Saturday, January 29, 2022
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Politics in the Heisei Era: Big Fixes but Still Flawed

Japan’s political landscape has undergone a major transformation over the past 30 years, as the 1955 system was swept away by extensive electoral and administrative reforms, and the LDP lost its uninterrupted grip on power. End of an Era This year marks the end of the three-decade-old Heisei era in Japan, as Emperor Akihito will abdicate in April. In the context of Japanese politics, though, the period that began in 1989 has been one of discontinuity and turbulence. Here, I will give an overview of the major political developments over the past three decades, identifying the factors, both external and institutional, that induced big changes and the consequences of those changes. Sweeping Changes at Home and Abroad By external factors, I am referring to major shifts in the international environment and Japan’s society and economy. While many different factors no doubt contributed to the realization of those reforms, the overriding challenge was to enhance the responsiveness of the political system in the face of the rapid and broad-ranging transfiguration of the post-Cold War world. The most prominent changes made to the political system were the electoral reforms of 1994 and the administrative reforms implemented mainly in 2001. The unchallenged authority Prime Minister Abe Shinz? enjoys in the LDP today is another example of the consolidation of power in the party president. Policy directions were determined not by Kasumigaseki but by the Kantei with the support of the chief cabinet secretary and specially appointed cabinet ministers, notably Takenaka Heiz?, who served as Koizumi’s minister of state for economic and fiscal policy and minister of state for financial services before he become a Diet member. A Challenge for the Next Generation of Leaders The institutional political changes made during the Heisei era have been sweeping, and yet they have not been enough to engender policies that are more effective and responsive to worldwide and social trends.

A transatlantic (atomic) blast from the past

The Trump administration withdrew from the so-called INF Treaty (Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty) earlier this month after accusing Moscow of years of non-compliance. The Europeans were hoping for some indication of what the U.S.’s next move would be, but went home none the wiser from the annual gathering of leaders, ministers and policymakers from around the world. "We cannot start another nuclear arms race,” Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said in an interview with POLITICO, urging an immediate effort to build a new treaty that would also include China. What does Mr. Trump want? This is not our view.” Security analysts say the real reason Donald Trump pulled out of the treaty was over concern that China, which is not bound by the INF, could deploy precisely the type of weapons Washington was banned from producing. "It’s a lose-lose situation.” Nunn was part of a group that came to Munich to urge leaders to try to preserve and modernize the INF. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and other leaders took pains in Munich to reassure the public that the U.S. has no intention of stationing mid-range nuclear weapons in Europe in response to the treaty’s collapse. “The answer can’t lie in a blind race to build more weapons.” The U.S. and Russia have six months to resurrect the treaty, but most observers say that’s unlikely. “Frankly, Russia possesses those missiles, they are deployed and they're violating the INF Treaty,” he told POLITICO, arguing that European concerns are more about symbolism than strategic reality. “It looks bad because one of the iconic treaties of the beginning of the end of the Cold War is over, but why do we need a treaty that’s not enforced?” he said.

Fears, hoax and the politics of identity

Despite United States President Donald Trump’s harsh comments regarding immigrants, people of color and women, 81 percent of white conservative evangelical Christians voted for him in the 2016 US presidential election. This reality has surprised many since the evangelical group is well known for its high ethical and moral standards. Second, Republican politicians successfully capitalized on this fear to consolidate themselves and eventually gained political power. Fears and identity crises have transformed politics into merely a means to defend a particular identity and a weapon for a new cultural war. Mary Kaldor of the London School of Economic and Political Science, in her 2012 book, New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era,prophetically said that after the Cold War, a new kind of war is emerging. The objective of this war is to control people mainly by gaining sympathy and imposing fears. Similarly in Indonesia, we have witnessed the increasing use of religious language and symbols and other identity-based issues during election campaigns particularly for the last two years. Pragmatic politicians are gaining control over the anxiety and fears of Indonesians through hoaxes that are easily trusted, quickly spread and are massively divisive. This situation could trigger violence. The government and civil society need to revive such local wisdom.

US needs to get past zero-sum ‘I win, you lose’ politics we saw in...

I tried the all-or-nothing route as governor and failed. How ironic that the deep divisions we witnessed followed a month after America came together to celebrate the life of the late senator John McCain, a true American hero who embodied a positive, constructive and thoroughly civil approach to public service. Throughout my career, I have worked it both ways and I’ve learned from the experience. I admit, I have tried the all-or-nothing approach and failed. We worked collaboratively with people on both sides of a heated issue to create new standards for community policing and did the same to find common sense proposals for reducing gun violence. We haven’t gotten everything right, but we’ve shown what can happen when people put their own agendas second and strive for goals that benefit everyone. Seeing what we’ve accomplished in Ohio with a united approach, I think that we are overdue, nationally, for a really deep breath to cool off and think about the lost art of listening to one another. Leave culture of conflict and listen to others When our leaders start, the public will follow — because we know Americans have it in them to achieve great things when they come together. They weren’t playing a zero-sum game, nor were they unique. Together we — you and me — can make it work, because we’ve done it before.

When, Exactly, Did Politics Become a Tech Story?

