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

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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.
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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.

Read the rest of this entry »


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

There was another Republican debate last night, and it may actually be the last one! We live blogged it here. I watched the debate and all it did was remind me how distasteful–actually repulsive–every one of these candidates is. Romney is the slimiest, liar ever; Gingrich is nothing but a grifter; Ron Paul is a whiny old geezer; and Santorum is a sanctimonious, preachy theocrat. After this election, the Republican Party may be truly dead. It’s already brain dead.

Here are a few reactions to the debate for those who are interested.

Paul Begala: Romney Wins the battle, but it may lose him the war.

Andrew Sullivan: The winner’s in the White House.

TPM: Rick’s rough night.

Hot Air: Tough night for Santorum

In state legislatures around the country women are fighting back against the Republican war on women. Yesterday, Governor Bob O’Donnell of Virginia was forced to back down on the anti-woman state-sanctioned rape law that he had originally said he’d sign. In Georgia, (via Charlie Pierce), state rep. Yasmin Neal

was the driving force behind a brilliant bill filed yesterday that would outlaw vasectomies in Georgia on anti-abortion grounds — namely, that the lives of millions of potential “persons” were snuffed out because of the vas deferens between the way we see men as reproductive critters and the way we see women as reproductive critters:

Thousands of children are deprived of birth in this state every year because of the lack of state regulation over vasectomies,” said Rep. Yasmin Neal, D-Riverdale, author of the Democrats’ bill. “It is patently unfair that men can avoid unwanted fatherhood by presuming that their judgment over such matters is more valid than the judgment of the General Assembly, while women’s ability to decide is constantly up for debate throughout the United States.”

Now some Democrats are fighting back at the federal level.

The House Judiciary Committee recently passed a bill that would ban selective abortions based on race or gender by a 20-13 vote. The biggest hurdle to passage was the bill’s name.

Democrats proposed calling the bill “The Ronald Reagan Impose Your Beliefs on a Woman’s Womb Act” and “The Tea Party Determines What Rights a Woman Has Act.”

The legislation (H.R. 3541), sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), was originally entitled the “Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Non-discrimination Act of 2011.” But after objections by committee Democrats and an amendment by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the bill, which passed on Feb. 16, was changed to the Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act (PRENDA) during mark-up sessions last week.

Thirteen Democrats voted against the measure claiming it violated the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide, and would “make it more difficult for women of color to obtain the basic reproductive health care services.”

The GLBT community is fighting back against the GOP haters too. Not too long ago, an anti-gay Tennessee state legislator was asked by the owner, Martha Boggs to leave her restaurant because of his bigoted public statements. Today, Antonio a gay hairdresser in Santa Fe, said he will no longer cut Republican New Mexico governor Susannah Martinez’s hair. Even {gasp!} Alan Simpson is getting in on the act. He says Rick Santorum is “rigid and a homophobic.”

Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wy.) weighed in on the Republican presidential primary on Wednesday, calling Rick Santorum “rigid and a homophobic.”

In an interview with CBS News’ Bob Schieffer, Simpson faulted the Republican field for making issues like same-sex marriage and reproductive rights central to their platforms, warning that they would lose favor with voters if the conversation does not change.

“I am convinced that if you get into these social issues and just stay in there about abortion and homosexuality and even mental health they bring up, somehow they’re going to take us all to Alaska and float us out in the Bering Sea or something,” said Simpson, long known for colorful commentary. “We won’t have a prayer.”

He continued, “I watch Republicans, they give each other the saliva test of purity, and then they lose and they bitch for four years.”

Simpson supports Romney, who also claims to be homophobic, anti-choice, and anti-birth control. Oh well….

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, and one of those mainline Protestant churches that Rick Santorum thinks have been taken over by Satan offered drive-thru ashes! Someone needs to tell Rick! It’s the Devil’s work!!

Over the weekend, Newt Gingrich tried to look macho by claiming “you can’t put a gun rack on a Chevy Volt!” But lots of people have stepped forward to prove him wrong.

A GM exec came forward to prove Newt was incorrect.

Chevrolet executive Selim Bingol fired back this morning via GM’s new blog, called BTW:

“Newt Gingrich has taken up saying that ‘You can’t put a gun rack on a Volt.’ That’s like saying ‘You can’t put training wheels on a Harley.’ Actually, you can. But the real question is ‘Why would you?’ In both examples:

It looks weird,

It doesn’t work very well, and

There are better places for gun racks and training wheels — pickup trucks and little Schwinns, respectively.

Seriously, when is the last time you saw a gun rack in ANY sedan?”

OK, I know I haven’t posted much serious news this morning. I guess I’m just punch drunk from that debate last night. We did get a bit of good news last night though. A federal judge in California–a Bush appointee yet–found the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.

You may recall that Martha Coakley got the ball rolling in Massachusetts in 2010, convincing the Obama administration to stop defending the law. Yesterday’s decision is the third time a court has called DOMA unconstitutional

The New York Times has an interview with the mother of Marie Colvin, who was killed in Syria yesterday. Colvin was majoring in anthropology at Yale in the late 1970s,

but took a course with the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer John Hersey. She also started writing for The Yale Daily News “and decided to be a journalist,” her mother said.

