Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Opposition Update - I'm A Fixin' To Die

OK, so now we know: the Democratic Party of Japan has a death wish.

When Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is invoking, on seemingly an hourly basis, the need for greater opportunities for women not just in Japan (Link) but everywhere (Link and Link), and he is slotting women into a record number of cabinet and Liberal Democratic Party posts (Link), when the international discussion on Japan is focusing on the country's ridiculous underutilization of women's talents and energy (Link), the DPJ responds with a new leadership council compose of dudes, dudes and nothing but dudes.

And not just just dudes, but dudes we have all seen before. (Link to classic Jiji Press sarcasm)

There is such a thing as optics. Truly, the new DPJ leadership group (above photo) is excruciating to behold.

Matching the DPJ in its wish for its own demise is the Your Party, whose founder and former leader Watanabe "Sticky Fingers" Yoshimi is demanding that his beleaguered former deputy, party leader Asao Ken'ichiro link Your Party up with the LDP or die. Asao, exhausted by the toxic Watanabe's interference, has finally snapped, saying that if Watanable wants to consummate his love for the LDP, he should leave the party. Watanabe, as mature as he can be (Can you believe he was once considered a shoo-in for future prime minister?) has said that a founder cannot leave a party, so it is Asao who must go (Link - J)

Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah -- same as you!

To be fair, Watanabe did have a viable plan to link up with the LDP, even after the departure of Eda Kenji and the defectors of Unity (oxymoron alert) -- who are having their own problems in trying to merge with the Osaka rump of Hashimoto Toru's Restoration Party. (Link).

However, getting caught with arms up to his elbows in the cookie jar sank Watanabe's plans for a glorious hawk-hawk-hawk superalliance supplanting the LDP/New Komeito ruling coalition -- because it became apparent once he resigned as party leader that the only real link between the LDP and the Your Party was the personal one between Watanabe and Abe Shinzo (Watanabe being one of the four-member "Abe Road" group of Abe and his most trusted political allies).

The Party For Future Generations (no, that is its real name - don't laugh) launched itself Tuesday night in what was a thoroughly joyless affair. Spry stroke survivor, party leader and adopted son of a convicted Class A war criminal Hiranuma "Shall We Dance" Takeo (75) and his somewhat more mature senior adviser, the frustrated stand up comedian Ishihara Shintaro (81) wore themselves out thundering about a future they, if actuarial tables are to be trusted, will not see -- Ishihara talking about the goals over the party over a decade, where he will be in his early 90s. Fellow party members, who might be around when the future generations arrive, sat quietly and uncomfortably as though in a hospital ward waiting room dreading their proctological exams. (Link - J -video)

I know what you are thinking: Japan's opposition parties cannot, cannot be as pathetic as they seem here . There must be some glimmer of hope somewhere -- like the appointment of Edano Yukio as the DPJ's secretary-general giving a clear sense that Edano will succeed the hapless Kaieda Banri as party leader.

Yes, it is true, the Edano appointment provides a glimmer of hope. But only a glimmer. When lumped together with the amazing sublimating Socialists and the cash-burning Communists, Japan's opposition parties are a mind-boggling flaming heap of wasted time and talent.

Which has got to represent a huge temptation for Abe Shinzo to shuck his newly minted Cabinet and call a snap election of the House of Representatives -- after, that is, he signs off on the second raising of the consumption tax from 8% to 10%.

Image courtesy: Democratic Party of Japan official website.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Putin's Jujitsu - A Fantasy

In the aftermath of Mori Yoshiro's little visit to Russia last week (Link) I was asked what, if anything, Abe Shinzo hopes to achieve by continuing his now indirect engagement with Vladimir Putin.

My stock answer has been that Japan's Russia diplomacy runs down two tight corridors:

1) efforts to gain a return of the Northern Territories and

2) the development of Russian energy sources for importation into Japan.

These are still open questions so Japanese diplomats and politicians just keep on shuttling, riding on the carryover from earlier rapprochement efforts and from out of a desperate search for energy, particularly LNG, post-3/11 and Fukushimi Daiichi.

