Thursday, June 30, 2011

4th of July: You're Doing it Wrong, Progressives

Restored fire truck carries VFW Members in Aloha, OR 4th of July Parade- Oregonian photo
I mentioned this earlier (altho some of you might've been distracted by the pics of Prinecess Eugenie at the beach), there isn't much else out there that brings as much joy to my heart as seeing the main street of a small town adorned with American flags or red white and blue bunting. Apparently a recent ivy-league study claims that my conservative political leanings play a role in that.

According to a recent Harvard study, 4th of July celebrations energize only Republicans, help boost Republican turnout on election day and are likely to turn young spectators into Republicans.
Democratic political candidates can skip this weekend's July 4th parades. A new Harvard University study finds that July 4th parades energize only Republicans, turn kids into Republicans, and help to boost the GOP turnout of adults on Election Day.

"Fourth of July celebrations in the United States shape the nation's political landscape by forming beliefs and increasing participation, primarily in favor of the Republican Party," said the report from Harvard.

"The political right has been more successful in appropriating American patriotism and its symbols during the 20th century. Survey evidence also confirms that Republicans consider themselves more patriotic than Democrats. According to this interpretation, there is a political congruence between the patriotism promoted on Fourth of July and the values associated with the Republican party. Fourth of July celebrations in Republican dominated counties may thus be more politically biased events that socialize children into Republicans," write Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor David Yanagizawa-Drott and Bocconi University Assistant Professor Andreas Madestam.
I'm sorry- was I supposed to throw up my hands and recoil in horror at the last part? Was the end result of this study supposed to be me wringing my hands over how politicized independence day has become? I really don't recall Independence Day parades featuring veterans riding on fire trucks or high school marching bands as having an inherently political bias- but then again, these guys are super-smart and from Harvard, so I could've just as easily missed something I suppose.

For all their faults, the GOP has not been out there in recent weeks attempting to circulate the meme that the Constitution is obsolete and needs to be replaced with an open-source document via social networking outlets like Twitter or Facebook. In fact, the same people attempting to advance that argument have been sharply critical of the GOP- particularly the incoming crop of freshman supported by the Tea Party last year- going so far as to claim reading the founding document aloud was some sort of perverse fetish.

Or is yearning to be even more like a sparesly populated, bankrupt Scandinavian nation the new definition patriotism now?

Nor is the GOP attempting to stop 4th of July fireworks displays through the use of nuisance lawsuits or attempting to limit the number of times a city council meeting can say the pledge of allegiance. In fact, given the open contempt that the media elites have demonstrated they hold for the flyover states and small town America, I would venture a guess that many of the progressives that make up so much of the voting bloc of today's Democrat party would be downright uncomfortable at one of these functions, however non-partisan they may actually be.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Assad Regime Crackdown Continues Amid Reports of Syrian Troops Defecting; Syrian Army Masses at Turkish Border

As troops loyal to the Bashr al-Assad regime continued their crackdown of anti government protesters, media reports claim that defecting soldiers and policemen are among the thousands of Syrian refugees streaming into southwestern Turkey.
Unwilling to open fire on demonstrators who have taken to the streets chanting the revolutionary slogans of uprisings across the Arab world, some Syrian troops have chosen to lay down their arms and flee to neighboring countries like Turkey.

It is difficult to estimate how many have done so, partly because they are afraid to speak out and partly due to severe restrictions on foreign media reporting in Syria, which makes it hard to corroborate accounts inside the country.

But Internet videos have begun increasingly to surface in recent weeks of men displaying military insignia and identification cards who say they have left an army that has used tanks and guns to suppress protesters calling for freedom.

Assad has relied on the armed forces, whose commanders are mostly from his minority Alawite sect, to crack down on protesters, who are mostly from the majority Sunni population.
Syrian troops have been massing along the Turkish border, occupying positions in border villages and attempting to block the flow of refugees to Turkey during the Assad regime's crackdown. The deteriorating situation within Syria has caused Turkish forces to be on aert and raised tensions across tge region.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Today's Train of Thought- Different Shades of Blue, June 28 2010

Today's train of thought takes us to the former textile mill town of Lawrence in northeastern Massachusetts. Although a shadow of its former self, Lawrence remains something of a transportation hub- even if most of the people are just passing through- with I-93 and I-495 meeting just outside the city while the old Boston & Maine line through town sees daily MBTA commuter trains and more recently, Amtrak's Downeaster service between Boston's North Station and Portland, ME (although the latter doesn't stop in Lawrence).

To accommodate regular passenger service, the track and signaling on the former B&M Freight Main were upgraded considerably to accommodate higher speeds and more frequent trains (up to 5 daily Boston-Portland round trips for the Downeaster alone).

With that in mind, the Pan-Am Freight Main between Portland and Lawrence serves as a conduit for inbound cement, pulp, clay products and chemicals and outbound paper from the state of Maine. While the improvements to the Boston-Portland line were made nearly a decade ago, more recent improvements to the old B&M West end underwritten by Norfolk Southern (in exchange for access to markets in Boston and elsewhere in New England) over the past couple of years has helped expedite freight into and out of New England.

Here, contributor Matt Rooks caught Pan Am Rail SD40-2s #609 and 607 leaning into a curve as it heads southbound- westbound as far as the railway is concerned- with symbol freight WAED (WAterville, ME to East Deerfield, MA) in early May 2010. Both units are former TFM (Transportes Ferrovias Mexicano) with the #607 still wearing the two-tone blue with red trim of the Mexican national railways.

Nanny State Cheerleader Bloomberg Using Al Qaeda Video to Try and Sell More Gun Control in America

Obligatory gun show image
New York City Mayor (as well as anti-gun and anti-salt crusader) Micheal Bloomberg and an organization called Mayors Against Illegal Guns has launched a new video featuring quotations from a fugitive American member of Al Qaeda, claiming that terrorists will take advantage of a so-called 'gun show loophole'.

Frankly, I would be more concerned about firearms falling into the hands of thieves and convicted felons like Mayors Against Illegal Guns alumni Kwame Kilpatrick, Eddie Perez, Rod Blagojevich or Sheila Dixon.
An ominous television ad commissioned by Mayor Bloomberg will soon blanket the airwaves - warning that Al Qaeda could exploit the so-called "gunshow loophole."

This is a golden opportunity," said Al-Amriki. "America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms."

"You can go down to a gun show and come away with a fully-automatic assault rifle without a background check," Al-Amriki said on the terror tape. "So what are you waiting for?"

Bloomberg and his coalition - dubbed "Mayors Against Illegal Guns" - have long urged for the repeal of the gunshow loophole, which allows unlicensed sellers to peddle weapons without running a background check of the buyer.

"Criminals already know how to take advantage of gaps in our gun laws, and now Al Qaeda knows too," said Bloomberg about the new commercial.

"Weak gun laws aren't just a crime problem, they're a national security threat," Bloomberg said, "and this ad should be a wake-up call to Congress."
The Mayor's Against Illegal Guns ad makes reference to a video made by "American Al Qaeda" Adam Gadhan that was released earlier this month calling for "lone wolf" style attacks against high profile targets and institutions. Gadhan is thought to be in hiding on the Arabian peninsula, most likely Yemen.
He said: 'America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms.
'You can go down to a gun show at the local convention centre and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card.
Seriously- is it just me, or does it sound like Gadhan and Mayors Against Illegal Guns get their talking points from the exact same place? Perhaps this is an attempt by Bloomberg, other MAIG members and other gun control advocates to deflect attention away from the Congressional hearings into the ATF's Operation Fast & Furious with damning testimony from field agents who were ordered to allow weapons sold to straw purchasers in the USA to be illegally exported to Mexican drug cartels where they would be recovered from crime scenes on both sides of the border.

You'll have to excuse me if I call Mayor Bloomberg's counterterrorism expertise into question, given not only how the latest Mayors Against Illegal Guns video tidily overlaps with a number of long-standing gun control memes but his assessment of the attempted Times Square bombing last year. I find it very curious that the Mayor was reluctant to come right out and mention the possibility that a radical islamist was behind the botched Times Square bombing last year, but seems more than willing to invoke that same threat to try and sell the public on the notion of more gun control.

[Cross Posted at Pundit Press]

Blue State Graft Watch Update- State of Michigan Grants Kwame Kilpatrick Parole

The jailed former mayor of Detroit is likely to start his 24-month parole starting next month, a Michigan parole board ruled last week.
After another month behind bars, Kwame Kilpatrick is likely off to Texas to start his 24-month parole.

