Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Borderline Psychosis Update- Deadly Prison Riot in Nuevo Leon Kills 44; DEA Arrests El Paso, TX County Comissioner;

Forensics team seen arriving at Apodaca Prison in Nuevo Leon after 44 inmates were killed in a prison riot which was used as a distraction for incarcerated cartel members to escape. Reuters Photo
NUEVO LEON- Thirty inmates- all of them believed to be members of Mexico's Zeta cartel- are missing after a deadly riot in Apodaca Prison outside of Monterrey killed 44 inmates. Within a day of the clashes, officials suspected the rioting was a diversion to draw attention away from the escape attempt.
"Without a doubt there was premeditation," said [Nuevo León Gov. Rodrigo] Medina, speaking at a news conference. "This was planned."

Mr. Medina said all the dead prisoners were members of the rival Gulf Cartel. The Zetas and the Gulf Cartel have been warring for two years for control of drug routes and lucrative drug markets, especially in the northeastern Mexican states of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas.

Mr. Medina said prison personnel appeared to have been involved in the massacre and escapes.
The warden for Apodaca prison was dismissed from his post while
nine guards have confessed to helping inmates escape. As many as 18 guards from Apodaca have been detained as suspects in aiding in the jailbreak and subsequent riot.
Nuevo Leon state public security spokesman Jorge Domene Zambrano said nine of the guards confessed to aiding the escape. He said it appeared the breakout happened before the deadly fight.

The massacre in this northern state was one of the worst prison killings in Mexico in at least a quarter-century and exposed another weak institution that President Felipe Calderon is relying on to fight his drug war.

Mexico has only six federal prisons, and so sends many of its dangerous cartel suspects and inmates to ill-prepared, overcrowded state penitentiaries. Drug trafficking, weapons possession and money laundering are all considered federal crimes in Mexico.

Nuevo Leon's governor said earlier Monday that the breakout would have been hard or impossible to stage without the help of prison authorities. Medina said no holes had been found in the perimeter walls of the prison in Apodaca, outside the northern city of Monterrey, and no armed gang had burst in to spring them.
No firearms were used in the escape or subsequent riot- the 44 victims were reportedly stabbed, strangled or bludgeoned to death. A reward of up to US$775,000 for information leading to the recapture of the escaped inmates is reportedly being offered.

Within a few days of the riot and jailbreak, gunmen wielding AK47-style rifles and 9mm pistols killed 5 men in a home in the Monterrey suburb of Apodaca- although the shooting is thought to be unrelated to the jailbreak in the same town.

TEXAS- On Feb 24th, the DEA arrested El Paso County Comissioner Willie Gandara Jr on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering.

Gandara had also recently filed papers to run as a Democrat for Texas State House District 75. The arrest would not automatically disqualify him for running for the state office, according to El Paso County Democrat Party chairman Danny Anchondo.

On Tuesday, Federal prosecutors introduced incriminating evidence against the younger Gandara during his bond hearing.
The evidence, including surveillance video and audio taken from Gandara's wiretapped cellphone, was introduced during a bond hearing for Gandara and his co-defendant, Juan Canales. Both men have pleaded not guilty.

U.S. Magistrate Judge David Guaderrama set Gandara's bond at $50,000, and Canales' bond at $20,000, after viewing the video and listening to the audio evidence and testimony from Special Agent Larry Wooten of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Guaderrama said that although the "weight of the evidence" presented was strong, he believed that the commissioner was neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community based on the totality of his history of community service and lack of a criminal record.

Wooten testified during the hearing that DEA agents were tipped off to Gandara's alleged drug activity by the confidential informant in November 2010.

"He stated Mr. Gandara was involved in drug trafficking and warehousing, and selling stolen goods" including copper items, Wooten testified.

On June 27, 2011, the confidential source arranged to meet with Gandara at his home to "confirm or deny those allegations," Wooten said in court.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Antonio Franco then played parts of a hidden-camera video taken of Gandara and the informant in the informant's vehicle, which was allegedly parked outside of Gandara's home.

In the video, the source tells Gandara he has a large amount of marijuana to unload, and that it would take 15 to 20 minutes. Gandara mentions to the source a ranch "where I have the horses," referring to a ranch at 720 Worsham Road in Socorro, where the source can transfer his marijuana load.

The source is then heard offering Gandara between $5,000 and $10,000 in payment for using the site to unload the drugs.

Wooten also testified that during a recorded conversation with the source, Gandara allegedly bragged about running a drug-trafficking organization with a pipeline from El Paso County to Oklahoma and Chicago. He also bragged about making $1,200 per pound of marijuana sold in Chicago, and typically running 150 pounds of the drug per trip.

On Sept. 9, 2011, the confidential source allegedly arranged for another offload transaction at Gandara's scrap yard on Coker Road in Socorro. During the transaction, which was also videotaped, the source and an undercover DEA agent are seen transferring packages filled with marijuana from one vehicle into a truck close Gandara stands close by.

In one part of the video, the source is seen showing Gandara a bundle and some marijuana that came out of the bundle. Out of view, Gandara allegedly asks the informant for "a sample," but the source declines to leave Gandara one of the marijuana bundles.

"The confidential source was not allowed to give him the bundle, so he withheld it and said there may be more available in the future," Wooten said.

On Oct. 22, 2011, Border Patrol agents seized a large amount of marijuana from a tractor-trailer traveling through the Sierra Blanca checkpoint. The truck, allegedly driven by Javier Betancourt, apparently originated from one of Gandara's properties, Wooten testified.

The day before the seizure, DEA agents recorded a conversation, allegedly between Gandara and Betancourt, discussing the load. During the conversation, Betancourt is heard telling Gandara he needs to leave earlier than planned in order to drive through the checkpoint during shift change and when a Greyhound bus was expected to pass through the checkpoint. Both events would create a distraction for agents, Betancourt tells Gandara.
Gandara, who also owns Soccoro Iron & Metal, comes from a politically active family. Willie Gandara Sr was mayor of Soccoro, TX and in 2010, the elder Gandara and 10 others were charged with racketeering, mail fraid, wire fraid and conspiracy in a 27 count indictment. By May 2011, the elder Gandara was recalled as mayor of Soccoro- the first elected official to be recalled in El Paso county.

ARIZONA- Portions of what's been called The Most Dangerous National Park in America have reopened to the public this month.
On a hot desert morning last week, a group of 20 tourists gathered in the visitor center in Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to attend a mandatory safety briefing before taking a guarded van tour to Quitobaquito springs. The springs is part of the 69 percent of the remote border park west of Tucson that has been closed to the public since Kris Eggle, a 28-year-old law enforcement park ranger, was shot and killed while pursuing drug runners armed with AK-47s in 2002.

Organ Pipe was named “the most dangerous national park” that year and also in 2003 by the U.S. Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, before the group discontinued the series. The drastic increase of drug activity on Arizona’s southern border since the 1990s has turned Organ Pipe rangers into de factor Border Patrol agents.

Since 2009, the park has offered van tours to the springs, as long as rangers armed with assault rifles go along to protect the visitors. Now, ten years after Eggle’s murder, the park’s leadership has decided to open up a portion of the closed areas to the public in March, citing improved safety conditions and a big increase in Border Patrol agents in the area.

Ken Hires, an unflaggingly cheerful park ranger dressed in reassuringly normal-looking tan ranger clothes, bounded to the front of the room. Hires is what’s called an interpretive ranger, which means he has no law enforcement duties and does not carry a weapon. (“I spent my five years in Vietnam. Enough shooting,” he said later.) Hires explained that some law enforcement officers would be hiding in the hills and closely watching the two-hour nature hike, while another pair of armed rangers would follow the tourists closely from the ground. “They’ll have M-14s at hand,” he told the group. “Don’t be worried.”
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is located in the remote desert area to the south and west of Tuscon, AZ adjacent to the Mexican border and Tohono O'Odham Indian Reservation.

Quickie Iron Horse Roundup- VIA Rail Wreck Kills 3 Crewmen; At Least 51 Dead in Argentina Commuter Train Crash

CANADA- Three crew members of a Niagara Falls-Toronto VIA Rail Canada train were killed when their train derailed in Burlington, ON on Sunday.
VIA Rail has confirmed that three of its employees, all in the locomotive section, died in a train derailment in the southern Ontario city of Burlington on Sunday afternoon.

One of the engineers who died was a trainee. A fourth Via employee was injured in the derailment.

