Scandal

Did you put on your bulletproof vest sweetheart?

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Is this the next school uniform? As written yesterday, gun violence in US schools has been a problem for decades. Metal detectors have been installed at certain schools since the 1990s. Gun massacres have still occurred. The problem stems from a growing tide of broken homes and kids venting out. The Zero Hour documentary on the Columbine massacre reveals in chilling details how premeditated and well prepared (not to mention preventable) the attack was – propane bombs, pipe bombs, machine guns, pistols and even handgrenades. Perpetrator Eric Harris’s father called up the police on hearing of the shooting fearing his son maybe behind it. The police had received multiple enquiries from concerned parents over death threats Harris had made online to students yet chose to do nothing. Harris and Klebold openly documented their intent in videos and diaries. It is patently clear they wanted revenge for their subjective feelings of having had their esteem crushed by society, especially by more popular class mates. It is clear there were no role models trying to pull them back from the brink.

Still the ‘banning guns will solve it all’ solutions still avoid dealing with the real problem. The psychology of kids lost in a world where they feel outcasts. Feelings of rejection, loss and trodden on self esteem are shown to be time and time again to be a leading factor in kids picking up a weapon and seeking to right perceived wrongs. Many American high school kids drive to school. Can we envisage one deciding to drive a car on campus mowing down students at lunch time? Will banning cars be a solution?

What next? Will parents be decking out kids in bulletproof vests and hoping teachers who are incentived to arm themselves in the class room step up if all hell breaks loose? One wonders whether kids like Harris & Klebold would have been deterred by teachers packing heat. Even worse, SWAT snipers at a distance of 500 meters may not be able to determine at the time who are the ‘bad guys’. Even worse, how terrible it would be for a teacher to be tasked with ‘offing’ a student who he or she teaches in remedial maths class. One would hope the motivation of teachers is to want to educate students to get ahead rather than aim at their head. Or have things got so bad in some schools that such a remedy gets leant a sympathetic ear. Having armed security at schools is less and less a rare occurrence.

In 2015, about 3,000,000 teens ages 12 to 17 had had at least one major depressive episode over the year according to the Department of Health and Human Services. More than 2 million admitted they were experiencing depression in ways that impair daily function. The National Institute of Mental Health reported about 30% of girls and 20% of boys– some 6.3 million teens–have had an anxiety disorder.

A Seattle Children’s Hospital study tracked hashtags people use on Instagram to talk about self-harm. It noted a dramatic increase over the past two years. In 2014 researchers got 1.7 million search results for “#selfharmmm”. By 2015 that number had surged to over 2.4 million.

The American Psychological Association (APA) released a report several years ago during the school year saying that teens report their stress level is higher than levels reported by adults in the past month. Many teens admitted feeling overwhelmed (31%) and depressed or sad (30%) as a result of stress. More than one-third of teens report fatigue or feeling tired (36%).

Sales of antidepressant drugs is expected to be a $17bn industry in the US in 2020, up $3bn from 2015. The National Center of Health Statistics reports the prevalence of teenagers taking such drugs has grown to 13%, in 2015 up from 11% in 2008. 68% of people ages 12 and up said they had been taking their antidepressant for two years or more. A quarter who took antidepressants reported taking them for 10 years or more. Clinical depression affects about 16mn people in the U.S. and is estimated to cost the U.S. about $210 billion a year in productivity loss and health care.

Is this honestly seen as the best way to tackle a mental health crisis? Just dope up teenagers and hope they are comfortably numb so as to not want to do harm to themselves or others? It was shown that Harris had switched antidepressants which could have fueled not quelled his homicidal and suicidal tendencies. This isn’t about guns. It is about ignoring the elephant in the room – stressed out kids with no mentors or role models to coax them out of their problems.

In some respects, schools are only making it worse by pandering to safe spaces and enforcing trigger warnings. Instead of dealing with the psychological problems at source and proactively targeting attention starved kids growing up in broken homes by counselling them in ways to build self esteem and how to get on in the “real” world, the problem will only fester because irrational feelings of hopelessness will get reinforced by ignoring the real issue.

