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Sunday, 20 November 2016

Should it be “Three strikes, you’re out” for the First Vice President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans?

The Dutch social-democrat politician Frans Timmermans, the eloquent and multilingual ‘First Vice President of the European Commission’ and the European Commissioner for ‘Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, Rule of Law and Charter of Fundamental Rights’ is an intelligent man and a thoroughbred politician with many years of experience in The Netherlands and Europe. He has always been a diplomatic powerhouse, with many, many skills and an excellent understanding of English, French and German, but also f.i. the Russian language.

On the other hand, Frans Timmermans is also a very vain and inconsiderate man, who seemingly does anything to remain in the spotlights. And during the last two years it seems that he overplayed his diplomatic hand on a number of high-brow occassions. In fact: on so many occasions and in such serious matters, that I start to wonder whether a certain part of American criminal law should not apply to him, in his current career?

Timmermans started his “series of shame” with a statement in his speech before the Security Council of the United Nations, in the aftermath of the brutal attack upon the MH17 airplane in Ukraine.
In this speech, Timmermans openly speculated in a pathetic way, full of claptrap and unproven assumptions, that some of the victims had been alive and fully conscious in the moments between the deadly strike with a BUK surface-to-air missile and their impact on earth:

How horrible must have been the final moments of their lives, when they knew the plane was going down. Did they lock hands with their loved ones, did they hold their children close to their hearts, did they look each other in the eyes, one final time, in an unarticulated goodbye? We will never know”.

Later Timmermans admitted in a talkshow, broadcasted on Dutch national television, that he based this highly speculatory and sensationalist part of his UNSC speech  upon the fact “that one of the Australian victims had been found with an oxygen mask upon his mouth”. This particular circumstance was not only unproven – thus speculative – and factually wrong, but it also came as a shock to the relatives of the Dutch passengers, who were not informed of this news before.

The official report by the Dutch Safety Board, created after the MH17 attack, does claim that the oxygen masks of the airplane had indeed been deployed – probably after the air pressure had dropped dramatically due to the large holes created by the rocket shrapnel in the fusillage – and one of the oxygen masks had been found ‘strapped upon the neck and throat of a passenger’. Nevertheless, there has never been any solid proof that this particular passenger had indeed consciously used the oxygen mask during his last moments and still lived through his deadly drop to earth. The official report:

During the victim identification process in The Netherlands, one passenger was found with an emergency oxygen mask [...]. The strap was around the passengers neck and the mask was around the throat. No information was available about how this passenger was found at the wreckage site. The NFI examined the mask for biological traces and performed DNA tests. No DNA profiles could be obtained from the five samples taken. Therefore DNA analysis was not possible. The lack of DNA material can be explained by the mask having been left outside for a long time at high temperatures.

There were no usable fingerprints found on the mask. The high temperatures may have caused the quality of fingerprints on the mask to deteriorate.

This circumstance made that the part of Timmermans’ speech about “loved ones saying farewell to each other during their final moments” seemed rather “a figment of his imagination” than a just statement based upon sound investigations. Very human and fully understandable, but deadly for the credibility of this seasoned and professional political official, in such an explosive and potentially hazardous investigation.

Strike One!

In January of this year 2016, Eurocommissioner Timmermans stated out of the blue that “Roughly sixty percent of the refugees entering the EU could be considered economic refugees” – or in a popular expression among populists: “Fortune seekers”:

Frans Timmermans, who is the commission’s first vice president, told the broadcaster in an interview: ‘More than half of the people now coming to Europe come from countries where you can assume they have no reason whatsoever to ask for refugee status. More than half, 60%.’ In the main they are people from Morocco and Tunisia who want to travel to Europe via Turkey, NOS quoted him as saying. Timmermans bases his claim on the latest figures from European border agency Frontex which have not yet been officially published.

I – and with me some other people – made minced meat of this quite populist statement by Frans Timmermans, based on the same Frontex data, that Timmermans said to have quoted:

Using this available data of Frontex over 2015, I made a calculation based upon the mentioned countries in the Frontex data. In this calculation, next to Syria, Iraq and Eritrea as obvious war-struck countries, I also reckoned Nigeria and Afghanistan to be zones of war / massive public unrest. This, due to the extremely unstable situation in these countries with respectively Boko Haram and the Taliban planning and executing massive, bloody attacks on civillians. Therefore I consider people fleeing these countries as refugees of war and not as economic refugees.

