Thursday Reads

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Good Morning!!

Another day, another shocking, violent event. This time it’s the explosion of a fertilizer factory in the tiny town of West, Texas: ‘Like a nuclear bomb’: Deadly fertilizer plant blast devastates Texas town

(CNN) — The full extent of the devastation will have to wait until the light of day Thursday. But residents of the small Texas town of West already know what to expect.
“There are a lot of people that got hurt,” West Mayor Tommy Muska forewarned Wednesday night. “There are a lot of people that will not be here tomorrow.”

A massive explosion at a fertilizer plant on the edge of the town killed an estimated five to 15 people, wounded more than 160, leveled dozens of homes and prompted authorities to evacuate half their community of 2,800.

“It was like a nuclear bomb went off,” Muska said. “Big old mushroom cloud.”

The Wednesday night blast shook houses 50 miles away and measured as a 2.1-magnitude seismic event, according to the United States Geological Survey….[F]ire officials fear that the number of casualties could rise as high as 60 to 70 dead, said Dr. George Smith, the emergency management system director of the city.

The photo at the top of this post comes from the Dallas-Ft. Worth Morning News–you can see more photos at that link.

The paper also posted this video of the explosion, apparently taken from inside a truck. Be aware that the video is somewhat disturbing.

From the Houston Chronicle: Crews looking for victims of fertilizer plant blast

WEST — Rescue workers searched rubble that witnesses compared to a war zone early Thursday for survivors of a fertilizer plant explosion in a small Texas town. The blast injured more than 160 people and killed between five and 15. It left the factory a smoldering ruin and leveled buildings for blocks in every direction.

The explosion in downtown West, about 20 miles north of Waco, shook the ground with the strength of a small earthquake and could be heard dozens of miles away. It sent flames shooting into the night sky and rained burning embers, shrapnel and debris down on shocked and frightened residents.

“They are still getting injured folks out and they are evacuating people from their homes,” Waco police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton said early Thursday morning. “At this point, we don’t know a number that have been killed. … I think we will see those fatalities increase as we get toward the morning.”

Among those believe to be dead: A group of volunteer firefighters who responded to a fire call at the West Fertilizer Co. about an hour before the blast. They remained unaccounted for overnight.

The explosion that struck around 7 p.m. leveled a four-block area around the plant that a member of the city council, Al Vanek, said was “totally decimated.” Other witnesses compared the scene to that of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and authorities said the plant made materials similar to that used to fuel the bomb that tore apart that city’s Murrah Federal Building.

Although authorities said it will be some time before they know the full extent of the loss of life, they put the number of those injured at more than 100. West Mayor Tommy Muska told reporters that his city of about 2,800 residents needs “your prayers.”

I’m sure we’ll learn much more about this story in the course of the day today.

Eric and Kim Williams

Eric and Kim Williams

In another shocking Texas story, the wife of former Kaufman County Justice of the Peace Eric Williams whom I wrote about on Sunday has confessed to her involvement in the murders of Texas prosecutors Mark Hasse and Mike McLelland and McLelland’s wife Cynthia. The NYT reports:

KAUFMAN, Tex. — The mystery of who shot and killed two prosecutors this year clouded life in this rural county southeast of Dallas for more than two months, with investigators delving into possible leads that led to white-supremacist groups and Mexican drug cartels.

But in the end, it apparently came down to a bitter local grudge. A former justice of the peace whose legal and political career collapsed in a hard-fought legal battle was accused Wednesday of killing the two prosecutors, who had been his courtroom rivals. And his wife not only named him as the gunman, but also confessed to having been the driver in both shootings as part of her role in the vendetta, the authorities said….

The two prosecutors that the authorities say the couple conspired to kill had helped convict Mr. Williams last year on burglary and theft charges in a dispute about three computer monitors worth less than $1,500. The Williamses — he a portly, diabetic lawyer who volunteered with the Texas State Guard; she his ailing yet supportive wife of 15 years — were accused of pulling off what even ruthless criminal organizations have rarely dared in modern times: the executions of two prosecutors, and the wife of one, to avenge a guilty verdict….

According to an affidavit filed by the authorities, Ms. Williams confessed to her involvement in the shootings in an interview with investigators on Tuesday, and told them that her husband had been the one who shot Mr. Hasse in January and Mr. McLelland and his wife in March.

