The Campaign for the Second Round of the French Presidential Election has Begun: What You Need to Know

 

 

April 27, 2017                          .

Rohin Ghosh

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Emmanuel Macron (left) and Marine Le Pen (right), the two candidates in the second round of the French presidential election.  Photo credit-Wikimedia Commons

On Sunday, April 23, France held the first round of its Presidential election.  The French election system includes a first round where many candidates from several parties compete for the top two spots.  In the second round, which will be held on May 7th, the two candidates which got the most votes in the first round go head to head and whichever candidate receives more votes becomes President of France.

The 2017 French election has seen both mainstream parties which have governed France since World War II pushed to the sidelines.  Neither of the candidates who have made it to the second round are members of the Socialist party or the Republican party, the two parties which have led France since the 1950s.

The Candidates who Made it to the Second Round:

Marine Le Pen, National Front (Far-Right Populist)

Marine Le Pen is the candidate from the National Front, a party which in the past has been unpopular due to its sometimes racist and anti-semitic rhetoric.  Marine Le Pen has tried to soften the party’s image by firing her father, Jean Marine Le Pen who often used anti-semitic language.  Nevertheless, the National Front’s message is still fairly extreme.  Le Pen calls for a complete shutdown on almost all immigration and has also expressed support for harshly anti-muslim policies.  She has at times used anti-immigrant and anti-muslim rhetoric which has worried many people in France and around the world.  Le Pen has also called for France’s withdrawal from the European Union and NATO.  If France does end up leaving the EU, the European Union will probably disintegrate considering France’s important role in the union.

 

Emmanuel Macron, En-Marche (Centrist)

Emmanuel Macron has gained traction recently and won the most votes in the election on Sunday.  Macron has fairly moderate policies and is, in general, pro-immigration and pro-European Union.  However, on several issues, Macron has also expressed progressive, ambitious policies such as his plan to wean France off of fossil fuels and promote environmental conservation among other positions.  These policies as well has his charismatic oratory often attract young voters.  Macron also favors a reform of France’s government provided healthcare system which will cut costs while also keeping coverage for all citizens.  He plans to do this by focussing more on preventative care.  Macron also supports giving public schools and universities more autonomy.   Emmanuel Macron is young (39) and considered a powerful orator by many.  He also speaks fluent english.  Interestingly though, Macron married his former high school teacher who is 24 years older than him.  At only 39, he already has 7 step grandchildren.

The Odds

Emmanuel Macron has been considered the frontrunner in the election so far (he got the most votes in the first round).   Macron currently leads Le Pen in the latest opinion polling, however recently polls have been narrowing.  Macron still leads Le Pen by about 20%.  If Emmanuel Macron is able to hold his lead with young voters and win the election, it will be a blow to right-wing populists in other European elections including the elections in Germany and Italy.  If Marine Le Pen wins, that will likely spell the demise of the European Union and French multiculturalism and be a strong boost for other right-wing populists around the world, especially in Germany and Italy.

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Most recent French 2nd round polls.

Photo credit: Telegraph.co.uk

Over the past few years, there have been two major political phenomena, a center-left populist movement which emphasizes progress and forward movement, and a right-wing, nativist, anti-immigration, “tough”  movement that strives for returning a country to a better time.  The left-wing, “forward” movement is seen in the US in Obama’s presidency and in Canada with the victory of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.  In France, Emmanuel Macron’s candidacy is a manifestation of this center-left, progress minded ideology.  This is easy to spot through the name of his independent party, “En Marche” which translates to “Forward”.  On the other hand, Marine Le Pen embodies an entirely different political ideology.  Her ideology reflects a recent trend toward far-right, nativist politics which support the idea of returning France to better time with less immigrants.  This trend can also be seen in Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in the US.   Ultimately, the French election will decide which of these ideologies will prevail and spread.

 

 

 

 

 

Everything you Need to Know About Turkey’s Constituional Referendum

April 16, 2017                                                 1492342327378

Rohin Ghosh                                                  A woman casts her vote in the constitutional                                                                                referendum at a poll booth in the city of                                                                                        Istanbul. (photo credit-Fox news).

