Author: Rohin

The Kurds may Finally Realize their Dream of an Independent Kurdistan

 …but at what cost?

October 6, 2017, Rohin Ghosh

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The flag of Iraqi Kurdistan and Kurdish movements all over the Middle East. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The Kurds are the worlds largest ethnic group without their own country.  Northern Iraq, Northwestern Iran, Southeastern Turkey, and Northeastern Syria are home to large Kurdish populations.  The Kurds have their own language and cultural traditions which are similar, yet distinctly different from their Arab, Persian, and Turkish neighbors.  While most Kurds are Sunni Muslims, religion plays less of a role in Kurdish culture than in Arab or Iranian culture.  A sizeable minority of Kurds are members of other religious communities such as the Yazidi religion. Kurds have faced centuries of being oppressed by their larger neighbors.  At the end of the First World War, the Kurdish homeland, known to Kurds as Kurdistan was broken up between the countries of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria.  More recently, the Kurdish people have faced genocide in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and continuous political and cultural repression in Turkey.  Through all of this adversity, many Kurds still have a very strong sense of Kurdish nationalism and a dream that one day, all of Kurdistan, the Kurds’ historic homeland will be reunited.

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The Kurdish homeland and Iraqi Kurdistan. (photo credit: frontnews.eu)

In Turkey, Kurds have a political party which advocates for autonomy for the Kurdish majority region of southeastern Turkey.  Since the breakout of the Syrian Civil War, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab tribes in northeastern Syria has carved out a semi-autonomous region.  There are also several Kurdish insurgent groups and militias, including the PKK in Turkey.  The Kurdish insurgent groups often clash with the governments of Iran and Turkey.  Most of the armed Kurdish groups are considered terrorist organizations by the countries they seek independence from.

In Iraq, the Kurds have had an autonomous region in the north of the country.  Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurdish autonomous region, has its own government which acts with little interference from the Iraqi government in Baghdad and its own military called the Peshmerga.  In collaboration with Iraqi army and tribal forces, Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Iraq have dealt lasting blows to ISIS operations, retaking important cities such and Sinjar and Kirkuk as well as taking back oilfields, thus cutting ISIS’ funding.  Much of the time, Kurdish forces have directly worked with the Iraqi Army.  However, with each victory, the Kurdish people of Iraq and all over the Middle East have been inching closer to independence, a goal Kurdish leaders have been dedicated to achieving.  The government of Iraqi Kurdistan is known as the Kurdistan Regional Government or KRG. It is based in the city of Erbil and is currently lead by Massoud Barzani, the President of Iraqi Kurdistan.  While the KRG controls most government affairs in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Erbil government does have to split oil revenues with the government in Baghdad and does not have full control over airports and border crossings.

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Kurdish Regional Government President Massoud Barzani. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Kurdish Regional Government President Barzani announced in June of 2017 that there would be a referendum to decide whether or not Iraqi Kurdistan would declare independence from the Iraqi government in Baghdad.  The referendum was originally supposed to be held earlier but was postponed until the major city of Mosul was taken back from ISIS by Iraqi and Kurdish forces.  Calls for an independent Kurdish state in Northern Iraq have been growing since over a century ago when the Middle East was divided by European powers with little regard for ethnic and sectarian differences.  The vote to decide the future of Iraqi Kurdistan finally took place on September 25.

In the run-up to the referendum, leaders in countries struggling with their own Kurdish separatist movements such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani condemned the attempt at independence by the KRG.  Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi repeatedly denounced the referendum as illegal and dangerous to regional stability and security.  Days before the referendum, the Iraqi Supreme Court ruled the vote unconstitutional.  The move toward independence by the Iraqi Kurds was discouraged by the US and most European countries on the grounds that the entire region could fall apart.  One country, however, did declare support for Kurdish independence.  Israel, a country seen as an enemy by most regional powers has long supported a Kurdish state.

When the vote finally took place, 93 percent of voters cast their ballots in favor of independence.  Voter turnout was fairly high but lower than expected at 72 percent.