In Q1 of 2015 24,000 of the 62,000 refugees came from countries that I consider as war-zones, or 39%. In other words: 61% of refugees can be considered economic refugees, which is in line with Timmermans’ statement.

However, in Q2 of 2015, more than 116,000 of the 170,000 refugees (or 68%) were refugees of war zones, of a total number of refugees that was three times as high as in Q1. In Q2 Timmermans’ statement was obviously not true.

And in Q3 of 2015 a staggering 450,000 of 617,000 (!) refugees were refugees of war zones, or 73%. Only 27% can be considered as economic refugees. This sheds a very unfavourable light on Timmermans’ statement.

Russia Today, the Russian international TV-station, claimed that 1 in 3 of Syrian refugees had in fact a fake Syrian passport and came in reality from another country.

Although I show this fact from the point of transparency, I personally doubt whether this can be true at all. This would mean that in Q3 alone more than 100,000 people would have obtained a fake Syrian passport (“just consider the sheer numbers of fake Syrian passports being around” – EL) in order to cross the European borders as fake Syrians. And it would mean that the falsifications would be so perfect that the Frontex officers would not be able to recognize those, which again seems very implausible.

However, even when this Russia Today news would be true indeed, the number of war refugees for Q3 would still be around 56%, which is still much, much higher than the 40% that Frans Timmermans claimed.

Again Frans Timmermans had been caught in making a statement full of claptrap and unsound data, obviously trying to put himself back in the spotlights again, for seemingly no other reason than boosting his own visibility and ego.

Strike Two!

The latest episode in this unfortunate series about the First Vice President of the European Commission came last Tuesday (November 15, 2016), when Frans Timmermans stated that “there were more and more indications that the Turkish religious leader Fettulah Gülen was indeed involved in the coup d’etat against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of July, 2016”.

According to Timmermans’ initial statement, he had based this accusation upon the results of investigations coming from the American intelligence community, even though a number of American institutions, when asked, denied this fact. Later, Timmermans diluted his initial statement, by telling he had received some signals, without disclosing who or which was the source of these ‘signals’. The Dutch newspaper Tubantia said this about Timmermans’ statement:

In an interview with the Flemish weekly magazine ‘Knack’, European Commissioner Frans Timmermans states to see ‘more and more indications’ for the actual involvement of the Gülen movement with the coup d’etat [against Turkish president Erdoğan] in Turkey, happening in July 2016. He is referring to ‘American research’. However, in the United States nobody knows what Eurocommissioner Timmermans is talking about. His statement provokes many surprised reactions among European officials.

The spokeswoman  of the European ‘Secretary of State’ Federoca Mogherini is “absolutely not amused” and the [Dutch] Second Chamber of Parliament asks upon which information this statement by Timmermans is based. When asked by Tubantia, the spokeswoman of Timmermans reacts on his behalf: “Timmermans was just speaking about indications which he saw and heard in the numerous diplomatic contacts that he has. Nothing more and nothing less”. Further she refused to comment.

Again Eurocommissioner Frans Timmermans seems to be lured – by his vanity and his deep-felt desire to stand in the spotlights – into making a statement, which he would better keep to himself, until he can present it, accompanied by sound evidence. By doing so once again, he did not only make unfounded accusations against the Gülen movement, seemingly based on hearsay and speculation, but he might put large groups of people inside and outside Turkey in jeopardy. Tubantia quotes a pundit with respect to Turkey, Joost Lagendijk:

Joost Lagendijk thinks that Timmermans’ statements are straightaway dangerous: “This is a highly sensitive subject. When you make such bold statements, based upon research that you allegedly know and the rest of the world doesn’t, this does not seem very sensible. I am surprised that someone in his position puts a spark in the powder keg like this”.

And Elsevier, a Dutch weekly magazine, states with respect to this event:

The Second Chamber reacts very surprised. “Why would Timmermans put the heat on in Turkey without any form of proof and in the middle of what seems to be a witch hunt”, according to D66 MP Sjoerd Sjoerdsma on Twitter. Also MP Joël Voordewind of the ChristenUnie states that Timmermans should supply sound proof when he makes such statements. Chief editor Mehmet Cerit of Zaman reacts outraged: “Timmermans does not understand how harmful his statements can be. Now that things are easing up a little, he is putting out the fire with gasoline”. According to him ‘idiots’ can find affirmation and motivation in the statements of the First Vice President of the European Commision, to threaten, suppress or exclude others.

