Monday, April 18
As opposed to covering the tragic events in Boston, we wanted to provide you with a report about the other important news stories from this past week. It is not our intention to downplay or ignore the news, but rather we assume that you have already been reading about the events.
Universal Background Checks Fails in the Senate
Many politicians responded to the Newtown school shooting by advocating for legislation that would decrease gun violence. Proposals have ranged from strengthening mental health programs to banning certain assault weapons and limiting magazine size, but gun safety advocates were most hopeful in the Manchin-Toomey Amendment.
The bil was proposed by two NRA-backed conservatives, Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA), and it required all public sales of guns to require a background check. Currently, background checks are only required when purchasing from a licensed gun store, but this amendment would expand the requirement to gun shows and online sales. This discrepancy in the law has been referred to as the "gun show loophole," and it accounts for a significant amount of the guns purchased in the US. There still would have existed an exception to the background check requirement for those purchasing from family or neighbors.
The amendment failed at a 54-46 vote, needing sixty votes to pass the Senate. Gun safety advocates were dismayed with this result, but President Obama and others have pledged to keep fighting for the legislation. Buzzfeed reported on how Sen. Manchin failed to secure the votes for his amendment. NYTimes has a general overview on the Senate's gun legislation proposals.
Texas Fertilizer Plant Explodes, Decimating Town & Killing 14
A fertilizer plant in the small town of Waco, Texas caught on fire and subsequently exploded last Wednesday. The explosion killed many of the first responders who were working to extinguish the flames, and it destroyed infrastructure and more than fifty homes in the surrounding blocks. (Washington Post)
The fertilizer plant contained anhydrous ammonia, a dangerous chemical which is supposed to be used as fertilizer but can also act as an explosive. Some have cited this event as a failure of weak regulations, for it had last received an OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) inspection in 1985. A 2006 EPA inspection, along with other complaints, revealed numerous problems with the plant's unsafe handling of dangerous chemicals An investigations has been launched to discover the exact cause of this explosion. (Bloomberg)
Violence Erupts in Iraq as Elections Approach
On the day of the Boston marathon bombings, car bombs across Iraq killed 55 people. In what had been the most deadly day that month, al Qaeda affiliates launched their attacks ahead of the provincial elections as an attempt to intimidate Iraqis from voting. (CBCNews)
The Shiite government in Iraq has partnered in many areas with Iran, and this (along with accusations of corruption & discrimination) has generated considerable anger from the nation's Sunnis. Iraqi Sunnis have taken to the streets against Prime Minister Maliki, and these anti-government protests often lead to violent outcomes. Most recently, twenty Iraqis in Kirkuk province were killed by government forces while protesting (See video to the left.) In addition, the intensifying civil war in Syria (between the Iran-backed al-Assad and Sunni rebels) threatens to destabilize the area further. The Iraqi government remains committed to continuing with the elections, but it does not seem like the violence will stop anytime soon. (CSMonitor)
Government and Islamist Fighting Kills 185+ in Nigeria
Fighting between the Nigerian military and Boko Haram, a radical Islamist organization, killed over 185 people in Baga, northeastern Nigeria, this past Friday. Conflict between the Muslim-majority north and Christian-majority south has festered in the African nation for years, but the attack was a particularly violent episode in the Boko Haram-led insurgency that began in 2009. Reports of RPG and heavy machine gun fire between the two groups account for the unusually large amount of civilian deaths, but there have also been reports of the state military deliberately targeting civilians and destroying villages with fire. (Associated Press)
More from the AP on the situation:
"The Boko Haram network, which analysts and diplomats say has loose links to two other al-Qaida-aligned groups in Africa, has splintered into other groups as well. Its command-and-control structure also remains unclear. Recent Internet videos featuring Shekau have shown him with fighters carrying military weapons he said were stolen during attacks on Nigeria's military. Those weapons have included rocket-propelled grenades and other heavy weapons.
Fighters suspected to belong to Boko Haram also have been seen in northern Mali, where heavily armed Islamic extremists took power in the weeks following a military coup in that West African nation. Analysts also have worried that Boko Haram may get its hands on weapons smuggled out of Libya following its recent civil war.
Despite the deployment of more soldiers and police to northern Nigeria, the nation's weak central government has been unable to stop the killings. Meanwhile, violent atrocities committed by security forces against the local civilian population only fuels rage in the region."
- An Earthquake in China has caused serious damage in provinces that were still recovering from one of China's most damaging natural disasters in 2008. The 7.0 magnitude quake has injured over 11,000 residents and killed 186. (ABC News)
- Boy Scouts are moving to allow gay scouts into their program. However, the ban on gay adults would remain in effect. (Reuters)
- A non-partisan review undertaken by the Constitution Project confirmed that the United States tortured detainees during the years after 9/11. (NYTimes)