NATO, Trump, Macron, and Counterterrorism

web-6u6a0790-releasable-for-the-public-450x305

New NATO headquarters (Image courtesy of interbuild.be)

-Article by Alice Ferré

In their first official meeting at the United States Embassy in Brussels, President Donald J. Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron mostly tackled the terrorism and climate change issues, two of the many transatlantic major concerns. The 43rd G7 summit in Taormina, Sicily, Italy, this week will allow European leaders and President Trump, along with Canada and Japan, to further discuss these topics.

Mr. Macron and Trump’s handshake caught everyone’s attention: in a “white-knuckled handshake,” the two leaders confirmed their collaboration and marked their territories, with Mr.Trump’s aggressive grip and Mr. Macron’s withholding Trump’s palm longer than expected.

xvmb01311f2-4159-11e7-a469-62c36d07d43b-805x453

US President Donald J. Trump and France’s President Emmanuel Macron in the United States Embassy in Brussels. (image courtesy of LeFigaro.fr)

Although Mr. Macron wishes that Mr. Trump “does not make any precipitated decision” regarding the Paris agreement, he said the talk was “frank” and “pragmatic” and demonstrated a “will to reinforce our partnership and cooperation regarding our fight against terrorism.” Mr. Macron had previously sent signals of hope to Mr. Trump on the U.S. role; while visiting the soldiers of the “Barkhane” operation in Mali, Mr. Macron claimed that Mr. Trump’s allegations against Islamic terrorism did not make him doubt that he will maintain this kind of cooperation.

In this optic, President Trump convinced the European leaders to join him in an international coalition against the Islamic State, after a year of reluctance. European leaders, although already fighting terrorism nationally and internationally and engaging in this Washington-led coalition, feared that the formalization of this union under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization banner would trigger hostile comments from recent allies in the Middle East. “We will win this battle,” concluded President Trump referring to the Manchester bombing, an event that influenced the European leaders in their decision.

Jens Stoltenberg, the 13th Secretary General of NATO, said this union would “send a strong political message of unity in fighting terrorism. However, this will not mean that NATO will engage in fighting abroad.” 
One fear remaining is that Mr. Trump did not explicitly endorse the article 5 of the Washington Treaty, NATO’s mutual defense pledge assuring that the WWII allies must bring assistance to one of them if they are attacked; such omission might frighten the Baltic states that wish to escape Russia’s exponential hegemony in the region.

One condition for President Trump to abide NATO (the President previously declared the organization was “obsolete”) is that European nations spend more on national defense and the military, which echoes Trump’s claim in Saudi Arabia that the fight against terrorism is a “shared burden.” So far, the decision taken in 2014 that each country should spend 2% of their GDP on defense seems to be slowly but surely achieved; according to NATO, the nations’ cumulated budgets raised by 3,8% in 2016 (or 10 billion dollars). Europeans have until 2024 to achieve their goal. Mr. Trump, however, complained about “chronic underpayments” to the military alliance during his speech yesterday. “If NATO countries made their full and complete contributions, then NATO would be even stronger than it is today.” Mr. Trump later said that the assembling of the 2% was a failure, “with 23 of the 28 member nations still not paying what they should be paying.”

Regarding other defense resources, France, for instance, will not invest in NATO-stamped missions, such as the failed “Unified Protector” operation launched in Libya in 2011 to oust dictator Muhammad Qaddafi.

Mr. Trump was received in the new NATO headquarters, which will officially open this December. The new building, representing eight fighters crisscrossing each other, will have at its entrance a vestige from the Twin Towers, a symbol of the counterterrorism fight.

Trump’s war on the media

 

evgfqumgefnuj8p7eayg

Image courtesy of “Talking Points Memo”

 

The First Amendment has been endangered within the first week of President Trump’s inauguration. The press is the only institution protected by the First Amendment, for there can be no laws made “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” The press inherited the role of the fourth branch of government, with the intention of keeping government officials honest by reporting on what they do.

People have misused the First Amendment by publishing what is known as “fake news.” Fake news has become a prevailing enigma in modern society, for the internet provides more channels for citizen journalists to publish news stories, regardless if they are supported by facts. The popularity of fake news can also be attributed to confirmation bias, which refers to people’s propensity to accept or reject information based on their inherent biases. Nevertheless, fake news can be spread more efficiently with the increased interconnectedness of the internet.

President Donald J. Trump has taken advantage of this enigma by rejecting journalists’ reports in favor for his own interpretation of the facts. According to the New York Times, Trump declared, “I have a running war with the media. They are the most dishonest human beings on earth” during a visit to the Central Intelligence Agency on January 21st.

This comment was in response to a viral picture comparing Trump’s 2017 inauguration to Obama’s 2009 inauguration. The picture shows that Obama’s inauguration drew a significantly larger crowd than Trump’s did. Trump spent his first day of office disputing his inauguration crowd size.

