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In the late hours of April 29, 1999, NATO bombed Avala Tower, a tall, elegant television transmitter that had been a symbol of Belgrade since it was built in 1965. It was not its symbolic value, of course, that drew the bombing, but NATO's claim that the tower was a part of the Serbian wartime military machine. In military language,...
Want to know more about how the climate is changing in your area, and who's writing about it? On Earth Day, Earth Journalism Network, an arm of Internews, a nonprofit global media development organization, launched an interactive map, Climate Commons. It combines up-to-date information on climate change indicators like temperature, rainfall, and carbon-dioxide emissions across the...
Culled from CJR’s frequently updated “Must-reads from around the Web,” our staff recommendations for the best pieces of journalism (and other miscellany) on the Internet, here are your can’t-miss must-reads of the past week: Carjack victim recounts his harrowing night -- "Don't do that," Tamerlan said, studying him. "Don't be stupid." Jill Abramson and 'the sexist stereotype' --...
Federal spending on border security is at an all-time high—and it would get even higher under the Gang of Eight’s new plan. The Senate immigration proposal, released last week, would allocate $4.5 billion in the next five years to tighten control of U.S. borders.
The U.S. spent nearly $18 billion dollars on immigration enforcement agencies last fiscal year, more than all other law enforcement agencies combined.
Where would another $4.5 billion go? Here’s a closer look at what is being proposed, and how the government has spent (and often wasted) border money in recent years.
More border agents
The proposal calls for an additional 3,500 U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers. In FY 2012, the department employed 21,790 officers, up 10 percent from 2008. The bill would also add an unspecified number of Border Patrol agents, whose ranks have skyrocketed from just over 4,000 in 1993 to more than 21,000 today.
A 2011 investigation by The Center for Investigative Reporting and the Los Angeles Times showed how hurried hiring by the border agency affected screening standards and led to an increase in corruption. From 2006 to 2011, the number of investigations of customs employees charged with fraud more than tripled. Since 2004, 147 agency employees have been charged with or convicted of corruption-related offenses.
The bill requires buying as many “unmanned aerial systems” (also known as drones) as needed to have 24/7 surveillance of the Southwest border. The U.S. has already purchased 10 border drones, which cost $18 million a piece and roughly $3,000 an hour to operate.
Many question whether the current border drones are worth the investment. According to a report from the Customs and Border Protection agency, drones led to 143 arrests and the recovery of 66,000 pounds of drugs in 2012. As news outlet Fronteras calculated, “that’s less than 3 percent of all drugs seized by border agents last year, and less than 0.04 percent of the 365,000 would-be illegal border crossers caught by agents.”
In May 2012, a report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General found the U.S. didn’t have enough manpower or money to effectively operate the drones they already have. The department overshot its maintenance and operational budget by over $25 million. Drones had only flown for 30 percent of the time they were supposed to be in the air.
Another $1.5 billion would be allocated to expand the 651 miles of fencing along the Southwest border. "I think what we would do if the bill passes," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a Senate hearing, "is go back and look at the type of fencing we have and say, ‘Do we want to make it triple what it is or taller?’ — or something of that sort."
More phones and radios
Remote areas along the Southwest border can have spotty cell coverage, posing a risk to border guards in an emergency. A two-year grant would provide more funding for satellite phones and radios for border staff to contact 911, local police and federal agencies.
The bill doesn’t say anything about training guards to use the new devices. In November, we reported how DHS had spent $430 million on radios that only one surveyed employee knew how to use.
More money for local cops
Some of the new DHS funds would go toward Operation Stonegarden, a $46.6 million FEMA program benefiting local law enforcement in border states. "The funds that we are getting from Stonegarden are a godsend," a county sheriff told the Arizona Daily Star in 2009. "I think we are able to provide a lot more security, a lot more visibility."
But critics say there’s little oversight of how the money has been spent. The Star’s review of Arizona police records showed grant money was funnelled toward expensive technology and overtime pay for cops doing unrelated tasks, like crowd control at city parades.
As Congress considers adding billions more to the border budget, lawmakers are left with a key question: is it working? Some critics on the left say the added funding may be unnecessary, as studies suggest net migration from Mexico is now below zero. Many on the right say there still aren’t enough hard metrics to judge whether Homeland Security is doing a better job of keeping undocumented immigrants out.
