Category: World

The US Military is Involved in a Region you Rarely Hear About




A map of the Sahel countries in North Africa. (Wikimedia Commons)


The Sahel has a large American and European military presence but is seldom covered in American news media.  When the region is in the news, it is often due to militant groups like Boko Haram committing horrific acts of terror.  More recently, the Sahel and Niger, in particular, were in the news due to the deaths of four American Army Rangers.   The Sahel is the region of Africa on the southern edge of the Sahara desert, comprising of the countries of Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso as well as the northern part of Nigeria.  This article focuses on events in Chad, Niger, Mali, Nigeria, and regions of Algeria and Libya which border Sahel countries.

Many countries in the Sahel have faced instability since they gained independence from British and French colonial rule in the 1960s.  Much of this can be attributed to colonial powers drawing borders without regard for ethnic and religious divisions.  As a result, several countries in the Sahel have faced ethnic strife which has bred civil war.  The Sahel also lags far behind the rest of the world in most measures of human development.  Mali, Chad, and Niger along with Northern Nigeria and Burkina Faso are some of the worst countries in the world in terms of literacy rate, infant mortality, and access to basic services.  Unstable governments and widespread corruption have also plagued the Sahel and most countries have had one or more coup d’etats since independence.  

Low levels of education, poverty, ethnic and religious strife, and weak governance all have contributed to a significant presence of several militant Islamic extremist groups including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram, and affiliates of ISIS. Islamist insurgencies have existed in the Sahel since the Algerian Civil War of the 1990s however these groups really began to grow in prominence after the 9-11 attacks.  In 2002, the Algerian Civil War ended but the Islamist insurgent groups continued to fight with the goal of establishing an Islamic state in Algeria.  An organization known as the Armed Islamic Group in Algeria or GIA had fought in the Algerian Civil War and became an insurgent group based in the remote deserts of southern Algeria close to the border with Mali and Niger.  For several years afterward, the GIA committed small-scale terror attacks on civilian and military targets and kidnapped citizens of western countries.  Countries around the region began using military forces to combat jihadists in the desert regions bordering Algeria in Mali, Niger, and Mauritania.  The regional coalition fighting against the GIA had backing from the United States, the UK and several European Union countries including France.  In 2006 and 2007, the coalition was successful in forcing the militants to disperse into the Sahara Desert.

In order to compensate for their loss of territory and fighters, the GIA allied itself with Al Qaeda in 2006 and renamed itself Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM.  AQIM also allied itself with another small radical Islamic fundamentalist group in Nigeria, Boko Haram.  Under its new name, AQIM continued attacks against civilians in Algeria, Mali, and Niger until everything changed in 2011.

In the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions, the dictatorship in Libya was overthrown and the country descended into chaos.  Groups aligned with Al Qaeda and other radical jihadist groups including AQIM began seizing territory in Libya.    Chaos in Libya spilled over into neighboring countries.  At the same time, ethnic tensions in Mali and Niger came to a head when the nomadic Tuareg ethnic group declared an independent state in the deserts of northern Mali and Niger and in southern Libya and began an armed rebellion against the governments of these countries. To add to the chaos,  there was a military coup in Mali in 2012 which is largely blamed on the army’s discontent with the government’s handling of the situation in the north of the country.  In the same year, AQIM and other Islamist militant organizations including Ansar Al-Sharia infiltrated the Tuareg rebellion and took over a vast portion of Mali including the important cities of Gao and Timbuktu.  In 2013, a coalition of regional and French-led NATO troops began fighting in support of the Malian army in response to international attention to the situation there.  A regional coalition also formed with the intention of restoring stability to Mali.  That coalition was led by Chad and included several Sahel countries of Niger, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Mauritania.  The NATO coalition led by France mainly included European countries such as Germany and Sweden, however, the United States played a large supporting role in training regional forces and airdropping supplies for coalition troops.  Finally, in 2014, Malian and coalition forces were able to push Al Qaeda out of most of the towns in Northern Mali and the Malian government signed a peace agreement with the Tuareg rebels.



French soldiers boarding a US Air Force plane in Mali. (Wikimedia Commons)


While the full-scale war in Mali was resolved in 2014 and 2015, many Al Qaeda fighters stayed in the region.  Some AQIM affiliates went back to committing kidnappings and small-scale terrorist attacks while others began working with other extremist groups in the Sahel, including the budding militant group in Nigeria, Boko Haram.