Having said the above, I wondered whether there was not a back door to a substantial and radical recalibration of Russia's position. Let say that after the annexation of Crimea and the disruption of the Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine Vladimir Putin has absolutely unassailable Russian imperial expansionist credentials. The cost, and it has been huge, of acquiring these credentials has been the Western Alliance's opprobrium, which has closed all kinds of doors to Putin, his siloviki cronies and his country (there is also the very real possibility of shooting breaking out soon in between Russian and NATO forces). What if Putin were to take all the momentum of the moment and pivot, cutting a deal with Abe Shinzo for the return of part or even all of the Northern Territories, in return for, let us say, the Japanese government's abandonment of U.S.-led efforts to isolate Russia? A grateful Japan then goes overboard in its support of the development of Russian Far East hydrocarbon resources, enriching Putin and his henchmen and markedly increasing Japan's dependence on Russia for its energy. Meanwhile, at the other end of Eurasia, Putin's sudden strategic abandonment of Russia's hold on the Northern Territories raises insane and stupid hopes regarding the potential return to Germany of Kaliningrad, a dream most modern Germans did not know they even had (Karelia, of course, was won fair and square in the good fight against the dreaded Finns and so is not a part of the grand strategy). The Kaliningrad gambit, transparently manipulative as it would be, disrupts EuroAmerican unity just when the Western Alliance was getting over the reality of Europe's dependency on Russian energy.

[An aside, but as I told MK last week, Russian strategists are probably not serious in playing China against Japan or China against Europe as regards access to Russian energy resources. If possible, Russians want everyone to be dependent upon them.]

The above is a crazed confection of paranoia and geostrategy (sometimes these two items are difficult to disambiguate) -- but Putin must be telling Abe something in order to keep the Japanese side hoping beyond hope for an sudden, improbable ippon gachi.

Original photo image credit: BBC

Dumbwalking - The Meme

Dumbwalking (Link) is now an international menace and joke -- though it seems the proper American term for the activity is the neutral "distracted walking." (Link)

A propos of which, this seems to be dumbwalking in Vietnamese. (Link)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

An Appreciation Of Green

Just in case anyone who read my post of yesterday thinks I am down on Dr. Michael Green, I am not. In the two-part interview he has given to Peter Ennis ( Part I , Part II ) he demonstrates his incredibly fine-grained knowledge of the political arena, policy structure and technical demands constraining the operations of the Japan-U.S. alliance. The reader may not like the assumptions Green and his counterparts make (the nonchalance in Abe's justification of reinterpretation over revision takes the breath away) but knowing that the PM, his advisor and military planners on both sides are thinking ante- and not just post-facto is reassuring.

Underappreciated also is "Japan is Back: Unbundling Abe's Grand Strategy," the analysis Dr. Green produced for the Lowy Institute (Link). I am eternally grateful for the devastating anecdote (in the "Values, History, and The Korea Problem" section) on the effect Abe's weekend golf partners have on the PM's thinking.

And yes, the above statement is true, too. My favorite opera is also by a guy named Green, for good measure.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Eat, Pray, Fund, Party, Pose

Source: Prime Minister's Residence

I will be happier when the day comes -- and the day may never come -- when Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's minions stop pretending that the PM's meeting the persons he vacations with is work.

Just to remind everyone, Abe attended a five hour party on August 22 at Sasakawa Yohei's vacation villa in the lakes region of Yamanashi Prefecture. The other guests at the party were former Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro, METI Minister Motegi Toshimitsu, Senior Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kishi Nobuo (the PM's brother), Senior Vice Minister Nishimura Yasutoshi, Cabinet Parliamentary Secretary Kato Katsunobu, Hagiuda Ko'ichi, Yamamoto Yuji and Fuji TV's CEO Hie Hisashi...

...which was a quid pro quo for Sasakawa's being one of the guests, along with Mori, Motegi, Hagiuda and Environment Minister Ishihara Nobuteru, at the dinner at the Abe vacation villa on 15 August 2013, in the evening after the PM had completed his 2013 End-of-War day responsibilities and had his hair done at the Imperial Palace Hotel.

Yes, the Nippon Foundation funds important work. No, that does not make it OK for the Kantei to pin up a photo of Sasakawa-san with his employees and collaborators, pretending that the group got a face-to-face with the PM on the merits.

