Saturday, June 30, 2012

Long Overdue Iron Horse Update- Pan-Am, MM&A Look To Oil By Rail; Fatal Wreck in Oklahoma; Centennial Steam to the South Rim of Grand Canyon; Susquehanna Gets Oakway Rebuilds; Ambitous WV Tourist Train Project Proposed

Montreal, Maine & Atlantic SD40-2 #758 leads a motley assortment of EMD and GE diesels east through Frontenac, Quebec with unit crude oil train 606-245 on June 8, 2012. The train is bound for the New Brunswick Southern railroad interchange at Brownville Jct, ME. Frank Jolin photo via
NEW BRUNSWICK- Canada's largest oil refinery is looking to bring in shipments of oil from the Bakken shale and that could spell more traffic for some New England railroads depending on what route is selected.

A 104-car test train traversed the 2400 miles between the Dakotas and St John, NB using a BNSF-CSX-Pan Am- New Brunswick Southern route in late May and could provide Maine an economic boost.
The first big shipment was made over the weekend. Each of the 104 cars carried roughly 700 barrels of oil. The train traveled through Chicago to Rotterdam Junction, N.Y., where it moved over Pan Am Railways track through southern and eastern Maine and connected with the New Brunswick Southern Railway for the trip to Saint John.

Pan Am has been improving its tracks and adding locomotives and crews, making it a player in the growing crude-oil competition, according to Hall.

Pan Am operates one of three possible rail routes that can get crude to Saint John. Canadian National Railroad has another, which skirts Aroostook County and stays north of Maine. A third goes through Jackman, Greenville and Brownville Junction to reach New Brunswick via the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway.

"Irving's going to go with whoever does the best job at the best price," Hall said.

The prospect of steady oil shipments has led Montreal, Maine and Atlantic to announce that it will double the frequency of its service from three to six days a week between Montreal and Brownville Junction said Ed Burkhardt, the company's board chairman.

Price is driving Irving's thirst for Bakken oil, Burkhardt said. Irving's refinery, which has a capacity of 250,000 barrels a day, primarily receives its supply via tankers from Venezuela, the Persian Gulf and the North Sea. But overseas oil now is roughly $20 a barrel more expensive, so it's cost-effective to move some of the supply thousands of miles by rail.

"Rail can land oil at Saint John at a better price than by sea," Burkhardt said.

The most immediate factor that could limit business is the availability of tank cars, which are in great demand nationally, Burkhardt and others say. It takes roughly six days to go from North Dakota to New Brunswick, plus offloading time.

If rail delivery grows, it could help Maine's struggling freight railroads and the shippers that depend on them, said Chop Hardenbergh, editor of Atlantic Northeast Rails & Ports. That could help improve service to Maine's paper mills and attract new shippers, he said.

"It certainly helps our railroads and our overall economy," Hardenbergh said.
Enviromental groups raised ocbjections over the 100+ car trains traversing enviromentally sensetive areas of Maine- these concerns were punctuated when a Pan-Am local freight derailed in Bucksport, ME in late May sending a pair of tank cars into the Penobscot River before rupturing and leaking a synthetic latex used in papermaking.

Montreal, Maine & Atlantic began running test trains to the St John's refinery shortly after striking Canadian Pacific employees were ordered back to work, thus enabling MM&A to interchange with railroads west of St Jean, Quebec.

Both the Pan-Am and MM&A hand off the unit oil trains to the New Brunswick Southern- either at Brownville Jct or Northern Maine Jct. Irving's St John's refinery is also reportedly eyeing an all-Canadian National route between the Saskatchewan portion of the Bakken and New Brunswick. The New Brunswick Southern and Irving oil refinery are both owned by J.D. Irving, LTD- a privately held company.

OKLAHOMA- Three crew members were killed in the Oklahoma panhandle last weekend when two Union Pacific freight trains collided with each other east of Goodwell, OK. Investigators from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and NTSB said they had pulled the badly burned bodies of John Hall, Dan Hall (no relation) and Brian Stone from the wreckage. A fourth crew member identified as Juan Zurita jumped from the locomotive prior to impact and escaped with minor injuries.

NTSB investigators are combing the scene and interviewing Zurita to attempt to piece together what had happened. The signals along the line and brakes on the locomotives involved were in working order and no cell phones were found at the crash site. Some experts have speculated that human error- not neccesarily on the part of the crew- could've played a part in the collision.

The NTSB will also be investigating the event recorders- basically a locomotive's black box- before issuing a preliminary report in two weeks.

Grand Canyon 2-8-2 #4960 leads Santa Fe 4-8-4 #3751 on a steam doubleheader to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon outside of Williams, AZ on May 15, 2012.

ARIZONA- The San Bernardino Railroad Historical Society's restored Santa Fe 4-8-8 Northern #3751 powered an excursion from Los Angeles to the South Rim of Arizona's Grand Canyon National Park in May to mark the centennial of statehood for Arizona.

The train departed Los Angeles on May 14th and after making good time over Cajon Pass and to the massive former Santa Fe yard and depot in Barstow, CA proceeded east on the transcontinental mainline to the Arizona & California interchange at Cadiz, where it ran into some problems in the form of a 15 MPH slow order for the journey between Cadiz and the ARZC facilities in Parker. Continuing east to the junction with the BNSF 'Peavine' line at Wickenburg, AZ the following day, the #3751 and its Amtrak diesel helper trudged along under another slow order, eventually making its way onto the Peavine Line north of Wickenburg and stopping to take on water at the siding in Congress, AZ.

Santa Fe #3751 seen heading southbound across the Hell's Canyon Trestle on BNSF's Phoenix-Williams, AZ 'Peavine' line at Drake AZ on the return trip to Los Angeles on May 18, 2012
The special arrived in Williams, AZ well after dark on the second day, but the following morning it left Williams on time while paired up with Grand Canyon's waste vegetable oil-burning 2-8-2 Mikado #4960.

Although used sparingly by Grand Canyon Railway's parent company Xanterra, the former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Mikado has already made a couple of trips this year including a Valentine's Day special where visitors could ride to the South Rim for 1912 prices to celebrate Arizona's Centennial.

After a day off, the #3751 began its return trip to Los Angeles with the Grand Canyon Limited on May 18, giving riders a rare mileage trip down the former Santa Fe freight line in daylight hours. Keeping close to its schedule, the #3751 took on water in Congress, AZ once again and made better time over the ARZC line between Wickenburg and Parker, AZ as the speed limit had been raised to 35 MPH for the return trip. The following day, the #3751 made much better time to the BNSF Transcon junction at Cadiz and had a relatively easy journey back to Los Angeles via Barstow and Cajon Pass.

Newly arrived Susquehanna SD60 #3810 seen leading westbound Little Ferry, NJ to Binghamton NY symbol freight SU-99 through Bogota, NJ on June 22nd, 2012. Brandon Kaback photo via rrpicturesarchives

NEW YORK, SUSQUEHANNA & WESTERN- The Susquehanna has recently taken delivery of six former Oakway SD60 that were extensively rebuilt by Paducah, KY-based VMV Paducahbuilt. In addition to major overhauls of the trucks, fans, wheels and prime movers, Eastern Railroad News is reporting that the units will be equipped with GPS tracking and a new AESS Fuel Management system. The units were built in the late 1980s for Oakway leasing and spent much of their service lives in freight service on the Burlington Northern and BNSF.

Although there were earlier reports circulating that one of the six EMDs would be adorned with a maroon and silver paint scheme reminiscent of the colors on Susquehanna's early ALCo diesels, it apprears as though all six will be delivered in the NYSW's contemporary 'Yellowjacket' scheme. Per Susquehanna tradition, the units will be assigned road numbers 3800 to 3810- even numbers only.

Previously, the Susquehanna had been utilizing older SD40T-2s and unrebuilt SD45s and a fleet of leased blue CEFX SD40M-2s to handle the heavier road freights between Little Ferry, NJ and Binghamton, NY. The NYSW is also reportedly evaluating four-axle gensets for local and yard service.

