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Puerto Rico Swears in Third Governor in Less Than a Week

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  • Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez has been sworn in as the Governor of Puerto Rico.
  • Vázquez is the third governor Puerto Rico has had this week, including former Governor Ricardo Rosselló, who stepped down amid a scandal involving leaked messages.
  • Rosselló had originally appointed Pedro Pierluisi to be next in line for governor, but just days after he was sworn in, the Supreme Court ruled his appointment was unconstitutional.
  • Vázquez, who was the third in line, is highly unpopular and had previously said she does not want the job. She has already been the subject of protests and backlash, and more are expected to come.

New Puerto Rican Governor Sworn In

Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez was sworn in as the Governor of Puerto Rico on Wednesday, marking the third governor that the island has had in less than a week.

Vázquez’s swearing-in comes after the Puerto Rican Supreme Court ruled that Pedro Pierluisi, who was sworn in as governor on Aug. 2 to replace Ricardo Rosselló, had come to power unconstitutionally. 

Pierluisi had been appointed to secretary of state by then-Governor Rosselló, who stepped down from his position. Rosselló was pushed to resign following massive protests against him after hundreds of pages of messages were leaked revealing conversations between the then-governor and some of his top-ranking officials.

In the messages, the men used sexist and homophobic slurs and joked about people who died in Hurricane Maria.

Following Rosselló’s resignation, the next in the line of succession for the governorship was the secretary of state. However, Puerto Rico’s secretary of state has just resigned as well, as he also was involved in the message scandal.

Line of Succession Problems

The lack of a clear successor left Rosselló with two choices: either nominate a new secretary of state and hope that that person got approved by Puerto Rico’s House and Senate before he left office on Aug. 2, or simply continue down the line of succession.

The third in the line of succession was the Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez. However, a few days after Rosselló announced his resignation, Vázquez said in a tweet that she did not want to be the governor.

@WandaVazquezg

The next in line was the treasury secretary, but he could not be governor because he was 31, and Puerto Rico’s constitution mandates that the governor must be at least 35.

The fifth in the line of succession was the secretary of education, a career bureaucrat with very little political experience who had only been serving for a few months after the previous secretary of education was arrested for illegally directing $15.5 million in federal contracts to business friends.

Constitutional Challenges

Amid the political turmoil, Rosselló announced on July 30, three days before he was set to leave office, that he had nominated Pierluisi as secretary of state.

Pierluisi, a lawyer who previously served as Puerto Rico’s non-voting member in Congress and as their secretary of justice, was approved by Puerto Rico’s House, but not the island’s Senate.

Reportedly, the Senators were wary of Pierluisi because he had spent the last few years working for a Washington D.C.-based law firm that gave legal counsel to the federal oversight board that monitors Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy.

That board is largely disliked by Puerto Ricans because it has imposed strict austerity measures on them. As a result, the Senators were concerned he would still try to push the board’s agenda.

However, Rosselló still chose to swear-in Pierluisi, and the next day Puerto Rico’s Senate filed a lawsuit arguing that it was unconstitutional for someone in the line of succession who had not been confirmed by the Senate to step up as governor.

Pierluisi defended himself, citing a 2005 law that says a secretary of state does not need to be approved by both the House and Senate if they need to assume the position of governor in an emergency.

However, Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a secretary of state had to be approved by both the House and Senate in order to step up as governor and that as a result, Pierluisi’s appointment was unconstitutional and he had to step down immediately.

Wanda Vázquez 

After serving for a total of 120 hours, the shortest period of time any Puerto Rican governor has been in office, Pierluisi stepped down, and Vázquez was sworn in.

Speaking during a televised speech last night, Vázquez said that while she was not chosen by the people, she would try to create dialogue and build consensus.

“We will work together on all that unites us, and we will look for consensus where we disagree,” the new governor told the people of Puerto Rico. “I will remain focused on resuming the course for our people in an orderly and peaceful fashion.”

However, Vázquez’s future as the governor may be short-lived. Even after Vázquez had said she did not want the job, protestors took to the streets to oppose her possible appointment, and a hashtag calling for her to resign was reportedly shared Twitter more than 60,000 times.

After her swearing-in, a small group of protestors gathered in front of the governor’s mansion to call for her resignation and reportedly chanted, “There’ll be no peace as long as there’s impunity!”

Already, Puerto Rico is expecting a new wave of much larger protests calling for Vázquez to step down.