Myths About Myths: Wakefield and Martin vs. Green and Hornung

In a short essay published by Japan Focus this week, Bryce Wakefield and Craig Martin try to set the record straight on the significance of the July 1 Cabinet Decision removing the block on Japan's exercise of the right of collective self-defense (Link). The essay is a response to a longer work, "Ten Myths About Japan's Collective Self Defense Change," by Michael Green and Jeffrey Hornung, published by The Diplomat. (Link)

I am forced to say "try to set the record straight" rather than "set the record straight" because the Wakefield/Martin essay fails to thump the Green/Hornung opinion article hard enough. Wakefield and Martin do dissect the misleading assertions in the Green/Hornung piece and do offer some suggestions as to the sources of the misunderstandings, if not outright misrepresentations, therein.

Wakefield and Martin's argumentation, however, is not crisp. The essay compares unfavorably with "Abe's Law: Domestic Dimension of Japan's Self-Defense Debate," the magisterial paper Wakefield produced earlier this year for the Wilson Center's Japan's Vision of East Asia conference review (Link). That paper describes with great clarity the constitutional red lines the Abe administration was proposing to and eventually did cross in crafting the July 1 Cabinet Decision.

A lack of crispness in the more recent work should not be ascribed to anything Wakefield and Martin may have done or left undone. One has to indeed applaud them for the time and intellectual capital they expended in the effort of nailing down Green and Hornung.

The problem with confronting the assertions of the Green/Hornung article and knocking them down is that the whole process is rather like punching a bale of kapok. Try as one might, one cannot inflict much damage on what is, no matter its size or sense of self-importance, a bag of fluff.

In their article Green and Hornung set out to debunk ten "myths" about the collective self defense debate. However, there is no sourcing for these "myths" -- indeed, there is, in the whole length of the article, not a single person quoted as an author or transmitter of any of the ten propositions being debunked. Since what is presented is not the assertions of identifiable, real persons, Green and Hornung are jousting with the made up quotes of imaginary persons -- or, looking at the problem from a slightly different angle, since they and no others are the authors of the text, they are debunking themselves.

Hence the difficulty of the task Wakefield and Martin have taken on. If Green and Hornung had attacked the assertions of real persons, Wakefield and Martin could go back ro the original assertion, look at the context in which that assertion was uttered or even email the author to ascertain whether or not Green's and Hornung's characterizations of the so-called myth make any sense. Since the assertions are figments of Green's and Hornung's imaginations, however, Wakefield and Martin must first demonstrate the relevance of the "myth" to the actual intellectual and political debate going on in Japan. It is not surprising that Wakefield and Martin should get bogged down, as more often than not the "myth" only vaguely resembles actual assertions by actual actors in the drama.

It would be unfair to condemn Green and Hornung too much for having handed over to their opponents the responsibility of proving the salience of their essay. Though Green and Hornung both teaching academics, they have spent much of their careers in the trenches of America's think tanks, where wargaming against imaginary opponents has become confused with -- or has completely replaced -- argument. Many major think tanks only rarely take the time to paint pictures of reality. Such pictures are messy and require a certain level of knowledge to understand. More useful to the consumers of think tank-style writing is a set of smart-sounding answers to potential talking points of foes: i.e., "If Ms. X says A, you can respond by saying B."

In the combat of ideas, wargaming is probably indispensable as a preparatory measure. The problem is when, as in the piece by Green and Hornung, wargaming purports to be an explanation, rather than what it is, a set of responses to conjectures.

The real portrait of collective self defense debate has yet to be produced. Wakefield in his March paper presented a stunning sketch of the debate prior its July 1 denouement. Perhaps Wakefield and Martin, or even Green and Hornung, if the fancy so strikes them, will tackle the task of revisiting the struggle as it has been fought these last few month using the actual words of the combatants -- with a preview of the potential future fights tacked on. If none of the four gentleman is willing to take up the task, I know of at least one major scholar laboring away at what will most likely be the definitive presentation and analysis of the collective self defense debate.

That paper I will definitely blog and tweet about, if I am still blogging and tweeting when it comes out.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Original Tweets for 8 Sept 2014

- Dreading that first use of Nishikori's run at US Open under tutelage of Chang as metaphor for potential unlocked by JPN-CHN-US collaboration    [Tweet regarding this story]

- Hayakawa on why Abenomics cheerleaders should shut up about JPN's low unemployment rate

- C. H. Kwan underscoring audacity of Abe's challenging CHN given JPN economy's dependence and complementarity (wonkish)

- RIETI's Nakajima: no, yen devaluation *is* boosting exports - JPN cannot do much about other countries' weakness

- Miyake-san's talents are many and he is tight w/ the PM but he has got to stop talking about JPN's silent majority

- Popcorn Time: Abe Shinzo has given Ishiba Shigeru and Takaichi Sanae the same task of rural revitalization. Hmm...

