Category: World

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

 

 

April 27, 2017                          .

Rohin Ghosh

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

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

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

The Candidates who Made it to the Second Round:

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

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

 

Emmanuel Macron, En-Marche (Centrist)

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

The Odds

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

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Most recent French 2nd round polls.

Photo credit: Telegraph.co.uk

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

 

 

 

 

 

Everything you Need to Know About Turkey’s Constituional Referendum

April 16, 2017                                                 1492342327378

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

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

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President Erdogan. (Wikimedia Commons)

The new Constitution

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

The Referendum Results

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

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

The Effects of the Republican Healthcare Plan

By Rohin G.

March 23, 2017

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Photo Credit: RNC

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

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

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

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

Rohin G.

March 14th, 2017

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

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

 

President Trump’s Immigration Bans: Unlawful and Immoral

 

 

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On Friday, January 27, President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning all citizens from seven majority-Muslim nations, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, and Yemen and suspending all admission of any refugees from entering the United States for six months and banning all asylum seekers from Syria entering the US until further notice.  The order was written hastily.  In fact, the Department of Homeland Security was never consulted nor was the Department of Justice.  Immediately after the ban was instituted, chaos and confusion ensued at airports where officials did not know whether or not the ban applied to US green-card holders and people with dual citizenship in one of the affected countries and a different country.

Citizens of countries affected by the executive order already must go through a rigorous vetting process in order to get a visa to allow them to enter the United States.  The visa process already takes between four and six months for the countries mentioned in the order, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, and Libya.  The application process for people who attempt to enter as refugees is even longer, taking at least 18 months and possibly taking up to two years of rigorous questioning by multiple government agencies in a foreign refugee camp.  In addition to this, not a single person from any of the countries implicated in Trump’s executive order has killed a person on American soil in a terrorist attack.

Those affected by the executive order include countless legal residents of the US who are here on student and specialized skilled work (H1B) visas.  The ban also included people who were traveling to the US to visit family.  Notable cases of these include a Sudanese doctor, here on an H1B, who had gone back to her native Sudan to distribute polio vaccines to impoverished children.  Another case was that a Syrian family was detained and questioned for hours with the family’s five-year-old son being separated from his parents for that duration.

At airports all around the country, protesters had come by droves to voice their opposition to the executive order.  Hundreds of pro-Bono immigration lawyers gathered to provide their services to those trapped at airports.  Many senators and representatives from both parties condemned the Trump’s executive order including republicans, John McCain and Lindsey Graham. The American Civil Liberties Union, as well as several other groups, including several Silicon Valley tech companies who rely on workers from any of the affected countries, have strongly urged the order to be repealed.  The ACLU has launched lawsuits against the order.  The states of Washington and Minnesota have brought a lawsuit against the executive order. The Suit has resulted in the 9th circuit court blocking enforcement of the order.  After the court ruling, President Trump expressed that he was angry with the entire court system, stating that “Bad people are pouring in” and that if an attack happens, “blame the so-called judge and the court system.”  The administration has appealed the ruling and the 9th circuit court of appeals will hear the case later in the week.

President Trump’s Wall Executive is Opposed by Mexico and Many Who Work in Protecting the Border and May Cause a Trade War

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Photo Credit: RT

After President Donald Trump signed an executive order to begin construction on a wall along the US-Mexico border, former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox was adamant that Mexico would not compensate the US for this wall.  During an interview on CNN, Fox repeated his previous comments to CNN’s reporter, Anderson Cooper that “Mexico will not pay for that f**king wall, Americans should pay for it.”  Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary stated that the Trump team will make Mexico will pay for the wall through massive tariffs on Mexican goods being exported to the US.  Former-President Fox fired back stating that If the US were to put tariffs on Mexican goods, Mexico would respond by putting higher tariffs on American exports to Mexico.  American exports to Mexico total more than 240 billion dollars.  A trade war with the US’ fourth largest trade partner would do immense damage to the economies of both countries.

Many people involved in border security have said that a wall will be a waste of resources and time.  Many agents with US Customs and Border Patrol have stated that a wall will not do much to stop illicit traffic in narcotics or people.  The majority of undocumented migrants enter legally but overstay visas.  Those who do sneak into the border normally work as seasonal laborers in agriculture during planting or harvesting times for crops and then return home to Mexico.  Other agents simply state that a wall would be easy to cross with ladders or tunnels.   A fence already exists for much of the border and has helped in many areas but failed to make any difference in others.  Building a wall along the border would also require the seizure of hundreds of private properties in South Texas due to most of the land being privately owned and used for agriculture.  Much of the mountainous terrain in West Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona make building any sort of infrastructure impossible.  For President Trump to build his planned wall, all of these hurdles must be dealt with.