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Abe – hiding the truth 7 December, 2013

Filed under: news,people,politics — johnraff @ 2:54 am
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Three Tanukis

Just google “japan secret law” or something, to see that the internet is seething with opposition to the Abe cabinet’s new official secrets bill. With the Diet due to finish this year’s session tomorrow Abe & co. were desperate to push the bill through, and it became law tonight.
There’s not much I can add to the chorus of outrage, except to point out, if you hadn’t noticed, that opposition to this dangerously flawed bill is as strong here in Japan as among nit-picking foreign human rights organizations. Over 50% of the population are opposed to it and a succession of prominent people have spoken out, from TV personalities, famous film directors to a group of Nobel Prize-winning scientists. (Check the links below to see what all the complaints are about.) So, with a good chance of losing his hitherto high support ratings, why was Abe so determined to push this through?

The first strand seems to be defence – the government have just set up a National Security Council-type thing copied from the US, who have been putting some pressure on Japan to tighten up on secrecy if they are going to share anything juicy. After the Snowden revelations everyone’s a bit touchy. This is all about getting closer to the US to resist an increasingly dangerous-looking China, who have done Abe a favour by tightening the pressure over the East China Sea at just the right moment to convince the Japanese public that More Military is needed. Japan has a long post-war history of pacifism, but Abe and his friends have a long history of militaristic nationalism and they seem set to try to undo what was accomplished in the last 60 years. There are more things on their list, like revoking the ban on arms exports so the Japanese arms industry can grow, removing from school textbooks any references to unpleasant episodes like the Nanking massacre or the Comfort Women issue and changing the constitution so as to allow the Japanese army to join in overseas escapades with its US friends. Oh yes, and changing the Japanese Self Defence Force into a “proper army”.

But there are people who say the purpose of the official secrets law goes beyond national defence and security. For a start, anything related to fighting “terrorism” is a candidate for suppression, and the LDP government seem to have a broad definition of terrorism. That slimy Ishiba character referred to demonstrators outside the Diet as being little different from terrorists, and the official definition seems to include anyone who tries to change the way things are being done… Journalists are prime targets and so might be anyone campaigning against government policy. If such a group were rounded up and imprisoned, maybe that fact itself might become an official secret? It’s a genuinely frightening prospect, but not out of the question.

Other topics that the bureaucrats who will administer this secrecy might like to cover up could be any spillage of radioactive materials from the broken Fukushima reactors. People have even hinted that Abe is eager to get this in place to prevent some of his own shady background from coming out.

It’s awful, but this is what Abe is all about, and there’s plenty more where that came from. By the way, have you noticed he hasn’t really done anything to improve the economy yet? It’s all been talk, and the only ones to benefit have been a certain wealthy group in Tokyo. This nationalist agenda is what he really wants to get done. If you’ve read this blog before you may have gathered that I dislike Abe. I think he’s living in a dream world and has the potential to do Japan great harm. This time however he might just have overreached himself. Some people say with three years before he has to face re-election he can afford to sit tight, and people will soon forget it all as they enjoy the benefits of “abenomics”. Others say he might well be headed for a re-run of his last prime ministership in 2006 when he forced unpopular measures through the Diet and ended up resigning in ignominy. You can guess I’m hoping for something like the latter case.

Here are some links if you’d like to read more about all this.

The Daily Beast – Japan’s new Secrets Bill Threatens To Muzzle The Press and Whistleblowers
Shhh. The lights go out for whistleblowers and (possibly) journalists
Japan: Even The Secrecy Bill Briefing Is Secret; Abe-gumi Pushes Ominous Secrecy Bill Towards Law
Japan Times – Japan: The new Uzbekistan of press freedom
Japan Times – State secrecy bill could have a chilling effect on reporting
Bloomberg – Japan’s Secrets Bill Turns Journalists Into Terrorists
New York Times – Secrecy Bill Could Distance Japan From Its Postwar Pacifism
Human Rights Watch – Japan: Amend “Special Secrets” Bill to Protect Public Interest
Independent UN experts seriously concerned
The Diplomat – Japan’s Evolving Security Architecture
A New State Secrecy Law for Japan? 新たな秘密保護法?
Japan Times – Cheer over Reagan’s arrival won’t trickle down to most Japanese

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Under Control 24 September, 2013

Filed under: people,politics — johnraff @ 3:01 pm
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Abe’s not going to be allowed to forget the promise he made at the IOC meeting that the Fukushima disaster was “under control”. Last week that clip was being shown on TV on a daily basis, along with Tokyo Electric officials admitting that the leakage of radioactive water isn’t under control at all. The word is that if Abe hadn’t pretended that everything was OK the 2020 Olympics wouldn’t have been awarded to Tokyo, but from now on every time yet another cover-up is uncovered, every time the schedule for people to return to their homes is revealed to have been hopelessly over-optimistic, every time a new source of radioactive contamination is discovered, those words are likely to come back to haunt him.

