Courtesy: Daily PNUTS newsletter

APRIL 19, 2021

The Good News

“No country that permits firearms to be widely and randomly distributed among its population — especially firearms that are capable of wounding and killing human beings — can expect to escape violence, and a great deal of violence.” — Margaret Mead

“If a mysterious virus suddenly started killing eight of our children every day, America would mobilize teams of doctors and public health officials. We would move heaven and earth until we found a way to protect our children. But not with gun violence.” — Elizabeth Warren

Too Many Guns (And Not Enough Lawmakers) Fired

(Jon Cherry via Getty Images)

Gun violence in America is completely out of control. Virtually anyone can get access to a gun, whether a domestic violence perpetrator, someone with documented mental health issues, or a child. There have been more than 45 mass shootings in America in the last month, and at least 147 mass shootings so far this year. 

Less than two weeks ago, President Biden called this country’s gun violence “an epidemic… an international embarrassment.” He announced a series of executive actions aiming to do what he could in his limited capacity to curb the violence. 

Biden said his actions in no way relieved Congress of its responsibility to act. Pledging to push for sweeping change to the country’s firearms laws, the President urged lawmakers to take up gun-control legislation, including measures already passed by the House that would require more gun buyers to undergo background checks. 

Since then, a 19-year-old man — whose family “tried to get him the help he needed” — had purchased two assault rifles which he used to kill eight people, including himself, at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis Indiana last Thursday. Also on Thursday, Chicago officials released a police officer’s body cam video of the fatal shooting on March 29 of a 13-year-old boy whom prosecutors said had a gun as he fled from police. Just yesterday, a 41-year-old man shot three people dead in Austin, Texas in what police are saying appears to be “a domestic situation.” 

It’s going to take federal action. Leaving something as important as common-sense gun ownership legislation up to the states isn’t going to cut it. Just one week after Biden’s announcement, the Republican-controlled Texas House approved a bill allowing individuals over age 21 to carry loaded handguns in public without a permit and without any gun safety training. Texas is the 14th state to approve such a measure. The bill now goes to the state’s Republican-led Senate, where it will undoubtedly be approved and then signed by Governor Abbott. 

Meanwhile, the NRA’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy is proceeding through a Dallas federal court, as the gun-rights organization simultaneously seeks to abandon incorporation in New York and file to become a Texas corporation. (CNN, WaPo, Guardian, New York Times) 

The Biden-Bolsonaro Breakdown

(Tarso Sarraf via Getty Images)

  • In Brazil, deforestation in the Amazon destroyed an area bigger than Spain from 2000 to 2018, wiping out eight percent of the world’s largest rainforest. Despite the Amazon’s crucial role in curbing climate change, destruction of the rainforest has accelerated since 2019 under the leadership of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.
  • Just five months ago, Brazil’s environmental minister, Ricardo Salles, was pitching the rainforest in meetings with international fund managers as a novel opportunity ripe for investment. Salles envisioned cosmetics and pharmaceutical companies exploiting the jungle’s myriad exotic herbs, nuts and fruits. Now, Brazil’s government wants billions of dollars upfront from the US and other wealthy nations to help protect its Amazon rainforest.
  • Both the Bolsonaro and Biden administrations had hoped to announce a deal when the White House hosts the Leaders Summit on Climate on April 22 and 23. But Indigenous leaders, climate activists, and a group of Democratic senators are warning President Biden not to hand over any cash to Bolsonaro’s government, as it is “simply not to be trusted.”
  • The senators say any US aid to Brazil must be conditioned on deforestation reduction results. Salles said Friday he did not expect a deal to be announced at next week’s summit, but talks with the US would continue. (Al Jazeera) 