In Nigeria, an Islamic extremist militant group known as Boko Haram existed since 2002, however, violence really escalated after 2009.  Boko Haram’s name roughly translates to “Western Education is Forbidden”.  Nigeria’s population is almost equally split between the Christian south and a Muslim northern region.  While the south of Nigeria has enjoyed economic growth since independence from the UK, the north has been slow to catch up and faces many problems common in the Sahel including drought, food shortages, illiteracy, and ethnic strife.  Boko Haram used discontent among Muslim Nigerians to sow divisions and encourage people to join their ranks and commit acts of terror and violence against what the group considers “western influences”.  Boko Haram also collaborated with other violent jihadist groups in the region and around the world.  Many of Boko Haram’s leaders fought with AQIM in Mali.  Boko Haram also has pledged allegiance to ISIS.  Boko Haram’s tactics include using children as suicide bombers and committing massacres of civilians.  The group gained international notoriety in 2014 after kidnapping hundreds of schoolgirls in northern Nigeria. Since then, Boko Haram has become the most deadly terrorist group in the world in terms of the number of people the group has killed.  

Boko Haram’s influence spread into countries neighboring Nigeria including Niger, Chad, and Cameroon as the organization’s campaign of violence continued.  These countries, supported by the United States have since been able to force  Boko Haram and other extremist groups into hiding in remote areas of Northern Nigeria.  Insurgent groups with ties to Al Qaeda and Boko Haram, still operate in remote areas of several Sahel countries. 



Soldiers in Niger being trained by American special forces. (Wikimedia Commons)


While US involvement in the Sahel has helped several countries overcome terrorist threats, it has severe consequences for the region.  Many civilians in Sahel countries see the presence of American troops as a breach of their country’s’ sovereignty.  Many of the governments supported by the US are also dictatorships with bad human rights records.  Supporting these governments contributes to short-term stability but often overlooks problems of repression that come to a head when people who are discontented with autocratic regimes see insurgent groups as alternatives.  While Western countries have invested in some development in the Sahel, most of the American presence in the region is a military presence.  Improved security often doesn’t last in areas with almost no economic growth and widespread corruption.  Ethnic and religious divisions have also caused conflicts to spring up even after peace agreements have been reached.  Western involvement in the Sahel may help countries solve security issues but the underlying issues which cause many of the Sahel’s conflicts remain and will likely take decades to solve.   



The Kurds may Finally Realize their Dream of an Independent Kurdistan

 …but at what cost?

October 6, 2017, Rohin Ghosh


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.


The Kurdish homeland and Iraqi Kurdistan. (photo credit:

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 was lead by Massoud Barzani, the former 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.


Former 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 conducted joint military exercises near the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi has so far refused to negotiate directly with KRG leaders until the results of the referendum are declared null and void.  According to Rudaw, a pro-independence news agency based in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, former KRG President, Massoud Barzani had stated that he was willing to negotiate with the Iraqi government in Baghdad and that the results of the referendum were 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. Several Iraqi and Kurdish politicians have attempted to start negotiations over the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan, however, so far, none have succeeded in resolving outstanding conflicts.  Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider Al Abadi has also refused to negotiate Several western countries including the US and France have offered to mediate between the KRG and the Iraqi government.

In October, Iraqi forces captured the disputed city of Kirkuk from Kurdish forces.  Armed clashes between Kurdish Peshmerga troops and the Iraqi army continued until a ceasefire restored some semblance of order.   Kirkuk is currently controlled by the Iraqi government and is a contentious topic during negotiations due to its vast oil reserves.

Massoud Barzani has resigned from his role as President of Iraqi Kurdistan, citing his age and desire to pass leadership on to a new generation.  His successors have taken a more conciliatory approach to negotiations with the Iraqi government, even stating a willingness to void the referendum results and return Iraqi Kurdistan to a similar status as it had before the move for independence.  In spite of this, however, progress in negotiations with the Iraqi government has been slow.  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 former President Barzani’s party victory even though Barzani’s term limit ran out this November.  The KRG is currently being led by his son.   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?

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


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.


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


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.


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


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

320px-Emmanuel_Macron_(3).jpg     download.jpeg

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:

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.


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


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.