Sunday, November 30, 2014

Never Get High On Your Own Supply Of Paranoia

"Who is the Prime Minister Fighting Against?"
"Prime Minister Abe has set off, lifting the banner of battle for his self-named 'Abenomics dissolution.' In two press conferences he has made reference to resistance forces -- but just who or what he is describing is unclear. Who is/are this/there enemy/enemies upon which he has fastened his gaze?"

There's no pretty way to say this: something has gone terribly awry in Abeland. (Link)

Let's talk image management here, shall we? If you really want to look so fearful as to be lashing out at butterflies with a sledgehammer, have your walking/talking id -- a.k.a., Hagiuda Ko'ichi -- write a letter to all the main commercial television networks asking/warning them they have to be fair, non-partisan and balanced (Fox News should sue) in their reporting on the election.

Or perhaps fulminate on Facebook that a college student's satire site is a part of an organized conspiracy against you. (Link - J)

While "certain elements of the media are congenitally against us" and "the misbehavior of some media outlets have severely wounded Japan" are standard applause lines of revisionist wingery, this latest outing by Team Abe is a saunter down a very dark, narrow and boggy path.

Lead editorials today in The Asahi Shimbun (no particular URL yet but try this) and the Tokyo Shimbun (Link - J) denounced the Hagiuda letter as a threat to press freedom. For the Asahi Shimbun, the threat is palpable: the Hagiuda letter alludes to the controversy over TV Asahi (The Asahi Shimbun is a main shareholder) reporting in the early 1990s that led members of the Liberal Democratic Party to threaten a revocation of TV Asahi's broadcast license.

As for the above picture with its semi-rhetorical questions pasted on it about where the prime minister thinks his enemies are, it comes from the Sankei Shimbun's online editorial section.


When not even the Sankei Shimbun, a publication which specializes in the identification of enemies, both real and imagined, can guess who you think your enemies are, Mr. Abe, you have a problem.

Then again, when aides quip that your best friends in international politics are Vladimir Putin and Taycip Erdogan and you carry out fond Twitter mutual affection fests with Narendra Modi (Link), perhaps you just don't care.

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

In Review- The Abe Announcements

All in all, Abe Shinzo just gave a pretty damn spirited and sound defense of his Cabinet's economic policies. Most importantly for the PM, in response to the idiotic "Abenomics has failed" argument, Abe went straight to the nub of the problem and asked his critics, rhetorically, "If not what I am doing, what is it that you would do?"

The first of the two weak points in the whole affair was when the PM reiterated his bogus proposition that the great failure of the Democratic Party of Japan was its having violated its campaign manifesto in voting for a rise in the consumption tax without doing as he is doing, dissolving the Diet and asking the people their opinion of the change of plans first. That the DPJ changed its plans due to its having been boxed in by decades of LDP profligacy and because it could not escape the accusation from the LDP of baramaki ("throwing money around") in its own attempts at stimulus...and that raising the consumption tax was one of the few legislative items it could push through both Houses of the Diet, specifically because it was AN LDP MANIFESTO PROMISE, the PM did not...shall we say, "make clear"?

The second weak moment was when the second questioner in the Q&A called him out on his bogus proposition regarding the DPJ and calling an election. The PM became testy and wasted a good 3-4 minutes explaining why his proposition was defensible.

My grade for Prime Minister Abe's performance: A

for both substance and effort.

I admit, a bias...but in a negative direction. After hearing what he said to the Japanese press in Brisbane and his attacks on Edana Yukio and the DPJ in the Diet I had very, very low expectations for tonight's press conference.

The Good, The Bad And The Whoa Where Did That Come From?

This've gone too far
This've gone too far
This've gone too far
I told you, I told you, I told you, I told you

- Peter Gabriel, "Digging in the Dirt" (1992)

Tomorrow night at Temple University Japan's Mita Campus, Glen Fukushima, the former head of Airbus Japan, will be offering his views on the Abe Cabinet. The original title of the talk was possibly not quite to the tastes of the Prime Minister's Residence: "How Washington Views Japan - The Good Abe and the Bad Abe." The latter half of the title no longer appears on official page announcing the talk. (Link)

T'is too bad because the Cabinet really has a Good Abe / Bad Abe problem...though it is probably not the one that Mr. Fukushima will speak/will have spoken about, the one which ticks off the South Koreans and bolsters the Beijing regime through Yasukuni sampai and undermining of the legitimacy of the Kono Statement.

