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The Tip of The Tip

In October, the story about Takemasa Moriya, former Administrative Vice Defense Minister, surfaced from out of nowhere. It went like this: The 63-year-old bandit had been entertained in 200 golf junkets by then-senior managing director of Yamada Corporation, a trading firm that intermediates between the Defense Ministry and American defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin.

At that time an independent defense analyst said the revelation must be "the tip of the tip of the iceberg" of the structural corruption. Of course he refrained from elaborating on his remark but he must be damned right. This sort of allegation always comes out when an unsuccessful bidder who thinks his money didn't pay off starts to whistleblow. So it's inevitable that the revelation comes in bits and pieces.

If there were some investigative journalists in this country, however, they would soon uncover the total picture taking a cue from the firsthand accounts by the resentful briber. Unfortunately, though, Japanese news media, themselves, are an integral part of the structural corruption. So, they have used their same old modus operandi and doled out little by little the charges against the small-time ex-vice ringleader and his pet contractor. They certainly know that this way they can immunize their audiences and readerships for an abyss we are destined to see sooner or later.

Yet, it's not that they are poised to ultimately confess to what's really going on in this kleptocracy. Their M.O. No. 2 says, "Once the truth has started gushing out, try hard to localize and marginalize its implication." They look like an egregious criminal willingly admitting to the smallest part of his guilt to camouflage the main part.

In the second round of the congressional hearing held on November 15, lawmakers from the leading opposition Democratic Party of Japan were given an ample amount of time to interrogate witnesses including Moriya. But the very first question a lead-off questioner asked the president of Yamada Corp. was something like this: "Your company's financial statements show the gross profit in percent of total sales of 34-plus billion yen has topped 10% in recent years. This compares to the 5% margin major trading houses can barely manage. Could you explain how it is possible to make your operations that profitable?" This guy should have known his question was totally irrelevant to the core of the problem at hand.

Actually it must have been quite a show if he had interrogated his boss Ichiro Ozawa on how the DPJ head could make a fortune robbing the Defense Ministry's purse. A week or so before the fuss over the submission of his letter of resignation and subsequent retraction, Ozawa turned himself in, sort of, by voluntarily admitting that he had been receiving "donations" in the amount of 6 million yen from Yamada Corp. and recently returned it to the donor to "avoid possibly causing misunderstanding." Ozawa, too, opted to give up peanuts to secure the juiciest part of his loot. He could do so without worrying that might backfire because the statute of limitations on bribery (5 years) has run out long time ago.

In fact, some independent, yet well-informed, experts in defense have started to mumble that Ozawa used to hold huge vested interests in the nation's defense budget when he was a key member of the powerful Tanaka faction of the Liberal Democratic Party (1969-1993) and while he still stayed in power, albeit off and on, under a couple of coalition governments (1993-2002). He owed this lucrative goodwill to Kakuei Tanaka, who had to step down from the premiership due to the Lockheed Scandal, and Shin Kanemaru, then Tanaka's righthand man. They insinuate that he could be implicated should the probe into the ongoing scandal be protracted.

And how big are the stakes involved there? In 2005, the Japan's military budget was US$ 42.1 billion. You may think this is a small amount of money for an economic powerhouse. But if you take into account the fact that the Japanese have long upheld an absurd mantra of "defensive defense", which really implies not a single drop of Japanese blood should be shed in fighting their adversaries, it will dawn on you that there are an enormous amount of excess funds only to be siphoned into thieves' vaults. According to some independent defense specialists, the Japan's Defense Ministry has made it a rule to buy U.S.-made weaponry at prices much higher than (sometimes 3-times as high as) the prices the Pentagon is paying to its contractors.

It now seems American weapons manufacturers have been applying a different sales promotion strategy to Japan than the conventional one in which they just encourage their customers to consume as much ammunition as possible. Obviously they have learned how to stuff Japan's arsenal with weapons it will never use in actual warfare.

Against this backdrop, some of these analysts even speculate that Ozawa proposed a grand coalition to the Prime Minister not because the media tycoon Tsuneo Watanabe had urged him to do so, but because U.S. ambassador Thomas Schieffer, or his friend in Washington, well aware of Ozawa's trick, had blackmailed him. Ozawa carelessly pissed him off in public when Schieffer visited him soon after the DPJ's stunning victory in the upper house election of July 29 to talk him into agreeing to the extension of the "anti-terror" legislation which expired on November 1.

So you can conclude lawmakers are just up to the all-too-familiar exercise of "slaughtering the chickens to warn the monkeys." But at the same time the DPJ is ardently maneuvering to kill the "new" anti-terror bill the LDP-dominated House of Representatives has submitted to the House of Councilors. The U.S. and other nations who have participated in the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) in and around Afghanistan don't seem worried a bit about the suspension of the "free gas station" attended by the Japan Self-Defense Force's noncombat personnel. In the worst case scenario, they can replace the Kitty Hawk with a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, such as the USS George Washington, which needs a refill only once in 25 years.

But just the same, they are having a hectic time simultaneously working on the congressional hearing and the resumption of the refueling mission. To them these are what the nation's defense is all about.

In the meantime U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stopped over in Tokyo on his way home from the three-leg Asian trip last week. At that time Gates urged Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda to shorten the period of suspension as much as possible. In response, Fukuda reportedly said, "I'll try my best." But Gates did not look disappointed at Fukuda's bland answer. Maybe he hadn't expected anything more than a typically Japanese empty promise.

Instead, the American defense chief, while on board a homebound U.S. military plane, confided to the accompanying Japanese reporters his displeasure with the Japan's defense budget which he thinks is too small relative to the world's second largest GDP. According to the Daily Yomiuri, he said, "It is very difficult for Japan to fulfill its defense duties as long as it adheres to the current ceiling set at 1 percent of GDP."

But he should know by now that the U.S. should not expect from Japan anything more than a token cooperation with its war on terrorism and that if Fukuda had, instead, promised to use a strong enough pesticide to eradicate these parasites, possibly including himself, Gates must have been satisfied even with a 0.5% cap on the military spending. This isn't meant to be a crack or something. I am damned serious about the number. A sweeping implementation of downsizing measures, including dumping redundant manpower, might kill this nation. But it's surefire it will soon die out without them.

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