Soon after the referendum, Turkey threatened to shut off the flow of oil from Iraqi Kurdistan to the Turkish ports, thereby shutting off the main source of revenue for Iraqi Kurdistan.  Iran and Turkey have already placed economic sanctions on Iraqi Kurdistan.  The Iraqi Government in Baghdad has closed airports in the Kurdish cities of Erbil and Sulaymaniyah and is restricting travel to Iraqi Kurdistan.  Iraq, Iran, and Turkey are now conducting joint military exercises near the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi has so far refused to negotiate directly with KRG President Barzani until the results of the referendum are declared null and void.  According to Rudaw, a pro-independence news agency based in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, Barzani has stated that he is willing to negotiate with the Iraqi government in Baghdad and that the results of the referendum are not binding.  While the war of words between Baghdad and Erbil has escalated, Iraqi troops have retaken Hawija, a city adjacent to land disputed between Iraqi Kurdistan and the Baghdad government.  So far, however, there has been no armed confrontation.    Iraqi Vice-President Ayad Allawi has begun talks with KRG President Barzani.  On a recent visit to France, Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi reiterated a commitment to avoiding violence with the Kurds and urged reconciliation by KRG.  French President Emmanuel Macron even offered to mediate between Iraqi and Kurdish leaders.

Both Iraqi Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq will hold elections soon.  Iraqi Kurdistan will be voting for a new president and for members of Parliament in November.  Steering Iraqi Kurdistan toward independence without violence or unrest will guarantee President Barzani’s party victory even though Barzani’s term limit runs out this November.  Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi is trying to navigate the complicated world of Iraqi sectarian politics.  He cannot afford to alienate the Kurds or Iraqi Sunni Arabs, many of whom support Kurdish independence, as this may risk further Iraqi civil war and unrest for years to come.  On the other hand, Abadi, himself a Shia like the slim majority of Iraqis will lose his 2018 election if he alienates hard-line Iraqi Shia Arabs such as the cleric Muqtada al Sadr.  Many of these hardliner Shias are supported by Iran and most oppose Kurdish independence.  Abadi cannot afford to appear too soft on the Kurdish move toward independence, however, he can’t afford stirring up ethnic and religious tensions in Iraq.

There are clear arguments to be made for the creation of an independent Kurdish nation.  The Kurds have never been truly represented by their Turkish, Iraqi, or Iranian governments.  In fact, quite the opposite has happened on several occasions.  The Kurdish people need to control their own destiny and their homeland being divided up into five parts is a recipe for only more strife and unrest.  On the other hand, a unilateral move towards independence may result in an already war-torn and volatile region descending into even more war which may last decades.  So far, the leaders of Iraqi Kurdistan and Iraq have avoided violence, the question is can they bring themselves to sit down, negotiate, and find a solution before it’s too late?

The RAISE Act, a Thinly Veiled Attempt to Make America Off Limits to Many Immigrants

 

Rohin Ghosh

August 7, 2017

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Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA)

the White House along with President Trump, speaking in support

of the RAISE Act.  (Photo Credit: Migration Policy Institute)

 

President Trump has endorsed a bill introduced by far right senators, Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) called the “Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act” or RAISE Act.  This bill doesn’t target undocumented immigrants, instead, it seeks to drastically reduce legal immigration.  The bill would cap the number of people who receive green cards at 500,000, a fifty percent decrease from the current number.  The RAISE Act also proposes a change to the process that new immigrants go through to get a green card.  The bill would start using a points based immigration system.  This means that applicants for a green card would be awarded points based on job skills, proficiency in English, and other factors.   Candidates with the most points would be able to achieve residency status in the US. The RAISE Act would also place a cap of 50,000 on the number of refugees admitted to the US.  Another drastic measure which the RAISE Act will enact if it is passed is the halting of admissions of new immigrants based on family relationships in the US for siblings and adult children of Americans.

The RAISE Act would spell disaster for several sectors of the economy and would break with long-standing American policy.  The bill is a way for extreme Republican senators to appease xenophobic members of their base.   The RAISE Act would do little to benefit the economy but would devastate sectors that rely heavily on immigrant labor.  In addition, the new restrictions of refugees would make legal status harder to achieve for people who depend on it for their lives.  The Trump Administration’s anti-refugee policies have already resulted in thousands of people leaving the United States to seek safety in neighboring Canada. Proponents of the RAISE Act’s “merit based” admission system cite that this procedure is used in Canada and Australia, however, they fail to realize that both of these countries allow in more immigrants as a percentage of their populations.  Historically, most of the immigrants that have made up the backbone of the US have been poorer, lower skilled people.  The American population is aging quickly and new immigrants are crucial to replenishing the workforce as the Baby Boomer generation ages and retires.  Immigrants also start businesses at a higher rate than native-born citizens, according to the Small Business Administration.  Bureau of Labor statistics indicate that almost half of all private sector jobs are in small businesses and 64% of all new private sector jobs are in small business.  Far from taking American jobs, immigrants are constantly creating new wealth and employment opportunities for American citizens.   The new immigration system proposed by the RAISE Act would also likely change the ethnic makeup of immigrants coming to the US.  Because wealthier, English-speaking immigrants with higher education would be preferred, more Europeans would be granted legal status.  Most European countries are wealthier and have higher English speaking populations than countries in other regions of the world.  The RAISE Act would, therefore, cause much more of the immigrant population to be White.