The Good Abe reads his briefs, smiles when he speaks in English, firmly shakes the hands of world leaders and sits in the Diet, quiet as a mouse, until he gets up and says his piece. The Good Abe talks incessantly about the empowerment of women and tries to set an example in this regard. The Good Abe harangues his benefactors in the zaikai about the need to raise wages, a cry being taken up now by the Voice of Business, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun. (Link)

The Bad Abe posts trash talk on his Facebook page, bounces out of his seat to spit out what he thinks is his right in the Diet and, when, faced with reporters, does not say, "Ladies and gentlemen, I know you need material but I have nothing intelligent to say" but instead tries to be clever.

The Bad Abe was on full display at his press availability in Brisbane, Australia, talking total tactical mendacity as regards vital issues. His complete nonsense on the Democratic Party of Japan's acceptance of the raising of the tax has roused even the ill and now mostly philosophical Haraguchi Kazuhiro (Link - J). His coy "I have not once said anything about dissolving the Diet" -- when he was is fully aware that back home the Diet and the ministries are in pre-campaign lockdown -- was unworthy of an adult human.

The Bad Abe is petulant, vindictive, adolescent and lacking in concern regarding the superficiality of his knowledge.

Abe supporters should hope when the man walks up to the microphone tonight to make the announcement of his plans as regards a Diet dissolution and a delay in the scheduled raising of the consumption tax, that Suga Yoshihide or someone Abe trusts has taken him aside prior and told him, "Abe-san, you do realize, this is for real?"

Monday, November 17, 2014

Abe Shinzo's Life Out Of Balance

You may recall that a few months back the Prime Minister's Residence release a video of Abenomics set to an amazing soundtrack. (Link)

You may be wondering whether the Kantei is offering a follow-up video, offering the popular view of Abenomics in the aftermath of today’s stellar third quarter preliminary GDP figures. (Link)

As far as anyone can tell, the Kantei has not...but I believe I have discovered a working copy of the rushes of the video on You Tube.

Now that leaks from the Kantei regarding Abe's desires for dissolution (Link) have pushed everyone into deep campaign mode, freezing all activity in the Diet and sending the opposition scurrying for policy and institutional union (Link) even as the PM is plaintively warbling, "But I have never said that I am going to dissolve the Diet!" (Link - J)the question arises:

"With the economy in recession, a loss in Okinawa (Link), reactors restarting, the Special Secrets Act going into force on December 10, the public still ticked off at the dodgy constitutionality of the July 1 announcement on collective self defense and the loss of marquee reform legislation (empowerment of women and labor mobility, for example) to the dissolution, what does Abe and Company think it will be telling the voters is the reason they should vote for the Liberal Democratic Party?"

To be sure, the Second Coming of the Abe Administration has been exemplary in trying to stay ahead of the curve, cutting off straying actions at the quick, avoiding a loss of momentum. Now, on the eve of an election without great purpose (大義) or causes to fight for (争点) being ahead of the curve seems to have put Abe and his people on the edge of a cliff.

What I Am Clicking On - Re The Economy On Monday, November 17

- Paul Krugman on the apparent decision to delay the October 2015 imposition of a 10% consumption tax rate ((Link). He clarifies that in a deflationary world, an independent monetary authority can be a curse.

- The Diplomat 's interview with Dr. Martin Schulz -- because one should see what the other side is arguing. (Link)

Yes, I too find off-putting Dr. Schulz's characterizations of those who are not with the program as being narrow-minded, short-term fixated and demanding of a large-scale story the media can mediate.

- Tobias Harris on the reality Abe Shinzo does not want to face -- that the greatest menaces to the success of Abenomics are the executives of Japan's corporations (a.k.a. his New Best Friends Forever) and their deflation-honed parsimonious ways (Link). Key here is the understanding that these are not evil individuals (well, some of them are, but for reasons other than parsimony). It is just that their accumulated virtues of thrift become the black hole into which the nation's generate surplus disappears, never to be seen again. The government of Japan has an obligation to yank some of the 300 trillion yen in inert savings back into the economy in the same way the government has an obligation to step in with increased spending when private consumption falters.