The Durbin & Greenbrier Valley's former Moore & Keppel 2-truck Climax is seen leading a mixed train at Durbin, WV in May 2010. The line is currently isolated from other railroads, but a plan is in place to reconnect both the Durbin & Greenbrier and Cass Scenic with the rest of the nation's rail network via the West Virginia Central. Kevin Madore photo via
WEST VIRGINIA- Randolph County could soon become the lynchpin of an ambitious 90-mile tourist and heritage railroad circuit in the eastern part of the Mountaineer State. The county seat of Elkins is already home to the West Virginia Central's New Tygart Flyer and Cheat Mountain Salamander excursion trains. In 1997, the WVCR was selected by the state of West Virginia to operate 140 miles of former Western Maryland lines that CSX was looking to abandon. Besides a number of excursion services, the WVCR also hauls scrap metal and lumber for shippers in some of the isolated communities along the line. Prior to 1985, the south end of the line connected with the Cass Scenic Railroad south of Durbin, WV but the line was washed out in a flood 27 years ago.

The WVCR is also afilliated with the Durbin Rocket in nearby Pocohontas County. The Rocket is on an isolated 5-mile stretch of former Cheseapeke & Ohio line and offers short excursions and weekend stays in the wilderness in a caboose.

However, according to recent reports in the Elkins Inter-Mountain a proposal is being put before local Chambers of Commerce to restore WVCR's connections with both the Durbin Rocket and the Cass Scenic by rebuilding bridges and re-laying rail that would be ripped up from the dormant southwesternmost portion of the WVCR line between Laurel Bank and Bergoo, WV.
The project would add 60 miles of new rail trail, creating the Highland Adventure of Mountain & Rail, a 90-mile loop connecting Canaan Valley in Tucker County with The Greenbrier Resort, and Belington with Cass Scenic Railroad in Pocohantas County, Bergoo in Webster County and Snowshoe Resort.

"The goal is to have the trains load and unload in Belington," said Smith.

There could be economic benefits to all counties involved, combining recreation with transportation. Those with canoes, for instance, could go canoeing at one location, board a train, and canoe at another location in the same day.

"We think (the rail project) will open many new opportunities because of this plan," said Byrne.

The Highland Adventure of Mountain & Rail could result in the expansion of existing recreational opportunities in the area as well as provide an opportunity for others.

The project would cost about $20 million and is expected to attract 150,000 tourists in its first year, bringing a $50 million economic impact. In 2011, Smith's railroad had 35,998 passengers.

"With the new rail system, even West Virginia residents will have more places to go," said Byrne.

Many of the trains will travel through scenic areas of the state and provide the opportunity for many to merge their train rides with other recreational activities such as rafting, camping, hiking and more.
The plan coincides with the announcement of the West Virginia Railroad Museum selecting the nearby town of Beverly, WV for its new permanent home. The WVRM had originally planned to set up shop in Elkins, but was unable to meet planning requirements because the town's former Western Maryland depot wasn't big enough and the yard facilities couldn't accomodate the Museum's 90ft turntable. The Beverly site also features a historic former WM depot and is less than 10 miles away from Elkins.

Once moved into their permanent home, the West Virginia Railroad Museum plans on restoring some of their rolling stock to working order, including a pair of former West Virginia Northern 2-8-0 Consolidations, a 1943-built former US Army Baldwin diesel and a 1941-built Heisler geared steam locomotive- similar to the Durbin & Greenbrier's geared climax steam locomotive. This could provide an opportunity for the Museum's motive power to haul excursions on any of the three railways.

Coos Bay Rail Link leads a Eugene-bound train across a trestle at Hauser, OR on 2/23/12. The recently-reopened rail line has been mentioned as hosting unit coal trains bound for export from a facility to be built at the port of Coos Bay. Shane Gill photo via
OREGON- In remarks at a 'green' energy conference at Portland, Oregon's Democrat governor has called for a 'sweeping review' by state and federal agencies of a number or proposed coal export terminals located throughout the Pacific northwest.
Kitzhaber, a Democrat with strong ties to environmental groups that oppose coal export, requested the comprehensive review in a letter Wednesday to the Bureau of Land Management and the Army Corps of Engineers today. He also called for the review in a broader speech on "clean energy" today before the Future Energy Conference in Portland.

“We’re rushing to this huge infrastructure investment without a full national discussion,” Kitzhaber said after the speech. “I think we deserve to have a full debate on this.”

Kitzhaber didn't take a stand for or against exporting coal, which supporters say would increase rural jobs and tax revenues.
The proposed coal terminals and upgrading the rail lines that would serve them would create much-needed jobs for rural Oregon- the statewide unemployment rate currently is 8.4%. Kitzhaber likely ordered the review to make certain the coal terminal proposals would die a slow death via red tape and regulations rather go on the record as nixing the projects outright. Rural Oregon's economy has been struggling decades before the 2008 subprime lending meltdown triggered a global recession- with their timber industry coming under increasingly strict regulations due to pressure from environmentalists.

The coal would come from the Powder River basin and be shipped via Union Pacific or BNSF to one of the proposed terminals. With half the sites under consideration, the coal trains would have to be handed off to another railway to reach the port. Among the possible terminal locations are Bellingham, Longview and Grays Harbor in Washington state and Coos Bay, Port Westward and Morrow in Oregon. Located much further inland along the Columbia river, Morrow is a realtively short distance away from Union Pacific's yard in Hinkle, OR while any trains using Coos Bay would utilize the newly re-opened rail line between Coos Bay and Eugene. Just west of Portland, Port Westward would utilize Genesee & Wyoming's Wilamette & Pacific railroad while the Grays Harbor proposal would utilize Rail America's Puget Sound & Pacific.

The proposals have met with fierce opposition from environmentalists who are now claiming that coal trains can cause cancer or something. I shit you not- the very same environmentalists who hadn't said a word about train loads of trash being taken from metropolitan areas in the Pacific northwest and being dumped in eastern Oregon and Washington for the last 25 years are now warning the public on the health risks of dust blowing off from passing coal trains.

Meanwhile, Coos Bay Rail Link has obtained two GP38 locomotives to handle an expected increase in traffic as track rehabilitation slated for this summer will lead to increased train speeds between Coquille, OR and Eugene. A number of local companies were awarded contracts for weed abatement, bridge repair and tie replacement along the 134-mile route.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Quickie Sleepless In Seattle Sports Chowdah Update- Aaron Cooks Up Gem in Emerald City Shutout; Wildcat Strike- Arizona Sweeps College World Series

Ted S. Warren / AP

RED SOX- The pitcher of record for what turned out to be Kevin Youkilis' final game with the Red Sox was not only something of an afterthought, but he kind of backed into the win last Sunday and wasn't even supposed to start until Clay Buchholz was sidelined with intestinal problems.

Aaron Cook went 5 innings and gave up three runs in Boston's 9-4 win over the Braves to close out interleague play on Sunday. His start on Firday night would be much more memorable, though.

The series opener in Seattle on Thursday night ended with the Mariners' Felix Hernandez getting the W on a John Jaso RBI single in the bottom of the 9th to give Seattle the walkoff 1-0 victory. Hernandez pitched a complete game, but got no run support until the 9th frame.

On Friday night, fans would get to see another pitching gem- this time from the unlikely starter Aaron Cook. In the top of the 5th, the Red Sox would break a scoreless tie with a trio of solo homers from Middlebrooks, Ross and Nava to put the Red Sox up 3-0. In the top of thr 6th, Jarrod Saltalamacchia belted a run run homer to make it a 5-0 game.

As for Cook, he was cruising and did not give up a hit to the Mariners until the bottom of the 4th when Ichiro Suzuki reached on an infield single. The run support he had in the 5th would be enough for the W. Cook was so effective that he threw all of 81 pitches, allowing only two hits and causing 16 groundouts and walking none of the batters he faced. The Mariners were unable to get a runner past second base in Friday night's 5-0 Boston win.

Saturday's game will have Josh Beckett [4-7; 4.14 ERA] making his first start since June 11th before he went on the DL. Beckett will face Seattle's Erasmo Ramirez [0-2; 4.18 ERA]. The game gets underway at 7:10 Pacific time and 10:10 ET and will be televised on NESN for you night owls.

Cooks gem came two games into a Pacific coast road trip after the Red Sox departed Fenway taking two out of three from the Blue Jays earlier this week. The Red Sox will continue south to Oakland on Monday before returning back to Fenway to face the Yankees for the first time since that disastrous April loss where they managed to blow a seeminlgy insurmountable 8 run lead.

