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Pop Star Vies to Upend Bulgarian Politics in Do-Over Election – BNN

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(Bloomberg) — A late-night talk-show host and performer of the Balkan analog of gangster rap is itching to end the run of one of Europe’s longest-serving leaders in a Bulgarian election do-over.

Stanislav Trifonov, a pop-folk singer known as “Slavi,” has been railing against inequality and corruption even before Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007. He’s tapping into discontent among voters fed up with the bloc’s lowest living standards and endless scandals among the elite.

Pledging to wipe out a “mafia model” he says gives oligarchs with ties to organized crime sway over politics, his anti-establishment There Is Such a People party won more support than expected in an initial ballot in April.

That blocked the Gerb party of then-Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, who first took power in 2009, from a fourth term. But it resulted in a hung parliament, triggering a re-run that takes place Sunday with the two front-runners neck and neck.

“What Gerb has done is unimaginable, unacceptable,” Trifonov, who’s been compared to other entertainers-turned-politicians, such as former comedians Beppe Grillo, the leader of Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said in May. “It should be scratched out.”

Transparency International has ranked the country last in the EU for most of the past decade in its Corruption Perception Index. Bulgaria, the bloc’s poorest member with living standards of about half of the EU average, has also drawn criticism for failing to uphold the rule of law and has been kept out of the passport-free travel Schengen zone.

Trifonov, 54, and Borissov, 62, both grew up poor, rising to prominence during a transition from communism that brought hyperinflation, bank runs, poverty, bloody gang wars and nationwide protests.

Read More:

  • Corruption and Protests Can’t Shake Tough Man’s Grip on Bulgaria
  • Europe’s Graft Trouble Spot Sinks Into Crisis at Worst Time
  • Fugitive Tycoon Seeks Road to Power in Most Corrupt EU State
  • Bulgaria Blocks Balkan Neighbor’s Path to Joining EU

They both started outside politics: Borissov as a bodyguard for Bulgaria’s last communist dictator and Trifonov as a crooner who filled stadiums from London to Los Angeles. With shaved heads and black leather jackets, both embraced the tough-guy image.

Borissov bolstered that perception as a hard-talking policeman and mayor of the capital, Sofia. Trifonov, meanwhile, helped popularize the “chalga” music style that melds Balkan folk with pop, It became popular in the 1990s for lyrics depicting life on the streets but was also derided for glorifying crime, chauvinism and flashy wealth.

As Borissov’s political rise continued, Trifonov went on to host Bulgaria’s most-popular late-night talk show, where guests included Mikhail Gorbachev. He now runs his own channel, whose programs have flirted with anti-immigrant positions, anti-vaccination theories and conspiracies.

In his hit “There Is No Such State,” whose title inspired his party’s name, Trifonov sings: “Aren’t you tired of living so poorly? How long will we stay quiet?”

Borissov, dogged by scandals and criticized for failing to improve Bulgaria’s record on corruption, was replaced in April after other parties refused to join a new coalition government. The interim administration that took charge has struggled to roll out immunizations — just 12% of the population is fully vaccinated,  the least in the EU — and demand for shots has evaporated. Gerb has since lost support.

Both Borissov and Trifonov say they favor deepening ties with the EU, though each has signaled resistance to the bloc’s efforts to open membership talks with neighboring North Macedonia, citing long-standing historical disputes.

Borissov wants Bulgaria to adopt the euro by 2024. Trifonov wants the currency too, but his adviser Toshko Yordanov, deputy chairman of There Is Such a People, warns against any “premature” move. “The euro zone is great for rich countries,” he said. “Bulgaria isn’t a rich country.”

Borissov hasn’t specified whether he’ll demand the prime minister’s job if his party triumphs or who he’d favor as coalition partners. Trifonov, who isn’t running for parliament himself, has said it’s not his goal to become premier. He’s potentially better placed to form a ruling coalition. His most-likely allies include two anti-corruption parties, though the three together may struggle to clinch a majority in parliament.

All mainstream parties refuse to work with Gerb, creating an enormous hurdle for Borissov to clinch a new term. But Gerb Deputy Chairman Tomislav Donchev isn’t ruling anything out.

“That’s the natural political model — the leader of the political party that won the election is nominated for prime minister,” Donchev said in June. But “it all depends on a number of factors.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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Is Kamala Harris Really Bad at Politics? – Bloomberg

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Who was the runner-up for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020?