This Sunday, Turkey is holding a referendum on whether or not to approve a plan for the nation’s new constitution.  The new constitution would likely give more power to the current Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  Since a failed attempt at overthrowing Erdogan in July of 2016,  the president has taken several steps to consolidate power and suppress opposition.  President Erdogan has also expressed that he favors a less secular, more Islamic Turkey.  However, especially since the failed coup last summer, Erdogan has cracked down hard on dissent and opposition to his policies and ideas.  Under the leadership of President Erdogan, Turkey has arrested hundreds of journalists who criticized the government.  Under Erdogan, Turkey has also renewed its war on the PKK, a group which fights for independence for ethnic Kurds in southeastern Turkey, but has engaged in terrorist attacks in Turkey.  In fighting against the PKK, the Turkish government has arrested leaders of pro-Kurdish political parties and cracked down on Kurdish dissent.

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President Erdogan. (Wikimedia Commons)

The new Constitution

One of the promises made by Recep Tayyip Erdogan while he was running for president was that he would draft a new constitution.  The new constitution drafted by Erdogan will make several major changes to the government.  The constitution would give the position of president significantly more power.  The new constitution would, if passed, dissolve the position of Prime Minister and allow the president to unilaterally declare a state of emergency and dissolve parliament as well as appoint ministers, judges, and prosecutors without parliament’s consent.  Under the new constitution, Erdogan would also be able to stay in power until 2029 (He has been Turkey’s head of state since 2003).   Opponents of Turkey’s new constitution are afraid that these reforms will only give the current president more power and allow Turkey to become an authoritarian nation.   Supporters assert that the new constitution will streamline government processes and modernize the country.

The Referendum Results

Screenshot 2017-04-16 at 12.38.50 PM (photo credit-CNN Turkey)

The majority Kurdish southeast of Turkey, as well as all of Turkey’s large cities, voted against the new constitution.  However, most of rural Turkey voted yes.  The final results show an extremely narrow victory for supporters of the new constitution and Erdogan.  Opponents of the new constitution are calling for a recount of votes because they suspect some illegal activity with regards to the counting of votes.

The Effects of the Republican Healthcare Plan

By Rohin G.

March 23, 2017

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Photo Credit: RNC

A little more than a week ago, the Congressional Budget Office or CBO released their assessment of the impacts of House Republicans’ plan to replace the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare.  The CBO has now released a revised report that includes the amendments to the GOP bill which were put in place in order to win over more conservative Republicans.

The new CBO report states that the Republican bill, the American Health Care Act or AHCA, will result in a reduction of about $150 billion in the federal deficit by 2026.  The Republican plan will also result in a 10% reduction in average health insurance premiums for young, healthy Americans by 2026, however, premiums will initially increase.  The Republican bill will also result in tax reductions for most Americans, most drastically for the wealthy.

Although many will pay less for insurance or in taxes, the AHCA will result in massive losses for poorer, older, and sicker Americans, many of whom voted for President Trump.  The bill will result in about 14 million people no longer being covered by Medicaid, a government health insurance program aimed at assisting low-income Americans.  The Republican plan would also result in seniors being charged 5 times more for heath insurance than younger patients.  In addition, employers would no longer be required to provide health insurance to their employees.  A new amendment to the GOP bill also removes the provision which requires every health insurance plan to cover basic essentials including preventative care.  The gutting of preventative care measures, as well as defunding Planned Parenthood, would result in far fewer people having access to care that reduces the number of expensive emergency medical procedures.   In all, about 24 million people are predicted to no longer have health insurance under the Republican plan either because they leave the market on their own accord or they can no longer afford health insurance.  Many of these people would be the very people who helped elect President Trump, poorer, older American in the Midwest and  Appalachia.

What does the new Republican Healthcare Plan do Compared with the Affordable Care Act?

Rohin G.

March 14th, 2017

Paul_Ryan_official_Speaker_portrait      Republican Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan is widely credited with writing the American Health Care Act, the Republican Party’s replacement for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

This week, house Republicans rolled out their plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.  The ACA, also known as Obamacare, has been considered a major piece of President Obama’s legacy.  Obamacare has also been one of the largest targets for Republicans who have been seeking the law’s repeal since it was passed.

