It's old news that the United States fares quite poorly on the sick leave front: Unlike most developed countries, we have no federal law mandating paid days off for ill workers. Only four cities and one state have passed their own.
So unless you're dining in San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, or Connecticut, your state's waiters could very well give you whatever nasty bug they're nursing while preparing and serving your grub because they don't have the option to stay home without losing pay.*
To make matters even worse for restaurant workers and diners, a spate of "preemption bills"—which bar localities from makings laws requiring paid sick leave—has been surging through state legislatures with the help of the American Legislative Exchange Council and the National Restaurant Association, one of ALEC's members. The first of these bills was passed in May 2011 in Wisconsin. Last week, Gov. Rick Scott signed Florida's version into law, making it the eighth state to preemptively block paid sick leave for its workers (and the 13th to try) in just two years.
Read moreabout how Disney and Darden Restaurants helped pass preemption legislation in Florida.
In many states, a number of chain restaurants and other establishments have come out in support of these bills, monetarily or otherwise. A few examples:
Their efforts have been successful. Here's how the sweep of preemption bills has played out nationwide: (Click on each state for more details.)
Preemption Bills: 2011-2013
So how did this rapid spread come about? Known for writing model legislation and then shopping it around the country, ALEC set to work doing just that with Wisconsin's preemption bill soon after it passed in 2011. At a meeting of the group's Labor and Business Regulation subcommittee a few months later, attendees were given a copy (PDF) of the legislation, as well as a map of cities and states with paid sick leave mandates, prepared by the NRA.
The NRA got involved because it considers paid sick leave a threat to its industry, says Saru Jayaraman, codirector of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United: In 2011, the group spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to successfully shut down a sick leave measure in Denver. But as morecities have tried to enact rules guaranteeing paid sick leave, bills preempting that possibility state-wide, says Jayaraman, have become the NRA's faster, cheaper alternative.
"I think they've come to the realization that it's not a sustainable model to pour a million dollars into stopping this," Jayaraman says. "So they found another way to do it. It's undemocratic. It's kind of like the Republican party deciding, 'We're not gonna get votes the normal way, so let's not let people vote.'"
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 76 percent of restaurant workers don't get paid sick days. By Jayaraman's estimates and her organization's surveys, it's actually closer to 90 percent—about 9 million people nationwide.
Soon after the 2011 ALEC meeting, one preemption bill passed in Louisiana in 2012, and soon a few more were introduced. In the last six months, though, their momentum has surged: Since February, six more states have passed these laws, while five others have introduced them.
Update (6/27/2013):This morning, the Fort Worth Star-Telegramreported that, according to Joel Burns, who holds Sen. Davis' former Fort Worth City Council seat, Davis was equipped with a catheter during her filibuster. When contacted to confirm, Davis' office responded that the senator "made all necessary preparations."
While obsessively watching state Sen. Wendy Davis' heroic filibuster in the Texas Legislature yesterday, I couldn't help thinking the obvious: 13 hours without peeing is a long time. Was she just holding it? Or wearing some sort of, er, contraption? (The options on suchthings, by the way, are many.)
For the most part, the logistics on this tend to be something politicians keep mum about. "It's a kind of urological mystery," Joseph Crespino, biographer of legendary filibusterer Strom Thurmond, told the BBC last year.
But over time, filibustering heavyweights have tried some pretty incredible tactics to avoid defeat by bathroom—and have gone on to share their tales. A few of them below:
1.Steam baths and a surreptitious urine bucket: Thurmond, who completed the longest federal filibuster in US history (24 hours, 18 minutes) in 1957, took the minimalist route with a bucket. His aides set it up in the cloakroom so that Thurmond could pee while keeping one foot on the Senate floor.
But even before that, Thurmond took daily steam baths to prepare for the epic speech, to make it easier for his body to absorb, rather than expel, fluid.
Thurmond also got lucky: After speaking for about three hours, Arizona Republican Barry Goldwater asked him to temporarily yield the floor for an insertion in the Congressional Record. This gave Thurmond a few precious minutes to make his one and only trip to the restroom.
2. When without a bathroom, bring the bathroom to you! In 2001, then St. Louis Alderwoman Irene Smith staged a filibuster during a City Hall debate to protest a ward redistricting plan that she believed would have hurt the city's black communities. Nature called, but rather than yielding the floor and ending her filibuster, Smith's aides came down and surrounded her with a sheet, quilt, and tablecloth while she relieved herself in a trash can. Here's video of the incident:
Later, she was charged with violating the city's public urination prohibition, but was never convicted: Given the sheets, there wasn't any hard proof of the act.
3. Astronaut bags and a light diet: In 1977, then-Texas Sen. Bill Meier staged a 43-hour filibuster over a bill he believed to be an attack on the state's open records laws. He wore an "astronaut bag" on the Senate floor, and when it filled up, then Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby would arrange to take a message from the House, while Meier ran to the women's restroom (closest to his desk) to empty the bag. On each trip, two sergeants-at-arms came with him to ensure he never sat down. Meier also said he ate lightly in the days preceding his filibuster. Today, Meier is a judge on the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth.
4. Catheters: After his filibuster protesting the confirmation of John Brennan as CIA director, Rand Paul told Glenn Beck that he'd considered fitting himself with a catheter for the speech, but decided against it, even though he'd tried them before.