Tranquilizing people with mental issues by molly-coddling them is also the mantra in the world of identity politics. By muzzling people from speaking truths we only build barriers around effective solutions. That regulations around hurting people’s feelings are increasingly being enforced, is it any wonder we are growing a generation of victims who can pin the blame on irrelevant and unrelated things? Healing comes through listening and understanding by open and transparent dialogue. Not by banning it.

Will an hypothetical ban on guns prevent the growing trend of kids growing up in single-parent households (and all of the psychological data which shows clear evidence of a higher rate of delinquency in children) from committing  such terrible acts of violence because they have no access to firearms? Feelings of desperation will only lead them to find other ways of seeking their distorted view of attaining inner peace. More kids will die and at the end the exact same problems will manifest themselves again – what lead to the act? At least in this case, Parkland, Florida shooter Nikolas Cruz survived. Perhaps we will learn much more about the psychological timeline of him if the press can wake up for 5 minutes and stop trying to link the act purely to white supremacy because it fits a narrative.

Security measures in US schools – shocking stats

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Let’s get one thing clear. Whether victims of shootings are kindergarten kids, school students, work colleagues or old age pensioners, the sheer act of it points to an increasingly sick element of society. To take innocent lives because of one’s own sense of subjective injustice can’t be justified. That’s hardly an earth shattering revelation. However what is actually going on at schools when it comes to securing students safety? The stats are mind boggling.

A 2017 study by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported the following,

In the 2013–14 school year, 93 percent of public schools reported that they controlled access to school buildings by locking or monitoring doors during school hours. Other safety and security measures reported by public schools included the use of security cameras to monitor the school (75 percent), a requirement that faculty and staff wear badges or picture IDs (68 percent), and the enforcement of a strict dress code (58 percent). In addition, 24 percent of public schools reported the use of random dog sniffs to check for drugs, 20 percent required that students wear uniforms, 9 percent required students to wear badges or picture IDs, and 4 percent used random metal detector checks.

Breaking down some of the categories in the chart 5.5% of primary schools use sniffer dogs to check for drugs!! Over half of high schools have random drug searches. 9% of high schools have metal detectors. How did it get to this? Is taking such preventive action having an impact?

In 1994, the federal government began requiring schools to introduce safety programs in an attempt to crack down on violence on school grounds. Many schools introduced metal detectors to check for guns, knives and other weapons. The year after the measures were introduced, violent deaths on high school campuses across the United States halved.

Then in 1999, the Columbine High School shooting reset the bar on violence inside the schoolyard. Armed with shot guns, machine guns, pistols and pipe bombs two students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, murdered 12 students and one teacher before committing suicide. Listening to interviews of those who survived, the answer was the same – the two were regarded as outcasts. It was later shown that they were on anti-depressant medication and had committed multiple felonies. An excellent documentary done by Zero Hour chronologically runs through their mindset

In May 2002, the Secret Service published a report that examined 37 U.S. school shootings showing strikingly similar signals. The findings were:

1) Incidents of targeted violence at school were rarely sudden, impulsive acts. Prior to most incidents, other people knew about the attacker’s idea and/or plan to attack.

2) Most attackers did not threaten their targets directly prior to advancing the attack.
There is no accurate or useful profile of students who engaged in targeted school violence.

3) Most attackers engaged in some behavior prior to the incident that caused others concern or indicated a need for help.

4) Most attackers had difficulty coping with significant losses or personal failures. Many had considered or attempted suicide.

5) Many attackers felt bullied, persecuted, or injured by others prior to the attack.

6) Most attackers had access to and had used weapons prior to the attack.

7) In many cases, other students were involved in some capacity.

8) Despite prompt law enforcement responses, most shooting incidents were stopped by means other than law enforcement intervention.

Trump’s suggestion of arming teachers seems ludicrous to outsiders. To have holstered teachers (boils down to a question of how many would want to ‘carry’ in the classroom) or armed sentries in front of schools hardly sends the right messages about teaching respect. Then again with the ever growing surge of kids growing up in single parent households (currently 40% of white households and 70% of black households) in the US the psychological studies point to an increase in dysfunctionality in kids because of a lack a stable guardian to keep them on the rails.

