Category Archives: politics

How Absenteeism Could Undermine the French Presidential Elections

My dear friends and followers, I worry about the outcome of the vote tomorrow: France could well elect Marine Le Pen to the presidency and that would be a catastrophe for both France and Europe.

Such an unfortunate outcome would be the direct result of absenteeism, of a rising number of French people, turned off by the choice presented, and choosing not to exercise their right to vote. Thereby helping to bring to the Elysée the most dangerous and ill-adapted candidate in recent history: Marine Le Pen. The only person who would benefit from such an outcome is Russia’s Putin. 

The problem is absenteeism and I examined in an article published on Impakter the day after the TV debate between the two contenders (April 20) why it’s such a risk this time:

French Presidential Elections: Why Absenteeism is a Dangerous Choice

If absenteeism is high, Macron could lose to Marine Le Pen who would become the first Euroskeptic, anti-climate French President with a worrisome dependence on Putin and no government experience

The duel between President Macron and extreme-right Marine Le Pen does not mobilize the French electorate as had happened in a similar situation 20 years ago when President Chirac was challenged by Le Pen’s father. Last night, the one and only debate between the two candidates during the second round of elections took place, a two-and-a-half-hour marathon that was universally viewed as too long, and in fact drew a slightly smaller audience than the last one in 2017, some 15.6 million viewers. 

It was a better show back then as both candidates were fresh in the eyes of the public and there was interest to see them up close. This time, it wasn’t the case; Marine Le Pen did not collapse in confusion like the last time and remained serene, almost aloof, while Macron was more offensive, scoring points, highlighting her climate skepticism, her anti-Islamism (she would ban the hijab in public spaces), her anti-Europe stance (the only “sovereignty” that exists, she says, is France’s), her lack of government experience (she is vague about the role of government, what can and cannot be done, and simplistic in her approach to state debt management), and her dependence on Putin as a direct result of the $9 million loan her party took from a Russian bank close to Putin and still hasn’t finished paying back.

Will this duel on television change anything, move indecisive voters to go to the voting booths? Most observers think it is unlikely, by now most people have made up their minds. Macron supporters feel Macron won the duel, and Marine Le Pen supporters say the same about their candidate. Following the debate, a snap survey by Elabe for BFM TV found that 59% of polled viewers found Macron more convincing than Le Pen. In 2017, the same polling firm found that 63% of those surveyed found Macron more convincing.

So Macron is doing better than Le Pen as he has all along, with the latest polls of voting intentions showing that Macron is set to win with around 55.5% of the vote. Again, that is less than in 2017 when he beat Le Pen with 66.1% of the vote. His present margin, 5.5%, is not that comfortable if you consider that this is three times less than it was in 2017 marking a considerable drop in consensus for the President.

Under the circumstances, with such a small margin between Macron and Le pen, everyone agrees that the level of absenteeism could determine the outcome. Absenteeism can be very dangerous and prevent democracy from functioning correctly. In this case, it could lead to the victory of Marine Le Pen, putting France in the hands of a notorious Euro-skeptic and anti-climate, anti-Islam, anti-German and pro-Putin President. 

This is exactly what Europe and the world do not need while the war rages in Ukraine. Not a happy prospect.

Why absenteeism in the French presidential election is so dangerous

The danger of absenteeism on Sunday in France should not be underestimated. There are numerous historic examples of absenteeism leading to deeply undesirable results, not reflecting the will of the majority – on the contrary, disregarding the majority will and leading to a breakdown in the functioning of democracy. 

Read the rest on Impakter, where I compare the Brexit referendum with what could happen tomorrow if too many French people stay at home and don’t vote: Click here to read.