The ex-mayor of Detroit, who kept his nose and record clean while in state custody after violating probation, was approved for parole Friday with release set for sometime after July 24. A move to Texas to reunite with his wife and three sons was part of the plan submitted at his parole hearing, said his lawyer, James Thomas.

Officials added two special requirements to his parole: that he pay his outstanding restitution to the City of Detroit and that he establish and maintain a payment schedule with his parole officer.
Kilpatrick resigned as mayor in September 2008 after pleading guilty to two felony counts of perjury and obstruction of justice. Last year, the Democrat former mayor was sentenced to 5 years prison for violating the terms of his probation that was part of his 2008 plea arrangement.

The two term mayor is also facing federal charges of tax evasion, wire fraud, extortion and obstruction of justice- some of the charges carry a prison term of up to 20 years each.

Luxury Hotel Attacked by Suicide Bombers and Gunmen in Afghan Capital

Suicide bombers and gunmen launched a coordinated attack on the Intercontinental hotel in Kabul Tuesday night. Afghan sources say that 10 people were killed in the attack so far, but that number was unable to be verified independently.
An Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman says initial reports indicate three or four suicide bombers and at least two gunmen attacked the hotel. Multiple explosions have been heard on the property.

Sediq Sediqqi said Tuesday that all the bombers either blew themselves up or were killed. Two gunmen continue to fire from the roof of the hotel, he said.

"There are foreign and Afghan guests staying at the hotel," Sediqqi said. "We have reports that they are safe in their rooms, but still there is shooting."

Azizullah, an Afghan police officer who uses only one name, told The Associated Press at the scene that at least one bomber entered the hotel Tuesday night and detonated a vest of explosives.

Afghan police were battling the assailants with machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades as tracer rounds went up over the blacked out building. The police have secured the area around the hotel, which is one of Kabul's most heavily guarded.

Jawid, a guest at the hotel, says the attack occurred as many people were having dinner in the hotel restaurant. He says he heard gunfire throughout the several story building.

"I was running with my family," he said. "There was shooting. The restaurant was full with guests."
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that their operatives killed some of the hotel's guards in the initial attack and entered the property from there. Afghan police say that there are at least two gunmen firing from the roof.

The attack comes less than a week after President Obama announced the withdrawal of 10,000 US troops from Afghanistan within the year.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Summertime Sports Chowdah Update for June 27- Miller Repels Marauding Pirates; Dodgers Go For (Chapter) 11; Tim Thomas- More Hardware Than True Value

RED SOX: Well, aside from that 10-run inning against San Diego last week it's been a pretty forgettable week for the Red Sox. Heading into Sunday afternoon's game against the Pirates, the Sox had managed to drop 4 in a row- the last two against San Diego at Fenway and the first two in the weekend series against Pittsburgh at PNC Park.

It was not the stuff of legends, and the Sox were helped out considerably by 4 errors from the Pirates in Sunday's game. PawSox callup Andy Miller went 6 innings, giving up five scattered hits and two runs while walking two and striking out four in what was actually his second start for Boston (he had no decision in last week's 14-5 romp over the San Diego Padres).

Jonathan Papelbon pitched the bottom of the 9th for his 14th save in 15 opportunities while Dustin Pedroia extended his hitting streak to 11 games, Adrian Gonzalez (still at 1B) raised his batting average to a league-best .361 and Miller is now 1-0 with a 3.09 ERA in the 4-2 win. Interestingly, all of Boston's runs came on either outs or errors on Sunday- another PawSox callup, LF Josh Reddick, had two sac flies, one of which resulted in an RBI.

Interestingly, the Pirates are now one game over .500- this is probably the latest in the season that they've had a record of .500 or better in recent years and just 4 games behind the NL-Central leading Brewers.

The Red Sox travel to the city of Brotherly Love for a 3-game series against the NL leading Philadelphia Phillies starting Tuesday night, with Josh Beckett (6-2; 1.84 ERA) getting the start against Cliff Lee (8-5; 2.87 ERA). First pitch will get underway at 7:05 PM ET and the game will be televised on NESN.

ELSEWHERE IN MLB: The Los Angeles Dodgers filed for Chapter 11 bankrupcy on Monday. The move came after MLB rejected a lucrative contract extension between the club and FOX sports and while the owner is close to finalizing a nasty and protracted divorce.

Two of the Dodgers largest unsecured creditors include the now-retired Manny Ramierez ($21 million) and Andruw Jones ($11.1 million). The Chapter 11 filing at a bankruptcy court in Delaware lists anywhere between $500 million and $1 billion in assets and $100 million to $500 billion in liabilities.

Owner Frank McCourt said the filing was to ensure that the team could continue to meet payroll, sign players and continue paying vendors and stadium personnel while preventing MLB from taking full control of the club.

BOSTON BRUINS: To hardly anybody's surprise, Bruins goalie Tim Thomas was named the Vezina trophy winner (NHL's Goalie of the Year) at the NHL awards last week. The former Vermont Catamount also won the Vezina in 2009, making this the second time he has garnered the award. Thomas was first on 26 of 30 ballots among votes submitted by NHL general managers.

Thomas conceded that his goaltending was far from perfect, even with an NHL-leading .938 save percentage.
"I don't think that my style's the perfect style -- that's for sure," Thomas said. "But it works for me.

"I'm kind of like the redneck of goaltending that duct-tapes everything together to fix it."
Thomas also won the Conn Smythe trophy (above) for the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup finals in the 7 game series against Vancouver.

Blue State Graft Watch: Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich Guilty on 17 of 20 Corruption Charges in Second Trial

Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was found guilty on 17 of 20 counts of corruption at the Federal Courthouse in Chicago Monday afternoon.

This was the former governor's second trial. In 2010, Blagojevich was found not guilty on 23 of 24 charges faced, with the jury finding that the former Land of Lincoln governor guilty of lying to the FBI.

CHICAGO—A federal jury on Monday found former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich guilty of 17 counts of corruption, including trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.

The jury found Mr. Blagojevich not guilty on one of 20 corruption counts in his second trial and deadlocked on two other counts. The verdicts came more than two years after Mr. Blagojevich, 54 years old, was arrested by federal agents.

The verdict was a victory for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who initiated "Operation Board Games" just a few months after Mr. Blagojevich took office. In the hours after the then-governor's arrest, Mr. Fitzgerald said he had "interrupted a political corruption crime spree" and that Mr. Blagojevich had "put a for-sale sign on the naming of a United States Senator."

Mr. Blagojevich is the second consecutive Illinois governor to be convicted of corruption. Gov. George Ryan is currently serving a 6½-year sentence.

Unlike his first trial, in which the former Chicago congressman escaped conviction on 20 of 21 counts, Mr. Blagojevich testified for seven days at his second trial. He said his intent was to use the seat as leverage to pass legislation that would have benefited the residents of Illinois.
Blagojevich appointed Roland Burris to fill President Obama's then vacant senate seat in late 2008- an appointment that came after federal investigators recorded a call between the two where Burris was offering to raise funds for the governor in exchange for the Senate seat.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Hugo Chavez Reportedly in Critical Condition in Cuban Hospital

Miami's Spanish-language El Nuevo Herald is reporting that Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez remains hospitalized in critical condition at a Cuban hospital and may be suffering from prostate cancer.

according to the report in El Nuevo Herald, Chávez finds himself in "critical condition, not grave, but critical, in a complicated situation."

The Miami newspaper cited U.S. intelligence officials who wished to remain anonymous.

Chávez silence has led to chatter and speculation in Venezuela that the socialist leader is actually suffering from prostate cancer. Intelligence officials could not confirm a diagnosis of prostate cancer but Chávez family did go to Cuba in the last 72 hours, according to wire service EFE.

Chávez daughter Rosinés and his mother Marisabel Rodríguez "urgently" left the country and headed to Cuba in a Venezuelan air force plane.

Cuba's state media website, Cubadebate, released photos on June 17 that showed Chávez posing with Fidel and Raul Castro in his hospital room. Chávez smiled for the camera in a track suit, while a frail-looking Fidel clutched Chávez arm.

Before the report that Chávez was in critical condition, his brother sought to reassure Venezuela that he was recovering well.
The questions over Chavez's long term health have led to speculation about possible successors to the presidency and criticism from opposition groups over the Chavez junta governing from abroad.

