The World Today for April 21, 2017


Mainstream and Mavericks

The first round of voting in the French presidential election on Sunday was already billed as a showdown between mainstream and maverick politicians that could determine the fate of Europe.

“Vote for president could reshape Western world,” read the Australian Broadcasting Corporation headline.

But the terror attack on the Champs-Elysées in Paris on Thursday night ratcheted up the stakes even more. France has suffered a spate of terror attacks in recent years that has exposed the fecklessness of its leaders.

“Enough of laxism, enough of naivety,” said Marine Le Pen in her concluding remarks in a debate after she learned that a gunman had killed a police officer.

Leading in the polls but still not expected to win the presidency in the expected second round of voting next month, Le Pen advocates for curbing immigration and pulling France out of the EU.

The gunman in Thursday’s shooting was known to be affiliated with radical Islamists.

It’s not clear how the shooting might affect voters. The field had been wide open.

Young-gun Emmanuel Macron has been Le Pen’s primary rival.

A former economic minister under current President Francois Hollande – who is not running for reelection due to dismal poll numbers – Macron has pegged himself as an independent who would reform labor markets and cut taxes, the New York Times reported.

Although he’s a pro-European candidate – which separates him from Le Pen and other frontrunners – he recently criticized German dominance in the bloc.

Macron is the heavy favorite, provided he makes the run-off: Without a viable candidate of their own, France’s establishment parties will probably rally around him.

But predictions of a run-off between Le Pen and Macron could be foiled by the far-left’s Jean-Luc Melenchon, NPR reported.

After a strong showing in presidential debates last week, the 65-year-old who’s sometimes called the “French Bernie Sanders” has shaken up an already splintered field of candidates. He’s currently in third place just behind Le Pen.

He would withdraw France from NATO and the IMF, institutions he believes line the pockets of France’s ultra-rich.

If all these candidates seem atypical, that’s because they are. France is no exception to an international election season dominated by populist fringe candidates.

But France’s presidential election is a more pivotal moment for the European Union than last year’s Brexit referendum, Politico reported.

Whereas Britain has always been semi-detached from the bloc, France is a founding member.

If Macron and Le Pen really do come out on top on Sunday, it will mean an existential second-round vote for the French: Either stay the course or go nuclear. Should the latter be the case, France might take the EU down with her.

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A Shadow War

Americans were stunned by the evidence of Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election. But France should expect it as a matter of course.

Russia has launched a series of clandestine and open efforts to sway governments and exert influence in Europe in recent years, European and US security officials and various other experts have told ProPublica.

“The Russians now have more spies, more clandestine operations, in France than they did in the Cold War,” Thomson Reuters quoted a senior French intelligence official as saying.

Moscow makes no bones about backing far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, whose hardline views on immigration, Islam and the EU appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin. A loan of more than $9 million from a Russian bank in 2014 has helped boost her campaign, the news outlet said. At the same time, aides to center-left candidate Emmanuel Macron have accused Russia of hitting his campaign with cyber attacks and fake news reports about his personal life.

But that’s nothing compared with other alleged Russian moves in Europe – such as a coup attempt in Montenegro and the takeover of a French TV network by hackers.

No Contest

Iran has barred controversial former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from running for a third term, setting up a faceoff between reform-minded incumbent President Hassan Rouhani and leading hardliner Ebrahim Raisi.

Ahmadinejad was banned from the race by the Guardian Council – a 12-member body of influential jurists and clerics that vets all candidates, the BBC reported. A final list of candidates for the May 19 poll will be announced on April 27.

Known for his call to wipe Israel off the map (which may have been mistranslated), the bellicose Ahmadinejad served two terms as president between 2005 and 2013. But his surprise announcement last week that he intended to run again came in defiance of the “advice” of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Meanwhile, Raisi’s surprise entry in the race earlier this month threatens what was expected to be an easy re-election bid for Rouhani, the Guardian noted. But there could be more twists before voters go to the polls. Raisi is also in the running to succeed Khamenei, so he may drop out of the presidential race if it looks like he’s going to lose.

Losing the Plot

It’s not clear whether Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is headed for a Pyrrhic victory or an ignominious defeat. But the costs are mounting from his battle to retain power in the face of widespread protests calling for new elections.

On Thursday, General Motors said it had ceased operations in Venezuela and would lay off its 2,700 workers there, following the seizure of its local vehicle assembly plant, the New York Times reported.

The automaker is only the latest in a wave of international companies that have suspended operations or left the disintegrating country altogether in the wake of food riots and massive anti-government protests, the paper said. Coca-Cola, Bridgestone, Clorox, Ford Motor Co., General Mills, Kimberly Clark and Procter & Gamble have also left Venezuela or virtually stopped production.

Meanwhile, Venezuela has expropriated more than 1,400 private businesses since 1998, according to the US State Department.

That means even if Maduro heeds a call from the United Nations and other Latin American nations to “retake the path of democratic institutionality” he’ll have to dig himself out of an even deeper hole.


Epic Fail

Not every brilliant idea hatched in a boardroom ends up meeting expectations in real life. But when an idea fails so miserably that it’s cringeworthy, it’s worth remembering.

That’s the motivation behind organizational psychologist Samuel West’s brainchild, the Museum of Failure in Stockholm, Quartz reported.

West’s museum showcases an array of products that just never caught on. Some brands overestimated their reach, as was the case in the 1980s when toothpaste giant Colgate tried its hand at selling frozen beef lasagna, an appeal to the frozen meal craze at the time.

The museum also pays tribute to catastrophic decisions that led to a company’s ultimate demise.

Take former video giant Blockbuster. When an internal dispute drove the company to nix creating a streaming service, it tanked the company and opened the door for Netflix to get a foothold in the market.

But while these examples definitely warrant a chuckle, West said that failure is an important part of any learning process.

“Learning is the only process that turns failure into success,” he said.

Click here to see if your favorite epic fail made the museum’s list.

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