Thirty-two people were injured, according to a release from Halton Region. Three passengers were airlifted to hospitals in Hamilton, one with a heart attack, another with a broken leg and the third with a back injury. The other passengers suffered less serious injuries and were either treated at the scene or sent to local hospitals.

None of the injuries are life-threatening and a few people have already been discharged, Mario Joanette told CBC News Network. He said he does not expect any more patients from the crash.

The derailment occurred at about 3:30 p.m. ET near Plains and King Roads in Burlington.

The Toronto-bound train was travelling from the Niagara area of southern Ontario when it went off the tracks.

Investigators from the federal Transportation Safety Board will examine the train's "black box," which records technical and voice information. Officials say such investigations take at least a year.
Officials from VIA Rail identified the deceased crew members as Peter Snarr, 52, Ken Simmonds, 56, and trainee Patrick Robinson, 41.

On Tuesday, crews removed the wrecked locomotive from the crash site, one day after investigators had founf the train's black box. The remnants of the locomotive was the last piece of equipment to be cleared from the scene.

Although authorities have ruled out track conditions and weather as contributing to the crash, so far they are at a loss for an explanation. The track that the derailment occured on in Burlington is owned and operated by the Canadian National Railway- local officials point out that the site of Sunday's wreck is close to the scene of a 2008 derailment where 19 cars of a 139 car freight train hit the ground.

Sunday's derailment was VIA Rail's worst accident since a 1986 collision between and eastbound VIA passenger train and a westbound Canadian National freight in Hinton, Alberta that killed 23 people.

ARGENTINA- At least fifty-one people were killed and as many as 600 injured when a commuter train in Buenos Aires crashed into a busy station in the Argnetine capital last week.
The train, which was overcrowded with more than a thousand passengers, slammed into a barrier at the end of a platform at the Once station in the west of the city.

Police said the train's brakes had failed as it arrived at the station, but survivors claimed the train was travelling too fast.
One passenger, who gave his name as Ezequiel, said: "There are people with broken bones and losing a lot of blood. There are a lot of injuries.
"The train was really full. The impact of massive. I was in the carriage for people with bicyles. People were panicking, desperate to get out."
Emergency services said more than 400 people had been taken to hospitals in the city.
The death toll was raised to 51 when police found the body of a commuter in the wreckage two days after the crash. The discovery sparked off clashes between commuters and irate relatives of crash victims and officers clad in riot gear.

Public anger was also directed at the government of Argentine president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who had left the capital for her home in the remote Patagonia region two days after the crash. Many commuters are angry that the government seemingly ignored a number of safety violations from the line's private operator- TBA (Trenes Buenos Aires).

On Tuesday, the Argentine government took over operations of the TBA network. Officials say the government takeover will be in effect until the investigation into the crash is completed.

Horn of Africa Update- Somali, Ethiopian Troops Seize Al-Shabaab Stronghold; US Airstrike Kills Foreign Fighters; Somaliland Open for Business?

Somali troops seen on the move outside of Baidoa
SOMALIA- Backed by Ethiopian troops, the nascent Somali army captured one of al Shabaab's strongholds in the central part of the country last week.
AFP - Truckloads of Ethiopian and Somali troops on Wednesday captured the strategic Somali city of Baidoa from Al-Qaeda allied Shebab insurgents, who vowed to avenge the loss.

"We have taken control of Baidoa without a single shot, it is a great day for the people who are now welcoming us warmly," said Muhidin Ali, a Somali government military commander in Baidoa.

Baidoa, 250 kilometres (155 miles) northeast of the capital Mogadishu, is one of the main bases of the hardline Shebab, and its capture deals a major blow to the insurgents, who control large parts of southern and central Somalia.

Sporadic shooting was reported on the outskirts of the town, but residents said the city was largely calm.

"We are at the centre now and moving towards every corners of the town, to ensure that we are in full control," Ali added. "The enemy fled the city before our army has reached the town empty."

Ethiopian troops, who moved into southern and western Somalia in November, began a major push Tuesday towards Baidoa, which hosted the transitional parliament before Islamist rebels seized the town in 2009.

"There was no fighting, the Somali troops and the Ethiopian forces entered the town, setting up their base at the police station and the main crossroads in town," said Abdulahi Hassan, a resident.

"People are out in the streets watching the soldiers who are gradually moving into the different parts of the city."

Witnesses had said earlier that Shebab fighters and their families were seen fleeing Baidoa towards rebel-held Afgoye.

"Many people, most of them Al-Shebab families and supporters, are fleeing Baidoa," said Hussein Ali, a resident. "They are heading towards the Afgoye."
An al Shabaab commander confirmed the retreat, calling it a strategic withdrawl and promising more bloodshed and attacks against the Somali transitional government and African Union peacekeepers.

In recent years, forces from Somalia's transitional government controlled little more than a few blocks within the capital city of Mogadishu as the Islamic militia al-Shabaab swept through the countryside.

Less than a week before al Shabaab forces fled Baidoa, an al Shabaab commander and 13 other fighters were killed in clashes with Kenyan security forces in the southern part of Somalia.

Then Kenyans reportedly ambushed al Shabaab financier Mohamed Asmaya in Somali territory near the Kenyan border and seized a number of areas that provided the islamic militia with the bulk of its financial support.

On Friday, two foreign members of al-Shabaab were killed in an airstrike by a US drone about 60km south of Mogadishu.
Somali militants say that a Moroccan was killed in a strike that a U.S. official said was carried out by an American drone.

The statement Saturday on an al-Shabab website named the dead Moroccan as Sheik Abu Ibrahim. The statement said two others - including a second foreigner - were killed in the overnight Friday attack.
A U.S. official told The Associated Press the attack was carried out by a drone. Somali officials identified another of the militants killed in the attack as a Kenyan citizen.
Local reports claim that the total number killed in the airstrike was 4.

PUNTLAND- While under pressure from troops from Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia's transitional government as well as African Union peacekeepers in the South, Al Shabaab made its way north into the semiautonomous Puntland region, reportedly joining forces with a previously unaffiliated militia.
An Islamist militia group in Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region has merged with the al Shabaab rebel group, said the insurgents on Saturday, a union which threatens to destabilize the relatively secure area targeted by oil explorers.

Al Shabaab said it wanted to scrap the licenses of Western oil and gas firms drilling in Puntland. The al Qaeda-backed insurgents used social media site twitter to declare all oil and gas exploration and drilling licenses nullified.

While they do not hold the administrative control in the region needed to enforce their demand, the militants could try to target installations operated by Western oil companies.
The union comes as the insurgents are being weakened, relinquishing ground to African Union troops around the Somali capital, Mogadishu, and losing territory to Kenyan and Ethiopian forces in parts of southern and central Somalia.

Puntland security officials have previously said the Islamist militia camped out in the Golis hills outside the port city of Bosasso is led by Yasin Khalid Osman.

"I ... the leader of Golis ranges Islamists have signed an agreement with al Shabaab leader Sheikh Muktar Abu Zubeir. We are now al Shabaab," a voice identifying itself as Osman said in an audio recording on al Shabaab's website.

"I urge residents to take part in the jihad against the Christian invaders and the Somali infidels that work with them," he said, referring to the foreign troops inside Somalia.

Osman rarely makes statements and it was not immediately possible to verify his voice.
Al Shabaab's announcement comes a month after western companies began drilling an exploratory well in Puntland- the first to be sunk since the 1991 collapse of the Said Barre regime that left Somalia without a functioning government for more than 20 years.

Canadian-based Africa Oil Corp [TSX- AOI.V] along with Australian-based Red Emperor Resources [LSX: RMP] and Range Resources [ASX: RRS] are targetting what could be 300 million barrels worth of recoverable oil.
Somaliland moneychanger with stacks of Somaliland shillings in the capital city of Hargeisa- photo; Phoenix of Somalia
SOMALILAND- In the hopes of attracting foreign investment to the relatively stable breakaway region of Somalia, Somaliland has established a UK-linked development corporation to circumvent concerns over potential problems arising from the fact that it is not recognized as an independent state.
President Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo told Reuters that the purpose of the Somaliland Development Corporation was to "to attract companies and institutions which want to invest in our country."

"Since we are not a recognised country, insurance is always a difficult problem in Somaliland so if this can help with that, it would be useful."

Silanyo did not indicate what economic sectors he wished investors to target. But energy and mining minister Hussein Abdi Dualeh said in November the northern enclave had hydrocarbon potential with a geology similar to basins containing 9 billion barrels across the Gulf of Aden.

A number of big oil companies with permits to operate there left what is now Somaliland in the late 1980s and declared force majeure during Somalia's escalating civil conflict.