The all-important-until-last-week-when-the-Diet-dissolution-story-stomped-over-everything-else preliminary third quarter GDP figures are today. Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is rushing back from the G20 in Brisbane, Australia to meet them.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Two Really Can Play At This Game

Seeking that majority in the House of Councillors...

In the background of the debate over the dissolution of the House of Representatives there has been the little matter of what happens to the Your Party. The basic operating assumption is that the Your Party, with its 0.0% support rate (according to the latest NHK public opinion poll) goes to annihilation in the snap election. Party leader Asao Ken'ichiro, even if he manages to retain his seat, is forced to resign as leader. Disgraced party founder Watanabe Yoshimi, who relinquished control of his pet project to Asao after being caught with his hand in the cookie jar to the tune of 800 million yen in loans from just one political benefactor, retakes control of the party and its precious 13 House of Councillors seats. Watanabe then goes to his very good friend Abe Shinzo and offers either to have Your Party join the ruling coalition or allow itself to join the LDP as the Watanabe Faction. Abe Shinzo graciously accepts whichever because the new political arrangement gives the LDP a majority in both Houses of the Diet -- WITHOUT THE KOMEITO.


Of course, all this skulduggery would come to naught if Asao could find a way to keep the Your Party from being captured by Watanabe and offered up as booty to Abe... like say, arranging for the Your Party to allow itself to be absorbed into the opposition Democratic Party of Japan prior to the House of Representative snap election. (Link - J video)


What fun...two really can play at this absorption game.

Very Kind Of Them #30

Steve Miller and I had a conversation the other day about the Autumn Festival Yasukuni sampai. Here is the podcast. (Link)

Since Secretary-General of the National Security Secretariat Yachi Shotaro managed to eke out a handshake and 25 minute meeting for Prime Minister Abe Shinzo with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing, surrendering not a thing in the process (Link) including even a vague pledge not to visit Yasukuni, my thinking is that the odds are now 50-50, rather than 100%, that Mr. Miller and I will be doing a follow-up podcast in late December.

Why only 50-50? Because after indulging his hot-blooded youthfulness (Link) in calling a snap election, Abe will have no late December doldrums to roust either himself or the revisionist partisans out of. And because Abe Shinzo probably appreciates one can tease and cheat the leaders of China only so much -- that there comes a point where their self-control will break and they will do something rash and most likely exceedlingly unpleasant.

A True Friend Of Japan

For over a decade and a half Mindy Kotler has been fighting a largely lonely battle, stepping on a lot of toes, arguing, sometimes inadroitly, points that were once derided as sensationalist and disruptive but now are seen as conventional wisdom: that if Japan wishes to regain the status of a normal nation in East Asia then the Government of Japan has to stop pretending

1) that the comfort women system is not an issue, and

2) that the issue can be handled by non-government forces handing out money and deceptively worded unofficial apologies.

Ms. Kotler has just published a crackling op-ed, "The Comfort Women and Japan's War on Truth," in The New York Times. Please take a moment read it. (Link)

The Japan establishment has focused on the messenger (Link -J) and ignored the message. In so doing it has failed the most basic tests of human life: the ability to tell friend from foe.

A friend, a true friend, does not tell you what you want to hear. A true friend tells you what you do not want to hear: that what you are doing is stupid and that you need to deal with reality, not keep pretending that you can live in a reality of your own.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

In Case You Were As Confused As I Was Re The Dissolution And The Delay

After a spell in the FCCJ library looking at magazines and newspapers, here are my conclusions:

1) The now certain dissolution of the Diet (Link) and the delay in the raising of the consumption tax are two different initiatives. Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has wanted a dissolution for about three weeks now. Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga, or persons thinking and feeling on his behalf like Yamamoto Kozo, has desired the delay for a bit longer.

2) Abe wants the dissolution because he reshuffled the Cabinet only two months ago and one cannot reshuffle a reshuffle. Dissolution is the only way to rid himself of the cast of clowns who jumped aboard the Abe administration bus in September.

3) Suga and/or folks like him want the delay because the second quarter GDP and retail sales figures seem to have confirmed the warnings of last fall from Honda Etsuro and Hamada Ko’ichi that April's rise in the consumption tax would severely dampen the economy's animal spirits. Big business, bloated non-profit and government establishments (a.k.a., The Establishment) were of the (seemingly mistaken) opinion the economy was strong enough to take the hit. Since fundamentally it is idiotic to run two mutually contradictory economic programs at once, in this case QQE and large fiscal outlays for growth and increases in the consumption tax for fiscal consolidation, going full out for growth seems the better idea, at least in the short term.