DHS has pointed to the drop in the number of apprehensions as a sign U.S. borders are stronger now than ever before. But critics say it’s a flawed way of judging whether the billions spent on border security are worth it. That number could mean fewer undocumented immigrants are attempting to cross the border, or that fewer are being arrested. The struggling U.S. economy also plays a big role in the overall drop in unauthorized immigration.
Under the new proposal, high-risk sections of the Southern border must reach a “90 percent effectiveness rate” within five years. That would be the “number of apprehensions and turn backs” divided by “the total number of illegal entries.”
If border states don’t reach the 90 percent target, a group of border state governors (or their appointees) and federally-appointed security experts would step in to draft a new plan to boost effectiveness—on which the DHS can spend up to $2 billion more. The new bill would also create a presidentially-appointed DHS Task Force to regularly review border enforcement policies.
Increased surveillance should help border agents get a better count of the total number of undocumented immigrants crossing the border, said Doris Meissner of nonpartisan think-tank the Migration Policy Institute. According to Meissner, this is the first time immigration legislation has included a specific metric to gauge whether money spent on border protection is resulting in fewer unauthorized crossings.
“The overall expectation that so much money has been invested, the government has to do better in really laying out how it assesses its effectiveness,” she said.
A rare inside look at Hezbollah during a recent terror trial in Cyprus portrayed a militant group with the prowess of an intelligence service: meticulous overseas reconnaissance, Western operatives with elaborate covers, training at secret bases where recruits and instructors wear masks for maximum security.
And the conviction last month of a confessed Hezbollah operative for doing terrorist surveillance of Israeli tourists has heated up a debate that continues to divide the West: Whether the European Union, like the United States and Israel, should designate Hezbollah as a terrorist group.
In a report to be published by a West Point think tank next week, a former U.S. counterterror official argues that the Cyprus case and an attack on Israelis in Bulgaria last year show that Hezbollah has returned to aggressive operations on European soil. Western counterterror agencies largely share that analysis, which has spurred a proposal by Britain for the European Union to designate Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization.
“In Cyprus you have a case that underwent full judicial scrutiny, and a conviction in a European court,” said Matthew Levitt, the report’s author, a former top Treasury Department intelligence official who is now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “You have all this evidence. You have a European Hezbollah operative who was also doing courier work across Europe. What else do they need?”
Decisions in the 27-nation European Union move slowly through a bureaucratic labyrinth, especially on diplomatically sensitive questions. But the current debate departs from traditional European reluctance to confront a militant group that is a powerhouse in the government and on the streets of Lebanon.
In Paris, Berlin and other capitals, the terrorist activity and Hezbollah’s military support for the Assad regime in Syria’s civil war have challenged a strategy of maintaining cordial relations with Hezbollah to prevent retaliation and preserve diplomatic leverage.
“It has been and will be the most serious discussion on Hezbollah they’ve had,” said a U.S. counterterror official who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly. “Stability in Lebanon has been one of the main European arguments for not designating Hezbollah. But when they see what Hezbollah is doing Syria, which is exacerbating instability there and creating spillover into Lebanon, causing instability there as well, it changes this perspective.”
On July 18 last year, the bombing of an airport bus carrying Israeli tourists at the Bulgarian beach resort of Burgas killed six people. Investigators said they identified two alleged Hezbollah operatives as suspects, although little evidence has been made public.
The court verdict in Cyprus carries more weight in the legalistic European Union. There are also parallels between the Burgas bombing and the surveillance and potential targets described by Hossam Yaakoub, the Lebanese-Swedish operative whom police in Cyprus arrested days before the attack in Bulgaria. His statements are extraordinary because of the wealth of detailed revelations about the inner workings of Hezbollah.
“The case provides unique insights into how (Hezbollah) recruits and trains new operatives,” Levitt writes in a case study of the Cyprus trial that will appear Monday in the CTC Sentinel, a publication of the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point.
The military think tank provided ProPublica with an advance copy of the article, “Hizb Allah Resurrected: the Party of God Returns to Tradecraft.” ProPublica separately obtained the 26 pages of depositions that Yaakoub, 24, gave Cypriot police.