The painful truth is that Timmermans is again ‘caught with his pants down’, not learning any of the valuable lessons from the earlier mishaps that he made during the last two years.

Again Timmermans made a statement – seemingly out of vanity and an urge for public attention – that is either wrong and even untrue or ( at best ) based upon information that is not (yet) evidence-based and should not be shared with the general public until it is, as it can harm innocent people.

And again Frans Timmermans should have known better than doing so.

Strike Three!

In 28 states in the United States of America, there is some kind of the so-called Three Strikes Law.

This laws subscribes that habitual offenders of serious, but not lethal crimes, after being caught three times, should get a much harsher punishment than the crime itself should render under normal circumstances. In this way, these states want to protect society against such habitual offenders.

Although I am adamantly against such harsh regulation in criminal law and I am a strong advocate of reintegration and resocialization of ex-convicts, at the same time I am haunted by a sneaky suspicion that this will not be Frans Timmermans’ last mishap in the international diplomatic traffic, if nothing dramatically changes in his conduct.

It seems to these eyes that Timmermans’ ego is basically standing in the way of the required execution of his job. A job that should be in the interest of the whole EU and all of its citizens and should not act as a billboard for his personality and personal fame. 

Therefore I would like to ask: ‘Should it be “Three strikes, you’re out” for the First Vice President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans?’. Well, should it?!

Sunday, 13 November 2016

The “Pax Americana” might fall into a coma with future president Donald Trump. Europe should therefore use the election of Trump as an opportunity to get its own act together

If you only look in the wrong direction
You might miss the train that hits you
Ernst Labruyère – 2016

The victory of president-elect Donald Trump and the unexpectedly large defeat of Hillary Clinton – at least with respect to the number of gained states – last Tuesday left the Dutch and European media even more in shock & awe than I already expected.

Afterward, the Dutch media licked their wounds and wondered “what the hell” went wrong and how they could have missed this successful grasp for power by someone, who they thought to be little more than a narcissistic windbag and a rude, discriminatory and extremely offensive populist with a big mouth and a very bad taste for everything.

As a matter of fact, most European media – as well as a lot of American media from Democratic strongholds, like New York, Washington and Los Angeles – missed the ‘cue’ and looked at the unfolding events in sheer amazement and cluelessness, like a rabbit looks in the headlights of a car: frozen and unable to respond.

One of the very few people, who predicted the outcome of these elections right, was Michael Moore, the stubborn, humouristic and ever-teasing filmmaker with the obstinate opinions and the flawless feel for the “zeitgeist” in his country. He did so in a “must-read” article that dealt with the seeds of Trump’s success in the American society. Most others missed the boat! It seemed that the Dutch, European AND American press had forgotten the dear lesson that the following slogan brings: “if you only look in the wrong direction, you might miss the train that hits you!”. 

An intelligent explanation for this professional blindness of – at least – the Dutch media for the unstoppable rise of Donald Trump, was printed in the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant in an Op-Ed by Thom Schelstraete, Student at Journalism:

Why the Dutch news consumer received a totally distorted image of the election contest, seems quite simple to me: journalists, correspondents and opinion makers don’t get in touch with those 59,692,978 republican voters often enough. Check only the map that the website “De Buitenlandredactie” (i.e. the foreign editors) published, upon the whereabouts of the Dutch America- correspondents.

The locations of all the Dutch
America-correspondents in the United States.
Picture courtesy of
Click to enlarge
Of the twenty-odd Dutch correspondents in the United States, the far majority lives in New York; four others live in Washington D.C. and a couple live in California. These are all states and cities that have voted Democratic for decades. Normally there is no correspondent in a traditionally republican state or a swing state whatsoever to assess the situation and the moods of the people living there.

That sums it up quite accurately.

It is the same as trying to understand the Dutch culture, by only visiting Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague and forgetting to ask for the general opinion in rural towns like Staphorst, Hengelo, Roermond and Vlissingen. 