So, what does the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) do?

  • Expands Medicaid (government sponsored healthcare for low-income people) to cover those with an income below 133% of the federal poverty line.  Under the ACA, the federal government paid a percentage of each state’s  Medicaid expenses.
  • Provides tax credits based on income for middle-income Americans in order to help them pay for insurance.
  • Requires that large companies provide their employees with health insurance.
  • The individual mandate, Requires individuals to purchase insurance if they can afford it or pay a fine.  This was put in place to drive down healthcare costs for older and sick people.
  • Prohibits insurance companies from charging older patients more than three times more than younger patients for health insurance.
  • Prohibits insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions.
  • Allows young patients to stay on their parents’ healthcare plan until age 26.
  • Requires insurance providers to cover basic preventative care.  This reduces long-term costs of treating emergency medical problems.
  • Prohibits lifetime limits on health insurance coverage.
  • Sets up the Prevention and Public Health Fund to increase preventative healthcare measures. This reduces the number of medical emergencies or serious illnesses which are expensive to treat.

So, what does the new Republican plan, the American Healthcare Act keep from Obamacare?

  • The protections for people with pre-existing conditions would remain in place if the bill passes.
  • Lifetime limits on health insurance coverage would still be illegal under the new bill.
  • Young people will still be able to on their parents’ healthcare plan until age 26.
  • Insurance will still have to cover preventative care.

What does the GOP plan get rid of or change from the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)?

  • Medicaid expansion:  The Republican plan will keep the Medicaid expansion to cover low and lower-middle income Americans until 2020.  After that, federal Medicaid will only apply to people below the poverty line and federal funding will be given to states through a block grant.  This means that each state will get the same amount in federal funding.   The GOP plan also includes a provision that would place a limit on the amount of money that the federal government can pay per-person through Medicaid.
  • Tax credits:  The ACHA, the Republican health care plan, changes the tax credits in Obamacare so that the credits are based on age, not income.  The tax credits would still apply to people who earn under $75,000.
  • Mandates:  Employers would no longer be required to provide health insurance to employees under the new GOP plan.  Individuals are also not required to buy health insurance under the Republican plan.
  • Age discrimination ban:  Under the Republican plan, providers will be able to charge 5 times as much for elderly patients as younger patients.
  • Preventative Care:  The Preventative Care and Public Health Fund would be eliminated in 2019 under the Republican plan.

In addition to what is listed above, the Republican health care plan removes all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides abortion services in addition to other women’s health services including breast cancer and STI screenings.

Tom Perez Elected to Lead DNC; Progressives, Please don’t Panic!

By Rohin G.  February 26, 2017

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Former Labor Secretary and new DNC chair, Tom Perez

Photo Credits-Wikimedia Commons

On Saturday, February 25, former labor secretary Tom Perez narrowly beat progressive congressman, Keith Ellison for the post of chair in the Democratic National Committee.  Many staunch progressives, including myself, who had supported Congressman Ellison for DNC chair were disappointed by the results of the day’s vote.  Not only had our favored candidate lost the race to become chair of the DNC, the delegates present also voted down a resolution which would ban corporate lobbyist donations to the party.  Tom Perez was the Secretary of Labor during President Obama’s second term and led the civil rights division of Justice Department during Obama’s first term.  Although Perez is considered by many to have been one of the most progressive members of the Obama administration,  many also consider him to be a member of the Democratic Party’s establishment wing.

Although the results of the DNC elections are disappointing to many progressive activists, there has been significant progress in the DNC.  Although the delegates voted not to ban lobbyist donations to the party, new chair, Tom Perez has expressed concern over the “corrosive influence of money in politics”.  Perez has also praised the small dollar fundraising practices used by Senator Bernie Sanders’ primary campaign, stating in an interview with the Huffington Post, that he wanted to look into implementing fundraising practices that draw upon small donations instead of donations by large corporations and super-PACs.  Chairman Perez has also been an advocate for empowering activists and protesters against President Trump’s agenda.  Perez has supported a strategy by the DNC that involves working in all states and not just during election years.  This strategy based on local parties will help reduce that harmful effects of President Trump’s policies and help the Democratic party stay relevant with voters across the country.

