Tuesday, September 6, 2016

September 6, 2016

Filipino President Duterte profanely calls US bluff on human rights

The outspoken Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte has quickly gained a reputation for his extreme "law and order" politics and his irreverent behavior. Indeed, he is occasionally described as the Filipino Donald Trump. And like Donald Trump (or any other probable US president) would surely do, Duterte has apparently violated human rights routinely. The alleged violations include summary executions of drug traffickers and some users as part of an aggressive and foolish crackdown on drugs in the country.

It in this context that things recently got interesting. Duterte was scheduled to meet with President Obama in the coming days, and a reporter asked Duterte how he would respond if Obama questioned the Filipino leader on his human rights record. His response was remarkable:
Who does he think he is? I am no American puppet. I am the president of a sovereign country and I am not answerable to anyone except the Filipino people, nobody but nobody. You must be respectful. Do not just throw questions. Son of a bitch I will swear at you in that forum.
That's right. An ostensible ally of the United States called the US president a "son of a bitch". Just as notable, however, Duterte went on to discuss the history of US colonization of the Philippines, and ultimately stated the obvious:
Everybody has a terrible record of extra-judicial killing. Why make an issue about fighting crime?...Look at the human rights of America along that line.
In short, Duterte's utter lack of a filter led him to say what countless other leaders must always think when they get questioned by the US government about human rights. Because anytime that happens, it is the ultimate case of the cat calling the kettle black. It is the height of irony and absurdity alike that the US government--which has conducted three aggressive wars (counting conservatively) in the past 15 years, oversaw a massive torture program (for which no high-ranking officials have been punished), and claims the legal authority to assassinate alleged terrorists anywhere, without due process--makes a point to criticize other governments on their human rights records.

Perhaps if Obama was the leader of Sweden or Switzerland, this could make sense. As it is, US posturing on human rights is nothing more than a joke that most everyone is in on.

But of course, herein lies the tragedy. Because if true, Duterte's extrajudicial killings warrant criticism and condemnation as soon as possible, in the hopes of preventing further bloodshed. The problem is that message cannot come from institutions and governments that are complicit in equivalent policies in other parts of the world. That's why Duterte can call "BS" in advance, and the US president cannot offer any credible defense.

This should be seen as just another negative consequence of US's disastrous interventions in the Middle East and elsewhere. There was a time in the not-so-distant past that the US really was viewed by many countries as a defender of freedom and human rights, accurately or otherwise. Today, after 15 years of perpetual war under Republican and Democratic administrations alike, few observers could be so naive.

Yet another downside, Duterte's comments led to the meeting being cancelled altogether. It probably makes sense, but it strikes me that we will miss out on what could have been a very entertaining press conference.

You can read more on Duterte's remarks here from Zero Hedge.

Angela Merkel's party takes 3rd place in elections in her home state behind nationalist party

The latest evidence of the rise of right-wing nationalist movements came in Germany over the weekend as parliamentary elections were held in Angela Merkel's home state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Merkel's party of Christian Democrats took home third place behind the radical Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which took second place. AfD's finish was remarkable given that it only formed in 2013.

Because Germany's parliamentary elections don't take place nationwide simultaneously, the election doesn't mean that Merkel is going anywhere, at least for the moment. However, it does demonstrate the very significant political risks associated with rapid changes in immigration policy.

That's because AfD has made a name for itself in part for opposing the EU, but primarily for criticizing open immigration policies and the alleged problem posed by a large number of Muslim migrants. In 2015 alone, Germany welcomed over 1 million refugees, predominantly Muslims.

Undoubtedly, an influx of impoverished peoples on that scale was likely to put some strain on the state's welfare system. And inevitably, some small portion of the migrant population (or any other population that size) was going to commit violent crimes, resulting in sensational headlines.

But the real problem is that Germany's immigration policy was so aggressive and public that it was bound to be a convenient scapegoat for otherwise unrelated problems. Worried about your own economic future? It's probably because the immigrants drove down wages in your industry. Worried about rising crime? Yep, that's probably the immigrants too.

Whether these things are actually true is beside the point. They sound convincing enough that a party like AfD can use them to become a major party in Germany.

It remains to be seen how Germany's politics will ultimately shake out. But early indications suggest an alarming backlash. Ironically, an "open door" immigration policy motivated by compassion and tolerance on the part of Merkel appears to have cultivated the exact opposite sentiments among a growing segment of the German people.

Taco truck proliferation and government regulations

The Trump campaign has inadvertently offered another incredible quote / gaffe that is just too good to pass up. Speaking on CNN, the founder of Latinos for Trump gave a hilarious reason to oppose immigration:
My culture is a very dominant culture, and it’s imposing and it’s causing problems. If you don’t do something about it, you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.
Naturally, this raised two important questions. First, is the Trump Campaign so committed to getting publicity that they're doing these things on purpose? One assumes not, but it can only happen so many times before you have to wonder.

And second, much more importantly, why exactly aren't there taco trucks on every corner?

It turns out the answer is quite predictable. It's the same answer that usually explains why good ideas and products aren't as widespread and abundant as we'd like. That answer is government regulation.

We'll leave it to Charles Johnson at the Foundation for Economic Education to lay out the specifics. He offers an interesting insight on an otherwise silly story.

Here's hoping that, if elected, Donald Trump's vague and occasional praise for deregulation might accidentally unleash the spicy and delicious dystopia that his supporter feared.

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