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!