Banning guns or enforcing gun free zones won’t prevent future massacres. Will America need 100% of schools to have airport style security with pat downs, ion scanners and prison style walls to prevent would be perpetrators breaking in? Maybe they will if families keep breaking down and disgruntled delinquent teenagers feel they need to vent.

Yet come between some Americans and the 2nd Amendment and all manner of excuses to justify ownership surfaces. As an Australian, my country is often highlighted as a success story of mandatory gun confiscation after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.

Yes Australia hasn’t seen a massacre since yet there was never a big problem in the first place. 661,000 firearms were removed from circulation. Or 1 gun for every 33 people. In the US it is c.1 gun for every person in circulation. Even if a third of households have them we are looking at 1 gun per 3 people in the US.

The Aussie government offered $500/gun average. If Trump ran the same programme (albeit 21 years later) and taking into account inflation then conservatively at $1,000 a gun he would be looking at a cost of $320bn. To put that in perspective the annual US military budget is around $680bn. So a combined spend of $1 trillion.

Yet as tragic as the Florida shooting is, mainstream and social media has turned this into a cesspit of vile abuse and misinformation.

Whether it be the conspiracy theories of high school student David Hogg being a CNN planted child actor, Trump’s hand written  notes or kids threatening to march on Washington the whole tragedy is turning into a debacle. While we should be mourning the deaths of 17 innocent students at the hands of a lunatic, the media seems more focused on Trump bashing and posting memes of Republicans in the pockets of the NRA.

If guns in schools have been an issue since the 1990s, we have had ample numbers of administrations who could have acted but didn’t. If the 14 gun massacres that occurred under the Obama Administration when the Democrats had control of the House and Senate  resulted in no action being taken why the song and dance by Democrats today? Sounds like political point scoring at its worst.

This isn’t or at least shouldn’t be a partisan issue. This is an issue of a breakdown in social values. By allowing single parent households to simply and easily marry the state through generous subsidies, parental responsibility is being thrown out the window. To be fair automatic weapons are hardly a requirement for a civilian population but let’s deal with the real issues behind why so many students are being massacred rather than just the method of how they commit the atrocities.

Banning guns seems so simple to cure the problem but as the stats above make clear, the solution is far more complex than armed teachers, rent-a-cops at school gates and metal detectors. Parents need to start taking far more responsibility and the media needs to start focusing on keeping it real.

It is disturbing to turn a tragedy into yet another excuse to crank up Trump Derangement Syndrome. He may have handled the messaging poorly (as he does with most issues) but let’s look at the history. Almost 20 years have gone by since Columbine High and despite countless repeat events, where has the same level of outrage been? Exactly. Nowhere. Tragedies should never be used for political gain. Where is the dignity for the dead? Perhaps we can just boil the whole behaviour surrounding the awful event as merely “moving with the times”. It is the term we seem to hear for every other excuse to shut down sensible debate.

Ultimately it is for Americans to decide to vote for parties that will change laws for the greater good. The rest of the world can shake their head and waggle the finger at America’s gun laws but perhaps they should focus on how good they’ve got it at home by comparison.

PM Turnbull enforces sex ban between ministers and staff

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Talk about closing the gate after the horse has bolted. How out of touch can PM Turnbull be to think imposing a ban on consenting adults will achieve anything much less stop the rot in the polls? As CM wrote yesterday, the citizens of Australia would gladly trade off randy politicians if they applied the same energy they  do ‘on the job’ on the job! People want action on policy rather than the headmaster telling naughty schoolboys how to behave! What a farce. Voters are more angry at being taken for mugs by giving mistresses $200,000 taxpayer funded jobs rather than dismay at sexual antics inside parliament corridors.

Once again Turnbull shows complete error in judgment. Instead of showing a firm hand he only shows himself ever more impotent (no pun intended).