Getting the Olympics is being presented as a big boost for Japan, but if you’re cynical it’s possible to view it as another massive transfer of taxpayers’ money to the same old LDP club of construction and real estate companies in the Tokyo area, leaving the rest of the country looking on enviously as yet another Gucci shop opens on the Ginza and visiting foreigners can’t believe all the talk about an economic depression. That tax money is desperately needed for better social services and pensions, for example; a rise in consumption tax has been on the horizon for years and a hike from 5% to 8% is due to come in next spring, going to 10% shortly after. Japan leads the world in the “aging society” trend and because everyone has to pay consumption tax, regardless of income, it’s a way to get money out of the pockets of the wealthy elderly into the economy in general. Of course this hits the pockets of the poverty-stricken elderly – and poverty-stricken youngsters – even more painfully. Yes, even 10% is low by European standards but Japan doesn’t have anything like the social welfare system that those countries enjoy.

Previous attempts to raise consumption tax here have been disastrous for the economy, and for the politicians responsible, so Abe ( or his advisors ) is pretty nervous about all this. There’s lots of talk about “softening the blow” for the less well-off but nothing concrete on offer so far. (We might get a handout of ¥10,000.) On the other hand, Japan’s companies – by contrast with us ordinary people – are supposed to be cruelly over-taxed and long due a cut in corporation tax so they can compete with foreign rivals. This is the same sort of reasoning that results in working conditions worldwide being reduced to the level of China or Bangladesh, but if the consumption tax rise is accompanied by a corporation tax cut “to stimulate the economy” it would be easy to see it as a blatant transfer of wealth from the general population to the wealthy capitalists. That’s probably exactly what Abe and his friends would like to do, but would make him politically vulnerable to criticism from opposition parties.

So our prime minister looks set to be pretty much tangled up in these practical issues for the foreseeable future: Fukushima, consumption tax, relations with China, the TPP negotiations… We have reason to be grateful, because he has another agenda that has had to be put on the back-burner till all that gets sorted. There’s a strong nationalistic/militaristic stream in the LDP, left over from the immediate post-war years: a legacy of the historic failure of the occupying US administration to root it out when they had a chance. In a short-sighted error, reminiscent of their support of the Taliban in Soviet-ruled Afghanistan, they used the dregs of militarists and yakuza in order to fight communism and the unions. While Japan still has a viable communist party they are a small minority in the Diet, and Japan’s unions are pretty powerless compared with many other countries, so the Americans achieved their object there, but left war criminals in the backrooms of power and universities. I don’t want to blame everything on McArthur’s administration, but anyway we have people like former prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone whose dream is still to see Japan become a “normal country” with a “proper army” and a constitution to match. In other words, a country that can form alliances and go to war abroad. Abe, while too young to remember the war, for some reason sees himself as the standard-bearer of that tradition. Last time he was prime minister he was talking about “beautiful Japan” just before he was thrown out, so this time he’s keeping his nationalistic opinions more under wraps – for now.

So what have we got coming if he ever gets all those problems above “under control”? Well, for a start he’s already filled his cabinet with people of similar views.
OK, so here are some of the treats we might have coming some day:

  • When politicians start talking about protecting people’s’ rights it usually means they’re planning to take them away. Coming up soon is legislation to restrict our “right to know” and severely punish whistleblowers. Just what is or isn’t secret is itself to be a secret…
  • The Abe view of history is already causing friction with China and Korea, but there are plans to further ingrain it in the minds of Japan’s children with more revision of textbooks. Abe has said he wants children to grow up proud of their country. This is a fine goal, but surely better achieved by working to create the kind of country one would be proud to grow up in, than by telling kids that they’re obliged to be proud. Surely it’s better to be honest about things that have happened, and vow not to let them happen again, than to pretend nothing shameful ever occurred? The Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, beloved of rightwingers like Abe, apart from its quite legitimate role of honouring Japan’s dead, also has a museum where WW2 is presented as some kind of benevolent action by Japan to free Asian colonies of the West. Yes, there’s plenty to be ashamed of in my country’s colonial record (UK), but ask Indonesians or Singaporeans about the Japanese occupation.
  • Going along with that is a move to increase the military budget. This is justified by the behaviour of China and North Korea, both of whom are indeed giving people who live in Japan reason to feel nervous. Surely it goes without saying , though, that war would be a disaster for all countries involved, for the region and for the world? There seem to be people in both Japan and China who see eventual military conflict as inevitable. Abe is doing nothing at all to make that horrible outcome less likely.
  • The constitution. A lot of attention has gone to the Peace Clause, Article 9 and the LDP’s aim to make it less peaceful. There is great opposition to this in Japan, even in the LDP and it’s Komeito partner, but the LDP has other plans for constitutional changes. Please have a look at that Wikipedia article. There are many changes which suggest a subtle shift back to an authoritarian society in which the public have duties rather than rights.

“Under Control”?

He wishes…

 

 

What else is in Abe’s mix? 19 July, 2013

Filed under: politics — johnraff @ 2:45 pm
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Back in britain we used to say that “The Tories pray for rain” before an election. With their better organized support groups they’d be able to get the voters out, while many of the Labour voters didn’t even have cars. The sweltering heat we’ve been having here the last few weeks might be working in Abe’s favour for the same reasons, but survey results also suggest we’re heading for a historically low turnout for the Upper House election on Sunday. Along with a probable landslide victory for Abe’s LDP.

Like the Lower House election last Autumn, this will probably be victory by default. The opposition are in a mess, the former main opposition party, the DPJ were decimated then and likely to lose massively again. The only possible gain other than by the LDP is the Communist Party, whose seats might well double. As usual, it’s all about money, and Abe has managed to convince the Japanese public – and many abroad – that “Abenomics” is working, and things are going to get better. It’s mostly been talk so far, but the “confidence” effect has got some people spending a bit more, it must be said. If people thought a bit more, though, there are other reasons not to vote for the LDP, which will probably be overlooked:

  1. Nuclear Energy The majority of Japanese want to abandon nuclear power and move as soon as possible to sustainable energy. The LDP are the only major party to support nuclear power, probably because so many of them are tied in with the companies which have made so much out of this in the past, and which would lose so much if it was abandoned.
  2. TPP The Trans Pacific Partnership issue is more complicated, but many LDP supporters in rural areas might well suffer if Japan joined, and are opposed to it. The LDP are pushing ahead anyway, because it might benefit the big companies so many of them are friends of or shareholders in.
  3. The Constitution This is a big one, and will need a new writeup next week or so after we’ve heard the (likely bad) news of the election results, but Abe seems determined to push ahead with constitutional changes, the first being an amendment to allow future changes to go through on a simple majority in both houses instead of the current 2/3, followed by a referendum result of again a simple majority of votes cast, with no requrement for a minimum turnout. Many Japanese are opposed to this, and it no longer gets front place in the LDP’s proposals, but if they get a big majority in the Upper House they might well be able to pass it. Once that’s done, all knds of constitutional revisions are in the pipeline, many of which look quite sinister. As I said, material for a later diatribe, but this stuff is also generally against the will of most Japanese.

None of these are vote-winners for the LDP, but they’ll probably win anyway. Abenomics will probably fail too, but by then it won’t matter…

 

 

Abe’s Mix. 11 June, 2013

Filed under: people,politics — johnraff @ 2:37 pm
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When Japanese say “Abenomics” it sounds as if they’re saying “Abe’s mix” which is what people thought it meant at first, but of course he, or more likely some eminence, is trying to borrow Reagan’s ideas, and to be honest they seem to have been working to some extent. The guy’s been walking around with the most smug expression on his face – he’s enjoying the highest popularity ratings a Japanese politician could expect – 65% last time I heard –  and, more important, he might be about to realize his lifelong ambition.