At the CIA Headquarters, he spoke about his own interpretation of the facts: “I get up this morning, I turn on one of the networks, and they show an empty field. I say, wait a minute, I made a speech. I looked out, the field was — it looked like a million, million and a half people”.

Later, Press Secretary Sean Spicer claimed that these photos “were intentionally framed in a way, in one particular tweet, to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall”, according to the Washington Post.

The next day, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway had an interview with Chuck Todd about Trump’s and Spicer’s rejection of the photos. When asked why Trump told Spicer to “utter a falsehood” his first time on the podium as press secretary, Conway replied, “What–You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that”.

At a Texas rally on Friday, Trump vowed to “open up libel laws, so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money” according to a video posted by Politico. “We can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they are protected”, he continued. “You see, with me they’re not protected.”

According to the New York Times, the First Amendment has weakened its protection of the press. The press relies on “the institutional media’s relative financial strength; the good will of the public; a mutually dependent relationship with government officials; the support of sympathetic judges; and political norms and traditions.” What used to bolster the press in its mission to inform the public has faltered: news organizations have been running out of money, the public has lost trust in the media, the Supreme Court has declined major press cases, and Trump’s new administration has broken the relationship between government and journalists.

 

Sources to fact-check news articles:

http://www.factcheck.org/

http://www.snopes.com/

http://www.politifact.com/

 

Article by Katerina Muraviyova, COM’19

The war against plastic

07bags-web-master1050

Image courtesy of the New York Times – Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

 

 

          Since July 2016, France has banned the sale, distribution, and use of single-use plastic bags in all stores. According to the French administration of Health and Services, certain wrapping materials are still available under certain conditions: if the wrapped goods are meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables, and if the wrapping material is not plastic but made of natural components or strictly vegetable-based. All bags should have a mention indicating its reusable character, and warning customers against the toxicity of such waste thrown out in the wilderness – like the number of years, or decades, until complete deterioration.

Stiffness from the French government reflects an increase of ecological concerns, and a worry to turn green at a faster rate. However, there are more improvements; since January 1, the measure will not only concern checkout counters but also store sections. Moreover, materials that cannot be processed into compost, although degradable, will be progressively put aside. According to the Public Health Services website, bags will be composed of 30% of organic components in 2017, with the goal of reaching 50% in 2020, and 60% in 2025.

It is not France’s first offensive in the war against plastic pollution: ten years ago, the European Union had invited numerous European countries to lower their consumption by making consumers pay up to 10 cents per bag. In France, this implementation had diminished distribution from 12 billion to 700 million bags over a ten-year period.

Still, in 2015, according to Le Figaro. fr, nearly 17 billion plastic bags were distributed: 5 billion at checkout counters of local shops and small convenience stores, and 12 billion in store sections of all businesses. Before this slow decrease in production and distribution, France thought to put a drastic end to the circulation of plastic bags – and extend the measure to other plastic products, like plates and cutlery, in 2020.

France is, however, still far behind its fellow Europeans, like Norway and Sweden, where consumption is eight times less. The law may have been implemented earlier; pending in the government’s drawers since 2004, it was initially sought to be implemented in 2010. Alas, at the end of 2009, the decree for the publication of this law was still not drafted, because of violation of European directives on packaging. Another reason is that the production of environmental-friendly components, such as craft, takes longer, and is thus more expensive (2 to 4 times) for factories, businesses and consumers alike.

The measure also inscribes itself in a wave of environmental concerns that have spread over Europe during the past ten years. Soaring use of renewable energies, emphasis on waste sorting, and awareness on raising better, eco-friendly ways to produce and consume have been topical. Mid-January this year, Paris vehicles will get color-coded “pollution stickers,” with green for the cleanest cars to gray for the most pollutant. Inhabitants with the “dirtiest” cars will have to leave them at home when pollution peaks will occur, at a risk of getting fined.

In the United States, an average of 100 billion plastic bags is distributed to consumers every year – almost one bag per person each day.
However, since 2014, cities on the West Coast and the state of California have been reducing their distribution and came to ban plastic bags in big retailers and anti-bag legislation has spread to 132 cities across the country. San Francisco, for instance, aims to implement a “zero waste” policy by 2020. The state of Colorado has implemented fees on plastic and paper bags, ranging from 10 to 20 cents.
Still, in many states, consumers can have as many plastic bags as they want during checkout; which creates significant problems for certain metropoles, like New-York City. Indeed, the particular beauty of its urban landscape deteriorates while plastic bags do not. They fly away, getting stuck in city trees and sweeping across sidewalks – a pollution for the eye.

But against all odds, the Big Apple is also turning green. After years of struggles, debates, and prohibitions from the State Capitol’s bill against taxes, fees or local charges on merchandise bags, the 5 cents fee on plastic bags will be implemented in February. The decision was taken after a final vote of 28 to 20 by the City Council, last June.

Article by Alice Ferré, CAS’19

Trump and Putin: A controversial relationship

160721_pol_trump-putin-crop-promo-xlarge2

President-elect Donald J. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin – Image courtesy of Slate

Trump has been vague and inconsistent with many of his policies, both domestic and foreign. Democrats and Republicans alike have condemned Trump’s relationship with a particular world leader: Russian President Vladimir Putin.