During her interview, [Kim Lene Williams] supplied investigators with details of both shootings that had not been made public. One law enforcement official confirmed that Ms. Williams was not a gunman in the murders, but had been the driver, and had also used the storage unit where Mr. Williams had kept a car and more than 20 guns.

Yesterday Joseph Cannon dug up some amazing information on Paul Kevin Curtis, who has been arrested for sending letters that tested positive for ricin to President Obama and other government leaders, and today the mainstream media is catching up. The gist is that Curtis claim to have uncovered a plot to harvest and self human body parts at a hospital in a hospital in Tupelo, Mississippi.

Basically, he says that he (almost literally) stumbled upon evidence that the Medical Center was involved in the illegal organ trade. He also says that his attempts to expose the problem led to retaliatory action:
I have no faith left in the Mississippi Justice system. I feel my coming forward with my story and releasing it to news media all over the USA in 2001 has helped expose the illegal body parts and organ trade market world-wide.

I personally sent out more than a million emails in one year detailing what happened to me when I found the body parts at NMMC. In 2004, 4 arrests were made in New York City. In 2006, another illegal body parts scam was discovered in North Carolina. I am confident that although no local media has agreed to put in print what happened to me in Tupelo or the trigger-happy, intoxicated assistant DA, I know in my heart that my coming forward has brought national attention to this terrible and illegal black market.

This is Kevin Curtis and I approve this report.

Read all about it at Cannonfire.

Kevin Curtis

Kevin Curtis

Also at Time, Michael Crowley writes about the history of ricin terrorism.

To be clear, ricin is no laughing matter. The toxic compound, which can be extracted from widely available castor beans with relative ease, is lethal in tiny quantities. In a John le Carré–style plotline, a pellet of ricin deployed with a jab from a pointed umbrella tip killed the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov in 1978. If ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin, ricin can cause vomiting, bloody urine and seizures, then massive organ failure. It has no antidote.

Hence its appeal to some nasty characters. Saddam Hussein tried to weaponize it in large quantities. Al-Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate has worked to produce ricin, and the organization’s online English-language Inspire magazine touted the substance to aspiring lone-wolf terrorists in America who “possess basic scientific knowledge.”

There have actually been several domestic ricin plots in recent years, none involving jihadists and most the work of antigovernment radicals. Not that any have come close to executing a successful attack: in late 2011, for example, federal agents arrested four Georgia men with militia ties whose plans included bombmaking and killing government officials with ricin. “This is worse than anthrax,” one of them reportedly boasted. “There ain’t no cure for it either.” The men, all in their 60s and 70s, were busted before they even began brewing the substance, whichexperts said they likely would have been unable to use on the mass scale of their imagination anyway.

Read more at the Swampland blog link.

In Boston, officials say they have

isolated ­images of a suspect carrying and perhaps dropping a black bag believed to have held one of two bombs that exploded 12 seconds apart Monday near the finish line of the historic race, said an official briefed on the investigation.

Authorities were “very close” Wednesday in their pursuit of the bomber, said the ­official, who declined to be named.

A surveillance camera at the Lord & Taylor store, across Boylston Street from the ­Forum restaurant where the second bomb exploded, has provided video of the area, though it was unclear whether the image of the suspect came from that camera, the official said….

A second person briefed on the investigation indicated that the image may have come from a cellphone.

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are is in Boston today to attend and interfaith service in honor of the victims of the bombings at the Boston Marathon.

President Obama will speak at an interfaith prayer service to honor victims of the Boston Marathon bombings Thursday morning at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

Titled “Healing Our City,” the service begins at 11 a.m. at the cathedral, on Washington Street in Boston’s South End. The renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma will perform, and clergy from different faiths will offer readings, prayers, and reflections.

“A violent and cruel intrusion like the bomb blast sends people scattering, and it’s terrorizing,” said the Rev. Nancy Taylor, senior minister of Old South Church, who will speak at the service. “The coming together is creating a space of unity and community in defiance of that kind of cruelty and violence.”

Four former governors will attend, Governor Deval Patrick said: Mitt Romney, William F. Weld, Michael S. Dukakis, and Jane M. Swift.

Traffic will be hell on earth, and I plan to say in my own neighborhood today and avoid it.

Gabby Giffords

Gabby Giffords

I’ll end with Gabriel Giffords’ op-ed, published in today’s NYT: A Senate in the Gun Lobby’s Grip

SENATORS say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets. The fear that those children who survived the massacre must feel every time they remember their teachers stacking them into closets and bathrooms, whispering that they loved them, so that love would be the last thing the students heard if the gunman found them.