The aforementioned Dutch towns and cities and their American counterparts are the places where people think radically different than in the mondaine and modern cities where most correspondents reside, irrespective of the fact whether they are in The Netherlands or the United States.

And now...?! Now is Trump president and Europe has to deal with it!

I am clueless about how Donald Trump will develop in the coming four years:
  • Will Trump turn into the Ronald Reagan of the 21st Century? A president who seemed initially very dangerous for peace and stability in the world, as well as for the environment, but who eventually helped to end the Cold War by developing good relations with Michail Gorbachev; 
  • Or will Trump, after speaking those soothing words immediately after his election, still turn into the narcissistic and egocentric monster that so many people see in him. A president, who plays every dirty trick in the book, in order to gain absolute power and who will abuse this unlimited power for his own wealth, status and influence alone? Perhaps a president, who will bring the world in a devastating war with... whoever?!
Suffice it to say that I almost can’t believe that Trump will sing a radically different tune after his very dirty, aggressive and nihilistic campaign! And the first signals of his behaviour and political opinions – a few days after the election night and the subsequent day – are indeed not encouraging.

Irrespective of what happens with Donald Trump in the coming years, it seems quite clear indeed that the United States – as founder and watchman of the “Pax Americana” – have supported this ‘American peace’ for the longest time.

Europe and the NATO cannot automatically count on it that the United States will always foot the bill and take the main responsibility for their security and prosperity, while European countries take this American role for granted and are even too frugal themselves to meet the “2% of GDP” threshold, regarding defence expenditure.

To the objective eye, the situation with respect to the Pax Americana was – although initially unavoidable – in fact quite absurd and very unhealthy for both the United States and Europe. 

It obviously failed to let both continents evolve as equal partners with respect to the defence of their own territory. The European naivety that the subsequent American governments would remain sponsoring this Pax Americana “for eternity and beyond” was almost pathetic, but the European countries enjoyed the party to the fullest, while it lasted.

While Western Europe thrived under the American army protection and developed into the economic powerhouse that it became eventually, the Americans themselves invested berzerk amounts of dollars in their defence system, as well in the development of more modern and decisive weapons for any combat situation and any military strategy. The American weapons arsenal therefore became gargantuous and totally out of proportion, with annual defence spendings that outranked all other countries in the world combined(!) in sheer numbers.

Europe slept like a baby under the American nuclear umbrella, when the world was still divided in two camps. Nobody blamed Europe for not being able to offer the same nuclear firepower as the USA, and for the US itself the role as ‘defender of last resort’ on behalf of the Western World was an obvious role, that they would not have had any other way.

However, when the Berlin wall fell and the “sole enemy for all NATO-countries” Russia (i.e. initially the Soviet Union and its vassal states) was replaced by a diffuse group of unbound, supranational enemies (i.e. Al Qaida and later IS) from Islamic countries, the situation became quite awkward for both the United States and a strategic partnership like the NATO. The NATO was simply not formed and trained to execute asymetric warfare and guerilla wars against non-formal, "stateless" enemies that didn't care about borders and civil casualties, like terrorist groups and unofficial religious armies in the Arab world.

On top of that, the allied (NATO) forces became involved in a number of territorial wars in former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, that were lightyears removed from the NATO’s raison d’etre (i.e the arms race against the Soviet Union and the defence of the Western Countries in peace- and wartime). 
Especially the war in Iraq seemed rather to enforce the personal, hidden agenda of George “Dubya” Bush, than to diminish the influence of terrorism in the Middle-East.

And in the end the NATO itself seemed more and more desperately looking for new member states, as well as an enemy to fight with; an enemy that would prolong the reason for its sheer existance and new member states that would act as new disciples of the post-Cold War NATO doctrines. 

Hence: the NATO’s flirtations in former Soviet states like Ukraine and Georgia and the organization’s happy smile and Cold War rhetorics when Vladimir Putin fired up Russia’s return to the top of the military food chain: “Hurrah, our old archenemy is back on track, so now we have a reason to further expand again and to do more military investments”.

All in all, the unbalanced defence investments in Europe and the United States, as well as the unclear future strategy and raison d'etre for the NATO in combination with its aggressive expansion strategy in Eastern Europe, were an accident waiting to happen. 

