America First, France Second!


French Presidential Candidates Throw Actual Mud on TV: Ok, not really. But if they had, it might have been more dignified. In one of the most venomous TV debates in French presidential history, final candidates Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen basically engaged in two and a half hours of near continuous insults. When grenades were not being launched, the debate centered around the economy and terrorism. Both are unsurprising topics–France has experienced massive unemployment in the last decade, and 230 people in two years have been killed by terrorist attacks.

Some of the night’s personal attacks included centrist Macron referring to far-right Le Pen as the “great priestess of fear” and a “hate-filled” liar who “fed off France’s misery.” Le Pen shot back with vitriol, describing Macron as an arrogant, “smirking banker” who colludes with Islamists, favors “uncontrolled globalization,” and is simply the lapdog of deeply unpopular outgoing president François Hollande.

Viewers lost count of the number of times Macron mocked Le Pen for furiously rifling through her notes. “Look in your files,” Macron taunted as she mixed up the details of her arguments. “The French people will understand that you have nothing to propose.” Le Pen at one point scolded her younger opponent: “Don’t play with me. Don’t play teacher and pupil. It’s not my thing.” Oh no she di’n’t! Oh yes, she sure did–Le Pen not so subtly brings up Macron’s much publicized marriage to his former high school teacher, 24 years his senior. Yeah, this all happened. On TV. In a country where the etiquette of cheek-kissing upon meeting a new acquaintance could fill a Master’s thesis!

Macron’s closing argument to Le Pen was nothing if not memorable: “The France that I want will not be divided. To make this happen we will need to leave a system that co-produced you. You are the co-production of the system you are denouncing. Because you live off it. You are its parasite.” To which Le Pen responded: “That’s classy.” Classy or not, a snap survey of likely voters by polling firm Elabe showed that 63 percent of respondents rated Macron as the winner of the debate. Come Sunday night in France, we will know who really had the final word.


Puerto Rico Declares Bankruptcy on 120 Billion Dollar Debt: Puerto Ricans face a very uncertain time as their government set in motion “what would likely be the largest municipal debt restructuring in US history.” Puerto Rico has been unable to resolve its debt burden of $70 billion to creditors and an additional $49 billion in pension liabilities. A federal court will now decide how much of the debt burden the territory will have to pay and how much creditors will write off. This is a first for an American territory or state and far surpasses the $18 billion bankruptcy that Detroit filed in 2013.

Tillerson Says America’s Values Are Not Its Policies: In his first ‘all hands on deck’ address since taking office, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke on Wednesday to State Department employees on how an “America First” agenda translates into foreign policy. Tillerson stated: “Our values around freedom, human dignity, the way people are treated–those are our values. Those are not our policies”–comments that to many suggest the US will reduce its efforts to fight for said values.

One State Department official, speaking anonymously, faulted Tillerson for not addressing the Trump administration’s proposed 28 percent budget cut for diplomacy and foreign aid and for not taking any questions from the audience. Another veteran official who attended the speech criticized Tillerson’s use of the term “America First,” a slogan used in the 1930s by isolationists who sought to keep America out of World War II. “The fact that they still use ‘America First’ shows they know nothing about history and what’s worse is they don’t care. It’s offensive.” Other State Department officials, however, said they were pleased with Tillerson’s remarks, saying it was early to expect him to take questions from the rank and file.  


…Speaking of US Diplomacy, Aussies Question US Alliance: Australians uneasily await the Thursday meeting in New York City between their Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and US President Donald Trump. Even before February’s heated phone conversation between the two leaders, Aussies were questioning whether the long-standing alliance between the two countries could be maintained with Trump in the White House. “There’s a great sense of loss about the America that we thought underpinned the security order (and) that the America we relied on might not be there,” a professor from the Australian National University explained.

Australia may share America’s ideological values, but China is its primary trading partner. Former Liberal Party leader John Hewson suggested it was time for Australia to pursue a new diplomacy, building relations with its Asian neighbors such as Indonesia and Japan and moving away from the US. But Sydney University history professor James Curran said he believes the US-Australia alliance is still “healthy,” although difficulties remain that need resolution.

Surprise! El Chapo Hid His Money Well: Joaquín Guzmán, also known as the drug lord “El Chapo,” is causing a major headache for US and Mexican authorities as they try to locate the crime boss’ estimated $1 billion fortune. Imprisoned after leading one of the world’s most notorious crime organizations, Guzmán has twice escaped maximum security prisons but was captured on his third try in January 2016. He was extradited a year later to the US and currently sits in a New York jail.


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Hollywood Steve Bannon is as Stealthy and Sneaky as Dr. Evil: As the Trump administration faces significant obstacles in pushing its agenda through, it has become less a team of rivals, but rather a kayfabe wrestling cage fight with the inner Trump circle playing out Lord of the Flies in the White House. It’s become so apparent who is leaking what that Slate published a guide on how to determine the source of a leak. Bannon’s leaks are apparently the easiest to spot–just look for “corny Hollywood pitch language.” But deciphering Bannon’s top-secret machinations has become much easier ever since a visitor to his office provided us with photographic evidence of a whiteboard to-do list. Even the Death Star plans had better security than Darth Bannon’s!

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