World and National News Digest
US Military Strikes in Syria:
On February 25th, the Biden Administration made its first move in the Middle East. The US bombed a small village on the edge of the Syria-Iraq border. This camp was only about 370 meters long, yet the US dropped seven 500 pound bombs on the small encampment killing a “handful” of militia according to American officials even though it was later confirmed that at least 22 people were killed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. This small camp was used for smuggling weapons and soldiers across the Iraqi border. The village was said to have contained members of the Iranian backed terrorist group Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada which have been known to operate terrorist attacks against Israel and Allied Forces in the Middle East. This move left many wondering why did Biden do this and where does the US go from here?
President Biden ordered this move as a counterattack in response to a rocket attack on February 15th in Northern Iraq which killed 1 and wounded six others according to the New York Times. The US orchestrated the airstrike strategically, bombing on the Syrian side of the border so that it didn’t draw criticism from the Iraqi government who has been an ally of the US in the fight against ISIS in Syria. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said that the air strike was a “defensive” move.
President Biden has faced pushback from Congress according to CNN. Virginia Senator and Democrat, Tim Kaine said, “offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional absent extraordinary circumstances. Congress must be fully briefed on this matter expeditiously." Other Democrat politicians echoed this their main issue with the strike being that the decision wasn’t run by Congress and that it would only further escalate the situation in the Middle East. This is the same problem, on a smaller scale, that President Trump ran into in office following his authorization of the strike that killed Iranian General Qassam Soleimani.
The move was planned as a way of punishing those responsible for the rocket attack without making too much of an impact that would further escalate hostilities between the US and Iran. This is especially important for President Biden now as he looks towards making a nuclear deal with Iran that would limit their nuclear arms productions as well as possibly ending their support for terrorist groups in the region. While this attack on a small cluster of buildings in Syria might not seem like much, it is the first military action taken in the Middle East by President Biden and shows how he is willing to respond to attacks against the US military without overstepping the line.
A before and after shot of the village bombed by the US military. Images from Sky News.
Worldwide Vaccine Distribution:
Ever since the COVID vaccines have been approved, countries have been eager to get their hands on vaccines and to distribute them, which makes sense as the pandemic has now killed over 2.5 million people. Some countries have stepped up to the challenge whereas others are still trying to catch up, here is the rundown of the Coronavirus vaccination by country.
Countries with a small population unsurprisingly are ones who lead the way in percentage of vaccinations. Countries such as Maldives, Iceland, Malta, and Barbados all have a high percentage of doses given per 100 people without having given many vaccinations in total due to their small population. Despite this, there are many pleasant surprises as some countries have stepped up to the challenge such as Chile, United Arab Emirates, and Serbia all have vaccinated over 40 per 100 people. The biggest surprise of all has been Israel who has given 95.5 vaccines per 100 people and 8.6 of the 9.3 million total population have received at least the first vaccine. Despite this, many countries have criticized the lack of vaccine distribution in Palestine. While there have been some vaccination triumphs, there have also been some surprising failures. Japan, which only began vaccine distribution within the last two weeks has only vaccinated a dismal 39 thousand people as of March 4th. South Africa also sits under 100,000 as they have only vaccinated 70 thousand people which is especially concerning as South Africa is the leader in cases in Africa and also where one of the new variants began. Another country that is behind in vaccine distribution is New Zealand with a lowly 9.4 thousand total dosages given, which is surprising because of how well they have handled the Coronavirus. The New Zealand Herald described New Zealand as, “lagging behind much of the developed world,” This is because New Zealand delayed their vaccine rollout due to their response to the COVID meaning that they were in no rush to approve vaccines.
Every country in the world has had to find a way to distribute vaccines and some have done an incredibly good job of it, while others have struggled. As more and more vaccines are being produced, countries will continue to have to adapt to find the best way to get these important vaccines into people’s arms.
As the world reopens countries that have been able to vaccinate their populations will be able to be the first ones to return to normal life. Image from BBC
On February 1st the Myanmar military overthrew the government and in the process destroyed the country's newly founded democracy. The military also detained hundreds of political leaders including elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The country of Myanmar has had an extremely difficult history and now that it has finally established a democracy it is taken from its people.
In the late 18 and early 1900s then Burma was a British province of British India before separating and making Burma its own colony. During World War 2, the Japanese captured Burma and held it for three years until Burma was liberated by the British and Burma Independence Army. Burma gained independence in 1948 with U Nu as their first Prime Minister. Over the coming decade, his promotion of Buddhism as the state’s religion as well as his tolerance for separatism angered the country's military. In 1962 U Nu’s party was ousted from office from a military coup. In its place, the military got rid of the federal system and instead established the “Burmese way to Socialism.” In the coming decades, there were multiple attempts made to take the power away from the military and reestablish a democracy including in 1990 when the Party for Democracy won the elections by a landslide but the results were ignored by the military. The socialist government in power drew support from China whereas the pro-democracy movement called the National League for Democracy headed by Aung San Suu Kyi had support from the United States and UN.
Myanmar has, like many other countries in Southern Asia, struggled with persecutions among minority groups, especially of the Rohingya Muslims. In 2017, the military drove out 700,000 Rohingya Muslims in an ethnic cleansing campaign according to the New York Times. This issue rose in prevalence in the early 2000s as the military first granted 14 years of democracy which they later went back on. Myanmar finally became a democracy under the condition that the military controls 25% of the seats in Parliament. Aung San Suu Kyi became the Prime Minister in 2012 in a landslide victory. In the 2020 November elections, the NLD beat pro military candidates in parliamentary elections, and in response, the Army overthrew the government claiming fraudulent elections. Aung Hlaing now takes over for one year.
