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.


Tuesday Reads: Republicans and Marriage Equality, The Aryan Brotherhood, and Other News

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Good Morning!!

I’ve got some kind of virus, and it’s making my brain very fuzzy. For the past three days I’ve been having trouble even staying awake. I think I’m better, but this morning I’ve been sitting in front of my computer for an hour without getting anything written. So I guess I’ll just get started and see what happens.

I guess one of the reasons I’ve been a little stuck is that I’ve been reading about Matt Salmon. Matt is gay and he’s also the son of Arizona Rep. Matthew J. Salmon, who spent yesterday telling the media that–unlike Ohio Sen Rob Portman–having a gay son hasn’t changed his attitudes about gay marriage. From The Washington Post:

In an interview aired over the weekend, Rep. Matt J. Salmon (R-Ariz.) told a local news station that his son’s homosexuality has not led him to change his position on gay marriage.

“I don’t support the gay marriage,” the congressman said. But Salmon emphasized that he loved and respected his son and did not consider homosexuality a choice.

“My son is by far one of the most important people in my life. I love him more than I can say,” an emotional Salmon told 3TV. “It doesn’t mean that I don’t have respect, it doesn’t mean that I don’t sympathize with some of the issues. It just means I haven’t evolved to that stage.” [….]

“We respect each others’ opinions and we just know that on certain issues we have to agree to disagree,” the congressman’s son, Matt R. Salmon, told The Post. “I love my father and realize that he can have the opinions that he has, and they might differ from mine, but that doesn’t change the way I feel about him.”

Here’s the video of the interview via Mediaite:

I wasn’t that impressed with Rob Portman’s change of attitude–he realized his own son was gay and then suddenly decided gay marriage was okay. But at least Portman showed some empathy. Salmon sounds just plain cruel.

The younger Matt (father and son have different middle initials-the son is Matt R. Salmon) still supported his father’s run for Congress. His partner is Kent Flake, who is also the second cousin of Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake. Rep. Matt J. Salmon and Sen. Jeff Flake are both Mormons.

It’s nice that father and son still have a relationship, but it has to be incredibly painful for Matt to know that his own father disapproves of who you are and stands in the way of your marrying the person you love. According to Think Progress,

Portman clearly coordinated his announcement with his son, Will, in mind. The family released photos of Rob and Will spending time together, Will tweeted his support for his father that day, and last week wrote about how they made the decision together. Salmon has done the opposite, speaking without the consent of his son in an attempt to soften his own anti-gay positions, including past support for banning same-sex marriage and adoption.

I’m not sure how TP knows that Salmon spoke without this son’s consent, but Matt’s family has not been particularly supportive–at least according to an interview he gave to the Arizona New Times in 2010. For further reading, here is Will Portman’s coming out statement at the Yale Daily News.

All of this makes me so sad. Bigotry is so ugly and hurtful, and it’s amazing to me that people who have gone through this pain can still remain Republicans.

In Other News…

Evan Ebel, the man who shot Colorado prisons chief Tom Clements was released from jail because of a “clerical error.” He should have stayed locked up for another four years.

Ebel was on parole from Colorado prisons and was not legally allowed to purchase a weapon. He is believed to have used a gun to kill Clements on March 19 at Clements’ Colorado home. He is also believed to be involved in the death of a Domino’s delivery man, Nathan Leon, in Denver.

Ebel was then pulled over by Texas authorities two days later and engaged in a high-speed chase and gun battle with them. He was shot and died later at a hospital.

Ebel was a member of a “white supremacist gang 211 Crew.” It’s not yet clear if that is relevant to the murders, but coincidentally or not, there have been three recent murders in Texas that may be linked to a white supremacist group, “the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.”

Kaufman County, Texas (CNN) — As state and federal investigators flood this north Texas county searching for clues in the killing of two prosecutors in two months, the 100,000 people who live here can do little but nervously watch, and hope.

“The residents are, I think, astounded,” said Delois Stolusky, who has lived in the county seat of Kaufman for 30 years. “It’s just, one and one make two. You can’t keep from connecting these. And it’s just scary because we have no clue of who did the first shooting. And no clue, of course, yet who did this one. And, so of course our concern is what’s going to happen next.”

Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, died in a shooting at their home over the weekend. Friends discovered their bodies Saturday, nearly two months to the day after someone killed McLelland’s chief felony prosecutor, Mark Hasse, in a daytime shooting outside the county courthouse.

Law enforcement officials have no clues in the shootings, but there are suspicions that the Aryan Brotherhood could be involved.

But McLelland’s office was one of numerous Texas and federal agencies involved in a multi-year investigation that led to the indictment last year of 34 alleged members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, including four of its senior leaders, on racketeering charges.

At the time, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lanny A. Breuer called the indictment a “devastating blow” to the organization, which he said used threats and violence — including murder — against those who violate its rules or pose a threat to the enterprise….

While authorities have not said whether they have linked the deaths of Hasse and McLelland, or the involvement of white supremacists, Texas law enforcement agencies did warn shortly after the November 2012 indictment that there was “credible information” that members of the Aryan Brotherhood were planning to retaliate.

This is very creepy, and after learning about this I was interested to read this piece at The Daily Beast by an African American former prison inmate who understandably chooses to remain anonymous: Why I Fear the Aryan Brotherhood—and You Should, Too. Here’s the introduction. I hope you’ll be interested enough to read the whole thing.

Four people have been killed since the beginning of the year in a series of shootings that appear to be connected to the homegrown jihadists of the Aryan Brotherhood. Mike McLelland, the district attorney of Texas’s Kaufman County, and his wife, Cynthia Woodward, became the latest victims this past weekend. Before that, McLelland’s former colleague Mark Hasse was shot in January. Colorado prisons chief Tom Clements was gunned down in mid-March.

The Brotherhood, also known as The Brand, AB, and One-Two, was formed during the 1960s by a group of white convicts serving time at San Quentin. They allegedly were fed up with white prisoners being victimized by the two predominant gangs, the Black Gorilla Family (BGF) and the Mexican Mafia and decided to form a gang of their own for self-protection. While initially closely associated with Nazism ideologically, many adherents belong to the group for the identity and purpose it provides. The ironclad rule for entrée into the Brotherhood is simple: kill a black or a Hispanic prisoner. The other rule, which is just as ironclad, gave rise to their motto: “Blood In/Blood Out.”

Quitting isn’t an option. There’s only death.

I got up close and personal with members of the Brotherhood more than 20 years ago in Nevada. Due to the relatively sparse population in northern Nevada, the feds didn’t have their own lockup in which to house pretrial detainees, or at least they didn’t back then. So they rented a “range”— a row—of 14 cells in Nevada’s maximum-security prison in Carson City to house defendants going back and forth to Federal Court in nearby Reno.

I have some more reads for you that I’ll give you in link dump style, because otherwise I’ll never be able to finish this post with my brain working so slowly.

According to the Greek Reporter, politicians in Cyprus got special treatment: Cypriot Politicians’ Loans Written Off.

Joe Weisenthal at Business Insider: Russian Businessman Was Offered Chance To Smuggle €1 Million Out Of Cyprus For A €200,000 Fee

The NYT Sunday Magazine had a long article about Oikos University mass murderer One L. Goh: That Other School Shooting.

Barney Frank spoke to the Portland (ME) Press Herald: Social Security ‘entitlement’ deserves funding and respect: We should ensure its solvency by applying the payroll tax to earnings of $250,000 to $400,000.

The New York Times editorialized against cuts to Social Security: Social Security, Present and Future.

Raw Story: New York police sued for pepper-spraying 5-month-old baby

The New York Daily News: NYPD Commish Ray Kelly said ‘stop and frisk’ intended to ‘instill fear’ in blacks and Latinos: State Sen. Eric Adams

National Geographic: Cicadas Coming to U.S. East Coast This Spring. (Once every 17 years.)

Business Insider: Macy’s Accidentally Puts $1,500 Necklace On Sale For $47

Now it’s your turn. What’s on your reading and blogging list today. I’m looking forward to clicking on your links!