Friday, April 28, 2017

French Toast Friday

First things first....

"In French campaign, a stalemate speaks volumes about both candidates" by John Leicester Associated Press  April 27, 2017

PARIS — When France’s presidential election turned into a political boxing match this week at the gates of an appliance factory threatened with closure, the far-right populist Marine Le Pen showed that she wields a mean right hook. Her centrist rival, Emmanuel Macron, a political neophyte contesting his first election, demonstrated that he can take a solid punch to the chin.

I prefer the wrestling analogy, but either way.... both figureheads with no party.

Besides, Russia already rigged the election, right?

Before the chaotic scenes Wednesday at a Whirlpool clothes-dryer plant in northern France, the election campaign had no single dominant theme. But all that changed when Le Pen, followed closely by Macron, made back-to-back impromptu campaign stops at the plant to woo France’s blue-collar voters.

Against the backdrop of burning tires and angry workers, the diametrically opposed styles and programs of the two candidates in the winner-takes-all second-round vote were laid bare, with crystal-clear clarity.

Le Pen’s closed borders against Macron’s open ones. Le Pen’s France that would pull up the drawbridge with the European Union against a future of ever-closer ties between France and its neighbors. Le Pen’s promised economic protectionism against Macron’s defense of free trade. Le Pen’s selfie-snapping populism against Macron’s refusal to simply tell the workers what they so desperately wanted to hear: that their jobs can be saved as Whirlpool shifts production to Poland.

Unless she does a 180 like Trump.

Related: Flashback: Polish Pollution

And the move could be risky: Poles have a long history of labor solidarity and defiance toward authority.

In her second presidential contest, after placing third in 2012, the 48-year-old Le Pen deployed all her political experience to spring a campaign trap that her 39-year-old rival fell headfirst into, but then managed to extract himself from, with barely a ruffle to his suit and tie. Instead of becoming Macron’s Waterloo, his quick thinking and dogged determination in trying to reason with the disgruntled workers for over an hour turned the match into a stalemate.

A stalemate that spoke volumes about them both.

Having led a largely lackluster campaign before the first-round vote Sunday that propelled her and Macron into round two on May 7, Le Pen has rediscovered her mojo. Bruised by first-round television debates, in which she was savaged by the sharp-tongued far-left populist Jean-Luc Melenchon, now eliminated, she is outsmarting Macron, so far at least, in the use of TV.

Likewise, now rid of Francois Fillon, the conservative whose financial scandals dominated the initial campaign, Le Pen now has a chance to turn the election into a debate about France, its future, and her argument that one of the founding EU nations would be better off freed of the bloc’s constraints.

By popping up at the Whirlpool plant while Macron was across town, meeting with the workers’ union leaders, Le Pen was devastatingly effective. TV news channels switched live to the surprise visit, showing her taking selfies and dispensing hugs and kisses to workers at the factory gates. It gave her a platform to project herself as the candidate of France’s workers in an era of chronic unemployment and to highlight her pledge, repeated Wednesday, that she wouldn’t let the factory close if elected.

Macron, shown simultaneously at his meeting in a nondescript room, looked every inch the aloof technocrat: in the wrong place at just the right time for Le Pen.

‘‘I’m not eating little cakes with a few representatives who, in reality, represent only themselves,’’ she sniffed. Pow! Take that, Macron.

She used television to her advantage again Thursday, getting up before dawn to take a ride aboard a Mediterranean fishing trawler — candidate-in-action images played over and over on morning TV, in the absence of anything fresh from Macron, who didn’t campaign until midafternoon.

Le Pen has said all along that among the 11 first-round candidates, she wanted to face Macron in round two. At Whirlpool’s gates, it became clear why: The former investment banker and economy minister is, for her, the readiest canvas for her black-or-white assertion that the election is a clash between two polar opposites.

Her goal isn’t simply to swing as many Fillon and Melenchon voters as possible to her side but to persuade enough of them not to vote at all on May 7, in hopes that her reservoir of committed voters will outnumber those who’ll back Macron, many reluctantly, simply to keep her extremism from reaching the Elysee Palace.

Outflanked by Le Pen at Whirlpool, Macron faced his toughest campaign test yet. Failure to follow her example and rush from his meeting with union leaders to the factory itself would have made him look uncaring and out of touch — doubly so since the plant is in the town where Macron was born, Amiens.

