Category: World

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.

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

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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.

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.