A notoriously long-winded public speaker, Chavez had been remarkably quiet this month. Chavez hadn't been seen in public since June 9th and was last heard from in a phone interview with Venezuela's state TV on June 12th. A regular user of Twitter, Chavez's account was dormant for 19 days before activity resumed.

Chavez considers Cuban dictator Fidel Castro the ideological predecessor to his regional 'Bolivar revolution' and counts Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, Bolivia's Evo Morales and Ecuador's Rafael Correa among his leftist allies in the region.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Borderline Psychosis- Calderon Meets with Critics; Mexican Army Finds Cartel's Homemade 'Tanks', La Familia Unravels

MEXICO CITY: Mexican president Felipe Calderon took the unusual step of meeting with peace activists and victims of Mexico's drug violence in a televised meeting called 'Dialogue for Peace', but defended his hard-line strategy of using the military to crack down against the drug cartels.
[Poet-activist Javier] Sicilia demanded Calderon apologize for carnage that has left an estimated 40,000 dead, and demanded a change in the government's anti-crime strategy. But Calderon, flanked by Cabinet officials, repeated once more that it would be wrong to alter the basic thrust — a military-led campaign against the country's powerful cartels.

Calderon also said he would like to be remembered for other things he has done during his administration, such as building hospitals, fortifying education and legal institutions, and his environmental initiatives. But the conservative president admitted he will "probably be remembered for [the drug war], and probably with much injustice."

The meeting, at Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City, was televised live and attended by other relatives of victims of drug-related violence.
May not be too often I get to say this, but Calderon is absolutely correct. The problem of corruption and emboldened narcocriminals killing with impunity simply does not go away if the president orders the troops to the barracks, and state and local police have often demonstrated that they are unwilling to take on the cartels- or even operate in concert with them.

TAMAULIPAS: Members of the Mexican military on patrol on the northwestern state last month discovered a pair of homemade 'tanks' reportedly belonging to Los Zetas.
The patrol came across the warehouse when they clashed with a group of armed men in the town of Ciudad Camargo, in the far northeastern state of Tamaulipas. Two of the gunmen were killed in a firefight, while two hid inside the warehouse.

"We found two home-made armored trucks in the warehouse, which belongs to the Gulf Cartel," the military source told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The trucks were covered in steel plates one inch (2.5 centimeters) thick, strong enough to "resist the caliber of personal weapons the soldiers use," said the source.

The air-conditioned armored vehicles were equipped with portholes where snipers could open fire from and remain protected.

The home-made tanks are used in clashes with other drug cartels as well as to protect drug shipments.

In recent years, soldiers deployed in the northeastern Mexican border region have confiscated 109 home-made armored vehicles -- including one dubbed the "Popemobile" because it carried an armored cabin similar to that used to protect Pope Benedict XVI in foreign trips.

In May, police in the western state of Jalisco carrying out a sweep against the Los Zetas drug cartel discovered an armored vehicle large enough to carry 20 armed men and also equipped with weapons portholes.
The soldiers also found more than 20 big rigs in the warehouse that were apparently waiting to be up-armoured.

Over the last couple of years, the Mexican military has seized over 100 of these home made armoured vehicles- sometimes dubbed 'El Monstruo' by locals- designed to either attack rival gangs or protect high value shipments. The vehicles often cobbled together from dump trucks, garbage trucks or even heavy duty work trucks with inch-thick steel plating welded on. While the plating and strategically placed bulletproof glass make the vehicles nearly impervious to small-arms fire, they also are exceptionally slow and cumbersome, thus largely offsetting whatever advantage they'd provide in an assault with having to move it from point A to point B while maintaining the element of surprise.

ELSEWHERE IN TAMAULIPAS: The Houston Chronicle published a report earlier this month citing an unnamed cartel operative who claimed that Los Zetas had kidnapped passengers from buses running along Mexican National highway 101 through Tamaulipas and forced some of the abducted passengers into death matches with each other while raping and killing others.
In one of the most chilling revelations yet about the violence in Mexico, a drug cartel-connected trafficker claims fellow gangsters have kidnapped highway bus passengers and forced them into gladiator like fights to groom fresh assassins.

Members of the Zetas cartel, he says, have pushed passengers into an ancient Rome-like blood sport with a modern Mexico twist that they call, "Who is going to be the next hit man?"

"They cut guys to pieces," he said.

The victims are likely among the hundreds of people found in mass graves in recent months, he said.

Many are believed to have been dragged off buses traveling through Mexico, but little has been said about the circumstances of their deaths.

The trafficker said those who survive are taken captive and eventually given suicide missions, such as riding into a town controlled by rivals and shooting up the place.

The trafficker said he did not see the clashes, but his fellow criminals have boasted to him of their exploits.

Former and current federal law-enforcement officers in the U.S. said that while they knew Mexican bus passengers had been targeted for violence, they'd never before heard of forcing passengers into death matches.

But given the level of violence in Mexico — nearly 40,000 killed in gangland warfare over the past several years — they didn't find it tough to believe.

Borderland Beat, a blog specializing in drug cartels, reported an account in April of bus passengers brutalized by Zeta thugs and taunted into fighting.

"The stuff you would not think possible a few years ago is now commonplace," said Peter Hanna, a retired FBI agent who built his career focusing on Mexico's cartels. "It used to be you'd find dead bodies in drums with acid; now there are beheadings."

Even so, Hanna noted, killing people this way would be time-consuming and inefficient. "It would be more for amusement," he suggested. "I don't see it as intimidation or a successful way to recruit people."
While an outlandish anonymously-sourced story from an individual with a criminal background, the tale of forcing bus passengers into death matches would be consistent with autopsy findings that most of the 183 people pulled from the graves were killed by blunt force trauma, not gunshot wounds.

Earlier this month, Federal prosecutors in Mexico have charged 73 people in the mass killings, including at least seven police officers in the town of San Fernando.

MICHOACAN: Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas- aka "El Chango" (the monkey)- was arrested by Mexican federal police at a checkpoint in the state of Aguascalientes without incident this week. Vargas, who was the de-facto head of the cult-like La Familia Michoacana cartel after military raids resulted in the killing or capture of top members back in December, started out as a hitman for the Gulf cartel, but cast his lot with the quasi-evangelical La Familia cartel when they asserted themselves along Mexico's western coast and in their namesake state in recent years.

La Familia was reportedly financially struggling to the point where they couldn't afford to pay hitmen, while Vargas was soliciting help and manpower from one-time rivals Los Zetas. After La Familia shot down a Mexican Army helicopter in May. Acting on documents obtained in the raid where the helicopter was downed, Police raided a meeting in nearby Jalisco. Information from one of the suspects arrested in that meeting led to the arrest of Vargas. While Vargas' capture may very well be the death knell for La Familia, other organizations including one made up of former La Familia members displaced after the December army raids continue to operate openly in the state.

The remnants of La Familia had been fighting with another faction that had broken off to form another cartel called the Knights Templar, which like La Familia, portrays themselves as Robin Hood-esque figures protecting the people of Michoacan from the invasive designs of the police, military or rival drug gangs.

CHIHUAHUA: A CBS investigative report has discovered that an AK47-variant rifle allowed to cross the Mexican border from the USA as part of the ATF's disastrous Operation Fast & Furious was involved in the abduction and slaying of Mario Gonzalez Rodgriguez- the brother of Chihuahua's then-state attorney general Patricia Gonzalez Rodriguez. In a video filmed shortly before he was killed in 2010, Mario appears in handcuffs and flanked by masked gunmen while being forced to read a statement that his sister was working on behalf of La Linea cartel.

Police later arrested 8 members of the Sinaloa cartel, confiscated their weapons and found Gonzalez Rodriguez's body buried under a home under construction in Chihuahua.

ELSEWHERE IN CHIHUAHUA: The police chief for the embattled border city of Ciudad Juarez survived an assassination attempt on Thursday in downtown Juarez.
City officials said two men opened fire on Leyzaola and his motorcade while they patrolled La Chaveña neighborhood near downtown Juárez, an area known for crime.

Leyzaola's bodyguards returned fire and wounded one of the attackers, identified as Roberto López Valles, 24, officials said. The other attacker fled.

Authorities detained López Valles in connection with the ambush and seized a gun and a weapon's magazine at the scene.
A retired Mexican army officer, Police Chief Julian Leyzaola was sworn in as the city's police chief in March and vowed to crack down on organized crime operating in the city and purge corrupt officers from the Juarez police department.