Going, however, was also a risk. He seized it with both hands.

The snap decision seemed, at first, to have backfired spectacularly when Macron was derisively whistled at and booed. For a few tense minutes, it seemed as though Le Pen had landed a KO. Had Macron retreated to the safety of his car, the campaign front-runner could have crashed and burned on live TV.

But he plowed on.

The workers were a hostile audience for Macron’s arguments that the state can’t stop jobs from moving abroad but can retrain the workers who lose them. By facing their frustration, by patiently, at times passionately, debating them, he at least seemed to win some respect — and without making off-the-cuff campaign promises that later, if installed in the presidential palace, he might regret.

‘‘There is no miracle recipe,’’ he said.

Most important for Macron, his recovery from Le Pen’s punch allows him to fight another day.

And Le Pen still needs a knockout.

Or the judges' decision!


They must have used invisible ink because I don't see it, do you?

"French court refuses to extradite Kosovo ex-prime minister" by ANGELA CHARLTON Associated Press  April 27, 2017

PARIS — A French court on Thursday refused to extradite a former Kosovo prime minister to Serbia to face war crimes charges, prompting anger in Serbia and joy in Kosovo in a case that has aggravated tensions between the rival neighbors.

Ramush Haradinaj’s lawyer, Rachel Lindon, said the court ruled against the extradition because he would not have had a fair and balanced trial if sent to Serbia.

Serbia’s government decided on Thursday to recall its ambassador in France to Belgrade for consultations and lodge a protest note to France, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said after an emergency government session convened over Haradinaj’s release.

‘‘The Republic of Serbia, the government of the Republic of Serbia, believes that the decision is shameful, scandalous, unlawful, absolutely unjust and above all political,’’ Vucic said. Serbia has said in the past that it could abolish an extradition treaty with France if Haradinaj is not handed over.

Thousands of people welcomed and accompanied Haradinaj from the airport, gathering at the main square, Zahir Pajaziti, in the capital, Pristina. Patriotic songs and firecrackers accompanied the celebrating people.

Haradinaj gave a speech stressing that ‘‘Albanians are peaceful people but they cannot be subdued.’’

‘‘Those who have lived with Albanians have never suffered anything. Albanians are an old people, a very respected one. But if someone attacks us, we unite to defend ourselves,’’ he said expressing thanks to the support he has had since his detention in January in France.

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci told the AP: ‘‘This is good news for Kosovo. . . . It is Serbia that has committed war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and genocide against Kosovo’s citizens.’’

Haradinaj, a guerrilla fighter in Kosovo’s 1998-1999 war for independence from Serbia, was previously cleared of war crimes charges by a UN tribunal. 

You see, if you fought on the "right" side you don't get charged.

Serbia’s government requested his extradition after French police arrested Haradinaj in January on a Serbian arrest warrant, including new accusations. The arrest raised tensions between Kosovo and Serbia, and Kosovo lawmakers called on the European Union to intervene to secure his release....


I'll bet the Serbs are feeling burned.


Blocked train triggers a political clash in the Balkans

Bosnian Serbs weigh holiday marking state’s creation

Bosnian prosecutor to examine disputed Bosnian Serb referendum

Heavy rains swell rivers in parts of Balkans

At least they can still fly:

"Serbia set to get Russian fighter jets" Associated Press  February 13, 2017

BELGRADE — Serbia’s defense minister said Sunday the country will be getting a delivery of six Russian fighter jets, which could worsen tensions with neighboring states.

Why? No one says that when the US peddles its killing machines.

In addition to the fighter jets, Serbia has reportedly agreed to purchase 30 tanks and as many armored vehicles from Russia. Also, Belgrade is negotiating another eight MiG-29s and Russian-made antiaircraft systems with Belarus.

Serbia’s arming has triggered alarms in the Balkans, which was engulfed by a bloody war in the 1990s that killed more than 110,000 people and left millions homeless. Croatia, a NATO member, has already announced it is buying jets and other equipment from the West in response to the Serbian buildup.

I'm sure that makes the war manufacturers and banks happy.

Serbia formally has been on the path to joining the European Union, but under pressure from Moscow it has steadily slid toward the Kremlin and its goal of keeping the country out of NATO and other Western institutions.

President Trump’s stand toward NATO, which he has described as an ‘‘obsolete’’ organization, and his warming of relations with President Vladimir Putin of Russia also has worried nations in southeastern Europe. 