And now, in November 2016, all European countries are genuinely panicking when pondering about the implications of Donald Trump’s election to American president; totally not knowing what to do: 

“What the heck! He would not withdraw the American support to the NATO, wouldn’t he?! Ooh, that would be terrible! That would be really terrible, now Vladimir Putin is after our European scalps! 

And Trump even likes that guy, can you believe it? Oh my God, oh my God , OH MY GOD!!! We are in big, big trouble. Mother, help us!”

The odds that the cherished Pax Americana might sink into a long and deep coma, are substantial, with Trump as executive commander in chief of the American military forces. And the question will be, whether it might ever get out of it again. 

Perhaps the stupidoust thing is that Europe could have seen it coming from a long, long distance. President Barrack Obama already told Europe on a few occasions – in shrouded sentences – that the American support for the old continent would not last forever, when the European defence investments would not dramatically increase. However, the European countries chose to ignore that “message to the deaf”, still hoping that the Democrat governments of Barrack Obama and (later) Hillary Clinton would stand shoulder to shoulder with these frugal Europeans.

But now the worst thing happened: Donald Trump became president-elect. And Donald Trump is crystal clear about the American involvement in the NATO: they will form a good source for massive cutbacks and austerity. 

President Donald Trump defends the American territory and the American interests alone. And Europe... should look after itself.

But look at it from the bright side: perhaps Donald Trump should and could act as the “Cold Turkey” shock therapy that the inert European continent desperately needed, in order to get its own act together. Maybe it’s a weird idea, but the election of president Donald Trump could be a blessing in disguise after all for Europe.

The side-effects of this election paint in unambiguous pictures how vulnerable and uneasy the European stance has been since the end of the Cold War. And now – with Trump at the helm – Europe can’t simply rest on its laurels anymore and must act to not step into the pitfall of economic, political and military helplessness.

The worst that could happen now is that the European Union falls apart as a consequence of societal acrimony in the member states and inter-European quarrels between the same member states. 

The thought that 27 single member states are stronger and politically healthier than the European Union as a whole, is preposterous and should be abolished as soon as possible. And when this very Union does not function good, there should be more (hurried) initiatives to improve it and make it better and more democratic in the long run. A better functioning and more democratic union would sweep the wind away from the sails of the populist parties all over the European continent and the United Kingdom

The only thing that Europe can do, is act as a team to combinedly undertake the challenges of a more and more polarized world, in which not only Russia and China will be the obvious competitors (or enemies), but even our long-time ally, the United States.

Wake up... and smell the coffee, Europe. Or you will miss the boat... And don’t listen to the Pied Pipers that drag you in the wrong direction, where desperation and conflicts lurk for many of us.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

The Dutch bank and the Philippine problem! Or how things that you know and you can’t ignore, can haunt you on your way to more efficiency and higher profits.

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines is an exceptional politician and a man of his word. No “empty promises mean empty hands” with this charismatic leader. He stands for his words and promises to the Philippine population. That is truly an exceptional quality for politicians, who are often accused of lying, making up stories and not keeping their promises.

Especially in the Philippines, this honesty can be considered as ‘refreshing’.  This country has a long history of utterly corrupted and greedy politicians, who used the country as their personal piggy bank in order to build up a family fortune of epic proportions. Hence, the Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos presidency as the most visible example.

At least…

A painful fact is, unfortunately, that President Rodrigo Duterte promised the Philippine population a relentless war on drugs and crime. A war that would not be fought through the normal legal system of police actions and subsequent jurisdiction via tough, but fair trials for defendants. No, under the pressure of the drugs abuse- and crime-fatigued Philippine population, Duterte promised the deployment of his version of martial law in his country. The same martial law that he already maintained as a mayor of Davao City, turning this city from the "murder capital of the country" into a peaceful city, according to Dutch Wikipedia.

Suspected criminals and drug abusers would not be brought to justice, but they would be executed at the spot, according to Duterte, and their bodies would be provided with a sign that showed their crimes: as a warning to the rest of the population.

And boy, did President Duterte keep his promise...

That is a conclusion, which we can holeheartedly draw with this president, after roughly six months of Duterte government and probably a couple of thousand street executions later. Mercy on behalf of criminals and drug abusers was definitely not a word in President Duterte’s dictionary of late and pictures of executed and tagged Philippine criminals have flooded the news desks of media all over the world.