So when, a dozen years before Occupy Wall Street, the antiglobalization movement used digital tools to organize an enormous protest march against a World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, the event didn’t seem like a tech story. Present-day WIRED would have covered these protests. That’s not to say early WIRED never covered the future of politics. At EFF board meetings, there was idle talk about “reclaiming Washington,” “putting the science back into political science,” and building a Net political party that would make centralized government obsolete. Two years later, in 1996, Rogier Van Bakiel writes about the “stunning repudiation” of the EFF in “How Good People Helped Make a Bad Law.” The EFF had set up a DC office, offering their expertise to help Congress and the Clinton administration work out the details of the 1994 Digital Telephony Bill. After the twin shocks of the dotcom bust and the September 11 attacks, WIRED’s approach to political coverage changed. These were the years when I started reading WIRED. Gary Wolf’s 2004 article “How the Internet Invented Howard Dean” made the compelling case that Dean’s meteoric rise was rooted in the promise and possibility of online communities. Suddenly, technologists started taking the problems of governance and politics more seriously. You can’t write a story about Facebook, Twitter, or Google without writing a story about politics.

When, Exactly, Did Politics Become a Tech Story?

So when, a dozen years before Occupy Wall Street, the antiglobalization movement used digital tools to organize an enormous protest march against a World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, the event didn’t seem like a tech story. Present-day WIRED would have covered these protests. That’s not to say early WIRED never covered the future of politics. At EFF board meetings, there was idle talk about “reclaiming Washington,” “putting the science back into political science,” and building a Net political party that would make centralized government obsolete. Two years later, in 1996, Rogier Van Bakiel writes about the “stunning repudiation” of the EFF in “How Good People Helped Make a Bad Law.” The EFF had set up a DC office, offering their expertise to help Congress and the Clinton administration work out the details of the 1994 Digital Telephony Bill. After the twin shocks of the dotcom bust and the September 11 attacks, WIRED’s approach to political coverage changed. These were the years when I started reading WIRED. Gary Wolf’s 2004 article “How the Internet Invented Howard Dean” made the compelling case that Dean’s meteoric rise was rooted in the promise and possibility of online communities. Suddenly, technologists started taking the problems of governance and politics more seriously. You can’t write a story about Facebook, Twitter, or Google without writing a story about politics.

World politics explainer: The fall of the Berlin Wall

Nearly 30 years ago, in the night of November 9-10, 1989, East German border police opened the gates at crossing points in the Berlin Wall, allowing masses of East Berliners to stream through them unhindered. The opening of the Berlin Wall triggered a series of events that led to an unexpectedly rapid unification of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG or West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany) on October 3, 1990. Germany’s capital, Berlin, was also split down the middle. Furthermore, the East German SED leadership had been increasingly on the back foot since peaceful demonstrations started, following manipulated local government elections in May 1989. By 1989, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, had become convinced of the need to carry out economic reform measures in the Soviet Union. The impact of the fall of the Berlin Wall The new openness to reform in what was still known as the “Soviet bloc” had already seen contested elections in Poland in May 1989, and political and economic reforms in Hungary. These were catalysts for the changes in East Germany (especially events like Hungary’s opening of its western border). For two centuries, modern European history had largely revolved around the “German Question”: what external borders would a German state have, and what political order would prevail in this pivotal Central European state? Providing real unity between West and East Germans required massive financial transfers from West to East. More globally, the fall of the Berlin Wall marked the symbolic end of the Cold War.

China’s interference in U.S. politics is just beginning

The United States must be aware of the growing threat and mount a response. As the trade war between Washington and Beijing escalates, China is using economic leverage to exert pressure on the U.S. political system. While the trade war rages in public, behind the scenes the U.S. government is preparing for the possibility that the Chinese government will decide to weaponize the influence network inside the United States that it has been building for years. Although Beijing has not yet employed Russian-style “active measures,” it has these capabilities at the ready. The Chinese Communist Party and its allies have also bought up several Chinese-language media outlets inside the United States as part of an effort to influence overseas Chinese. Finally, Beijing interferes through co-opting American elites and persuading them to push Chinese Communist Party messages. Under President Xi Jinping, the party has been ramping up its comprehensive foreign influence operations strategy, known as “united front” work. Still described in Maoist terms — to mobilize the party’s friends to strike at the party’s enemies — the system is overseen by the party’s United Front Work Department. “The UFWD directs ‘overseas Chinese work,’ which seeks to co-opt ethnic Chinese individuals and communities living outside China, while a number of other key affiliated organizations guided by China’s broader United Front strategy conduct influence operations targeting foreign actors and states,” says a report released last month by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. But as tensions continue to rise, Beijing’s cost-benefit analysis may change.

The Deplorable Politics Behind Article 34

California needs more housing. Article 34 of the California Constitution states that no city, town or county may develop, construct or acquire low-rent housing without electoral approval of a majority of voters. Oakland’s new City Council, meanwhile, sought to implement these policies to build 3,000 units of public housing. With the passage of the Housing Act of 1949, local public housing authorities and city councils throughout the state would be the new political arena. Local chapters of the Committee for Home Protection became loci of opposition to public housing in California. The Oakland City Council considered action on the Marr report at a mid-October hearing. Despite intense lobbying by Oakland CHP and homeowners, the City Council approved the blight designations and the construction of 3000 units of public housing by a vote of 5-4. Oakland CHP in turn circulated signatures to place the approval on the ballot. Proposition 10 narrowly passed in November 1950 and was entered into the California state constitution as Article 34. A year later, the last of social democratic councilors was beaten by Howard Rilea, of the West Oakland Improvement Club and Oakland Committee for Home Protection.