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The Evidence is In: The Spike in Oil Prices Helps Putin Finance His War in Ukraine

This week I’ve been pretty busy! A couple of days ago, I co-authored an article on Odessa with my friend Richard Seifman, an American diplomat and World Bank health expert, you can find the article here: Odessa: A City Crucial Now and Not Just for Ukraine

And now I just published a new article on Impakter, all the truth about sanctions, exploring why they don’t work as expected:

How Russia is Financing the War in Ukraine

With the hike in fuel prices caused by the war, Russia has been the main beneficiary, able to finance its war with an extra $100 billion earned from oil and gas exports

Ukrainian searching for victims after a bombing (screenshot)

Historically, sanctions have rarely if ever worked. US history of sanctions is an eye-opener and shows that most have never achieved their intended goal. Countries hit by sanctions have always found roundabout ways to mitigate sanctions or even cancel their impact with clever countermoves. And, unsurprisingly, it’s beginning to look like this umpteenth round of sanctions against Russia – we are up to round number five of EU sanctions now, the latest target being coal imports from Russia – is unlikely to help stop the war.

Bloomberg Economics experts have found that, as they put it, despite multiple rounds of sanctions, there are “plenty of signs that Russia is finding ways to prop up its economy”.  Russia, they have calculated, will earn about $320 billion from energy exports this year, up by more than a third from 2021. Russian oil is snapped up in Asia and the ruble is back to the level it was before the start of the war in Ukraine.

At the same time, Russian coal exports banned in Europe are finding their way in China: Reportedly there are several Chinese firms buying Russian coal with local currency.

In other words, from an economic standpoint, Russia is the great beneficiary of the war, having earned an extra $100 billion in just one month, enough to carry on with the invasion.  At least, so far but things could change if the West changes its policies and reviews its approach to sanctions. Because the evidence is now in: 

Sanctions do not work. Putin’s wily war plans: A clever way to finance the regardless of sanctions

One may well wonder what exactly were Putin’s real aims when he invaded the whole of Ukraine six weeks ago.

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

Let me know what you think!

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What Makes the Ukraine War Unique

What makes the Ukraine war unique is…No, not its brutality, that, alas, is nothing new. It’s horrendous and criminal on the part of Putin, but he’s done this before, in Chechnya and in Syria. What is new and unique about this war is Zelinsky, an extraordinary leader who’s using communication means in a way never used before by any leader at war (at least as far as I know!)

Check out my latest article, just published on Impakter:

Ukraine War: Unlike Any Other Thanks To Zelinsky

Ukraine’s President Zelinsky has embarked on a virtual tour of all the major parliaments in the West, further isolating Russia in public opinion

Claude Forthomme – Senior Editor

March 23, 2022

in Politics & Foreign Affairs, Society

The sanctions are doing their work, more are being prepared in Europe and the Biden administration is reportedly preparing sanctions targeting more than 300 members of the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament as soon as tomorrow. But the impact of sanctions is slow and carries a price: The blowback is inevitable, as Russia’s economy collapses and major trading partners, especially in Europe, are hurt. By contrast, the political work of Ukraine President Zelinsky is highly visible, hurts no one and probably contributes far more effectively than sanctions in isolating Russia in public opinion and turning it into a pariah state.

It is in fact extraordinary to see how the war in Ukraine is unfolding. On the ground, we are witnessing the tragedies of war that we hadn’t seen in Europe since Sarajevo and the Balkan War – in particular,  the atrocities against civilians. They are so extensive that one might well speak of genocide: For that is what is happening now in Mariupol, the southern port city bombed for weeks, unable to evacuate its inhabitants because of Russian shelling.

Today, as I write, 100,000 people are trapped there, in a city that is now 80% destroyed, and left without food, water, heating, as per Putin’s ruthless and brutal model of invasion that aims at the civilian population since his army is unable to win outright by military means. The Ukrainians are trying to negotiate safe passage to evacuate Mariupol’s people, but for now, with little success, only 7,000 were evacuated yesterday. That something like this could happen in the 21st century in Europe is both astonishing and unconscionable. It’s a throwback to the darkest moments of World War II.  

Yet, on another level, we are witnessing something that is entirely new in warfare. I cannot recall in recent History anything like what Zelinsky is doing, a leader engaged in an ongoing war, and talking to parliamentarians around the world.

Zelinsky’s tour of parliaments

Today, Zelinsky spoke to the Japanese Diet and the French parliament.