We’ll get into what Abe, and his mentors in the right of the LDP, are hoping to do in a later post, but first, though my dislike for Abe is on record, I have to admit the mood in this country has brightened up a bit this year. As Clinton pointed out, it’s “the economy, stupid!”, and Abenomics is an attempt to jolt Japan out of its 20-year deflation by 1) printing money, 2) boosting government spending and 3) reorganizing the whole economy. The first of those, the easy one, is already under way and has resulted in a cheaper yen, more profit for Toyota and a soaring stock market – up till a couple of weeks ago that is. A sudden panic chopped off 2000 yen in one week, and since then the Nikkei index has been going up and down like a yoyo. Even so, it’s up a good 50% on last November. People are waiting to actually have more money in their pockets, but some of them at least have been convinced by all the talk to spend more of what they have. Sales of luxury goods in particular have been rising and people do seem a bit more optimistic.

#2 has already been done many times and the historic links between the ruling LDP and the construction industry mean we’re quite likely to get still more highways to nowhere and empty “multi-purpose halls”. Of course there’s also useful infrastructure spending, but it’s easy to be cynical here.

On #3 there’s a very long list of useful things that could be done, rather, must be done – better participation of women in the workforce,  better English education, reform of agriculture, a sane energy policy, a dependable welfare system etc etc – so we’ll have to wait and see whether Abe really intends to roll up his sleeves and do some of this.

Meanwhile a trickle of price rises of imported food and energy might well turn into a flood which cuts into the standard of living of the less well off, unless companies get serious about increasing wages. Rising interest rates are already starting to be reflected in home loans. Possibly even worse, if a continued fall in the value of the yen undermines the popularity of Japanese government bonds as a safe investment, they will be forced to raise interest rates there. Japan has a huge national debt which has been sustainable up to now because the money was borrowed very cheaply, but a total collapse of confidence ala Greece is not totally out of the question (George Soros).

Unfortunately, there are other reasons to worry that Abe might not be serious about getting Japan’s economy fixed on a long-term basis. There’s an upper-house election coming up in July. At present the ruling LDP do not have a majority there, but if Abe can keep his (ridiculously inflated) support figures till then they’ve got a good chance of a 2/3 majority, maybe with the support of their coalition allies. Abe is very keen indeed to get that majority, and if “Abenomics” is just a means to that end he might not invest enough effort to keep it working beyond July. (Noah Smith) In other words, the whole thing might just be cynical electioneering.

It’s hard to know what to hope for here – as a resident of Japan of course I’d like to see the economy improve, but on the other hand the consequences of Abe getting the credit for it might not be pleasant. Look forward to another diatribe on Abe’s politics before long!

 

Japan military expansion? 29 November, 2012

Filed under: politics — johnraff @ 12:46 pm
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Now, I don’t approve of any country having a huge military budget, or of unscrupulous businesses profiting from the sale of instruments of death, destruction and mutilation, but with the ever-growing Chinese presence in the region it’s not hard to understand why many people who feel threatened by their multiple territorial claims might not mind a somewhat stronger Japan these days. (Of course the US has long wanted Japan to help support its Asian power base.)

If you recall that the Japanese economic “miracle” was triggered by the Korean war then it also makes sense that some in the business community might be licking their lips at all these prospective sales to other Southeast Asian countries.

Anyway, an article in the New York Times:

Japan Expands Its Regional Military Role – NYTimes.com.

 

The cost of no-nukes? 28 November, 2012

Filed under: news,politics — johnraff @ 1:47 pm
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We’ve had a spate of announced price rises from electricity companies the last few days – first Tokyo, then Osaka and yesterday Kyushu. Not small either, in the region of 10%~20%, and most unwelcome to us consumers and industries alike. The word is that closing down nuclear reactors has meant more use of oil and gas which have to be bought on the increasingly tight world market.

These rises still have to be approved by the government, which will probably trim them down a bit, but there’s a strong message coming out that denuclearization will cost money. A lot of money. Of course this is coming just before an important general election of which the outcome is totally unclear, and in which abandoning nuclear energy is becoming a major issue. It has overwhelming public support and more and more polititians are jumping on this bandwagon in a desperate effort to get re-elected.

Electricity companies, and the business community in general, have invested a lot of money over the years in nuclear power and are strongly opposed to change. Of course burning oil and gas is not a long-term option either, and alternative renewable energy sources will be expensive, especially at first, but the timing of these price rise announcements is rather suspicious…

Kepco’s electricity bill increase has industries worried | The Japan Times Online.

 

More on Japan’s Politics 12 November, 2012

Filed under: politics — johnraff @ 12:50 am
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As I was saying

Asia Sentinel – As Election Nears, Japan’s Politics Turn Sour.

 

 
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