And that was not all… Duterte offended the American president Barrack Obama on a number of occasions by – amongst others – calling him a “son of a b*tch” at one occasion only days before the American president would visit him, and – after administering a half-hearted apology out of ‘damage control’ a few days later – offending him again at another occasion a few weeks later.

On top of that, Duterte threatened to break down all the economic ties with the United States and put the recent plans of the previous Philippine government – to bring back the American army to their former Philippine military bases as soon as possible – in the fridge for eternity.

That the Philippine president means business with his plans to break down all economic and military ties with the Americans, is shown by the fact that he is openly flirting with president Xi Jinping of China, who suddenly seemed to have become Duterte’s new ‘Best Friend Forever’, in spite of their countries’ previous conflict about the Spratly Islands and the Chinese territorial claims upon this area.

And to make things even worse in American eyes, President Duterte is also starting a cautious love affair with Russian president Vladimir Putin, as he sees China, Russia and the Philippines as “a troika of friends in a battle against the United States”.

A cautious conclusion of all this could be that both the law, the legal situation for the Philippine citizens and the political stability in the Philippines are not in the most careful hands with Rodrigo Duterte as president. The fact that many Philippines consider him as a ‘blessing in disguise’, tired as they were from drug related crime in their cities and villages, does not change much about this unfortunately. As a matter of fact, Duterte is something like “an accident waiting to happen” in his relations with the Western world and regarding his own population.

This population might now adore him for his toughness on crime, but they could start feeling like a sitting duck when the extra-legal executions continue to happen and ‘guilt beyond reasonable doubt’ becomes definitely an expression from the past in this island nation.

And who says that all the people, who are killed in the name of the president, are really guilty?! Why should Duterte not abuse his nearly unlimited power to kill his political and societal opponents?! And who cares about one more body on an nearly endless stack?! A president ‘tough on crime’ is nice, until he starts to hurt you and your loved ones...

President Rodrigo Duterte reminds us all that we invented the legal systems and laws in our countries to prevent people from being shot or killed out of political and legal arbitrariness. Judge Dredd – “I don’t break the law… I am the law” – is a nice character for in a movie, but not as your president, isn’t he?!

Exactly this point is where the large Dutch bank ING Bank enters the scenery... 

In their endless hunt for better margins and more profit, ING is thinking about outsourcing large parts of their ICT and data infrastructure to… Manila, in the Philippines.

For a lot of economic and circumstancial reasons – probably the central position of the Philippines between the Western and the Eastern hemisphere and its ample availability of well-educated and relatively low-paid workers, with in general excellent knowledge of English – this could be an economically wise decision of ING bank and a decision that I could understand fullheartedly.

Nevertheless, from a political point of view this decision is close to a disaster, to these eyes.

ING Bank is not 'your everyday bank', but a large Dutch banking conglomerate with tens of thousands of workers in offices all around the globe. It belongs to the list of twenty so-called Global SIFI-banks (i.e. systemically important financial institution) and has a very high profile in the international business industry, as well as in the political world; almost like no other Dutch company, besides Shell and Unilever, has.

When such a bank decides to outsource a large share of its operations to a country where the most basic human rights of citizens (i.e. the right for a fair trial and the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty) are trampled by a gung ho-president, like Rodrigo Duterte, this is a strong signal to the rest of the world that human rights don’t count in the end.

And where the executive management of ING seemed reluctant to swallow this bitter political pill and immediately skip the “Manila plan”, the joint industrial council of ING Bank in The Netherlands made a crystalclear statement about that in the Dutch newspaper Telegraaf:

The joint industrial council (i.e. COR – Centrale OndernemingsRaad) of ING asked executive manager Nick Jue of ING The Netherlands to ‘take the situation regarding the human rights on the Philippines into consideration’ and to ‘reconsider the question whether it is sensible or not to outsource more activities and labour to Manilla’. This statement was written by the COR in a newsletter for the personnel, which is in the possession of the Telegraaf.

At ING not everybody feels comfortable with the outsourcing of services to a country where the president states in public that ‘he doesn’t care about human rights’.