5. Adult diapers: Lots of jokes and rumors have flown around about various filibustering politicians pulling a Lisa Nowak and using these, though we haven't been able to find any confirmed instances.
Update (7/1/2013): Gideon's Army, a film about public defenders in the south, premieres tonight on HBO. In the video below, you can see clips from the film, and also watch its director, Dawn Porter, talk further about the US public defense system.
Watch: Public defenders and legal advocates discuss ways to solve the nation's public defense crisis, 50 years after the Gideon decision:
In January 1962, a man sitting in a Florida prison cell scrawled a note to the United States Supreme Court. He'd been charged with breaking into a pool hall, stealing some Cokes, beer, and change, and was handed a five-year sentence after he represented himself because he couldn't pay for a lawyer. Clarence Earl Gideon's penciled message eventually led to the high court's historic 1963 Gideon v. Wainwright ruling, reaffirming the right to a criminal defense and requiring states to provide a defense attorney to those who can't afford one.
Fifty years after the ruling, many legal advocatescontend that the justice system is still failing the poor. Last week, the Supreme Court disappointed reformers when it refused to rule on a case involving a Louisiana man serving a life sentence after waiting five years in jail while the state came up with money to pay his court-appointed lawyer. (The federal system for defending the poor is relatively well resourced, though it's also struggling with budget cuts. Several of the attorneys defending Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev face up to three weeks of sequester-mandated furloughs later this year.)
Just how bad is the state of public defense in America? The charts below detail some of the biggest challenges plaguing the system.
The mother of both Boston bombing suspects claimed today that the men drew the attention of law enforcement long before the bombings. Zubeidat Tsarnaeva told Russia Todaythis morning that her sons told her the FBI was monitoring them for three to five years, ever since Tamerlan had grown more interested in Islam. She also said the bureau had warned her about her son's use of extremist websites:
FBI was scared of my eldest son. They always told me that he is a leader. He talks about Islam a lot. They were talking to my son. They called me officially and they told me that my son is an excellent boy and they have no problem with him. At the same time, they were telling that he is getting information in really extreme... sites, so they were very, very afraid of him.
Tsarnaeva's defense of her son aside, the possibility of FBI surveillance in this case is not outlandish: As Mother Jones' 2011 investigation, Terrorists for the FBI, showed, the bureau—which has made counterterrorism its top priority since 9/11—has assembled a roster of some 15,000 domestic informants, many tasked with keeping tabs on Muslim communities.
On Friday afternoon, the FBI admitted they had in fact interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev two years ago and found nothing incriminating, CBS news reports. The agency conducted the interview at the request of a so-far unnamed foreign government, CBS says, to see if the elder Tsarnaev had any extremist ties—but their search turned up none.
Searchers in protective suits walk through the blast zone of the fertilizer plant that exploded in West, Texas, on Thursday, April 18, 2013.
As the news of the deadly explosion at the West Fertilizer Company plant in West, Texas, has unfolded, journalists and observers wasted no time in wondering if anyone could have seen this catastrophe coming.
The Dallas Morning Newsreported that the West facility had claimed in an emergency planning report that an explosion of the kind that happened Wednesday would be virtually impossible. However, further analysis of this report shows that it contained other red flags about potential hazards and shoddy equipment. The plant's June 2011 risk management plan (RMP), filed with the Environmental Protection Agency, identified several potential hazards, including equipment failure; toxic release; overpressure, corrosion, or overfillingof equipment; an earthquake; or a tornado.
The report asserted that the worst-case scenario for the plant "would be the release of the total contents of a storage tank released as a gas over 10 minutes." It reported no flammable material on site, despite listing 54,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia at the plant.
Right to Know Network
In a list of its regulated substances and thresholds, the EPA classifies anhydrous ammonia as toxic, but not flammable. OSHA considers anhydrous ammonia a flammable gas, as do the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Fire Protection Association gives anhydrous ammonia a flammability rating of 1 (0 being the lowest, 4 the highest), likely because it requires a high concentration and strong ignition source to catch fire.
It's unclear if the EPA conducted any follow up in response to the potential hazards listed in plant's 2011 risk report. The safety inspector listed on the report was an employee of Security Truck Services, a transporter of anhydrous ammonia located in Baytown, Texas. The EPA and Security Truck Services have not yet responded to requests for comment on the inspection process.
In response to the West explosion, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) reports that it has pursued seven investigations of the fertilizer plant since 2002, both routine and in response to complaints. The last recorded investigation occurred in 2007, 10 months after the agency dealt with an odor complaint.
The Texas Tribune notes that this probably means the facility hadn't been inspected in the past five years. This would be consistent with a steep decline in the TCEQ's investigations in the past few years. The agency's last annual enforcement report showed that the number of complaints investigated has plummeted by 20 percent since 2007, though it is unclear it has been receiving fewer complaints. Its total number of investigations has fallen by more than 7 percent since 2007. Since 2008, the agency's operating budget has been slashed by nearly 40 percent. The TCEQ has not responded to a request for comment on its investigations and whether it was familiar with the West plant's 2011 risk report.
Turning to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for information on the plant's safety record turns up little. The plant's last OSHA inspection was in 1985—not surprising considering that it would take the short-staffed agency 98 years for the agency to inspect each of the state's workplaces. (It would take 130 years for OSHA to inspect every workplace in the United States.)