The reason the topic comes up is that opponents of Vice President Kamala Harris seem to have settled on an attack line against her: As a Washington Examiner columnist argued a few weeks ago, she’s “bad at politics.” It’s something that I see pretty often in reader emails and on Twitter, mostly from Republicans but in some cases from liberal Democrats. There’s no surprise here; the vice presidency makes everyone look bad, and the idea that the first Black and Asian-American woman to hold this office is not up to the job is consistent with certain stereotypes. 

It’s also preposterous. Yes, once nominated almost anyone can win a general election, and perhaps every once in a while a nomination is just luck — in fact, I’ve argued that Donald Trump’s first nomination was largely a fluke. But Harris managed to work her way up in local and state politics in California, without money or family connections on her side, winning multiple nominations. That’s the mark of a good politician. So, for that matter, is securing the vice-presidential nod. Using presidential nomination results as evidence of a politician’s weakness is like criticizing someone for failing to medal in the Olympics; just getting into the competition is usually evidence of considerable ability.

Granted, after entering the contest, Harris dropped out before the first vote in Iowa. But whether we should consider her effort a flop gets back to the question I started with: Who was the runner-up to Joe Biden? 

You can make the case for several candidates. Bernie Sanders is the most obvious one, given that he finished second in delegates, states won and overall votes. But there’s reason to think he wasn’t the candidate who came closest. The evidence suggests that a solid majority of Democratic party actors, and perhaps of voters overall, was prepared to support anyone but Sanders. If that’s the case, then he really had only a small chance of winning and I’m not sure it makes sense to call him the runner-up.

If not Sanders, who? Pete Buttigieg at least managed to win an important state — Iowa — and finished second in New Hampshire. But Buttigieg sparked even less enthusiasm among party actors than Sanders did. There’s even a case to be made for Amy Klobuchar or Elizabeth Warren. Both had some backing from party actors; both had occasional (albeit small) surges of support among voters. Suppose that their strong debates right before the New Hampshire primary (for Klobuchar) or Nevada (for Warren) had taken place in November or December, in time for them to really capitalize on it? It’s not hard to imagine Klobuchar or Warren, rather than Buttigieg, emerging from the pack in Iowa, and perhaps either senator would’ve been better positioned to take advantage of it.

The counterargument is that none of these candidates had any Black support, and without that they were doomed in South Carolina and in most of the rest of the primaries. We don’t get to rerun the contest to see whether Representative James Clyburn would’ve endorsed whoever looked most viable after the Nevada caucuses. But Harris, despite her early exit, may have been closer to the nomination than she’s usually given credit for. She did enjoy a brief polling surge after a strong early debate, which turned out to be mistimed. And she won some party-actor support. Perhaps there are fewer what-ifs involved in projecting her into the nomination than there are for some of the other also-rans.

You certainly don’t have to buy that argument — I’m not sure I do — to concede that the vice president has some valuable political skills. Mostly, however, I think the question about the runner-up is useful because answering it involves thinking carefully about what really goes into winning presidential nominations, and helps clarify what we really know and what we’re not sure about. 

1. Paul Musgrave on the Olympics and nationalism

2. Kim Yi Dionne and Laura Seay at the Monkey Cage on three new books on Kenya.

3. Good Dan Drezner on the historical and current importance of Fox News.

4. Kevin Drum also on Fox News.

5. Sahil Kapur and Benjy Sarlin with good speculation about Mitch McConnell’s thinking about infrastructure.

6. And Jamelle Bouie on voting-rights history.

Get Early Returns every morning in your inbox. Click here to subscribe. Also subscribe to Bloomberg All Access and get much, much more. You’ll receive our unmatched global news coverage and two in-depth daily newsletters, the Bloomberg Open and the Bloomberg Close.

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Infrastructure Bill Shows That US Politics Are Not (Yet) Broken – Bloomberg

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As President Joe Biden moves toward another legislative victory — namely, the $550 billion infrastructure bill — it’s worth asking what its success says about American politics. Mostly it’s good news, whether or not you agree with the policies of the Biden administration.

The most enduring truth is that the median voter theorem, as social scientists refer to it, continues to explain a lot of political outcomes. In an era supposedly marked by gridlock and polarization, a centrist infrastructure bill is on the verge of passage.

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Politics and drama as Biles, Belarus and New Zealand's Hubbard in focus – Reuters

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TOKYO, Aug 2 (Reuters) – Three women dominated the focus at the Olympics on Monday – U.S. gymnast Simone Biles, Belarus sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya and New Zealand’s Laurel Hubbard – as politics and personal issues played out at the Tokyo Games.

China’s team sprinters took the first gold on offer in the track cycling programme, powering to victory and helping solidify China’s leading medal haul. In gymnastics, American Jade Carey won the gold medal in the women’s floor event.

