November 21, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

Decency, Dullness and Déjà Vu

Maybe France will be different.

After Americans elected Donald Trump president and Britons opted to quit the European Union, the French appear to be gearing up to make a stand against the populist and often-xenophobic surge against globalization.

On Sunday, members of the conservative Les Republicains gave ex-prime minister Francois Fillon the largest share of votes in the party’s primary. Next week, Fillon faces off against ex-prime minister Alain Juppé in a runoff, but polls contend that Fillon will win, reported Reuters.

Due to the vagaries of French politics – incumbent President Francois Hollande, a Socialist, is suffering a shameful popularity rating of 4 percent, and former conservative President Nicholas Sarkozy has dropped out of the running – Fillon is now on a clear path to the French presidency.

Fillon’s main opponent presumably will be Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front, a Trumpesque party that is harshly critical of France’s North African immigrant community and the European Union.

Already popular among a large plurality of French citizens due to her criticism of mainstream politicians’ handling of the country’s stagnant economy, Le Pen has gained support in the wake of a series of bloody terror attacks in France since early last year.

If Fillon defeats Le Pen in a general election runoff in May as expected, it would be a defeat for the forces symbolized by Trump and Brexit.

“People want to save the republic with a decent right-wing person,” University of Paris Law Professor Patrick Weil, a historian of immigration, told the Washington Post. “They don’t want to risk Marine Le Pen.”

Recent polls found that Fillon would beat Le Pen with 61 percent of the vote, said Reuters.

Of course, if Fillon loses, then folks like Weil will need to rethink their assumptions about their angry and regularly overlooked fellow citizens.

In that regard, the French shouldn’t forget an important lesson from the recent U.S. and British votes: Don’t believe the polls or professors.

Opinion surveys have been wrong already. Many predicted Juppé would win the top spot in Les Republicains’ primary.

Fillon has vulnerabilities in a matchup against Le Pen, too, wrote MarketWatch political columnist Darrell Delamaide.

Fillon is socially conservative but economically liberal, so his disapproval of gay marriage and excessive public spending could alienate leftwing voters who would be crucial in beating Le Pen. But, perhaps worst of all, Fillon’s campaign might not excite voters.

“Fillon is as dull as they come as a candidate,” wrote Delamaide.

A well-known, not particularly personable career politician who might turn off progressive voters?

It feels like déjà vu all over again.

WANT TO KNOW

Woman Down

South Korean President Park Geun-hye could soon become the second top female world leader forced out of office this year, following the high-profile impeachment of Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff in September.

Calls to impeach Park mounted on Sunday following a statement by South Korean prosecutors alleging that she was involved in an influence-peddling case that centers on one of her close advisers, Bloomberg reported.

“Park deserves to be arrested and it’s a shame,” the agency quoted rival Moon Jae-in as saying. “We have a strong reason to impeach her.”

Moon added that Park’s critics were still prepared to “help her resign with honor,” however.

Earlier Sunday, prosecutors said Park colluded with longtime friend Choi Soon-Sil and others to coerce local firms to “donate” more than $60 million to dubious non-profit foundations, AFP reported. Choi allegedly then used some of the funds for personal gain.

Park’s spokesman rejected the charges as “unfair political attacks” based on “imagination and guesswork,” the agency said.

Hospitals Destroyed

As Syrian and Russian forces continue to bombard Aleppo, the last functioning hospital in the rebel-held eastern part of the city was destroyed, leaving up to 250,000 residents without access to surgery or specialist care.

At the same time, the Syrian government on Sunday refused to accept a United Nations-brokered truce agreement that would have granted the rebel-held districts autonomy in a bid to restore order, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The UN proposed that the Syrian government grant eastern Aleppo autonomy in exchange for the departure of some 900 al-Qaida-linked militants operating there to rebel-held territory in Syria. But Syria’s foreign minister said the government could not be “held hostage” to the militants due to the threat against civilians.

The carnage is grim.

“I don’t think in all my years of doing this I’ve seen such dreadful pictures of injuries, of people lying on the floor in an emergency room, the dead mixed with the living,” a surgeon with decades of experience working in war zones, told the Guardian.

Shanghai Surprise

The European Union isn’t the only game in town. Or so Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would have European leaders believe.

If the EU continues to make noise about Turkey’s crackdown on dissent in the name of rooting out supporters of the failed coup attempt in July, Erdogan said on Sunday that Turkey could easily scrap its bid to join the European bloc and join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization led by China and Russia instead, Reuters reported.

Although Turkey is already a member of NATO, its prospects of joining the EU now look particularly dim, despite a deal to take back migrants from Greece that temporarily appeared to give Erdogan the whip hand in membership negotiations.

Last week, the EU’s foreign ministers criticized Erdogan’s ongoing crackdown on alleged coup supporters – which has seen more than 100,000 people suspended, dismissed or detained and many news outlets shuttered. But the leaders refused to back a call by Austria to suspend Turkey’s membership bid.

The threat to join China will add to their reservations.

DISCOVERIES

Afterlife

The prospect of eternal life sits squarely within the realm of science fiction. But eternal preservation is becoming more and more of a reality – at least for one girl in Great Britain.

That’s because courts there fulfilled a 14-year-old girl’s dying wish to be cryogenically frozen in the United States, despite protests from her estranged father.

Before dying of cancer last month, she had pled for courts to allow her mother to carry out her unorthodox request. She hoped that preserving her remains would one day give her a chance to “live longer.”

“I think that in the future they may find a cure for my cancer and wake me up,” she added in a written letter to the courts.

Cryogenic preservation remains a controversial and largely unproven method, the Washington Post reports.

Hyper-cooling the body can be “very damaging” to cells, particularly those in the brain, said João Pedro de Magalhães, a biology expert at the University of Liverpool. This provides only a “small” chance of revival after death.

But he isn’t ruling it out yet.

“We don’t know how technology is going to progress in a hundred years.”