JAPAN – Government’s plan to stop employees from working selves to death

Tokyo – Japan’s Parliament is proposing legislation to ensure workers get the rest they need. In a break with past practice, it will become the legal responsibility of employers to ensure workers take their holidays.

Japan has been studying such legislation for years. There has been more impetus for change since 2012 as a consensus developed that the health, social and productivity costs of Japan’s extreme work ethic were too high.

Part of the problem has been that many people fear resentment from co-workers if they take days off…

Working literally to death is a tragedy so common that a term has been coined for it: “karoshi.” The government estimates there are 200 karoshi deaths a year from causes such as heart attacks or cerebral hemorrhaging after working long hours. It’s also aware of many [with health issues] from overwork not counted as karoshi.

About 22 percent of Japanese work more than 49 hours a week, compared with 16 percent of Americans and 11 percent of French and Germans, according to data compiled by the Japanese government. South Koreans seem even more workaholic at 35 percent.


Barely half the vacation days allotted to Japanese workers are ever taken, an average of nine days per individual a year. …

Japanese must use their vacations for sick days, although a separate law guarantees two-thirds of their wages if they get seriously ill and take extended days off.

That means workers save two or three vacation days for fear of catching a cold or some other minor illness so they can stay home, said Yuu Wakebe, the Health and Labor Ministry official overseeing such standards.

Wakebe himself routinely does 100 hours of overtime a month, and took only five days off last year, one of them to stay home with a cold. He managed to take a vacation to Hawaii with his family.

“It is actually a worker’s right to take paid vacations,” he said. “But working in Japan involves quite a lot of a volunteer spirit.”

Younger workers feel uncomfortable going home before their bosses do. Working overtime for free, called “sah-bee-soo zahn-gyo,” or “service overtime,” is prevalent.

Job descriptions also tend to be vague, especially in white-collar occupations, meaning a person not coming in translates to more work for others in his or her team.

The new law will allow for more flexible work hours, encouraging parents to spend more time with their children during summer months, for instance, when school is closed. …

 VENEZUELA – Maduro seizes supermarket chain

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has ordered the takeover of a private supermarket chain by the government’s food agency.

Speaking on television, he accused Dia a Dia of hoarding food during huge shortages in the country.

Last week, soldiers and government workers were sent to branches of a large supermarket and pharmacy chain to supervise sales.


Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro

Venezuela’s economy has been heavily affected by the drop in oil prices.

Analysts also say the socialist government’s currency controls that restrict the availability of dollars for imports has played a key role in creating the scarcity of many items.

Directors and executives from both Dia a Dia and pharmacy chain Farmatodo were arrested on charges of destabilizing the economy.

Speaking on television, President Maduro did not say that the takeover of the Dia a Dia chain would be permanent.

He said the chain “was waging war against the population” and the national food distribution agency would take over its running.

Mr. Maduro has said many businessmen are conducting an “economic war,” colluding with the political opposition to oust his government.

In late January, thousands of Venezuelans joined an opposition march [against Maduro’s leftist government] in Caracas. They voiced dissatisfaction with high inflation, crime and the shortage of many staple goods.

[Venezuela entered recession last year while inflation soared to 64 percent. Adding to the economic crisis, oil prices have drastically dropped, forcing Maduro to order government budget cuts. Shortages of food and medicine have worsened in Venezuela this year, causing longer lines than usual.

Maduro was elected by a razor-thin margin in April 2013, succeeding his late mentor Hugo Chavez, who died a month earlier after 14 years in power. During his presidency, Chavez expropriated [took over ownernship of] national and foreign companies in various sectors of the economy, which the opposition blames for a drop in private investments in the country.]

ISRAEL – Prime Minister Netanyahu vows Israel “will do everything to thwart” Iran nuclear deal

Jerusalem – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will do everything it can to prevent world powers from reaching a “bad and dangerous deal” with Iran over its disputed nuclear program.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

He told a weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday that with the United States and Iran aiming for a framework agreement next month, “we will do everything to thwart a bad and dangerous deal that will cast a dark cloud on the future of the state of Israel and its security.”

The Israeli leader has repeatedly said Iran is acting in bad faith in the negotiations.

The United States, the other members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany hope to clinch a deal setting long-term limits on Tehran’s uranium enrichment [and has been trying to do so for years].