He used his address to Japan this morning to make two major points:

  • He slammed the United Nations, saying the UN had failed over the conflict in his country and reforms were needed, calling for Japan to put more pressure on Russia. He told the lawmakers via video: “Neither the United Nations nor the UN Security Council have functioned. Reforms are needed. We need a tool to preemptively ensure global security. Existing international organizations are not functioning for this purpose, so we need to develop a new, preemptive tool that can actually stop invasions.”
  • Recalling the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster that haunts the Japanese, he warned of the dangers his own country is facing from Russian attacks on nuclear plants and the site of the Chernobyl meltdown; Russia turned that into a war zone,” he said, warning that years would be needed to assess possible environmental effects of Russia’s occupation of Chernobyl; indeed, this is the first time that a country like Ukraine that depends on 15 nuclear reactors to produce its electricity has become a theater of war, raising concerns about world nuclear safety.

Curious about what he said to the French parliament and where all this is leading? Read the rest on Impakter, click here 

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My Latest About the War in Ukraine

I apologize to all my readers: For four months now I have stopped reposting my articles here and I’ve been swept up in work, following news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine – what future historians will no doubt call the Ukraine War.

To be honest, the war was no surprise, I saw it coming for several months now – as no doubt did the Pentagon and all the world’s military experts: the long build-up of Russian forces around Ukraine – fully 150,000 troops – could only mean Putin intended the invasion; in fact, he’s been very clear about it: He wants nothing else but the eradication of the state of Ukraine! Leaving forty-four million people with no choice but war.

I had written several articles about the coming war, you can find them here along with other articles I wrote over the last four months. My latest is an article on the impact of the war on Ukraine and Russian wheat exports, written in collaboration with Richard Seifman, an American diplomat and former World Bank senior health adviser; he wrote for us numerous articles about the Covid pandemic – we are both on the One Health Initiative Advisory Board.

And now I’m closely watching the news and updating the following article every day and whenever something important happens. Check it out regularly for the latest updates, here it is, for today March 8: 

**LIVE UPDATES** Ukraine-Russia War: The News as it Develops

Impakter kept a close watch on the war as it broke the first 2 days and continues here with a DAILY UPDATE

Impakter Editorial Boardby Impakter Editorial Board

March 8, 2022

in Politics & Foreign AffairsSociety

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BREAKING NEWS ALERT As Russia launched a blitzkrieg against Ukraine on Feb. 24 and the situation fast turned into a full-blown war – the “Ukraine War” as future historians will no doubt call it – Impakter highlighted the most important breaking news from major sources (Reuters, AP, and others) over the first 2 days and will continue to update every morning here.

UPDATED March 8, 2022 –   Bullet point summary of major developments in the war TODAY as of 9 am CET:

War becomes more violent, bomb damages are substantial, 400 civilian lives lost (UNHCR source). Russia started the war on Ukraine on 3 fronts, north (from Belarus), east and south (from Crimea) on Feb 24 READ MORE about how the war on Ukraine started with Putin’s declaration on Monday, Feb. 21…

Today:

  • Russian offensive “slows” say Ukraine authoritiesKyiv still expecting imminent attack and Mariupol continues under siege and resisting; conditions in Mariupol increasingly dire, with no food, water, heating or electricity. Attempts to evacuate people have failed for the 4th day in a row as Russians did not respect their own cease-fire; attack on Odessa awaited;
  • Russia’s promises of humanitarian corridors met with skepticism; recent Russian offer of corridors rejected by Ukraine as they led directly to Russia and Belarus;
  • IAEA reports second nuclear plant damaged by Russian invasion (near Kharkiv)
  • Refugees: Over 2 million Ukrainians have fled, including 1  million children, 4 million total expected by tomorrow; over one million in Poland (Un sources) READ MORE about refugees and the response of the EU and UK…Scandal developing around UK frosty reception to Ukrainian refugees, in stark contrast with rest of Europe: 250 thrown back yesterday; of over 5,500 online visa applications, only 50 accepted UK Guardian
  • The third round of peace talks held yesterday led to no results
  • In other news: Russia warns it could turn off gas pipeline to Germany; oil prices rise as US considers Russian oil import ban but no decision taken yet as Germany continues to object to a ban; Canada imposes new sanctions and EU getting ready to do same

Go to Impakter for the rest of the article and the latest newsclick here.