Several foreign banks have expressed interest in operating in Somaliland where they are keen to capitalise on its untapped market potential. Somaliland has no formal banking sector and its people rely heavily on remittances from diaspora communities in Europe, North America and the United Arab Emirates, as there are no ATMs or loan facilities.
Somaliland was briefly independent from Britian in 1960 before joining the rest of Somalia. However, with the 1991 collapse of the Barre regime, Somaliland once again declared independence. Despite establishing the rule of law as well as trading with Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and a number of Gulf States, circulating its own currency and aiding international navies in combatting piracy, Somaliland's independence remains unrecognized by most nations as well as the UN and a number of international agencies.

Currently, Somaliland's economy depends heavily on remittances from Somalis overseas, but the breakaway nation has been doing a robust business in exporting cattle and camels

Some speculate that if Somaliland gains internationally recognized independence from Somalia, it could trigger a number of similar secssionist movements throughout Africa.

MOGADISHU- The director of a Mogadishu radio station that was once shut down by al Shabaab was shot and killed by two unknown gunmen at his home this week, becoing the third journalist to be slain since December 2011.
Radio Somaliweyn is an independent radio station operating in northern Mogadishu.

The National Union of Somali Journalists has condemned the killings. Union Secretary General Mohamed Ibrahim said it is not clear why Mohamoud was targeted, but noted that in recent times he was involved in civil society activities.

“He was planning to bring the radio on air again. The reason is yet unclear, though he was very involved in civil society activism, such as youth in Banadir region in recent days. This is a really worrying trend for the journalists working in Mogadishu and the government has not done enough to investigate and bring suspects for prosecution,” said Ibrahim.

The killing came just a month after another journalist, Radio Shabelle Network Director Hassan Osman Abdi, was gunned down outside his house in Mogadishu. The Transitional Federal Government promised to investigate the murder and arrested two suspects.

In December, a government soldier killed journalist Abdisalan His at a checkpoint in the capital.
A number of media-rights groups say that due to the prolonged lack of any form of government, Somalia is the most dangerous country in Africa for journalists.

INDIA- Due to a steep decline in the number of pirate attacks off the western coast of India from Somali-based pirates, India plans on petitioning the International Maritime Organization to de-list their territorial waters from a list of high-risk nautical areas.

Citing the noticable dip in pirate attacks as well as increased patrolling by the Indian Navy off the west coast, India is hoping that the de-listing would lower insurance premiums on vessels operating through that area and possibly decrease demand for armed guards on some ships. The increased costs of both the insurance and armed protection means that the cost of shipping goods would be passed along to consumers worldwide.

Following aggressive expansion by the pirates further off the coast of Somalia and closer to Indian territorial waters, the Indian Navy stepped up patrols off the Western coast in 2011 resulting in the capture of a number of pirates and sinking a captured pirate 'mothership' which the pirates would use to launch smaller vessels to stage attacks on ships.

However, as recently as December 2011, Indian Navy officials warned that Somali pirates remained within striking distance of the southwestern archipelego of Lakshadweep.

UK- During an international conference on Somalia last week, Britain announced that it would pledge £20 million for a rapid reaction force to train police in areas retaken from al Shabaab.
Under the plans, Britain will contribute £20 million to a 'stability fund' for Somalia to help its new government secure the territory it has won from the al-Qaeda backed insurgency.

This will pay for a civilian force of “chino-clad warriors” who will be sent into vulnerable areas to help establish a police presence, health care facilities, schools and basic services before the militants can return.

The fund would target areas where either al-Shabaab had been driven out completely, or reduced as a fighting force. Its experts would be trained in forging local peace deals as well as overseeing government services in battle-ravaged regions. Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, said Britain hoped to attract further backing from around the world for the scheme. Somalia has had no functional government for two decades and has been described by William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, as “the world’s most failed state”.
In addition to the 40-nation conference in London, the United Nations security council is expected to take up a resolution regarding increasing the number of peacekeepers in the Horn of Africa. Currently, the African Union is combatting al-Shabaab in Somalia with soldiers from Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti while Ethiopian and Kenyan troops operating seperately from each other and the AU force have opened up a second and third front against al Shabaab elsewhere in the country.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Nigerian Islamist Group Boko Haram Claims Responsibility For Deadly Suicide Bombing in Central Nigerian City of Jos

While our media and, unfortunately, our commander in chief were wringing their hands over some incinerated korans in Afghanistan, a Nigerian islamist group launched a suicide attack targetting another Christian house of worship.
Nigeria's Islamist sect Boko Haram said it was behind a suicide bomb attack Sunday that killed at least three outside a church in the central city of Jos, and warned of more such assaults.

Witnesses said a car packed with explosives rammed the gate of a perimeter fence and exploded a few metres (yards) from the wall of an 800-seat church hall in the volatile city.

The bombing is the latest of a series of almost daily attacks, most of them blamed on the Islamist sect, that have heightened tensions in central Nigeria.

"The bomber drove at top speed, and there was a loud explosion and everything was black," said churchgoer Ezekiel Gomos, who saw a black car driving fast towards the church hall around 30 minutes into the service.

The church was about 80 percent full at the time.

"If he had driven into the middle of the church it could have been worse, but God was in control," said Gomos.
Various Nigerian media outlets report that the death toll has risen to anywhere from 8 to 14 killed since Sunday's attack. There were also reports that a Christian mob burned Muslim-owned stores and attacked and killed 3 muslim men in the city in reprisal attacks.

Jos is the capital city of Nigeria's Plateau state and governor David Jonah Jang is a parishoner of the church Boko Haram targetted.

Maine Event- Obama on Pace to Double Total Number of Fundraisers President Bush Held As Obama Campaign Announces Upcoming Downeast Dinner

After deciding that maybe big money contributions to politicians wasn't so bad after all [at least for him- NANESB!], President Obama has already nearly doubled the amount of fundraisers then-President Bush held when he was running for re-election in 2004.
According to several counts, the Big 100 will come Thursday when he does four fundraisers enroute to collecting and spending $750 million to $1 billion for his reelection. So far since April 2011, he has raised an estimated $82 million to $100 million at those events.

Former President George W. Bush, who in May 2003 announced his reelection campaign a month later than Obama at this stage of his presidency, had attended 56 fundraisers at this time, according to CBS White House Correspondent Mark Knoller, the unofficial keeper of White House statistics. In a tweet Tuesday, he added: “Pres Obama will do four reelection fundraisers in NYC Thursday, bringing fundraising total to 100 since filing for reelection last April.”
On Tuesday, various news outlets in Maine announced an upcoming dinner at the Portland Museum of Art set to take place March 30.
About 100 donors are expected to attend the dinner, according to three sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because the Obama campaign has not authorized them to release the information.

The dinner will follow a reception that afternoon at the Portland Marriott at Sable Oaks in South Portland, where about 800 people are expected to attend.

The prices for tickets to the event at Sable Oaks range from $100 to $10,000. For $100, an Obama supporter can buy a general admission ticket. For a $250 donation, one gets "friend" status, and for $500, a contributor gains entry to a "preferred section," according to the campaign website.

A "co-host," who contributes or raises $10,000, gains entry to a photo reception with the president.

The cost of attending the more exclusive dinner at the art museum begins at $5,000 and tops out at a $30,000 donation to the Democratic National Committee.
Since Obama and the Democrats have hitched their wagons to the avarice and perpetual class envy that is Occupy Wall Street, I thought it might be fun to do some math.

According to the most recently avilable US Census statistics, the median household income in the state of Maine is just under $47,000.

While most reports elsewhere list the price of admission to other Obama fundraisers at $38,500, the Portland Press Herald is quoting ticket prices topping out at $30,000- something of a discount. Still- even with the discount, that's something along the lines of 64% of the annual median household income for the state of Maine.

In it's recent efforts to promote their gimmicky payroll taxcut, the Obama Administration promoted a twitter campaign encouraging users to tweet "What $40 means to you"- a PR stunt basically encouraging American taxpayers to beg for their own money. If it's a fair question for the princely sum of $40 would mean, I have to wonder what $30,000 would mean to the out of work railroaders from the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic [the Maine-based railroad had to lay off nearly a quarter of its workforce two years ago- NANESB!] or the hundreds of workers at Maine paper mills who have been laid off in recent years.

Food for thought regarding the President who claims he's for [to borrow from the 'Occupy Wall Street' lexicon- NANESB!] the 99%. Only I won't charge you $30K for these vittles, dear reader.

