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Destructive far-right out to shatter German politics – The Japan Times

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The city of Erfurt, a quiet, chocolate-box town of around 200,000 inhabitants, is an unlikely epicenter for an earthquake that is shaking German politics to its post-war foundations.

Yet last week, the city was the scene of a political scandal that toppled Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chosen successor and laid bare how the destructive tactics of the far-right are paralyzing traditional parties.

The election of a new state premier in Thuringia with the help of votes from the extremist, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party broke a decades-old taboo on cooperation with the far right.

It also exposed the growing influence wielded by the AfD, which Merkel accused this week of wanting to “cripple democracy.”

Founded in 2013 as an anti-euro single currency outfit, the party has grown and moved rightward over the last seven years and is now the largest opposition group in Germany’s lower house, the Bundestag.

They have been particularly successful in the former East Germany, picking up over 20 percent of the vote in a number of state elections.

Such results have made it more and more difficult for other parties to form coalitions, leading to situations such as the one in Thuringia.

The election of Thomas Kemmerich of the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) party was the first time a state premier had relied on AfD votes to secure election.

Kemmerich, who was also supported by his own party and Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), stepped down almost immediately in the face of nationwide outrage.

But the AfD have remained on the offensive.

They have even threatened to vote back into office the remaining viable candidate, former Premier Bodo Ramelow of the Left party, in order to force him too to resign and leave Thuringia without a workable coalition.

For Merkel, such tactics represent a threat to democracy itself.

According to reports in the German media, Merkel told lawmakers from her CDU party this week that she had forewarned Thuringian colleagues against falling for the AfD’s “tricks.”

“It is clear that (the AfD) wants to cripple democracy, to undermine democracy,” she said, adding that a cooperation with the party remained out of the question.

Yet the increasing influence of the AfD poses a threat to the chancellor’s legacy.

Her authority undermined by the Thuringia scandal, Merkel’s chosen successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, stepped down as party leader earlier this week and ruled out a bid for the chancellorship.

The question of how to deal with the AfD is now dominating the search for a new leader. Some potential candidates, such as former Merkel rival Friedrich Merz and health minister Jens Spahn, advocate a drift to the right to win back lost voters.

“Two CDU leaders have now failed in a short space of time because of the AfD,” wrote Der Spiegel website.

The party, it added, had become a “driving force” in German politics, despite polling only around 15 percent nationally.

The party’s strategy, dubbed “constructive destruction” by far-right theorist Goetz Kubitschek, continues to squeeze traditional parties across the country.

“The AfD’s strategy … is to establish itself as a party which is oppositional and critical of the system, in order to become interesting and attractive for people who are critical of democracy or even anti-democratic,” said Gero Neugebauer, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University.

This was “counterproductive” for the AfD’s long-term goal of entering government, he said.

Yet the far right was disrupting German politics more broadly by “attacking the rules and norms which make up democratic political culture,” he added.

One of those norms is the long-standing culture of remembrance for Nazi crimes, which has come under fire from AfD politicians.

Though such attacks appall most voters, some fear that the AfD’s ability to paralyze the political system may soon be on show beyond the borders of sleepy Thuringia.

“I fear that in a few years, what is currently happening in Thuringia will be seen on a national level,” the CDU’s Wolfgang Bosbach told broadcaster NTV this week.

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Gender-based harassment for women in politics getting worse: Expert – CityNews Toronto

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Chris Evans hopes to shield democracy with politics website – EverythingGP

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“This was born out of the same reason I do what I do on Twitter. You want to try and help. You want to try and use the platform that you’ve been given the right way,” Evans said. “And this felt like it could cast the widest net because it actually removed my personal politics and just tried to offer information to people who may want to participate.”

The site is divided into three sections. One includes three Republicans and three Democrats answering questions about broad long-term issues like immigration, climate change, student debt and gerrymandering. The second allows politicians to upload solo messages about hot topics like Trump’s executive orders or TikTok ban. And a “counterpoints” section highlights moderated interparty debates: Should schools reopen during the pandemic? Should the government require mail-in voting?

The site is intended to educate, not advocate, Evans says. It’s built without incentives toward extremes. There are no view counters, like or dislike buttons, or comments sections. Some of the videos are fact-checked by an outside group.

“The reason for doing this site is to combat the proliferation of misinformation,” Evans said in an interview from his home in Boston. “A lot of the misinformation out there comes from individuals who have created these platforms and they pull snippets of information to places and create a narrative. And it’s a lot of conjecture. And you hope that the elected officials who are in office are the ones trying to cut through that.”

Evans, whose uncle served in Congress as a Democrat for a decade ending last year, says he and Kassen had to push hard to convince Republicans to participate. The 39-year-old actor had thrilled liberals early in Trump’s term, calling the president “Biff” and a “meatball.”

Kassen said Evans’ reputation left the pair with “a hill to climb” as the pair visited offices around the Capitol pitching their vision of an impartial online venue: “Our hard work and his charm allowed us to keep going. But for sure, there was a lot of bias against us because of that.”

Evans says he’s been pleased to see Republicans uploading more “daily points” videos to the site than Democrats in recent weeks.

As he prepares to potentially film a Netflix spy movie in January, the self-described “news junkie” says he’s tuned out the presidential campaign temporarily to focus on A Starting Point. His social media is mostly benign these days.

“It’s a measure of efficacy. How can you be of most good, of most service?” Evans said. “This site feels to me that it could have a broader impact than anything I could do on my individual Twitter.”