TEXAS: Officers from the Texas Rangers and other law enforcement agencies were involved in a cross-border shootout outside the town of Abram, TX earlier this month.
The incident began about 6:30 a.m. Thursday, when U.S. Border Patrol agents spotted a Dodge Durango near the lightly populated border town of Abram, Texas, said Steve McGraw, director of the Department of Public Safety Director. He joined officials from Border Patrol and Texas Fish and Wildlife for a news conference Friday in Weslaco, roughly 250 miles south of San Antonio and just north of the river separating Mexico and the U.S.

Agents who gave chase found the truck abandoned on the banks of the Rio Grande, and a group of people on the Mexican shore unloading bundles of marijuana from rubber rafts, according to the Department of Public Safety.

Border Patrol agents say Mexican smugglers often use small, high-quality rafts to float drugs into U.S. territory, where they load them onto waiting vehicles to be taken farther north. Of late, however, smugglers wait with the rafts in American territory in case the vehicles are spotted and have to flee back to the river. There, they quickly put the drugs back onto the rafts and head back to Mexico to keep U.S. authorities from seizing the load.

The group threw rocks and shot "at least six" rounds at American agents, who responded by flooding the area with gunfire, the Department of Public Safety said. A U.S. Border Patrol boat was the first to arrive on the scene, followed by boats from Texas Parks and Wildlife and one belonging to the Texas Rangers, it said.

Authorities said they are still looking into how many Americans fired shots and what agencies they were from.

Three suspects on the Mexican side of the river were believed injured or killed, although authorities in that country were still working to confirm that. Two U.S. game wardens were treated for cuts and abrasions after being struck with rocks.

A video shot from a Department of Public Safety helicopter shows a blue raft with bundles of marijuana packed in plastic and burlap. Smoke is seen pouring from a small structure nearby, although what caused the fire is unclear.

U.S. authorities seized the Durango but found no drugs in it. They contacted authorities in Mexico, who seized about 400 pounds of marijuana on that side of the river and destroyed a raft left behind. No arrests were made.

The Texas Department of Public Safety, whose Rangers were involved in the shootout, said such an overwhelming response was standard given the United States' zero tolerance policy when guns are pointed at its authorities. Department officials previously said the Americans were under "heavy fire," but they've since backed away from that.

Delicia Lopez- Valley Monitor
ELSEWHERE IN TEXAS: Police in San Juan, TX discovered more than 1700 rounds of .50 cal BMG machine gun ammunition concealed in cases after attempting to pull over a truck driven by two illegal aliens earlier this month.
Police found more than 1,700 rounds of military-grade ammunition, commonly used by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, during a Monday evening traffic stop.

Investigators believe the load was headed to Mexico.

San Juan police stopped the driver of a Ford F-150 pickup near the intersection of “I” Road and Business 83 about 7:30 p.m. after an officer noticed the vehicle had a broken tail light, Sgt. Rolando Garcia said.

The driver, later identified in a federal court document as 34-year-old Miguel Angel Avendano-Reyna, drove into the parking lot of an H-E-B near the area before he and his passenger tried to flee on foot, police said. But two officers at the scene, including Garcia, were able to apprehend both of them after a short pursuit.

A search of the vehicle led to the discovery of 16 boxes and a black duffle bag under the truck’s back seat, Garcia said. Each container was filled with at least 100 rounds of .50-caliber ammunition.

The suspects had apparently picked up the load from an undisclosed residence in San Juan, and they had agreed to drop it off to an unidentified person in Hidalgo County for a payment of $250, officials said.

“This is something different for us. We usually get marijuana or other narcotics, but this type of seizure is big, especially with this type of ammunition,” Garcia said. The bullets were attached to a belt used for automatic weapons. “These have had confirmed kills in the military from as far as 3 miles away and it’s very destructive. It’s a very deadly round.”

The bullets are so powerful that they will go through bullet-proof vests and even armored vehicles and tanks, Garcia said.

San Juan police teamed up with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to continue investigating, Garcia said.

Avendano-Reyna and his passenger Jose Resendez-Olivares, 37, both are illegal immigrants who previously were deported a few months ago, according to federal court documents.

Avendano-Reyna, who admitted to authorities he knowingly possessed the rounds, was deported in September, while Resendez-Olivares, who claimed he helped load the boxes but didn’t know what was in them, was removed from the U.S. in November, documents show.
CENTRAL AMERICA: El Salvador's defense minister has asserted that Mexican drug traffickers are continuing to try and acquire high-powered weaponry through police and military forces in Central America.
Mexican officials have long said the most of the guns used by the cartels are smuggled in from the United States.

But Gen. David Munguia warns that the gangs have expanded into Central America are also trying to buy weapons there.

Munguia said Tuesday "there is a real threat," just days after his army arrested two noncommissioned officers and four soldiers accused of trying to steal 1,812 grenades.

The soldiers were allegedly trying to sell the grenades to gang members and drug traffickers in neighboring Guatemala, where Mexico's Zetas cartel has been active.
Earlier this month, Salvadoran military intelligence agents arrested a junior officer who deserted in December 2010 and was attempting to sell three M-16 rifles as well as uniforms to a civilian through to be an intermediary for drug traffickers.

At Least 3 Killed as Amtrak Train Collides With Dump Truck in Rural Nevada

Ron Almgren photo courtesey of Reno Gazette-Journal
Amtrak's Westbound California Zephyr was struck at a crossing by a gravel truck in Churchill County, NV on Friday morning at a grade corssing on the Union Pacific mainline northeast of Reno, NV, killing at least three people.
So far 104 passengers have been transported from the scene of a train and tractor-trailer crash in north Churchill County, authorities said.

Both Care Flight and a U.S. Navy helicopter have landed at Renown Regional Medical Center and dropped off patients.

Other passengers have been taken to a Fernley elementary school.

The vehicle that hit the train was a bottom-dumping gravel trasport, said Bob Knoll of the Reno Fire Department.
The train caught fire after the truck hit the second or third passenger car, Knoll said. It appeared the contents of the passenger car were what caught fire.
The Union Pacific, which owns the tracks the Zephyr was operating on was assessing whether or not to open up the paralell former Western Pacific mainline to bi-directional traffic while investigators from the NTSB review the accident scene.

The driver of the gravel truck was also killed in the collision.

UPDATE: A spokesman for the Nevada Highway Patrol said that the crossing where the collision occurred had both flashing lights and arms that raised and lowered whenever a train approached.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Two Men of Indeterminate Religous Background Arrested in Plot Against Seattle Military Recruiting Depot

Must be those Christian radicals that Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee warned us about.

Two west coast men in their 30s were arrested by authorities for plotting an assault on a military recruiting center in Seattle after a third man they attempted to recruit for the attack informed a Seattle Police detective of the plot.
Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif, also known as Joseph Anthony Davis, 33, of Seattle, and Walli Mujahidh, aka Frederick Domingue Jr., 32, of Los Angeles were arrested Wednesday and charged in a seven-count complaint unsealed in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

Among the charges were conspiracy to murder U.S. officers, conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and unlawful possession of firearms.

Both men appeared this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Alice Theiler, who ordered them held pending a detention hearing next Wednesday. A preliminary hearing is set for July 7, which will be held only if the men are not indicted by a grand jury before then.

They face a maximum of life in prison, however firearms charges carry mandatory-minimum sentences of 30 years each.
The two suspects had hoped to carry out a Fort Hood-style attack [which if you think back to 2009, emphatically WASN'T a terrorist attack- NANESB!] targeting the facility's security guards first before executing anybody in uniform. According to investigators, they were hoping their attack would inspire other Muslims to launch similar attacks on military facilities in the USA.
Since early June, authorities said they have been monitoring Abdul-Latif, 33, of Seattle, also known as Joseph Anthony Davis, and Mujahidh, 32, of Los Angeles, also known as Frederick Domingue Jr.

The men spoke about gaining access to the facility by driving a "truck that looks like the Titanic" through the "front gate," the complaint says, and Abdul-Latif told the source his objective was to "take out anybody wearing green or a badge."

“Imagine how many young Muslims, if we’re successful, will try to hit these kinds of centers,” said Abdul-Latif, according to the complaint. “Imagine how fearful America will be, and they’ll know they can’t push Muslims around.”

Earlier this month, when Abdul-Latif noticed a security guard at a Seattle military recruiting station, he appeared unconcerned.