STRATFOR: Osama Bin Laden Routinely in Contact With Top Pakistani Intelligence Officials

According to e-mails leaked by online whistleblower site Wikileaks, Osama bin Laden maintained contact with top officials from Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency while at his compound in the eastern garrison town of Abbotabad.

The fugitive Saudi millionaire and al Qadea leader and his associates were killed in a surprise nighttime raid by US Navy SEALS in May 2011.
According to one of the e-mails, the firm was shown the information papers collected from bin Laden's Abbotabad compound after the US special forces attack last May that resulted in his death.

The e-mail, from a Stratfor analyst, suggested that up to 12 officials in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency knew of the al-Qaeda leader's safe house.

The internal email did not name the Pakistani officials involved but said the US could use the information as a bargaining chip in post raid negotiations with Islamabad.

"Mid to senior level ISI and Pak Mil with one retired Pak Mil General that had knowledge of the OBL arrangements and safehouse," the email said of the officers involved. "I get a very clear sense we (US intel) know names and ranks."
Although many military and intelligence analysts expressed doubt that Bin Laden could be hiding less than a kilometer away from the front gate of the Pakistani Military Academy without the government, military or ISI knowing about it, Pakistan has denied knowing of Bin Laden's whereabouts prior to the American raid.

Founded in 1996, STRATFOR- short for Strategic Forecasting, Inc- is a San Antonio, TX based think tank and security firm that provides detailed threat assessment and frequent intelligence briefings to individual and corporate subscribers [full disclosure- while not a subscriber myself, STRATFOR provided some of the details regarding Mexican organized crime and the ATF's Operation Fast & Furious in earlier Borderline Psychosis updates on this blog- NANESB!].

The STRATFOR correspondence was obtained from by hackers known as Anonymous in late 2011 and posted on WikiLeaks earlier this week. WikiLeaks founder and Kremlin mouthpiece Julian Assange has accused STRATFOR of being involved in a number of legally and ethically questionable intelligence gathering activities on behalf of corporations.

Another Costa-ly Mishap; Sister Ship of Costa Concordia Adrift in Indian Ocean After Losing Power

2012 is turning out to be a pretty rough year for Italy-based Costa Crociere. Six weeks after the Costa Concordia sunk after running aground in Italy, another ship in the Costa Crociere fleet lost power and was adrift in the middle of the Indian Ocean after a fire broke out in the engine room.
A French fishing vessel on Tuesday began towing an Italian cruise ship drifting powerless in the Indian Ocean to a nearby Seychelles island, but was not expected to reach the tiny resort island until Wednesday, officials said.

Seychelles authorities said they are making arrangements to evacuate people to the island of Desroches and then to transfer the more than 1,000 passengers and crew members to the main Seychelles island of Mahe by plane and fast boats.

No one was injured in the fire Monday, but the blaze set the cruiseliner adrift at sea in a region where Somali pirates prey on ships.

Two tug boats continued to steam toward the stranded cruise ship on Tuesday but were not expected to reach it until the afternoon. The tugs will tow the Costa Allegra back to the Seychelles' main port -- Port Victoria -- under escort by the coast guard and military.

The cruise ship company said that a helicopter took off from Seychelles' main island on Tuesday and will take food, satellite phones and VHF radios to the ship. Guests have been asked to prepare their luggage for disembarkation.

Photos released by the Seychelles on Tuesday showed hundreds of people milling outside on the decks of the Costa Allegra. Taken by an Indian navy plane, the photos showed calm seas and an upright ship.

The Costa Allegra has 636 passengers and 413 crew members on board. The fire knocked out power to the ship's engines as well as to its lights and air conditioning.
Unlike the Costa Concordia, which was built less than 7 years ago, the Costa Allegra is considerably older and was actually converted from a container ship. In 1969, the vessel was completed at the shipyards in Turku, Finland for a Swedish company and christened the MS Annie Johnson before changing hands a number of times and ultimately being converted to a cruise liner at the shipyards in Genoa, Italy in 1992.

A team of investigators from the Italian Coast Guard is being flown to the Seychelles to examine the stricken vessel once it reaches port. A special anti-piracy unit of the Italian navy is also reportedly accompanying the stricken vessel, a precaution regularly taken in the pirate-infested waters off the Horn of Africa.

The company that operates both the Costa Concordia and Costa Allegra- Costa Crociere- is an Italian subsidiary of Carnival Cruises [NYSE- CCL].

Monday, February 27, 2012

Maybe President Obama Isn't Apologizing Fast Enough- Car Bomb Kills 9 At Afghan Airport, Taliban Claims Blast Is 'Revenge' For Koran Burnings

Nine people- most of them Afghan civilians- were killed after a suicide bomber blew up his vehicle at the gates of a NATO air base adjacent to the Jalalabad airport in Eastern Afghanistan on Monday.
KABUL, Afghanistan – A suicide car bomber rammed his vehicle into the gates of a NATO base and airport in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, triggering a blast that killed nine Afghans, officials said. The Taliban claimed the attack was revenge for U.S. troops burning copies of the Koran.

The bombing in the city of Jalalabad follows six days of deadly protests in the country over the disposal of Korans and other Islamic texts in a burn pit last week at a U.S. military base north of Kabul.
Six Afghan civilians, two guards and an Afghan soldier were reportedly among those killed in the blast. The Taliban immediately took credit for the attack, claiming that the bombing was a reprisal for US forces disposing of korans taken from the detention facility at Bagram Air Base.

The bombing comes a few days after gunmen shot and killed two US Military advisors in a heavily guarded Afghan government building on Saturday.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Today's Train of Thought- The Great Train Raid, Feb 24th 2012

Today's train of thought brings us back to the historically significant West Virginia burgh of Harper's Ferry. Among other occurances, the town is perhaps best known for abolitionist John Brown's raid on the US Army's strategically pivotal armory two years before the Civil War.

The town itself changed hands between the Union and Confederacy a number of times due to the importance of both the arsenal and the Baltimore & Ohio line through town that linked Washington D.C. and Baltimore with Pittsburgh, which was already becoming a key industrial center. The Union, obviously, wanted to move materiel and troops along the Mason-Dixon line while the South wanted to sabotage and cut off those supply lines as often as possible.

While the B&O line through town would eventually continue all the way west to Chicago, another line interstected at the Potomac River bridge seperating West Virginia from Maryland and headed south to Winchester, VA. This line was built as the Winchester & Potomac in the late 1830s. During the Civil War, the Winchester & Potomac fell under Confederate control and was used to ferry rebel troops and supplies to try and retake Harper's Ferry and stage raids on the B&O line. In 1861, Confederate Col Stonewall Jackson used the W&PRR to stage the Great Train Raid, the largest seizure of intact equipment and rolling stock by the Confederacy during the war. The captured equipment was moved by Confederate forces to Winchester, VA over the Winchester & Potomac.

After the Civil War, the line changed owners a number of times before falling into the B&O fold. Today, the former Winchester & Potomac is now part of the CSX's Shenedoah subdivision linking Harper's Ferry and the CSX Cumberland Subdivision with Norfolk Southern's former Southern line at Strasburg.

While not as active as the Cumberland/Sand Patch line linking Baltimore and the Capital region with Pittsbugh and points west, the Shenedoah subdivision still sees some local traffic. Here, contributor trainmasterrob catches CSX GP40-2 #6295 trundling across the wooden trestle that traverses the heart of historic Harper's Ferry with CSX train Q751. The train, which also goes by the name 'Rock Runner' is the first train across the trestle since the snow has fallen on the final day of 2009 and is passing under the shadow of the steeple of St Peter's Catholic Church on the hill.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Obama apologizes as Protests Rage Over Quran Burning, Afghan Soldier Guns Down 2 US troops

Lest you think I'm being unfair and engaging in over-the-top hyperbole in order to try and portray President Obama in the worst possible light, that is the headline from Thursday's Washington Post verbatim.
KABUL, Afghanistan — President Barack Obama apologized to Afghans on Thursday for the burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base, trying to assuage rising anti-American sentiment as an Afghan soldier gunned down two American troops during another day of angry protests.

The U.S.-led military coalition says the Muslim holy books were sent by mistake to a garbage burn pit at Bagram Air Field and the case is under investigation. The explanation and multiple apologies from U.S. officials have yet to calm outrage over the incident, which has also heightened tension between international troops and their Afghan partners.

Thousands of protesters, some shouting “Long live Islam!” and “Death to America!” staged demonstrations across Afghanistan for a third day. Protesters climbed the walls of a U.S. base in the east, threw stones inside and adorned an outside wall with the Taliban’s trademark white flag.

