Damn, America! This is a dark time for us right now! That's likely something you believe no matter which current presidential candidate you're counting on to fix it all come November. Trust me, I totally understand. The outcome of this election will probably be the deciding factor between whether I spend 2017 living in Los Angeles or a remote labor camp for dissenters. Don't get me wrong, I could totally use the exercise, but that's still some pretty bleak shit to have in the back of your mind on a day-to-day basis.
Ha! Just joking! Trump will never take me alive. Besides, the election is still months away, which means this is a problem I don't have to worry about until at least October, just like televised baseball. Also, even though things seem to be taking a turn for the terrifying here in the United States, for the time being at least, this is still a pretty great place compared to a lot of other parts of the world. We talk about a few stories that prove that very point on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by comics Jeff May and Vanessa Gritton. I'm also talking about a few in this column today. Here are five stories to remind you that, no matter how awful things may seem right now, the United States could always be (and probably will be) worse.
#5. The Newest President Of The Philippines Is An Even Crazier Version Of Trump
Jes Aznar/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Let's be honest here: One of the scariest things about the United States right now is that we're teetering on the brink of letting Donald Trump run the country. I agree that's a genuinely terrifying prospect that implies a lot of awful things about us as a nation, but on the bright side, at least we didn't just elect Rodrigo Duterte.
If the name doesn't ring a bell: He's the newly crowned president of the Philippines, and his exploits are so insane that, initially, this entire article was just going to be about him. Unfortunately, in the time between when I came up with that plan and when I finally started writing, John Oliver, the host of HBO's Last Week Tonight, talked about Duterte in one of those 90-minute-long monologues that have rightfully made his show so popular.
Embedding is disabled on the video. Please enjoy this screenshot instead.
So, not wanting to hear your shit about "stealing" ideas (it's called parallel thinking, motherfuckers), I decided to expand on my initial premise a bit. That said, Rodrigo Duterte is wacky enough that he still merits a mention here, even if only to prepare for the possibility that not everyone reading this gets 100 percent of their information from premium cable shows. Let's get to it!
Maybe it's because our hopefully not-soon-to be president shrugged off all those Hitler comparisons like he was Action Bronson blowing off questions about having the same voice as Ghostface Killah ...
Everyone gets that reference, right?
... but these days comparing someone to Trump seems just as worthy of an immediate "Come on, they can't be that bad" kind of reply. Rest assured, this is a comparison Rodrigo Duterte absolutely deserves. If anything, Trump hasn't done enough to warrant being compared to a maniac like Duterte.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images
For example, remember when Trump implied that Mexican immigrants are rapists? Shitty indeed, but it's at least moderately less heinous than publicly wishing you'd had a chance to participate in a rape. Here's an actual quote from the new president of the Philippines regarding the 1989 rape and murder of a Christian missionary that happened in Davao City, where he served as mayor for years before ascending to the lead job:
"I was angry she was raped, yes, that was one thing. But she was so beautiful, I think the mayor should have been first. What a waste."
Pretty damn crazy, yeah? Incredibly enough, it sort of pales in comparison to his history of fighting crime during his time as mayor, and the things he promises to do in that capacity as president. To put it as succinctly as possible -- Rodrigo Duterte murders criminals.
Jes Aznar/Getty Images News/Getty Images
And his constituents love him for it.
In the name of reducing a skyrocketing crime rate in the late-'80s, Duterte coupled his tough talk on outlaws with local vigilante squads that had formed in response to the same problem. According to countless reports and investigations by human rights organizations, these collaborations eventually evolved into full-on death squads that operated at the behest of the mayor himself. During his time in office, thousands of alleged criminals were murdered with no suspects ever charged for the crimes or even identified at all. He's never been tied to any of the murders, but when asked about rumors that he'd personally executed 700 criminals, he replied that the number was closer to 1,700. We're not just talking rapists and murderers, either. Thieves, drug dealers, drug users, and anyone else who dared to live outside the law were potential targets. There's no trial. There's no chance for reform. You're just murdered in the street. It should go without saying that sometimes innocent people died after being mistaken for a criminal whose name was on a kill list.
Even worse, Duterte promised to bring this somewhat controversial approach to crime fighting to the entire country as president, vowing at one point during his campaign that he'd kill 100,000 criminals and dump them in Manila Bay.
Such a pretty place to be brutally murdered.
Oh, and he promised to do this during his first six months in office. I know that sounds implausible, but it's worth noting that his stance on crime made him wildly popular with the residents of Davao City. The people of the Philippines know this man's history and voted him into office, at least in part because of that history. It's not out of the question that his election will be taken as a clear sign that voters really do want to see 100,000 people murdered and dumped in the water. The Philippines, for all intents and purposes, just voted for extrajudicial killing as their preferred method of justice, and they may very well get it.