“We’ll just kill him right away,” he told an FBI source posing as an accomplice, according to the criminal complaint. “We can kill him first.”
Abdul-Latif, who had been in and out of prison over the last decade, was operating a cleaning service around the Sea-Tac International airport that had recently gone bankrupt.

The arrests came a little over a week after hearings held by Congressman Peter King (R-NY3) into radical Islam and recruitment in American prisons was denounced by some Democrats as discriminatory and 'racist'.

I have to say, one of the few times I tuned into C-SPAN lately, I was hoping to catch some of the Fast & Furious hearings. I missed those, but instead caught a rebroadcast of the Congressman King's hearings in which Democrat after Democrat attempted to sidetrack the hearings by bringing up the national security menace posed by the Aryan Nations or radical Christians.

Frankly, if I knew C-SPAN would be this good, I would've tuned in more often. I'm not neccesarily King's biggest fan in the blogosphere, but after various Democrats attempt to deflect and obfuscate, but King's response was to point out to all the Demcorats crying racism or attempting to change the topic back to neo-nazi gangs or militant christians that if they thought those were the grave national security threats they claimed, they had FOUR YEARS in which they could've established hearings of their own on the matter.

Civility Update- Massachusetts Congressman Politicizes Aftermath of Springfield Tornadoes

At a press conference in Springfield, MA last week, Congressman Richard Neal (MA-2) bravely tore his way through an army of strawmen before declaring that nobody had said 'Too much government' in the wake of this month's tornadoes that struck Western Massachusetts.

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal made the case for prioritizing disaster relief spending at a press conference in downtown Springfield Thursday, appearing alongside Gov. Deval Patrick and Mayor Domenic Sarno to outline the federal response to tornado devastation in Massachusetts.

"Nobody said when this tornado hit, "Too much government,'" Neal said.
Truth be told, if my home was hit by a tornado and I survived, my first thought would probably be along the lines of 'Holy shit! Somebody just ran over my house with a huge lawnmower' as opposed to the national debt or spending cuts.

However, I would not the least bit surprised if people would say "too much government" when purchasing cereal, light bulbs or Happy meals (among other things), whether or not you can keep your insurance or when one tries moving their business from one state to another.

To say that others are complaining Fed overreach about disaster response when local officials are overwhelmed or a state of emergency declaration is dishonestly putting words into the mouths of others to say the least and likely a further justification for expanding the government into venues it has no business expanding into (see cap & trade, Card Check or 0bamcare).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Union Pacific, BNSF Threatened With Nuisance Suits From Environmental Extremist Organization 'Natural Resources Defence Council'

Union Pacific's North Yard, Denver, CO: Photo- Chicago Super Chief
A so-called environmental group operating under the moniker of the Natural Resources Defense Council has sent letters threatening a federal lawsuit to two of the Wests largest railroads on Tuesday.

The Natural Resources Defense Council sent letters to Union Pacific Corp. and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, saying it will file a lawsuit within 90 days under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which regulates hazardous solid waste disposal. The letter cited rail yards across California from Oakland to San Bernardino.

In what could be a precedent-setting lawsuit, the council argues that minute particles in diesel air pollution, which include lead, cadmium, nickel and other toxic elements, are solid waste. If successful, such a suit could open the door for legal action against similar air pollution sources such as ports, airports or anywhere with a lot of diesel equipment, [emphasis mine- NANESB!] said David Pettit, a senior attorney with the council.

"I think the reason why other people haven't tried it is on first glance you would think that the emissions are a gas and RCRA doesn't apply to gases," Pettit said. "The fallacy with that is the exhaust has two components: one is a gas and the other component is a solid and those solids will kill you if you inhale enough of them."

The railroads carry cargo throughout the country after it's imported from Asia. Millions of cargo containers on trucks and trains travel by freeway and railway through Southern California.

Southern California air quality regulators recently announced a major study focusing on a San Bernardino rail yard that has been found to pose the greatest health risk of any rail yard in the state. The two-year study will cost an estimated $846,000, and researchers are hoping it will determine if there is a higher asthma and fatal cancer rate in the surrounding community.

The letter recommends a series of remedies for the pollution including the use of cleaner locomotives, electrifying rail lines in urban areas and reduced idling
That last sentence sort of gives away the fact that this threatened lawsuit won't be about the harmful particulates in diesel exhaust, since their suggestion to electrify railroads in urban area would require that a power plant be constructed to provide the lines with electricity. So if they had their way per this threatened lawsuit, they would electrify urban rail lines to prevent diesel exhaust, but what about the air quality around the power source?

And as you can imagine, electrification isn't cheap. Couple that with the upcoming $13 billion PTC mandate that is supposed to be implemented by 2015, and the railroads will inevitably have to to pass the cost along to the consumer.

According to a 2008 American Association of Railroads study, rail freight fuel efficiency had improved 3.1% since 2006 and nearly 85% since 1980, with a ton of freight moving as far as 436 miles per gallon of fuel (as impressive as that is, barges are reportedly even more fuel efficient). Both the Union Pacific [NYSE: UNP] and BNSF have been using genset locomotives in yards and in local service in compliance with local clean air regulations in places like Texas and California.

Also, the railroad industry is one of the few sectors of the economy that seems to be hiring right now. Yet despite all the apparent pluses the rail industry has going for it in this down economy, the NRDC decided to undertake a series of frivolous lawsuits as a trial balloon to go after airports, trucking and shipping- by their own admission.

At face value, if the NRDC chooses to bring this suit to trial it should be laughed out of the courtroom by the presiding judge. However, I would not put it past this cabal of latter-day luddites to effectively shop around for a sympathetic judge to bring the suit before.

The NRDC has also mounted an opposition campaign to TransCanada's [NYSE: TRP] Keystone XL pipeline that would carry oil sands from Alberta to refineries in Texas.

It's probably worth noting that one of the founders of the NRDC, John Bryson, is the current Obama Administration nominee to head the Commerce Department. Bryson left the group in the mid 1970s and after time with Edison International [NYSE: EIX], he became CEO of Brightsource Energy and described by the Wall Street Journal as 'somebody with a talent for scoring government subsidies'.

Report: Fugitive Octagenarian Irish Mobster Whitey Bulger Arrested in California

Reports are circulating on the Wednesday night that 81 year old fugitive Winter Hill Gang leader James 'Whitey' Bulger was arrested in the Los Angeles area with his 60 year old girlfriend, Catherine Greig.
The two were arrested without incident, the FBI said. The FBI had been conducting a surveillance operation in the area where the arrest was made, Santa Monica police Sgt. Rudy Flores said.

Bulger- [or "the guy who's picture is up at the Post Office" as he's been referred to for most of my adult life- NANESB!] was the leader of the Winter Hill Gang when he fled in January 1995 after being tipped by a former Boston FBI agent that he was about to be indicted. Bulger was a top-echelon FBI informant.

Over the years, the FBI battled a public perception that it had not tried very hard to find Bulger, who became a huge source of embarrassment for the agency after the extent of his crimes and the FBI's role in overlooking them became public.

Prosecutors said he went on the run after being warned by John Connolly Jr., an FBI agent who had made Bulger an FBI informant 20 years earlier. Connolly was convicted of racketeering in May 2002 for protecting Bulger and his cohort, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, also an FBI informant.
As head of the Winter Hill gang, Bulger would provide information to the FBI about the rival Patriarcha family out of Providence, RI while enjoying almost complete protection from the Boston office of the FBI thanks to former Agent Connolly and others.

Bulger had been on the run for the last 16 years and was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list for his suspected role in at least 19 murders. Since then, there has been sporadic reports of Bulger browsing bookstores in western Canada or dying of natural causes and being cremated in Central America. The last reliable sighting of Whitey Bulger was reportedly in London in 2002 when a British businessman who had met Bulger a few years prior saw the fugitive in a hotel gym.

Most recently, the FBI manhunt focused on Bulger's girlfriend, with TV bulletins showing Greig and Bulger together.

Bulger's younger brother William was elected to the state senate and President of UMass, while the FBI suspected he might've been aware of his older brother's criminal activities and may have sporadically been in contact with him.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Today's Train of Thought- The Farm Team, June 21st 2011

Today's train of thought brings us to America's heartland and the aptly named Farmrail shortline. With a name like Farmrail (and it's affiliate, Grainbelt) it should come as no surprise that the primary source of traffic in its 30 year history has been wheat, fertilizer, grain and feed. However, there is much more to Farmrail than moving agricultural goods.

