Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Upper House Should Take the High Road

The upper house should not turn away from its role of exercising good judgment by abusing its privilege to censure the prime minister. This is especially true when the censure is a ploy for pushing the premier to dissolve the lower house. It's natural for the opposition to urge the Aso cabinet to quickly dissolve the lower house, but it goes against the fundamentals of our two-tiered parliamentary system to have the upper house censuring the prime minister to force his hand on the lower house's status. This move will only make the upper house more like the lower one; it will become a bastardized version of the lower house and corrupt the political process.

Simply put, the upper house should not play power politics.

There are some within the opposition who are pushing the idea that if Prime Minister Taro Aso isn't inclined to dissolve the lower house quickly, he could be prodded to do so by a threatened upper-house censure. The opposition leadership shouldn't rush into this. It's a bad move.

This sort of thinking is based on the mistaken idea that the authority to dissolve the lower house rests with the prime minister alone. In fact, this idea is wrong on two levels: For one, it's based on the faulty premise that authority to call for the lower house's dissolution rests with an individual — the prime minister. This is just not correct. Second, some may argue that the Constitution gives the cabinet the authority to dissolve the lower house, but this too is wrong. The answer is in Article 7 of the Constitution, which describes the acts that the Emperor shall conduct for the nation. The third item listed is "dissolution of the House of Representatives." "The Emperor shall, with the advice and approval of the Cabinet ..." is how it is worded. The Emperor's state activities are formalities — he is serving as a symbol and should not be involved in exercising political power.

Political change is near. Once a new regime takes over, it should renew our understanding of the Constitution.

Ever since the surprise dissolution of the lower house by the Yoshida cabinet at the end of August 1952 and the subsequent general election in October of that year, the mistaken idea that the power to dissolve the lower house resides in the cabinet has prevailed. The new regime should correct that, making it clear that the power to dissolve the lower house resides in the House of Representatives itself. When it comes to dissolving the lower house, we should honor the authority spelled out in Article 69 ("If the House of Representatives passes a no-confidence resolution, or rejects a confidence resolution, the Cabinet shall resign en masse, unless the House of Representatives is dissolved within 10 days"). A new regime must correct this distorted interpretation of the Constitution, which propagates the idea that it's the prime minister's job to decide when to dissolve the lower house. A proper interpretation shows that the House of Representatives alone should decide when to dissolve itself. This is not an issue that concerns the upper house.

The House of Councilors needs to monitor political power as it is exercised in the lower house and correct things when an offense is committed.

The lower house has the priority because it can name the prime minister. This is the chamber for political power struggles to take place. The upper house should not get involved. The House of Councilors is predicated on good judgment, not power. I ask the opposition to show some self-respect.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Irresponsible Leaders Won't Call for What We Really Need

The Bush administration is still planning to continue the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It doesn't even think about stopping them. The lameduck president's term is over in January 2009, but if a Republican administration remains in the White House, both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will continue. If Obama wins and a Democratic administration takes over, the Iraq war may end, but fighting in Afghanistan will continue. Even if the US has an Obama administration, it will continue to wage war.

Wars are very expensive. American economist Joseph Stiglitz recently published a book which argues that the real cost of the Iraq War is $3 trillion (The $3 Trillion War, Japanese translation from Tokuma Shoten). At the exchange rate as of October 9, 2008, that is the equivalent of 300 trillion yen. The US has spent an enormous amount of money on the Afghanistan War alone.

The financial crisis begun by the US poses a serious challenge. The American government is asking other countries to help bail it out, but as long as it continues its Iraq and Afghanistan wars, giving the US money would be like pouring water into a bottomless bucket. Even if Japan and several other countries agree to US requests and offer large loans to help end the financial crisis, there is a very good chance that one way or another, the money will be used in the war effort. That means Japan's money would be financing the wars, and we'd be bogged down in a quagmire.

Let me repeat: If the Japanese government gives in to the US government's request and adopts a policy of loaning money to the US to quell the financial crisis and if both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars continue, it would be like pouring water into a bottomless bucket. This is so basic that even a child could grasp it.

But there is no one in this country arguing this very point. It's not only the government, the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito Party that are running from this issue — the Democratic Party of Japan and the mass media also remain mute. It's as if they are making efforts to block both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars from their minds.