4) Rather than fess up to having been fooled not just once but twice, the Abe/Suga duarchy dawdled on the framing of their respective projects, this even after Shukan Bunshun blew the lid off of the duarchy's plans ten days ago (many thanks to Dan Harada for pointing out the article). Not even the Yomiuri Shimbun, the cheerleader for Team Abe, had a plausible set of explanations for a dissolution (check out paragraph 8 of the Yomiuri editorial -- sadly the English translation does not do the original justice) to publish/leak. This left the field open for practitioners of the arts of tactical mendacity (my euphemism for H. G. Frankfurt's third form of communication) to offer explanations of what Abe and Suga were up to -- which news media dutifully published despite none of it making a jot of sense.


a) Is the policy mix now going to be too rich, i.e., are we going to have inflation well in excess of the Bank of Japan's goals?

b) What will the news media and Abe's rivals inside the Liberal Democratic Party concede is an Abe win in a December 14 House of Representatives election?

c) Whatever you criticisms you may want to level at Abe and Suga, "unwilling to quickly cut their losses and move on" ain't one of them.

Oh, by the way, if you are an analyst or a journalist, and you borrow any of the above, acknowledge the source, please.

Photo image credit: MTC

Thursday, November 13, 2014

No More Barricades To Be Broken, It Seems

Rural revival and Ebola Countermeasures...

Yesterday, the establishment forces in the Liberal Democratic Party mounted a spirited counter attack against the bull rush of the motley crew of election advocates in the party.

Today, resistance to the pro-election fervor seems to suffered a reversal again. Machimura Nobutaka, the leader of the Machimura Faction and ostensibly Abe Shinzo's superior, still does not see a need to delay the imposition of the rise in consumption tax to 10% or a need for an election right now (Link - J video). The main LDP apparat, however, seems resigned to the prime minister's calling an election, advising the freshman and freshwomen to be ready for campaigning. (Link - J video)

As for what significance, if any, the election will have for the voters, I look at that issue in my latest post for Langley Esquire "The Japan That Can't Say No."

Time to break out the Procol Harum (Link) I guess.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Abe Shinzo: Not In the Fab Four

At the APEC meeting in Beijing, the outfits were just way too 1970s.

As for Abe Shinzo, I am not sure whether his answer to the question would be "I've Seen All Good People" or "Long Distance Runaround."

Anyway, he did not make the cut.

Ein Saga *

In my latest post for Langley Esquire (Link) I note that the party makeup of the Kagoshima Prefectural Assembly left no doubt of as to the outcome of the vote on the Sendai reactor restarts.

So how does the Kagoshima assembly stack up against the assemblies of the prefectures hosting the reactors most likely to next come up for a vote? Where else will restart approval be a foregone conclusion?

A little chart of the party allegiances of the seat holders in the assemblies of the five prefectures with reactors most likely to next come up for restart approval, based upon data I collected from the websites of the assemblies.

Click on image to open in a larger format.

Stunning, ne? Makes one wonder whether or not Saga Prefecture has a law making it illegal to run for office if one belongs to a major party other than the LDP.

Later - An anonymous commenter point how erroneous was my the anomalous result. Thank you anonymous commenter! I have replaced the former image with a corrected one.


* For the reference, there is YouTube.

T'is true, I am inordinately fond of Sibelius.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Ozawa Ichiro And Japanese Politics

It's here!

Dr. Mulgan's long-awaited political biography of the most important Japanese politician of the last 25 years (yes, more important than even the Celebrated Mr. K) quietly entered the marketplace on October 27.

