Thursday, March 5, 2009

Deep See Fish

Scientists believe that life on earth was created near the hydrothermal vents deep in the oceans (example to the right). Today, these vents nurture all sorts of peculiar creatures most of which we are yet to catalog or understand. This situation is is a lot like Japanese politics. Much of what Western analysts call politics in Japan is the result of primordial goings on far from the public view. What we do see is merely what came to the top--and we are not even sure what it is or how it got there.

Thus is the situation with opposition party leader Ichiro Ozawa who is facing accusations of corruption. The question is not that he was corrupt--all Japanese politicians are--but why it was exposed. Ozawa is an old-line Japanese pol who would have been prime minister by now if he had stuck it out with the LDP. But he didn't and he has long been a bother to the ruling LDP.

Ozawa understands Japanese politics and works well in its subterranean world. He certainly knows where everyone's money comes from and where the proverbial bodies are buried. Touch him and he could bring everyone down with him. Or so he and everyone thought.

On Tuesday, March 3rd this all changed. His private secretary was arrested for handling illegal campaign donations from a well-known crooked construction company, Nishimatsu, that spread money around to everyone. Receipts of the illicit transactions were even kept. How tidy.

Actually, the entire construction industry in Japan is corrupt and dependent on "good relations" with politicans who work hard to bring public works projects and jobs to their districts. Politics and business still depend upon handshakes and winks; contracts and rules are merely guidelines. A high degree of tolerance for what Westerners would call corruption is necessary for the Japanese system to work.

It is likely you could pin the charges of illegal campaign donations on pretty much any LDP elected official or businessman who has to work with the government. Three Aso Cabinet members and former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori have admitted that they too accepted "donations" from Nishmatsu. The newspapers report growing lists of other culpable politicians.

Thus, appears the issue of who is selected and when for prosecution on corruption. Why does one politician and not another get singled out. No one, by the way, ever beats the charges. My observation is that the "legal" recourse is used when "reason" no longer works against those who threaten Japan's status quo. Who determines what is the "status quo" is another mystery. Nonetheless, you tend to see this self-correcting mechanism applied against financial pioneers, politicians who have too much popular appeal, and Diet members who won't retire. The more powerful have their assistants and secretaries indicted; whereas those with waning influence will find themselves on the docket.

Charges of corruption are official Japan's way of maintaining political stasis and discipline. Thus, it is not interesting "why" Ozawa is being punished, but why it took so long to happen. It is a mystery of the deep. [more on that later]

N.B.: The officials and politicians who accepted donations from Nishmatsu's political groups say they plan to return the funds. However, none of these groups still exist. So to whom are these funds going?

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