The last paragraph must be the understatement of the year. And the red and bold paragraph states in very concealed phrases: “Are you out of your mind to even consider this wild idea, at this time with this president in charge?!”.

Of course I understand that ING Bank already invested millions (if not hundreds of millions) of Euro’s in the planning, preparation and execution of this Manilla operation. Millions that can be written off immediately, when this plan shipwrecks. And I also understand that this plan has probably started in a different time with different political leadership on the Philippines.

Nevertheless, as long as Rodrigo Duterte is in charge as president of the Philippines, this country is a no-go area for every serious corporation, that states to respect and endorse human rights.

ING Bank cannot hide itself behind the excuse of ‘not knowing the human rights situation in the Philippines’. Everybody and their sister knows, as Rodrigo Duterte never made a secret of this policy.

And so it is, that things that you know and you can’t ignore, can haunt you on your way to more efficiency and higher profits.

ING can and must do only one thing and that is pulling the plug out of this Philippines’ outsourcing plan! Every other outcome will cause the bank much political and societal damage... Scout’s honour!

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Next week the United States choose the most powerful leader in the world... and the world watches in shock & awe and sheer bewilderment about the farce currently going on around the White House.

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled...
was to convince the world he didn’t exist”

There are two truisms in the world, when it comes to the United States:
  • The president of the United States is considered to be the most powerful man (or woman) in the world;
  • The American people choose the American president through their national elections.

While these two truisms have been the truth for almost a century, these were seldomly so regretted by many people as in the year 2016.  

While presidential candidates for the United States have more often been controversial (for instance John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan or George ‘Dubya’ Bush to name a few), seldomly the world has experienced the total shock & awe and sheer bewilderment that the current presidential candidates and the accompanying smear campaign in the United States have brought during the last 15 months.

For many Europeans, their main acquaintance with Donald Trump was the American televised series The Apprentice, in which Trump could choose a ‘successor’ for his business empire. 

In this series Trump was harsh, noisy and very direct (or rude) to his candidates – or should they be called his slaves(?) – but it was innocent television for people, who did not want to tire themselves with interesting documentaries or thorough interviews about subjects that really mattered; there was really nothing to worry about.

Now, however, there is a considerable chance that this man, with seemingly the diplomatic skills of a hippopotamus and the political cunningness of a slug, will be elected to become the most powerful man in the world. A man, who already alienated Mexicans, Muslims, Democrats, African-Americans, Koreans, Chinese, Hispanics and almost every other minority and interest group in the United States and far, far beyond.

Trump is the hero of the poor and derailed, white former blue collar worker and 21st Century unemployed. He is extremely rich and extremely ignorant, a pathological liar and firebrand and – on top of that – somebody who does not pay his share in taxes himself, but leaves that for the working class alone.

But nevertheless, Trump is someone who gained massive popularity by bluntly calling the political elites in Washington for what they are: not good for the country and for the American people, as they only pursue their own political and economic interests and those of their rich and important sponsors.

And that is the reason that Trump – in spite of himself and his often erratic behaviour – gets the confidence vote from a large share of the impoverished and desperate, white American people, who saw their jobs and their future disappear to the low wage countries around the world. People, who remained in poverty during and after the crisis, without a dot on the horizon to navigate to: Trump promises them to bring their industrial jobs back from the low wage countries... a promise which he won’t be able to keep, I’m afraid.

As a matter of fact, Trump is the symbolic ‘grim reaper’ of American politics: the definitive, living proof that the American democratic system is ages past its ‘best before’-date. To put it bluntly: the American political landscape is perhaps already in a comatose state, of which it might not revive anymore... 

This is due to an utterly divided country in every sense of the word, years and years of bi-partisan warfare between the Democrats and the GOP, which totally paralyzed the country, and the ubiquitous sell-out of American politics to the highest, corporate bidder.

That would not be a huge problem for the rest of the world – a rest that has its own domestic quarrels and economic problems to solve – when this possible president Donald Trump would not have his finger on the trigger of the thousands of nuclear warheads, that still remain in the possession of the United States. This possible president Trump could be the spark to an emerging (cold/hot) war between the USA and Russia or China, silently fired up by the NATO, which has a secret agenda of expansion-at-any-price in order to survive its own redundancy.