Trump is certainly a character, but I don't think anyone's expecting him to outright order the murders of hundreds of thousands of citizens immediately upon seizing office. So we have that going for us as a country, even if the fact that Duterte managed to win just makes the idea of a Trump presidency seem all the more realistic.
#4. The U.K. Has One Of The Worst Healthcare Systems In The Developed World
Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Remember when we argued and fought all those years for universal healthcare and finally got ... something sort of like it? That was fun, huh? During the constant back-and-forth debates that erupted over the issue, those in favor of free medicine for all would regularly hold up countries like Canada and England as shining examples of how we can, in fact, take care of people who can't afford it without bringing all of the nation's hospitals crashing to the ground like steel beams exposed to the roaring fire produced by burning jet fuel.
Well, if a recent report from the Office For Economic Cooperation And Development is any indication, we might have been wrong. According to their findings, among developed nations the United Kingdom has one of the worst healthcare systems in the world.
I bet it's not as bad as the food.
As it turns out, keeping a universal healthcare system afloat requires a lot of money, and that's apparently something the National Health Service, the government agency responsible for keeping citizens there in working bodies, doesn't have a lot of at the moment. This probably goes a long way toward explaining why, according to the OECD report, an estimated 75,000 additional doctors and nurses are needed to get service levels in the U.K. back on track. As of right now, those levels have fallen below those of countries like Turkey, Portugal, and Poland.
Poland! Have you fucking seen Poland recently?
I think this is fairly representative of what the country looks like.
I certainly haven't, because everything I've ever heard about that place makes it seem awful. Like how the OECD used it in their report as a comparison to drive home the point that healthcare in the U.K. is a nightmare, for example.
Anyway, back to the U.K. Things are so bad an entire one-third of the healthcare professionals there have threatened permanent strikes and mass resignations over proposed changes to their government contracts that could amount to a pay cut of as much as 30 percent for some. Which is a lot when you take into account that doctors in the U.K. don't exactly make what we in the U.S. would think of as "doctor money." A starting junior doctor makes around $33,000 a year, a figure that looks all the more depressing when converted to the proper currency.
So, while it's true we still haven't gotten that single-payer healthcare system of our dreams yet, at least take heart knowing we can still afford to pay our plastic surgeons and prescription drug dealers way more than they probably deserve.
#3. Russia Kills Journalists On The Regular
Chris McGrath/Getty Images News/Getty Images
We as a nation have done a whole lot of complaining over the past few years about how our freedom of speech is being stifled, usually after someone gets too much social media hate for saying something super duper racist. If you're one of those oppressed souls who live in fear of the "PC police," know that things could be significantly worse. For example, you could be a Russian journalist.
What would be so bad about that, you ask? Well, for starters, you'd be living in Russia. That's gross.
Russia is only fun for bears and/or people who can afford to wear them.
Also, you'd stand a really great chance of being murdered as a result of the words you write. Journalism is such a dangerous profession in Russia there's actually a national day of remembrance every December for journalists killed in the line of duty. The exact number of journalists murdered in Russia as a direct result of their work isn't known, but monitoring groups suspect the total is anywhere between 50 and 220, and that figure only covers as far back as the start of the Boris Yeltsin era (1991).
As recently as 2009, Russia was named the third-most-dangerous country in the world for journalists, trailing only Iraq and Algeria.
Iraq! Have you seen that place lately? If not, it looks a lot like this picture of Poland.
Keep in mind, we're not talking conspiracy theory stuff where these people are dying in car accidents but we assume it's murder anyway. No, these are usually shootings, and they often involve high-profile opponents of the policies of the Russian government.
One of the most famous cases was the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya, an activist and writer who was openly against Russia's second war with Chechnya and the policies of President Vladimir Putin in general. She was found dead in the elevator of her apartment building after being shot five times, including once at point-blank range in the head. Some of the assailants were tracked down eventually, but the person who ordered the contract killing was never identified. There were rumors that it was a Russian politician.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Not that it means anything, but she was murdered on Vladimir Putin's birthday.
An even crazier thing to consider is that the Anna Politkovskaya murder is an example of Russia being subtle and low-key about killing a journalist. The murder of blogger Magomed Yevloyev was the exact opposite. He ran a website that was critical of certain factions of the government. One day, after landing in the Ingushetia region of Russia, where he lived, from a trip to Moscow, he was met by Russian police, who tossed him in a car, drove away, and shot him in the temple right there in the back seat. They claimed the gun went off accidentally. Yes, just like in Pulp Fiction. They also tossed his lifeless body out of the car in front of a hospital and just kept on driving.
Say whatever else you want about the United States government, but if we're killing a journalist, you can damn sure bet we'd at least have the decency to be a little more secretive about it.