Playing down a mass suicide note

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With the release of the Nunes memo, do top Democrats honestly believe that such collusion by the DNC with the nation’s judiciary and intelligence services doesn’t expose the hypocrisy of a party which proclaims its platform is all about equality and liberal ideals? Does it not expose that these politicians are only in it for themselves? Is it any wonder the Democrats are proclaiming this memo is ‘misleading’ or worse that Americans are too stupid to understand the memo? On reflection they probably had wished they’d stood and applauded during the SOTU address instead of childish frowns of bitterness and playing Candy Crush on their smartphones.

While many Americans probably suspected corruption (so brilliantly conveyed in ‘House of Cards’) for decades, they have had it transparently confirmed.  The DNC hope was that the illegal and doctored FISA application would sink Trump as a candidate and lock in a Clinton White House. By then the scam could be lost as easily as 33,000 emails. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Who could forget Bill Clinton’s chance meeting on a Phoenix tarmac with Attorney General Loretta Lynch the day before her testimony on Hillary’s email scandal? Did anyone honestly believe they just talked about grand children? Lynch downplayed the severity of the private server as ‘careless’. Conservative watchdog Judicial Watch has found 30 pages related to the encounter at the FBI, after being caught for hiding them in another lawsuit.

Obama was front and centre of the Clinton campaign. Hillary caught the jump seat on Air Force One numerous times. Are we to believe that this dossier was never discussed on board? That Obama, so obsessed with protecting his legacy,was in no way complicit in making sure Trump wouldn’t get in the Oval Office?

If we go back to mid 2006, news broke that the NSA was tracking the calls and emails of tens of millions of Americans to create  the “largest and most comprehensive database ever assembled in the world.” In the summer of 2007, the Bush administration pushed FISA amendments known as the “Protect America Act” through Congress which authorized the surveillance of any phone call or email by any American suspected of ‘suspicious dealings’ with ‘foreigners’.

As a presidential candidate in the 2008 election, Senator Barack Obama pledged that there would be “no more illegal wiretapping of Americans”. Post the election win, Obama reversed his position and continued the Bush-era surveillance via FISA. Obama’s Department of Justice aggressively defended court challenges from anyone who suspected their phone calls or emails had been illegally traced.

In his last days as president, Obama authorized the NSA to share its volumous databank on Americans with other federal agencies, opening a can of worms for politicians to dig up dirt. Talk about muddying waters in an already dirty swamp. This seems like a move that could badly backfire if a cleaning house of the FBI and DOJ is undertaken. What option has the president but to do it? What better way to talk of transparency to the American people than lop heads of such duplicitous people.

Therein lies the problem. When the state’s own intelligence services are working so closely hand-in-hand with political parties to keep dynasties alive one has to question democracy. Despite Wasserman-Schulz stabbing Sanders in the back, a mainstream media overwhelmingly behind Clinton, a p*ssy grabbing opponent, we now learn that not even a dossier paid for by the DNC in cahoots with the FBI and DOJ to cheat FISA got Democrats across the line – what a hatchet job.

Even Turkish President Erdogan would blush at the level of ‘duplicity’ of this scandal. This is abuse of power on an industrial scale.  One wonders whether the often made claim that the ‘Obama administration was one without scandal’ maybe tarnished with one of the worst. We haven’t heard the last of this.

Totalistralian Open

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From today’s papers – “Stacy Cole and his husband Brian Hewitt have travelled from Dallas, Texas for the first Grand Slam of the year but won’t be buying tickets to Margaret Court Arena after the stadium’s namesake expressed her views on same-sex marriage.”

CM thoroughly endorses their right to choose not to watch matches in it. What CM doesn’t endorse is the motive behind the action. The Margaret Court Arena was named after her for sporting achievements. Period. Just because she possesses different values on marriage is not an excuse to go down the path of vilification which seeks to remove the name. As they said,

I hope that the Australian Open takes the fact that her name is on his Court very seriously and maybe considers having another name because it does make us feel a little uncomfortable buying tickets to go in.

As John McEnroe would say, “YOU CAN’T BE SERIOUS!!!?” Uncomfortable? Perhaps the Australian Open can compensate them for their trauma. Had they stayed in Texas, would they have turned off the TV were any matches played on the Margaret Court Arena? Give me a break.