On Wednesday, Marie Colvin, 56, a veteran correspondent for The Sunday Times of London, was killed as Syrian forces shelled the city of Homs. She was working in a makeshift media center that was destroyed in the assault. A French photographer, Rémi Ochlik, was also killed.

At her family’s split-level home on Long Island, the telephone rang at 5 a.m. It was so early, her mother said, that “I knew it was something terrible.”

“She was supposed to leave Syria” on Wednesday, Ms. Colvin said. “Her editor told me he called her yesterday and said it was getting too dangerous and they wanted to take her out. She said she was doing a story and she wanted to finish it and it was important and she would come out” on Wednesday.

Photojournalist Remi Olchlik was also killed in Syria yesterday

Remi Ochlik didn’t waste any time celebrating after he won one of photojournalism’s most prestigious prizes two weeks ago. Hours later, he was on a plane headed back to work in Middle East danger zones, a friend recalled.

On Wednesday, the promising 28-year-old French photographer was dead, killed in a barrage of gunfire and shelling by government forces in Homs, Syria, where he had arrived just the night before….

Colleagues remembered Ochlik as careful and experienced despite his young age, but driven to cover a string of conflicts that won him a reputation as one of the world’s best young photojournalists.

At just 20 years old, Ochlik got his professional start covering riots in Haiti in 2004. The next year he set up photo agency IP3 Press and covered sports, society and politics. When the “Arab Spring” erupted last year, Ochlik was all over it: In Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Egypt, and most recently, Syria.

That’s it for me this morning. What are you reading and blogging about?


Late Night: Stupid Republican Tricks

Tea party leader and all around wacko Michelle Bachmann wants Congress to limit the powers of federal judges to rule on equal protection under the Constitution.

Republicans treat the Constitution like a toy that they can manipulate however they choose. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) claims that all federal education programs — including Pell Grants and student loan assistance — are unconstitutional. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) says that they are constitutional problems with the federal ban on whites-only lunch counters. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) suggested that child labor laws, FEMA, food stamps, the FDA, Medicaid, income assistance for the poor, and even Medicare and Social Security violate the Constitution. And when the Ninth Circuit held that yes, the Constitution does have a First Amendment, Newt Gingrich’s political advocacy group called for that court to be abolished.

With so many Republicans claiming that the Constitution can mean whatever they want it to mean, it should be no surprise that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) wants a piece of this action. Yesterday, Bachmann told a gathering of social conservatives in Iowa that if the courts insist on applying the Constitution’s requirement that no state may “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” to gay people, then Congress should strip federal judges of their power to hear marriage equality cases.

Transcript:

“Something else that we can do to reinforce our pro-marriage, pro-life, pro-family agenda is to limit the subject-matter jurisdiction of the courts,” Bachmann said during a Monday speech in Pella, Iowa.

“At the federal level with what are called Article III courts, Article III of the United States Constitution, we can limit the subject matter that justices can rule on. We have it within our authority to decide what judges can rule on and what they can’t.”


You’ve just taken then Oath of Office and …

You take off across country on a ‘barnstorm tour’ to support your economic stimulus plan.

What?  Wasn’t that what the election was all about?

According to Fox news this morning,  Obama will meet with congressional leaders this week to get them started on an economic stimulus plan.

The first order of business for Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress is to enact the still-emerging economic recovery plan as soon as possible.

The plan, which some Obama aides think could swell to about $850 billion after negotiations with lawmakers, would be the largest investment in public infrastructure since the federal highway system was established in the 1950s. It also would provide tens of billions of dollars in aid to financially strapped states

Biden, Reid and Pelosi will be forming and enacting economic policy after a few kumbhaya, come to jesus moments with Republicans.  Then President Obama will begin a ‘barnstorming’ tour of the country to drum up support for the plan while every one else back in Washington does all the work.

gall_clinton_giMeanwhile, at the CNN Political ticker: Clinton Likely in for Bumpy Ride.  Evidently the news media thinks that the Secretary of State is in charge of foreign policy.

Has anybody read the constitution recently or are we about to see the birth of the European-style presidency here in the U.S.?  Will Obama become a constitutional monarch like Queen Elizabeth waving his pretty hands to his subjects while His Majesty’s minister’s do all the hard work.  This was something that I’d never really given thought to during the election, but as of late I’m speculating about it continually.

Instead of one Cheney, will we get two?

I have to admit that I’m going to be pretty happy if Secretary of State Clinton and Vice President of the Middle Class Biden can effectively use their joint knowledge and experience to improve the country and the world situation.  Both of them are without a doubt two of the most qualified people on the planet.  Maybe I’m wishful thinking on one level because the degree of inexperience and lack of depth and breadth of knowledge by president teleprompter jesus just continually flabbergasts me.  He’s hopeless off script.  HOWEVER, and this is a HUGE HOWEVER, is this in keeping with the spirit of democratically elected officials as well as our form of government?

Are we moving from an imperial presidency to a historical symbol presidency ?  And by whose authority have we morphed the role of the president?

Pinch me if I’m wrong here.  Tell me on one level to relax and be glad the grown ups are in charge.  Still, there’s that little bit of Colonial Dame/DAR member (my mom registered me, really) that worries about the role of the presidency in terms of our Constitution.  (Silly me.)  If we’re going to amend the constitution, shouldn’t we at least get to vote first?