Perhaps most ironically, President Trump’s grandfather, Frederick Trump was a low skilled immigrant from Germany.  People who seek to immigrate to the US in a fashion similar to him as well as the ancestors of other supporters of immigration restrictions would have likely not been able to enter under restrictive policies like the RAISE Act.  Additionally, President Trump’s wife, Melania Trump would have been affected by the lower number of green cards issued under the RAISE Act if she were to try to gain entry into the United States under similar laws.

Luckily, enough Republicans have declared opposition to the RAISE Act for the bill to fail.  Republicans can only afford to lose two votes in the Senate and several Republican senators have already expressed concerns about the basic premise of reducing legal immigration.  However, opponents of this disastrous legislation cannot be complacent.  There are definitely strong elements of the Republican caucus who support xenophobic cuts to immigration.  A lack of Republican legislative achievements so far also increases the likelihood that some moderate Republican representatives and senators will try to get the RAISE Act passed.

For Democrats, the best way to fight the RAISE Act is to harness grassroots opposition in states with high immigrant populations that also have Republican senators.  Senators Jeff Flake from Arizona and Dean Heller from Nevada both come from states with high immigrant populations and are running for reelection in 2018.  Other moderate Republican senators who depend on immigrant votes include John McCain (R-AZ), Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Marco Rubio (R-FL).  Large numbers of constituents contacting senators have helped convince senators to change their votes in the past.  Making sure that Senators from states with high immigrant populations know that a large portion of their constituents opposes xenophobic legislation like the RAISE Act can ultimately result in the defeat of this bill and other bills like it.   If you live in the following states, be sure to let your senator know that you do not approve of the RAISE Act:

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Immigrants being sworn in as new American citizens in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo credit: Murray.Seattle.gov)

 

 

 

An Open Letter to Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke about the Future Status of Carrizo Plain National Monument

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July 9, 2017   

Dear Secretary Zinke,

I am a 14-year-old student from California and have enjoyed the outdoors for years.  Our nation’s unspoiled natural wonders have always had and will always have a special place in my heart.  

When your Department of the Interior decided to review 27 of our nation’s best national monuments, many people including myself were alarmed that any amount of the 11 million acres of wilderness could possibly wind up in the hands of energy or mining companies with no interest other than their profit.  

One national monument in particular sticks out to me as one that needs to stay fully protected in its entirety.  Carrizo Plain National Monument is located in San Luis Obispo County, California.  The Plain is the only basin fully enclosed by the Coast Ranges of California and is the last area of untouched California Valley Grassland in the world.  

The arid grasslands found in Carrizo Plain once stretched all across the southern half of California’s Central Valley and the southeastern portions of the Coast Ranges.  Carrizo Plain is home to several federally listed species including the endangered San Joaquin kit fox.  Carrizo Plain is also home to the last remaining herds of pronghorn antelope west of the Sierra Nevada.  Carrizo Plain also boasts one of the few wild herds of tule elk within the arid California Valley grasslands.  The herds of pronghorn and elk that inhabit Carrizo Plain are all that remains of the massive herds of these animals which once roamed the entire San Joaquin Valley.  The Carrizo Plain also hosts Soda Lake, California’s largest alkaline lake.  Soda lake provides excellent nesting and feeding habitat with little disturbance from people for several migratory bird species including American avocets, long-billed curlews, and impressive sandhill cranes.  In addition, in spring, the plain comes alive with wildflowers as the surrounding mountain ranges turn yellow and purple.  This transformation from arid desert to lush, blooming grassland that takes place in years with good winter range is a feature integral to the heritage of California.  Other places see this transformation occur, but nowhere are areas of wildflowers so vast.  Carrizo Plain also allows adventurous visitors to experience this amazing natural phenomenon in a true wilderness with few other people, something that is increasingly difficult due to the increasing popularity of wildflower sites such as Antelope Valley.  Carrizo Plain also contains historic sites such as Painted Rock, with its ancient Native American petroglyphs, and Traver’s Ranch, where visitors can see the remains of a pioneer homestead.  The monument also includes a portion of the San Andreas fault line, thus becoming a magnet for people seeking to learn about the region’s complex geology.  Carrizo Plain also offers opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy a variety of activities including hunting, camping, fishing, and wildlife viewing.  To me, the best thing about Carrizo Plain is the break it provides from our fast-paced modern world.  It is a wonderful thing that there is still a place on this earth where one can hear no sounds but the wind rustling through the tumbleweeds and birds chirping and the only things to be seen for miles around are wildflower covered mountainsides.