Started in 1981 with the dissolution of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, Farmrail began operations on a pair of former Rock Island lines between Elmer, OK and Westhom, OK (running north-south) and Erick to Weatherford, OK (running east-west) with the two lines intersecting in Clinton, OK. A few years later, shortly after the Burlington Northern had acquired the St Louis-San Francisco Railway (Frisco), the BN decided to divest itself of the former Frisco line between Enid, OK and Fredrick, OK which roughly paralleled Farmrail's Westhom-Elmer line. Both the former Rock Island and Frisco lines actually wound up going to the state of Oklahoma, but Oklahoma named Farmrail/Grainbelt designated operators after agreeing to a long-term lease.

Of course, with the recent drought conditions throughout Western Oklahoma affecting the wheat harvest, Farmrail and Grainbelt have shown themselves to be fairly adaptable in hauling other commodities and goods. Most of the railway operates atop the Anadarko Basin, and new drilling techniques have revived activity on some of the dormant rigs in western Oklahoma. Traffic also includes crude oil, frac sand, heavy machinery, crushed stone, freight cars coming in for repairs and gypsum. In fact, with the poor growing conditions, Farmrail recently announced that this would be the second consecutive year that wheat was NOT the primary commodity handled by Farmrail/Grainbelt.

There are about 2 dozen locomotives rostered between thw two railways, just about all of them 4-axle EMD roadswitchers. During some harvest season, both railways would find themselves short on motive power and borrow locomotives from BNSF or Arkansas & Missouri. The railroad started out with rebuilt GP9s purchased secondhand from the Milwaukee Road before adding some former Illinois Central GP10s, a byproduct of IC's Paducah shops. The most recent acquisiton has been a trio or former Iowa interstate GP38ACs.

Here, contributor Steve Bakos caught GP10 #1981 leading Farmrail GP9 #3648 eastbound with an Altus, OK to Snyder, OK-bound mixed freight excercising trackage rights over the BNSF line through Headrick, OK towards the end of September 2010. The #1981 is painted in a special 25th anniversary scheme while it's road number reflects the year that Farmrail began operations, while the trailing unit is painted in the traditional Farmrail scheme that has adorned some of the locomotives for 30 years now.

Reports: Acting ATF Director May Resign Over Fast & Furious Program; WaPo Covers For Obama Administration

Kenneth Melson, the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is expected to step down in the next couple of days in the wake of controversy and damning testimony from field agents before a Congressional oversight committee.

In the operation, straw buyers were allowed to purchase illegally large numbers of weapons, some of which ended up in the hands of cartels in Mexico.

Attorney General Eric Holder will meet Tuesday with Andrew Traver, head of the ATF field office in Chicago, about possibly becoming the agency's acting director, according to senior federal law enforcement sources, who are familiar with the details of the controversy.

The Justice Department refused comment. White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters he had no new information on the issue.

The operation has come under intense criticism since the December killing of a U.S. Border Patrol officer.

Operation Fast and Furious was "a colossal failure of leadership," Peter Forcelli, a supervisor at the bureau's Phoenix field office, said recently.

The program focused on following people who legally bought weapons that were then transferred to criminals and destined for Mexico. But instead of intercepting the weapons when they switched hands, Operation Fast and Furious called for ATF agents to let the guns "walk" and wait for them to surface in Mexico, according to a report by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The idea was that once the weapons in Mexico were traced back to the straw purchasers, the entire arms smuggling network could be brought down. Instead, the report argues, letting the weapons slip into the wrong hands was a deadly miscalculation that resulted in preventable deaths, including that of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

Terry was killed last year north of the Mexican border in Arizona after confronting bandits believed to be preying on illegal immigrants. Two weapons found near the scene of the killing were traced to Fast and Furious.

"I was flabbergasted. I couldn't believe it at first," Terry's mother, Josephine, said when she learned the ATF may have let some of the guns used in the attack slip through its fingers. Terry's relatives said they want all those involved in his killing and who helped put the weapons in their hands to be prosecuted.

"We ask that if a government official made a wrong decision, that they admit their error and take responsibility for his or her actions," Robert Heyer, Terry's cousin and family spokesman, said in a hearing last week by the House panel.
Reportedly, the Obama Administration is tapping former Chicago ATF Chicago branch head Andrew Traver to head the agency should Melson resign. Traver appeared in a misleading 2009 segment on a Chicago NBC affiliate's report on gang warfare implying that gangs were arming themselves with military style weapons purchased from retail outlets. Traver also reportedly supported Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's recent efforts to make public the name of Firearms Owner Identification Card (FOID) holders to the press available on request.

The successful nomination or appointment of Andrew Traver to the head of the ATF would basically be rewarding the Department of Justice and Obama Administration for this clusterfuck known as Fast & Furious.

In what can only be described as a pathetic, flailing attempt at damage control on behalf of the Obama administration, the Washington Post began circulating reports on Tuesday evening that House Oversight Committee chair Darrell Issa had already been briefed on Fast & Furious as far back as April 2010.

At the briefing last year, bureau officials laid out for Issa and other members of Congress from both parties details of several ATF investigations, including Fast and Furious, the sources said. For that program, the briefing covered how many guns had been bought by “straw purchasers,’’ the types of guns and how much money had been spent, said one source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the briefing was not public.

“All of the things [Issa] has been screaming about, he was briefed on,’’ said one source familiar with the session. even if I were to take the WaPo's VERY convenient anonymous source at face value that there was a private briefing for members of both parties regarding Fast & Furious, according to the WaPo, they discussed the number and types of guns purchased by 'straw buyers' and how much money was spent. I wonder if THE ATF INTENTIONALLY ALLOWING THE WEAPONS TO BE FORWARDED TO MEXICAN CRIMINAL ORGANIZATIONS came up in that same briefing.....which took place when the Democrats had a supermajority in the House of Representatives and were focusing on things like 0bamacare, cap and trade or card check.

Probably not- I'd like to think that if that was explicitly mentioned to members of Congress in that aforementioned briefing the WaPo assures us took place, that members of both parties would've demanded answers and hearings into exactly what the hell the ATF was doing right then and there.

But that's just me.

Blue State Graft Watch: Former Massachusetts House Speaker Sal DiMasi Convicted of Extortion, Fraud

A federal jury last week convicted former Massachusetts Speaker of the House Sal DiMasi of seven of nine charges against him in a scheme to steer lucrative state contracts to a software firm in exchange for payments to the state lawmaker and some of his colleagues.
Government prosecutors accused DiMasi and two associates of scheming to use his clout to steer two state contracts worth a combined $17.5 million to the software firm Cognos in exchange for payments, with DiMasi pocketing $65,000.

The defense argued the payments were legal referral fees.

Lobbyist Richard McDonough was also found guilty of six counts of fraud and conspiracy, but the jury cleared DiMasi’s other associate, accountant Richard Vitale, on all counts.

A fourth man, former software salesman Joseph Lally, pleaded guilty before the trial and testified against the others.

The complex case went to the jury late Monday after more than five weeks of testimony and a lengthy set of jury instructions from the judge.
DiMasi crony Richard McDonough also managed to land himself a no-show job on the public payroll while still working as a private lobbyist.
McDonough arranged for a client to give him a no-show, no-work job on a public payroll, allowing him to get medical benefits and a state pension he was not entitled to, said Inspector General Gregory W. Sullivan.

“It was literally a no-show job,’’ Sullivan wrote yesterday to the State Board of Retirement. “Mr. McDonough’s purported full-time employment at this public agency is a sham.’’ His pension defrauds the state retirement system, Sullivan said.

He asked the Retirement Board to review the $31,000-a-year lifetime pension, which McDonough started collecting in 2008 as the Globe was scrutinizing his involvement in a questionable effort to steer multimillion-dollar state contracts to a Burlington software firm in exchange for cash.

To qualify for the pension, McDonough had a lobbying client, the Merrimack Education Center of Chelmsford, put him on the payroll of a related organization, the Merrimack Education Collaborative, which provides education and treatment services for special-needs students from 10 school districts.

McDonough was described in internal records as the Education Collaborative’s director of public affairs and government relations from 2003 to 2008. But virtually no one knew McDonough was on the payroll, not the co-executive directors nor any of the employees. He had no desk, no phone, and no work product, according to Sullivan.

The job appears to be a paperwork maneuver that allowed McDonough to receive public benefits while remaining a private lobbyist. He collected the same lobbying fees as before, but the Education Collaborative classified the payments as an employee’s salary so that they counted toward increasing McDonough’s pension.