At other sites, demonstrators burned tires or American flags. Afghan police and international troops fired guns in the air to disperse the crowds.

The protests sparked clashes with Afghan security forces that left at least five demonstrators dead. A Norwegian soldier was wounded by a hand grenade hurled into a coalition compound.
If President Obama was the least bit serious about re-election, he should probably avoid doing anything that would project weakness to the this nation's enemies, but attempting to placate the Taliban and radical muslims throughout the world is nothing new for this Administration.

Instead, when they're not placating despotic regimes or sanctioning the trafficking of weapons to Mexican drug cartels, the Obama Administrations seems to be focusing on American citizens they brand as 'extremists' and wealthy people who aren't donating to his re-election campaign.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday Sports Chowdah Update- Gary Carter, 1954-2012; Wakefield Announces Retirement; B's No Longer Singing Blues, C's Thunderstuck

MLB- Hall of Fame Catcher Gary Carter passed away last week at a W. Palm Beach, FL hospice last week at the age of 57. Carter, who bookended his 19 year big league career with the Montreal Expos [now the Washington Nationals- NANESB!], was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003. Although Carter both started and finished his career with the Expos, the 11 time All Star also played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants and most memorably was the New York Mets catcher during their improbable 1986 come-from-behind World Series win over the Boston Red Sox.

Carter, sometimes known as 'Kid' for his ebullient demeanor, had a career batting average of .262 with 324 HR and 1225 RBI. He began his MLB career with the Expos in 1974 and endeared himself to the primarily French speaking Quebecois fans when he attempted to learn the language [some 30 years before Rosetta Stone was even invented, no less!- NANESB] taking lessons from batboy and Montreal native Daniel Plamondon.

Carter returned to Montreal in 1992 for what would be his final season. Eleven years later, the Expos retired Carter's #8 the same year he was voted into the Baseball hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

Since retiring from his playing days, Carter had been active in coaching and philanthropy in Florida. Interetingly, when the Expos moved to Washington D.C. in 2005, banners bearing Carter's number along with the retired numbers of other Expos players Andre Dawson, Rusty Staub and Tim Raines were moved across town and hung in the rafters of the Bell Centre, home arena for the Montreal Canadiens.

In 2010, Carter began his stint as head coach of the NCAA Div II Palm Beach Atlantic Univeristy Sailfish. It was in May 2011 that Carter recieved news he had an inoperable brain tumor. In January, Carter's daughter Kimmy Bloemers announced that another MRI had shown additional tumors. Although suffering from multiple inoperable tumors, Carter was able to attend the Sailfish home opener at the beginning of this month.

Although the Expos have been absent for nearly 7 years, the Montreal Canadiens paid tribute to Carter at Sunday's home game against the New Jersey Devils by wearing #8 Carter jerseys during the pregame warmups and donning throwback Expos hats before the start of the anthems.

RED SOX- Boston's versatile and durable knuckleballer Tim Wakefield called it a career in an announcement from Florida on Friday.

Drafted as a first baseman in 1988 by the Pittsburgh Pirates, Wakefield developed his knuckleball while with the Salem Buccaneers of the Carolina League. He was called up to Pittsburgh in 1992 and even won Games 3 and 6 of the 1992 NLCS (both starts against Billerica, MA native Tom Glavine of the Atlanta Braves).

He struggled the following season and was released by Pittsburgh in 1995 during the lockout. The Red Sox picked him up a few days later and he saw service in Pawtucket and then Boston, filling in for an ailing Roger Clemens.

In 2003, the season ended in extra innings of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium when the Yankee's Aaron Boone launched a solo homer off of Wakefield. The following season, in a rematch with the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, Wakefield would get a measure of revenge in Game 5 at Fenway when he pitched three shutout innings in long relief. Despite some tense moments and passed balls with Varitek (who wasn't Wakefield's normal catcher despite being on the team almost as long as the knuckleballer), Wakefield got credit for the win that night thanks to a walk-off bloop single from DH David Ortiz.

On July 24, 2011, Time Wakefield recorded career win #199 against the Seattle Mariners. Thanks to an unfortunate series of lackluster starts on his part or the bullpen imploding in close games, the knuckleballer was stuck at #199 for more than 7 weeks.

After a series of events reminiscent of Groundhog Day, Wakefield earned career win #200 on September 14, 2011 during an 18-6 rout of the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park. Wakefield's milestone- the first pitcher in Boston's 111-year history to notch career win #200 in a Red Sox uniform- was undoubtedly the highlight of a September that was marred by a collapse that saw the Red Sox eliminated from postseason contention in the final game of the regular season.

At the end of the 2011 season, Wakefield was 6 wins shy of breaking the Red Sox team record of 192 wins (tied by Roger Clemens and Cy Young).

Wakefield made his announcement from the Spring Training facility in Ft. Meyers, FL
Standing in left field, with a replica Green Monster looming behind him, Wakefield said retirement was “the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” which was saying something considering nothing in baseball ever came easy to him. “There is nothing that I want more than for this team to win, and it’s hard sometimes to take yourself out of the decision process,” Wakefield said, eyes watering and voice shaking. “But in my heart, I feel that by retiring I’m giving them a better chance to do that.”

OTHER RED SOX NEWS- The 45-year old Wakefield's announcement comes at the same time as a great deal of uncertainty over the status of veteran Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek.

Although Varitek recieved a minor-league offer from the Red Sox, his options right now appear to be either serve as a backup to Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Kelly Shoppach [who the Sox reacquired via free-agency in December- NANESB!] or join fellow catcher Jorge Posada in retirement.

After coming up through the Seattle Mariners minor-league system, Varitek and former Red Sox pitcher Derek Lowe were acquired from Seattle in exchange for Heath Slocombe in 1997. Varitek had been Boston's starting catcher since the late 1990s.

ELSEWHERE IN MLB- In a move to free up money for free agents, the New York Yankees have sent starting pitcher AJ Burnett and $20 million in cash to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for RHP Diego Moreno [2-4 with a 3.21 ERA with the AA Altoona Curve last year] and OF Exicardo Cayones who split time between the Gulf Coast League and State College of the New York-Penn League last season.

The trade greatly benefits the Pirates- who have not finished above .500 for 19 consecutive seasons. However, some Red Sox fans have expressed a preference that struggling Boston starter John Lackey would have been dealt to the Pirates in a similar transaction to free up additional funds to pursue a trade with Roy Oswalt without going over the salary cap.

BOSTON BRUINS- Two streaks came to an end at St Louis' Scottrade Center on Wednesday night.

After a hard-fought shootout win against Montreal that left the Bruins banged up last week, the Bruins then dropped a road game against the Jets before getting shut out by the Minnesota Wild 2-0 on Sunday.

The St Louis Blues, on the other hand, had managed to snag at least one point in 21 straight home games at the Scottrade Center. However, things got off to a frenetic start in the 1st period with the Bruins getting off to a 2-0 start thanks to goals from Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic before Blues RWs Chris Stewart and Ryan Reaves would each get a goal to knot the contest up at 2-2. With 40 seconds to go in the opening period, Chris Kelly put the Bruins back on top before the game headed to its first intermission.

After a scoreless 2nd period, Marchand would give Boston a little bit more breathing room with another tally midway through the 3rd to give Boston the 4-2 lead and ultimately the win. Tim Thomas stopped 30 of 32 shots faced while St Louis' Brain Elliott allowed 4 goals on 19 shots faced.

All six goals scored on Wednesday night were even-strength, with each team only getting one power-play opportunity.

The win snaps a two-game losing streak that felt alot longer than it really was owing to the three day layoff after Sunday's shutout.

The Bruins road trip will bring them back to the Northeast conference where they will face the Buffalo Sabres on Friday. This will be Boston's first game at the First Niagara Center since getting run out of the building after an embarassing and lopsided 6-0 shutout. The game gets underway at 7:30 ET and will be televised on both NESN and MSG networks.

OTHER BRUINS NEWS: The Boston Bruins called up Forward Carter Camper from their AHL affiliate in Providence this week. The former Miami of Ohio Redhawk and Hobey Baker Award finalist had 14 goals, 24 assists and 38 points in 53 games played with the Providence Bruins this season.

BOSTON CELTICS- The Celtics head into the NBA's All Star Break losing five straight games, including the first 4 games of their 5-game road trip.

