By Doug Porter
Investigators pursuing forensic evidence in the Boston Marathon Bombing case have already determined that the devices used consisted of gunpowder packed into at least one pressure cooker along with pieces of metal, nails and ball bearings.
Were it not for the repeated efforts of the National Rifle Association, authorities could trace the manufacturer and possibly even the chain of custody of the gunpowder used to kill three people and injure more than 170 on Sunday.
Thanks to lobbying by the NRA, explosive makers are not required to place tracing elements called taggants in gunpowder. Plastic explosives and non-gunpowder detonators are all required by law to contain these tracing elements.
On two occasions over the past five decades lawmakers attempting to mandate the use of identification taggants have run into a buzz saw of disinformation distributed by gun lobby supporters falsely claiming the microscopic color-coded particles would somehow impair performance. From a MSNBC report:
The first time came more than thirty years ago, after a wave of bombings in the 1970s mainly by the radical left Weather Underground and Puerto Rican nationalist groups.
A congressional study in 1980 found: “Identification taggants would facilitate the investigation of almost all significant criminal bombings in which commercial explosives were used.”
But the NRA successfully lobbied to have black and smokeless gunpowders exempted from the explosives required to include taggant markers. Members of Congress—including then-New York Rep. Charles Schumer– tried and failed again after the 1993 New York Citytruck bombing of the World Trade Center. The Clinton administration renewed the call for legislation requiring identifying taggants right after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, whose 18th anniversary is Friday.
And So It Goes
Within a couple of days the nation got to see heroism on the streets of Boston and cowardice in the halls of Congress. From the Washington Post:
President Obama’s ambitious effort to overhaul the nation’s gun laws in response to December’s school massacre in Connecticutsuffered a resounding defeat Wednesday, when every major proposal he championed fell apart on the Senate floor.
It was a stunning collapse for gun-control advocates just four months after the deaths of 20 children and six adults in Newtown led the president and many others to believe that the political climate on guns had been altered in their favor.
Feinstein Spits Fire
President Obama was visibly angry at a White House briefing following the Senate showdowns, calling out the NRA by name for willfully disseminating false information on background checks.
California Senator Diane Feinstein also didn’t react well to her ban on assault rifles going down to defeat. From the San Francisco Chronicle:
Fire-spitting angry, Sen. Dianne Feinstein told her Senate colleagues to “show some guts” as her ban on assault weapons failed in the Senate on Wednesday in the face of relentless opposition from the National Rifle Association.
The California Democrat was in full fury, spilling a stream of outrage beyond the mere two minutes allowed on her amendment to gun legislation that was crafted in response to the massacre of 20 schoolchildren and six adults in Newtown, Conn., four months ago.
The 1994 ban passed by one vote on a simple majority. It expired a decade later. Her new version required, like virtually all legislation in the Senate these days, 60 votes, because everything is routinely blocked by filibuster. It didn’t come close, failing 40-60 against a solid phalanx of Republicans and a 15-vote contingent of Democrats from gun-friendly rural states.
Gabby Giffords Responds
The sad and sometimes tearful faces of the Newtown parents who joined the President yesterday as he reacted to the loss in the Senate were eclipsed by the sorrow evident in Gabby Giffords, the former Congresswoman who survived a mass shooting.
From her op-ed in today’s New York Times:
They looked at these most benign and practical of solutions, offered by moderates from each party, and then they looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing.
They will try to hide their decision behind grand talk, behind willfully false accounts of what the bill might have done — trust me, I know how politicians talk when they want to distract you — but their decision was based on a misplaced sense of self-interest. I say misplaced, because to preserve their dignity and their legacy, they should have heeded the voices of their constituents. They should have honored the legacy of the thousands of victims of gun violence and their families, who have begged for action, not because it would bring their loved ones back, but so that others might be spared their agony.
This defeat is only the latest chapter of what I’ve always known would be a long, hard haul. Our democracy’s history is littered with names we neither remember nor celebrate — people who stood in the way of progress while protecting the powerful. On Wednesday, a number of senators voted to join that list.
Meanwhile in Boston
CNN, Fox News and the Associated Press all were forced to walk back reports filed on Tuesday claiming that an arrest had been made in the Boston Marathon bombings. The cable network news outfit took the brunt of criticism for airing the story in error, with a CNN source telling Business Insider, “As I think everyone knows, we really f—ed up. No way around it”.