When reviewing the status of Carrizo Plain, keep in mind that it is already surrounded by very large oilfields.  Also, consider that you have touted your listening to the opinions of the people living closest to the monuments.  Congressman Salud Carbajal represents California’s 24th district which includes the cities of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara as well the Carrizo Plain.  Recently, Carbajal and San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon joined a rally in support of protecting Carrizo Plain.  Friends of Carrizo Plain, an organization dedicated to protecting the national monument is backed by the city of Taft, a town whose economy is based mostly on oil.  If your Department of Interior truly listens to the people who live and work around Carrizo Plain, the only option is to keep the plain protected in its entirety.  40 years down the road when people who are currently my age will be in charge of the country when my generation looks back on your tenure, what would you want your time in office to be remembered for?  Would you rather be remembered as the Secretary of Interior who sold off Carrizo Plain and other treasures resulting in a slight increase in the income of the CEO of an oil company and erasing an integral piece of California’s natural heritage forever, or would you rather be remembered for being the one who protected Carrizo Plain for all future generations to enjoy in its full splendor?  Leaving the Carrizo Plain unprotected could result in the extinction of the last remaining pronghorn herds west of the Sierra Nevada, a herd that once populated all of the San Joaquin Valley.  Leaving Carrizo Plain unprotected could also result in one of the last areas of untouched desert grassland, a truly unique California ecosystem turning into one big oilfield.  Energy development in the Carrizo Plain would mean more profits for an already wealthy oil company but also the demise of the last remnant of an ecosystem found nowhere else.

Sincerely,

Rohin Ghosh

To submit your own letter regarding this subject, go to this site on or before July 10.

Act Fast, and You can Help Save our National Monuments from President Trump

Visit this site to submit your comments regarding the protection of our National Monuments.  The deadline for comments is July 10.

 

 

 

Rohin Ghosh

July 8, 2017

 

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Bears Ears (left) and Carrizo Plain (right) National Monuments in Utah and California.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

 

In May, the US Department of Interior under the leadership of Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that it would be “reviewing” the status of 27 national monuments.  Some of the monuments under review include the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah, Craters of the Moon in Idaho, as well as the  Carrizo Plain, San Gabriel Mountains, and Sand to Snow National Monuments in California.  Based on previous statements which show the Trump administration’s ideology of “money first- environment last”,  many of the monuments may be opened up for mining and energy development.

One of the most controversial decisions made by the Interior Department was to recommend to the president that the Bears Ears Monument’s size is drastically reduced.  Bears Ears National Monument contains dramatic areas of wilderness with stunning rock formations and also is home to sacred sites and rock art from five different Native American nations, the Navajo (Dine), Hopi, Zuni, and Ute.  When President Obama created the monument using his authority to protect sites with natural or historical importance under the Antiquities Act of 1906, the conservation and management plan for Bears Ears was set up by a coalition of the different Native tribes in the area.  This was the first time that several Native tribes were able to jointly conserve an area of wilderness.

Another monument under threat is the Carrizo Plain in California.  Carrizo Plain is one of the last remaining untouched areas of arid California Valley Grassland.  These grasslands once stretched all across the south-central portion of California.  The desert of Carrizo Plain bursts into dazzling displays of wildflowers each spring turning hillsides yellow and purple as they become covered in the blooming flowers.  The plain also hosts the last herds of pronghorn in California that still inhabit their ancestral Valley Grassland habitat west of the Sierra Nevada as well as being the home of over a dozen threatened or endangered species including the San Joaquin Kit Fox.  Carrizo Plain also contains geological wonders including the San Andreas Fault and historical sites including the remains of old ranch buildings and Native American petroglyphs (rock art).

Sadly, both Bears Ears and Carrizo Plain National Monuments are suspected to contain oil reserves.  Oil companies have been seeking leases on these treasured lands for years and now both Bears Ears and Carizzo Plain, as well as 25 other national monuments may be up for grabs for destruction at the hands of oil, gas, and mining companies.  If the Department of Interior decides to open these monuments up for resource extraction, the last remnants of our arid California Valley Grasslands and the wildlife that inhabit them will only exist in books.  The sacred Native American sites of Bears Ears or the stunning geological formations of the Grand Staircase-Escalante may be swept away to history.