Rob Schumacher,AP Photo/The Arizona Republic

NCAA BASEBALL- The South Carolina Gamecocks reign as College World Series chamipons is over after losing Game 2 of the college World Series to the Arizona Wildcats in Omaha, NE on Monday night. The wildcats took a 1-0 lead on an RBI groundout in the top of the 3rd. The Gamecocks tied the contest up at 1-1 with an RBI fielder's choice of their own in the bottom of the 7th.

However, the Wildcat's Brandon Dixon- who usually enters games as a late-inning defensive replacement- broke the deadlock in the top of the 9th with an RBI double. Then, Trent Gilbert gave the Wildcats some insurance with a 2-RBI single to make it 4-1 in the top of the 9th.

The Gamecocks managed to load the bases in the bottom of the 9th with only one away, but they were retired on a flare to shortstop and a flyball to center field.

The win on Monday gave Arizona a sweep of this year's college world series as well as its first title since 1986.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Busy Beltway Thursday- Supreme Court Upholds Key Obamacare Provision; House Finds Holder in Contempt

In a surprise ruling, the Supreme Court upheld President Obama's signature healthcare law on Thursday morning by a 5-4 margin. Chief Justice Roberts had ruled that the individual mandate in Obamacare was unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause. However, he ruled that the mandate could be considered a tax despite Obama and the Democrat's insistence that the mandate wasn't a tax when they were trying to sell the public on it back in 2009.

Via Scotusblog and Legal Insurrection:
“In Plain English: The Affordable Care Act, including its individual mandate that virtually all Americans buy health insurance, is constitutional. There were not five votes to uphold it on the ground that Congress could use its power to regulate commerce between the states to require everyone to buy health insurance. However, five Justices agreed that the penalty that someone must pay if he refuses to buy insurance is a kind of tax that Congress can impose using its taxing power. That is all that matters. Because the mandate survives, the Court did not need to decide what other parts of the statute were constitutional, except for a provision that required states to comply with new eligibility requirements for Medicaid or risk losing their funding. On that question, the Court held that the provision is constitutional as long as states would only lose new funds if they didn’t comply with the new requirements, rather than all of their funding.”
In even simpler terms, it's a tax for existing, basically. Using this ruling as precedent, there really would be nothing from stopping Congress from imposing a recurring annual 'Not Buying a Chevy Volt' surtax on any new vehicle purchased in the USA- including a Chevy Volt because only Volts with a certain VIN number are exempt.

While the decison may seem to vindicate Obama and the Democrats who supported it at first, the estimated $1.75 trillion pricetag means that the Democrats have passed the largest tax increase in American history durin a timeframe when the national unemployment rate was never less than 8.1%. The [rather tortured- NANESB!] definition of the mandate as a tax means that it can be struck down or eliminated in Congress with a simple majority instead of a supermajority. This also makes one wonder if the numerous Obamacare waivers the Administration passed out could be considered 'tax cuts for the rich'? Also, will any of the 800,000 or so illegal immigrants that he just gave totally-not-amnesty-amnesty to this month recieve waivers?

Reaction from both sides was immediate, with Obama taking the opportunity to hawk campaign t-shirts and reassure Americans how awesome his new tax was while reading from a prepared statement earlier today. At the same time, Presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney's campaign raised nearly $2 million dollars from online donations within hours of the Supreme Court's decision.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives went ahead with a scheduled vote to find Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress over the ATF Fast & Furious gunwalking scandal on Thursday afternoon.
The vote follows a roughly 16-month investigation by the chamber’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee into the failed gun-running sting known as Fast and Furious -- run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a division of the Justice Department led by Holder.

Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., filed two subpoenas over that period requesting additional information. But he has more recently focused on information related to a February 2011 letter to Congress that falsely claimed the ATF was unaware the operation involved the underground sale of the assault weapons.

“Today, a bipartisan majority of the House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for his continued refusal to produce relevant documents,” Issa said after the vote. “This was not the outcome I had sought and it could have been avoided had Attorney General Holder actually produced the subpoenaed documents he said he could provide.”
In December 2010, US Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed by heavily armed smugglers in a shootout near the US/Mexico border in Arizona- two of the weapons recovered at the scene were traced back to Fast & Furious. Attorney General Holder originally testified that no gunwalking took place under Fast & Furious before later admitting that ATF Field agents were ordered to allow more than 2000 firearms to be smuggled into Mexico by straw purchasers, losing track of all of them. In addition to Brian Terry's death, numerous guns from Fast and Furious have been turning up at hundreds of crime scenes in Mexico. Many on the House Government Oversight Panel requested more documents from Holder regarding gunwalking during often-contentious hearings, but in a move many saw as designed to shield Holder from further oversight scrutiny, President Obama invoked executive privelege on certain DOJ documents and correspondence.

One school of thought out there is that the sole purpose of Fast & Furious was to create more anti-gun sentiment and pass additional gun control laws after saturating an already volatile Mexico with weapons that could be traced back to the USA. This was dismissed by some in the media as being the stuff off kooky black helicopter conspiracy tinfoil hat brigades. Yet nearly every Democrat on that spoke on the House floor Thursday took the opportunity to call for additional punitive gun control laws here in the USA, despite the fact that the DOJ orchestrated arms trafficking already violated several laws on the books.

After a lengthy and incoherent diatribe by former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and a walkout by the Congressional Black Caucus, the measure to find Holder in contempt passed on the House floor by a 255-67 margin, with at least 17 Democrats breaking from their party to vote on their contempt vote.

Last week's vote in the House oversight committee to bring the contempt vote to the floor of the house passed along

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Up to 32,000 Evacuated As Massive Wildfire Bears Down on Colorado Springs; Airborne Firefighting Capabilities At Low Ebb With Dwindling Fleet

**UPDATE- 6/27**- The Denver Post is reporting that FBI agents are on the ground in El Paso County, CO to determine if the Waldo Canyon Fire was the result of criminal activity.
Authorities have so far not even said whether they believe the blaze is human or naturally caused. But a string of fires set by an apparent serial arsonist in neighboring Teller County have caused rumors to swirl that the Waldo Canyon Fire could be the work of the same individual.

On Wednesday, El Paso County Sheriff's spokesman Jeff Kramer said, despite the rumors, there is no person of interest. Investigators are taking tips from anyone who may know what happened in Waldo Canyon.
On Tuesday evening, somebody left an anonymous post on the Colorado Springs Craigslist page claiming that the Waldo Canyon fire was in fact arson and they had witnessed the person responsible setting fires.

As firefighters braved triple-digit temperatures in Colorado's Front Range an out of control wildfire encroaching on western neighborhoods of Colorado Springs, CO and the campus of the US Air Force Academy has been deemed too dangerous to fully assess the damage so far.
The wildfire doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles, and has so far forced mandatory evacuations for more than 32,000 residents, Colorado Springs emergency management director Brett Waters said. The fire burned about 10 acres of land along the southwest boundary of the academy's 28-square-mile boundary, but no injuries or damage to academy structures have been reported.

Steve Cox, an aide to Mayor Steve Bach, said Wednesday morning that the blaze has consumed dozens of houses elsewhere. A more precise figure wasn't available because of the intensity of the fire.

Heavy smoke and ash billowed from the mountain foothills west of the city. Bright yellow and orange flames flared in the night, often signaling another home lost to the Waldo Canyon Fire, which is the No. 1 priority for the nation's firefighters.
On Wednesday morning, the Waldo Canyon fire- the second biggest to strike Colorado in a decade- was estimated at only 5% containment. The fire started on June 23rd in an area about 10 miles northwest of Colorado Springs. Since then, firefighters have been hampered by high temperatures and the remote terrain which the Waldo Canyon started out in.

Included among the 32,000 evacuees in the mandatory evacuation order are personnel from the United States Air Force Academy. As of Wednesday morning, there was no word on whether or not an incoming class of 1,045 cadets would report as scheduled on Thursday.

The Waldo Canyon fire is one of a half dozen wildfires burning throughout Colorado this summer, with others scorching mountains and forests to the west of Boulder and Ft Collins, CO. Earlier this month, the High Park fire burned down nearly 200 homes and was responsible for the death of a 62 year old woman. The High Park fire was reportedly sparked by a lightning strike on June 9 and officials reported it was at 65% containment on Wednesday morning.

