Sign of the times

Is PM Abe’s at risk of a health relapse with yet more voter backlash?

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Yet more voter backlash for PM Shinzo Abe and the LDP. The scandals and shenanigans are causing some glaring results at the local and prefectural level. Last month’s Tokyo Municipal Assembly elections saw the LDP experience its worst ever outcome. The Sendai Gubernatorial elections this Sunday saw the LDP stench continue. Japan has been pushing the Abenomics revival theme but given the stress from a plummeting approval rating (26% heading into the Kake Gakuen hearings in parliament) will his health issues kick up forcing him to resign? The July 22-23 Mainichi newspaper poll showed that 56% did not back his government, +12 points from the previous survey in June.

Independent candidate Kazuko Kori (right) promised education reform and a quick resolution to the problem of long child care waiting lists. Her LDP competition in the form of  Hironori Sugawara (left),ironically a president of a funeral services operator, was defeated.

PM Abe’s left his first term after just 12 months in 2006-2007 being diagnosed with an illness known as chronic ulcerative colitis — a type of inflammatory bowel disease which according to the Bungei Shunju monthly magazine in Feb 2008:

“He would rush to the toilet in pain…he felt the urge to evacuate every half hour or so.

While in the 2012 campaign Abe assured us he’d been cured, the question is whether the current crop of scandals (involving him and his wife Akie) will see a relapse of this condition, rendering him out of action. Markets are not yet forecasting Abe to resign but whatever one thinks about “Abenomics” it has brought some long overdue semblance of stability in Japanese politics. Should an event occur we could see some financial evacuations.

Death from overwork on the Tokyo Olympic Stadium

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After the first stadium was rejected for its exorbitant cost, the ‘budget’ conscious stadium started 14 months later than anticipated. Due to the delay, work on the new stadium has caused another scandal – excessive overtime. One worker has taken his life after logs showing he had worked over 211hrs of overtime in a month. One shift saw the worker start at 6:30am and finish up 26 hours later. One wonders what will turn it? If Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike offers a glib apology what hope is there of reform? The punishment for Dentsu (who saw a worker commit suicide) was it wasn’t allowed to apply for any Tokyo government ad contracts for one month.

While the advent of Premium Friday (workers can knock off at 3pm on the last Friday of each month) is a positive step forward and having employees clock on & off makes sense, there is a deep seated cultural problem of not wanting to become an outcast within a company. Although the The Japan Institute of Labour Policy & Training reports that since 2002 bullying and harassment claims to the Labor Tribunal have soared from under 6% to over 20% at the same time total disputes have trebled to over 300,000 annually. One worker from Olympus complained his bosses were being unethical by poaching many of a contractors staff. His punishment was demotion among other humiliation. In order to avoid being unfairly treated, people are using the ‘-hara’ (pawa-hara = power harassment, seku-hara = sexual harassment, mata-hara = maternity harassment) route to their advantage as the following charts show.

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For corporates in Japan, the government is the leader. It took PM Koizumi some 15 years ago to introduce the ‘Cool Biz’ concept (removal of neckties in the middle of sweltering summer during a period of power conservation) because corporations didn’t want to risk being the odd one out.

However there are exceptions. One company in Japan has a very open approach to hiring and paying its staff top rates that are based on performance. Staff are willing to work long hours because inputs have transparent outputs. Instead of getting one or two months pay twice a year like many Japanese corporates offer no matter how ordinary the real performance is this company has employees who think, according to one, “like working in heaven.” Simple – they are paid for their abilities and the trappings of that success are indeed visible.

Pauline Hanson TV special in Japan tomorrow

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TV Tokyo will broadcast a Pauline Hanson special tomorrow. Interesting to see how they portray her. The blurb is as follows:

いまオーストラリアでホームレスが増加しているという。シドニーでは1年で25%も急増、200人に1人がホームレスなのだ。その原因が移民だという。そんな移民を排斥しようという極右政党まで現れた。ポーリン・ハンソン率いるワンネーションだ。ポーリンはその過激な発言から「オーストラリアのトランプ」の異名を持つ。反移民・反イスラムを訴え、2016年の選挙で60万票を獲得した。

“Australia is witnessing an acceleration in homeless. Sydney has seen a 25% increase over the last year with 1 person in 200 now homeless. The reason is said to be immigration. There is now a extreme right wing party which seeks to boycott immigrants. It is the One Nation Party led by Pauline Hanson.  Due to her strong rhetoric she is being named the “Aussie Trump”. Her anti-immigrant anti-Islam stance won her 600,000 votes in the 2016 election.”