Vázquez, who has never held elected political office, is highly unpopular among Puerto Ricans for a number of reasons. At the very top level, many simply view her as an extension of Rosselló’s corrupt administration.

Critics have accused her of not being aggressive enough in launching corruption investigations into members of her own party during her tenure as secretary of justice. 

She has also been criticized for not prioritizing gender violence cases while serving as the head of Puerto Rico’s women’s affairs office, as well as for making controversial statements about abuse victims and for not investigating a recent rise in violence against women in Puerto Rico.

More recently, she came under fire for refusing to investigate trailers full of unused hurricane supplies that were found abandoned in fields a year after the hurricane, despite the fact that leaked messages revealed that she had discussed looking into it with the governors chief of staff before declining to do so.

Additionally, last year, Vázquez was suspended as justice secretary for a brief period after she was accused of intervening in a case involving her daughter who was the alleged victim of a burglary, though she was later cleared by a judge and resumed her post.

On top of everything, Vázquez has made it quite evident she does not want to be the governor. 

On Wednesday, Puerto Rico’s El Nuevo Día newspaper reported that sources told the publication that Vázquez plans to resign after nominating Jenniffer González, the islands current non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives.

See what others are saying: (Vox) (AP News) (NBC News)

International

Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Paper Apple Daily Forced To Shut Down Under Government Pressure

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Over the last week, Apple Daily has been dealing with the fallout of authorities raiding its offices, arresting its leadership, freezing most of its assets, and leaving it unable to pay employees.


End of Hong Kong Staple

Apple Daily, one of Hong Kong’s most popular papers, announced Wednesday that it would be shutting down starting Thursday.

The news is a major blow to journalism in the city, as Apple Daily was a prominent, independent news outlet that was willing to feature both pro-unification and pro-democracy editorials. It was also known for making its own headlines in its clashes with Beijing and Hong Kong authorities.

The series of events that led to its closure first began last week when over 500 police descended on Apple Daily’s offices to confiscate documents and arrest executives, as well as editors. Authorities also froze over $1,000,000 in assets.

Officials accused the paper of violating Article 28 of the controversial National Security law by advocating for foreign countries to interfere in Chinese affairs and impose sanctions on the mainland and Hong Kong governments. Authorities also arrested one of the paper’s journalists for writing pro-democracy editorials Wednesday morning.

After last week’s raid, Apple Daily said it would continue to publish papers, but following a week of struggling to pay staff and overcome the frozen assets, it was effectively forced to close its doors.

Lamenting the Loss

Around the world, governments and activists have lamented that the Chinese government managed to so quickly and effectively kill a paper and lessen the city’s journalistic landscape. Dominic Raab, the U.K.’s foreign minister, said, “The forced closure of Apple Daily by the Hong Kong authorities is a chilling blow to freedom of expression in Hong Kong.”

“It is crystal clear that the powers under the National Security Law are being used as a tool to curtail freedoms and punish dissent – rather than keep public order.”

The now-exiled in London, pro-democracy activist Nathan Law wrote on Twitter, “More than 1000 workers lost their jobs. A charity operated by Apple Daily that subsidizes underprivileged patients to pay for expensive patent drugs is also closed immediately. They lost all fundings. People lost more than a news channel that dares to speak differently.”

“The govt singlehanded created this tragedy. CCP does not tolerate truth and independent journalism. They crush our civil society, our proud tradition.”

After the paper ran its last video broadcast, Marco Cheung, one of the paper’s senior video reporters said during an interview in Hong Kong on Tuesday, “Is society changing too quickly or is it us that cannot keep up? Maybe we are used to a society with free speech and we have not adjusted yet.”

“We have not yet learned how we ought to survive if we want to stay in Hong Kong as journalists,” Cheung added.

A crowd of people went outside of Apple Daily’s offices on Wednesday to send off the paper, which has continued to remain popular despite the raid and saw its readership rise over the last week.

See what others are saying: (South China Morning Post) (The New York Times) (Reuters)

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International

Filipino President Threatens To Jail Those Who Refuse To Get Vaccinated Against COVID-19

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The leader’s remarks come after vaccine hesitancy studies indicated that nearly a third of Filipinos wouldn’t get vaccinated for COVID-19.


“Get Vaccinated or I Will Have You Jailed,” Duterte Warns

President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte threatened to enact some of the strictest COVID-19 measures in the world in a televised address Monday night.

“You choose, get vaccinated or I will have you jailed…. I’m telling you, those police jail cells are filthy and foul-smelling, police are lazy in cleaning,” Duterte warned citizens.