During the past decade, arrests, raids and infiltration by spy agencies have produced a great deal of information about the operations, training camps and leadership of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In contrast, Hezbollah remains a secretive, disciplined militant group with worldwide reach and a vast war chest. Iran, a close ally, provides arms, funds, training and strategic direction. Hezbollah’s paramilitary operations, social welfare work and political power have won a formidable reputation in the Arab world and beyond. It is a militant group that increasingly resembles a state entity.
“I believe in the armed struggle of Hezbollah until the liberation of Lebanon,” Yaakoub told his interrogators, according to the Cypriot police depositions. “Hezbollah is the political party, which supports the people of Lebanon and fights for the rights of our country … Although I believe in the armed struggle for the liberation of Lebanon from Israel, I am not in favor of the terrorist attacks against innocent people. For me, war and terrorism are two different things.”
A three-judge panel in Cyprus nonetheless found that Yaakoub was preparing the terrain to attack Israeli tourists and other Jews on the island as part of Hezbollah’s holy war. The Cypriot police presumably received a tip about him from Israeli intelligence, Levitt said, and followed him as he documented and photographed flights arriving from Israel, buses transporting Israeli tourists, kosher restaurants and other potential targets.
After his arrest last July 7, Yaakoub reacted with the practiced cool of a well-trained operative, according to the depositions. He denied everything. He explained that he was traveling with a Swedish passport because his family had moved to Sweden six months after he was born and he had lived there until he was 14. He described himself as a Beirut-based trader in souvenirs, clothes and other merchandise. He backed up his story with company documents and names of local clients.
As police confronted him with detailed evidence, however, his resistance began to crumble. During an interrogation that began after midnight a week after his arrest, he admitted the truth: “I am an active member of the Hezbollah for about four years now. I was recruited by a Lebanese called Reda in 2007… He told me that he needed me for the secret mission of Hezbollah … my secret mission would be surveillance and undercover activities.”
Yaakoub fits a classic profile, according to Levitt and other experts. Hezbollah takes advantage of the global Lebanese diaspora to recruit operatives with Western passports. Bulgarian authorities, for instance, are seeking two Lebanese suspects who traveled with authentic Australian and Canadian passports — and fake U.S. driver licenses — in the airport bus bombing last year.
Canadians, Swedes and Colombians of Lebanese descent have allegedly taken part in past plots. And Yaakoub told police he trained in Lebanon alongside a fighter who spoke English with an American accent, according to the deposition.
The training began with five to seven months of lessons in tradecraft in Beirut from an instructor named Yousef. He taught the recruit about cover stories and clandestine operations, sending him at one point to deliver an envelope to a man in Istanbul. Next came military training with pistols, rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and C-4 explosives at secret camps in south Lebanon. The sessions were designed for maximum operational security.
“They took me from different spots in Beirut, using closed vans so I could not see,” Yaakoub said, according to the deposition. “Each training group consisted of 10-13 people. Both the trainees and instructors wore hoods, so they could not recognize each other. We had individual tents and exercises were performed in a separate place. It was forbidden to see each other.”
Soon Hezbollah chiefs sent Yaakoub on courier missions to the French city of Lyon and to Amsterdam, where he thought he recognized the voice of his contact as one of his masked classmates from Beirut. The deployment of Yaakoub in Europe coincides with a dangerous strategic shift by Hezbollah, experts say.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Hezbollah and Iran conducted bombings, kidnappings and hijackings on Israeli, American and European targets from Argentina to Lebanon to France, inflicting hundreds of casualties. In the early 2000s, the group curtailed operations outside the Middle East theater, focusing on its struggle with Israel.
In 2010, however, leaders of Hezbollah and Iran launched an aggressive new terror campaign. They wanted to retaliate against Israel for the assassinations of Hezbollah warlord Imad Mughniyeh in 2008 and of Iranian nuclear scientists in subsequent years, according to Western counterterror officials.
“Even before the Burgas attack, we were growing concerned about what Hezbollah is doing around the world,” the U.S. counterterror official said. “They are plotting in a way we hadn’t seen since the 1990s. There is certainly a feeling that Iran and Hezbollah have ramped up their networks.”
Reactivating Terror Wing
Iran and Hezbollah decided on a new offensive in which the Quds Force, the external operations wing of Iran’s intelligence service, would hit hard targets such as Israeli and Saudi diplomats, according to Levitt’s article. Hezbollah, meanwhile, would focus on Israeli tourists and other soft targets, Levitt asserts, citing information from U.S., Israeli and European security agencies.