In the past decade, the total number of fixed wing firefighting aircraft at the US Forest Service's disposal has been reduced from 44 to 9 after two planes crashed in Nevada and Utah this month. Two of the pilots in Nevada were killed when their converted P2V tanker crashed into remote terrain near the Nevada-Utah border on June 3rd. That same day, another P2V tanker was taken out of comission after making a crash-landing when the landing gear wouldn't deploy.

While legislation authorizing the updating or adding to the nation's fleet of firefighting aircraft has enjoyed bipartisan support from lawmakers in recent years- particularly those representing Western states- Washington has been slow to act.

Federally approved contractors haven't fared much better. Within the last year, federal regulators ordered California-based Aero Union to cease operations at during massive wildfires in central Texas due to unspecified safety violations. Within weeks of the shutdown, Aero Union had filed for bankruptcy and was looking to auction off its assets.

Ealier this month, President Obama signed a bill rushed through the House and Senate that would hasten the addition of seven additional aerial tankers to the US Airborne firefighting inventory. However, these aircraft aren't expected to be ready for delivery until another two months.

To at least temporarily bridge the gap, a number of National Guard C-130s have been specially fitted to drop water or fire retardant and a trio of CV-580 twin engine air tankers loaned from Canada's Interagency Forest Fire Centre have been pressed into service or are on standby. The National Guard C-130s are severely restricted due to byzantine regulations regarding the ability for fight fire from the air.

Oregon-based Evergreen Aviation boasts an aerial tanker that uses a Boeing 747 platform and claims is can hold more than 20,000 gallons of water or fire retardant. Evergreen's 747 Supertanker had previously been deployed to fight wildfires in California, Arizona and Israel in recent years.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Quickie Borderline Psychosis Update- Three Federal Police Officer Slain By Fellow Officers at Mexico City International Airport; Mexican Navy Helicopter Missing Over Cartel-Held Territory

MEXICO CITY- Three federal police officers who were moving in to arrest two fellow officers under investigation for drug trafficking were shot and killed at Mexico City's Benito Juarez International Airport on Monday morning.
The shooting occurred around 8:50 a.m. Monday in the airport's Terminal 2, leaving two officers dead at the scene. The third officer died while being treated at a hospital.

Two Federal Police officers assigned to the airport opened fire when officers from another unit tried to arrest them, the secretariat said.

The two officers were being investigated for their alleged links "to the activities of a drug trafficking network," the secretariat said in a statement.

"The two officers under investigation opened fire to avoid arrest when they spotted the Federal Police's Investigations Unit, killing three federal officers," the secretariat said.

The two Federal Police officers who gunned down their fellow officers have been identified and "operational and investigative units are focusing on their capture," the Public Safety Secretariat said.

The two officers have not been identified, but security cameras in the terminal recorded the incident, officials said.

An investigation conducted over several months uncovered "a network of officials from different local and federal agencies" who work at the airport and are "presumably involved in drug trafficking in the terminal area," the secretariat said.
Although cartel gunmen in Mexico have been known to wear police or military-style uniforms when carrying out contract killings, the shooters at Benito Juarez International airport had their identities confirmed as Federal Police officers thanks to surveillance camera footage throughout the terminal where the shooting took place. Federal police and eyewitnesses at first were uncertain whether or not the shootings were from one of their own or cartel gunmen who had managed to obtain police uniforms.
the shooting took place shortly before 9 a.m. local time, around the food court of the airport's newest terminal, close to where vehicles drop off passengers but well outside the internal security checkpoints where workers and passengers are screened.

Three shots rang out at first, said witness Israel Lopez, a 23-year-old Mexico City student who had gone to the airport to see off a friend. Mr. Lopez didn't see who those shots were directed at, but then the gunfire came closer.

“We were in the food court, and some policemen came in and started shooting at another policeman who was on the floor,” Mr. Lopez said.

“We dove to the floor and covered ourselves with chairs.”

Mr. Lopez said the shooters wore blue uniforms like those of federal police who provide security at the airport. He said the shooters then ran to the parking area “as if they were pursuing somebody,” and he lost sight of them.
Mexico City's Benito Juarez International Airport is Mexico's busiest airport, seeing more than 25 million passengers annually and is also used by cartels and human traffickers to launder money and move drugs and illegal immigrants. Last year, Mexican Federal Police said that had seized 90 kilos of cocaine while so far in 2012, 200 kilos wqere seized.

Eurocopter Panther Helicopter of the Mexican Marines at 2010 ceremony in Mexico City- the same type of aircraft that went missing over Michoacan last week.
Carlos Sanchez photo via
MICHOACAN- The Mexican Navy has reported that a helicopter that left the coastal city of Manzanillo in Colima state four days ago has been reported missing.

The chopper was destined for Morelia, the capital city of Michoacan, when it lost contact with ground controllers on Friday. The missing Mexican Naval aircraft's route likely would've taken it over remote terrain where the Beltran Leyva, Zetas and Caballeros Templar have been active and fighting each other for control of smuggling routes of marijuana cultivation.

In May 2011, a Mexican military MD530 reconnaissance/light attack helicopter was brought down during a raid in Michoacan where gunmen opened fire on the aircraft with a .50 rifle that was traced back the the ATF's ill-concieved Operation Fast & Furious gunwalking program.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Supreme Court Upholds Provisions of Arizona's SB1070 Immigration Law

The Supreme Court on Monday upheld a provision in Arizona's controversial SB1070 that allowed state and local officers to enquire about a suspect's immigration status but struck down other provisions that included requiring all immigrants to obtain or carry immigration registration papers, making it a state criminal offense for an illegal immigrant to seek work or hold a job and allowing police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants without warrants.

The portion of the law allowing city, county or state police in Arizona to investigate the immigration status of an individual detained or questioned if there is reasonable suspicion that individual is in the country illegally is expected to face additional challenges from civil liberties and open borders activist groups.

After the Supreme Court announced their ruling, the Obama Administration and the Department of Homeland Security would suspend existing agreements with law enforcement in Arizona, issuing a directive to Homeland Security to ignore many of the calls they might get from police and sheriff's departments in Arizona.
Federal officials said they’ll still perform the checks as required by law but will respond only when someone has a felony conviction on his or her record. Absent that, ICE will tell the local police to release the person.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said the court’s decision frees police up to perform immigration checks. In anticipation of the ruling, she issued an executive order calling for guidance to be issued to every police department on how to fairly carry out the law.

On Monday the administration officials also said they are ending the seven 287(g) task force agreements with Arizona law enforcement officials, which proactively had granted some local police the powers to enforce immigration laws.

The task forces, named for the section of law that allows them, have proved popular among many localities but have been a political headache for the Obama administration, with immigrant-rights groups saying they led to abuses.
In July 2010, US District Judge Susan Bolton issued an injunction against the implementation of many parts of SB1070, but permitted one that included making knowingly harboring illegal immigrants a crime to remain. A few weeks prior, the Department of Justice had filed a lawsuit against the Grand Canyon State over SB 1070.

Interestingly, the state of Rhode Island had similar laws implemented via executive order from then-governor Carcieri, but Little Rhody never drew the wrath of the Obama Administration or open-borders activists like Arizona's SB1070 did. On the flip side, a Vermont state trooper was accused of racial profiling and Gov. Shumlin ordered an internal investigation after the trooper arrested two illegal immigrants who were passengers in a speeding car in September 2011.

Arizona's SB1070 ruling is one of two decisons from the Supreme Court- after much buildup and anticipation, the justices are expected to rule on 0bamacare later on this week.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sports Chowdah Update- Greek God of Walks Walks Away to Chicago; Verdict Reached in Sandusky Trial; Bruins Pick Malcom in the Middle

RED SOX- Sunday afternoon was one that wouldn't soon be forgotten at Fenway Park anytime soon and the series finale against the Atlanta Braves was almost an afterthought.

The day started off with news that Clay Buchholz was hospitalized at Massachusetts General Hospital with intestinal bleeding, meaning he was unable to make his scheduled start on Sunday. Buchholz had gone 5-1 with a 3.35 ERA in his last eight starts and the Red Sox are hoping that he won't miss any more than 2 weeks worth and will be back in time for a July 6 start against the Yankees at Fenway.

In the meantime, reliever Aaron Cook was slotted for a spot start against the Braves for the interleague finale against the Braves. Cook was cruising along and doing fairly well through the first 4 innings, getting some run support in the bottom of the 4th thanks to a 3-run Cody Ross homer and solo home run from Adrian Gonzalez to out Boston up 4-0.