It will be interesting to see how she is portrayed by the Japanese media. It is quite rare to see Aussie politics make it to Japanese TV but it is telling to see that her views are making waves enough for it to be broadcast. If only Turnbull had such impact – well to tell the truth the only impact he had was sinking the Japanese subs deal which brought widespread negative press. This is how he was pilloried.

The Dunkirk diversity police

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The sad thing about the diversity brigade is that victimology must trump historical fact. Dunkirk was a mostly white British, French, Dutch, Polish and Belgian male affair. It just was. Historical movies tend to work better when they reflect authenticity. A story of the brave putting their lives on the line to save other braves from almost certain captivity if not worse fate. To think the entire course of WW2 may have altered were the Allies to lose 330,000 troops. The Allies were mulling a conditional surrender but the success of the rescue was a massive shot in the arm for the plucky Brits and the Allies. The High Command wasn’t mulling over how much diversity was on the shores of Dunkirk, they wanted to save as many lives as possible under harrowing circumstances. The Dunkirk movie got berated for sticking to facts rather than Hollywood’s general taking liberties with them.

So spending time bleating about a lack of diversity when 68,000 Allies troops gave their lives to protect the freedoms they enjoy today misses the mark. It is typical of the ungrateful and selfish mindlessness of those who thrive on victimhood despite most cases being a function of their own actions. Victims of change rather than agents of it.

Perhaps one could argue there were too many African-Americans in the Tuskagee Airmen but common sense would be to acknowledge they were in fact African- Americans who had the enviable record of not losing a single bomber on their watch in WW2? Such was their success, the bomber crews would insist on their escort, not knowing their background. Sadly their colour was contentious at the time. Still the movie cast the correct balance of diversity based on cold hard facts.

Surely they should celebrate the appointment of a female Dr Who after 12 consecutive male time lords. One would imagine the complaint will be that the BBC could have picked an LGBT candidate of colour instead of a heterosexual white blonde.

Some may argue that the recent Hawaii 5-0 salary row was discriminatory and defends the need for hard diversity targets. The two Korean actors who often play a relatively minor role in the show complained they were paid less than the main stars. They chose to refuse the contract. Few of us are privy to the driving economic factors which draws the audiences – presumably the main stars Steve McGarrett & Danno. If the next season of Hawaii 5-0 tanks the ‘white’ producers will be fired for poor judgement. Bill Cosby had the #1 ranked TV comedy for 5 years straight and earned $40,000 per episode, the highest paid actor in television history at the time. At one point, The Cosby Show was even ranked the most profitable television show in history.

As one who has hired Jamaicans, Kiwis, Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Americans, Canadians, Brits, Thais among countless other nations including members of the LGBT community there were three thing that were relevant – ability, hunger and passion. Nothing else really mattered. It wasn’t their diversity in background. It was the diversity in thought. Perhaps the diversity brigade should learn these lessons before crying foul at every opportunity. Some claims may have legitimacy but the dig at Dunkirk’s cast has absolutely none.

Damned if we do, damned if we don’t

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The World Bank has spoken. It is generally an alarmist mob. However it suggests that the push to achieve the Paris Climate Accord objectives could in fact put an environmental strain on the world as the demand for rare earths and other materials that go into the manufacture of renewables and batteries would create challenges in terms of energy, water and land use. A sort of damned if you do, damned if you don’t mentality. Governments need to realise that mineral development is a “complement and not a competitor to a greener, more sustainable future”, said Mr Riccardo Puliti, global head of the World Bank’s Energy and Extractive group. To paraphrase, Puliti said that those countries seeking to hit climate goals may well fall short if they fail to effectively manage the production of raw materials.

Thank you Reebok

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Thank you Reebok. Where would we be without your lessons in telling us what is appropriate in the PC world? While many view that infamous line as one of a dinosaur (in hindsight it is a dramatic improvement over other locker room talk) I’m sure many of you have encountered women (and men) who warmly welcome comments about a new haircut, attire or shoes. Many of you haven’t seen those people march right into the HR department to lodge a formal complaint. One would imagine if Brad Pitt or George Clooney had said it then the press would spin it another way. Where was Reebok when Hillary Clinton joked about wanting to watch a replay of Lenny Kravitz’s wardrobe malfunction that exposed his Prince Albert? Surely an opportunity to protest against the brazen sexism against men.