As a result, Hezbollah revamped the Islamic Jihad Organization, its international terrorist wing, according to Levitt.
“New operatives were recruited from the elite of (Hezbollah’s) military wing for intelligence and operational training, while existing IJO operatives were moved into new positions,” the article says. “At the same time, the IJO invested in the development of capabilities and tradecraft that had withered since the 2001 decision to rein in operations.”
The past two years have brought a spate of attacks and plots. The Iranian security forces are accused in cases including the assassination of a Saudi diplomat in Pakistan, a bomb attack on an Israeli diplomat in India and a foiled plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C.
Alleged Hezbollah plots have been discovered as well. In January of last year, Thai police found a warehouse full of bomb-making chemicals for an alleged plot against Israeli targets. The chief suspect in that case resembles Yaakoub: an accused Hezbollah operative with dual Lebanese and Swedish citizenship.
Meanwhile, Yaakoub did patient undercover work in Cyprus, according to his confession and evidence at his trial. Hezbollah provided expense money and a salary of $600 a month. He burnished his cover story by registering his import-export firm, looking into acquiring a warehouse, meeting with clients and, on his handler’s advice, developing a social life on the island.
Acting on instructions from Beirut, he watched Israeli tourists arrive on flights and charted their movements on airport buses and at hotels, using codes to disguise his notes and communicate with fellow operatives, according to his confession.
The surveillance takes on ominous significance in light of the Burgas attack, in which a young man with a backpack bomb blew up a bus as it picked up Israeli tourists at the airport. The attacker died in the blast. European investigators believe he was not a suicide bomber, but rather a dupe or the victim of a premature explosion. Hezbollah has denied any role in Burgas.
Yaakoub’s reconnaissance featured very specific tasks for reasons that are not yet clear. He identified Internet cafes for his handlers. He obtained three SIM cards for mobile phones. He meticulously studied an area behind a hospital, taking photos and drawing a map.
“I am not aware of the organization’s objectives on the matter, nor do I know why they sent me to this mission,” he told interrogators, according to the deposition. Despite his confessions, he refused to accept that he was involved in terrorism, declaring:
“It was just collecting information about the Jews, and that is what my organization is doing everywhere in the world.”
Reaction in Europe
The conviction of Yaakoub adds to mounting evidence of Hezbollah activity across Europe. And it creates a headache for the European Union. Most governments in Europe have a markedly different view of Hezbollah than Israel or the United States, which see it as a terrorist organization pure and simple. Only the Netherlands agrees with that assessment. Britain has designated Hezbollah’s military wing as a terror organization, but not the political leadership.
The motives of other European governments vary. Especially on the left, sectors of European political parties and public opinion tend to see Hezbollah more favorably than Americans do. They accept the view that it is a resistance movement, not a terrorist organization.
Nations such as Spain and Italy are also reluctant to confront the group because they have military peacekeeping contingents in Lebanon that are vulnerable to retaliation. In addition, key European powers such as France and Germany described their relationships with Hezbollah on pragmatic grounds.
French officials assert that if they designated Hezbollah as a terrorist group, it would cut them off diplomatically from a powerful force in Lebanon and the Middle East. Tensions between Hezbollah and Europe could further destabilize the conflict-ridden political environment in Lebanon, the argument goes.
The common wisdom has begun to change because of increasing exasperation with Hezbollah’s actions in Europe, signs of involvement in crime and corruption, and its military role in Syria, experts say. Earlier this year, British diplomats began to push their proposal that the EU label Hezbollah’s military wing a terrorist group.
This would curtail funding and political support for the group in Europe, but maintain a channel for dialogue, British officials say. U.S. officials and experts think there is no distinction between Hezbollah’s political and military leadership, but they think the proposal would be powerful and timely.
“It would send a strong message,” Levitt said.
The discussions about the proposal have intensified in the European Union in recent weeks, according to U.S. and European officials. Political and economic crises in Bulgaria and Cyprus have complicated matters, however, because those countries were taking a lead role along with Britain.
“We have been pretty active on this issue,” a senior British diplomat said. “We are keen to do it. But it is a slow process.”