“You get vaccinated, otherwise I will order all the village heads to have a tally of all the people who refuse to get vaccinated,” the president added.

Duterte is known for making hyperbolic comments and Monday’s remarks have possibly proven to be no different.

Justice Minister Menardo Guevarra told reporters Tuesday morning that there are no laws compelling people to get vaccinated. Meanwhile, presidential spokesperson Herminio Roque said vaccines still remain voluntary. Still, Roque noted that compulsory vaccinations were within the powers of the state if it chose to do so through legislation.

Frustration at Growing Crisis

Not all of Duterte’s stances were walked back by officials. His plans to halt in-person classes and enforce mandatory face coverings are still supported by Filipino officials and health experts. While Duterte’s comments come off as draconian, the president argues, “The first wave has really depleted the resources of [the] government. Another one would be disastrous for this country. That is why the stricter you are, the better.”

The Philippines is facing a massive health crisis and widespread vaccine hesitancy. One study from Social Weather Stations, a statistics company, indicated that while 51% of the country trusts the government’s evaluation of COVID-19 vaccines, a majority of people still wouldn’t get them. In May 2021, that same study asked Filipinos whether or not they would take a vaccine if it was approved by the FDA and given for free. A third of respondents said they were unsure, while another third flat out said they would refuse.

This hesitancy has led to low vaccination rates amid a large outbreak over the last two months that has left COVID-19 infection numbers high.

June has consistently seen roughly 7,000 new cases a day, a slight improvement from April and May, but still nearly six times as many daily infections as June 2020.

See what others are saying: (Bloomberg) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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Japan’s Government To Encourage 4-Day Workweek, Experts Doubt Implementation

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Most Japanese companies that offer a four-day workweek don’t pay for the extra day off, which is a major point of concern for employees who don’t want to lose out on income.


Four Days of Pay for Four Days of Work

The government of Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide finalized its annual economic policy guidelines on Friday, which included a push for a four-day workweek option.

The initiative is already facing some pushback by employers, employees, and experts in the country. Some major concerns include how a four-day workweek would be implemented. At the 8.3% of Japanese companies that currently offer an extra day off, that day off is usually unpaid, according to the Ministry of Labor. For those that use it, it’s effectively a pay cut — a major concern for many employees who don’t want to lose out on income.

That pay cut could indicate why it’s rarely used. Yahoo Japan, for instance, offers it and only 100 out of 7000 employees take the extra day off, though a company spokesperson told Kyodo News, “It has been favorably received in general, with some employees saying that it became easier to match their days off with their children’s activities.”

There are also concerns that the extra day off, and the pay cut associated with it, will lead employees to seek part-time jobs to make up for the lost income. Those second jobs could mean that employees effectively have less time off than before and could result in a decrease in productivity, countering any alleged benefits of a four-day workweek.

Despite these concerns, the government thinks offering a four-day workweek would be a net benefit for Japan. It hopes that people will use the extra day to procure other skill sets that will help them gain work in emerging technologies and markets. In general, the government wants to promote “diversified working styles.”

Experts like Yamada Hisashi, vice chairman of the Japan Research Institute, think that any move towards a four-day workweek needs to be clearly spelled out to avoid issues such as pay cuts that motivate employees to stick to five days a week. He told Kyodo News that there were also complications for managers, saying, “Let’s say, if employees take second jobs, it would be difficult for managers to know how long they work in total and to evaluate equally those who take two days off a week and those who take three.”

“From the employees’ standpoint, they would not want to see their income from their main jobs decrease.”

Mixed Implementation With Tangible Benefits

Another criticism of the plan is that the extra day off doesn’t address other societal pressures that cause work-life imbalances. Japanese employees work fewer hours than their Australian, Canadian, Italian, and American counterparts, according to the Organization for the Economic Co-Operation and Development.

However, those numbers usually fail to reflect events such as dinner and drinks with superiors late into the night as often as multiple times a week in some of the most extreme cases. While these events are technically voluntary, societal pressures and traditions dictate that subordinates need to attend or face ostracization.

A four-day workweek has some evidence providing tangible benefits for employers, but whether that means employees get paid the same or receive a pay cut differs from company to company and is one of the things experts want the government to make clear.

In Japan, Microsoft’s local subsidiary experimented with a four-day workweek in 2019 and found a 40% boost in worker productivity. On top of increased productivity, the company also saved 58% on paper, and electricity consumption went down 23%.

See what others are saying: (Kyodo News) (Japan Times) (The Mainichi)

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