Stacy & Brian identify their same sex union as a traditional husband and wife sense. The 2016 Census highlighted same sex couples as 0.7% of total relationships. Those identifying as husband & wife in same sex couple relationships was less than 0.03%. So the media are giving Stacy & Brian a platform to shove a message down people who voted overwhelmingly to support SSM in a plebiscite. What purpose does it serve? Surely victory is already theirs on SSM? They can toast the fact that all of Margaret Court’s activism on the NO campaign was fruitless and now a law confirms her lost cause. Yet the left can’t let go. True victory only comes when the enemy is completely crushed, humiliated and stripped of any accolades richly deserved for the manner in which they were awarded.

What the left consistently forget is that they only push the very people they are trying to bring around to their way of thinking further away. What can’t be argued with reasoned logic must be protested with threats or acts of force.

Welcome to the tolerant left. Margaret Court should be forced to watch her name being removed from the stadium for extra effect. Maybe the International Tennis Federation should retroactively strip all of her championships and prize money indexed with inflation? Setting examples is the only way forward for totalitarians.

Trust in Japan? Strangled by sontaku 忖度

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Trust and Japan used to go hand in hand. It was a hard earned reputation.  A mining executive once told me that “when you sign a contract with the Japanese, that is the contract. When you sign a contract with the Chinese that is the beginning of the negotiations.” Hardly a subtle difference. Yet here we are in the last few years where a plethora of scandals from Japanese companies have come to light. Houeshold names too – Olympus, Toshiba, Kobe Steel, Subaru, Toray, Nissan, Mitsubishi Motors, Takata, Mitsubishi Materials, Asahi Kasei, Obayashi, JR Central, Nomura etc etc. It is almost as if there is a coming-out of sorts so the crimes are somewhat diluted in the midst of others. Syndicated scandals? Expect more to come out. Perhaps the worst part about it is the limp wristed approach by the regulators. ‘Sontaku’ (忖度) in Japanese is a word meaning ‘glossing over’ which is exactly what the regulator is doing over scandals involving household names. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

In October I was invited to give a lecture to 70 bureaucrats at the Ministry of Finance’s attack dogs – the Financial Services Agency (FSA) and the Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission (SESC) on foreign perceptions of Japan’s handling of corporate  crime. In the interests of objectivity the first slide pointed to how no corporate governance system is perfect citing the minefield of foreign corporations caught up in bad behaviour – VW, Petrobras, Parmalat, HealthSouth, Lehman Brothers etc etc. I also highlighted the sentencing of executives who commit crimes – many received lengthy jail sentences, personal fines while the corporates faced eye-watering penalties.

Ironically much of the crime committed by corporates here is at a relatively pithy level. Instead of billions being massaged into or from the books, Japanese corporates tend to commit the equivalent of falsely submitting a $20 taxi receipt to your boss as a business related expense. One almost could conjure up a scenario that if Toshiba was ever able to make back the money to cover the accounting fraud they’d have broken into corporate HQ in the dead of night to put it back in the safe.

I touched on Kobe Steel which conveniently broke the news that it had falsified the true contents of its products to customers. While pointing out such behaviour was regrettable a chart which showed a heavy shorting of the stock on the day it announced it to its duped clients displayed the bigger problem. A question was asked directly to the regulator – “do you intend to investigate the heavy short selling of Kobe Steel stock 3 weeks before the company announced this to market?” No answer.  The following slide showed that a person that was able to short the stock 3 weeks before the announcement would have cleaned up a tidy 60% profit. Again no plans to investigate the insider trading. Why bother having the FSA if it is a toothless tiger?

The following slide showed the types of fines dealt to both the broker (Nomura was a regular feature in the leaks) and the investor (at the time Chuo Mitsui Asset). The fines were the equivalent of $500 and no suspension of license was pursued by the regulator, When the following slide that compared it to the types of fines meted out to foreign banks – lengthy jail terms, lifetime suspensions and monster fines in the the millions and billions jaws didn’t so much drop but celebrate the idea “thank God we live in Japan”. Truth be told the FSA did punish one dying asset manager $150mn but that is an exception. That is the problem. It is too conditional where convenient.