Myanmar struggled for decades to build a democracy and now they are back under the rule of the military. Since the coup, the military has placed Aung San Suu Kyi and other opposition leaders under house arrest as well as issue censorships including disabling social media platforms and banning Myanmar media platforms from broadcasting or providing any information due to covering the protests, according to the Associated Press. The Myanmar Military has committed some unimaginably horrific acts even recently. U Thein Aung told the New York Times that the military ordered him and others to walk through a dangerous route through the mountains, one man was killed after stepping on a landmine, he said, “It is very clear that they used us as human land mine detectors.” This took place last April. According to the United Nations, over 60 people have been killed by security forces (many more have been injured) and over 1,700 people have been detained since the coup. Police have also fired tear gas on tens of thousands of protestors during the Sunday, March 7th protests.The United Nations have tried to impose sanctions on Myanmar but according to the Associated Press, “Coordinated U.N. action is difficult, however, since permanent Security Council members China and Russia would almost certainly veto it. Myanmar’s neighbors, its biggest trading partners and sources of investment are likewise reluctant to resort to sanctions.” Myanmar is another example of a country in Southeastern Asia that has faced a struggle with competing influences of the pro-democracy West versus Communist China which sits directly northeast of Myanmar.
Tens of thousands of protestors have gathered in response to the military coup in Myanmar, demanding that the country be returned to democracy. Image from BBC.
Gov. Cuomo Impeachment:
The Emmy Award-winning New York Governor has come back down to earth, and come back hard. In the last couple of months, multiple allegations have been brought against the Governor including covering up the numbers of deaths from nursing homes as well as six sexual assault accusations as of March 14th. Within six months Andrew Cuomo has gone from revered by many for his handling of the Coronavirus, to potentially removed from office.
The first accusations against Gov. Cuomo came in January when New York Attorney General Letitia James said that New York had undercounted the total number of deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50%. New York leads the country in nursing home deaths with over 9,250 and part of the reason for this is because of Cuomo’s earlier rule that forced nursing homes to allow entry to those who had or suspected of having the Coronavirus. According to the New York Times, “Unlike other states, New York excluded residents (from their tracking list) who had been transferred to hospitals and died there, effectively cloaking how many nursing home residents had died of Covid-19.” Cuomo’s own staff say that he tried to delay information regarding nursing home deaths until late January when Attorney General James published the accusation. Many of Cuomo’s top aides say he hid the information for political reasons, namely so that he wouldn’t face a response from then President Trump. To add insult to injury for New Yorkers, this scandal was taking place as Gov. Cuomo was touting his success and beginning to write a book about his handling of COVID.
The other reason many are calling for Cuomo’s impeachment is because of recent sexual assault allegations. Over the past weeks, he has faced six separate allegations, most of them from former staff members. These allegations have been called “credible,” by politicians on both sides. Speaker of the State Assembly Carl Heastie, a Democrat said in a statement, “The reports of accusations concerning the governor are serious,” Many have called for Cuomo’s resignation, which he has refused. He has apologized for “making anyone feel uncomfortable” but has denied the allegations. During his press conference, he asked for people “to wait for the facts” as the New York State Assembly has authorized its judiciary committee to start an impeachment investigation.
Impeachment would require a majority vote from the state’s 150 member state Assembly. If the majority votes for impeachment, the case goes to a special impeachment court. If ⅔ of the court votes for impeachment, he is removed from office and the Lieutenant Governor takes over. Removal from office seems unlikely even though the impeachment does have bi-partisan support. Six socialist lawmakers have called for his resignation sighting abuse of power and predatory behavior. This story is definitely one that will continue to be on news headlines in the coming weeks and is one to watch.
With each passing day New York Governor Andrew Cuomo faces increased pressure to resign amid allegations of sexual assault and for intentionally undercounting nursing home deaths. Image from Business Insider.
George Floyd Settlement:
On March 12th, the Minneapolis City Council unanimously voted to approve 27 million dollars in the case filed last July for wrongful death. This was voted on as the criminal case of the Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd, Derek Chauvin is currently ongoing. Part of the Floyd Settlement includes the city giving $500,000 to the community around what is now known as George Floyd Square.
The criminal case against Derek Chauvin began on Monday. According to Buzzfeed News, “He has been charged with second-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter, and third-degree murder.” The charge of third degree murder had been taken out of the case originally but was later reinstated. Three other officers involved in the case will be tried in August, according to CBS News, for aiding and abetting both second degree murder and manslaughter.
This is seen as a major victory by many, including Geroge Floyd’s sister, Bridgett Floyd who said, “I am pleased that this part of our tragic journey to justice for my brother George is resolved." Benjamin Crump, one of the attorneys representing George Floydspoke Friday March 12th during a news conference, “this settlement sends a powerful message that Black lives do matter and police brutality against people of color must end." He also said that the settlement was the largest pretrial Civil Rights settlement ever.
One of the biggest parts of the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd was demanding that he gets justice by making sure that those responsible for his death paid for their crimes. Following this settlement, and the cases to come, this is looking like a very real possibility.
The death of George Floyd shocked the nation last May and exposed racial justice issues that had been ignored for decades. Now, this groundbreaking case is being decided in court. Image from Japan Times.