However, in the top of the 5th, Cook struggled mightily after giving up back to back singles and then having former Red Sox Eric Hinske bring them home on a 2 RBI triple. Hinske then came home on a wild throw by Cook to cut the Boston lead down to 4-3. In the home half of the 5th, the inning started off with C Kelly Shoppach reaching on a throwing error followed up by a Daniel Nava single. Shoppach came home on a Middlebrooks sac-fly to make it 5-3 Boston. Then, Cody Ross belted his second homer of the game- a mammoth 2-run blast that likely landed somewhere in Coos county, New Hampshire to give the Red Sox a 7-3 lead.

The Braves got a run back with a solo homer from Jason Heyward off of Matt Albers in the top of the 6th but the Red Sox would regain their 4 run lead on a Nava RBI single to make it an 8-4 game.

However, the most talked about development in Sunday's game came in the bottom of the 7th when Kevin Youkilis hit a deep fly ball for a triple that drove in Adrian Gonzalez. Valentine then pulled Youk for pinch runner Nick Punto and on his way to the dugout got a prolonged standing ovation from the crowd. Ever since Valentine was quoted as questioning Youkilis' commitment to the game, the veteran corner infielder has been the subject of a number of trade rumors. Among the teams mentioned as potential landing spots for Youk was the resurgent Pittsburgh Pirates and the Reds in his native Cincinnati. After heading into the dugout, Youkils stepped back out for a curtain call, waving and blowing kisses to the crowd.

Reliever Mark Melancon closing out the game was pretty much an afterthough when it was confirmed that Youkilis had been traded to the first place Chicago White Sox for utility player Brent Lillibridge and minor league pitcher Zach Stewart.

Although he scuffled mightily in the 5th, Aaron Cook lasted long enough to get his first win of the season. Cody Ross went 2-4 with 2 homers and 5 RBI while Youkilis also went 2-4 with an RBI in his final at bat with the Boston Red Sox. Besides closing the book on Youk's 8½ seasons in Boston- his entire MLB career- the trade leaves DH David Ortiz as the last remaining player from the 2004 World Series championship team. During the 2007 season- the Red Sox most recent World Series championship- Kevin Youkilis had a .288 batting average with 16 homers and 83 RBI. The World Series Champioship was followed up by a career best year in 2008 where he batted .312 with 29 homers and 115 RBI while finishing behind teammate Dustin Pedroia that year in the AL MVP voting. Youk has struggled somewhat at the plate this season and has been batting .233 with 4 homers and 14 RBI so far and hasn't seen quite as much playing time thanks to a torrid start from rookie 3B Will Middlebrooks.

The Youk-less Red Sox will next host the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway on Monday night. Felix Doubront [8-3: 4.31 ERA] will get the start against Toronto's Henderson Alvarez [3-6; 4.30 ERA]. The game gets underway at 7:10 ET and will be televised on NESN and Rogers Sports Net.

BOSTON BRUINS- For their first round selection in the 2012 NHL draft, the Boston Bruins selected netminder Malcom Subban, younger brother of Montreal defenseman PK Subban.

The younger Subban had a regular season record of 25-14 with a 2.50 GAA and a save percentage of 0.923% for the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League.

The Bruins were pretty busy on Day 2 of the draft, with five overall picks including defenseman Matt Grzelcyk from the USHL, Center Seth Griffin from the OHL's London Knights, RW Cody Paine of the OHL's Plymouth Whalers, defenseman Matthew Benning from the AJHL and Colton Hargrove who has comitted to Western Michigan University this fall.

NCAA BASEBALL- Arizona's Konner Wade threw a comlete game and outfielder Robert Refsnyder belted a 2-run homer off of South Carolina's Forrest Koumas in the first inning of Game 1 of the College World Series at Omaha, NE on Sunday.

Refsnyder's going yard would be the game winner as the Wildcats went on to beat the Gamecocks in Game 1 of the College World Series. Coming into the 2012 season, the Gamecoks had won two consecutive College World Series title while the Wildcats were lookinf for their first since 1986.

NCAA FOOTBALL- A Pennsylvania jury found former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky guilty of 45 of 48 charges stemming from sexually abusing young boys over a 15 year period. Sandusky's bail was revoked and he was ordered remanded to the Central County jail where he will face a sentencing hearing in 90 days- Sandusky's lawyers announced they plan on appealing the verdict. Many legal observers think that the convicted sex offender and former coach could get up to 400 years in prison.

Today's Train of Thought- Running Water (Street), June 24, 2012

Before Norfolk Southern brought back 'retro' by painting new locomotives in the colors of some of the 19 different predecessor roads, some shortlines and regionals in the Mid-Atlantic were already ahead of the curve.

Based out of Lewiston, PA, the Juniata Valley railroad has been operating an 11-mile former Conrail (nee Pennsylvania Railroad) branchline in the mountains of central Pennsylvania. Formed in 1996 by the Susquehanna Economic Develoment Association's Council of Government Joint Rail Authority, the Pennsylvania line interchanges with Norfolk Southern's former Pennsy mailine between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. Back in the late 19th century, the eastern portion of the Juniata Valley started out as the Lewiston & Sunbury. By 1874, the line was brought into the Pennsylvania Railroad fold and became a pivotal shortcut for hauling anthricite coal out of northeastern Pennsylvania and interchanging New York City-bound perishables with the Lehigh Valley.

Started in 1983, the SEDA's Joint Rail Authority was formed in response to concerns that many local shippers would lose rail service for good in the wake of Conrail's retrenchment and abandonment of redundant and marginal branchlines systemwide. One of the first railroads to get started under the SEDA's auspices was the Bellefonte, PA based Nittany & Bald Eagle, dating back to 1984. Within weeks, the Lycoming Valley and North Shore railroad were also formed.

A little over 10 years later, two additional railroads- the Union County Industrial Railroad and Shamokin Valley Railroad were formed when SEDA obtained additional branchlines from Conrail- The Juniata Valley is actually the most recently-formed railroad operating under the SEDA umbrella.

While the North Shore, Nittany & Bald Eagle and Lycoming Valley have been kept busy with hauling sand, pipe and lubircants for drilling and natural gas exploration in the Marcellus shale, traffic levels on the Juniata Valley appear to be much more sedate (if consistent) for now. A common practice for some of the shortlines under the SEDA umbrella is to paint their locomotives in colors reminiscent of the line's previous owners, such as the Reading, Erie Lackawana or in this case, the Pennsy.

Here, contributor Chris Starnes caught Juniata Valley RR SW9 #2106 trundling down the middle of Water St in Lewistown, PA [and running a red light in the process- NANESB!] as he's getting ready to leave town on a rainy April 2003 day. Built in 1953 for the defunct Pittsburg & Shawmut, the #2106 is the JVRR's only locomotive and sports a keystone-shaped numberplate on the hood reminiscent of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Borderline Psychosis- Gunmen Open Fire, Kill 11 at Rehab Center; Police, TV Stations Targets in Matamoros Grenade Attack; Feds Allege Zetas Ponied Up Cash for Oklahoma Horse Ranch; Slain Agent's Family Sues DOJ

COAHUILA- Eleven people were killed and another ten people were wounded after gunmen entered a drug rehabilitation center in Coahuila and opened fire earlier this month. Citing state prosecutors, NotiMex reported that armed men entered the Your Life on the Rock rehab center in Torreon and fired more than 60 rounds at around 10 PM local time before fleeing.

Gangs have frequently targeted rehabilitation centers throughout Mexico since 2009 with at least 66 people killed since then.
The motive for Sunday's shooting was not immediately clear. Several factors have made rehab centers targets, said Edgardo Buscaglia, an expert on organized crime and president of the Mexico-based nonprofit Instituto de Accion Ciudadana (Citizen Action Institute).

"The people who go there are usually involved in buying or selling drugs," he said. "We're talking about urban gangs or youth gangs that are in charge of delivering these drugs to the final consumers in the urban markets."

Some of them may have talked with police, drawing ire from former associates, he said. Others may be targets for rival gangs seeking revenge.

"They kill them because these kids are either witnesses for the authorities or ... some of those kids may be working in the selling of drugs. Adversary groups kill them in the same ways they kill politicians working for the adversary groups," he said. "Once you work for different organized crime groups, it's very hard to get away from it."
By 2010, drug dealing inside rehab centers had become so rampant in northern states like Chihuahua that most of them had simply shut down.