Several environmental organizations and Native American tribal governments have already filed lawsuits saying that revoking status for monuments can violate the Antiquities Act.  These lawsuits are backed by several companies that sell outdoor equipment and have a vested interest in preserving public lands.  Some of these companies include REI, Patagonia, and the North Face.  The Department of Interior has also allowed citizens to submit comments regarding the “review” of monuments.  The best thing that we can do to protect our National Monuments is to submit sincere comments to Secretary of Interior Zinke.  Several groups have made it easier to submit comments but act fast, the deadline for comments is July 10.

 

Visit this site to submit your comments regarding the protection of our National Monuments.

A Look at California’s Single Payer Healthcare Bill, the Diametric Opposite of the Republicans’ Healthcare Bill in Washington DC

By Rohin Ghosh

June 29, 2017

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Protesters outside San Francisco City Hall demanding a Medicare for

All/Single-Payer health care system. 

While Republicans in Washington DC have been working on their health care bill, a bill which will, if passed, strip health insurance from tens of millions of people, Democrats in the California state legislature have been working on their own healthcare bill.  California’s Senate Bill 562 seeks to realize what many progressives have been working at for years, finally establishing a single-payer health care system.  Having a single payer healthcare system means that the government would cover provide medical insurance to everybody free of charge.  This healthcare system is implemented in some form or another in every developed nation and many developing countries but not the United States.  Canada, the United Kingdom, France Germany, Australia, and even poorer countries such as Rwanda and Morocco, as well as 51 other countries, all implement universal government provided health care programs and for the most part, these systems work.

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All countries highlighted in green have a universal single-payer health care system.

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California State Senator Ricardo Lara from Los Angeles County is the sponsor of SB 562, the bill to implement a single-payer health care system in California.

The healthcare bill, SB 562 was introduced in the California State Senate in February by State Senator Ricardo Lara from the Los Angeles area.  The bill passed the Senate on June 1st.  The CA State Assembly has since shelved the bill for one year so that further revisions can be made.  This was done by the Speaker of the Assembly, Anthony Rendon who said that the bill still has several “fatal flaws” namely that the bill still doesn’t include provisions to raise the revenue to fund the universal health care program.  Speaker Rendon later clarified that he does support that basic principle of establishing a Medicare for All-Single Payer health care system although some progressives accuse him of trying to stall the process of passing the health care bill.  Once the bill is introduced in the Assembly, it will likely pass considering that Democrats have a super majority there, meaning that they control more than two-thirds of the seats.  The toughest challenge for SB 562 may come from Governor Jerry Brown who has said several times that he does not yet support single-payer health care in California.  On the other hand, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom has expressed full support for a single-payer/Medicare for all health care system.  Newsom is seen as the most likely candidate to become governor in 2018 after Jerry Brown’s term will be finished.  Many members of the California state Senate and Assembly support introducing an initiative to implement a single-payer health system as a question on the ballot in the 2018 election, allowing the citizens of California to decide this issue.

Under the SB 562, the California state government would provide insurance for basic health care services to all citizens of California.  The government would directly compensate doctors and hospitals for providing care to citizens enrolled in the program. Private insurers would still exist in a greatly diminished role to cover things like plastic surgery which would not be covered by the government of California.

An important fact to consider is that the CA legislature’s budget office estimates that implementing SB 562 would come with a price tag of about $400 billion.  The office also expects that passing the bill would save 200 billion dollars from ending all other health care programs as they would no longer be needed.  the remaining $200 billion would have to come from tax increases.  The budget office of the CA legislature predicts that there would have to be a 15% in total tax revenue to pay for the single-payer health care bill.  However, the budget office also expects that companies would have significantly lowered expenses because they would no longer have to provide health insurance to employees.

The main group which originally backed the passage of SB 562 is the California Nurses Association.  This group along with most progressive or Democratic organizations, most labor unions, and many doctors’ and nurses’ groups support passing single-payer health care.  Several cities and towns including San Francisco and Berkley have also passed resolutions in support of SB 562.  The main arguments by proponents of the bill are that healthcare costs are too high for most people in California because of insurance companies’ greed.  Many believe that healthcare is a human right and that California should join every developed country other than the United States by providing a basic essential, the right to be treated in the case of illness or injury to its citizens regardless of someone’s economic status.  Proponents of single-payer also believe that implementing the system in California, the nation’s largest state will spur other states to follow in implementing their own versions of this system and may even result in a single-payer health care system being implemented on a national scale.

Most of the groups opposing single-payer health care in California are either conservative Republican organization as well as insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies.  The main arguments that these groups make are that ending most activities by health insurance companies and raising taxes on large corporations would result in a major loss of jobs.

 

 

 

 

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.