Friday, October 30, 2009

Base Issue Gives Hatoyama Early Test

The Hatoyama administration has been roiling the waters between Japan and the US over a plan to relocate a US military base on Okinawa. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama says he needs time to review the agreement. Meanwhile, the US is leaning hard on him to acquiesce. Hatoyama's ministers are voicing different opinions, and analysts are split on whether that's a sign of disarray or a way to gauge public opinion. Here's the latest from Reuters.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Cut the Waste": A Dangerous Slogan for Strengthening One's Political Base

At the heart of the "cut the waste" slogan is a move by those holding political power and people in the media to encouraging whistle-blowing and get people's blood boiling as we beat the bushes for waste. It's a dangerous gambit.

Look at how dictators such as Hitler or Stalin consolidated political power. They'd come up with a slogan that no one could be against. When people started voicing opposition to the ideas, they'd be attacked and suppressed. "Cut the waste" is one of those slogans that has served dictators well in the past.

There's no one against cutting the waste. If the political powers that be decide to start a movement around this slogan, no one can oppose it. If the media become cheerleaders for the idea, then those who oppose it will be the objects of witch-hunts and will be ostracized from society.

No one can come out against "cutting the waste." If they call for "eliminating wasteful spending of tax money," there isn't a soul who wouldn't agree with the concept. In today's Japan, when the mass media has such overriding influence, if it decides to pursue with all its might this idea of finding and eliminating waste, anyone criticizing them will be persona non grata. If the media speaks as one and says "the dam is a waste," no one will be able to challenge them by saying that the dam is necessary.

If the media decides to go after public works, saying they are wasteful, anyone standing up for the role of public works will be unheard above the din. If they decide to call the independent administrative agencies wasteful, the public will begin to hum the same tune. If the politicians use this and the media joins in, soon anyone who uses tax money will be "bad."

Just about every tax expenditure made by the previous coalition of Liberal Democrats and New Komeito is being labeled wasteful now. At the same time, if the Democratic Party of Japan does something, the media is quick to praise it.

Using a moral code of "getting rid of the waste" is a dangerous political ploy because it invites dictatorship.

In politics, balance is important. You need to be careful not to go too far. The Hatoyama administration and the media bring us closer to a dictatorship with their campaign against "waste."

Politics needs to be large-hearted. Using a slogan such as "cut the waste" as an excuse to trample on freedoms is an old trick of dictatorship. We can't afford to repeat this stupidity.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Hatoyama Stakes out New Ground in US-Japan Relations

Living up to his campaign promise of creating a more equal relationship with the US, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and his administration have been sending signals that they may not let the US build a new airbase on Okinawa, according to Agence France Press.

Mr. Morita was quoted in the story as saying: "Hatoyama's 'no' is the first time Japan is rebelling against the US in decades ... Japan-U.S. relations are in danger."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Mainstream Media Cheers Budget Cuts Sure to Delay Recovery

Japan's mainstream media is a national media. The broadcasts and reports emanating from Tokyo are practically unanimous in their point of view.

The Tokyo-based media fell in line to support and praise Prime Minister Hatoyama's decision to "cut the fat" from the budget. But the government has stalled the recovery in the name of cutting the fat. The minority view that the cuts are bad was not given air time. The media simply ignored that view.

Opinion polls showed strong public support for the Hatoyama Cabinet's budget cuts, or as the polls put it, "getting rid of the waste."

Supplementary budgets are meant to help the economy recover. Cut them, and their ability to pump up the economy is weakened. The government plans to cut the budgets it should be spending and wait till next year to spend that money. This will weaken our current attempts at economic recovery.

The problems the government should be setting policy for are the recession and unemployment. Cutting the supplementary budget is a measure that slows the economic recovery. This step should be rethought. The mass media's support for this measure casts a dark shadow over Japan.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Media Attacks on Yamba Dam Amount to Witch-Hunt

The weekly magazines Shukan Asahi, Sunday Mainichi and Shukan Gendai all had basically the same angle on the Yamba Dam story in their October 5 issues. They all joined in a campaign to support Land Minister Maehara. The points they raised were practically identical. They disregarded any objections. Is that the best they can do? I got the feeling that some people in the media were working behind the scenes to manipulate the situation. It reminded me of the vote to privatize the postal service in 2005 when Koizumi was prime minister. When political power coalesces with media power, the result is not good for democracy.