On Wednesday, a minority of senators gave into fear and blocked common-sense legislation that would have made it harder for criminals and people with dangerous mental illnesses to get hold of deadly firearms — a bill that could prevent future tragedies like those in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., Blacksburg, Va., and too many communities to count.

Some of the senators who voted against the background-check amendments have met with grieving parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook, in Newtown. Some of the senators who voted no have also looked into my eyes as I talked about my experience being shot in the head at point-blank range in suburban Tucson two years ago, and expressed sympathy for the 18 other people shot besides me, 6 of whom died. These senators have heard from their constituents — who polls show overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks. And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them.

I watch TV and read the papers like everyone else. We know what we’re going to hear: vague platitudes like “tough vote” and “complicated issue.” I was elected six times to represent southern Arizona, in the State Legislature and then in Congress. I know what a complicated issue is; I know what it feels like to take a tough vote. This was neither. These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association, which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending.

Read the rest at the Times.

There sure has been an awful lot of awful news this week so far. What else is happening? Please let us know what’s on your mind in the comments. Take care today, everyone!


Former Justice of the Peace to be Charged with Texas Prosecutor Murders

Eric Williams

Eric Williams

I wrote in my morning post that Eric Williams, a former Kaufman County, Texas Justice of the Peace, had been arrested in connection with the murders of Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse and District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia McLelland. It now seems certain that Williams will be charged with capital murder later this week.

The New York Daily news reports:

Forty-six-year-old Eric Williams was booked into the Kaufman County Jail on Saturday after police searched his home. The ex-justice of the peace has been charged with emailing “terroristic threats” to county employees. Although murder charges have not yet been made, sources told CBS 11 that Williams is a prime suspect in the shooting deaths of District Attorney Mike McLelland; his wife, Cynthia McLelland; and Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse.

Williams is being held on a $3 million bond.

Both Mike McLelland and Hasse had prosecuted their suspected killer. Williams was convicted in March 2012 of the burglary of a building and theft by a public servant.

He was sentenced to two months of probation for stealing computer equipment from a county building. The man lost his justice of the peace position, his law license and health insurance as a result of the conviction, according to the Dallas Morning News.

During his trial, the disgraced county official said that McLelland and Hasse didn’t like him, CBS reports.

Assistant DA Mark Hasse

Assistant DA Mark Hasse

Initially, police suspected the murders were payback for prosecutions of members of a white supremacist group, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. One of the prosecutors in that case even stepped down, citing “security concerns.”

According to the Dallas Morning News,

The day after the bodies of Cynthia and Mike McLelland were found, an anonymous writer sent an email to county officials threatening that more attacks were imminent if the writer’s demands were not met.

Law enforcement authorities have since linked the the threat back to Eric Williams, a former justice of the peace who is now the prime suspect in the slayings.

The McLellands were found dead in their home over Easter weekend. Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was gunned down Jan. 31 as he walked to the county courthouse….

Williams was convicted of stealing county equipment last year and sentenced to probation in a highly contentious case prosecuted by McLelland and Hasse. That case is on appeal. Williams faces another theft charge in a case related to money allegedly misused from a law library fund.

Mike and Cynthia McLelland

Mike and Cynthia McLelland

Three people murdered over what sounds like fairly small-time burglary charges. And all Williams got was probation. I wonder if Williams was threatening more killings. It seems possible, based on the arsenal he had assembled.

Authorities searched the Williams’ home and that of his in-laws, who live down the street from them, on Friday. Those searches led to the execution of a search warrant on Saturday at Gibson Self Storage on Seagoville Road near U.S. Highway 175.

Authorities seized more than 20 weapons from the unit, which was rented on behalf of Williams. Some of the weapons are similar to those used in the Hasse and McLelland slayings. Ballistics tests are now being conducted by the Texas Rangers crime lab on the weapons that are of the same caliber as those used in the killings

Police also found a car in the storage unit that looked like one seen in the area at the time of the McLelland murders.

CNN has a little more detail.

Hours after the McLellands’ bodies were found, authorities met with Williams at a local Denny’s restaurant, Williams’ attorney, David Sergi, told CNN earlier this month.

Investigators took swab samples from Williams’ hands to test him for gun residue, according to the lawyer. Results were not made public by officials, but Sergi said the tests came back negative….