Canada Flees From Its Refugee-Friendly Reputation

  • In July 2020, a Canadian court threw out the 2002 Canada-US asylum pact — in which asylum seekers trying to cross between Canada and the US at formal border crossings are turned around and sent back — because it violated refugees’ and asylum seekers’ fundamental rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  • On Thursday, a Canadian appeals court overturned the lower court ruling to side with the government, setting up a possible showdown in Canada’s Supreme Court. A University of Ottawa immigration law professor said the ruling and the continuation of the agreement fly in the face of the reputation Canada has been building for itself as a champion of refugees.
  • “It erodes our commitment to refugee protection and also erodes our reputation in upholding the rights of refugees,” she said. Lawyers for refugees may apply to be heard by Canada’s highest court. (Al Jazeera)

Additional World News

Wait Until The Courts Hear About This One

  • Arkansas’s House of Representatives has passed a terse bill that would amend state education law to allow teachers to teach creationism as another scientific theory of “how the earth came to exist.” The two-sentence bill was passed 72-21 with no support from Democrats, and already has a sponsor in the Arkansas Senate.
  • The bill contradicts clear precedent set in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, a 1982 case that held “creation science” was actually religious in nature, and therefore violated the Constitution’s prohibition against the establishment of a state religion. That ruling wasn’t appealed, so it applied only to Arkansas. But a similar case from Louisiana, Edwards v. Aguillard (1987), did make it to the Supreme Court, which reached the same conclusion. The prohibition against creation science has applied nationally ever since.
  • If the current bill passes, the state, local school boards, and individual teachers who opt to teach creation science could face a flurry of lawsuits. It’s unclear why Arkansas’s Republican-controlled House would pass such a bill. But it might be that they hope to get before a now much more conservative Supreme Court that could possibly reach a different conclusion, much like conservatives in many state legislatures are doing in the hope of overturning Roe V. Wade. (Ars Technica, Encyclopedia of Arkansas, Legal Information Institute)

Cap On, Cap Off

  • The White House received a big backlash to its announcement Friday that it would keep this year’s historically low refugee ceiling of 15,000 set by the Trump administration. As a result, the statement was recanted later that day. Press secretary Jen Psaki said President Biden “was urged to take immediate action to reverse the Trump policy that banned refugees from many key regions, to enable flights from those regions within days; today’s order does that.”
  • The White House has been under increasing pressure from refugee advocates and congressional Democrats to make good on a campaign promise to raise the number to 125,000. A February State Department report to Congress proposed a figure of 62,500 for the fiscal year, which ends September 30. Psaki said Biden would “set a final, increased refugee cap” by May 15.
  • Refugee resettlement had been a bipartisan issue since President Jimmy Carter signed the Refugee Act of 1980. But it became a political hot potato during the Trump years. The former President characterized refugees as a danger to national security, and made deep cuts to the maximum number of refugees the US accepts each year. (NPR)

Additional USA News

Iceland’s Explosive Tourism Trend

  • As a Destination Wedding location, this one just might take the cake. 
  • Almost 45,000 people have visited Iceland’s Fagradalsfjall mountains in the southern part of the Reykjanes peninsula ever since the first volcanic eruption in 800 years began a month ago. The area is a seismic hotspot that produced 40,000 earthquakes in the month before the volcano erupted.
  • According to a professor of volcanology at the University of Iceland, the country is “one of the most volcanically eruptive places on earth. In simple terms, Iceland is one big volcano.” But it’s rare for an eruption to be as accessible to the public.
  • The phenomenon of seeing bubbling neon orange lava expelled from a volcano in such a cold climate has people posting thousands of images on social media, and adventurous couples making the arduous 20-mile trek from Reykjavík to the location for their nuptials.
  • Sumarliði and Jón hiked for more than two hours through snow and wind to reach the spot on the Reykjanes peninsula. “I thought I might freeze to death at my own wedding,” Sumarliði said.
  • But as the couple changed into their wedding suits in a pop-up tent, the skies cleared and the sun came out. They were able to exchange rings and vows, and share cake and champagne. It was “weird, gorgeous and terrifying all at the same time,” he said. In other words: “beyond perfect, a day we’ll never forget.” (Guardian) 

Additional Reads