifting his nominal curve downward for the length of his tenure. By how much? Based upon the difference between the 31.4% saying "there is no other appropriate person" and the percentages of voters choosing that option for previous prime ministers (a number that can be double-checked across time, since the answer to the "why do you support the PM?" question are compiled the same way in every iteration of a single media source's polling) a knockdown of 10 percentage points does not seem outlandish.

Whatever the method used, we need to get "real" about voter support for Abe.

Positing "real" versus "nominal" rates of support for Abe solves a particular vexing problem, the one I have been calling The Abe Paradox. In poll after poll, the Abe Cabinet's support ratings have been higher than voter support for the Cabinet's major policy thrusts. This is clearly impossible -- a Cabinet cannot be more popular than any and all of its policies -- unless that Cabinet support number itself is unreal.

By reassessing the Cabinet support ratings for Abe as being nominal support as opposed to real, the Abe Paradox disappears. Cabinet support numbers are inflated by a lack of competition. They can consequently float up above support for Cabinet policies. Questions on policy, however, are bounded by reality -- i.e., the poll gives respondents at least the choice of the negative "I do not support the Cabinet's policy."

--------------
Image source: Abe Shinzo's Official Facebook Page.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Monkey Business - A Senryu Commentary On The Stadium Controversy


二幕目
白紙決断
猿芝居

Nimakume
hakushi ketsudan
sarushibai


ACT TWO
"Decision To Go Back To The Drawing Board"
Lame monkey show

- Takase Kunio (Hachioji City)

Two Fridays ago, after weeks of wrangling over the ever-rising price and gargantuan dimensions of the new National Stadium, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo announced that the Tokyo Olympic effort would abandon the Zara Hadid "bicycle helmet" design in favor of...nothing.

Well not exactly nothing. Back to a blank sheet of paper (in J. - hakushi) upon which...someone will drawn up new plans answering...well, actually nobody knows what the criteria are that the new design for the new stadium must meet, only that it cannot cost as much as the Hadid design and has to fit 80,000 spectators, maybe. Oh, and it has to be ready in less than five years. And it might have to keep spectators and athletes from keeling over from heat stroke despite daily shade temperatures of 35 degrees...maybe.

That no one to date has taken a fall -- or even personal responsibility -- for the selection of the stadium design has wounded Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and exposed the emptiness of his and his party's promises of bringing professionalism back to Japanese government. The PM directly appointed two very close political allies -- his former faction boss Mori Yoshiro and Member of the House of Representatives Shimomura Hakubun -- to the private and ministerial posts with the greatest influence over the 2020 Olympics project. Push came to shove over the stadium's costs in the inconvenient person of Tokyo Metropolitan Governor Masuzoe Yoichi who balked at the size of Tokyo's share of the final bill. Rather than demonstrating the PM's wisdom in having picked archetypal conservative's conservative men's men, the pair of Abe Best Friends Forever Mori and Shimomura retreated to pre-adolescent pointing of fingers at each other as the one responsible for promoting an unwanted trophy stadium. Oh, yes, and at the looming, terrifying form of architect Ando Tadao, who had led the architectural subcommittee of the wise person's group overseeing the Olympic bid.

The unwillingness of anyone of authority to stop the juggernaut of the stadium plan even as project costs and public hatred of the design soared led several critics of the project, including Governor Masuzoe, to draw parallels between the increasingly hopeless stadium project and Japan's march to war in the 1930s and 40s (Link - J). To too many, the constant hot potato passing and failure to confront the situation squarely was like the ever-receding horizon of a final security perimenter toward which the Imperial armies kept marching, marching, marching... with automatic approvals at each step from men with fine titles but without a scintilla of a responsibility or remorse.

Not an image one can welcome, not in this 70th anniversary year of the firebombing of Tokyo, the destruction of Japan's cities, the Battle of Okinawa, the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan's surrender and the beginning of the Occupation. Not to mention right in the middle of the Diet's consideration of legislation ending a 50 year understanding that collective self defense -- the right to engage in military on behalf of another country anywhere in the world -- is unconstitutional.

The person ultimately responsible for this debacle? Prime Minister Abe of course. He appointed these gentlemen (and they are all men) to their posts. He has not to this point managed to eke a resignation out of a single one of them.

All of which stimulated Tokyo Shimbun reader Takase to compose the above bitter senryu. The author is seeing the scene as if it being played out upon stage, with the stage hand lifting up and flipping over the paper on which the name of the second act of the drama is written. The new scene has the impressive-sounding all-kanji name of Hakushi Ketsudan ("Decision of the White Sheet").

However, looking at the stage, all the author sees are monkeys dressed in kimono, pretending to do a play. It is saru shibai -- "monkey theater."

The twist comes in that latter phrase. Saru shibai has a second, derisive meaning of acts done incompetently, pathetically and with all the sense wrung out of them.

A proper English colloquialism for saru shibai would be "lame" -- and the performances of every supposed adult in this drama has indeed been lame.

And don't even get me started on the selection of the designs for the official logos of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics. I have elsewhere characterized these fine artistic statements as "Soviet Constructivism beats up Robert Indiana in a dark alleyway."

--------------
The senryu by Takase Kunio can be found on page 5 of the Saturday, July 25 morning edition of the Tokyo Shimbun.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Very Kind Of Them #58 and #59

The Economist this week examines the unnecessary pressure being put on Japan's new media to conform to Abe government-approved ways of thinking or to avoid examining the government's actions at all. A generous author includes a minor observation of mine. (Link)

Meanwhile, as a part of an ongoing series of conversations regarding the burning issues confronting Japan, Timothy Langley, Nancy Snow and I have a long conversation on rural depopulation, taking a big, necessary detour through the socio-economic roles of women.

Mr. Langley misspeaks at the outset as regards the ageing of Japanese society: only 1/4 of Japanese are above 65 years of age and 1/8 are above 75 years of age. Mr. Langley's percentages are for rural communities or for the so-called New Towns, the satellites cities built on farm and forest land in the 1960s. In the villages, with very few exceptions, and in the danchi, the giant public housing projects in the New Towns, the proportions of senior citizens is at 40% and on the way to 50%.


Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Very Kind Of Them: Tokyo On Fire, Episode 10 - Nuclear Power in Japan

Nancy Snow was away two weeks ago, leaving Timothy Langley and me to carrying out a males-only exchange of views on Japan's nuclear reactor restarts, power plant siting issues, the Fukui injunction against the restart of the Takahama reactors, the US-Japan security relationship, the April local elections and the landing of a drone on the roof of the Prime Minister's Residence.


Monday, May 04, 2015

Coming Up For Air - A Brief Discussion Of The Ontology Of Abe's Womenomics

Shisaku is still on hiatus. However, I just had a conversation with Professor Noah Smith of Stonybrook on Twitter which is not entirely without interest. I nearly bring the exchage to a halt at one point with what is in retrospect is only a mildly amusing jest. To his immense credit, Professor Smith ignores my feeble attempt at humor and furthers the investigation.