Commonwealth treasurer Steve Grossman is working to suspend DiMasi's $59,422 annual pension when the retirment board meets at the end of this month.

DiMasi becomes the third consecutive Massachusetts House speaker to resign while facing criminal charges. Thomas Finneran stepped down in 2004 before pleading guilty to obstruction of justice and Charles Flaherty, who resigned in 1996 before pleading guilty to felony tax evasion.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Big Labor Shill: Keep Boeing Jobs Out of the South Because Southerners Are Dumb and Poorly Paid

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, Chicago Lawyer, Illinois democrat operative and Union mouthpiece Thomas Geoghegan argues the case that Boeing's move to South Carolina is bad for workers, bad for Boeing and bad for America. Yet interestingly, one of the few defenders of the NLRB's decision against Boeing setting up an assembly line for the 787 Dreamliner beautifully (yet unintentionally) makes the argument for right to work states with a vacuous screed against the South designed as concise, intelligent and insightful commentary.

Conservatives are in an uproar that the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board has filed an unfair labor charge against Boeing. It seems the president of Boeing was unwise enough to blurt out that his company would move a production line to South Carolina as payback for past strikes by machinists in Seattle. It's a dead bang violation of the National Labor Relations Act, even if it comes as a surprise to Republicans and many other Americans.

Section 7 of the Wagner Act, passed in 1935, states that all workers can engage in concerted activities without reprisal. The president of Boeing said, in effect: You exercise those rights and we're moving. Companies have long done such things, of course, but CEOs aren't usually so gaffe-prone as to say so.

The Boeing case may show that labor is so out of mind that CEOs have forgotten what they can or cannot say. It would have been easy enough for Boeing to move the production line to South Carolina and let the workers in Seattle draw the conclusion. There is little bar to a runaway shop if the CEO is careful with his public statements.
Umm...Proof please? And if production at one of my facilities was jeopardized by the near-constant threat of a work stoppage or walkouts, I'd probably start looking for greener pastures in a right-to-work state myself.

Yet the Boeing case has a scarier aspect missed by conservatives: Why is Boeing, one of our few real global champions in beefing up exports, moving work on the Dreamliner from a high-skill work force ($28 an hour on average) to a much lower-wage work force ($14 an hour starting wage)? Nothing could be a bigger threat to the economic security of this country.
So higher wage equals higher skill set? Or just higher cost of living? Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't there significant differences in taxes and cost-of-living between Washington State and South Carolina?

We should be aghast that Boeing is sending a big fat market signal that it wants a less-skilled, lower-quality work force. This country is in a debt crisis because we buy abroad much more than we sell. Alas, because of this trade deficit, foreign creditors have the country in their clutches. That's not because of our labor costs—in that respect, we can undersell most of our high-wage, unionized rivals like Germany. It's because we have too many poorly educated and low-skilled workers that are simply unable to compete.
Wow? Really? Assuming you're still talking about the South, BMW didn't seem to put off by the 'poorly educated and low skilled' workers in the region- neither did Mercedes Benz. GE Transportation is poised to open up a second locomotive facility in Texas- another right to work state.

We depend on Boeing to out-compete Airbus, its European rival. But when major firms move South, it is usually a harbinger of quality decline. Over and over as a labor lawyer in the 1980s and '90s, I saw companies move away from Chicago, where the pay was $28 an hour, to some place in South Carolina or Louisiana where the pay was about half that. While these moves aggrieved me as a union lawyer, it might have consoled me as an American if those companies went on to thrive globally.

But too often, alas, it was the beginning of the end, as it was for Outboard Marine Corporation, where I once represented workers. In the 1990s the company went from the high wage union North to the low wage South and was bankrupt by 2000. There are reasons workers in the North get $28 an hour while down in the South they get $14 or even $10. Adam Smith could explain it: "productivity," "skill level," "quality."

Here is yet another American firm seeking to ruin its reputation for quality. Why? To save $14 an hour! Seriously: Is that going to help sell the Dreamliner? In terms of the finished product, the labor cost is minuscule: $14 in hourly wage, at most. It's incredible that conservatives claim such small differences in labor cost would be life or death to Boeing. It's not labor cost but labor skill that is life or death to the survival of Boeing, never mind pilots and passengers.

If the history of runaway shops proves anything, it's that many go "South" in more than one sense of the word. If that sounds unfair to the South, it is union busting that has inflicted the real unfairness in the region: income inequality and inferior schools.
Inferior schools like Detroit, where nearly half the population is considered functionally illiterate? Say...isn't Michigan a big union stronghold? Ah well, I'm sure the two aren't related in any way.

At this moment especially, deep in debt, we cannot afford to let another company like Boeing self-destruct. Boeing is not a product of the free market—it's an extension of the U.S. government.
Wow- so Boeing was nationalized when nobody was paying attention? Or is Mr Geoghegan arguing that the NLRB's decision the first step in that direction?

Over the years, our taxpayers have paid to create a Boeing work force with exceptionally high skills. That work force is not just an asset for Boeing—it's an asset for the country. Why should the country let Boeing take it apart?
Ummm....because it's their company and allowing the NLRB to dictate to companies where they can and can't set up shop would be setting a very bad precedent that anybody but the densest union shill could see would have longer term consequences beyond a current labor-management dispute.

Every American should be rooting for the NLRB's general counsel, as the board itself has not yet found a violation.

Most depressing of all, Boeing's move would send a market signal to those considering a career in engineering or high-skilled manufacturing. It is a message that corporate America has delivered over and over: Don't go to engineering school, don't bother with fancy apprenticeships, don't invest in skills. No rational person wants to take on college or even community college debt to come out and work on the Dreamliner—which should be the country's finest product—for a miserable $14 an hour.
Am I not reading this correctly, or is Mr Geoghegan conflating '$14 an hour for an entry level position' with '$14 an hour from now until the end of time' because apparently workers down south don't get promoted or get raises or anything. OK, now that I think about it, Mr Champion-of-the-working class, where were you when I was earning less than $11 an hour- graveyard shift- with no benefits in a VERY blue/pro-union state with supposedly one of the most educated workforces in the country during the past 24 months?

If a single story in the news can sum up the reasons for America's global decline, it's the decision to build a Dreamliner that will gut the American dream.
Yes...because if there's anything the Wisconsin union protests have taught me earlier this year, it's that union workforces should be exempted from making any sacrifices or concessions in these difficult economic times.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Big Daddy of Sports Chowdah Updates- Grin and Bear It, Triumphant B's Return to Boston, Parade & Fenway Ceremony; Interleague's Stranger Brew

NHL- After a private party at the Foxwoods casino club 'Shrine' in which Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and Shawn Thornton were hand delivered a $100,000 bottle of champagne to drink out of the Stanley Cup, the Boston Bruins capped their most memorable week in nearly 40 years with a parade route jam-packed with yellow and black adorned fans on Saturday and a pregame ceremony at Fenway Park on Sunday.

[By the way, am I the only one that imagined the Bruins exodus from Vancouver might've looked something like the part in The Dark Knight where Gotham Police are escorting Harvey Dent in an armoured truck?- NANESB!]

The players from the Bruins brought the Stanley Cup into the Red Sox clubhouse before Sunday's game and players from both teams posed for pictures with the trophies and swapped caps and jerseys before the pre-game ceremonies.

For the actual ceremony itself, the Bruins entered Fenway Park on the same Duck boats from Saturday's parade (or the Celtics 2008 parade, or the Red Sox 2007 parade or...well you get the idea) taking a lap along the warning track and tossing out pucks and baseballs to fans before disembarking.

For the ceremonial first pitch, every member of the Bruins threw out a pitch to a Red Sox player, with captain Zdeno Chara (#33) throwing to captain Jason Varitek (again, #33) while the Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe award and Prince of Wales trophy were displayed on the mound.

On a side note, I got a book called Travels With Stanley which showed some of the places the Cup has been in its travels. Interestingly, this was not the Stanley Cup's first trip to Fenway in recent history.
Skip Cunningham, the Hurricanes other equipment manager, took possession of the Stanley Cup on August 16 in Boston, Massachusetts.

After a visit to Children's Hospital Boston, hockey's greatest prize visited the Boston Red Sox. In the clubhouse at Fenway Park, slugger David Ortiz did a double-take when he saw the Cup. "My my," he said, shaking his head. "Look at this trophy! Look what those hockey players get to play for. Now that's a trophy!"