 The United States and Russia have had an unstable relationship since the Cold War. After the Soviet Union fell and the Cold War ended, both nations coexisted without serious conflict. Tensions arose again in 2014 during Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, and have only worsened as both countries backed different sides in the ongoing Syrian Civil War. Obama has since imposed sanctions on Russia as a way of punishing Putin for his actions on the world stage. Some consider these new tensions between two world powers with a history of disagreement to be a second Cold War.

Trump has promised repeatedly to improve relations with Russia, and this commitment to working with Putin on common interests has gained him widespread support in the country. According to USA Today, about a third of Russians feel that Trump will be the best president to lead America. Russians are enamored by Trump because he admires Putin and emulates his strong leadership style as much as they do: Putin has a 90% approval rating in Russia according to polls. In an interview with CBS, Trump praised Putin’s policy of attacking Syrian rebel groups and backing President Bashar Al-Assad.

Trump promised to work with Putin on a basis of mutual interest, rather than mutual values, as defeating ISIS. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Trump answered: “wouldn’t it be nice if we actually got along with Russia, wouldn’t it be nice if we went after ISIS together.”

Putin has also expressed admiration for Trump, calling him a bright and talented individual; however, this praising has been exaggerated by the president-elect himself.

Trump’s interest in Russia appears to be a constructive one, geared toward uniting two nations to create a more secure world. What Trump denies, however, is his extensive investment with Russian businessmen. Trump tweeted in July of this year that he has no investments in Russia. Although, according to Time, once Trump stopped receiving money from major banks in the United States due to recurring bankruptcies, he sought money from Russian investors inside of Putin’s circle. Trump’s son, Donald Jr., mentioned in a 2008 real estate conference, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” adding that “we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” His former campaign chairman Paul Manafort had business deals with Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs when Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was being ousted in 2014.  Independent reported that Donald Trump Jr. held secret talks in Paris to coordinate with Russia to end the Syrian conflict.

Trump refuses to acknowledge his ties to Russia because he wants his admiration for Putin to seem political, rather than commercial.
In any case, his relationship with Putin shows again his anti-establishment mentality as he adopts policies that are disapproved by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Article by Katerina Muraviyova, COM’19

The Puppet-Masters: Who is really to fear in Trump’s America?

 

 

November 24, 2015

Cartoon by Adam Zygus/AZvision

 

 

This past week liberal America’s worst nightmare became a reality. We watched on helplessly as a man we have come to know as racist, misogynist, fear-mongering “islamophobic” (among a multitude of other qualities) be handed the pinnacle role in the US Government. For many of us, seeing those states one by one light up red was like watching years of progress disappear before our eyes.

Emotions ran high that night and continue to do so today. It seems that the post-election vibe across the East Coast, at least, is one shrouded in disbelief. But the one emotion that seems to cross cultural and societal boundaries for many minority groups is one of fear: there is so much fear as non-white members of our country. As CNN anchor Van Jones put it in a moving commentary, the results of the presidential election were a lot of things, but above all, it was a “white-lash”. Essentially, a reaction of traditional ‘white’ American culture to changing tides in racial, gender, sexuality and religious norms.

But is President-elect Donald J. Trump truly the monster we have to fear in the next four years? Yes, he will be the face we see the most. His speeches on topics that touch us dearly will anger and frustrate as ever, but can someone who has never dealt with the rabbit hole that is Washington D.C. and Congress be the nightmare we think him to be? Maybe so.

However, what is most likely is that there will be some dubious characters behind him. For example, only two days after the election did Trump bring in Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, onto the immigration transition team. Now this man is a scary character. When Kobach was questioned on his views of the border wall Trump has railed about for the entirety of his campaign, he stated that “there’s no question the wall is going to get built. The only question is how quickly will it get done and who pays for it?”

If that doesn’t rattle you, Kobach has been a major proponent of some of the most racist and anti-immigrant laws in his state. Many of us have heard of the infamous ‘Stop and Frisk’ practice in New York, but it is the lesser known, yet equally racist, SB 1070 law that Kobach was behind. This law made is possible for authorities to questions and demand identity proof of anyone who looks like an immigrant. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, “laws inspired by Arizona’s SB 1070 invite rampant racial profiling against Latinos, Asian-Americans, and others presumed to be ‘foreign’ based on how they look or sound.”

What is important to note about this information is that Kobach, like many other recruits in a Trump administration, is and has been involved with government work for a long time. People like him, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Pence know how to deal with Congress and the nuances of government work. As a business man and public personality, Donald J. Trump does not. He’s truly a fish out of water in D.C.

So is he a mere figurehead of a much more sinister group of people? Deciding who the real monsters of the next four years is going to take time. All we can do is wait and see. But one thing is for sure, the members of his cabinet are not to be underestimated.

Article by Maria Noyen, CAS’19