They don't have to worry anymore.

A Serbian court last week rejected an extradition request by Montenegro for a suspect in an alleged pro-Russia plot to overthrow Montenegro’s government.

Interesting twist considering the France-Serbia case, 'eh?

Don't be fooled!

Nemanja Ristic’s extradition was rejected Thursday by the Special Court in Belgrade. He appeared in a group photo with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of Russia during his visit to Serbia in December.

The court said Ristic, a supporter of a pro-Russian far-right group in Serbia, cannot be extradited because Montenegro suspects him of committing the alleged crime by acting from the territory of Serbia and not inside Montenegro.

Montenegro also has issued extradition requests for another Serb and two Russians for alleged plans to kill the then-prime minister and take over Parliament on Election Day in October. Another Serbian court ruled last week that the other Serb sought by Montenegro could be handed over after an appeals process.


"Thousands protests as EU envoy tries to break deadlock in Macedonia" Associated Press  March 22, 2017

SKOPJE, Macedonia — Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Macedonia’s capital of Skopje on Tuesday to protest a visit by a European Union envoy who is trying to break the political deadlock that has left the country without a government for three months.


"After two grueling national elections in six months in Spain, and a third vote possible in December, no party has won enough seats or forged the coalition needed to form a government. Spain’s leaders have warned that no government would mean chaos and deprivation. Instead, more than anything, the crisis seems to have offered a glimpse of life if the politicians simply stepped out of the way...."

Looks pretty good. 

Then they went Socialist?

Waving red-and-yellow national flags, the protesters chanted ‘‘Macedonia! Macedonia!’’ as they gathered for a second consecutive day while EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn held talks with political leaders.

Protest organizers said they were holding rallies at 42 sites around the country, and unfurled giant banners along the route taken by Hahn from the airport to the capital. I don't think they want to join, or

Macedonia’s two largest parties do not have enough lawmakers to form a government after a general election in December.

They would need to form a coalition party from the country’s ethnic Albanian minority, which is demanding that Albanian be made the country’s second official language.

The long-governing conservatives rejected the minority demand outright. Conservative President Gjorge Ivanov, however, has refused to hand the rival Social Democrats a mandate to form a government until they do the same thing.

Ivanov, who did not meet with Hahn, argues that the language demand is an attempt to destroy Macedonia’s character.

Some would call it the New World Order.

Ethnic Albanians make up a quarter of Macedonia’s population. Albanian is currently recognized as an official language in minority-dominated areas but not in the country as a whole.

Macedonia has been locked in a major political crisis for the past two years, sparked by a wiretapping scandal and corruption allegations.

How long has it been here, Amerikans? A decade if not longer?

While former prime minister Nikola Gruevski won the December vote, he didn’t have enough votes to form a government.

The ethnic minority has had a rocky relationship with the majority Macedonians since the country gained independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.

The country narrowly avoided a civil war in 2001 when militants seeking greater rights for the ethnic Albanians took up arms against government forces. The conflict was quelled after a UN-brokered peace accord and required NATO peacekeepers.

They still there?


Also see: Special K For Breakfast

What came out the other end:

"How the pope role-models humility" by Jena McGregor Washington Post  April 27, 2017

In case you missed it, here is the most powerful man in the Catholic Church, humbly asking a bunch of TED conference attendees to keep him in their thoughts, seeking their help as he goes about his work.

Wish I had missed this.

That kind of role-modeling helps underscore his message in a world that still muddles authority with leadership and conflates power with muscle-flexing.

Look at what I'm reading!

In the TED talk, his words about power were powerful, yes. He shared a relatable saying from Argentina, that ‘‘power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach. You feel dizzy, you get drunk. You lose your balance.’’ He reminded the people in the room that ‘‘the future of humankind is not exclusively in the power of politicians, of great leaders, of big companies. Yes, they do hold enormous responsibility. But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a ‘you’ and themselves as part of an ‘us.’’’

But by showing his audience what that actually looks like — by asking them as he closed to keep him in their thoughts as he, the world’s most influential Catholic leader, tries to fulfill his task — his words became actions that were even more powerful....

I'm sorry, but his words carry absolutely zero weight with me after the sex abuse scandal that was covered up for centuries. The Church lost any moral authority it may have had then. Sorry.