Tuesday Reads: West, Texas; Boston; Biohazards; and Erosion of Constitutional Rights

birds1

Good Morning!!

I thought I’d start this morning’s post with something beautiful before I get to the news of the day. I came across these amazing photos of birds yesterday–a nice reminder that the natural world can nourish us emotionally and provide respite from startling events and frustrating news that surrounds us in the supposedly “civilized” world of humans.
birds2
Birds5
Birds6

Now some news…

The fertilizer plant disaster in West, Texas is still under-reported. From what I can tell from following the story on twitter though, people are hurting down there and really need help. Here are a couple of updates I found this morning.

From CBS in Dallas: West Fertilizer Plant Explosion Cause Could Take Several Weeks to Determine

The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms is investigating the blast along with the Texas State Fire Marshal.

State records reportedly show the West Fertilizer plant had a yearly capacity of 2,400 tons of potentially explosive ammonium nitrate.

So far, according to the ATF the only possible contributory cause that has been eliminated from consideration is the weather.

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers arrived on scene Monday to assist investigators in assessing the 93 by 10 foot crater.

On Monday, the U.S. Homeland Security Department said The West Fertilizer Co. facility isn’t currently regulated under a department program that’s designed to reduce the risk of terrorism at certain high-risk chemical facilities.

CBS-11 has learned Homeland Security is now looking into whether the facility should have submitted paperwork about the chemicals stored at the plant to determine if it should be regulated.

The Christian Science Monitor says, Smoking gun in West, Texas, fertilizer blast: lack of government oversight

Although the cause of the blast is still undetermined, what is clear is that the West Fertilizer Company stored large quantities of highly reactive products, including anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate, in the middle of a small town with very little oversight from state or federal agencies. Ammonium nitrate was used by the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in 1995, killing 168 people. The West, Texas, explosion killed 14, and injured nearly 200.

Texas does not have an occupational safety and health program that meets federal requirements. The federalOccupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is therefore responsible for ensuring the safety of potentially dangerous workplaces like the West facility.

OSHA has inspected the West plant exactly once in the company’s 51-year history. That 1985 inspection detected multiple “serious” violations of federal safety requirements for which the company paid a grand total of $30 in fines. OSHA’s 1992 process-safety-management standard for highly hazardous chemicals is supposed to protect against disasters like the West explosion, but it wasn’t in place for that inspection.

Regardless, OSHA lacks the resources to undertake the kind of comprehensive inspection needed to ensure compliance with the process safety standard at small facilities like West Fertilizer Company. OSHA’s tiny staff of around 2,400 inspectors is spread so thin that it would take more than 90 years to conduct even cursory inspections of all eligible workplaces in Texas.

That’s pretty horrifying. I have to wonder how many other fertilizer plants like this one are out there like ticking time bombs.

Common Dreams calls attention to another horror story that affects all of us. “You and Your Family Are Guinea Pigs for the Chemical Corporations: How Americans Became Exposed to Biohazards in the Greatest Uncontrolled Experiment Ever Launched”

A hidden epidemic is poisoning America. The toxins are in the air we breathe and the water we drink, in the walls of our homes and the furniture within them. We can’t escape it in our cars. It’s in cities and suburbs. It afflicts rich and poor, young and old. And there’s a reason why you’ve never read about it in the newspaper or seen a report on the nightly news: it has no name — and no antidote.

The culprit behind this silent killer is lead. And vinyl. And formaldehyde. And asbestos. And Bisphenol A. And polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). And thousands more innovations brought to us by the industries that once promised “better living through chemistry,” but instead produced a toxic stew that has made every American a guinea pig and has turned the United States into one grand unnatural experiment.

Today, we are all unwitting subjects in the largest set of drug trials ever. Without our knowledge or consent, we are testing thousands of suspected toxic chemicals and compounds, as well as new substances whose safety is largely unproven and whose effects on human beings are all but unknown. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) itself has begun monitoring our bodies for 151 potentially dangerous chemicals, detailing the variety of pollutants we store in our bones, muscle, blood, and fat. None of the companies introducing these new chemicals has even bothered to tell us we’re part of their experiment. None of them has asked us to sign consent forms or explained that they have little idea what the long-term side effects of the chemicals they’ve put in our environment — and so our bodies — could be. Nor do they have any clue as to what the synergistic effects of combining so many novel chemicals inside a human body in unknown quantities might produce.

Read it and weep.

Down in South Carolina, Elizabeth Colbert Busch and disgraced former Governor Mark Sanford met in a debate in the race for the district one congressional seat, and Busch got personal.

From Raw Story:

“When we talk about fiscal spending and we talk about protecting the taxpayer, it doesn’t mean you take that money we save and leave the country for a personal purpose,” said Colbert-Busch, in a direct attack on Sanford’s 2009 trips to Argentina to engage in an affair.