Pitcher Mike Timlin stopped by to ogle the Cup, and recalled occasionally attending Maple Leafs games when he played in Toronto for the Blue Jays. Up on the Green Monster in Fenway Park's outfield, Cunningham and the Cup ran into Doug Flutie, retired NFL quarterback, who spun stories about watching hockey while he played in the Canadian Football League. Carolina's Craig Adams, a huge Red Sox fan, was also there with the Stanley Cup.
I remember reading that part and thinking 'Too Bad it's been awhile since the Cup has been inside the Hub- I bet that would go over well with everybody there if somebody took it to Fenway for an afternoon'. I didn't know how right I was, as it turned out.

My, what a differece a few years makes!

MLB- OK, so the hockey season is over- and with the best possible outcome, no less. There's still plenty of baseball to be played, however.

With the Sox taking Friday night's game and the Brewers winning on Saturday by a 4-2 final, Sunday's rubber game almost seemed an afterthought with the Bruins victory lap around the infield.

The Sox got off on the right foot with a 1-2-3 first from Tim Wakefield and 6 runs from the Boston bats in the bottom of the 1st, including a Youkilis 3-run homer. The Brewers would get two back in the top of the 2nd on a 2-run Nyjer Morgan HR, but Wakefield would go on to retire 12 of the next 13 batters he faced while the Red Sox batters continued pouring it on, scoring two more in the bottom of the 4th including a solo homer by Pedroia, followed by a Pedroia sac fly in the 5th and a 2-run Marco Scutaro homer in the bottom of the 6th to make it 11-2. Each team would get a run to make it a 12-3 Red Sox win on Sunday afternoon, with Wakefield going 8 whole innings while giving up 3 hits and 3 earned runs while striking out 6 and walking 1. Wake is now 4-2 on the season with a 4.26 ERA.

Beginning Monday night, the Red Sox will host Adrian Gonzalez (who had his 1000th career MLB hit on Sunday) former team in the San Diego Padres. Wade LeBlanc [0-2; 4.26 ERA] is expected to get the start for San Diego against PawSox call-up Andrew Miller [3-3: 2.47 ERA w/Pawtucket this season]. Game gets underway at 7:05 PM ET, 4:05 Pacific.

OTHER RED SOX NEWS: Shortstop Jed Lowrie, OF Carl Craford and starting pitcher Clay Buchholz all went on the 15 day DL this weekend. Lowrie is reported to have a left shoulder injury while Crawford is said to have a left hamstring strain. Buchholz will miss his scheduled start tomorrow with a strained lower back- Andrew Miller has been called up from AAA Pawtucket to fill in Monday night.

NEW POLL UP: I took it upon myself to wonder who's behavior would be considered more self-destructive this month- Congressman Weiner's or fans of the Vancouver Canucks? I'm interested in why you might think, so there's a poll where you can choose- It will be up for the next couple of days.

AHL: The Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League are the 2010-2011 AHL Champions after defeating the Houston Aeros on the road by a final of 3-2 earlier this month. The Ottawa Senator's AHL affiliate won the best of seven series by a 4-2 margin over the Aeros.

Civility Update- Threats Made Against NY State Senator Opposing Gay Marriage

After passing in the New York state Assembly by an 80-63 margin, a same-sex marriage bill is expected to face a narrow vote in the State Senate up in Albany.

However, even with the GOP holding a narrow majority, opposition to New York's Marriage Equality Act does not fall uniformly across party lines.

South Bronx State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. (D- 32nd District) has lobbied against the measure and has held rallies against the upcoming bill in Brooklyn in the last few weeks. According to the New York Daily News, threats were made against him and his family last month.

Diaz said he and his family have received death threats due to his vocal stance on keeping gay marriage unlawful in New York State. They were reported to the FBI and Albany police, he said.

"We are in America; we are supposed to agree to disagree and respect each other's positions," the senator said.

On May 10, tweets by opponents of Diaz's May 15 rally included one in which the sender expressed the desire to sexually assault Diaz's daughter.
[BTW, notice how Diaz went to the FBI and local police instead of 'having his legal team look into it'. Just sayin'- NANESB!].

Last week, a Brooklyn gay bar sponsored a 'F*ck Ruben Diaz' Festival that promised to feature raunchy poetry and limericks about the state senator. While making a perfunctory and tepid denunciation of violence or death threats, the organizer claimed that 'Occasionally taking the low road is just the ticket'. much for that 'civility' the President was calling for in the wake of the Giffords shooting.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sour Grapes- Napa Valley Wine Train No-Bid Stimulus Project Facing Massive Cost Overruns

Photo- Steven M Welch
Readers of this blog in its earlier days might remember the sweetheart no-bid contract Alaska Native Corporation Suulutaaq was awarded with stimulus money to do some work on a new bridge for the Napa Valley Wine Train- a project that Suulutaaq turned right around and subcontracted to Kiewit and Sons while pocketing nearly $20 million for doing next to nothing in the process.

Well, in perhaps the most surprising news since the tide coming in or sun rising in the east, the Napa Valley project that Suulutaaq subcontracted is looking at cost overruns of at least $6.2 million.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may need as much as $6.2 million to keep work on the relocation of railroad facilities and Napa Creek flood defenses on track, Julie Lucido, local project manager, told the Napa Flood Control District's board of directors Tuesday.

"If we don't get those dollars for those two projects, we could be stopped," Lucido said.

Any disruption would undoubtedly end up increasing construction costs when work was resumed, Lucido said. Taxpayers would end up paying more, she said.

Dave Cook, one of the Army Corps' Napa managers, said he expects to know within 30 days if the companies working under federal contracts in Napa can keep working.

The corps is dealing with two issues, Cook said. The company with the $65 million railroad contract racked up substantial unanticipated costs last fall, he said. Also, the corps' overall budget has been reduced by Congress, he said.

In March alone, Cook said he approved more than $3 million in additional costs for Suulutaaq Inc., the general contractor for the new railroad bridges and related street work.

Suulutaaq and its partner, Kiewit Corp, ran into major complications last year in building a new rail bridge over the Napa River. It took working seven days a week to finish the bridge's foundation prior to the winter flood season, which allowed construction to occur throughout the winter, Cook said.

Although these construction problems ran up the price, the alternative was to delay the rail project a year, Cook said. "It saved the federal government millions and millions by having those guys work seven days," he said.

The Army Corps negotiated with Suulutaaq over the bills for unanticipated work, then reached a settlement, Cook said.

To keep work going, the corps shifted money from its construction management account, leaving a construction management deficit that must be filled if work is to continue this summer, Lucido said.

With money tight for many flood projects across the U.S., Cook said the corps was developing contingency plans on how to proceed. Some projects will need to be scaled back, he said.

Don Ridenhour, the county's public works director, suggested that Napa may ultimately end up paid for. "We seem to be a very popular project in the eye of the corps," he said.

Lucido agreed, noting that Napa has been the corps' "poster child" for flood control. The Napa project was one of the first federal efforts that provided major environmental benefits as well as flood control, she said.

Until this latest bad news, local officials thought that both the rail relocation and a two-year, $15 million contract with Proven Management for Napa Creek were fully funded.

The Napa Creek project and most of the rail contract are paid for by a $99.5 million grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the federal government's effort to jump-start the economy and end the recession.

Because Proven's winning bid was $14 million less than estimates, the corps ended up returning $14 million to Washington last September.

Keeping the $14 million in a contingency fund would have defeated the goal of the economic stimulus grant to "put people to work" right away, Cook said.

Even if this fiscal year's budget shortfall can be solved, the Napa flood project still faces an uncertain future in the new federal fiscal year that starts in October, Lucido said.

Until now, the Napa project was mostly paid for by federal "earmarks," or specific appropriations that elected officials such as Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, put into the federal budget, she said.

But Congress and President Obama have since banned earmarks, meaning there will have to be "some other process" for keeping the Napa project going, [emphasis mine- NANESB!] Lucido told the flood board.

This is where Napa's "poster child" reputation may save the day, she said.
"Some other process"? I'm dying to know what that will be. Since California is serving as an object lesson in out-of-control government spending by being about $43 billion in the hole, I doubt the state will be riding to the rescue. The municipalities in the Golden State are hardly better off, either.

So that would most likely mean Lucido and Congressman Thompson would somehow find another way to continue federal funding in some way, shape or form. Which means we will ALL get to foot the bill for this ill-concieved, wasteful fiasco in some way shape or form.