TEXAS- The family of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent slain in Mexico last year has filed a wrongful death suit against the DOJ this week.

Two of the weapons recovered at the scene of Zapata's killing and the wounding of his partner, Victor Avilla, were traced back to Texas. A Baytown, TX man was sentenced to 8 years for buying one of the guns- an AK47 variant- through a straw purchaser.

In documents obtained by CBS news, it was learned that the man, 30 year old Manuel Gomez Barba, was under surveillance for 6 months before the weapon turned up at the shooting of Zapata and Avilla.
Documents indicate ATF opened its case against Barba, entitled "Baytown Crew," in June of 2010. During the investigation, court records state Barba recruited straw purchasers and "facilitated the purchase and exportation of at least 44 firearms" including assault rifles. On August 20, 2010 Barba took delivery of the WASR-10 semi-automatic rifle later used in Zapata's murder, obliterated its serial number, and sent it to Mexico with nine others just like it. Nearly two months later, on Oct. 8, 2010, ATF agents recorded a phone call in which Barba "spoke about the final disposition of ... firearms to Mexico and also about the obliterating of the serial numbers before they were trafficked." Barba told straw purchasers the guns were destined for the Zeta drug cartel.
This has led to speculation that there have been ongoing concurrent 'gunwalking' operations similar to Fast & Furious that have been taking place outside of Arizona, although the ATF and Justice Department deny it.

JALISCO- A surveillance video from January of this year showing heavily armed local police officers barging into a hotel and taking away three men was released by Mexican prosecutors last week.

However, instead of making an arrest, the video shows that the police in Lagos de Moreno were carrying out a kidnapping on behalf of one of the drug gangs. The three men being shown taken out of the hotel and stuffed into a police truck later turned up dead, killed by asphyxiation and blunt-force trauma.

Before entering the hotel, the video shows the police truck pulling up in front of the hotel followed by a civilian truck. One of the policemen approaches the civilian vehicle that came in behind the police truck and is given what appears to be a list. Video from the hotel's interior shows the officers approaching the reception desk and asking what room the men on the list are staying in. After handcuffing the men and taking them out of the hotel, the local officers wait patiently as the victims' luggage and vehicle are taken before driving off behind the stolen truck and the truck that followed them to the hotel.
While the kidnapping and murder occurred in January, and the faces of several officers were clearly seen on the videos, the officers were not detained until June 6, when soldiers and state police raided a local police station. And they still have not been formally charged with any crime.

"It took time to obtain the video tapes, to do the investigation, and to get the arrest warrants," said Jalisco state prosecutor's spokesman Lino Gonzalez said Thursday. "We didn't have the information."

Gonzalez said that so far, seven policemen and officials of the municipal police force of Lagos de Moreno have been detained pending charges.

There are still mysteries surrounding the case, including whether the gunmen thought the victims were members of a rival drug cartel. The victims were from the northern state of Coahuila, where the hyperviolent Zetas cartel has been battling the Sinaloa cartel, allies of Jalisco Nueva Generacion.

Gonzalez said the victims, before checking into the hotel, had been briefly detained by police at the local jail for a minor infraction. They paid a fine and were released. But while in custody, "They said something indiscrete," Gonzalez said. "Apparently they said something like 'We're from Coahuila, and we're part of the mafia.'"

It's not unusual in Mexico for detainees to boast about their connections, hoping to press corrupt police to release them.

This time, however, it backfired.

"Apparently, somebody at the jail heard the comment, and reported it to the real criminals," Gonzalez said.

Jalisco state Attorney General Tomas Coronado told local media the men had claimed to be Zetas.

He said it has never been proved the men were gang members. They may have just been in Lagos de Moreno collecting the rent on a ranch, and they are being treated simply as victims.
Investigators believe the gunmen giving police instructions are affiliated with the recently-formed and rapidly expanding New Generation cartel. Since 2009, the New Generation has been engaged in bloody turf battles with Los Zetas, La Familia Michoacan and now the remnants of La Familia that make up the Knights Templar.

Although widespread corruption and complicity on the part of local police throughout Mexico has been alleged by observers in both Mexico and the USA even before the narco-killings began spiraling out of control, this is thought to be one of the first times such clear-cut evidence of local policemen working hand in hand with drug gangs was caught on vide.

TAMAULIPAS- No injuries were reported after a series of grenade attacks rocked the border city of Matamoros over the first weekend in June. Two earlier attacks targeted an auto dealership and a municipal police station. A thrid device was found at the Televisa studios in the southwest side of the city, but authorities managed to clear the area before disposing of the device.

On Monday, El Nuevo Herald reported that two more grenade attacks targeting a high school and college campus took place in the early morning hours of Monday. Eyewitnesses said that classes weren't in session yet and that there were no reports of injuries.

The attacks had prompted state and local police to shift from patrolling with one or two people per vehicle while on patrol to moving about the city in convoys. Matamoros is directly across the border from Brownsville, TX and the US Consulate issued a travel warning to Americans south of the Border shortly after the attacks.

A few days after the Matamoros grenade attacks, 14 dismembered bodies were left in an abandoned bus adorned with a narco banner addressed to Los Zetas outside the city hall in Ciudad Mante, some 250 miles south of Matamoros and the US-Mexico border.

ELSEWHERE IN TAMAULIPAS- Two former state governors are being sought for questioning after federal prosecutors in Mexico issued a detention warrant for the politicians.
Tomás Yarrington Ruvalcaba and Eugenio Hernández Flores are named in a detention warrant in connection with money laundering and organized crime, two officials with the Mexico Attorney General’s Office — known by its Spanish abbreviation PGR — independently confirmed to The Monitor. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, as they are not authorized to discuss the matter publicly
Although neither individual has been charged with a crime, Mexican law allows for detention and questioning of up to 40 days before charges can be filed.

Although Yarrington has denied any wrongdoing and claims the detention orders are politically motivated, Mexican authorities have arrested one of Yarrington's business associates for laundering bribe money allegedly paid by the Gulf Cartel to look the other way for operations in Tamaulipas. According to Mexican prosecutors and a civil suit filed in Federal Court in Corpus Christi, TX Yarrington and his associates invested in Texas real estate and used a number of shell companies to launder cartel payoffs, including a luxury condo in South Padre Island, TX.
The complaint accuses Yarrington of using ill-gotten money to buy a condo on South Padre Island, using a third party to buy the $450,000 property.

The condo is owned by Napoleon Rodriguez, owner of Ferretera Industrial Rodriguez, a hardware supply company that has been contracted by the city of Matamoros and state of Tamaulipas to supply paint and lights, the complaint states. The upscale, 1,946-square-foot unit is halfway up the 29-story high rise, with sweeping views of the Gulf of Mexico and Laguna Madre.
In late May, charges were filed against fugitive Mexican businessman and contractor Fernando Alejandro Cano Martinez for conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Although Yarrington denies any ties with Cano, the indictment alleges that Cano facilitated the payment of bribes from the Gulf Cartel to state and local officials in Tamaulipas since 1998.

The accusations against Yarrington- dubbed 'The Yarrington Affair'- and could factor into Mexico's tightly contested Presidential election this summer. Yarrington's membership in the PRI was suspended a few weeks ago.

In 2010, Mexican newspaper Reforma published an article identifying one of then-Tamaulipas state governor Eugenio Hernandez Flores' bodyguards as a reputed member of the Zetas.

OKLAHOMA- Federal agents conducted simultaneous raids on a sprawling horse ranch south of Oklahoma City and New Mexico racetrack earlier this month on suspicion prominent horse owners were using racehorse breeding to launder profits from the los Zetas drug trafficking.
An indictment unsealed Tuesday accused Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, a key figure in the Zetas drug operation, of setting up a horse operation that a younger brother operated from a ranch near Lexington, Okla., south of Oklahoma City. Millions of dollars went through the operation, which bought, trained, bred and raced quarter horses throughout the southwest United States, including the famed Ruidoso Downs track in New Mexico.

“This case is a prime example of the ability of Mexican drug cartels to establish footholds in legitimate U.S. industries and highlights the serious threat money laundering causes to our financial system,” said Richard Weber, the chief of the IRS' criminal investigation unit.