However what is it with corporates that feel they have a need to enforce views on same-sex marriage, LGBT, sexism, climate abatement or religion? I don’t fly Qantas because it’s CEO pushes the agenda on passengers and staff, I don’t drink Starbucks because of its religious beliefs and I don’t need Unilever to preach it’s diversity. All I’m after is the product that serves the need. Not wrapped in political point scoring

In Reebok’s case the Institute for Global Labor & Human Rights made allegations in the past that the sportswear company was exploiting workers (80% female) in El Salvador. The company has denied the allegations after a thorough investigation.

In any event, should Reebok make huge profits on the back of these remarks to the French First Lady will the product planners  secretly pray for the next “gaffe” to help the brand’s performance? In a round about way Reebok is exploiting a supposed defence of women’s rights to boost its bottom line. Perhaps it should donate every cent earned from the campaign on awareness? Or maybe upping the pay of its factory workers? Then people could remark about its corporate responsibility  was “in such good shape” That would be beautiful.

Europe’s childless leaders – without progeny ruling on posterity

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Here is a picture of Angela Merkel as a child. Sadly this is as close as she got to having her own. It isn’t just her. The majority of European political leaders have no kids. France’s Macron – no kids. UK PM Theresa May – no kids. The Netherlands PM Mark Rutte – no kids. Italian PM Paolo Gentiloni – no kids. Swedish PM Kjell Stefan Löfven- no biological kids. Luxembourg PM Xavier Bettel – no kids. Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon – no kids. EC President Jean-Claude Juncker – no kids. Incidentally Japan’s PM Abe also has no children.

As Europe’s population growth rate declines are these people best positioned to impart advice on how to stop it? Seems that surrender to mass migration is all too easy a policy to replace dwindling stocks of local inhabitants.

From the Washington Examiner

“The Boomers first grabbed the reins of political power in the West in the 1990s, as Communism collapsed and Francis Fukuyama declared “The End of History.” The Boomers live like they believe it. If history is over, if all that is left is consumer capitalism in a liberal democracy, if the stream has stopped flowing, why not climb out?

The late Benjamin Barber wrote a response to Fukuyama called Jihad vs McWorld. Barber argued that the death of the old conflicts—between nations—would go hand in hand with a new conflict: the clash between the McWorld of global consumer capitalism and the “jihad” of local, traditional, and “conservative” cultures.

It’s clear which side has political power now. But the demographics point to a different future. In 2009 Phillip Longman noted that in France (for example) a tiny minority of women are giving birth to over 50% of the children every year. These women are either practicing Catholics or immigrant Muslims.

One of the benefits of parenthood is the daily confrontation with free will—a human nature. Parents may have their child’s life, career, and happiness planned out, but a child has other ideas -constantly. Love, patience, teaching, negotiating, scolding—nurture—can help direct the child, but the overwhelming otherness of the child is undeniable. They are not blank slates upon whom the parent exercises his will.

Political leaders without this experience of parenthood may be susceptible to the idea that people are blank-slates, interchangeable units of human capital. As a parent and a teacher, I have seen many brilliant and well-meaning parents and colleagues crash their will and intellect against the rock of a child’s independent nature. Now, scale such a hubristic paternalism to a nation. Or a continent.

Contemporary childless leaders, however ascendant they feel today, may be the last gasp of secularism. The future is won by those who show up, and only the religiously orthodox are having children.

Those still swimming in the ancient streams of Faith and Culture in France will have the observant offspring of two rival religions living within the borders of one nation. The second Battle of Tours, (or Vienna, or Lepanto) might be extra bloody due to the policies of today, but the authors of those policies will not be around because they will be dead, and their offspring will not be around, because they do not exist.

The Founding Fathers of the United States established the Constitution to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity”, posterity being their offspring. Looking out for one’s posterity, having a long-term vision, is necessary for the good of society, according to Harvard Political Scientist James Wilson. Do childless political leaders have skin in the game long-term?

In Europe today, those without progeny are enacting policies that impact the posterity of others.

Surely Macron, Merkel, Juncker, and the rest would argue that they can do their crucial jobs better because they don’t have children to distract them. C.S. Lewis provides the rebuttal: “Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.”

Whichever way you cut it, Europe’s childless leaders speak volumes of a continent in long term (terminal) decline.