Howard Dean: Health care debate in the Senate “kabuki” as the Japanese would say

Note Howard Dean’s statement toward the end of this video:

BTW, the Talking Points Memo blog’s “Day in 100 Seconds” and “Sunday Show Roundup” are great. This way I don’t have to actually watch those painful news shows.

Years of Mutantfrog Lobbying Finally Successful!

U.S.-Japan dance on F-22 continues

U.S. defense officials are preparing a version of the stealth F-22 Raptor that Japan has expressed strong interest in buying. While the Department of Defense is working to design an export version of the Raptor, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, this week sent a letter to Japanese Ambassador the United States Ichiro Fujisaki saying that the F-22 would likely carry a price tag of $290 million. Japan has made it known it would like to buy 40 F-22s, made by Lockheed Martin and Boeing, so the potential value of the deal is more than $11 billion…

It has taken some time for U.S. and Japanese negotiators to get a deal together for the F-22. And it will take several years of development to get an export version off the ground since there is a large amount of sensitive technology that U.S. officials believe needs protection. Aviation Week estimated it would be 2017 before delivery of the first aircraft to the Japanese air self-defense force.

Japanese defense officials are reportedly looking at other aircraft, including Lockheed’s F-35 and the Eurofighter Typhoon, which is manufactured by a consortium of Alenia Aeronautica, BAE Systems and EADS. Neither have all the stealth capabilities of the Raptor, making them substantially less expensive. The Typhoon is estimated to be about $105 million per plane.

Horiemon was Right! The Kanji Kentei Scandal Considered

The Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation (KAT), the English name of the Nihon Kanji Nouryoku Kentei Kyoukai, has been in the news over the past weeks for “improper business practices” and high salary and retirement allowance payments to the officers of the board. Like many such scandals in Japan, the matter is partly one of fraud — but the foundation is also a victim of its own wild success, and is a case study in the perils of ignoring gyousei shidou “advice” from the government, and falling victim to the authorities in Livedoor-esque Takafumi Horie style.

KAT is not a kabushiki kaisha (K.K.) private stock corporation, but a zaidan houjin, the oldest and most basic form of the non-profit incorporated entities in Japan roughly translated as “foundation.” It has no members or shareholders, no distributions of profits, and it has no owners, only officers of the board that operate the foundation’s business. (Due to recent reforms, all foundations must now add a board of trustees to act as quasi-shareholders that elect officers). The foundation is not alone in its governance structure. Other similar types of corporations are the shukyou hojin (religious corporation), gakko hojin (school corporation), iryou hojin (medical corporation), and other entities that are the corporate form of ownership and operation for churches, temples, shrines, schools, universities, trade schools, hospitals, elder care centers, and many more of the ordinary institutions of civil society.

But what are these entities to do when they are well managed? Are they to accumulate large cash reserves? The salaries of the board of directors can be raised to an extent, but the officers cannot share in the profits. And for many years, it has been an accepted practice that “non-core” activities of these non-profit corporations can be outsourced to private companies. Hospitals are supplied and consulted, schools recieve their books and other services, and temples buy their incense, from these outside private corporations. Typically, it’s kabuki-style theater of maintaining nominal non-profit status — the private corporations are tyically owned and operated by the very same directors of the non-profit corporation.

(To see one very public example of how this is accepted as legitimate, check out the Japanese web page of the Aso Group, the conglomerate owned and operated by PM Aso’s younger brother, and click the “healthcare” sector. Several hospitals and care centers in Kyoto and Fukuoka are affiliated with the private Aso Group but are non-profit iryou houjin or shakai fukushi houjin. But these entities are listed as secondary to “K.K. Aso Group – Medical Operations Development Department,” “Aso Care Services K.K.”, “Aso Medical Services K.K.”, and other Aso Group entities that manage all non-medical practice services of the hospitals and which are used to extract profit from the hospitals which are required to be non-profit by law.)

KAT issues some of the most popular kanji chinese character tests taken by the citizenry in Japan. Test takers would take certain levels of the test to prove their aptitude in understanding, writing and reading the characters. The tests were wildly popular, such that the group developed plump bank accounts such that it began outsourcing services, such as printing of the tests, to K.K. Oak, owned by Mr. Okubo, the chairman of the board of KAT. Oak subsequently gave off benefits to its subsidiares, which included Okubo family members. The other list of grievances are relatively minor — about 9 million yen (US$90k) was given to various politicians, and about 3 million yen to a temple in Kyoto.