- Quality Time: Newly appointed METI minister Obuchi makes a Sunday visit Fukushima Daiichi (J)

- Always provocative Peter Tasker urges more radicalism, confidence and contrarian thinking from Abe Shinzo, not less

- Without Infrastructure: Someone has to explain the JPN gov't's sudden fascination with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles

Original Tweets for 6-7 Sept 2014

- Gerry Curtis sees Ishiba Shigeru's acceptance of rural revival post as tantamount to abandoning run for LDP pres?

- One reason why it took Asahi so long to repudiate articles with Yoshida's claims? Fear of reprisals, since realized

- @philipbrasor on the mounting reasons why a casino in Tokyo any time soon is a bad bet

- @JMSchles Major news out of Dhaka. China was supposedly pushing hard for Bangladesh's winning the UNSC seat over Japan. [Tweet regarding this news].

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Irony Bites - The Yomiuri Shimbun Edition

Everyone makes mistakes oh yes they do
Your sister and your brother
And your dad and mother too
Big people, small people
Matter of fact all people
Everyone makes mistakes so why can't you?

- Sesame Street, "Everyone Makes Mistakes"

Last month Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's largest circulation daily newspaper and a staunch ally, nay, the house organ of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's administration, severely criticized its main rival The Asahi Shimbun following the Asahi's admission last month that a number of its articles on the comfort women published in the 1990s contained unprovable and likely false information:

After a review of its reports on the so-called comfort women issue, which has become a huge thorn in the side of Japan-South Korea ties, The Asahi Shimbun has admitted its mistakes in the reports—albeit partially—and retracted some of the contents.

The retractions allude to reports on remarks by Seiji Yoshida, who claimed to have forcibly taken away local women from Jeju Island, South Korea, to make them serve as comfort women. During World War II, Yoshida was said to be the former head of the mobilization department of the Shimonoseki Branch of Romu Hokoku-kai, an organization in charge of recruiting laborers.

In September 1982, the newspaper reported—without verification—the remarks of Yoshida, who claimed to have "hunted up 200 young Korean women in Jeju Island."

Misperceptions about Japan

The report added fuel to anti-Japan sentiment in South Korea, and also became a basis of misperception of Japan spreading through the world. In its Tuesday morning edition, the Asahi concluded—for the first time—that Yoshida's remarks were baseless, and finally retracted the newspaper's reports regarding the remarks.

We cannot help but point out the correction should have been made at a much earlier stage. Doubts about Yoshida’s remarks have been raised as early as 1992. The newspaper’s negligence in allowing the issue to linger for more than 20 years is deplorable.


The Yomiuri's criticism, sharp and unforgiving, is still restrained as compared to the enervated glee of the Fuji Sankei Group's Sankei Shimbun and the legions of Japan Keyboard Defense Korps members like economics blogger Ikeda Nobuo and National Fundamental head honcho Sakurai Yoshiko -- who have simply gone overboard in their demands for retribution against the Asahi for its errors.

The Yomiuri's restraint in its mirth over the Asahi's too credulous reporting demonstrates an inadvertent wisdom in the editorial office -- because this week, it was the Yomiuri that swallowed a fish tale, hook, line and sinker.

In a pair of exclusive reports, the Yomiuri reported that prime minister Abe Shinzo was going to appoint Takaichi Sanae as minister of economics, trade and industry -- which prompted me to tweet:

and that Obuchi Yuko would be the new secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, which prompted me to rant:

The last time I looked, and that was today, Secretary-General of the Liberal Democratic Party is a serious, serious job. It requires an intense understanding of policy, party financial and personnel matters. It is a lightning rod, having to deal with intra-party resentment, political feuds, local versus national politics and demands for funds. It is also a very public post, with the secretary-general frequently having to interact with the news media as the party's top representative.

A nightmare, in other words.

Into this spot Abe purportedly wants to slot a five-term (5 terms is the usual minimum number of elections for consideration for a first cabinet posting) House of Representatives member, a legacy member with but a single stint in a minor, invented cabinet post, as not just the first woman but the youngest person ever to serve as secretary-general of the only party in Japan which really matters.