Seven of the 14 people indicted were arrested, including Jose Trevino Morales and his wife, Zulema. Another Trevino brother was also charged.

Prosecutors asked that no bond be set for Trevino fearing he would either flee or intimidate witnesses. Neither Trevino nor his lawyer, Tony Lacy, commented, and a lawyer for Zulema Trevino said he knew little about the case.

The indictment describes how the Trevino brothers and a network quietly arranged to purchase quarter horses with drug money at auction and disguise the source of the funds used to buy them so that the Zetas' involvement would be masked. They would often pay in cash, or use fake names, which helped keep the owners and the money a secret.

Since 2008, the operation racked up millions of dollars in transactions in California, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, prosecutors said.

The operation, Tremor Enterprises LLC, started small, but worked in plain sight. Some horses carried names with drug references, like Coronita Cartel. Over time, the horses and the operation earned a place on some of the most elite stages in the industry. One horse named Mr. Piloto won a $1 million prize at Ruidoso Downs on Labor Day 2010, going off at odds of 22-1. Another named Tempting Dash won the Dash for Cash at Lone Star Park racetrack in Grand Prairie, Texas.

During the raids Tuesday, dozens of federal agents swarmed the New Mexico racetrack, wearing bulletproof vests and collecting evidence. At least two horses were taken away. Shaun Hubbard, general manager of the Ruidoso Downs Race Track and Casino, said the track officials know little about the raid but they are cooperating with federal authorities.

Seizure warrants were issued for 41 horses deemed the operations' most valuable, in an effort to prevent their being taken to Mexico. Among those was Mr. Piloto. The government sought an order to ensure the care of 384 other horses at the ranch, which sits among rolling hills about 40 miles south of Oklahoma City.

The director of the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Racing Association said Jose Trevino showed up a few years ago and quickly earned a reputation for always paying his bills and shelling out handsome prices for some of the top horses in the country.

“They were also recognized for taking care of their business. They paid their bills and didn't cause any trouble. You didn't have a food vendor or veterinarian calling to say they couldn't get these guys to pay their bills. They were good citizens in the horse industry,” Debbie Schauf said.

She said it was common for buyers based out of the country to pay cash for horses, but that several transactions were noteworthy for their value.

“It didn't raise a lot of eyebrows when these guys came to the sales and started paying cash. What raised eyebrows was the quality of the horses they were buying and the amount of money these mares cost,” Schauf said.
A US Magistrate Judge was less than impressed with the prosecution's case against one of the accused, ordering that 20 year old Raul Ramirez be released on $10,000 bond at the federal courthouse in El Paso this week.

In recent years, drug cartels and other criminal enterprises have gotten increasingly creative when it came to laundering the profits from their illegal activity. in addition to at least one former governor of Tamaulipas under investigation for using proxies to launder bribe money from the Gulf cartel through real estate holdings in Texas while others have used perfume sales, pecan farming and even a screenplay for the proposed prequel to The Passion of the Christ.

MEXICO CITY- A panel of Mexican judges approved the extradition of Sandra Avila Beltran to the USA on one of two charges filed against her by the Department of Justice.

Avila Beltran- who is sometimes known in Mexico as 'The Queen of the Pacific' and the niece of incarcerated narco Godfather Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo who is serving a 40 year prison sentence for the 1985 murder of a DEA agent. Avila Beltran's courtship of Colombian Juan Diego Espinoza strengthened ties between her family's Sinaloa cartel and Espinoza's Norte Del Valle cartel.
The three federal appellate judges said Sandra Avila Beltran could be tried outside of Mexico, but only on one of the two charges prosecutors sought.

Avila cannot be tried for the seizure of more than nine tons of U.S.-bound cocaine off a vessel in Mexico's western port of Manzanillo because a Mexican judge acquitted her in that case in December 2010. An appeals court upheld the verdict last August.

Previous requests to extradite the high-profile suspect have been denied twice by a panel and then by a judge, who argued that the confiscation of the nine tons of cocaine would inevitably be part of the foreign trial.

But the judges on Thursday ruled that Beltran has to answer to a charge stemming from several seizures in Chicago in 2001 that amounted to 100 kilograms of cocaine. The 2004 indictment in the Southern District of Florida does not specify Beltran's role in the drug-dealing case.

Mexico's Foreign Relations Department must re-file the extradition request to leave out the charge related to the Manzanillo seizure.
Avila Beltran has been in custody since 2007 and is currently incarcerated in Nayarit where she was being held on separate charges of money laundering. She was transferred to the Pacific coast state last year after it was discovered prison officials were allowing her to get botox treatment while at Mexico City's Santa Martha Acatitla women's lockup. The warden and head doctor were immediately fired over their preferential treatment of La Reina Del Pacifico.

NUEVO LEON- The Mexican Navy is quickly backpedalling from claims that they had the son of fugitive billionaire Sinaloa cartel head Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman in custody after arresting 23 year old Felix Beltran Leon in suburban Guadalajara on Thursday.

Guzman, who was paraded before cameras after his arrest, is a used car salesman and his wife, mother and lawyer provided the media voting credentials, a driver's licence and childhood photos of him as proof.

After it was learned Mexican troops had arrested the wrong man, Mexican officials blamed the DEA for providing them with faulty intelligence while the DEA denies the charges. Guzman was also on display before the media in front of a table with bundles of cash worth more than $130,000 and weapons- including grenades- reportedly seized by from his residence.
Ms. Pacheco showed The Associated Press what she said were her husband’s voting credential and driver’s license. The man arrested bears only slight resemblance to a photograph of Mr. Guzman’s son recently issued by the U.S. Treasury Department.

There is total confusion,” said Mr. Beltran Leon’s lawyer Veronica Guerrero,“... which is having a serious effect on their personal and family situation.”

Ms. Pacheco said the couple and their 1-year-old were sleeping in their home in Zapopan, a suburb of the western city of Guadalajara, when marines kicked in the door and arrested her husband and his half-brother, 19-year-old Kevin Daniel Beltran Rios.

Authorities identified Beltran Rios as an alleged member of the Sinaloa Cartel.

The men were found with a grenade launcher and four grenades, two assault rifles, two pistols and $135,000 in cash, the navy said. Pacheco said there were no drugs or guns, but the family did have the cash because of a recent home sale.

Another lawyer, Heriberto Rangel Mendez, said the government planted the weapons.

Ms. Pacheco said her husband works at Autos Pacheco, a used car dealership that gunmen attacked in May, killing one man. The target was a customer looking at cars, not the business, Ms. Pacheco said, though media reports said the dealership owner was killed.

“We’ve never had any links to drug traffickers,” Ms. Pacheco said. “He’s not the person they say he is.”
The blunder could prove costly to Calderon's PAN party in the upcoming Mexican elections. Under Mexico's constitution, the presidency is limited to one 6-year term, so Calderon can't run for re-election. Recent polls show PRI candidate Enrique Pena Nieto extending his lead over PRI candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota and the PRD's Andres Manuel Obrador.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Miami Vice Sports Chowdah Update- Heat Turned Up All the Way; Fish Are Squished & Youth Is Served At Fenway; Odd Development in Sandusky Trial

RED SOX- On Thursday night at Fenway, it was the young guns that helped the Red Sox complete a 3-game sweep of the Marlins.

After taking the first two games- including what amounted to batting pracitce in Wednesday night's 15-5 win- the Red Sox found themselves trailing late at Fenway Park on Thursday evening. With Daisuke Matsuzaka on the mound, the Red Sox quickly couhged up a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning before eventually settling down. Boston would get some runs back when Cody Ross and Jarrod Saltalamacchia led off the 4th inning by getting hit by pitches from Miami starter Carlos Zambrano in consecutive at-bats. Will Middlebrooks drove Ross home on an RBI single and Saltalmacchia came home on an Aviles sac-fly to cut Miami's lead to 3-2.

In the bottom of the 5th, the Red Sox would tie the game up on a Middlebrooks RBI single, but the Marlins would re-take the lead after Matsuzaka gave up a solo homer to Giancarlo Stanton. After giving up the homer, Matsuzaka was relieved by Andrew Miller, who allowed a 2-out RBI double to Omar Infante to give the Marlins a 5-3 lead.