On Wednesday night, the C's fell to the league-leading Oklahoma City Thunder by a 104-119 final. Although Boston came up short on the road, head coach Doc Rivers and Forward Paul Piece said in postgame comments that their ability to rally may pay dividends in the second half of the abbreviated NBA season.

It's also worth noting that current Atlantic Division leader- the Philadelphia 76ers- has also been suffering through a 5-game skid heading into the All Star Break as well.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Today's Train of Thought- Joint (Line) Endeavor, February 18

Today's Train of Thought takes us to the foot of the Rockies on Colorado's Joint Line. Construction on the Rio Grande line south of Denver started in 1870- the line was origianlly supposed to go as far south at El Paso, TX where it would link up with a sister railroad in Mexico and on to the Pacific coast from there. While towns such as Pueblo and Colorado Springs sprung up along the Rio Grande line south of Denver, they reached a huge imapsse at Raton Pass near the New Mexico-Colorado state line.

However, the topography wasn't what proved to be so costly for Rio Grande. By 1878, the Rio Grande and archrival Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe became embroiled in what was known as the Railroad Wars over the both the southern route and construction of newer routes to tap the mineral-rich boomtowns of the Rockies. In February 1878, the Santa Fe hired a number of local gunfighters and the financially strapped Rio Grande was forced to cede Raton Pass and points south without even firing a shot.

The following year, a silver strike up in Leadville, CO sparked the renewal of the Railroad Wars between Santa Fe and Rio Grande. This time, the silver veins in Leadville were the prize and Santa Fe hired infamous Old West gunslingers like Bat Masterson and Doc Holliday to try and secure the pivotal route through the Royal Gorge. However, Rio Grande had secured the support of local sheriffs and an injuction from the fourth judicial circuit court and the Royal Gorge route went to Rio Grande by 1880.

The history of the Joint Line between Pueblo and Denver was far less acrimonious and provided both the Santa Fe an outlet to Denver from it's transcontinental route while giving the Rio Grande access to other class 1 railroads such as Missouri Pacific, Rock Island, Colorado & Southern.

Besides being a pivotal bridge route, the line gained increasing importance with increased mining of low-sulphur coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and unit coal trains to power plants throughout Texas and the Midwest.

Since the 1990s mergers that put Rio Grande under Union Pacific control and saw Burlington Northern combine with the Santa Fe, BNSF still handles the local freight on most parts of the Joint Line.

Here, contributor Joe Blackwell caught rebuilt BNSF SD40-2R #1572 leading the southbound Pike's Peak local at Larkspur, CO. The lead unti actually started out life as a Santa Fe SD45-2, but was recently rebuilt, renumbered and repainted by BNSF. The new paint scheme stands out in stark contrast to the crisp white landscape and blue skies on this sunny February 2012 day.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Feds Arrest Moroccan Citizen For Allegdly Attempt to Carry Out Suicide Bombing at US Capitol

Federal officers arrested a 29 year old man reportedly on his way to the Capitol building in Washington D.C. to carry out a suicide bombing on Friday afternoon in an apparent 'lone-wolf' style attempt.
The federal criminal complaint against the suspect identifies him as Amine El Khalifi,

He was nabbed following a lengthy investigation by the FBI, initiated after he allegedly expressed interest in conducting an attack. Court documents say he came onto the radar screen in early December after he told an undercover agent about an earlier plan to bomb a northern Virginia building.

Khalifi was charged Friday in U.S. District Court in northern Virginia with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.

The suspect allegedly weighed hitting various targets ranging from a military installation to synagogues to a Washington restaurant before settling on the Capitol.

The man thought undercover FBI agents assisting him in his plot were associates of Al Qaeda.He purchased bomb materials including jackets, nails and glue in preparation for an attack

When he was arrested Friday in Washington, he was carrying with him a vest that he had been led to believe was packed with explosives, but the material inside was not actually dangerous,

A short time earlier, Khalifi had been praying at a mosque in the Washington area. His destination was Capitol Hill.

The public was never in danger, as he had been under constant surveillance for some time, officials said. The FBI provided the suspect with a disabled gun during their ongoing operation

The U.S. Capitol Police, in a statement that confirmed the arrest but provided few details, said the suspect had been "closely and carefully monitored."

A senior source involved with law enforcement at the Capitol also told Fox News the investigation was "all very controlled." The source said the U.S. Capitol Police was involved with the FBI and other agencies in tracking the suspect "not more than a year."
Khalifi had reportedly set off explosives in a remote quarry in West Virginia while accompanied undercover agents as part a test before carrying out his attack.

Khalifi was been staying in the country illegally after overstaying a tourist visa that he entered the USA on in 1999. While living in northern Virginia, the Moroccan had a run-ins with his Arlington landlord who had called local police.
Frank Dynda said Friday that a woman who leased an apartment in his Arlington building apparently married Amine El Khalifi and then moved out. He says when Dynda told El Khalifi to leave, he said he had a right to stay and threatened to beat Dynda up.

Dynda says he thought El Khalifi was making bombs, but police told him to leave the man alone. Dynda had El Khalifi evicted in 2010.
Agents from FBI counterterrorism task force and Arlington County police officers searched a residence in Douglas Park, VA in relation to Khalidi's arrest.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Would-Be Nigerian Underwear Bomber Sentenced in Federal Court

More than two years after attempting to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner in midair at Christmastime with explosives sewn into his underwear, Nigerian student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was sentenced to four life sentences at the federal courthouse in Detroit on Thursday.
"The defendant has never expressed doubt or regret or remorse about his mission," U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds told the 25-year-old Nigerian student-turned-al-Qaida-operative during a 90-minute hearing in Detroit. "To the contrary, he sees that mission as divinely inspired and a continuing mission."

"I believe the defendant poses a significant ongoing threat to the safety of American citizens everywhere," Edmunds added, saying she couldn't control his motivations, but could control his opportunity to carry them out.

Abdulmutallab remained defiant. "The mujahideen are proud to kill in the name of God, and this is exactly what God told us to do in the Koran," he told Edmunds. "The situation of one who believes in Allah is always good ... it's always a win-win situation."

He laid into the U.S. government for oppressing Muslims worldwide and federal prosecutors in Detroit for misrepresenting the facts of the case "to achieve their evil goals."

He also insisted that Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki, who sent him on the mission, are still alive. Both al-Qaida leaders were killed last year by U.S. forces.

Against [standby defense lawyer Anthony] Chambers' advice, Abdulmutallab pleaded guilty on the second day of trial last October to all counts, including conspiring to commit an act of terrorism, use of a weapon of mass destruction and carrying a firearm or destructive device during a crime of violence.
Although Nigerian-based islamist group Boko Haram has been increasingly active and lethal in their attacks since late 2011, Abdulmutallab confessed to FBI agents that he had been working with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Penninsula in Yemen to help carry out the attack.
Abdulmutallab received the bomb, as well as training, from AQAP before travelling from Nigeria to Amsterdam.

There he boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 253 to Detroit, which was carrying 279 passengers and 11 crew members.

The bomb was not picked up in security checks at airports in Lagos and Amsterdam.

On board, the bomb failed to detonate completely and passengers had to put out the fire.

Abdulmutallab's father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, an influential banker who is well connected in Nigerian politics, said he had approached the US embassy officials and Nigerian authorities in 2009 to warn them about his son.

Abdulmutallab was already on a US watch list, but not a no-fly list.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Penninsula was also thought the be behind an October 2010 plot that involved parcel bombs flown overseas from Yemen with explosives hidden in ink and toner cartridges.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mid February Iron Horse Roundup- EMD Announces Closure of London Plant; Steel Silk Road in the Works? 'New' Power For Farmrail, New Brunswick Southern

Two EMD SD80ace's are seen on flatcars outside of Canadian Rail Collision and Refubish's Toronto, ON facility. The locomotives- destined for Brazil- have just been repainted and are part of the last order constructed at EMD's London, ON facility before Progress Rail announced they were closing down the facility. Photo- Oscar Majcher
EMD/PROGRESS RAIL- After a month-long lockout and standoff with the Canadian Auto Workers over a new contract, EMD parent company Caterpillar [NYSE: CAT] announced they were shutting down their London, Ontario plant this month.
Electro-Motive Canada announced it was shutting down its plant, wiping out the jobs of 475 locked out workers as well as 200 non-union staff.

Sixty-two years after it started making locomotives in the city and two years after it was purchased by a subsidiary of heavy equipment giant Caterpillar Inc. the plant was history.

It’s the biggest plant closure the city since 1994 when the Northern Telecom plant employing 2,200 shut down.

