William Pesek has some interesting insights on Bloomberg.
I particularly like these paragraphs:
One of the most corrupting forces in government is the rise of shadowy fiefdoms. The longer one stays in a job, the bigger their influence becomes and the more skewed their incentives are toward personal success and avoiding change. An added problem in Japan is the offensive practice of public servants getting cushy gigs in industries they once oversaw.
The hapless Tokyo Electric Power Co. runs the leaking Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant. You might expect there to be strict rules about former government officials gaining lucrative employment at Tepco after retirement — you know, just to ensure that nuclear plants are actually being watched with some semblance of objectivity.
Nope, the practice that encourages bureaucrats to look out for their future employers, not the average Japanese household, is alive and well. It’s called amakudari, which means “descent from heaven.” Decades of doctored safety reports and underestimated risks at Tepco were made possible by bureaucrats looking the other way. Far from heaven, it’s made life a nightmare for farmers, fishermen and millions living around Fukushima.
Amakudari, or “descent from heaven”, positions, where ex-government ministry officials retire to corporate jobs with the very industries they were trusted to regulate, is killing people and destroying lives.
From an American perspective, it’s as if the supposed return of power to the people that was embodied in the 1947 Japanese Constitution, has had an end-run done around it. Which means our boys, as has become so common, made sacrifices for nothing. Sacrifices so that a new set of anti-democratic, entrenched wealthy elite could take the reins in Tokyo and lord it over the rest of the population.
After the tsunami, I blogged that the disaster might be the impetus to finally shake up the politics in Japan. Politics that have sent the country on a slow, downward descent since the late 1980’s. When people have nothing, they have nothing to lose, and so they start getting more riled up about fundamental unfairnesses.
I don’t even pretend to know whether Kan will survive as Prime Minister, but it’s becoming painfully clear that the role of Prime Minister, over the last 16 or so since 1989, as been a piss-boy for the Men Behind the Curtain, the government officials in the powerful ministries. It’s almost as if they pretend that Kan (Hatoyama, Aso, Fukuda, Abe, even Koizumi, Mori, and I forget the 10 before) is the real boss, when in fact all the decisions are being made by powerful people in the shadows, and in secret.
Yet if this is so, it’s amazing how the MSM (mainstream media) writes as if somehow Kan could change this.
Before March 11, the knives were out to get Kan, the same as they have been out for the various other luckless figures who have made it to be Prime Minister of Japan. When the disaster hit, the system needed someone out front-and-center. But it was also a situation that they couldn’t control (remember: no changes). So they also need Kan out of the way at the earliest possible opportunity.
Kan banged some heads together in the immediate aftermath of March 11. But he is up against some pretty tough forces, who have played the game for decades as he was a backbencher in the Japanese Diet. They still look at him, in fact, as a backbencher of the Japanese Diet.
Good for Pesek and Bloomberg to keep reminding readers stateside that what appears to be outwardly the situation in Japanese government quite often is much different. It would be good if our own State Department started being more square with the rest of us about it, rather than keep repeating mantras of the past 50 years.