AUSTIN, TX -- In El Paso, the former school superintendent is now in prison, the Justice Department is investigating, and more school officials are being fired--all the fallout of a widespread cheating scandal in which top educators tried to game standardized test scores so they could collect undeserved bonuses. That scandal came to light thanks to...
A bill that is crucial to the civil rights of the LGBT community was reintroduced in both houses of Congress on Thursday, and you probably didn't hear a thing about it. That's because the bill isn't about marriage. If it were a national marriage bill, the media would have been all over it. Heck, if it were just the first...
The torrid growth in digital-only subscribers to The New York Times slowed sharply in the first quarter. Worse, advertising fell so sharply that the paper's overall revenue declined slightly. But it's worth correcting some misimpressions about what those numbers really mean. Quartz's Zach Seward, for instance, writes a post headlined "The New York Times paywall has hit a growth...
On April 26, 1986, a nuclear reactor accident occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the former Soviet Union. An explosion and fire released catastrophic levels of radiation into the atmosphere over much of the Western USSR and Europe. The cost to contain the spread of the radioactive particles was enormous. The official Soviet count for fatalities was 31,...
In the wake of the Citizens United case and other court rulings, there's an unprecedented amount of money sloshing around in American politics. The volume of coverage that money attracts might be unprecedented, too--at least at the highest levels. Even amid the disruption and pressures on the journalism industry, the nation's top newspapers delivered steady coverage of the campaign-finance beat...
This week, Politico published a largely anonymously-sourced hit piece on New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, charging that she is blunt, demoralizing, condescending, and is "on the verge of losing the support of the newsroom." Critics, myself included, asked whether this piece would have been written and edited in this particular way if its subject were...
The officially secret drone war, carried out in some of the world’s most dangerous regions, is extremely challenging to report on. Several thousand people have been killed in hundreds of U.S. drone strikes and other attacks carried out beyond the battlefield in Afghanistan, but from legal memos to casualty estimates, the government has made little hard data about the wars public. (ProPublica has been covering the lack of transparency about the drone program.)
Mark Mazzetti, New York Times national security reporter and author of "The Way of the Knife," and Adam Baron, who reports from Yemen for McClatchy, the Christian Science Monitor, and others, joined ProPublica's Cora Currier to share their experiences covering drone strikes. Some key takeaways:
- Though the U.S. says it will only kill when capture is not feasible, sources on the ground say many targeted killings are of people that could have been arrested. "It does appear that in Pakistan, the tribal areas have basically been declared a 'no capture zone,'" Mazzetti wrote.
- The term "drone war" doesn't cover the strikes in Yemen carried out by manned aircrafts. "It seems like public opinion in the U.S. seems to focus on the issue of the unmanned drone, while in Yemen, the issue is largely the idea of airstrikes itself," Baron explained.
- Getting details in the aftermath of a drone strike is a huge challenge. Strikes often happen in remote districts, and there can be lots of misinformation about who was killed.
See the full transcript of their conversation here:
April 25: This post has been corrected.
A week after a blast at a Texas fertilizer plant killed at least 15 people and hurt more than 200, authorities still don’t know exactly why the West Chemical and Fertilizer Company plant exploded.
Here’s what we do know: The fertilizer plant hadn’t been inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since 1985. Its owners do not seem to have told the Department of Homeland Security that they were storing large quantities of potentially explosive fertilizer, as regulations require. And the most recent partial safety inspection of the facility in 2011 led to $5,250 in fines.
We’ve laid out which agencies were in charge of regulating the plant and who’s investigating the explosion now.
What happened, exactly?
Around 7:30 p.m. on April 17, a fire broke out at the West Chemical and Fertilizer Company plant in West, Texas, a small town of about 2,800 people 75 miles south of Dallas. Twenty minutes later, it blew up. The explosion shook houses 50 miles away and was so powerful that the United States Geological Survey registered it as a 2.1-magnitude earthquake. It flattened homes within a five-block radius and destroyed a nursing home, an apartment complex, and a nearby middle school. According to the New York Times, the blast left a crater 93 feet wide and 10 feet deep, and the fire “burned with such intensity that railroad tracks were fused.”
The blast killed at least 15 people, most of them firefighters and other first responders.
Have fertilizer plants ever exploded before?