It will likely cause another spike in the London-St. Thomas unemployment rate which dropped to 9% last month, but is still the second highest of any major city in Canada.

The lockout of the London workers had been a lightning rod for protests with the company asking employees to take as much as a 50% wage cut. A rally on Jan. 21 drew more than 5,000 people.
According to Caterpillar, a key sticking point with the CAW was wages and temporary hiring of outside non-union contract employees to deal with large orders. While the decision to shut down the London plant has understandably sparked outrage throughout Canada [including calls for the seizure of Caterpillar's assets in Canada- NANESB], it's also worth pointing out that whether it was General Motors, Greenbriar Equity or Caterpillar, EMD remained an American company that happened to have a major plant in Canada the whole time the London facility was open.

Prior to Caterpillar's announcement, members of the CAW Local 27 had blockaded flatcars carrying some of the locomotives from the final order from London's plant before leaving of their own accord. The locomotives are destined for Brazilian mining and logistics firm Companhia Vale do Rio Doce [NYSE- VALE] which operates more than 8700 km of track through three subsidiaries in eastern Brazil.

According to Canadian Railway Observations, EMD also received orders for new power from Norfolk Southern, Brazil's VALE and Union Pacific as well as freight and mining railroads in the UK, Australia, Mauritania and the United Arab Emirates. Meanwhile, Canadian Pacific announced that they selected Progress Rail to undertake an extensive rebuild of their aging fleet of four-axle GP9s and six-axle SD40-2s.

Shortly after the announcement regarding the London plant, Progress Rail hosted a job fair for it's Muncie, IN plant and announced a second one set to take place in early March. Coincidentally, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels had signed a right-to-work bill a few days prior to Caterpillar shutting down the London plant. The bill makes the Hoosier state the first 'rust belt' state with right-to-work laws.

A Russian-built locomotive brings in freight from across the border with Uzbekistan to the frontier town of Hairatan. Photo- Railways of Afghanistan/Asian Development Bank
AFGHANISTAN- Operations began on a new 45 mile rail line in Afghanistan linking the city of Mazar-i-Sharif with the Uzbekistan border at Hairatan earlier this month.
The inaugural load comprised nine wagons of flour from Kazakhstan and three of timber from Siberia. Unloading began shortly after the train arrived at Naibabad, which lies just east of Mazar-i-Sharif airport.

Nominally operational since mid-2011, the line saw its first test trains reach Mazar-i-Sharif in late December, following further work to reinforce the trackbed and improve security. The line is being operated by Uzbekistan’s state railway under a three year concession signed on August 4, but UTY had been waiting for formal safety approval before starting commercial operation.
In addition to supplying NATO forces in Afghanistan and domestic customers, an expanded rail line could also play a role in transporting much of Afghanistan's untapped mineral wealth to markets in Asia and elsewhere for export.

FARMRAIL/GRAINBELT- According to a press release, Farmail subsidiary Grainbelt Corporation has taken delivery of five additional GP38 diesels.

The press release didn't mention where the GP38s came from, but the prior batch of GP38s were purchased by the western Oklahoma railroad secondhand from the Iowa Interstate Railroad. This brings the total number of units in service on the Farmrail/Grainbelt system to 31, including some of the former

Although agricultural traffic on the 300+ mile Farmrail/Grainbelt system has taken a hit due to drought conditions throughout Texas and Oklahoma late last year, this has been offset by increased drilling activity and shipments of crude oil throughout the Anadarko Basin.

Former Grand Trunk Western GP40-2s seen with a Fort Worth & Western genset at Hodge yard in Ft Worth, TX on Dec 31st, 2011. Photo, JT Leal
FORT WORTH & WESTERN- The Fort Worth & Western acquired a pair of former Grand Trunk Western GP40-2s (nee Detroit, Toledo & Ironton) from Rail Management leasing.

The 1972-built roadswitchers join a fleet of about a dozen second-generation roadswitchers and two gensets on the 275-mile Texas carrier. In addition to being repainted in the FW&W's yellow and blue paint scheme, the locomotives will also receive the name of a historical figure or locale along the route as is custom for the Fort Worth & Western.

NEW BRUNSWICK SOUTHERN- JD Irving's New Brunswick Southern has taken delivery of their first-ever 6-axle locomotives. The Canadian National delivered Helm Leasing SD40-3s #6200 and #6318 to the NBSR in January.

Although one of them has already reportedly been repainted in NBSR colors, both locomotives are currently on short-term lease from Helm and being evaluated for service on the mainline between St John, NB and Brownsville, ME.

[Hat tip- Canadian Railway Observations; Railways of Afghanistan]

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day From Not Another New England Sports Blog!

For Valentine's Day, some people plan elaborate surpirses and gifts for their sweeties with months of advance planning.

For others, Valentine's Day is just another day and they choose to spend a solitary evening at home, perhaps making an exception for the company of a good book.

In case your wondering, these lovely pin-ups come to us courtesey of artist Vaughan Alden Bass.

Bass got his start in Chicago in the 1930s and eventually was comissioned by the Louis F Dow company to re-touch paintings from none other than Gil Elvgren. Although Bass would sometimes have to repaint an arm or a hand, he preferred to leave the bodies and faces unchanged whenever possible.

Like Elvgren, Bass would also logged time with the Twin Cities-based Brown & Bigelow and among other accomplishments, a portrait of President Dwight D Eisenhower painted by Bass hangs in the Smithstonian in Washington D.C.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Cupid's Quickie Cuppa Sports Chowdah- Extra Helping From the Beanpot For BC; B's Rally Against Hungry Predators; C's Hold Off Charging Bulls

NCAA HOCKEY: Not surprisingly, Monday night's Beanpot tournament had implications beyond the 60th annual Boston-are hockey tournament.

After Harvard's 3-1 win over Northeastern in the consolation game, the main event got underway with the #2 BU Terriers and #3 BC Eagles facing off in the title game for the 21st time in the tournament's history- and by #2 and #3, I mean nationally ranked. The NCAA released their hockey rankings on Monday and while BU slipped from #1 to #2, Boston College moved up from #5.

BC Junior Pat Mullane got the Eagles on the board in the first with a power play tally at the 8:54 mark.

Five minutes into the second period, the Terriers had just killed off another penalty when Sophmore Garrett Noonan beat BC goalie Parker Noonan to tie the contest up at 1-1. But the Eagles would retake the lead on a power play goal from Junior Chris Kreider about 3 minutes later. Shortly after the Eagle's go-ahead goal, Terrier's captain Chris Connolly was assessed a 10-minute misconduct penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Although Boston College seemingly had the momentum heading into the 3rd period, the Terrier's Noonan notched his second goal of the night 7 and a half minutes into the 3rd period to tie the contest up at 2-2, cashing in on a 5 on 3 power play.

The winner of the 60th annual Beanpot wouldn't be decided in the 3rd, so the contest headed to OT, which turned out to be a back and forth affair, although neither team seemed able to capitalize on the scoring chances made available. Things looked as though they were heading for a 2nd OT when BC Sophmore Bill Arnold ripped one past Terriers netminder Kieran Millan with 6.4 seconds left to give the Eagles the sudden-death OT win.

Millan allowed 3 of the 44 shots he faced in while Milner faced 42 and allowed 2 in Monday night's game.

Boston College head Jerry York coach credits the win to a visit from former Red Sox manager Terry Francona the day after their dismantling of Northeastern in the first round of this year's Beanpot. According to York, Francona discussed how players like 2B Dustin Pedroia everyone in the locker room to be better teammates and take advantage of built-up energy.

This is Boston College's 3rd consecutive Beanpot title and 17th overall in tournament history. Each team now has 6 regular-season games remaining on their schedule.

NHL: After a humiliating 6-0 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on the road, the Bruins returned home to face the Nashville Predators on Saturday afternoon. Patrice Bergeron got the B's on the board with a shorthanded goal in the first to give Boston the 1-0 lead.

Shea Weber would then tie the contest up at 1-1 with a power play goal in the 2nd period before a wild 3rd period that saw Boston re-take the lead on a Danny Paille goal before Thomas allowed two goals [including one to Mr Carrie Underwood- NANESB!]and Nashville to take the 3-2 lead with just under 3:30 to go in regulation.

However, with 1:07 left in regulation and Boston on the power play, Milan Lucic would beat Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne to force OT. After a scoreless OT, Tim Thomas stopped every shot he faced in the shootout and Tyler Seguin and Patrice Bergeron would score for Boston in the shootout, handing the Predators their second OT loss in their last three games.