Netanyahu’s comments come amid an uproar over his planned speech about Iran before the U.S. Congress next month. … U.S. Congressional leaders have also threatened to levy new sanctions against Iran before negotiations have concluded, something the White House and world leaders have railed against but many Americans support. …

The United States and its five negotiating partners, the other members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, hope to clinch a deal setting long-term limits on Tehran’s enrichment of uranium and other activity that could produce material for use in nuclear weapons.

Both sides are under increasing pressure ahead of two deadlines: to agree on main points by late March, and to reach a comprehensive deal by June 30. …

Iran says its program is solely for energy production and medical research purposes. It has agreed to some restrictions in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from U.S. economic sanctions.

From Tehran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all major decisions, said in a statement on his website Sunday that Iran agrees with Washington that no agreement is better than an agreement that doesn’t meet its interests.

Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif suggested if it took slightly longer to come to an agreement than the set deadlines, it would not “be the end of the world.”

Zarif said all sanctions against his country should be lifted, saying that if they had been intended to stop its nuclear ambitions they had failed. He said when sanctions had been imposed, Iran had 200 centrifuges, and “now we have 20,000.”

“Sanctions are a liability, you need to get rid of them if you want a solution,” he said.

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at NY Post on Feb. 6, BBC News on Feb. 6 and CBS News on Feb. 8.)


1. For each of the 3 countries, give the following information:
a) capital
b) location/the countries that share its borders:
c) the religious breakdown of the population:
d) the type of government:
e) the chief of state (and head of government if different) [If monarch or dictator, since what date has he/she ruled? – include name of heir apparent for monarch]:
f) the population:

[Find the answers at the CIA World FactBook website. For each country, answers can be found under the “Geography” “People” and “Government” headings.  Go to for a list of continents.]

NOTE: Before answering the questions below, read the info under “Background” and watch the videos under “Resources.”

2. For JAPAN:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) For what reasons do Japanese corporate employees work long hours and decline to take all of their vacation days?

a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) For what reason did President Maduro have officials from the two chains arrested?
c) Read the “Background” on Venezuela below the questions.
President Maduro accused Dia a Dia of hoarding food during huge shortages in the country. A YahooNews reader commented: ‘He has accused companies of hoarding goods to keep “the population irritated, suffering” in order to fuel discontent against the government.’ I don’t know of any company that wants to lose money in order to fuel discontent. Don’t they still teach basic economics at Venezuelan universities?
Ask a parent: “Do you agree with this observation? Explain your answer.”

4. For ISRAEL:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item

b) Read the “Background” on Israel below the questions. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said all sanctions against his country should be lifted, saying that if they had been intended to stop its nuclear ambitions they had failed. He said when sanctions had been imposed, Iran had 200 centrifuges, and “now we have 20,000.” Iran has continued for years to work on its nuclear weapons program. How important is it for the U.S. and our allies to deter Iran from getting a nuclear weapon? Explain your answer.

c) Read the “Background” on Israel below the questions. Which country do you think is more likely to attack the other (or us) with a nuclear weapon: Israel or Iran? Explain your answer.



College-educated and gainfully employed 36-year-old Eriko Sekiguchi should be a sought-after friend or date, planning nights on the town and faraway resort vacations. But she works in Japan, a nation where workaholic habits die hard.

Often toiling 14 hours a day for a major trading company, including early-morning meetings and after-hours “settai,” or networking with clients, she used just eight of her 20 paid vacation days last year. Six of those days were for being sick.

“Nobody else uses their vacation days,” said Sekiguchi, who was so busy, her interview with the Associated Press had to be rescheduled several times before she could pop out of the office.

Most of the affected workers are “salarymen” or “OL” for office ladies like Sekiguchi, so dedicated to their jobs that they can’t seem to go home. They are the stereotypes of [Japan’s business world].

That has come with its social costs. Sekiguchi worries she will never get married or even find a boyfriend, unless he happens to be in the office. She wishes companies would simply shut down now and then to allow workers to take days off without qualms.

Experts say the law is a start, while acknowledging the roots of the dilemma lie deep.

When night falls in Tokyo, groups of dark-suited salarymen can be seen drinking at drab lantern-bobbing pubs under the train tracks, unwinding before heading home. They laugh, guzzle down their beers and pick at charcoal-broiled fish.

Ask any of them: They haven’t taken many days off. One said the 12 days he took off last year were too many.

Regulating time off might be easier to implement if the economy improves under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s anti-deflationary policies that weakened the yen, a plus for giant exporters such as Toyota Motor Corp.