Hope to see you often on Impakter – check it out every day for updates and new articles, click here.

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The Rich Don’t Pay Their Taxes Yet They are the Biggest Polluters

 Just published on Impakter:

Doctor Vijay Mallya’s personal aircraft. Kingfisher Airlines  Source: Michael Davis  CC BY-SA 2.0 

The Rich Don’t Pay Their Taxes Yet They Pollute The Most

by Claude Forthomme – Senior Editor

“The secret IRS files” is a trove of never-seen-before tax records showing how the 0.01%, billionaires like Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, and Mark Zuckerberg, actually get away with paying nearly no taxes. Just obtained from the US tax authorities by ProPublica, a non-profit newsroom that investigates the abuses of power, it is the first result of an ongoing investigation with assuredly more revelations to come. For the first time, we have indisputable evidence that the ultra-rich do not pay taxes that could be remotely considered as commensurate with their wealth or fair to the rest of the taxpayers. 

This is all the more shocking if you confront the ProPublica finding with a report from Oxfam, published in September last year, that showed how the lifestyle of the rich destroys the environment: The One Percent – just 63 million people out of the planet’s total 7.9 billion – are responsible for 15% of the carbon emissions.

Let’s take a closer look at the findings. In so doing, I think we’ll end up agreeing with what historian Rutger Bregman, the author of Utopia for Realists, told a room full of billionaires at the Davos World Economic Forum 2019, that they need to “step up and pay their fair share of taxes”:

See the video on Impakter, click here to read the article.

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A Serious Idea the G20 Should Consider: A Sustainable World Commission to Achieve the 17 SDGs

It took me weeks to develop the idea and many, many discussions with friends willing to listen to me and read all my various drafts. Here is the result, just published on Impakter:

A (Non) Modest Proposal for the G20: A Sustainable World Commission to Achieve the SDGs 

by Claude Forthomme – Senior Editor

The next G20 Summit Meeting of heads of state will be held in Rome on Oct. 30 and 31, 2021, under the Italian G20 Presidency. The agenda, with the title “People, Planet, Prosperity”, addresses major obstacles to achieving a sustainable world; a series of lower-level “working” meetings prepares the Summit, including, most recently: G20 Empower to identify measures to accelerate women’s empowerment; the Youth 20 Inception Meeting to open a two-month (virtual) dialogue for young delegates (between 20 and 30 years of age) to discuss global challenges; the G20 TechSprint Initiative under the sponsorship of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) Innovation Hub and the Bank of Italy focusing on the most pressing challenges in green and sustainable finance.

With “People, Planet, and Prosperity” focused on achieving a sustainable world, the G-20 agenda is fully in line with the United Nations 2030 Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that covers the whole gamut of sustainability issues from environment/climate change to social justice issues and economic development. The hope is that this G20 meeting will be powerful enough to move us toward a more sustainable world as defined by the SDGs – something we all seek, including advanced industrialized countries, according to the latest OECD paper calling for a “Green Transition”.

But how to get there? The time has come to decide not what should be done – the UN 2030 Agenda tells us that – but how to do it.

No doubt, there are many possible solutions, but here, I offer a (non) modest proposal. Not modest because it is very ambitious. But it has the advantage of being practical. And it is addressed to the G20 and everyone involved in the run-up to the upcoming Summit. 

Why the G20? Because today this is the one international organism most representative of the world’s geopolitical composition, as it includes both the most important leaders and the largest economies. 

The idea is simple and could be summarized in five points:

  • The goal of a sustainable world has been clearly spelled out in the UN 2030 Agenda and the 17 SDGs but the implementation – how to get there – has been left in the hands of national governments: 
  • No international organization as presently organized is equipped to carry through the necessary coordination to achieve the 17 SDGs; the UN cannot deliver, it has no coercive authority over its member states and in the hands of geopolitical powers;
  • A new governance system needs to be set up to achieve the 17 SDGs, an international institution able to coordinate national governments in a way that the United Nations system cannot: Strong, independent, and innovative, it could be modeled after a successful government agency such as NASA was after it was tasked by President Kennedy to take a man to the moon ;
  • Call it the Commission for a Sustainable World (CSW); while it could follow the NASA model, it would be mandated to achieve a far bigger task – namely, to make the world sustainable for eight billion people – and therefore require adequate funding and regulatory powers;  
  • The CSW must be independent like the European Commission is in its relations with EU member states; it would report on progress to the UN General Assembly and the G20, subject to review, say every 3-5 years, and limited in duration by a “sunset clause” to ensure that once the SDGs are achieved, the CSW would be terminated.