The network later defended its decision, claiming three credible sources on both local and federal levels had verified the arrest.
Sifting Through the Evidence
A promised late day press conference by authorities in Boston on Tuesday never materialized. Many in the media believed that a suspect, who police have not been able to identify, would be discussed at that time.
For now, here’s the most succinct reportage I saw this morning, from the Los Angeles Times:
Authorities have obtained clear images of the faces of two men with backpacks who they believe were acting suspiciously around the time of the Boston Marathon bombings, a potential breakthrough in the search to find who planted the deadly devices, sources familiar with the investigation said Wednesday.
A department store surveillance camera caught an image of at least one of the men leaving a backpack near the finish line, a federal law enforcement official said.
Another official briefed on the investigation said the image that shows two men is the first indication that more than one bomber may have been responsible for the attacks that killed three people and injured more than 170 at Monday’s race.
‘Political Retribution’, Filner Style
San Diego City Beat nails it this week with an editorial discussing Mayor Bob Filner’s proposed budget, the one that earned him the “petty” moniker from the UT-San Diego:
On Monday, Filner unveiled his proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, and it includes a cut of $1.4 million to the City Attorney’s office amid the mayor’s plan to solve a $38.4-million deficit. Howls of protest came immediately from the pro-businessLincoln Club of San Diego County, whose president, T.J. Zane, charged that Filner’s proposal “appears to be nothing more than political retribution.”
Now, do we think it’s possible that Filner was wearing his signature ear-to-ear grin while he was approving the proposal to cut Goldsmith’s budget. Yeah. We think that’s very possible. Filner’s clearly no fan of the city attorney, and his brand of politics can be hardball. But the cuts are also easily defensible.
Goldsmith’s defenders shouldn’t fret, though: There’s no way the City Council’s going to go along with Filner’s idea—Council President Todd Gloria has already hinted as much. If the council restores that $1.4 million, we fear that it might see another line item as an easy offsetting cut: the $1.3 million Filner has proposed to make the emergency winter homeless shelter a year-round facility.
So, the bottom line here is that it’s possible that San Diego’s homeless will get left in the cold so a bloated city agency that seen increases in staffing (because it is headed by a Republican, with a GOP mayor in charge) as libraries were cut back and life guards were pulled off the beaches. And that’s before we even get to the question of whether taxpayers have been getting their money’s worth, as the actual performance of the City Attorney’s office has been questionable at best.
Casino Pauma Organizing Campaign Underway
I made the long haul out to Pauma yesterday for an event announcing UNITE HERE Local 30’s organizing drive for casino employees. Members of the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice (ICWJ), including Rabbi Laurie Coskey, stood by as organizers eagerly counted petitions signed by 149 of the casino’s 226 employees asking management to commit to a fair process without interference or intimidation.
The ICWJ later delivered a letter to representatives of the Pauma Tribe informing them of the petition drive’s results.
This was emotional moment for two dozen or so Casino workers and their families who showed up for this event. If you haven’t been through this process there is no way you can understand the fear associated with making the decision to join a union in a non-unionized workplace.
The employees that got up to speak in front of the group all showed great courage, realizing that their resolution to organize could have consequences that would threaten their families’ security. Most of them have worked for Pauma Casino for more than eight years.
This is a story complicated by the fact that collective bargaining rules at Native American casinos on tribal lands are different, owing to the tribes’ sovereign status. I’ll be reporting more on this rather unusual situation in coming weeks.
Issa’s Big Campaign Bucks in the Bank
Congressman Darrell Issa, who resides in one of the safest Republican districts in California, has a huge amount of campaign money just hanging out in his bank account. His slush fund exceeds that of House Speaker John Boehner ($1,822,000). Not that Issa’s a toady for special interests, or anything….
Here’s the numbers for our local Congresscritters:
CA- District 49- Darrell E. Issa $1,918,000
CA- District 50- Duncan D. Hunter $131,000
CA- District 51- Juan C. Vargas $1,000
CA- District 52- Scott Peters $220,000
CA- District 53- Susan A. Davis $169,000
On This Day: 1906 – San Francisco was hit with an earthquake. The original death toll was cited at about 700. Later information indicated that the death toll may have been 3 to 4 times the original estimate. 1939 – Gene Autry recorded “Back in the Saddle Again.” 1983 – The U.S. Embassy in Beirut was blown up by a suicide car-bomber. 63 people were killed including 17 Americans.
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