“She went there, Governor Sanford,” said one of the moderators, WCBD-TV anchor Brendan Clark.

“I couldn’t hear what she said,” Sanford said in response, which drew a laugh from his Democratic opponent. “Repeat it, I didn’t hear it. I’m sorry.”

Video at the link.

There has been a flood of information and opinions coming out in the Boston Marathon bombing case over the past couple of days. Most stunning to me yesterday was this post by Bmaz at Emptywheel that called attention to a revelation in an LA Times article that suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

had asked several times for a lawyer, but that request was ignored since he was being questioned under the public safety exemption to the Miranda rule.

WTF?! The right to an attorney is completely separate from the responsibility of law enforcement to inform suspects of their rights. Anyone who has watched Law and Order knows that police must stop questioning a suspect if he asks to speak to an attorney. Bmaz writes:

Assuming the accuracy of this report, the news of Tsarnaev repeatedly attempting to invoke right to counsel is critically important because now not only is the 5th Amendment right to silence in play, but so too is the right to counsel under both the 5th and 6th Amendments. While the two rights are commonly, and mistakenly, thought of as one in the same due to the conflation in the language of the Miranda warnings, they are actually somewhat distinct rights and principles. In fact, there is no explicit right to counsel set out in the Fifth at all, it is a creature of implication manufactured by the Supreme Court, while the Sixth Amendment does have an explicit right to counsel, but it putatively only attaches after charging, and is charge specific. Both are critical to consideration of the Tsarnaev case; what follows is a long, but necessary, discussion of why.

In fact, “Miranda rights” is a term that is somewhat of a misnomer, the “rights” are inherent in the Constitution and cannot be granted or withheld via utterance of the classic words heard every day on reruns of Law & Order on television. Those words are an advisory of that which suspects already possess – a warning to them, albeit a critical one.

In addition to being merely an advisory of rights already possessed, and contrary to popular belief, advising suspects of Miranda rarely shuts them down from talking (that, far more often, as will be discussed below, comes from the interjection of counsel into the equation).

Something is very wrong here. Glenn Greenwald picked up the ball in a story published by the Guardian. Report: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s repeated requests for a lawyer were ignored

Delaying Miranda warnings under the “public safety exception” – including under the Obama DOJ’s radically expanded version of it – is one thing. But denying him the right to a lawyer after he repeatedly requests one is another thing entirely: as fundamental a violation of crucial guaranteed rights as can be imagined. As the lawyer bmaz comprehensively details in this excellent post, it is virtually unheard of for the “public safety” exception to be used to deny someone their right to a lawyer as opposed to delaying a Miranda warning (the only cases where this has been accepted were when “the intrusion into the constitutional right to counsel … was so fleeting – in both it was no more than a question or two about a weapon on the premises of a search while the search warrant was actively being executed”). To ignore the repeated requests of someone in police custody for a lawyer, for hours and hours, is just inexcusable and legally baseless.

As law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky explained in the Los Angeles Times last week, the Obama DOJ was already abusing the “public safety” exception by using it to delay Miranda warnings for hours, long after virtually every public official expressly said that there were no more threats to the public safety. As he put it: “this exception does not apply here because there was no emergency threat facing law enforcement.” Indeed, as I documented when this issue first arose, the Obama DOJ already unilaterally expanded this exception far beyond what the Supreme Court previously recognized by simply decreeing (in secret) that terrorism cases justify much greater delays in Mirandizing a suspect for reasons well beyond asking about public safety.

But that debate was merely about whether Tsarnaev would be advised of his rights. This is much more serious: if the LA Times report is true, then it means that the DOJ did not merely fail to advise him of his right to a lawyer but actively blocked him from exercising that right. This is a US citizen arrested for an alleged crime on US soil: there is no justification whatsoever for denying him his repeatedly exercised right to counsel. And there are ample and obvious dangers in letting the government do this.

So far the response from the DOJ has been {{crickets}}

I’ll try to write more on the Boston investigation later today.

In another shocking denial of constitutional rights, the Supreme Court yesterday refused to take the case of a Louisiana man who waited seven years for a trial because of the state’s failure to provide funding for the defense of indigent citizens accused of crimes.

From The Atlantic: Do Louisianans Have the Right to a Speedy Trial?

There has been for decades now an ideological split at the United States Supreme Court over the Sixth Amendment’s right to a speedy trial — one of the most basic of due process rights. Court conservatives have successfully limited the scope of the right by justifying and forgiving unconscionable delays in bringing criminal defendants to trial. And the Court’s progressives, outnumbered now for a generation, have complained not just about the unjust results of those cases but about the indigent defense systems which have fostered trial delays in the first place.