It was looking as though the Red Sox would have to write this one off until the bottom of the 8th inning, when Saltalamacchia led off the inning with a wall-ball double. Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen pulled relief pitcher Randy Choate for Edward Mujica. Facing Middlebrooks, Mujica immediately gave up a 2-run homer to tie the game for Boston and then a Ryan Kalish single. Kalish would then advance to 3rd on an Aviles groundout before Daniel Nava brought him home on an RBI single to take the lead. Pedroia and Gonzalez would go down quietly, but the damage was already done to Florida and Boston took a 6-5 lead heading into the top of the 9th where Alfredo Aceves had a 1-2-3 inning to nail down the Red Sox win.

Matsuzaka gave up 4 earned runs on 4 hits and one walk in 5⅓ innings of work. Coming in in releif after Miller, Scott Atchison got credit for the win while Aceves had his 18th save of the year. Of course, the real story was the clutch performance of the youngsters Nava and Middlebrooks. Slotted at 3rd base on Thrusday night, Middlebrooks went an impressive 3-4 with 4 RBI- half of them coming in the game-tying homer he belted. Nava went 2-4 and the one RBI he had on the night proved to be the game-winner.

The Red Sox will host the Braves on Friday night with Jon Lester [4-4; 4.53 ERA] scheduled to get the start against Jair Jurrjens [0-2; 9.37 ERA]. The game will be televised on NESN, Peachtree TV and MLB Network with a first pitch of 7:10 ET. Boston's former National League team comes in to Friday night's game at Fenway having taken two out of three from the Yankees, putting the brakes on the Bronx Bomber's impressive double-digit win streak.

NBA- June 21st 2012 will go down as a sad sad day in which the "I'm setting my phone to LeBron James mode- No rings!" joke died a tragic and untimely death. Damn you, NBA!

After taking Game 1 of the NBA finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder lost four in a row against the Miami Heat. The Heat won the clinching Game 5 at home by a 121-106 margin and with former Cavalier Lebron James having a 26-point night- a little off by his standards, but teammates Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade and Mike Miller picked up the slack- Miller coming off the bench for 23 points. This would be the Heat's second title in their franchise history, with the first coming back in 2006. A low point in the trophy ceremony was when the Miami crowd decided to boo Basketball hall of famer and 11 time NBA champion Bill Russell when he presented the trophy to the Heat in a postgame ceremony.

Although unsuccesful, the Oklahoma City Thunder's trip to the NBA finals after just three seasons in the Sooner state has made the rest of the Western conference sit up and take notice.

Not to get all sour grapes or anything, but in hindsight I'd almost have to have to say the highlight of this abbreviated NBA Season was the lockout.

You see, I discovered that with no games to televise between late October and Christmas, alot of regional sports channels filled the air time of the scheduled NBA games with NCAA women's college volleyball.

Yes- attractive, fit college-age women sprinting around the court in shorts that would make a Hooter's girl blush while occasionally huddling and reassuring teammates with a pat on the backside. Damn it, NCAA- why were you holding out on us?

Sadly, with no NBA labor dispute on the horizon, it doesn't appear that we'll be in for a many televised college volleyball tournaments in the fall of 2012, but then again, considering the volleyball season generally overlaps with NCAA Football and Basketball, there's already enough competition in the works. For those of you with a reasonably fast internet connection, alot of conferences will gladly live stream many in-conference games [goes for just about any sport- NANESB!]

NCAA FOOTBALL- Jurors were expected to deliberate on Friday after hearing testimony from witnesses in the Jerry Sandusky trial.

After character witnesses testified on behalf of former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, the case took a bizarre turn when one of Sandusky's own sons accused the former co-ordinator of molesting him. Matt Sandusky- an adopted foster child of Joe and his wife Dottie- made the accusations public on Thursday afternoon, although it was too late for him to testify against his adopted father.

Democrats Skipping National Convention, Seek to Distance Themselves From Obama

At least a half dozen elected Democrats announced that they will not be attending the party's upcoming national Convention at Charlotte, NC in September.

The latest no-shows who made the announcement came from two incumbent Representatives from Upstate New York who are trying to get re-elected in competitive districts.

Congressman Bill Owens [D- NY23] and Kathy Hochul [D- NY26] announced separately that they would be spending time in their respective districts and with their campaigns in lieu of attending the party's gathering in the Tarheel state. The two upstate Democrats' announced their decision a day after Pennsylvania Congressman [D- PA12] told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he would be campaigning in lieu of attending the DNC's convention this September. The April Keystone state primary pitted two Democrat incumbents- Critz and Jason Altmire [D- PA4]- against each other to vie for the newly-redrawn congressional district. Critz fended off the challenge from Altmire by winning they newly-formed district's primary by a 52% margin.

Critz, Owens and Hochul each came into office during closely contested special elections since 2009 and all three of them are facing spirited challenges from Republican opposition in their districts, leading many to observe that they're distancing themselves from President Obama for their 2012 campaigns.

Meanwhile, the Democrat delegation from the Mountain State will be under-represented as Democrat governor Earl Ray Tomblin, US Senator Joe Manchin and Congressman Nick Rahall [D- WV3] all announced they would be skipping out on the DNC convention. The three West Virginia Democrats have criticized Obama's energy policies as effectively bankrupting the coal-producing state. Under the Obama Administration, the EPA has ordered the shutdown of dozens of coal-fired power plants and during the closing days of the 2008 Presidential campaign, Obama had promised that energy prices would skyrocket while he would bankrupt the coal industry.

Critz, Manchin, Tomblin and Rahall all represent coal producing regions while Owens and Hochul's districts could benefit from natural gas exploration on the Marcellus shale should New York state ever lift a moratorium on hyrdo-fracking. Despite being abundant and domestically available energy sources, President Obama, the Democrats and their environmentalist backers have demonstrated an inherent antipathy towards fossil fuels- including coal and natural gas- as a cornerstone of their energy policy.

In late May, prominent Democrats such as former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, Newark, NJ mayor Corey Booker and Massachusetts governor DeVal Patrick were rebuked by the White House after they were critical of the Obama campaign's attacks on private equity firm Bain Capital as a means of going after presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

The convention venue itself is a point of contention among some Democrats. Although North Carolina is a right-to-work state, local officials agreed to outsource some labor contracts to out-of-state union shops. Last month, Tarheel state voters approved an amendment to the state's constitution that would define marriage as between a man and a woman. The move draw ire from the gay community, who had unsuccessfully petitioned the DNC to change venues.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

House Oversight Committee Votes Attorney General Eric Holder in Contempt Over DOJ's Fast & Furious Gunwalking

Despite a last-minute move by President Obama to invoke executive privilege over certain documents requested by the House Oversight Committee regarding a 'gunwalking' program from the ATF, the committee chairman went ahead with a vote to find Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.

The oversight committee, chaired by Congressman Darrel Issa [R-CA 49], had been investigating the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Operations Fast & Furious where field agents were ordered to stand down as illegally purchased guns in Arizona made their way across the border to Mexico. In December 2010, US Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed by a gang of heavily armed smugglers along the Arizona border. Two guns from Fast & Furious were recovered from the crime scene. Hundreds of guns from Fast & Furious have also been recovered at crime scenes across Mexico and by Holder's own admission, there are more than 1700 unaccounted for weapons from the ATF gunwalking program. These firearms will likely continue to surface at crime scenes in both the USA and Mexico.

Obama's 11th hour invocation of executive privilege on Wednesday came before the Oversight Committee was supposed to rule on whether or not to move forward with contempt of congress proceedings against Eric Holder.

While Attorney General Holder insists he's turned over all the documents that the committee has requested over the last 15 months, a number of the documents were heavily redacted and Holder has contradicted himself while appearing before Congress- Fast & Furious began in 2009 and Mexican officials weren't even alerted by the DOJ to the weapons being smuggled into the country.

On Wednesday afternoon, the panel voted 23-17 in favor of holding the Attorney General in contempt of Congress- with the vote being split along party lines. Democrats on the Oversight Committee claimed that the hearings are a politically motivated witchunt and that the Fast & Furious gunwalking happened under the Bush Administration as well- a claim that Holder himself eventually retracted.

However, Wednesday's vote does not mean that Holder is automatically in contempt of Congress- but rather a contempt motion goes before the rest of the House of Representatives. Speaker of the House John Boehner [R-OH8] and majority leader Eric Cantor [R- VA7] have indicated the contempt of congress vote is scheduled for sometime next week.