The overwork problem intensified during the past two decades of economic stagnation in Japan. The use of cheap labor became common to stay competitive in a rapidly globalizing economy, while the culture of loyalty to the company stayed.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, not a person noted for taking long vacations, has been stressing the need for change. Japan’s work ethic, he said, is “a culture that falsely beatifies long hours.” (from the NY Post article above)

VENEZUELA – About Venezuela’s government:

For most of the first half of the 20th century, Venezuela was ruled by generally benevolent military strongmen, who promoted the oil industry and allowed for some social reforms. Democratically elected governments have [ruled] since 1959. Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela from 1999 until his death in 2013, promoted a controversial policy of “democratic socialism,” which [aimed] to alleviate social ills while at the same time attacking globalization and undermining regional stability.(From the CIA World FactBook.)

Under the presidency of Hugo Chávez, Venezuela saw sweeping and radical shifts in social policy, moving away from the government officially embracing a free market economy and towards quasi-socialist income redistribution and social welfare programs. (from wikipedia)

nationalization – refers to the process of a government taking control of a company or industry, which can occur for a variety of reasons. When nationalization occurs, the former owners of the companies may or may not be compensated for their loss in net worth and potential income.

What is wrong with the socialist/communist policy of nationalization?:

Nationalization destabilizes a society and economy, reduces investment, entrepreneurial innovation and economic growth, and has negative consequences for the majority of the population, including the poor. It sends a message to inhabitants and outside investors that private property is not safe. Nationalization destroys jobs and the profitability of enterprises and is a crime against the general populace. It is bad for consumers, workers, the poor and democracy. (read more at


Enriched uranium is a critical component for both civil nuclear power generation and military nuclear weapons. The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency attempts to monitor and control enriched uranium supplies and processes in its efforts to ensure nuclear power generation safety and curb nuclear weapons proliferation (buildup).


  • Iran’s 20 year secret nuclear program was discovered in 2002. Iran says its program is for fuel purposes only, but it has been working on uranium enrichment which is used to make nuclear bombs. [NOTE ON URANIUM ENRICHMENT:  Enriched uranium is a critical component for both civil nuclear power generation and military nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency attempts to monitor and control enriched uranium supplies and processes in its efforts to ensure nuclear power generation safety and curb nuclear weapons proliferation (buildup).]
  • Under the United Nations’ NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty) countries are not allowed to make nuclear weapons (except for the 5 that had nuclear weapons prior to the treaty – the U.S., Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom).
  • Safeguards are used to verify compliance with the Treaty through inspections conducted by the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency).
  • The IAEA has consistently stated it is unable to conclude that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful.
  • The IAEA issued a report on Sept. 15, 2008 that said Iran has repeatedly blocked an investigation into its nuclear program and the probe is now deadlocked.
  • The U.N. Security Council has already imposed four sets of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear defiance. Despite the sanctions, Iran has refused to end its nuclear program.
  • A group of U.S. and Russian scientists said in a report issued in May 2009 that Iran could produce a simple nuclear device in one to three years and a nuclear warhead in another five years after that. The study, published by the nonpartisan EastWest Institute, also said Iran is making advances in rocket technology and could develop a ballistic missile capable of firing a 2,200-pound nuclear warhead up to 1,200 miles “in perhaps six to eight years.”
  • The Iranian government has called for the destruction of Israel on numerous occasions. It is believed that once obtained, Iranian President Ahmadinejad would use nuclear weapons against Israel.

From a November article just before the P5+1* made the deal with Iran: [*P5+1 consists of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – America, Britain, France, Russia and China – along with Germany. This group negotiates with Iran over its nuclear weapons program.]

Why are all sides suddenly interested in a deal?

Sanctions have helped to wreck Iran’s economy. In particular, the vital oil industry is on its knees. In June last year, Iran was still the second-biggest oil producer in Opec after Saudi Arabia, pumping 3 million barrels per day. By this September, its daily production had tumbled by 400,000 barrels to 2.6 million. Given that oil prices exceed $100 per barrel, that fall represents a loss of billions of dollars. So Iran needs to compromise over its nuclear ambitions in order to ease the burden of sanctions. America and its allies, meanwhile, want to contain a nuclear programme that advances month by month and would eventually give Iran the option of building the ultimate weapon.


ISRAEL – Read a 2013 article on Iran’s nuclear weapons program:

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