And so it is again. On Monday, in a case styled Boyer v. Louisiana, none of the Court’s five conservative justices were willing to come to the aid of a man who had to wait seven years between his arrest and his trial because of a “funding crisis” within Louisiana’s indigent defense program. In fact, those five justices refused even to render a ruling on the merits of the matter, instead deciding after oral argument and all the briefing in the case that their earlier decision to accept the matter for review was “improvident.”

It was left to Justice Samuel Alito to defend the Court’s inaction. The long delay in bringing Jonathan Edward Boyer to trial on murder charges was not just the fault of Louisiana and its infamously underfunded and understaffed indigent defense program, Justice Alito concluded. “[‘T]he record shows that the single largest share of the delay in this case was the direct result of defense requests for continuances, that other defense motions caused substantial additional delay, and that much of the rest of the delay was caused by events beyond anyone’s control,” he wrote. That was enough to deny Boyer’s claims.

The New York Times editorialized about the decision this morning: A State’s Duty to Indigent Defendants.

On Monday, the Supreme Court should have said that every state has the duty to pay for counsel for indigent criminal defendants and ensure them a speedy trial. The court should also have ordered an appeals court in Louisiana to reconsider its decision to uphold a conviction for murder and armed robbery. The court did neither. Its five conservative justices simply refused to decide the case, leaving the conviction and a life sentence in place.

Jonathan Boyer spent more than seven years in the Calcasieu Parish jail, waiting to be tried. For the first five years, the state did not have the money to pay for the two defense attorneys required in a death penalty case. The trial went forward only after the state decided to reduce the first-degree murder charge in favor of a lesser charge, which made Mr. Boyer’s case less expensive to defend.

Mr. Boyer argued that the delay violated his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial, requiring a reversal of his conviction. But the state appeals court ruled that the delay was mainly because of a factor “beyond the control of the state” — a “funding crisis” — and that there was no constitutional violation.

That did not wash with Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who, in a dissent joined by three other moderate liberals, said in so many words that states are ultimately responsible for providing adequate counsel, whatever their excuses, and that the state appeals court made “a fundamental error” that the justices should have corrected. She further noted that the Boyer case was not isolated and illustrated “larger, systemic problems in Louisiana.”

I guess the lesson is to live in a blue state if you think there’s a chance you might get accused of a crime.

Now it’s your turn. What are you reading and blogging about today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread.


38 Comments on “Tuesday Reads: West, Texas; Boston; Biohazards; and Erosion of Constitutional Rights”

  1. Pat Johnson says:

    The problem with “the public’s right to know” is that it should come with a warning label: “You have the right to know every little unsubstantiated detail and we have the right to backtrack whatever we originally said”.

    It now seems as if “female DNA” was found on some of the pieces of explosive and the finger pointing has been turned to the wife of the dead brother. However, in all fairness, until her DNA can be proven to be involved, it could also be attributed to some female sales clerk who may have sold some of the items purchased along the way.

    Waiting until the DNA either clears or implicaates the wife is just too much for competing news agencies who would rather report this stuff in advance in a ratings war then hold back until actual proof is obtained.

    The public does indeed have a right to know but why not have the facts in evidence supported and not have us subjected to every half baked theory, conjecture or opinion offered by these talking heads and publications who seem more interested in sensationalism than in truth?

    I’m weary of reading and listening to suppositions that mostly end up being backtracked by those who foolishly report these accusations before the proof is unveiled. It leads to more and more “conspiracy theories” that have little basis in fact and the subsequent confusion it entails is far more reaching than what was actually involved.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Yes, it’s getting very tiresome, I agree.

    • roofingbird says:

      Do we even know if they were purchased? There are a lot old but usable pressure cookers lying around. I have two in my house right now with my DNA.

    • RalphB says:

      DNA on an exploded bomb fragment might have also come from any female it may have hit along the way. Seems like a potentially useless piece of “evidence” to me.

      • bostonboomer says:

        It gave the F’n BI an opportunity to search the home of Tamerlan’s wife and her parents and get all of their fingerprints for further reference. I think that was the purpose of this.

      • RalphB says:

        That sounds correct BB.

  2. roofingbird says:

    Those are wonderful pics, BB!

  3. Fannie says:

    Mornin’…………by the way, thank you for easing us into the day with what really counts, mother nature. Things are so emotional here, and I feel like I am living in a fish bowl. Due to a death in the family, I am signing off for a while, and taking long walks in the sunshine. Here comes the Sun.