On Friday, Sergi released a statement saying that Williams “has cooperated with law enforcement and vigorously denies any and all allegations. He wishes simply to get on with his life and hopes that the perpetrators are brought to justice.”

So police apparently suspected Williams right away. Williams is still maintaining his innocence. We’ll have to wait to see what happens after he’s charged. It sounds like police are pretty certain they’ve got their man.


Please use this as an open thread.


Sunday Morning Open Thread

sunday paper cat

Good Morning!!

It’s Sunday again and the Villagers will be hanging out on the Sunday shows pushing the austerity agenda and talking about the two other issues that are on their minds these days–guns and immigration. I have to wonder if they aren’t ginning up those two issues just to keep Americans in the dark about how the oligarchs, with the help of President Obama, are trying to make the U.S. economy into as big a mess as Europe’s.

Here’s a list of the folks who’ll be lecturing us on the various “news” and talk shows today, courtesy of DailyKos. Basically it’s going to be the Marco Rubio show.

Meet the Press: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL); Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY); Sen. Mike Lee(R-UT);  Roundtable: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Katty Kay(BBC), David Brooks (New York Times) and Chuck Todd (NBC News).

Face the Nation: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL); Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV); Sen. Pat Toomey(R-PA); Former Astronaut Mark KellyRoundtableDavid Ignatius (Washington Post),David Sanger (New York Times), Amy Walter (Cook Political Report) and John Dickerson(CBS News).

This Week: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL); Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY); Sen. Jeff Sessions(R-AL); MLB Player Mariano Rivera; MLB Player Robinson CanoRoundtableGeorge Will (Washington Post), Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Ruth Marcus (Washington Post) and Kimberley Strassel (Wall Street Journal).

Fox News Sunday: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL); Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL); Sen. John Cornyn(R-TX); Roundtable: Former Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), Marjorie Clifton (Spike the Watercooler), Republican Strategist Karl Rove and Former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN).

State of the Union: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ); Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL); Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV); Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA); Democratic Strategist Donna Brazile; Republican Strategist Ana NavarroGerald Seib (Wall Street Journal); Reliable Sources:Amy Holmes (The Blaze); Ana Marie Cox (The Guardian); Nia-Malika Henderson(Washington Post); Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN); Democratic Strategist Paul Begala; Filmmaker Robert Greenwald.

The Chris Matthews ShowJoe Klein (TIME); Katty Kay (BBC); Amy Walter (Cook Political Report); Peter Alexander (NBC News).

Fareed Zakaria GPS: Former OMB Director David Stockman; Former Economic Adviser to President Obama Austan Goolsbee; CourtTV Founder Steven Brill; Game Show Network CEO David GoldhillAnthony Bourdain (CNN); Former Tata Group Chair Ratan Tata.

Plus, I’ve got a few interesting reads for you from various sources.

Politico finds that Obama’s big donors aren’t ponying up for his “Organizing for America”–the group that is supposed to help push his austerity agenda.

The group, which has no fundraising limits and is not required by law to release donor information, raised $4.9 million in its first three months of existence. By comparison, the Democratic National Committee — which is limited in what it can raise by law — brought in $14 million in the quarter after Obama was first elected in 2008.

The top donor to OFA, Philip Munger, gave $250,000 – a modest sum for a top contributor to a major profile outside group.

Earlier reports in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times suggested that the pro-Obama nonprofit was looking for a high-profile group of donors to chip in $500,000, $1 million or more.

Democratic Party donor mainstays like Fred Eychaner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Stephen Speilberg, Steve and Amber Mostyn and others are missing from the list, which includes all donors who gave $250 or more.

Barack and Michelle Obama also are not listed as donors.

Loyal Obama donors like Penny Pritzker, Jane Stetson, Azita Raji and others are also missing — though the top Obama campaign bundler Andrew Tobias chipped in $50,000 to the new group.

Other major Obama campaign fundraisers on the list include: Barbara Grasseschi, Nicola Miner, William Freeman, Wayne Jordan, Michael Kemper, Imad Zuberi, Frank White, Naomi Aberly, and South Carolina Democratic Party chair Dick Harpootlian.

Business Insider publishes The States With The Heaviest Student Loan Debts And Highest Delinquency Rates (the research comes from the St. Louis Fed). Check those out at the link.

To continue the academic theme, Alternet has a piece on Academia’s Indentured Servants. This may give you an idea of why I soured on teaching for a living.