Tim Thomas stopped 19 of 22 shots faced while Pekka Rinne allowed 3 shots in on the 41 he faced. The Predators converted 1 of their 3 power play opportunities while the Bruins were 1 in 4 for their power play.

Boston will next take on the NY Rangers at the TD Banknorth Garden Tuesday night. Surprisingly, this matchup between the top two teams in the Eastern Conference won't be nationally televised on NBC Sports or the NHL network, but will only be available locally on NESN in New England and the MSG network in Boston. The puck drops at 7 PM ET.

OTHER NHL NEWS: The teams and venue for the NHL's next Winter Classic have been made official. The Detroit Red Wings will host the Toronto Maple Leafs at the University of Michigan's Big House in Ann Arbor, MI on New Year's Day 2013. The Original 6 matchup will be the first time a Canadian franchise has participated in the newly-established New Year's day tradition [altho' the concept stemmed from an outdoor game between Edmonton and Montreal in 2003 that was well-recieved- NANESB!]

This would not be the first outdoor hockey game at Ann Arbor's Big House. In December 2010, the Michigan Wolverines shut out cross-state rivals Michigan State by a final of 5-0 in what was called The Big Chill at the Big House.

NBA: In a nationally televised game on Sunday afternoon, the Boston Celtics managed to hold off the Eastern conference leading Chicago Bulls at home. Rajon Rondo largely carried the C's while recording a triple-double, 32 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds in the 95-91 win over Chicago.

The well-rested Celtics are now 15-12 and won't see any action until Wednesday when they host the hapless Detroit Pistons. The game tips off at 7:30 and will be televised on CSNE.

MLB- The Houston Astros have reached a 1 year, $1.15 million deal with former Red Sox SS Jed Lowrie, avoiding arbitration. Lowrie was traded to the Astros in December along with Kyle Weiland in exchange for reliever Mark Melancon.

The Red Sox and DH David Ortiz avoided arbitration with the slugger agreeing to a 1-year $14.75 million contract this weekend.

Today's Train Of Though- Canaan Able, Feb 13 2012

Today's Train of Though takes us to the wintry foothills of Western Massachusetts where a wintertime snowstorm seems to do little to slow down Canaan, CT-based shortline Housatonic Railroad.

The former New York, New Haven & Hartford line between Pittsfield, MA and Danbury, CT- sometimes known as the Canaan Running Track- went through a number of owners since the New Haven's 1969 merger with Penn Central. Shortly before the 1976 formation of Conrail, the section of the former NYNH&H line between New Milford and Boardman Bridge was abandoned. While the line south of New Milford was included in Conrail, the Canaan to Pittsfield line became part of the Boston & Maine (later Guilford) in 1982. The following year, the Housatonic Railroad was formed and began rebuilding the abandoned trackage between New Milford and Canaan.

While being operated by Guilford, the Canaan Running track was isolated from the rest of the Guilford lines and both the line and freight service began to detriorate. Operations were more or less limited to one train a week out of Pittsfield for the Beckton Dickinson plant in Canaan and some paper mills in Lee, MA. The Berkshire Scenic would run seasonal excursions over the line in the late 1980s, but operations were suspended when the track continued to deteriorate.

In 1991, the Housatonic entered into an agreement with Guilford to purchase the Canaan Running Track and less than a year later, purchased the New Milford, CT to Danbury segment from Conrail.

Now, in addition to the already-existing customers on the line, the Canaan Running Track was acting as a bridge line and the Housatonic was being used to forward contaminated soil and construction or demolition debris to out-of-state landfills [embodying the old saw of 'It's a dirty job, but somebody's gotta do it'- NANESB].

Above, contributor Ryan Parent catches Housatonic GP35M #3601 heading north through Great Barrington, MA with Canaan, CT to Pittsfield, MA freight NX-13X. The #3601 is only a few miles into its trip out of Canaan, having crossed the state line at Sheffield, MA before making its way through Great Barrington.

The crisp yellow and green EMDs in the Housatonic fleet keep busy with at least one roundtrip to the CSX interchange at Pittsfield, MA each weekday and sometimes on Sunday. Apparently the train symbols from the Housatonic are throwback to the New Haven-era ones used on that part of the NYNH&H.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Greek Melo-Drachma: Greece's Parliament Approves Unpopular Austerity Measures to Secure €130 Billion Bailout As Rioters Torch Downtown Athens

As police clashed with rioters and arsonists in Athens on Monday, Greek lawmakers voted to approve an unpopular austerity bill that was deemed necessary to secure another €130 Billion in bailout money from the European Union.

Lawmakers voted to approve the measures by a 199-74 margin with 37 lawmakers from opposition parties either voting against it, present or abstaining from voting altogether. The provisions include a 22% reduction in the minimum wage, some €300 billion in pension cuts and slashing some 150,000 public sector jobs by 2015.

Outside Parliament, police in Athens clashed with thousands of rioters as they hurled chunks of marble and firebombs at officers in riot gear.
Police said 150 shops were looted in the capital and 48 buildings set ablaze. Some 100 people - including 68 police - were wounded and 130 detained, a police official said on Monday.

There was also violence in cities across the country, including Greece's second-largest city Thessaloniki and the islands of Corfu and Crete, said the official, who declined to be named.

Greeks were shocked at the burnt buildings that included the neo-classical home to the Attikon cinema dating from 1870.
Firefighters reportedly had to be escorted by police to some of the fires as protesters would not allow them access. Roving gangs also smashed windows and looted downtown shops and cafeterias.

Stock Exchanges in Asia and Autralia reacted positively to the Greek Parliment's vote, with the All Ordinaries, Hang Seng, Nikkei and Staits Times up slightly. The trend is expected to continue once markets in Europe and North America open for trading.

Greece's EU creditors had blamed a bloated public sector with generous penions, early retirement and rife with fraud, abuse and incompetence for exacerbating an already perilous economy that had been sent reeling by the 2008 global financial crisis and having a foreign debt 144% higher than their total GDP.

The civil unrest and uncertainty of future bailout packages to Greece has begun fuelling speculation from Athens to Brussels to Berlin that Greece could wind up leaving the Eurozone in the next few years and going back to the Drachma, their official currency before the 2002 introduction of the Euro.
Even the European Central Bank is now entertaining the thought of a Greek exit publicly. Governing Council member Ewald Nowotny said he ``can't be sure'' that Greece will be able to carry out the necessary measures to remain in the currency union. Hardly words of encouragement from the one institution that has held steady in its defense of euro-zone membership.
I can say without too much exaggeration or hyperbole that this seems to be the road the United States is heading down, even though the Greeks have provided a very stark and painful object lesson on the end result of government and public sector union largess for the world to see. So far, the Obama Administration's answer to this problem is not to reduce government spending in any meaningful way- except for the military- but to lobby for tax increases on what he considers the wealthiest Americans [and if you remember back to his 2008 Presidential campaign, he had a very malleable definition of "wealthy"- NANESB!].

Even if the sight of the Monopoly Guy [aka Rich Uncle Pennybags] sends you into a near-homicidal frenzy, you gotta stop and ask yourself if an administration that has screwed the pooch as bad as this one has [i.e. the stimulus, cash for clunkers, Obamacare, the numerous subsidized 'green energy' failures to name a few- NANESB] should go ahead and reward itself by helping itself to more and more taxpayer money.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Whitney Houston: 1963-2012

Singer Whitney Houston was found unresponsive in her Beverly Hills hotel room on Saturday afternoon and pronounced dead shortly after paramedics arrived.

The 48 year old singer has been described as having a voice for the ages, tarnished by addiction and an abusive relationship with ex-husband Bobby Brown.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Houston followed in her mother's footsteps and began performing in a gospel choir in Newark's New Hope Baptist Church.

Houston first achieved noteriety in the late 1980s- sports fans will best remember Houston's flawless performance of 'The Star Spangled Banner' before Super Bowl XXV in 1991.

Her rendition of the national anthem was so successful, it was re-released as a single and enjoyed great commercial success. Houston then reportedly donated the proceeds from the single's sales to the American Red Cross.

Houston also appeared in a number of movies throughout the 1990s and married Bobby Brown, although by the late 1990s a number of missed performances and rapid wieight loss led to reports of drug use. The trainwreck that was her marriage to Bobby Brown was the subject of a 2004 reality show on the Bravo Network.

Brown and Houston seperated in 2006 and Houston enjoyed something of a comeback in recent years. She was scheduled to perform at a gathering for music executives before the Grammys this weekend.