- On Friday, the U.S. conducted an airstrike against an Iranian-back militia in Syria after it shot rockets into northern Iraq and injured U.S. service personnel.
- The airstrike marks the first in Biden’s presidency, and while normally a routine response, it caused particular backlash against the president, who campaigned on getting out of “forever wars” in the region.
- Many felt like Biden was more concerned with bombing people in the Middle-East than he was with passing his $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which was being debated by Congress at the time.
- The targeting of an Iranian-backed militia likely didn’t help efforts to start informal talks with Iran on Sunday in an effort to reignite the Iran Nuclear Deal.
Striking Back Against Militias
The U.S. military conducted an airstrike on an Iranian-backed militia in Syria on Friday, marking it as the first such airstrike under President Joe Biden’s term.
The airstrike was conducted as retaliation after the militia launched rockets into northern Iraq; killing civilians, contractors, and injuring a U.S. service member as well as other coalition troops.
Despite airstrikes being a routine response for such situations over the last 20 years, the decision caused Biden to face intense backlash in the U.S.
For many, it set the tone and seemed to contradict some of his earlier stances when running for office. In 2019, for instance, Biden made it clear that he wanted to get out of Iraq as soon as possible, as well as speed up the removal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. However, such airstrikes are often blamed for further entrenching the U.S. in the region.
Biden received criticism across the political spectrum, with only a few conservatives praising the airstrike as a necessary move to protect U.S. troops.
In Congress, many Democrats called the move unconstitutional, a stance the party has had since at least 2018 when Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said a similar airstrike conducted by President Trump required the approval of Congress. The Biden administration pushed back against this, sending a letter to Congress on Sunday saying the president had the power to use limited force without the body’s approval via the War Power Act.
Public Perception in a Downward Spiral
Many Americans have mocked Biden for seemingly feeling comfortable enough to use his executive power to bomb militias while also expressing apprehension toward using that same power to forgive student loans.
Others pushed back against the idea that the airstrike was a form of defensive retaliation
“This latest Biden airstrike is being spun as “defensive” and “retaliatory” despite its targeting a nation the US invaded (Syria) in response to alleged attacks on US forces in another nation the US invaded (Iraq),” wrote one user on Twitter, “You can’t invade a nation and then claim self-defense there. Ever.”
Some of the biggest criticism the president received came from those who said it seemed like his priorities were off-base. Because while the airstrike was conducted, Congress was debating his $1.9 trillion stimulus package.
Civil Rights activist Ja’Mal Green, for instance, tweeted, “We didn’t flip Georgia Blue for Biden to air strike Syria. We flipped Georgia Blue for our $2,000 Stimulus Checks.”
However, it’s worth noting that there’s not much Biden can do right now to push his stimulus package through Congress, other than attempt to convince some on-the-fence senators like Joe Manchin (D-WV). Still, the perception of confused priorities was enough to anger many.
All of this likely didn’t help when the E.U. foreign policy chief, on behalf of all the countries who signed the Iran Nuclear deal, attempted to convince Iran to engage in informal talks to try and restart the deal on Sunday. A proposal was shot down by Iran.
“Considering the recent actions and statements by the United States and three European powers, Iran does not consider this the time to hold an informal meeting with these countries,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh
Filipino President Threatens To Jail Those Who Refuse To Get Vaccinated Against COVID-19
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)
Japan’s Government To Encourage 4-Day Workweek, Experts Doubt Implementation
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)
Hong Kong’s Apple Daily Raided, Top Editors and Execs Arrested
Police claim the paper violated a controversial National Security law by publishing articles that asked foreign countries to sanction the Hong Kong and Chinese government.
Apple Daily Raid
Nearly 500 Chinese police officers carried out a raid on Thursday at the headquarters of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily, a tabloid-style paper and one of the largest publications in the city.
During the aid, which was live-streamed by the outlet, police arrested top executives and editors while also seizing journalistic materials over violations of the city’s controversial National Security law. Apple Daily said CEO Cheung Kim Hung, COO Chow Tat Kuen, Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law, Deputy Chief Editor Chan Pui-man, and Online Editor Cheung Chi-wai were arrested and accused of “colluding with foreign forces and external elements to endanger national security.”
Police also froze $1.8 million in Apple Daily assets.
John Lee, Hong Kong’s Security Secretary, told reporters that “this case involves a conspiracy” and added that the police were targeting those who use journalism as a “tool to endanger national security.”
Police claim that since 2019, Apple Daily has published articles calling on foreign countries to sanction the Chinese and Hong Kong governments. Many of those articles were published before the National Security law went into effect, meaning the law is being applied retroactively.
However, China’s Deputy Director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office said the law wouldn’t be retroactive, so it’s unclear if there’s been a shift in policy and if authorities are seeking to change how they approach violations that occurred before the law was enacted.
Not Meant to Restrict Freedom of the Press
Thursday’s raid could also have repercussions for other Hong Kongers. The city’s Senior Superintendent of the Police’s National Security Department warned citizens not to repost certain Apple Daily articles by saying, “If you have no real reason to share these types of articles, I would advise everyone not to.”
He claimed that this raid wasn’t targeting the press but rather one individual organization that violated the law. He also said Hong Kong’s government values the freedom of the press, a right that is supposed to be enshrined in the city’s Basic Law. Lee concurred with the Senior Superintendent, adding, “Please understand that our actions are not targeting journalistic work. We target perpetrators who use journalistic work as a tool to endanger acts of national security.”
Apple Daily has vowed to carry on with its work while also acknowledging that its fate was out of its hands. In a letter to its readers, the paper wrote, “In today’s Hong Kong, we are unfamiliar and speechless.”
“It seems that we are powerless to deal with it, and it is difficult to prevent the regime from doing whatever it wants.”