Yes. A plant in Sergeant Bluff, Iowa, that manufactured ammonium nitrate fertilizer — the same explosive chemical stored in West — exploded on Dec. 13, 1994, killing four people and injuring 18.
But fertilizer plants are safer now, said Stephen Slater, the Iowa administrator of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “All kinds of technologies have had huge improvements,” he told the Des Moines Register. “And we haven’t had any bad experiences at the plants in the 20 years since [the accident]. I’m knocking on wood.” (Slater didn’t respond to our requests for comment.)
Who regulates these fertilizer plants?
At least seven different state and federal agencies can regulate Texas fertilizer plants like the one in West: OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the Texas Department of State Health Services, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Feed and Fertilizer Control Service.
Some of the agencies don’t appear to have shared information before the blast.
Fertilizer plants that hold more than 400 pounds of ammonium nitrate, for instance, are required to notify the Department of Homeland Security. (Ammonium nitrate can be used to make bombs. It’s what Timothy McVeigh used to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.) The West plant held 270 tons — yes, tons — of the chemical last year, according to a report it filed with the Texas Department of State Health Services, but the plant didn’t tell Homeland Security.
Carrie Williams, a Department of State Health Services spokeswoman, told ProPublica that the agency isn’t required to pass that information — which is also sent to local authorities — on to Homeland Security.
While the exact cause of the explosion is unknown, a federal official told the New York Times that investigators believed it was caused by the ammonium nitrate. The blast crater is in the area of the plant where the chemical was stored.
The plant also filed a “worst-case release scenario” report with the EPA and local officials stating there was no risk of a fire or an explosion. The scenario described an anhydrous ammonia leak that wouldn’t hurt anyone.
Did any of these agencies fail to inspect the plant when they should have?
It’s unclear. OSHA conducted the last full safety inspection of the plant in 1985. “Since then,” the Huffington Post reported, “regulators from other agencies have been inside the plant, but they looked only at certain aspects of plant operations, such as whether the facility was abiding by labeling rules when packaging its fertilizer for sale.”
You can view the full OSHA report here. Since 2011, OSHA has carried out inspections based in part on the level of risk that plants like the one in West reported to the EPA. Since the West plant had told the EPA there was no risk of a fire or an explosion, it wasn’t a priority. The plant also may have been exempt from some inspections as a small employer. An OSHA spokesman told ProPublica that the agency would be investigating whether the plant had such an exemption.
As the Huffington Post also noted, the most recent federal safety inspection of the plant, in 2011, resulted in a $5,250 fine for failing to draft a safety plan for pressured canisters of anhydrous ammonia, among other infractions. (There’s no evidence that anhydrous ammonia played any role in the explosion.)
Why was a plant that stored explosive chemicals allowed to be located so close to a school?
The EPA and other federal agencies actually don’t regulate how close such plants can be to schools, nursing homes and population centers. In Texas, the decision is left up to the local zoning authorities.
A Dallas Morning News investigation in 2008 found that Dallas County residents were “at risk of a toxic disaster because outdated and haphazard zoning has allowed homes, apartments and schools to be built within blocks — in some cases even across the street — from sites that use dangerous chemicals.”
Ed Sykora, who owns a Ford dealership in West and spent a dozen years on the school board and the city council, told the Huffington Post he couldn’t recall the town discussing whether it was a good idea to build houses and the school so close to the plant, which has been there since 1962. "The land was available out there that way; they could get sewer and other stuff that way without building a bunch of new lines," Sykora said. "There never was any thought about it. Maybe that was wrong."
Who’s investigating what happened?
OSHA, the EPA and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board are all investigating. But don’t hold your breath waiting for the Chemical Safety Board’s conclusions. The agency is still investigating a blast that killed seven workers at an oil refinery in Washington State three years ago, as well as the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers in 2010 and sent oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico for months.
A Center for Public Integrity investigation found that the number of accident reports completed by the Chemical Safety Board had declined dramatically since 2006. Daniel Horowitz, the agency’s managing director, said that the agency was stretched thin and had been asking for more investigators for years.
“Going forward, the owners and employees of Adair Grain and West Fertilizer Co. are working closely with investigating agencies,”Donald Adair, the plant’s owner and a West resident,said in a statement last Friday. “We are presenting all employees for interviews and will assist in the fact finding to whatever degree possible.”