On April 8, 2013, the  New York Times reported that 76 percent of American university faculty are adjunct professors – an all-time high. Unlike tenured faculty, whose annual salaries can top $160,000, adjunct professors make an average of $2,700 per course and receive no health care or other benefits.

Most adjuncts teach at multiple universities while still not making enough to stay above the  poverty line. Some are on  welfare or homeless. Others depend on charity drives held by their peers. Adjuncts are generally  not allowed to have offices or participate in faculty meetings. When they ask for a living wage or benefits, they can be  fired. Their contingent status allows them no recourse.

No one forces a scholar to work as an adjunct. So why do some of America’s brightest PhDs – many of whom are authors of books and articles on labour, power, or injustice – accept such terrible conditions?

“Path dependence and sunk costs must be powerful forces,” speculates political scientist Steve Saidemen in a post titled ” The Adjunct Mystery“. In other words, job candidates have invested so much time and money into their professional training that they cannot fathom abandoning their goal – even if this means living, as Saidemen says, like “second-class citizens”. (He later  downgraded this to “third-class citizens”.)

I spend much of yesterday playing a video game called Minecraft. When my nephews were little, I helped them play games on the computer. Nowadays they help me (they are ages 10 and 7). Every time they get hooked on a new game, they want me to play it too, we play games as CSGO, with the help of sites that give csgo boosted guide so is easier for us.

First it was Plants vs. Zombies, which I loved. Now it’s Minecraft, and I’m getting addicted to that too. It’s a virtual world where you build things out of 3-D looking blocks. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s amazingly fun because it’s open ended and can go on forever, limited only by your imagination and designing and building skill. Of course there are other challenges like attacks by monsters and getting lost underground–which happened to me yesterday.

Anyway, there was an interview with the guy who developed Minecraft, Markus Persson, in The New Yorker this week. Not only that Persson has currently been voted number 2 on Time’s list of most influential people.

So if you like to escape into virtual worlds, check it out. I have to add that I never played video games at all until I met Dakinikat. She encouraged me to get started at my advanced age.

Last night the news broke that a man named Eric Williams had been arrested in connection with the murders of two Texas prosecutors. He is a former Texas justice of the peace. TPM reports:

Williams, 46, had not been publicly named a suspect or a person of interest in the case, but authorities did interview him and test him for gunshot residue on March 30, just hours after the bodies of the county District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, were found in their home in Forney, Texas.

Williams lost his position after being convicted last year of stealing county computer equipment. Both McLelland and Mark Hasse, a county prosecutor killed Jan. 31, were reportedly involved in Williams’ case.

According to The Dallas Morning News, investigators searched Williams’ home late Friday and “have obtained old cellphones, his computer and boxes of other materials.” Williams’ attorney, David Sergi, said Williams was cooperating with investigators and “vigorously asserts his innocence and denies any involvement” in the killings.

According to CBS News, Williams was charged with “making a ‘terroristic threat'” and is being held on $3 million bond. It sounds serious, doesn’t it?

CBS News correspondent John Miller spoke to “CBS Evening News” on Saturday about the latest development in the case. “What is going on,” he said, “is they shifted their view in this case away from their original theory that it might have been part of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang — because that prosecutor’s office was involved in a case there — more to individual people who were prosecuted by both of the district attorneys who were murdered.

“And that brought them to Eric Williams, who is an elected justice of the peace, who was then both prosecuted by Mark Hasse, one of the murdered district attorneys, and by Mike McLelland, the D.A. Looking into him, they found out he was somebody who made threats to other people, who had a large collection of guns, and possibly had a grudge. Of course he denies all this.”

Miller had previously spoken to Williams a couple of times. “He says he understands why they’re looking at him,” Miller explained. “that they have to do their jobs, that he has nothing to do with that case, and that he’s been cooperative. He says his case was about the political undertows in the county, but he understands what’s going on.”

Miller’s home was searched on Friday, but law enforcement officials were looking at him previously.

Earlier this month, Williams said he voluntarily submitted to a gun residue test after authorities contacted him while investigating the deaths of the McLellands. Sergi has said Williams also submitted to a gun residue test and gave his cellphone to authorities when he was questioned after Hasse’s death.

I’m going to wrap this up with something uplifting (pun intended). It’s an amazing video of a golden eagle flying in slow motion. Sadly, I can’t embed it here, but please go watch it. You won’t be sorry.

What’s on your mind today? Please post your links freely in the comments, and have a great Sunday!!