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Follow AP Entertainment Writer Ryan Pearson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ryanwrd

Ryan Pearson, The Associated Press

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Politics and xenophobia cloud the race for a vaccine in Brazil – CNN

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But in the age of Covid-19 and under the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro, nothing is that simple.
As three joint-ventures begin testing a new vaccine in Brazil — and others wait in the wings — the provenance of the research has become a hugely divisive issue, complicated by xenophobia and conspiracy theories shared by anti-vaxxers and prominent politicians, including Bolsonaro allies.
The two big research players are the Swiss pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, working on a vaccine developed by the UK’s Oxford University, and Chinese biotech company Sinovac, working in collaboration with Brazil’s Butantan Institute. Both have begun the final Phase 3 testing of the virus. A third venture involving US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech is also conducting research in Brazil.
Coronavirus vaccines: 'Encouraging' early data for some, a trial delay for another and more research aheadCoronavirus vaccines: 'Encouraging' early data for some, a trial delay for another and more research ahead
Two other potential research efforts — one involving another Chinese firm Sinopharm and the other led by Russia’s Sputnik V — are being negotiated by the state government of Paraná.
All see Brazil as an ideal country for research because of its surging rate of Covid-19 transmission — as of Thursday there were more than 3 million cases and over 104,000 deaths — as well as its internationally respected research centers and a public health system experienced in creating and distributing vaccines.
Officially, Brazil claims to be neutral in the race to develop the coronavirus vaccine.
Secretary of Science, Technology, Innovating and Strategy Health Supplies Helio Agnotti said as much on Tuesday, declaring Brazil will welcome whatever vaccine is approved for use first. “The adoption preference will be to arrive with proven effectiveness first. There is no problem in having an agreement with a certain partner, so that we close with another,” Agnotti said.
But his boss Bolsonaro has expressed his clear preference, promising citizens in a recent Facebook Live broadcast that the pandemic “would be overcome” once the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is available.
Last week, he signed a law to allocate $355 million for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine — about $262 million for the purchase the technology and vaccine ingredients for 100 million doses, and $93 million for Fiocruz, the Brazilian partner, to adapt its manufacturing plant for the mass production of the vaccine.
At the signing event, interim health minister General Eduardo Pazuello said the government wouldn’t rule out agreements for other vaccines and that the Ministry continues to “seek all the technologies in the world” to combat the coronavirus.
Bolsonaro nevertheless took a swipe at the Sinovac trial, launched by São Paulo state governor João Dória, who has been a thorn in his side throughout the pandemic with outspoken criticism of the federal government’s handling of the crisis.
“What is more important about (the Oxford) vaccine that is different from the other one, which a governor decided to settle with another country, (is that) we can keep the technology,” falsely claimed Bolsonaro, referring to a part of the deal with AstraZeneca and Oxford that would transfer new technology to its research foundation Fiocruz.
However, the same is being done at the Butantan Institute in São Paulo, under the deal Dória signed with Sinovac.
“Our race is for life. It is a privilege for Brazil to have two vaccines for the immunization of Brazilians,” Doria told CNN Brasil on Tuesday.
Brazil's coronavirus chaos provides a global laboratory for the vaccine raceBrazil's coronavirus chaos provides a global laboratory for the vaccine race
The spat between Doria and Bolsonaro — who have both been diagnosed with the coronavirus — is playing out in a country that already has its fair share of skeptics, and where false and unproven news about the coronavirus vaccine, including claims that the Sinovac one will contain “5G microchips” to track patients’ bodies, have proliferated. The Butantan Institute dismissed the claims as “totally unreasonable,” noting that there is no “digital control” component to its vaccine.
When Agnotti’s remarks Tuesday were broadcast on Facebook Live, comments on the page reflected the xenophobia. They included “China vaccine no” and “I am not taking vaccines from Russia and China.” The hashtags used included #vacinacomunista and #doriacomunista, which translate as communist vaccine and communist Doria, a reference to the São Paulo governor.
CNN has asked his ministry for details on what the government will do to combat the misinformation and fake news about the vaccines, but has yet to receive a response.
Those spreading the fake information include elected officials, such as Santa Catarina congressman Jesse Lopes. In a lengthy Facebook post, the Bolsonaro supporter claimed the Sinovac vaccine was the work of the “Chinese Genocidal Party” using “aborted baby cells,” an allegation rejected by the Butantan Institute.
Another Bolsonaro supporter, federal deputy Bia Kicis, asked her 680,000 followers via an unscientific Twitter poll if they would volunteer for the ‘Chinese vaccine’ and more than 90% of the 48,000 respondents said no.
These aren’t the first accusations against Bolsonaro supporters over spreading false information. On July 8, Facebook removed dozens of what it said are fake social media accounts linked to the offices of Bolsonaro and his sons. The accounts were used to target journalists and political opponents of the president, and also discussed the coronavirus, the Facebook statement said.
Marcio Moretto, professor at Sao Paulo University who has been analyzing fake news, told CNN that the skepticism about vaccines isn’t new in Brazil. A survey by the Brazilian Association of Immunization in 2019 reported that 59% of the population believe vaccines are totally unsafe.
“People are first suspicious of all vaccines and now the question of the Chinese vaccine was added,” he said. “It was combined with the narrative that China has manufactured this virus and would be the main beneficiary of the pandemic.”
Moretto said the President and his sons are central to that misleading narrative. “They foster and reinforce prejudices and xenophobia against Chinese people,” he said, noting that Bolsonaro insists on using the term “Chinese virus.”
He added: “So you have Oxford versus Chinese vaccines, or moreover, against communism.”

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