On the evening of October 6, I watched TV Asahi's Hodo Station. The wheedling tone of voice of newscaster F-san that night as he brushed aside any criticism of Maehara's plan would have been laughable if it weren't so ugly. Democracy faces a serious problem when the mass media becomes the mouthpiece for those holding political power. TV Asahi has been cheerleading for Prime Minister Hatoyama from morning to night on its broadcasts. A little moderation is needed. Journalism must be fair. Don't silence opposing views.

If all the mass media outlets fall in line with the administration, we're left with totalitarianism. If the media becomes the arm of political power, it's despotism, and despotism is something I am completely against.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hatoyama Cabinet Needs to Ease off Party Manifesto

The Hatoyama Cabinet is in too much of a rush. It would be better off if it slowed down a bit. Soon after the election, I offered advice to the Democratic Party of Japan and Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in the form of a Shakespeare quote -- "To climb steep hills requires slow pace at first." It seems they weren't listening. Hatoyama appears to be in a hurry. He should calm down, think about what needs to be done, decide on the proper policies, then go to work. By rushing, he comes off as authoritarian.

The Hatoyama Cabinet should stand by two documents: The three-party coalition pact and the DPJ manifesto. Many people don't understand the difference between the two. I'll start from the conclusion. The Hatoyama Cabinet should give top priority to the coalition pact signed on September 9 by Hatoyama-san for the DPJ, Fukushima-san for the Social Democratic Party and Kamei-san for the People's New Party. This is how the Hatoyama administration formed its coalition with the two smaller parties.

However, some of Hatoyama's key cabinet ministers seem to ignore this pact while pushing the DPJ manifesto as the top priority. This is a mistake. If the DPJ is giving top priority to its manifesto, the three-party pact is rendered meaningless. In that case, it should have chosen to rule alone. Since the Hatoyama administration has chosen to form a coalition with the Socialists and the People's New Party, it should honor the three-party pact first and the manifesto second.

One man pushing the manifesto is 77-year-old Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii. This is his argument as quoted in the September 29 morning edition of the Mainichi Shinbun: "The DPJ won the lower house election because of overall support for its public pledges. There are probably discussions to have on various policies, but we mustn't keep adjusting our policies according to public opinion, or trust in the party will drop."

Fujii's argument just doesn't hold up. A lot of the DPJ's support came from people who wanted to vote against the LDP more than anything else. Opinion polls show barely 10% of DPJ supporters said they based their votes on the manifesto. Fujii has gone overboard. At a time when we need our elder statesmen to be flexible, Fujii's "executive decisiveness" is a bit much. He should know that a hardened line on the manifesto will lead to the collapse of the coalition. Fujii should put the needs of his nation ahead of concerns about trust in his party. A strict belief in the manifesto is a dangerous stance.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

TV Commentator Tries to Diminish Premier's Financial Scandal

"The false campaign-fund reports filed by Hatoyama's private office pose a small problem for the premier. In fact, it's odd to even call it a problem." Thus spoke a famous TV commentator on a highly rated program recently. However you view this case, I want to make my thoughts on the issue clear.

Our society is predicated on the assumption that everyone is supposed to obey the law. Legislators who make the laws should take extra measures to adhere to the law.

Rep. Hatoyama admitted as much when the campaign-fund scandal broke, announcing that he was firing the secretary in charge. But that doesn't make the problem of the false reports go away. There needs to be an investigation into whether laws were broken. This issue needs to be resolved in a clear manner.

When the same sort of scandal hit the Liberal Democratic Party, many LDP lawmakers resigned in response. But Hatoyama has explained the scandal once and taken no other action. During the election campaign, the issue of the false reports was all but omitted from the discussion. The media was silent. Is this what we want?

On the Sept. 20 broadcast of TV Asahi's "Sunday Project," T-san, a well-known commentator, said of the scandal, "It's a minor thing. We need to be debating bigger issues." His view is prevalent among Democratic Party of Japan members, but is it correct? It's not healthy to give someone a pass just because they climbed their way to the premiership. In fact, we should do the opposite: Because Hatoyama is the prime minister, he should be held to a high standard. No one is above the law.