The key idea here is that the CSW is a hybrid institution, modeled after the European Commission but anchored in the UN systemyet much stronger than the UN. 

But it should not become a permanent new international organization or replace the UN.

Also, the CSW would pose no threat to national sovereignty as it would only operate in the areas agreed to by the UN General Assembly: UN 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. That means only two broad areas: The environment (which includes Climate Change) and social justice. And the CSW would regularly report to the UN and the G20 (should the G20 take it upon itself to promote and fund it) and be subject to review to ensure that management flexibility does not cause it to sink into corruption and that it remains within its mandate.

A note of caution: Some flexibility will be needed as the SDGs’ general timeframe is 2030 except for SDG13 (Climate Action) that includes the Paris Climate Agreement’s target to achieve zero-net emissions set at 2050. Also, problems evolve and unexpected events occur – for example, the COVID pandemic was barely mentioned under SDG#3. It would seem wise therefore to have the Commission established for at least 10-15 years. By going for even 10 years you have it running beyond the 2030 Agenda’s current life.

The goal is to give the new governance system a chance to show its worth and, if need be, adapt it to new circumstances. Here is what it would take to create such an institution. And it starts with our changing view of the role of government.

Sounds like a good idea? Interested in finding out more about the Sustainable World Commission? Click here to read the rest.

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The U.S. and Europe Announced New Climate Goals: Will They Be Enough?

We keep hearing about wonderful new goals for fighting climate change, but will they be enough to save us from the worst effects of global warming? The numbers, by themselves, mean little. What matters is what is behind them: Investment in “green” innovative projects and a government’s environmental regulatory framework. I explored the issue in the following article for Impakter, here is the opening:

Can the New US and EU Climate Goals Save the World?

by Claude Forthomme – Senior Editor

Last week in April was marked by the announcement of new, more ambitious climate goals from two of the world’s largest polluters, the United States and Europe. Could they be a turning point in the fight against climate change? The question really is: Are the new climate goals going to be game-changers? Or are they just so much powder in the eyes of the beholders?

On 21 April, the European Parliament and Council reached an informal agreement to raise the EU’s 2030 emissions reduction target to at least 55% below 1990 levels, compared with the previous 40% goal. And on 22-23 April, the U.S. announced its own ambitious goal of cutting its 2030 emissions by half. This announcement, given at the Leaders Summit on Climate convened by President Biden, was viewed by everyone as a major attempt by the U.S. to reclaim climate leadership.

Read the article on Impakter, click here: https://impakter.com/new-us-eu-climate-goals-save-world/

Let me know what you think.

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Seaspiracy: A Must-Watch Documentary but Don’t Believe the Message!

Recently, some of my friends called me in anger after watching Seaspiracy, one of those highly controversial documentaries streaming on Netflix. They said the documentary was spreading nonsense and hurting the work of dedicated environmental activists and that I should watch it. So I did. And yes, I found my friends were right to be angry. So I published an article about it on Impakter, here is the opening of my article:

Seaspiracy: Shocking Revelations but Wrong Data and Wrong Message

by Claude Forthomme – Senior Editor

After the award-winning 2014 Cowspiracy documentary funded by Leonardo di Caprio and the 2017 What The Health film, now we have from the same people Seaspiracy – out on Netflix since 24 March 2021. Cowspiracy argued that animal farming is the primary source of environmental destruction, What The Health advocated for a plant-based diet. Seaspiracy,  directed by Ali Tabrizi, a British filmmaker using the same narrative framework as Cowspiracy, aims a powerful “J’accuse!” to the sustainable seafood movement and suggests that the Dolphin Safe and Marine Stewardship Council labels probably do not give the assurances consumers expect. 