(Link) turns out that both of these exclusives did not only sounded bogus, they were bogus -- which prompted the Yomiuri to print an extraordinary postscript to its Friday story on Obuchi's becoming secretary-general having been a longtime and thwarted dream of the prime minister:

The Yomiuri Shimbun's Political News Department has operated a dedicated team over the past month or so to cover matters related to Wednesday’s Cabinet reshuffle and shakeup of top LDP executives. Our coverage has been based on the work of as many as 30 reporters who gathered information on developments by contacting members of the LDP and the Prime Minister’s Office, among other sources, and thoroughly and comprehensively scrutinizing the information available.

Yomiuri articles that reported Abe as considering appointing Obuchi to the LDP secretary general post and Sanae Takaichi as likely to become economy, trade and industry minister may have misled our readers.

When covering political circumstances that change constantly, we will make further efforts to offer fast and accurate reports based on diversified information-gathering and careful news judgment.


"May have misled our readers"?

Is this not the point where one is supposed to say, "We blew it!"?

Or do the editors at the Yomiuri need a little more time?

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Senryu For 6 Sept 2014

17-syllable poems on politics and social affairs published on the editorial page of the Tokyo Shimbun on Saturday, September 6, 2014:


In response to five women
Becoming ministers
Sudden cheering

- Matsuda Masaru, Saeki City

In a poll conducted on September 3-4, the Yomiuri Shimbun found that support for the Cabinet among women voters rose 18 points, from 45% to 63%, in the aftermath of the announcement of a new cabinet line up including five women as ministers.

That same poll found that 67% of the voters "appreciated" (hyoka) the increase in the number of women in the Cabinet from two to five. By contrast, 25% of voters did not appreciate it, presumably because these voters felt the increase was mere electoral pandering.

So Mr. Matsuda is either reflecting the enthusiasm or the cynicism of one segment of the voting public or the other. It is up to the reader to decide which.


So the words "Military State"
should be pronounced
"A Beautiful Country"?

-- Hakeshita Koba, Yokohama City

Last week the Defense Ministry submitted the largest budget request in its history, with highly visible requests for an extra Aegis destroyer, an extra submarine and Global Hawk surveillance drones, among other hardware. (Link)

The poem, however, probably is alluding to more that just the defense ministry budget request, which, when compared to the growth in military spending in the region, is a risible increase. Instead, the author (Hakeshita Koba - the pronunciation is a guess - it may be a nom de plume) is probably also making reference to the July 1 Cabinet Decision on collective self defense, the loosening of restrictions on arms exports and last year's passage of the Special Secrets Act. The sarcastic suggestion that the kanji for "military state" (gunkoku) should be pronounced "Beautiful Country" (utsukushii kuni) is a reference to Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's book Toward A Beautiful Country (Utsukushii kuni e -- a sympathetic review of which can be found here) wherein the PM waxes nostalgic about the majesty of the pre-1945 Japanese state and its people.

The practice of having idiosyncratic pronunciations of kanji is widespread in the arts. An example of a similar duplicitously deviant pronunciation of a provocative kanji compound can be found in Shiina Ringo's theme song for NHK's broadcasts of the World Cup - a song which sparked quite a kerfuffle due to its seemingly World Cup inappropriate pugnacious punk patriotism.

In the song Shiina (above photo) sings, "Hurrah, Hurrah, for the blue skies of Japan" (Hure, Hure, Nippon bare). "Blue skies" is an allusion to both the actual sky over Japan and "The Samurai Blue," the nickname of the men's national soccer team (with France's "Les Bleus" and Italy's "Di Azurri" the blue category seems kind of crowded). In the printed lyrics of the song, however, the expression pronounced "Hurrah!" is written "Banzai!" (万歳!) in kanji -- an upfront patriotic and historically problematic expression. (Link - You Tube Video - J)

As luck would have it, the men's team crashed out of the tournament early. The public was spared full renditions of NHK's theme song -- and an extension of the controversy over its lyrics -- during the latter weeks of the tournament.

Later - For those who only know Shiina Ringo from her Kurt Cobain phase (YouTube video) here is something a little more recent...and in something of a different mode. (Youtube - video)

To be fair to the NHK execs hired Shiina to provide the theme song, they really had no idea which of her personae would show up.

Photo image: Shiina Ringo promotional photo for the World Cup
Photo courtesy: unrecorded