  4. boogieman7167 says:

    BB great post & very insightful epically the part about the west Texas disaster. some how I think that the media will underreport the part about the But denying him the right to a lawyer after he repeatedly requests one and extreme his constitutional right to counsel . and if it somehow dose
    the wingnut will have a conundrum do we condemn the Obama admin
    or do we continue to make excuses to denie this man his constitutional rights or embrace and embrace their Islamic-phobic base

  5. dakinikat says:

    There are so many larger ‘systemic’ problems down here in Louisiana regarding the justice system it’s unbelievable. It’s inhumane and it’s unbecoming of a constitutional democracy. We also have the worst corruption ever now since Jindal mandated himself and his cronies out of the daylight …

    http://www.bayoubuzz.com/buzz/item/430945-greenstein-scandal-turning-jindal-ethics-reform-gold-medal-into-dead-lead

    • jawbone says:

      Re: the SCOTUS “decision” or lack thereof —

      States can plead poverty for avoiding their legal responsibilities?

      Individuals cannot. Don’t have the cash on hand for the fine? In many instances the person goes directly to jail, with all the life altering attendant follow on issues.

      Banks? Can’t be touched. Now, states, too?
      We do live in a new type of “republic,” and it ain’t “democratic” or “representative.”

      We have an oligarchic Corporatist from of governance. The Big Money oligarchs buy the politicians to do their will. We just think we have a choice with out votes.

  6. jawbone says:

    Susie posted this Reuters article, appearing in HuffPo:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/25/roundup-herbicide-health-issues-disease_n_3156575.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular

    Roundup, An Herbicide, Could Be Linked To Parkinson’s, Cancer And Other Health Issues, Study Shows

    Reuters | Posted: 04/25/2013 1:49 pm EDT | Updated: 04/26/2013 3:26 pm EDT

    April 25 (Reuters) – Heavy use of the world’s most popular herbicide, Roundup, could be linked to a range of health problems and diseases, including Parkinson’s, infertility and cancers, according to a new study.

    The peer-reviewed report, published last week in the scientific journal Entropy, said evidence indicates that residues of “glyphosate,” the chief ingredient in Roundup weed killer, which is sprayed over millions of acres of crops, has been found in food,

    Those residues enhance the damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and toxins in the environment to disrupt normal body functions and induce disease, according to the report, authored by Stephanie Seneff, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Anthony Samsel, a retired science consultant from Arthur D. Little, Inc. Samsel is a former private environmental government contractor as well as a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

    “Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body,” the study says.

    We “have hit upon something very important that needs to be taken seriously and further investigated,” Seneff said.

    Who’dathunkit?

  7. jawbone says:

    Wonderful, those bird photos.

  8. dakinikat says:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/04/30/the-studies-behind-austerity-are-weak-the-study-behind-uncertainty-is-worse/

    They debt hysterics have switched to quoting a different, flawed study in lieu of R7&R

    You’ve heard about all the problems with Reinhart and Rogoff. But how about the problems with Baker, Bloom and Davis?

    On Sunday, Bill McNabb, Chairman and CEO of Vanguard, published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal arguing that “since 2011 the rise in overall policy uncertainty has created a $261 billion cumulative drag on the economy (the equivalent of more than $800 per person in the country).” This is proof, McNabb says, that “developing a credible, long-term solution to the country’s staggering debt is the biggest collective challenge right now.”

    Specifically, the policy uncertainty McNabb is looking at comes from “the debt-ceiling debacle in August 2011, the congressional supercommittee failure in November 2011, and the fiscal-cliff crisis at the end of 2012.” There’s no doubt that these episodes hurt the economy.

    But the Vanguard study. McNabb says, is based on the “invaluable work” of Stanford University’s Nicholas Bloom and Scott Baker and the University of Chicago’s Steven Davis. The Bloom, Baker and Davis measure of policy uncertainty gets a lot of attention — but it’s shot through with holes.

  9. dakinikat says:

    Permission Slips
    Charles P. Pierce
    http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/Running_The_Bases?src=rss

    Perhaps the most important moment of the president’s press conference today was his introduction of the term, “permission structure” to Our National Dialogue, and specifically in the context of trying to get Republican members of Congress to remember that they were not elected to be drive-time AM radio talk-show hosts.

  10. dakinikat says:

    Education reform fail!

    Sickest Testing Story of All Time http://wp.me/p2odLa-4FN

    Fourth-grader Joey Furlong was in the hospital in New York, hooked up to intravenous tubes and preparing for brain surgery, when a stranger arrived in his room. It was a teacher with a test. She said it was time for him to take the test. It turns out that the hospital has five full-time teachers on staff to make sure that any child who is in the hospital for more than three days receives instruction and testing.

    No child escapes testing. Even while they are waiting for brain surgery.

  11. RalphB says:

    Charles Pierce: Mine Kampf

    All right, so go figure this one out. A Canadian company wants to dig out some uranium six miles from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. But, wait, you say, didn’t the president ban this last year? Why, yes, he did. So why are we digging uranium out of the Grand Canyon if digging uranium out of the Grand Canyon is, you know, banned? Shy, let’s let the Canadian energy company that’s planning on doing the digging explain.

    Like Charlie, I’m starting to look askance toward our neighbors to the North.