Probably the Best thing for progressive activists that the new chair, Tom Perez has done so far, is naming Congressman Keith Ellison as deputy chair.  Now, a staunch progressive is at the table to make decisions at the DNC.  This morning, Perez and deputy chair, Ellison held a joint press conference.  In showing a sign of party unity, they wore each other’s campaign pins.  In addition to this, Tom Perez stated that he supports healthy primary contests for incumbent democratic candidates, opening the door to more progressive candidates.  It is quite clear that chair Tom Perez is ready to work with progressive members of the Democratic Party.  Although progressive activists’ top candidate lost the race for DNC chair, this DNC is one of the most progressive we have seen.  So, fellow progressives, stay strong and keep fighting for a better America.

 

 

 

Why Congressman Keith Ellison is the Best Person to Lead the Democratic Party

 

 

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Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN)  Photo Credit, Wikimedia commons.

Dear Fellow Democrat,

As a fellow democrat and concerned citizen, I want what is best for our country and our party.  I am a student in the 8th grade in Palo Alto, CA and am concerned about the direction of our country yet I see some amazing grassroots energy everywhere.  In the era of President Trump, how do we enact a progressive agenda?  How do we protect the rights of the LGBTQ community or the Muslim community or those who are undocumented or seeking asylum the US?  How do we protect and restore our environment or ensure all have access to education and healthcare?  And how do we make the Democratic Party win elections and pass legislation again?  On Saturday, you will vote on who will lead our party.  The election for DNC chair is a question of who will lead us in standing up to the racist and bigoted agenda of President Trump and his team.

I believe that as a party we need to stop taking money from lobbyists and large corporations.  We need to stand up for the American people and represent them and not just for the wealthy.  While you have been excellent advocates for all Americans, many politicians, even in our own party have become far too connected with special interest lobbyist dollars which are essentially bribes.  Congressman Keith Ellison is the best candidate to lead our party back to victory and empower our activists and lawyers to stand up and fight back against the extreme and dangerous agenda of the Trump administration.  He has been a vocal proponent of progressive policies such as universal health care and campaign finance reform in congress for years.  Congressman Ellison helped organize efforts to successfully defeat harmful voter id. laws in Minnesota.  He has shown that he knows what it takes to connect with working class voters in midwest.  Keith Ellison can unite our party and has been endorsed by people from many different segments of the Democratic Party.  He has drawn endorsements from prominent civil rights leader, Congressman John Lewis.  Congressman Ellison has also been embraced for his steadfast progressive values by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as well as many progressive activists.  Congressman Ellison is also supported by many more moderate democrats including senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer and former leader of senate democrats, Harry Reid.  It is because of his broad support, skill at winning elections and organizing, and staunch progressive values that Congressman Keith Ellison is the right candidate to become chair of the Democratic National Committee.  Keith Ellison deserves your vote to become chair of the DNC.

Sincerely,

Rohin Ghosh

This Letter was originally sent to Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and Senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein.

The New American Stance on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

By Rohin G.                   February 16, 2017

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US President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu during a joint press conference.  

Photo Credit: Time

On February 15, President Donald Trump met with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.  Many have seen an obvious shift in the rhetoric by the Trump administration, moving away from the Obama administration’s criticism of Israel and towards a more unconditional support of Israel regardless of Israeli actions.  Many advocates for a two-state solution and greater rights for Palestinians were and still are nervous about the new administration’s stances on Israeli-Palestinian issues.  One proposition from the administration was to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a city hotly contested by Israelis and Palestinians.

