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.