The first thing we should do to calm the current global crisis is to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will prove impossible to solve the financial crisis without ending the wars.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Deal with the Urgent Issues before Calling for Elections

Creating an Economic Policy to Halt Bankruptcies
Calling for dissolution of the lower house and the subsequent election is a high-priority political issue. But there's one big obstacle that needs to be grappled with before an election is scheduled: the current economic downturn. While this is a global crisis and not one that Japan can solve by itself, the government needs to at least enact policies that would prevent massive bankruptcies. Once that is taken care of, the lower house can be dissolved.

As the US-led financial crisis deepens, Japan's corporate community is in danger of falling into pandemonium. A lot of companies are having trouble securing financing for the year-end — and it is not only the smaller companies that stare bankruptcy in the face. A chain of bankruptcies would have serious consequences. We should take whatever steps are necessary to stop a potential wave of corporate failures. The government needs to mobilize to protect companies on the financial and credit fronts, and it should do this before calling for elections.

Defend Our Livelihood through Lower Taxes, Public Works
A lot of families are facing bankruptcy too. Their incomes haven't gone up, and they must bear increasing financial burdens. Prices are on the rise, stretching family budgets. Financial institutions are demanding more debt repayment. Credit card companies are beginning to limit card usage. If nothing is done, it's very possible that we'll see a huge spike in personal bankruptcies.

We need emergency policies that defend our livelihood. The government needs to turn around its financial policies and start lowering taxes and relying more on public-works spending.

Political Parties Should Have a Policy Debate
The world has entered a difficult period. Japan must begin to discuss how we will live through this. As the age of Pax Americana comes to an end, Japan should re-examine its alliance with the US.

We can't shy away from debating which direction to take: neoliberalism or modified capitalism. We must also have a serious discussion about all aspects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and whether the Japanese people want to live as a peaceful nation.

All this should be done before we hold elections. The current political debate is far too small in scope. The election should be an occasion for charting Japan's new course.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

First Things First

Prime Minister Taro Aso was correct when he said, "The people want us to put priority on economic policies, not Diet dissolution." The problem is whether or not the Aso administration can come up with an effective policy. A majority of the Japanese people are very much in favor of taking urgent measures to revive the economy. If we don't do anything, there's a very good chance that many small and midsize businesses, including mom-and-pop shops, will not be able to hold on. The government must find a way to avoid this outcome. A lot of businesses need help preventing bankruptcy between now and the end of the year. This is the government's responsibility. Let me repeat: We must stave off a collapse of the Japanese economy. This is the government's most pressing concern. Dissolution of the Diet can occur later.

Stretching out the timing of the general election in a bid to postpone the inevitable is not wise. But the government should take at least two months to put all its effort behind urgent measures to boost the economy. The supplementary budget the government is focused on now is like a few drops of water on parched soil. For a supplementary package to have a positive effect, it would have to be much larger. The administration shouldn't hesitate to enact deficit spending to cover our shortfall. Politicians shouldn't restrain themselves just because of the foolish target of having a primary budget surplus by 2011. Instead, they should be focusing all their efforts on the urgent measures needed to steady our staggering economy. Bold action is the secret to success. Let me repeat: Japan's politicians should be focused on defending the nation's economy.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Media Spins Koizumi's Retirement

Impressions of the media coverage
Once former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi announced his retirement from politics, several media organizations ran with stories exploring the "merits and demerits of Koizumi politics." This is odd because there weren't any "merits." It was all "demerits." I think the mass media mentions the supposed merits to justify its role in stoking "Koizumi fever" during his reign.

A summary of my comments to several news organizations
Koizumi has left Japan deeply scarred. First, his administration facilitated the destruction of Japan's good traditions and way of life. It is no overstatement to say he destroyed Japanese society. The end result of his structural revolution is to have created a society of haves and have-nots. Thanks to him, the majority of the Japanese people are struggling. He abandoned the provinces. His policies crushed Japan's social welfare (medicine, pensions, nursing). They pushed many young people into the category of the "working poor." Hope has disappeared. Morals have declined. Japan's fate has been intertwined even tighter with the fate of the US. There is nothing redeeming about Koizumi politics. The Koizumi Revolution was nothing more than a forced march toward US Republican-style neoliberalism. Japan became a proving ground for Republican theories.

The looming general election is going to be a day of reckoning for Koizumi and his legacy. Candidates still trumpeting the Koizumi way are likely to be judged harshly by the voters. The Koizumi sympathizers, whether they be in the ruling coalition or the opposition, need to be thrashed at the polls.

There will soon be an opening for Japan to truly turn away from Koizumi, American neoliberalism and the US in general. As the real Koizumi escapes, we need to corner his legacy once and for all. Judgment day is near.