Has Congress introduced any new regulation legislation?
Yes, but it would roll back regulations rather than strengthen them. Eleven representatives — one Democrat and 10 Republicans — sponsored a bill in February that would limit the EPA’s regulatory authority over fertilizer plants. It has been endorsed by industry groups such as the Fertilizer Institute. Kathy Mathers, a spokeswoman for the Fertilizer Institute, told ProPublica that the group supports the bill because it would more clearly spell out how the EPA can regulate the industry.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly stated two different figures for the number of people killed in the blast. It is at least 15 people.
The Washington Post's Erik Wemple asks the New York Post's "Bag Men" to sue the paper for libel: So journalists at the New York Post should be extra appreciative of the First Amendment these days. No one can revoke their journalistic licenses for their most heinous act of last week -- publishing a cover photo of two guys at...
On this day 105 years ago, Edward R. Murrow, one of the forefathers of American broadcast journalism, was born. Murrow first came to prominence with his CBS radio reports from London during the Blitz. In the 1950s, he moved into the new medium of television, and pioneered TV news formats like newscasting, anchoring, and documentary host/producer. His series of TV...
Longtime Hartford Courant reporter Bill Leukhardt lives in Danbury, the town adjacent to Newtown, CT. So on December 14, when it became clear that something was amiss at a school there, his editors gave him the address on the scanner asked him to look into it. "No one said Sandy Hook school--I had no idea," said Leukhardt (who, full disclosure,...
Last year, we told you about how former Lockheed Martin executive Ann Sauer had been hired to be the top Republican staffer on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Sauer got $1.6 million from Lockheed, including a buyout, before being hired by Sen. John McCain to come back to Capitol Hill, where she had previously worked as a staffer. Watchdogs cried foul.
With McCain stepping down as ranking member of the committee, Sauer left the job on the Armed Services Committee earlier this year and now works as a federal budget expert for hire.
Her replacement? Another former Hill staffer who went to work with large military contractors — including Lockheed.
John Bonsell, the new staff director for the Republicans on the committee, spent five years as a lobbyist for military contractors such as Boeing, GE Aviation, BAE Systems, and SAIC. He made $276,400 in 2011, his final year as a lobbyist, a disclosure form shows. Bonsell did not respond to our requests for comment.
Bonsell takes the Armed Services Committee job at an especially fraught time for military contractors: the industry has been fighting — so far unsuccessfully — budget cuts that kicked in under sequestration last month.
Before working as a lobbyist, Bonsell had a two-decade career in the Army including a stint as chief of concepts and doctrine on the Army staff at the Pentagon. After that, he became a legislative assistant to Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., in 2001.
After five years as a lobbyist, Bonsell rejoined Inhofe’s staff in 2012 as legislative director. Earlier this year, when Inhofe took over from McCain as ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, he hired Bonsell to be staff director.
Asked if Bonsell’s previous role as a lobbyist for industry players presents any conflict, Inhofe spokeswoman Donelle Harder said the senator views that work as a plus.
“Due to his 20 plus years of service in the U.S. Army and his post-retirement career, Sen. Inhofe finds John Bonsell uniquely qualified to understand the perspective of both the government and the private sector as the committee works to address unprecedented challenges with the future of our national defense,” she wrote in an email.
Inhofe has said that his top priority is to avoid military budget cuts.
At last comes a story in a major news outlet that explains in people terms what exactly the Chained CPI will or won't do for the family budget. The New York Times deserves a CJR laurel for its Saturday "Your Money" piece by Tara Siegel Bernard who showed how the alternative method of calculating cost-of-living...
We're more than 20 years into the mainstream Web era—20 years!—and Congress is finally seriously considering force retailers to collect sales taxes online, ending a loophole that has given online-only retailers an unfair advantage over physical retailers. Thanks to a catalog company's 1992 Supreme Court victory, states can't require retailers that don't have a physical presence within their borders to...
Operation Paraquet: On April 24, 1982, after a three-day delay caused by bad weather, British forces invaded South Georgia, one of the southern Atlantic islands, including the Falklands, that Argentina had suddenly seized after a long diplomatic dispute. After some uncertainty and debate, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had ordered the force to the islands, the start of a turning point...