What makes Donald Trump very dangerous to these eyes, is not that he is a bad person per sé: one could for instance call the Russian president Vladimir Putin ‘a cold, unscrupulous and shrewd snake’ with a clear political agenda and a whole encyclopedia full of intelligence tricks and this person is totally right. Nevertheless, Vladimir Putin is intelligent and quite predictable on the other hand and he knows when he goes too far to contain a political situation. Putin won’t scr*w up too much, in order to prevent from an all-out global war of Russia with the United States and the NATO.

However, Donald Trump is totally unexperienced and unpredictable – I think he is not far removed from being a narcisistic lunatic – and he utterly misses the political skills and diplomatic antennas to keep his foreign policy on track and not alienate the whole world (f.i. China, the European Union and Russia, as well as the Americas) against the United States.

And the worst part is: Donald Trump is only half of the problem of these elections!

Hillary Clinton started the presidential campaign as a governmentally seasoned and seemingly decent woman (!) with a ‘presidential bonus’ from her husband and former president Bill Clinton, as well as years and years of useful political experience. Now, at the end of her campaign, she has shown the world that:
  • It was no problem whatsoever for her to bring her campaign down to the same gloomy level of mud throwing and below-the-belt clinching as Donald Trump did in his campaign;
  • She didn’t scare away from playing every dirty trick ‘in the book’ to slaughter the very decent, liberal and seemingly utterly civilized Democrat Bernie Sanders;
  • She seems to be on the leash of big, corporate America (i.e. “Wall Street” & “Silicon Valley”), as well as some of the superwealthy Americans, who want to do everything in the interest of their country, except for paying their (moral) tax dues;
  • Consequently, her soothing words about fairness, compassion and solidarity between the different ethnic and economic groups in the United States sound increasingly hollow and implausible;
  • During her time as Secretary of State she had a dangerous disdain for the most basic form of security and secretness, that inevitably comes with her utterly important and responsible job (i.e. “Emailgate”).

Taking all this into consideration, one must conclude that Hillary Clinton’s political star faded quicker than the flash of a cheap flare. What remains is the bitter feeling that Hillary Clinton is just as bad and sickeningly vicious as Donald Trump.

And then it comes to the Million Dollar Question of these presidential elections:

Who do you trust more with your expensive car (i.e. the country and the world – EL)? The lunatic driver, who is boasting on his abilities to drink-and-drive and evade all the traffic rules?! Or the clumsy, slightly mean old lady, who will probably forget your car keys in an overcrowded bar, loaded with people of ill repute?!”

You probably know the answer to this question: ‘Does it really matter?!’ 

And that is exactly the painful feeling that I have – as a Dutchman and a European – in the eve of the presidential elections in the United States.

In The Netherlands – which arguably could be called the 51st state of the United States in its uncritical, almost blind adoration of everything American – the people have been haunted night after night by:
  1. Dozens of documentaries about both candidates Trump and Clinton, as well as about the American elections and the USA in general;
  2. Thorough reports of ALL the political events regarding the elections in the two years before this event;
  3. All the American political manure poured over every involved political candidate;
  4. And last, but not least:  ALL the debates and battles, from the early preliminaries until the candidates last aired political breath on the night before the election.

To put it mildly, I really wonder whether the last elections in Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom – our most important trade partners by lightyears – combinedly(!) got one-tenth of the media attention and airplay that the American elections get in The Netherlands. And for what?!

 “What does it matter who is elected in the White House, when both candidates seem a crossbreed of Beavis, Butthead, Eric Cartman, Dopey the Dwarf and Cruella de Ville. And how desperate must the Americans be, when they accept that the presidential elections cost their country north of $3 billion and in the end they become stuck with THESE two candidates from hell.”

When I pondered about the implications of these oncoming American elections, I thought that it would be really nice and sensible when the most important democratic politician in the world would be elected by the whole western world, instead of the Americans alone.

Sounds like a stupid idea?! Yes, normally it would!

But now, I feel worried by the dubious level of both presidential candidates in the United States.

I hope that they know and understand that they have an obligation towards my wife, my children and my children’s children, as well as towards the billions of other people and children in the rest of the world: the obligation not to scr*w up bigtime.

This is something that I entrust Vladimir Putin with, in spite of everything that I dislike about him. But will Hillary and Donald also have this capability?! I am not too sure yet!