Is the left the real story in the French election?

In the lead-up to this weekend's French presidential election, there's been quite a bit of attention paid in the U.S. media (including some fine pieces on this site) to the impact of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen on the race. While Le Pen has no chance of winning, and little chance of even making it to the second round, her substantial support has pushed Nicolas Sarkozy to the right on questions of immigration and Islam.

But I wonder if, when the dust settles, the real story of this election might be the resurgence of the French "left of the left," in the person Left Party candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The 60-year-old ex-Trotskyite who left the labor party in 2008 when he felt it had moved to far to the center, favors confiscating income above 360,000 euros per year and outlawing layoffs by profitable companies. His message seems to have struck a chord in post-crash France. He is currently polling at around 15 percent, putting him in competition with Le Pen for third place. His appeal seems to extend not just to communists -- still a considerable demographic in the French electorate -- but to disenfranchised Socialist voters as well.

Aside from ideology, Mélenchon's blunt style -- "dickhead" and "bird brain" are among the insults he's publicly hurled at journalists who've gotten on his bad side -- couldn't be more of a contrast with the milquetoast Socialist frontrunner Francois Hollande.  Not surprisingly, a plurality of voters -- 21 percent -- say the former student radical who grew up in Algeria is the "most rock'n'roll" candidate. Sarkozy got 5 percent and only 1 percent picked Hollande. (Efforts to make Hollande's image a little hipper have been painfully awkward.)

A strong showing by Melenchon in the first round could push Hollande to continue his slow drift to the left, which has included a recent call for a tax rate of 75 percent for all income over 1 million euros. After two decades in which it seemed like a bit of a joke that center-left European parties were still calling themselves "socialists," the old-style left may be showing signs of life.



Susan G. Komen foundation teams up with Uzbek dictator's daughter

Given that it's still reeling from the controversial, and eventually reversed, decision to suspend funding to Planned Parenthood -- fundraising is reportedly down 30 percent for some of its events --  you'd think breast cancer advocacy group Susan G. Komen for the Cure would want to steer clear of potential political controversy. 

Evidently not. As Nathan Hamm notes at Registan, Komen is partnering with Fund Forum, a charity run by Gulnara Karimova, the socialite, part-time pop star daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, to sponsor a series of charity runs in Uzbekistan. In addition to her dad's atrocious and well-publicized human rights record, Gulnara herself has been implicated in a range of illegal business practices, including essentially taking over rival companies at gunpoint. Then there are disturbing reports of widespread forced sterilizations of women in Uzbek hospitals and evidence that's it's being encouraged by the authorities.  

You might expect this sort of thing from the fashion industry, or say, Sting, but Komen should probably know better at this point. 

Update: Apparently Gulnara's other big charity campaign these days is a program dubbed “1,000 weddings, 1,000 circumcisions.” So there's that. 

Update 2: A Susan G. Komen representative has contacted us to clarify that the organization is partnering not with Fund Forum, but with the National Breast Cancer Association of Uzbekistan. The two organizations seem to share both web space and an address in Tashkent.  

Fund Forum itself seems under the impression that it is sponsoring the event. It has declared itself a fundraising partner for the race and is featured its own name as a sponsor on posters along with Komen. A previous edition of the marathon was described as "a brainchild of Gulnara Karimova."

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