I can report to readers from experience, having reviewed the structures and books of a number of non-profit foundations, school corporations, and medical corporations, that this level of minor fraud is standard operating procedure. Of the thousands of private schools and hospitals operated as so-called non-profit entities, many engage in nepotistic, family-favoring practices that make KAT look minor. But KAT made two big mistakes that brought its operations under scrutiny.

* It ignored a decade of gyousei shidou guidance from the Ministry of Education. Thirteen times, between 1999 and 2007, the Ministry instructed KAT to lower its fees for the top-level course by 500 to 1,000 yen. It also instructed that Okubo should resign as representative of printing house Oak and loosen the ties between the two organizations (KAT rented its main building for US$1.8 million a year from Oak, yet another way in which Okubo profited from the structure).
* It was too profitable. KAT was run the same way plenty of trade schools and hospitals are run, and in my own professional experience, I’ve seen far more dodgy schemes of fraternal profiteering from allegedly non-profit corporations. However, KAT’s tests became a national craze. With its popularlity came wild profits. And with profits came scrutiny.

I know Adamu will SLAM me for using the word “kabuki” in this post, and I could take the cliche train another stop and talk about the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. But as loathe as MF is to those types of analogies, we are seeing instances where they are basically true, where the authorities selectively target only the successful rulebreakers. KAT got screwed in the same way as Horiemon back in 2007. (And on that note, I share Horie’s sentiments recently publicly expressed, and noted here, that he was only targeted because he was a successful rebel, or in other words, that he made the two big mistakes itemized above.) It seems unlikely that KAT will survive in its present form as this scandal continues to spread, and this may be a chance for some of the competitor tests to gain a share of the market. But the two lessons for this for every businessman engaging in the soft fraud that is part of tax, accounting, business, and audit in Japan, make sure that you (1) pay attention to any advice given to you by the government, even non-binding advice, and (2) be ready for the increased scrutiny that will come when you’re profitable. Don’t make the mistakes of Horiemon and KAT.

Japanese security (censored)

While I am totally on board with Tobias’ points and am annoyed by the ultra-detailed and glowing NHK coverage, I almost feel like he wrote this post specifically to taunt me. I cannot bear to look, so I will leave it to readers to fill in the blanks:

Japan’s security (censored)


The Taepodong-2 missile North Korea claims will deliver a satellite into orbit is on the launch site, awaiting a launch that will reportedly occur between 6 and 8 April, and Japan is in a state of alarm.
The Japanese government’s very public preparations are akin to the post-9/11 rituals of airport security (derisively referred to as “security theater”), the repetitive, cosmetic measures implemented by the federal government that many have argued provide the illusion of aviation security rather than actual security. Even as senior officials, including a cabinet minister, questioned Japan’s ability to shoot down ballistic missiles, let alone unguided missile debris, the Aso government has made a public show of acting as if it is only natural that Japan’s relatively untested missile defenses will be up to the task, all the while assuring the public that they have nothing to fear. Arguably the government’s response has only heightened the sense of alarm, especially among residents of the prefectures now hosting JSDF PAC3s. More importantly, the Aso government’s security (censored) — to coin a phrase — may undermine Japan’s security over the long term. What will the public response be should debris fall on Japan and the JSDF spectacularly fail to intercept it, especially if the falling debris is the source of casualties or property damage? Japanese might — unfairly given that the system isn’t designed to shoot down debris — come to question the government’s substantial outlays on missile defense.
I beg you — coin a different phrase!

Michelle Malkin – Kabuki, stage left

(Updated below)

Wow, politics as theater. What a deep and insightful insight!

The Kabuki Theater of AIG Outrage

Michelle Malkin – Wed Mar 18, 3:00 am ET

All the world’s a stage, wrote Shakespeare, and in the world of Washington, the curtains have opened on the most elaborate farce of the year. Welcome, taxpayers, to the Kabuki Theater of AIG Outrage — where D.C.’s histrionic enablers of taxpayer-funded corporate bailouts compete for Best Performance of Hypocritical Indignation.

Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd, the corporate crony who is the largest recipient of AIG donations, is now leading the charge to tax the retention payments in order to recoup the $450 million the company is paying to employees in its financial products unit.

But Dodd, it turns out, was for protecting AIG’s bonuses before he was against them.

Fox Business reporter Rich Edson pointed out that during the Senate porkulus negotiations last month, Dodd successfully inserted a teeny-tiny amendment that provided for an “‘exception for contractually obligated bonuses agreed on before Feb. 11, 2009,’ which exempts the very AIG bonuses Dodd and others are seeking to tax.” Pay no attention to what his left hand was doing. Dodd’s right fist is pounding mightily, mightily for the sake of the taxpayers.