In athletics, Netherlands’ Sifan Hassan unleashed her sizzling pace in the final lap to leave a gaping distance to the chasing pack and claim the women’s 5,000 metres gold, kicking off her bid for an unprecedented Olympic treble.

Biles will compete in the balance beam competition, officials said on Monday, in what would be the superstar gymnast’s last chance for gold in Tokyo after pulling out of other events citing mental health issues.

Biles shocked the world last week when she withdrew from several events, putting a focus on athletes’ mental health and deepening the drama at a Games that have seen plenty of controversy.

Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya was granted a humanitarian visa by Poland after taking refuge in the Polish embassy in Tokyo. She had refused her team’s orders to board a flight home early from the Games on Sunday.

Tsimanouskaya plans to leave for Poland in the coming days, a Polish deputy foreign minister, Marcin Przydacz, told Reuters. She is “safe and in good condition” after walking into the embassy on Monday morning, he said.

New Zealand’s Laurel Hubbard made history on Monday by becoming the first openly transgender athlete to compete at an Olympic Games, but suffered disappointment with an early exit from the women’s +87 kg final after failing to make three lifts. read more

USA Gymnastics said Biles will take part in the balance beam final and they were “excited” about the prospect.

The 24-year-old Biles, who won four golds at the 2016 Rio Games, dropped out of the all-around, floor exercise, vault and asymmetric bars finals in Tokyo.

STRICT MEASURES

The Games are taking place without spectators and under strict measures to prevent the spread of the pandemic, an unprecedented event in the history of the modern Olympics.

The Tokyo Olympics have already been hit by public opposition, as polls have shown that most Japanese people oppose holding the Games amid the worsening pandemic.

China has pulled ahead on the medals tally with 29 golds, followed by the United States with 22 and Japan on 17.

Even as Biles stole the spotlight, China’s Liu Yang, South Korea’s Shin Jea-hwan and American Carey all claimed gold in gymnastics.

China’s cycling team sprinters, Bao Shanju and Zhong Tianshi, broke their world record in the first round and although they were fractionally slower in the final, it was enough to beat Germany and retain the title.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics – Gymnastics – Artistic – Women’s Floor Exercise – Final – Ariake Gymnastics Centre, Tokyo, Japan – August 2, 2021. Simone Biles of the United States looks on REUTERS/Mike Blake

Fans are allowed into the venue, which is outside Tokyo and the only indoor arena at the Olympics to permit spectators.

POWERED BY COFFEE

Dutchwoman Hassan began the day by falling on the last lap of her 1,500 metres heat, only to spring up and charge through the field to finish first.

Fuelled by caffeine, she returned to the track in the evening and was in total control of a slowly-run 5,000 metres, sitting in the pack before unleashing her trademark last-lap burst.

“Before the race here I didn’t even care. I was so tired. Without coffee I would never be Olympic champion,” she said.

In the 100 metres hurdles, Jasmine Camacho-Quinn won the first Olympic gold medal in athletics for Puerto Rico at the Games.

She exploded off the blocks to finish in 12.37 seconds despite hitting one hurdle, beating American world record holder Kendra Harrison who came in second with 12.52.

Miltiadis Tentoglou of Greece won the men’s long jump in spectacular fashion as he leapt 8.41 metres in his final attempt to snatch the gold medal from Cuba’s Juan Miguel Echevarria.

Tentoglou was the world leader coming into Tokyo with an 8.60 metres leap at a domestic competition in May but struggled to find his form and was outside the medals positions as he hit the runway for the final time.

The World Cup-winning United States suffered a surprise 1-0 defeat by Canada in the women’s soccer tournament semi-finals, with Jessie Fleming grabbing the winner with a 75th minute penalty.

PROTEST AND SPORT

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is meanwhile looking into the gesture U.S. shot putter Raven Saunders made after the silver medallist raised her arms in an X above her head on Sunday, IOC spokesperson Mark Adams told a briefing.

Saunders later said the gesture was intended as a sign of support for the downtrodden, while the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) said it did not breach IOC rules.

While the IOC forbids overt political expression or interference, last month it relaxed its Rule 50 that prevented athletes from protesting. Athletes are allowed to make gestures on the field, providing they do so without disruption and with respect for fellow competitors.

However, the threat of sanctions remains if any protests are made on the podium during the medal ceremony.

“Let them try and take this medal,” Saunders said in a late night post on social media in an apparent reference to the IOC’s rules restricting protests.

Reporting by Reuters Olympics Team; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Ken Ferris

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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