Rolling onto the next slide the discussion looked at how ‘sontaku’ was a problem. Whereas the FSA & SESC heavily pushed for license revocation of foreign investment companies that it found to break rules, it let off all the domestic companies that had ‘brand names’ to protect. What message is the regulator sending if local corporations know they can pretty much get away with anything. In what way is that a fair system? If foreigners will be turfed on a whim then why do the locals get special protection?

When looking at agency funding, the FSA was put up against the US SEC and Australia’s ASIC equivalents. The US was there for illustrative purposes. Yet Australia was the market that made the point clearest. Despite having a total market cap 5x the size of Australia and 30% more listed companies, Japan spends 20% less than the antoipodeans. Even worse it had fewer numbers of staff and its budget was shrinking.

When analyzing market surveillance, in 2014 the Aussie market issued 36,000 speeding tickets (alerts to potentially suspicious trading). The sophisticated systems are designed to catch any wrong doing. The Japanese issued around 180 speeding tickets. I suggested the FSA go cap in hand to ASIC and the ASX and ask if they can buy the software off the shelf. Safe markets attract capital because all actors feel adequate protections are in place to prevent crime. Higher liquidity attracts more liquidity. It is a win win.

Several years ago the fanfare of the Corporate Governance Code was thrust into the faces of the intenational investment community that Japan Inc was changing. After visiting multiple staff inside the FSA and the TSE there is absolutely no pulse of proactively to be seen anywhere. Even my slight nudge to get the FSA to tap the shoulder of the TSE to suggest listed corporates provide English language materials to encourage more transparency for foreign investment met with the response, “it might help if you spoke directly to the Deputy PM & Minister of Finance Taro Aso.”Not a word of a lie.

How can the Japanese authorities look to appropriately handle a slew of corporate scandals if the encouragement of English language documents requires someone (a gaijin no less) outside the agency to ask the Deputy PM to suggest it back down to them. It is an embarrassment.

In closing perhaps we can look to these corporate scandals breaking out as endemic of a greater underlying problem. While the knowledge that the regulator is likely to do next to nothing provides mild comfort, the reality is that Japanese companies have been strangling themselves for decades. The corporate fabric is fraying. The world is far more competitive than it was. For Japan to assert its ‘quality and/or engineering gap’ dominance now means profits likely suffer. In order to  get around that hurdle it seems that to maintain profit margins, corporates now lie about specifications hoping a history of ‘trust’ and ‘time honoured’ traditions can keep the bluff going. As mentioned earlier the scale of the ‘cheating’ is pitiful yet the shame it brings is multiples larger.

Japan’s cultural rigidities are on full display. Unfortunately they couldn’t arrive at a worse time. Clumps of companies confessing crimes to soften the collective blow is only the start of many more. I suggested in my speech that the authorities introduce a 3 month amnesty period for companies to fess up to any wrong doing. That way they can clear the decks and make it clear that any wrong doing after that date will be met with harsh repercussions. Of course it won’t happen but expect the list of companies above to have many join them at the table of shame.

Madoff wasn’t so long ago

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It was just over 9 years ago that Bernie Madoff pleaded guilty to a Ponzi scheme that cost investors over $65bn. While many happily point fingers at greedy banksters we tend to forget that despite Harry Markopolos, handing the SEC (the US regulator) the details of the case in 1999 on a platter it failed to act. His testimony points directly to the kind of problem that exists with government regulators – no track record in the fields they legislate. In the 9 years prior to Madoff pleading guilty, Markopolos caught him at the $6bn stage. The SEC after multiple investigations turned nothing even with a treasure map provided by Markopolos that someone with markets experience would have discovered in 30 minutes. Throw on all the other scandals (ratings agencies etc) that the SEC failed to capture and it cost taxpayers $700bn.

Willful negligence? I gave a speech at the Japanese financial regulator (FSA) on fraud and insider trading  at the time of the Kobe Steel data scandal. When presented with comparable data with other exchanges the blind eye is no less scandalous. So before hanging the financiers out to dry perhaps people ought to question the regulators whose incompetence and inaction is at fault. If you give a child a box of matches unsupervised then don’t be surprised if the whole house burns down.