If Washington’s newfound opponents of rewarding failure want to do taxpayers a favor, how about giving back their automatic pay raises? How about returning all their AIG donations? How about taking back all the bailout money to all the failed enterprises, from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to AIG, the automakers and the big banks? Barry? Harry? Nancy? John? Chris? Bueller? Bueller?

Exit stage left. The curtain falls.

Are there even curtains at kabuki performances?

BTW, as Glenn Greenwald notes, one of the central themes of this piece – that Chris Dodd was key to ensuring that these bonuses could be paid – is part of a falsehood-based smear campaign (UPDATE: Apparently not baseless after all…) (UPDATED AGAIN: Dodd “accepted responsibility” for agreeing to the Obama-Geithner plan to pay the existing bonuses… whatever!):

…here is a February 14 article from the Wall St. Journal on the debate over executive compensation limits:

The most stringent pay restriction bars any company receiving funds from paying top earners bonuses equal to more than one-third of their total annual compensation.  That could severely crimp pay packages at big banks, where top officials commonly get relatively modest salaries but often huge bonuses.

As word spread Friday about the new and retroactive limit — inserted by Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut — so did consternation on Wall Street and in the Obama administration, which opposed it.

Can that be any clearer?  It was Obama officials, not Dodd, who demanded that already-vested bonus payments be exempted. And it was Dodd, not Obama officials, who wanted the prohibition applied to all compensation agreements, past and future.

Ironically enough, Malkin’s own eagerness to repeat wingnut talking points is about as staged and scripted as anything on Capitol Hill, not unlike a certain traditional Japanese dramatic form. But I guess since she uses blogging software instead of the Senate floor, no  appropriate cliches have arisen to describe the right-wing noise machine.

(Thx to M-Bone for pointing this out)

UPDATE: So Dodd did push to pay the committed AIG bonuses?

UPDATE AGAIN: Dodd “accepted responsibility” for agreeing to the Obama-Geithner plan to pay the existing bonuses… whatever!

When I think kabuki, I think Iceland

Another usage of the dreaded kabuki metaphor, this time in the midst of a very entertaining report from the protests in economically devastated Iceland.

It is an accusation that sits uncomfortably, a reminder that this weird public Kabuki is, somehow, the glint off larger problems.

In this case, I get the impression that kabuki is not being used, as has become traditional, to represent an oft-repeated piece of empty political theatre but simply as a description of meaningful yet incomprehensible political theatre. Of course, a better choice of metaphor would be noh.

On The Media on Kisha-clubs

National Public Radio’s always-excellent weekly show On The Media just did a great 20 minute segment on Japan’s unique press club system. The best part of the entire piece: when segment producer Mark Phillips brought up the way in which reporters and the politician or other figure they cover often exchange questions and answers making “the actual-” and this is where I quite literally braced myself to hear the word “kabuki” but instead heard “-a mere formality.” What a relief!

TSA is on kabuki alert

America left its ticket and passport in the jacket in the bin in the X-ray machine, and is admonished. America is embarrassed to have put one one-ounce moisturizer too many in the see-through bag. America is irritated that the TSA agent removed its mascara, opened it, put it to her nose, and smelled it. Why don’t you put it up your nose and see if it explodes? America thinks, but does not say.

And, as always American thinks: Why do we do this when you know I am not a terrorist, and you know I know you know I am not a terrorist? Why this costly and embarrassing kabuki when we both know the facts, and would even admit privately that all this harassment is only the government’s way of showing that it is “fair,” of demonstrating that it will equally humiliate anyone in order to show its high-mindedness and sense of justice? Our politicians congratulate themselves on this as we stand in line.

That’s from Peggy Noonan‘s new book Patriotic Grace, as quoted here.

More kabuki in the House

This time, it’s being reported in this piece of syndicated commentary by William Lind.

You can almost hear [the House Democrats’] glee as they offer the anti-war voters who gave them their majority one of Washington`s oldest dodges, ‘requirements’ the Executive Branch can waive if it wants to.

The kabuki script currently goes like this. Congressional Democrats huff and puff about ending the war; the White House and Congressional Republicans accuse them of ‘not supporting the troops;’ and the Democrats pretend to be stopped cold, plaintively crying that ‘Well, we all agree we have to support the troops, don’t we?’

‘Supporting the troops’ is just another dodge. The only way to support the troops when a war is lost is to end the war and bring them home.

I guess “theater” doesn’t sound exotic enough to suit a Beltway hack.