George Monbiot, the noted environmentalist and Guardian columnist who was given a prominent role in the documentary as a commentator, described it on Twitter as “a brilliant exposé of the greatest threat to marine life: fishing”.

Read the rest on Impakter, click on the title or click here.

You may not agree with my conclusions – but surely it seems rather absurd to call on people to stop eating fish as a way to address the deep and complex problems of our oceans – not to mention the fact that a lot of artisanal fisheries and coastal populations live off fishing (and their type of fishing does not destroy the oceans). 

In short, to solve the problem, much more needs to be done, stopping our fish consumption is just plain silly. Do read my article and see if you agree!

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They are ALL lying to you: The world’s top brands are NOT going green

 This is one major article, published on Impakter, that I don’t want you, my dear readers, to miss:

For the World’s Top 100 Brands, Sustainability Is Elusive Despite Claims

by Claude Forthomme – Senior Editor

For the 2020 Top 100 Global Brands, a list derived from Forbes World’s Most Valuable Brands, the goal of sustainability continues to be out of reach, despite their many claims to the contrary. This is what the findings of a three-month analysis carried out by the Impakter Index team has just revealed (results published on 18 December 2020). 

The conclusion is clear: Most companies have a long way to go before they achieve full sustainability in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and targets pertaining to their area of activity – if ever. 

A high level of “greenwashing” is still prevalent among major household names. Some of them haven’t even started on the road to sustainability, others can never make it because of the very nature of their activities (based on/using fossil fuels or dangerous chemicals). Most are doing an average job though they claim otherwise, and none is one-hundred-percent sustainable. Not one. 

I know that many of my readers who’ve read my article when the Index was launched this summer (31 July), or saw Common Place editor, Quincy Childs’ endorsement, will want to go directly to the Impakter Index and check out their favorite brand (go to the Impakter home page or click here to see). You may well be surprised (or perhaps not) to find that in most cases, there is a stunning gap between what companies claim and what they actually deliver in terms of sustainability and social responsibility. 

Look at the findings, the table provides a summary view of the ratings obtained by the top 100 brands:

To find out how they are rated by the Impakter Index, go to my article, click here.

I promise you, you’ll be surprised (I know I was)!

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The World After COVID: Back to Capitalism as We Know it or Something New?

 Last week I reviewed two amazing books that propose a new world after COVID, doing away with capitalism as we know it but using radically different means to achieve this goal. Both my reviews were published on Impakter. Here’s the opening of my article:

Post-COVID: Blueprints to End Capitalism As We Know It

Capitalism as we know it is morphing into an “awful kind of techno feudalism” that only deserves to die, says Yanis Varoufakis. A radical statement but coming from the former finance minister of Greece who famously battled the European Troika for the Greek cause at the height of the debt crisis in 2015, it is no surprise.

Can activists in their battle against shareholder capitalism use financial engineering to bring Wall Street to its knees? That is the scenario Varoufakis proposes in his latest book Another Now: Dispatches from an Alternative Present (published in September 2020 by Vintage), arguing that finance is the Achilles heel of capitalism.  And here’s the other must-read book I reviewed:

How To Reform Capitalism – Mariana Mazzucato’s Moonshots

The Trojan horse comes from another economist, an Italo-American, a woman, Mariana Mazzucato who has already shaken up the academic world of economics with her bestselling The Entrepreneurial State, published in 2015 with the subtitle: “Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths”. 

Her solution for post-Covid reconstruction? Work from inside the system

Give back to the state the role it played back in the 1960s when America, engaged in a space race with the Soviet Union, unleashed the power of the Federal Government.

She lays it out in her new book, just out, January 28, 2021: Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism (published by Penguin).

Mazzucato is Professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London (UCL) where she is also Founder and Director of the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose. And her ideas have already been adopted both by the European Commission and the Scottish government. 

Both are highly recommended reads! Curious? Take a look at my article, click here.

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Filed under Book review, climate change, Digital Revolution, Economics, Environment, non-fiction, politics, Sociology