Another controversial topic is that of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank.  For decades, the United States has attempted to pressure Israel to cease appropriation of Palestinian lands for the construction of Jewish communities.    Although the US has been against settlement activity, it has never supported measures against any Israeli action in the United Nations until the very end of the Obama administration.  Many Israeli actions have drawn harsher reactions from the international community.  Early this year, the United Nations passed a resolution banning all settlement activity by Israel in the West Bank with all members of the UN Security Council except the US voting yes. (see my previous article for more information: https://youthnewsjournal.com/2016/12/28/the-controversy-over-the-israeli-settlements-resolution-in-the-united-nations/  ).  The Obama administration chose not to veto the resolution, instead abstaining and allowing it to pass.  President Trump, as well as many American politicians from both parties, condemned the resolution stating that it was “anti-Israel” and adding that the only solutions to issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are those reached through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Recent statements by the Trump administration present mixed signals about the new US stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Although President Trump has pledged to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Trump has not shown any signs of following through with that action thus far.  On the issue of settlements in the West Bank, President Trump has stuck to the US policy against Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank stating that settlements are “counterproductive for peace”.  President Trump, however, did break from longstanding US policy quite drastically when in a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, he stated that he was fine with either a one-state or a two-state solution.  President Trump said that he still believed that the two-state option was easier to achieve but that he would support any solution which was agreed upon by both Israel and the Palestinians.  This radical shift in American policy away from mandating a two-state solution begs the question; what will the American role in Middle East peace be under the Trump administration?

What Trump Administration Officials have said About the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

We can get a rough idea of the new administration’s stance based on what officials on the Trump team have said.

Most foreign policy conducted by the Trump administration as in any administration will likely be done by the secretary of state, who currently is Rex Tillerson.  Tillerson had not made many comments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before being nominated for secretary of state.  During his confirmation hearing, he stated that the US should give more support to Israel and condemned the recent UN resolution on settlements.  Tillerson did say that he supports restarting peace talks and also supports a two-state solution.

Any work in the United Nations will be done by UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley.  Haley has promised greater support for Israeli actions and to veto actions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the UN stating that direct negotiations are the only way to reach a lasting solution.  She has spoken against Israeli settlement activity during her confirmation hearing.

The closest person to many issues in the region will be US ambassador to Israel, David Freidman if he is confirmed by the senate.  In the past, Freidman has made controversial comments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict including his statement that a progressive Jewish organization called J Street was similar to Jews who collaborated with Nazis, and another statement where he openly endorsed Israeli settlements.  In his confirmation hearing, Freidman committed to facilitating direct negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians.

Although it is impossible to know what will happen with the ever-changing situation in the Middle East, the administration’s statements provide some basis for understanding.

If the Trump administration looks to people with more extreme viewpoints such as the nominee for ambassador to Israel, David Freidman, The US would likely take a stance of staunch support for Israeli actions regardless of what the actions are or the international opinion on them.  This could manifest itself as, for example, if Israel decides to engage in a massive expansion of settlements or a formal annexation of Palestinian lands, the US defends these actions and increases support for the Israeli state even though the Israeli actions would draw strong condemnation from the vast majority of the international community.  A less extreme example of this approach of staunch support for controversial Israeli policies is that of moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.  A key American ally in the region, Jordan, where many US forces are based, has called a possible move of the embassy to Jerusalem a “red line”.  Regardless of this statement, President Trump still says that he is considering moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.

A more likely approach by the new administration towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that of more support for Israeli actions but a continued support for the peace process.  This is the approach which most of the President’s closest officials including secretary Tillerson and UN ambassador pick Nikki Haley have advocated for.  This policy would likely mean more military aid to Israel, less condemnation of Israeli actions, and a resistance to efforts in international organizations such as the United Nations to pass resolutions regarding Middle East peace.  However, this moderate approach would include constant encouragement to both Israelis and Palestinians to continue peace talks and would also include soft statements against Israel settlement activity.  This approach is already being taken by the administration in statements by President Trump endorsing continued negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians and requesting Israel cease construction of settlements in the West Bank.  This approach is almost exactly the same as the Bush administration’s policy towards Israeli-Palestinian issues.

Both approaches that could be taken by the Trump administration are far more unconditional in their support for Israel regardless of provocative actions than the approach taken by the Obama or Clinton administrations.  Both Presidents Obama and Clinton were staunch supporters of Israel but also often condemned Israeli actions including settlement expansions and restrictions on Palestinian people’s personal freedoms.