The World Today for October 25, 2017



Of Roosters and Corners

Once believed to be impervious to the pitfalls of his bombastic rhetoric and controversial policies, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s chickens may be coming home to roost.

Since taking power just over a year ago, Duterte has lambasted the democratic norms of the West and waged a campaign of vigilante violence against drug dealers, a program that has led to at least 8,000 deaths, Stratfor reported.

Through it all, he has remained popular, in part due to his shoot-from-the-hip politicking and status as a protector of the urban poor.

But Filipinos have gotten fatigued. Net satisfaction among citizens dropped to 48 percent last month, down 18 points from levels measured in June, the Associated Press reported. His biggest losses were among his city-dwelling base – they have been disproportionately affected by his scorched-earth policy against the nation’s drug dealers.

If Duterte’s support continues to wane, it could cost him the political capital needed to push through closer relations with long-time adversary China, and give his opponents the slack needed to stage a political counterstrike.

Nevertheless, Duterte is doubling down.

When a mission of international legislators and leaders of civil society launched a demonstration urging Duterte to halt his death campaign against drug dealers – and European delegates within the group threatened to sever a lucrative trade deal with the Philippines if their warning isn’t heeded – the bellicose president threatened to expel all of the European Union’s ambassadors from the country, Agence France-Presse reported.

“You think we are a bunch of morons here. You are the one. Now the ambassadors of those countries listening now, tell me, because we can have the diplomatic channel cut tomorrow. You leave my country in 24 hours, all of you,” Duterte said in a public speech.

The president then traveled to the besieged city of Marawi in the country’s south – where the military has been engaged in battle with radical Islamist militants for the past six months – to declare victory against the insurgents before the guns had even cooled.

“Duterte was in Marawi for the announcement, which seemed a bit premature given that gunfire and explosions could be heard as soldiers attempted to clear what the government claims is the last pocket of resistance in the city, less than a mile away from where Duterte delivered his speech,” NPR’s Michael Sullivan reported from the ground.

But for all of his bluster, Duterte has walked back his extreme rhetoric before and embraced Western dialogue, the Associated Press noted. President Trump is expected to meet with Duterte face-to-face during his trip to Asia next month, for example.

Still, it’s hard to predict what Duterte will do when he loses support and feels backed into a corner.



Cementing Power

Chinese President Xi Jinping revealed on Wednesday the newest lineup of the Politburo Standing Committee, the top leadership of the nation’s Communist Party that will assist the president in progressing the party’s agenda during his second five-year term.

The rollout of the Communist Party’s elite came on the heels of an announcement Tuesday that the party had elevated Xi’s status, enshrining his name into the party’s constitution alongside past leaders like Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

Xi’s ascension cements his status as the most powerful man to head the country in decades, a symbolic move underscored by the fact that the six members of the Standing Committee now serving under Xi are ineligible to succeed him due to party rules on retirement ages, the Associated Press reports.

“It suggests that Xi will likely serve a third term, and that he is likely to name his own successor,” said Joseph Fewsmith, an analyst of Chinese politics at Boston University. “We have not seen that for two decades.”

The Standing Committee is responsible for producing the Communist Party’s next leader, who normally serves two, five-year terms. Xi himself was a member for five years before taking power in 2012.


Diamonds in the Desert

Some of the world’s most powerful people are congregating in Riyadh this week for a meeting informally billed as “Davos in the desert” – where Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old crown prince aims to spur interest in the country’s shift away from an almost exclusively oil-dependent economy.

The group of 3,500 invitees – which includes a co-founder of the Blackstone Group, the founder of Softbank, and the founder of Blackrock, among many other luminaries – is estimated to control $22 trillion in assets, the New York Times reported.

“Saudi Arabia is moving aggressively to diversify its economy and implement important reforms,” the Times quoted Blackstone co-founder Stephen A. Schwarzman as saying.

A bigger draw is the hundreds of billions of dollars the country aims to invest following the planned initial public offering by state-owned oil company, Aramco, next year, as part of its diversification plan – known as Vision 2030.

The kingdom is said to be seeking a valuation of $2 trillion for Aramco, which would make it the largest company in the world and mean as much as $1 billion in fees for Wall Street.


Code Switch

Brazil’s Supreme Court suspended a controversial change to the definition of slavery issued by President Michel Temer’s government in a concession to the nation’s powerful farm lobby.

Justice Rosa Weber said the decree’s reduction of the scope of what is considered slave labor violated the constitution, Reuters reported. She also argued that the measure could hurt Brazil’s trade relations since other countries could complain that slave labor was a form of unfair competition.

Human rights campaigners said the decree issued by the labor ministry on Monday limited the definition of slavery to restrictions on freedom of movement, disregarding other abuses such as debt bondage, degrading work conditions, and long work hours that pose a risk to a worker’s health.

Opposition critics pointed out Temer’s decree would have derailed enforcement efforts that have freed 50,000 workers from slavery-like conditions since 1995, just as Temer needs farm lobby votes in Congress on Wednesday to block corruption charges against him.


Denting Our History

A newly found set of fossilized teeth has archaeologists scratching their heads – it’s a discovery that could shatter previous beliefs about human history.

The teeth, first discovered in the western German town of Eppelsheim, resemble those belonging to the earliest known species of humans from Africa, Deutsche Welle reported.

There’s only one problem: The teeth don’t appear to belong to any species previously discovered in Europe or Asia. They’re also 9.7 million years old – at least 4 million years older than Lucy, the earliest hominin skeleton ever discovered.

Archaeologist Herbert Lutz and his team made the discovery last year, but only just announced the startling find recently after an arduous period of tests.

Now, scientists are left to ponder the true origin of the fossils and our most basic understanding of human history, with some claiming that the history of mankind has to be rewritten.

Still, Lutz doesn’t want to jump to conclusions.

“We want to hold back on speculation,” Lutz told ResearchGate. “What these finds definitely show us is that the holes in our knowledge and in the fossil record are much bigger than previously thought.”

Correction: In Monday’s NEED TO KNOW section, we incorrectly said in our “Tidewaters” item that Former Chilean President Sebastián Piñera is running a strong campaign against incumbent Michelle Bachelet, a socialist. She is in fact not running, and he is facing candidates from the center-left ruling coalition and the left-wing Broad Front, according to Bloomberg. We apologize for the error.

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