Yes, you should buy it. In my review, which I will post after I finish the book, I will outline some of the ways the book illuminates some of the least understood aspects of the present Abe administration.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Abe Shinzo's Arcadian Economic Idyll

Terraced rice paddies and lights of fishing boats offshore
Yuya Township, Nagato City, Yamaguchi Prefecture
Source URL: Link

Yesterday the Abe Shinzo government and the Bank of Japan under the leadership of Kuroda Haruhiko, whom Abe Shinzo had appointed to the position of Governor of the Bank, moved decisively to block economic headwinds from slowing down the growth of the economy and the rise of CPI inflation to 2%. (Link)

The new monetary bazooka (one commenter on Twitter feed likened the change in policy to Kuroda's tossing aside his cash bazooka in favor of a B-52 bomber) blew the yen-dollar exchange rate right past the 110 range which political noisemakers were last week declaring a line in the sand, at least until after the April 2015 Unified Local Elections.

My hometown paper, the Tokyo Shimbun, reacted, from a look at its headline, in an entirely predictable, populist way to the news.

Click on image to open in a larger format.

Strange, no celebration for the increased chance the BOJ will reach it goal of 2% inflation in a reasonable span of time. Or for the increased profits Japan's large multinationals will get to book again this year due to the certain decline in the value of the yen vis-a-vis other currencies.

With the actions by the BOJ collapsing the floor underneath the yen -- together with the rises in equity prices the BOJ's additional easing and the Government Pension Investment Fund's portfolio reallocations will engineer -- the major corporates have a second chance (not that they deserve one) to deliver on what the Abe Administration must have thought is the implicit Abenomics bargain:

"We the Abe Administration and compliant governors of the Bank of Japan will goose your equities prices and turbocharge your profits. You corporates will dramatically raise salaries and hiring of your permanent employees, and not just double bonuses, creating a positive inflation expectations loop from which all of society can benefit...oh and no wanking around with further increased hiring of temporary workers to replace permanent workers! We're watching you."

In the last year's hiring and this year's spring Labor Offensive (shunto) the executive suites of Japan's corporates utterly failed to return the favor Abe and Company had done for them.

So having been burned once by the executives, why is the Abe Administration willing to double its bets on the capacity of the executives of the multinationals to pitch in, behaving in a patriotic, sharing way?

Perhaps it is because Abe Shinzo believes that to do so is in the marrows of the executives, their very DNA itself.

Consider if you will the below passage from the Mizuho no Kuni ("the land lush with rice plants") chapter from Abe Shinzo's 2013 book, Atarashii Kuni e (unofficial English title: Toward a New Country). At the end of the chapter Abe describes his faith in the existence of a fundamental, essential and frankly beautiful Japanese economy:

The Capitalism of the Mizuho no Kuni

From ancient times unto the present, this country called "Nippon" has been a place where one rises early in the morning and cultivates one's fields and rice paddies, sweat streaming. When the Autumn comes, together, with the Imperial Family at the center, we pray at the Festival of the Five Grains. This is the "Mizuho no Kuni." It is based upon self-reliance and self-help. If by some ill-chance a person should fall ill, all of the inhabitants of the village would help [the ill person]. This from ancient times unto the present has been the social welfare system of "Nippon." It is bound up in the DNA of the Japanese people.

I believe there is a capitalism of a Mizuho no Kuni that is appropriate for a Mizuho no Kuni. However, while having an emphasis on an economy where there is free competition, it is not the capitalism that takes, as its motive force, greed, the type that has emerged out of Wall Street to take the world by storm. Emphasizing ethics and rules (dogi) and with a sense of what real wealth (makoto no yutakasa) is -- a form of market-based ideology in the Mizuho no Kuni that is appropriate for the Mizuho no Kuni.

The Abe family has its roots in Nagato City, from long ago the township of Yuya. There are terraced rice paddies there. They face the Sea of Japan and when they are filled with water, in each one there is a reflection of the Moon, the reflections of the lights of the distant fishing boats. It is so beautiful as to take one’s breath away.

The labour productivity of terraced rice paddies is low. From the point of view of economic rationality they are nonsense, perhaps. But precisely because there are these terraced rice paddies, this is my ancestral home. Furthermore, because we have these rural vistas, is this not why a graceful and lovely Nippon exists? Amid a market-based ideology, tradition, culture and regional difference can still be emphasized. I want to go forward thinking about the means to an economy appropriate to a Mizuho no Kuni.

[Unofficial Translation by M. T. Cucek]

But wait, wait, the historians are crying, this is the romanticized, a-historic vision of the moral village, the pure agrarian life the young officers and fanatics of the pre-war era pledged to defend --- and in the 1920s and 1930s those guys would ASSASSINATE the capitalists!

