What We're Watching: Texas mourns, Boris caught red-handed, lethal weapons sent to Ukraine, China’s human rights abuses leaked
Will Texas school shooting move the needle on US guns debate?
Another mass shooting has rocked America, leaving 21 dead (19 of them children) at an elementary school in Texas on Tuesday — the second-worst school massacre in US history after Sandy Hook almost a decade ago. “When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?” President Joe Biden said in a nationwide address. “Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen?” For one thing, stricter gun laws are vehemently opposed by most Republicans: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz controversially responded to the tragedy by calling for more armed law enforcement at schools. For another, 2nd Amendment die-hards like the National Rifle Association have deep pockets to fight legislation and fund campaigns (Cruz, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, and former President Donald Trump are all slated to speak Friday at the NRA's annual conference in Houston). If a bipartisan gun bill failed to pass in 2013 in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, the odds are even longer now because US politics is even more polarized and we're less than six months out from the November midterms.
Booze might bring down Boris
Will a toast burn down Boris Johnson’s premiership? The British PM has long denied that he broke any of his country’s strict pandemic lockdown rules, but now photos have emerged of a party at his residence on November 13, 2020, in which Johnson is holding up a glass of what looks like booze near a table spread with wine and food. The timing could prove disastrous for Johnson: the photos dropped just a day before the planned release of the Gray Report, an official investigation of the so-called “partygate” scandal. PMs who knowingly mislead Parliament are expected to resign, though there’s no guarantee that Johnson will concede to any wrongdoing of that sort. His supporters say he didn’t knowingly lie. Once Sue Gray publishes her report, Johnson will again address parliament on the matter, Downing Street says.
The West’s lethal weapons arrive in Ukraine
The US and Europe are playing an increasingly active role in Ukraine’s defense against Russia. They’ve imposed historically harsh sanctions against the Russian economy, announced higher spending on defense, and moved to ease trade dependence on Russia. They are also sending increasingly potent weapons to Ukrainian fighters for use against Russian forces. This was the focus of a Monday meeting at the Pentagon of the “Ukraine Contact Group,” a bloc of countries committed to helping Ukraine. After a briefing from Ukraine’s defense minister, more than 20 countries pledged to deliver new “security assistance packages.” The Czech Republic promised attack helicopters, tanks, and rocket systems. Denmark is offering anti-ship Harpoon missiles that might help push back the Russian navy from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, potentially easing the flow of grain exports. Greece, Italy, Norway, Poland, and others are also contributing. There are reports that the US has provided powerful artillery for use in the Donbas, the scene of Ukraine’s fiercest fighting and a place where long-range firepower is invaluable. Ukrainian forces have sustained heavy losses, and it will take weeks to train Ukrainian soldiers to make the best use of these weapons. But as Russia’s Donbas offensive grinds slowly forward, its forces may find additional gains are more costly this summer, and that seized territory may become harder to defend. The Contact Group is scheduled to meet next in Brussels on June 15.
The many faces of China’s human rights abuses
The world has known for years that the Chinese government’s “re-education” and “counter-terrorism” programs in the Xinjiang region involve widespread human rights abuses against the Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim ethnic groups who live there. Now we can see the faces of Beijing’s victims — thousands of them. The BBC has published an archive of local police photos taken in 2018. The release of the archive, which was evidently hacked, coincides with a weeklong visit to China by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, the first trip to the country by the UN’s highest-ranking human rights official since 2005. While her visit is an opportunity to place fresh pressure on Beijing, critics worry that China might take the opportunity to whitewash its abuses (history buffs may recall the trick Nazi Germany played on the Red Cross in 1944). The release of the photo archive could also ripple into the US-China relationship, making it harder for US President Joe Biden to move ahead with any plans to lift Trump-era tariffs on certain Chinese goods in order to tamp down inflation.