Well, yes. But then, we already knew the PM does have a kind of funny vision of pre-1945 Japan, which, because it is inherited -- like Shiozaki Yasuhisa's shareholdings -- is nothing to worry about

As for pushing today's capitalists to get with the program on behalf of their fellow Japanese and not just themselves, can one think of anything more convincing than a reminder from Abe of a glorious and clearly more beautiful past? One that says in the very simple and vivid terms, "Be Generous"?

And yes, it is the most incredible, delicious and sweet coincidence that the one major financial group which has set itself apart by declaring it will raise wages a second time this year, in addition to the shunto raise of April, is...Mizuho Financial Group. (Link)

Very Kind Of Them #29

Friday's announcements by the Bank of Japan and the Government Pension Investment Fund have dispelled any rumors that Kuroda Haruhiko and Abe Shinzo are lacking in chutzpah. The sudden moves certainly provides incentives for members of the opposition to take a good look during the long three-day weekend at a strategy to pound away on the dodgy accounts books of Liberal Democratic Party members in next Tuesday's House of Councillors Budget Committee session, rather than substantive issues.

However, scandal mongering has been a winner for the opposition in the past. They may just go ahead and bang away at LDP Diet members for

1) their failure to have real accountants check their accounts and for

2) their lack of familiarity with the very complex election regulations they themselves wrote.

The bold declarations of the AbeKuroda Komplex, however, have definitely changed the conversation in the street. Last week, the discussion was about delay, distraction and decay, as I suggeest to Elaine Kurtenbach, writing for the AP:

News of possible election law and political funding violations forced the resignations last week of Abe's justice and trade ministers, both among the five women who had just taken office in the early September Cabinet reshuffle that showcased Abe's commitment to stronger roles for women in leadership.

"It's a serious setback. So much of the Abe Cabinet's shine was due to its aura of invincibility and inevitability," said Michael Cucek, a Tokyo-based analyst and fellow at Temple University Japan.

Troubles over campaign funds and related issues have long contributed to Japan's famous "revolving door" politics. Abe's first term as prime minister, in 2006-2007, ended when he was driven from office by scandals and health problems after just a year.

Abe got a rare second chance when his Liberal Democrats regained power from the Democratic Party in December 2012. Since then, the LDP's coalition with the Buddhist-affiliated Komeito, or Clean Government Party, has established majorities in both houses of the parliament.

This time around, Abe has cultivated a confident, relaxed style of leadership, repeatedly declaring "Japan is back!" while his chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga endeavors to keep their gaffe-prone allies more or less in line.

"Until this crisis it looked pretty certain he was just going to cruise," Cucek said. "Now that politics as usual has returned we could see the same sort of decay that we've seen in the past," he said.


By Tuesday, however, the conversation may no longer about a few million yen's worth of missing fund report entries or S&M bar tabs. When you start talking about expanding BOJ bond purchases by an addition 10 trillion yen annually, you are talking real money -- and that gets the people's attention.

Very Kind Of Them #28

Last week's resignation of Minister of Economics, Trade and Industry Obuchi Yuko gave me an opportunity to vent some spleen about the overlarge representation the Diet and indeed throughout the elites of East and South Asia of a particular minority: persons who made an excellent choice of uteruses in which to gestate.

To Kirk Spitzer, writing for TIME, my venting was worth quoting, in this way:
Obuchi's portfolio includes authority over the nation's nuclear power plants and her softer image—a young mother, after all—was expected to soothe public anxiety over plans to restart the reactors. Obuchi is the daughter of former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, who ran Japan from July 1998 to April 2000, and had even been touted as a possible successor to Abe somewhere down the road. But the close scrutiny that comes with a Cabinet appointment exposed her as a political lightweight and a product of the LDP machine, says Michael Cucek, a researcher and author of a respected political blog in Tokyo. "She represents someone who vaulted into prominence by the death of a sitting prime minister, taking over the family business without ever knowing much about how the whole machine works," he said.

Obuchi's admission at her press conference that she trusted and did not check up on persons working for her whom she had known since childhood and Thursday's raid by prosecutors of the home of former Nakanojo mayor Orita Ken'ichiro and the offices of Obuchi support group (link) seemingly justified a rather testy set of exchanges I fell into on Twitter regarging Obuchi's credentials: