Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Iron Horse Roundup for July 2012- Genesee & Wyoming to Purchase Rail America For $1.39 Billion; Mill Closure May Be Catalyst for Apache Shutdown; Sails on Rails- America's Cup Yachts Take Cross Country Train Ride

Apache C424 #98 is seen leading six green & white ALCos southbound out of Holbrook, AZ with 60 loads of coal for the Catalyst Paper mill in Snowflake in May 2011. Drew Mitchem photo.
APACHE- Eastern Arizona's Apache Railroad may be on borrowed time as its parent company and primary shipper announced that it plans to shut down the massive paper mill in Snowflake, AZ this fall.

Citing lowering demand for newsprint and increased fuel prices, Richmond, BC-based Catalyst Papers issued a statement on Monday announcing that they would be permanently closing the Snowflake mill by September 30, 2012.
"Pink slips" are expected to be in the hands of workers by 4 p.m. this afternoon, according to plant officials.

They have also told state officials that if they could get their hands on enough raw wood fiber, perhaps as part of the 4FRI initiative, they could convert back from recycled to fresh paper. That conversion, they have said, would cost around $30 million, which they are apparently not willing to invest on their own.

"This is horrible," said State Senator Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake) Monday night. "That's around 380 direct jobs, but with truck drivers, rail and other ancillary jobs, it could mean 1,000 jobs.
Handling inbound shipments of coal for the mill's power plant and outbound shipments of paper products, the Apache remains popular with rail enthusiasts for their curious choice of operating exclusively with ALCo locomotives when the manufacturer closed its doors in 1968.

Decked out in Rail America livery, Toledo, Peoria & Western GP38-2 #3821 leads an EMD endcab switcher across the Illinois River in August 2007. The bridge is owned by Genesee & Wyoming's Tazewell and Peoria Railroad. Craig McGregor photo

GENESEE AND WYOMING- In a move that would consolidate the two largest shortline operators in North America, Genesee & Wyoming has reportedly reached an agreement with Fortress Investment Group [NYSE- FIG] to purchase shortline holding company Rail America for $1.39 Billion.

The transaction would give Connecticut-based Genesee & Wyoming control of 111 lines total, pending regulatory approval from the Surface Transportation Board. Genesee & Wyoming reported that they would incorporate the existing Rail America lines into the GWR corporate structure and operations.
Genesee & Wyoming said the deal would diversify its customer and commodity bases, increase its total revenue by nearly two-thirds, to about $1.4 billion, and double its North American revenue to about $1.1 billion. Following the transaction, Genesee will have 111 railroads.

RailAmerica shareholders will receive $27.50 a share, an 11% premium over Friday's closing price.
Shares of Rail America [NYSE- RA] have seen an 83% increase in value since the beginning of 2012 while Genesee & Wyoming shares are down 7% over the same period of time. GWR attributes that in part on a decline in the demand for coal- a commodity many of of its subsidiaries haul.

New England Central SD40-2 #721 is seen leading the northbound 'America's Cup Express' over the Winooski River in N. Duxbury, VT on July 12, 2012. Kevin Burkholder photo
NEW ENGLAND CENTRAL- The America's Cup is coming to Vermont!

Actually, that's only partly true- the America's Cup came and went from the Green Mountain state, only it was in a form that hardly anybody would recognize.

The America's Cup tournament is a yacht racing tournament that pits some of the most innovative vessel designs against teams from around the world, and for the first time in the history of the Cup, the bulk of the equipment was moved across the country via freight train. Reportedly, organizers had considered loading up all the equipment and sending it via the Panama Canal to San Francisco where the America's Cup 2012-2013 World Series is set to get underway on August 21 but decided sending the containers and support equipment to the City by the Bay by rail was more cost effective and fuel efficient.

After finishing up the final event of the 2011-2012 World Tour in Newport, RI most of the yachts and support equipment made their way to Quonset, RI where they were loaded into containers, then placed onto COFC cars and assembled into a 1.5 mile long train by Seaview Transportation before being handed off to the Providence & Worcester on July 9th.

From there, the train was handed off to the New England Central where it made its way north through the western reaches of Masachusetts and New Hampshire before heading northwest through Vermont. The train- dubbed the America's Cup Express- was supposed to hand off its 121 car train to the Canadian National at St. Alban's, VT. However, the trip didn't go quite as smoothly as hoped.
It was supposed to be a 10-day trip until a container shifted Tuesday causing a one-day delay and then crew scheduling problems Wednesday led to a second day on a siding in New Hampshire. Thursday, it finally got underway again.
From St. Albans, the train continues to Montreal on the Canadian National before heading southwest to Chicago where the massive consist was handed off to the Union Pacific. The UP handled it the rest of the way to San Francisco, where it arrived on July 24th and was offloaded at Pier 80.

San Francisco Bay Railroad ALCo S2 #23 seen switching container well cars at the final destination of the America's Cup Express, Pier 80 in San Francisco, CA. Ron Close photo
Despite the America's Cup Express setback in New Hampshire, those involved in the sails-on-rails move remained enthusiastic about the move.
“It is a great example of a freight train as an alternative to trucking if railroads cooperate,” Vermont Transportation Secretary Brian Searles said. “It is pretty exciting it is coming through Vermont,” he said, noting he hoped to be able to see it pass by Montpelier. Freight trains of more than 100 cars are pretty rare sights these days, he said.

The special freight train turned out to be the preferred option to not only trucking but the more likely option of chartering a freighter and sailing the load through the Panama Canal and up to San Francisco, explained Eric Moffett, president of Seaview Transportation Co. in North Kingston, R.I. Moffett worked with several railroads, including the New England Central Railroad, which runs through Vermont, to put together the travel package.

“It is exciting,” Moffett said, because the special train will show the competitiveness of rail transport to a world audience — the international teams associated with the America’s Cup

Moffett of Seaview Transportation likened the train to the circus trains of another era that contained everything the entertainers needed for their shows. The setup for each America’s Cup regatta includes machine shops, broadcasting facilities, and team gear tents, Moffett said.

Christopher Parker, executive director of the Vermont Rail Action Network, noted the importance of freight to the future of rail as well as roads in Vermont.

“While this is an unusual move, it illustrates how much of the freight in Vermont is moving through en-route to or from other parts of New England,” Parker said.
While in San Francisco, the America's Cup World Series will get underway the week of August 21st through the 26th and resume beginning the week of October 2nd.

A trio of Wheeling & Lake Erie SD40-2s in charge of a stone train in Rochester, OH at sunset.Cody Zamostny photo

WHEELING & LAKE ERIE- Officials from the Wheeling & Lake Erie were on hand for the grand opening of a 10 acre National Lime and Stone site in Martins Ferry, OH that would see 60-car unit stone trains offloaded and used for construction and drilling pads for natural gas exploration in the nearby Utica and Marcellus Shales.
He said the operation begins when the limestone is mined, processed and crushed at Carey Quarry, which employs about 30 people.

The stone is loaded into 60-car unit trains. The Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad transports trains to the Martins Ferry facility. It is unloaded at the site for use in various projects such as contractors, asphalt and concrete production, Ohio Department of Transportation projects, commercial and residential projects, the Utica Shale pads and roads and the general public.

[National Lime & Stone's] DiBerardino noted afterward that they have been in operation in the site for about a month. The company will hire several employees to manage the site and load and unload the stone.
In addition to hauling coal, grain, steel coils, salt, coke, lumber and scrap metal the W&LE has been kept busy hauling frac sand and pipe for natural gas drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shales.

The W&LE remains one of the relatively few independently operated regional railroads in the United States.

British Specialists to Help Iraq Destroy Stockpiles of Saddam-Era Chemical Weapons

British soldiers wearing protective suits in Iraq circa 2003
The UK's Ministry of Defense announced that they would be sending a team of experts to Iraq to help the government there dispose of chemical warfare agents dating back to Saddam Hussein's regime.
The British Defense Ministry will start training Iraqi technical and medical workers this year, an embassy statement said. The teams will work to safely destroy remnants of munitions and chemical warfare agents left over from Saddam’s regime.

Saddam stored the chemical weapons near population centers so that he could access them quickly, despite the danger to his civilian population.

Most of Iraq’s chemical weapons were destroyed by military forces in 1991 during the first Gulf War or by U.N. inspectors after the fighting. The inspections halted just before the invasion.

The head of the Iraqi National Authority, Mohammed Al Sharaa, said the remnants "represent a great challenge to the Iraqi experts to safely dispose." He called the agreement with British authorities "a good opportunity for Iraqi experts to benefit from the well-known expertise of U.K. experts."
Most notoriously, the Saddam Hussein regime used chemical weapons against civilians and the Kurdish peshmerga militia in the village of Halabja in 1988.

Hussein was deposed during the American-led invasion in 2003, captured and eventually executed by Iraq's civilian government. Many anti-war activists and politicians had claimed there were never any chemical weapons to begin with and such talk was merely a fabrication to justify the an American-led invasion.

Althought no massive WMD cache was discovered by American or coalition forces, Sarin was discovered in a 2004 roadside bomb and in 2008, the Pentagon was approached by Iraq's civilian government to ship more than 500 tons of uranium out of Iraq to Canada for disposal by Cameco [NYSE- CCJ; TSX- CCO].

Some have speculated that Hussein was able to spirit away major components of his WMD program to Syria before the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This claim had been revisited when Syria's Bashr Al Assad threatened to use chemical weapons- including mustard gas, VX and Sarin- against armed insurgents clashing with his military or foreign forces who intervened in the ongoing conflict. However, Syria has had its own WMD program independent of Saddam Hussein's since before Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Eat Mor Chikin: Atlanta-Based Chick Fil A Under Fire From Leftists Over CEO's Stance on Gay Marriage

The president of an Atlanta-based fast food chain has drawn the ire of gay and lesbian activists as well as Democrat politicians looking for a big juicy distraction after stating this his restaurant supports traditional marriage in an interview with a Baptist website earlier this month.

Chick Fil A Cookies & Cream milkshake- yum!
Started in Atlanta by restaurateur and devout baptist S Truett Cathy in 1967, Chick Fil A has grown to a chain of more than 1600 restaurants across 39 states specializing in chicken sandwiches, chicken strips, chicken wraps and chicken salads. The company also is the title sponsor for the Chick Fil A Peach Bowl which is played between one ACC college football team and one SEC school each New Year's Eve at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Neither S Truett Cathy nor his son Dan Cathy are shy about their Baptist faith or incorporating it into their business model. In keeping with Cathy's faith, the restaurant remains closed on Sundays.

As you might be able to figure out, most Baptists are opposed to same-sex marriage. With more than 30 states voting at the ballot box to define marriage as being between a man and a woman, that's a viewpoint that's hardly fringe or in the minority.

Have the liberals who want to start a Chick-Fil-A boycott really thought this through?
LGBT groups and various democrat politicians desperate for a distraction have chimed in on Chick Fil A's stance on same sex marriage.

Among the first was Boston mayor Tom Menino, who penned a letter threatening to block any attempt by Chick Fil A to open up a location in Boston.
“It sends a strong message that the habit of supporting hateful organizations that demonize LGBT Americans are out of step with not just Bostonians but a majority of fair-minded Americans,” Menino told WBZ NewsRadio 1030 Thursday.

In it he said,”There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it.

“If they’re going to hurt people’s rights and social justice is involved. I’m going to speak up on that. No matter what it is. You might not like it, but I have to live with myself,” he said.
Curiously, Mayor Menino required no such ideological litmus test for the Islamic Society of Boston's mosque after selling them a city owned parcel of land for $175,000- far below the appraised $1.8 million. With two locations in the metropolitan Boston area, Chick Fil A was reportedly looking at opening a location on the campus of Northeastern university, which is inside Boston city limits.

Meanwhile, Obama's former-chief-of-staff now Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel was able to take time out from the escalating carnage in the Windy City to announce he would be protecting Chicagoans from the ever-encroaching menace of grilled chicken sandwiches.
"Chick-fil-A’s values are not Chicago’s values. They’re not respectful of our resident, our neighbors and our family members. And if you’re gonna be part of the Chicago community, you should reflect the Chicago values,” said Emanuel.
Ah- I see. Apparently if Chick Fil A wants to do business in Chicago, they need to have a storied tradition of turning a blind eye to gang violence and organized crime, selling off political appointments to the highest bidder and utilize drug gangs like the Vice Lords and Gangster Disciples for the get-out-the-vote effort and reward them by steering contracts to their families and friends later on.

In a display of even more staggering hypocrisy, a few days after chiding Cathy, Rahm Emmanuel would praise fringe antisemitic Nation of Islam preacher Louis Farrakhan for dispatching his followers- known as 'The Fruit of Islam' to some of the violence-plagued areas.

To hardly anybody's surprise, the mayor of San Francisco also chimed in, even though the nearest Chick Fil A is some 40 miles away.

So there you have it- at least three mayors of large American cities who have pretty much come right out and said they would use zoning requirement and government bureaucracy to block or revoke a private company from opening their doors within city limits because they disagreed with an opinion held by somebody in the management. Now for the progressives who might have a difficult time wrapping their heads around why this might be a bad thing, let's say a staunchly conservative mayor or county commissioner found out a business owned by a liberal supporter of gay marriage and gun control wanted to open up a business in the community and decided to stack the deck against the liberal business owner and put all sorts of zoning and regulatory hurdles in the path of this would be business because the conservative politician disagreed with something the hypothetical business owner had said.

Sucks- doesn't it? Yet that's exactly the kind of behavior that Menino and Emanuel are engaging in.

Not surprisingly, various Hollywood has-beens would also chime in on the issue in an attempt to make themselves feel relevant again and in the process, reveal their own rather skewed definition of 'tolerance'.

Enter bitter, corpulent 'comedienne', Occupy Wall Street supporter and failed Green Party presidential candidate Roseanne Barr:

Interesting how a few short months ago Barr was calling for the wealthy to be summarily executed or sent to re-education camps, yet decided to boast about her own materiel wealth as some sort of witty rejoinder before resorting to 2nd grade insults- apparently her writers bailed on her long before the 2007 writers strike.

As you could probably gather from the above exchange, I decided to stop by my nearest Chik Fil A last week and even though I already had lunch, I decided to get a cookies and cream milkshake [pictured at top- NANESB!] as part of a 'buycott'.

In fact, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and other conservatives have encouraged people to go to Chick Fil A on August 1 as part of  "Chick Fil A Appreciation Day". Although the nearest Chick Fil A is some 35 miles away, I will probably be stopping by as it isn't too far out of my way for the commute to one of my temp jobs and I have some coupons that are expiring soon.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Let the Games Sports Chowdah Update Begin- Ciriaco Gets To Yankees; Team USA Women Get Gold, Set Records; Angels Get Greinke; 'Canes Get Semin

AP Photo
RED SOX- After a lackluster start to their road trip in which they dropped two out of three games to the Rangers earlier this week, the skid looked like it would continue with Boston dropping the opening game of their weekend series against the archrival Yankees in the Bronx thanks to a Curtis Granderson grand slam in the bottom of the 8th inning to put the exclamation point on a 10-3 Yankees win.

Saturday saw the Red Sox get out to 5-run lead against the Yankees only for the Bronx Bombers to again come back in the bottom of the 8th and knot things up at 6-6 on a two run homer from Mark Texiera. However, in the top of the 9th Red Sox got a runner on board with a one out walk to Jacoby Ellbusry. This was followed up by a Pedro Ciriaco triple to deep center to give the Sox the lead before Pedroia hit an RBI sac fly to bring Ciriaco home and make it an 8-6 Red Sox lead. Alredo Aceves then closed out the game with a 1-2-3 bottom of the 9th to give Boston only their second win of the season against the Yankees.

For Sunday night's nationally televised game, Felix Doubront got the start against the Yankee's Hideki Kuroda. The Red Sox got on the board early with a 2-RBI double from Ryan Sweeney in the top of the first. Doubront would go 6 and a third innings, giving up four hits including a solo home run to Yankees catcher Russel Martin to pull the Yankees to within one run.

The bottom of the 8th inning would once again be problematic for the Red Sox, and more specifically Russel Martin who tied the game up with an RBI single off of Aceves to make it 2-2, forcing extra innings.

With nobody out and a runner on first in the top of the 10th, manager Bobby Valentine was ejected after arguing with the home plate over whether or not Will Middlebrooks was hit by a pitch, followed by Josh Beckett who was yelling at an umpire from the Red Sox dugout. After the umpires ruled that the ball Valentine thought had his Middlebrooks was a strike, the third baseman then singled. Sweeney then grounded into a fielder's choice, erasing Middlebrooks at second but advancing Saltalamacchia to third for Pedro Ciriaco, which led to this.

The Red Sox would take a 3-2 lead on a bloop single from SS Ciriaco before the 10th inning came to an end when Ellsbury grounded into a double play.

Still on the mound, Aceves would get the first two batters out before hitting Nick Swisher with a pitch. However, Aceves got pinch hitter Raul Ibanez to strike out and end the ballgame, giving the Red Sox their first series win over the Yankees in their three meetings this season. The win also gives the Red Sox a .500 record and muddies some of the speculation whether or not they'd be buyers or sellers by Tuesday's trade deadline. While the Red Sox are in last place in the AL East, they're only two games behind 2nd place Baltimore and conceivably within striking distance of a postseason berth under MLB's newly-expanded playoff format.

The Red Sox return to Fenway on Monday night to face the Detroit Tigers, who are currently 2nd place in the AL Central. Clay Buchholz [8-3; 4.93 ERA] will get the start against Max Scherzer [10-5; 4.49 ERA]. The game gets underway at 7:10 ET and will be televised on NESN.

OTHER RED SOX NEWS- Yahoo Sports columnist Jeff Passan is reporting that the Red Sox are shopping starting pitcher Josh Beckett around just prior to the trade deadline and have expressed a willingness to eat a portion of his contract as part of any trade. Although the Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers have reportedly expressed interest, a trade isn't believed to be imminent.

OTHER MLB NEWS- The Milwaukee Brewers have traded starting pitcher Zach Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. In return, the Brewers will get Angel's pitching prospects Ariel Pena and Johnny Hellweg in addition to shortstop Jean Segura.

Greinke made his first start with the Angles on Sunday afternoon as they hosted Tampa Bay in Orange County. Greinke went 7 complete innings, allowing two earned runs on while striking out 8. However, he was outduelled by the Rays' Jeremy Hellickson who threw 6 shutout innings, allowing just two hits in Tampa's 2-0 win.

OTHER BREWERS NEWS- Back in December 2011, ESPN reported that National League MVP Ryan Braun had tested positive for a banned substance. However, unnamed sources had claimed that while there were no traces of any performance enhancing drugs in a urine sample collected from Braun during the 2011 playoffs, there were elevated levels of testosterone, which were indicative of a banned performance enhancing drugs of growth hormone.

However, during Braun's appeal it was reported that the urine sample was improperly stored prior to testing, potentially rendering the sample useless. A second test of Braun yielded normal testosterone levels. After Braun's appeal, the mandatory 50-game suspension penalty was overturned, the fisrt such instance of that happening since MLB introduced their anti-doping program.

I belatedly bring this up because the sports media has been nowhere near as vocal in announcing the mishandled urine sample and other exculpatory information about Braun as they were when the positive test results were announced.

MINNESOTA TWINS- The Minnesota Twins have traded starting pitcher Francisco Liriano to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for infielder Eduardo Escobar and minor leaguer Pedro Hernandez.

Although it's somewhat unusual to trade within their own division, Liriano is in the last year of his contract with the Twins and was expected to leave a free agent at the end of the season.

SUMMER OLYMPICS: WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL- The USA Women's volleyball team managed to hold off a late rally from South Korea for their first game of the preliminary round. Although Team USA took the first two rounds, South Korea capitalized on some defensive miscues and won the third match while pressuring the USA in the following match. However, Team USA held on to win the decisive 4th round by a 21-25 final.

Destinee Hooker led the USA with 21 points while South Korea's Kim Yeong Koung had 29 points in the losing effort.

On Monday, the USA will face Brazil in a rematch of the gold medal game during the Beijing olympics.

SUMMER OLYMPICS: WOMEN'S SKEET- American Kimberly Rhode became one of the first Americans to win gold in London this year, making history in the process.

Rhode simply dominated in the gold medal round, hitting 99 out of the 100 targets she faced at the range on the grounds of the Royal Artillery Barracks on Sunday- a new Olympic record.

The California native also made history be becoming the first ever Olympian to medal in five consecutive Olympics, going back to a gold in the women's double trap event during the 1996 Atlanta games.

SUMMER OLYMPICS: SWIMMING- After failing to make the Olympic squad for the 2008 Beijing games, American swimmer Dana Vollmer won the first gold medal for Team USA women's swimming and Vollmer's first gold in an individual event.

The upstate New York native also set a new world record in the 100m butterfly, finishing in 55.98 seconds, a full second ahead of silver medal winner Lu Ying of China.

Vollmer is also expected to take part in the 4 X 200 freestlye relay later on in the Olympics.

OTHER SWIMMING NEWS- Perhaps the most surprising development in Team USA swimming is that favorite Michael Phelps, who had absolutely dominated in Beijing back in 2008, has been shut out of the gold medal count so far.

Teammate Ryan Lochte came away with the gold in the men's 400m individual medley on Sunday, with Brazil's Thiago Pereira taking Silver, Japan's Kosuke Hagino taking Bronze and Phelps finishing 4th in the event.

Phelps and Lochte did take the silver in the 4 X 100M Freestyle relay after France rallied to pull ahead in the event.

SUMMER OLYMPICS- BASKETBALL- Team USA [which is NOT the same as the 1992 'Dream Team' despite Kobe Bryant's insistence] blew by France in their opening game of the Olympics, winning by a final of 98-71. Kevin Durant led the scoring for team USA with 22 points and 9 rebounds on Sunday.

OTHER BASKETBALL NEWS- While it didn't take place in a medal game, this last-second heave by Australia's Belinda Snell should go down as the shot of the tournament.

Snell nailed the shot from half court with Australia down by 3 to France and with less than a second to go in regulation.

However, the Aussies would go on to lose to France by a 74-70 final in the overtime.

NHL- Free agent RW Alexander Semin has agreed to a 1-year $7 million contract with the Carolina Hurricanes. Semin had 21 goals and 33 assists with the Washington Capitols during the 2011-2012 season.

Last month, the Hurricanes traded away Brandon Suter, Brian Dumoulon and their 8th overall draft pick to Pittsburgh for Jordan Staal, younger brother of Hurricanes captain Eric Staal. Jordan had 25 goals and 25 assists with the Penguins last season.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Massachusetts State Representative Facing Charges of Assault, Kidnapping and Witness Intimidation

Freshman State Representative Carlos Henriquez seen with US Senate Candidate Elizabeth Warren
A first term Massachusetts state representative was released on $1000 bail earlier this month after being accused of punching and strangling his girlfriend during an argument.

In a sworn affidavit, 23 year old Katherine Goncalves of Somerville, MA said that Henriquez picked her up in a rental car from her mother's home and after a tense conversation about their relationship, she asked that Henriquez return her home. He reportedly became agitated and began slapping and shouting at her, refusing to let Goncalves to leave the car as he drove around Boston. The affidavit also states that he attempted to choke her and took her cell phone away, removing the battery and SIM card. While Henriquez was driving near Northeastern university, Goncalves was able to jump out of the car and flag down a campus police officer. Included in the police report were the fact that officers documenteded bruises on Goncalves' wrists, arms and shins.

Goncalves and Henriquez met when the college student wanted to interview him for an upcoming term paper earlier this year. The two began dating shortly afterwards.

Although he didn't comment specifically on the charges he was facing, Henriquez has denied any wrongdoing and expressed confidence that he would be exonerated. The Freshman Democrat representing Dorchester and Roxbury has even scheduled a community meeting for early August.

A government watchdog group also reported that Henriquez owes at least $800 in fines to the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance. The fines stem from Henriquez improperly using an ATM to withdraw a couple hundred dollars of campaign funds from the bank- which is not allowable under the office's guidelines.

Henriquez is also the son of Sandra B Henriquez, an official in the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Barack Obama.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Steamy Iron Horse Roundup For July 2011

Iowa Interstate's Chinese manufactured 'QJ' 2-10-2 #6988 is seen passing the former Rock Island Iowa City, IA depot on the return leg of its round trip excursion between Cedar Rapids, IA and Rock Island, IL on June 19th, 2012. Erik Rasmussen photo
IOWA- For the second year in a row, the Hawkeye state and regional Iowa Interstate played host to a large gathering of rail enthusiasts and historians with their 2012 convention in Cedar Rapids, IA.

Like last year's Trainfest in Rock Island, IL, this year's NRHS convention featured steam and diesel powered rare mileage excursions on former Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific and Milwaukee Road lines that only see freight traffic these days.

In addition to a day out at the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion at Mt Pleasant, IA where attendees got to see restored trolleys, interurbans and steam as well as vintage steam powered tractors and farm machinery, the convention featured a steam powered excursion between Cedar Rapids and Rock Island, IL with IAIS Chinese QJ #6988 doing the honors.

Cedar Rapids and Iowa City MP15DC #122 seen powering an excursinon on the original interurban line between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City at Cou Lake, IA on June 22nd. FJ Grizel photo.

Attendees also got to ride behind rare mileage excursions over Dan Sabin's Iowa Interstate and former interurban Cedar Rapids and Iowa City- also known as the CRANDIC and owned by Alliant Energy [NYSE- LNT]. In addition to Iowa Interstate's Chinese made QJ, excursions were also powered by F40PH's from Iowa Northern's Hawkeye Express passenger trains that shuttle football fans to and from University of Iowa home football games and some of CRANDIC's yellow and grey EMD endcab switchers.

Interestingly, a few days before the NRHS excursions, the Iowa Interstate operated a series of trips between West Liberty, IA and Durant, IA to benefit those towns' respective fire departments.

The 2013 NRHS convention is scheduled to take place in September 2013 in Anchorage, AK.

Alaska Railroad's former Army 2-8-0 steam locomotive seen returning home from the lower 48 in January at Anchorage, AK. Michael Dinneen- Alaska Business Journal
ALASKA- Speaking of Alaska, the restoration of the Alaska railroad's last steam locomotive got a huge assist thanks to a $350,000 grant.

The Rasmuson Foundation announced the grant to the newly-formed non profit Engine 557 Restoration Company in early July. This is the first substantial donation that went towards the full restoration of Alaska Railroad #557. The unit last saw service in the early 1960s running shuttle trains to the Alaska state Fair before being sold to a scrap dealer in Washington State. However, instead of cutting up the former Army steamer, the scrap dealer took a shine to the Baldwin and displayed it in front of his business. As it turned out, the cool and relatively dry climate of east-central Washington State was almost ideal for preserving a steam locomotive.
Restoration is currently estimated to cost between $600,000 and $700,000. Major costs include initial tooling, asbestos removal and abatement, replacing galvanized steel cladding, new insulation, boiler and tubing replacement and repair, gear inspection and repair, painting and positive train control electronics.

In order to establish a funding mechanism, project supporters recently turned to The Alaska Community Foundation (ACF), which oversees and has helped establish nearly 300 funds and endowments that support philanthropic endeavors that benefit Alaskans. ACF agreed to establish and administer a new fund to accept donations, while the Restoration Company will coordinate the project, including fund-raising, hiring subcontractors, recruiting volunteers and overseeing the restoration work.
While the narrow gauge White Pass & Yukon continues to operate a pair of steam locomotives out of Skagway, Alaska #557 would be the first operating standard gauge steam engine in the Last Frontier on nearly 50 years. While one time roster-mate #556 remains on static display in an Anchorage park, the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum has a sister locomotive to Alaska #557 & #556- former US Army #610, which was one of the last American steam locomotives made for an American customer.

Soo Line 2-8-2 #1003 seen crossing the Rock River in Edgerton, WI in August 2000 on the Wisconsin Southern. Barry Moore photo.

WISCONSIN- Reports of Soo Line 1003's demise are apparently premature, as the 1913-built Baldwin underwent a series of test-firings in May. The locomotive last operated pulling a Santa Train in November 2010 before her mandatory 15 year FRA boiler inspection.

After being taken out of service, the venerable ALCo steamer was kept on the grounds of the Wisconsin Auto Museum in Hartford, WI. Returning #1003 back to service carried an estimated pricetag of around $400,000, although some of these costs were reportedly picked up by Wisconsin Southern President and CEO Bill Gardner. When in operation, the Soo Line #1003 had operated almost exclusively on the Wisconsin and Southern.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Olympic & Trade Deadline Countdown Sports Chowdah Update- Mike Steps Up as Red Sox Rally in Texas; Phillies Heavily Invested in Cole; UK to Deploy More Troops For Olympic Security

AP Photo/LM Otero
RED SOX- After coming out of the All-Star break with a 5-2 record, including taking 3 out of 4 from the AL Central leading the White Sox, the Red Sox were in for a letdown during the weekend when Toronto swept the 3-game series at Fenway Park where both Jon Lester and Josh Beckett were roughhed up by the Blue Jays.

Things weren't going to get easier with this weeks road trip to Texas and the Bronx. Monday night's game didn't hold alot promise when the Rangers countered a Jarrod Saltalamacchia solo homer with a 4-run bottom of the 3rd and 5 run bottom of the 6th off of Felix Doubront and the Sox bullpen to open up a series with a 9-1 Rangers win.

Coming into Tuesday night's game, the Red Sox were hoping to break a 4-game slide in which they were outscored 37-12. However, Tuesday night's game didn't feature much in the way of offense.

Manager Bobby Valentine decided not to start, putting Kelly Shoppach into the game at catcher. Shoppach got the Sox on the board first after driving in OF Cody Ross home from first with an RBI double off of Rangers starter Martin Perez to make it 1-0 Boston.

However, as Monday night's nationally televised game had demonstrated, a 1-0 lead doesn't last very long in Arlington, TX. After Elvis Andrus hit a 1-out double off of Clay Buchholz in the top of the 6th, he advanced to 3rd on a wild pitch before coming home on a Josh Hamilton groundout to knot the contest up at 1-1.

Things got a little interesting in the bottom of the 8th when Padilla came out of the Sox bullpen in relief of Buccholz. Although Padilla struck out the first batter he faced, he then allowed a single to Elvis Andrus. Although Padilla got Josh Hamilton to strike out, a costly throwing error by Padilla put Andrus on third. Padilla than struck Rangers 3B Adrian Beltre in the helmet, giving Texas runners on first and third with two away [Yorvit Torrealba pinch-ran for Beltre while he underwent examination by the Rangers medical staff- NANESB!]. However, the inning ended for Texas on a Michael Young groundout to short.

In the top of the 9th, Rangers manager Ron Washington made the curious move of putting in closer Joe Nathan in a non-save situation. Although Nathan got the first two batters out, he walked Daniel Nava and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was batting for Kelly Shoppach. Previously, Nathan had walked only five batters in 38⅓ innings of work this season. The Red Sox made those walks count when Mike Aviles hit a bloop RBI single to make it 2-1 Boston. Jacoby Ellsbury then hit a ball to deep center field for the 3rd out of the inning.

Alfredo Aceves came on for the bottom of the 9th and got two quick outs before walking Mike Napoli. However, the game ended when Adrian Gonzalez caught a pop foul in along the 1st base line, snapping Boston's 4 game skid. Despite the lopsided losses experienced by the Red Sox since Friday, this was very much a pitchers duel with solid outings by both Buccholz and Perez. Vincente Padilla was credited with the win and now has a 4-0 record.

Wednesday night's game will wrap up the 3-game series at Arlington and has Josh Beckett [5-8; 4.53 ERA] going up against the Rangers Derek Holland [6-5; 4.84 ERA]. The game gets underway at 8:05 ET and will be televised on NESN.

OTHER RED SOX NEWS- The Red Sox have traded infielder Brent Lillibridge to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for minor-league pitcher Jose De La Torre. Lillibridge came to Boston last month in part of the deal that sent Kevin Youkilis to the White Sox. Used primarily as a late inning defensive replacement, Lillibridge has appeared in 16 games for the Red Sox and was batting .125.

Between the Indians AA affiliate Akron Aeros and the AAA Columbus Clippers of the International League, De La Torre has an 8-1 record and a 2.91 ERA this season.

ELSEWHERE IN MLB- The Seattle Mariners traded outfielder Ichiro Suzuki to the Yankees after the All Star outfielder waived his no-trade clause on Monday. In exchange for Ichiro, who has played for the Mariners since 2001 when he first came to the major leagues from his native Japan, Seattle recieves pitching prospects DJ Mitchell and Danny Farquahr.

The trade was prompted in part by a season ending injury to Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner after undergoing elbow surgery this month.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS- The Dodgers have reportedly acquired Miami Marlins infielder Hanley Ramierez and reliever Randy Choate in exchange for starter Nathan Eovaldi and pitching prospect Scott McGough.

The slumping Dodgers, who are now 2 and a half games behind the San Francisco Giants in the NL West standings, are hoping that the All Star shortstop can shake up LA's stagnant offense. Ramierez has been batting .246 with 14 homers and 48 RBI with Miami this season. Earlier this week, the Marlins had dealt starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez [5-7; 3.94 ERA] to the Detroit Tigers.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES- After weeks of reportedly shopping ace Cole Hammels before next week's MLB tade deadline, the starting pitcher and the Phillies have reportedly agreed to a long term contract extension.

The six year deal is worth $144 million and includes a limited no-trade provision. The struggling Phillies remain in last place this season, but Hammels currently enjoys a record of 11-4 with a 3.23 ERA.

HOUSTON ASTROS- The Astros sent starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night in exchange for left-handed pitchers Rudy Owens and Cotton Cain as well as outfielder Robbie Grossman- all three from the Pirates AAA affiliate in Indianapolis.

The Pirates will also reportedly get $17.7 million in cash to offset Rodriguez's annual salary which could top $30 million this year with incentives.

Rodriguez currently has a 7-9 record with an ERA of 3.79. The long-suffering Pirates, who haven't appeared in the postseason since 1992, are in the somewhat unusual position of being buyers this season as they're currently only a game and a half out of 1st place in the NL Central.

Last week, the Astros acquired closer Fransisco Cordero and outfielder Ben Fransisco in a 10-player deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. Besides the two major leaguers, Houston gets prospects Asher Wojciechowski, Joe Musgrove, David Rollins, Carlos Perez and a player to be named later.

Toronto gets lefty JA Happ, righty David Carpenter and reliever Brandon Lyon from the Astros in that deal.

Karen Warren Houston Chronicle photo
OTHER ASTROS NEWS- Houston announcer and Ford C Frick award winner Milo Hamilton announced that this would be his last year calling games for the Astros.

Born in 1927 in the small town of Fairfield, IA, Hamilton first started broadcasting with the Armed Forces Radio when he joined the US Navy during WWII. Like former president Ronald Reagan, Hamilton also briefly called football and basketball games for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Hamilton got his start calling MLB games for the St Louis Browns in 1953, their final year in St Louis before they moved to Baltimore. For the next few years, Hamilton bounced around landing work with the Cardinals, Cubs and White Sox before joining the Atlanta Braves when they moved to Fulton County stadium from Milwaukee in the 1966 season.

As a broadcaster, Hamilton is best known for this call:

Amazingly, of the three broadcasters calling the game for Henry Arron's 715th HR on that April 1974 evening, two of them are still calling games in 2012- Hamilton and the Dodger's Vin Scully. NBC Sports and former Red Sox broadcaster Curt Gowdy passed away in 2006.

Hamilton returned to the Cubs in 1980 but was fired by the Cubs parent company Tribune Company after expressing a preference for Harry Caray. Hamilton made mention of bad blood between him and Caray dating back to their days in St Louis in his 2006 autobiography.

After suffering a mild heart attack in 2007, Hamilton announced that he wouldn't be travelling for the Astros road games- although he reportedly was on hand for the opening of the new Busch Stadium in St Louis as well as the Mets' Citi Field and Nationals Park.

TRACK AND FIELD- A 19 year old Aussie hurdler became an almost overnight internet sensation when video of her warming up at the IAAF World U-20 Championships in Barcelona Spain earlier this month went viral.

Michelle Jenneke's warm-ups by the starting gate caught the attention of the camera crew and announcers covering the event in Barcelona.

Somebody thoughtfully dubbed questionable 1980s synth-pop music [and this is coming from somebody who likes some of they synth-pop music from the 80s- NANESB!] over the energetic Sheila's pre-race dance and warm-up routine. The full video can be seen here [full disclosure, it's kind of an earworm and not the good kind NANESB!]

Unfortunately, Jenneke's newfound fans worldwide won't be seeing her in the 2012 Summer games in London, since she did not qualify. I suspect that with a body and warm-up dance like Jeneke's, she'd have a devoted internet following even if she fell flat on her face right out of the starting gate. However, Jenneke isn't just another pretty face- the bouncy Aussie took gold in the 100m hurdles in Barcelona and five seconds of searching yielded this video of Jenneke winning silver at the 2010 Youth Games in Singapore.

Althought not set to music, the 2010 video shows a Jenneke as enthusiastic and bouncy as the 2012 version while her success so far in international competition means fans can aren't being unrealistic when they expect to see more of her at the 2016 games in Rio.

OTHER TRACK AND FIELD NEWS- 23 year old Greek Triple Jumper Voula Papachristou has been barred from the upcoming Olympic games in London when she sent out a tweet about African immigrants in Greece.

The message on the microblogging and social netorking site that got her in trouble was dated Sunday and read "So many Africans in #Greece at least West Nile mosquitoes will eat homemade food"

Tweeting under the handle @papaxristoutj, Papachristou also linked to websites and videos linked to the formerly-fringe Golden Dawn Party who hold 18 seats in the Greek Parliament. Those messages have since been deleted.

Although Papachristou had apologized via Facebook and Twitter, the Greek Olympic committee announced that she will not be joining the team for "statements contrary to the values and ideas of the Olympic movement".

Personally, while I think what Papachristou said was stupid and childish, I don't think that should prevent her from competing in the Summer Olympics. I suspect what she said publicly is rather tame compared to whats being said both publicly and privately in Arabic about Israeli athletes [or Israeli soldiers, or Israeli civilians, or Israeli schoolchildren, or Israeli grannies...you get the idea- NANESB!].

There's also the opportunity for a sort of Jesse Owens moment here. Now that the world has known what Papachristou has said about Africans, just think of the schadenfreude for spectators if and when she loses her event to a competitor from Kenya or Ethiopia. But it's all hypothetical now.

British soldiers walking past a sign welcoming visitors to the 2012 Olympics. Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters Photo

SUMMER OLYMPICS- The British Home Secretary has ordered as many as 3500 additional troops deployed to London to bolster security for the games after the CEO of the private firm contracted to conduct security for the Summer Olympiad in London admitted that they were unable to recruit enough qualified personnel before a parliamentary inquiry last week.

With 675,000 employees, the Crawley-based private security firm G4s [LSE: GFS] provides security guards and montiors for CCTV and alarms as well as cash and armoured vans for its 'Cash logistics' division. The company also runs adult and juevenile detention facilities and does prisoner transport via government contracts.

Amid some reports that G4S guards cheated on written exams regarding the operation of X-Ray devices, local officials in Liverpool said that they were replacing G4S security personnel with 500 local security guards to provide security for upcoming Olympic soccer matches in St James Park.

Although a major shareholder of the comapny has backed embattled CEO Nick Buckles, the fiasco has hurt the reputation of G4S which in turn may make it more difficult for them to secure contracts in the future.

The Daily Telegraph is reporting that an additional 1200 British soldiers are on standby, ready to deploy on 48 hours notice. No word on whether or not Katrina Hodge is among the soldiers currently assigned to any security detail at the London Games.

OTHER OLYMPIC NEWS- Fans hoping to see bikini clad contestants in the Beach Volleyball event at the Summer Games may be in for a letdown as tournament organizers allowed participants to wear shorts and long sleeve tops in the event of inclement weather.

According to a statement from the FIVB press director, clothing worn by players must be of consistent length, color, style, manufacturer and display the same sponsors. Should the temperature drop below 15 degrees celcius during the event, long sleeves and pants are authorized.

This may become an issue since the weather in the weeks leading up to the ceremony have been overcast, rainy and grey- apparently meeting the criteria required for wearing shorts and long sleeves during the event. However, with a few days to go before the Olympic opening ceremonies, the weather in London has warmed up considerably this week.

Interestingly, the beach volleyball event will take place inland- in the Horse Guards Parade located in the Whitehall section of London, to be specific. A 15,000 seat temporary stadium has been erected on the grounds- just blocks from 10 Downing Street.

BOSTON BRUINS-Bruins RW Nathan Horton has been cleared for contact and should be ready to return to the ice in time for the beginning of the Bruins training camp.

GM Peter Chiarelli told reporters that the winger had been cleared for contact by the team's medical staff. Through 45 games, Horton had 17 goals and 15 assists last season before sustaining a concussion in a collision ith Philadelphia's Tom Sestito back in January.

Photo/Joe Howell
NASHVILLE PREDATORS- The Nashville Predators signed defenseman Shea Weber to a 14 year $110 million contract extension on Wedensday, making it the most lucrative contract in the history of the Nashville franchise and the 2nd largest in the NHL.

The Philadelphia Flyers had expressed an interest in the 27 year old All Star and were willing to offer him a comprable contract, but Weber was preortedly more interested in remaining in Nashville.

Weber had 19 goals and 30 assists in the 2012 season, including two goals and an assist during the postseason series against Detroit and Phoenix.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS- The Columbus Blue Jackets dealt forward Rick Nash to the NY Rangers in exchange for forwards Brandon Dubinski and Artem Ansimov along with defenseman Tim Erixon.

Although Columbus had never advanced deep intot he Stanley Cup playoff, Nash remained a prolific scorer for them, making his NHL debut with them back in 2002. In his nine season with the Blue Jackets, he has accumulated 289 goals and 258 assists with 30 goals and 29 assists in the 2011 season.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Borderline Psychosis Update- Drug Tunnel Discovered in AZ; Cartels Finding Slick New Way to Skirt Border Patrol? Car Bomb in Tamaulipas Kills Two

ARIZONA- Investigators in Arizona keeping a warehouse in the southwestern border town of San Luis under surveillance had discovered this month a recently completed drug tunnel connecting it with San Luis Rio Colorado on the Mexican side of the border.
Engineered with 4-by-6 beams, plywood walls, ceilings and floors, and a lighting and ventilation system, the fully operational tunnel was used to smuggle methamphetamine and possibly other drugs, the DEA said.

"From what I've heard and in my experience, this is probably the most sophisticated tunnel that they've probably found in Arizona," said Doug Coleman, special agent in charge of the DEA's Phoenix field office.

"It's really a piece of work," he said. "It looks like it was designed to be on a pulley system where you could just download the drugs in San Luis (Rio Colorado, Sonora) and use a pull cart to pull them all the way through and then pop them up on this side."

Coleman said he does not believe the tunnel was in operation for more than a week, based on the "pristine" condition of the shaft and the fact that drums filled with dirt removed from the tunnel were on pallets still inside the building. "I think it was very new," he said.
According to the DEA and Arizona Department of Public Safety, on July 6th, an Arizona State Trooper pulled over a Ford F-150 on US Route 95 in the Yuma, AZ area. A search of the vehicle turned up nearly 40 pounds of methamphetamine wrapped up in packaging in the bed of the truck.

After contacting the DEA, a search warrant was obtained for the warehouse in San Luis where the tunnel was discovered. The tunnel reportedly led to a recently-constructed ice distribution warehouse on the Mexican side of the border.

MEXICO- Police in the outskirts of Mexico City have arrested a number of men who were accused in attacking and robbing more than 90 youths from a church group who were on a camping retreat at an ecological preserve at the base of the Popocatepetl volcano. Even in nation that has grown increasingly jaded over brazen acts of murder committed in broad daylight, the crime shocked Mexico's general public.
Police arrested 17 men Wednesday on suspicion of attacking youths and raping five women and girls who were on a church camping trip outside Mexico City, a brutal assault that shocked much of the country.

The attorney general for the State of Mexico, Alfredo Castillo, said 11 of the gang members were identified by some of the victims. In interrogation videos played for reporters, three of the suspects confessed that they sexually abused the women and girls because fellow attackers told them to.

Two of the suspects were local police officers and another had served in the military, Castillo said, speaking two days after authorities announced the arrest of a man who was described as not directly involved in the assault on the camp-out but who allegedly provided information to the assailants.
The attacks, robberies, assaults and rapes took place over a period of several hours on Friday the 13th in the park which straddles the border of the states of Mexico and Puebla. At least 7 girls in the church group were sexually assaulted before their assailants left in stolen vehicles.

According to Mexico's state prosecutor, 12 of the 17 men in custody were identified by the victims as taking part in the assaults and robberies. Reportedly, none of the men in custody have any ties to the major organized crime organizations that have been locked in an ongoing bloody turf-wars since 2006.

DISTRITO FEDERAL- Authorities in Mexico's capitol city say they have arrested one of three Federal fugitive policemen who are wanted in the connection with a shootout where they killed three colleagues at Mexico City's international airport in late June. Mexican authorities say they've captured one of three rogue federal police officers who allegedly took part in a June 25 shootout that killed three of their colleagues at Mexico City's international airport.
Federal Police regional security chief Luis Cardenas Palomino says suspect Bogard Felipe Lugo de Leon was caught at a Mexico City apartment after police received a tip.

Cardenas Palomino says Lugo de Leon confirmed that one of the two officers who opened fire on their colleagues was about to be handcuffed for purportedly trafficking drugs through the terminal.

He says the bust was not pre-planned, but occurred when one of the rogue officers was caught in the act.
However, many in the Mexican press have questioned the official version of events leading up to the June 25th deadly shootout at Benito Juarez International Airport.
Mexican media have begun to question the official account, asking whether the gunfight could have been the result of a falling-out among co-conspirators. If it was an operation to capture traffickers in the act, some said, why did it take 20 minutes for additional police officers to appear after the shooting began? Why were only three police officers sent to arrest two armed fellow officers in a crowded airport?

“Tricks, lies, inventions!” the columnist Manuel J. Jauregui wrote in the Reforma newspaper Wednesday, adding that the operation was an embarrassment and that federal authorities were scrambling to get their stories straight. “They don’t even know who were the good guys and who were the bad guys,” Jauregui wrote.
Two other Federal Police officers are wanted for their role in the airport terminal shooting.

TAMAULLIPAS- Two police officers were killed and another 7 people were wounded when a powerful car bomb was detonated outside of the home of the top police official in Tamaulipas earlier this month.
Tamaulipas state Interior Secretary Morelos Canseco said Public Safety Secretary Rafael Lomeli wasn't injured in the blast, but that three neighbors were injured by glass fragments from shattered windows.

Canseco said the bomb was detonated with a cellphone soon after Lomeli arrived at his home. He said the car bomb showed an increased sophistication, both in the detonator and explosives used. It apparently exploded in a car parked just outside a security barrier on a street on which the official's home is located.
The bomb went off just outside a security checkpoint in the capital city of Tamaulipas. No organization has claimed responsibility for the bomb. Two years ago, a car bomb killed three police officers in Ciudad Juarez across the border from El Paso, TX.

TEXAS- Drug traffickers may be taking advantage of a boom in natural gas drilling in the Lone Star state to help move their product and circumvent Border Patrol checkpoints around the Eagle Ford shale in South Texas.

Map courtesey of Houston Chronicle
Drug traffickers have discovered that private roads sturdy enough to accomodate tractor-trailer and heavy duty pickup traffic serving drilling sites for companies like Exxon Mobil [NYSE- XOM], Halcon Resources [NYSE- HK] or Apache [NYSE- APA] can accomodate their vehicles and payload of contraband. Moreover, many of these private roads also bypass fixed Border Patrol checkpoints in South Texas.
Hefty roads running through once-remote ranchlands now enable loaded-down tractor-trailers and pickups to avoid Border Patrol highway checkpoints that have long been the last line of defense for stopping all traffic headed farther into the United States.

Traffickers are seeking to use the southwest-most stretches of the massive Eagle Ford shale formation, which stretches from Mexico all the way to East Texas, to their advantage by trying to corrupt truck drivers, contractors and gate personnel. Authorities also speculate that they are trying to make "cloned" copies of legitimate trucks and use contractor-like vehicles to avoid standing out among fleets of oil-field service vehicles working for energy companies. In some cases, vehicles have been stolen and believed to have been used by smugglers.

"They are using those roads to transport drugs, guns, ammo, you name it," said Albert DeLeon, chief deputy of the Dimmit County sheriff's office.

"Our biggest concern is how law enforcement is going to attack the threat. We cannot move Border Patrol checkpoints into those positions," said Tony Garcia, director for the South Texas HIDTA [High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area- NANESB!]. "It is pretty much up to your imagination what they could be moving through there. ... It is a bit of a dicey situation for us to deal with. We are putting our heads together."

For energy companies, the roads are critical to moving heavy drilling and related equipment in and out of the ranchlands where the work is done.

"Once they get past the checkpoints, they are pretty much free," said Javier Pena, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Houston division, which includes San Antonio and reaches to the Mexican border.

"It is very much on our radar," Pena said of smugglers. "We have been gearing up for it."

He declined to discuss the use of sensors, cameras or other tactics to monitor possible narcotics routes. Authorities also suspect that gate guards, drivers or other workers might succumb to bribes.

On a weekday morning in early March, 18,665 pounds of marijuana were caught being smuggled aboard two trucks, one a flatbed, the other a tanker truck driving through the Briscoe Ranch on a road that circumvents a Border Patrol checkpoint.

They were on a private road leased to energy companies and carrying what looked like supplies typically used in oil field operations but were instead loaded with marijuana. The two trucks yielded the most pot ever caught in one day by the Border Patrol's Del Rio Sector.

One of the truck drivers, who was not an employee of the energy industry, later admitted to agents that he was to be paid $7,500 to deliver the load, according to an affidavit at the federal courthouse in Del Rio.

Other big South Texas catches came in July last year when Border Patrol agents stopped a bogus oil field truck carrying 1,373 pounds of marijuana, and in June when they found 3,529 pounds of the drug stashed in a truck driven by an energy company worker.
In some boder areas in the USA, the Border Patrol sets up additional checkpoints along highways further away from the Mexican border where they can stop and inspect passing vehicles. On some maps, the private roads bypass some of these checkpoints where the contraband can continue on to the interstate highway system and metropolitan areas like Dallas or Houston.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Blue State Graft Watch Update- FBI Raids Home of Trenton, NJ Mayor

Federal agents armed with a search warrant raided the home of the mayor of New Jersey's capital city as well as his brother, an address listed one of the mayor's top donors and City Hall in the early morning hours of Thursday last week.
The raid on Mack’s residence in the upscale Berkeley Square section of the city was augmented by FBI searches at the home of Mack’s brother Ralphiel, the head football coach at Trenton Central High School, and the Ewing residence of Joseph “JoJo” Giorgianni
Later that day, Trenton, NJ's Democrat mayor Tony Mack sent a letter to the city clerk designating Ternton's Business Administrator Sam Hutchinson as acting mayor; a pro-forma move that allows Mack to leave the city. In a message on his Facebook page dated Sunday night, Mack said that he would be out of town and wouldn't be returning until July 30th.

A spokeswoman from the FBI declined to state what agents were looking for when they carried out raids on Mack's residence and City Hall. Although Mack has yet to be formally charged, his time in office as mayor has been marked by accusations of cronyism, his appointees being convicted of misconduct or having to step down once their criminal backgrounds were discovered.
City Councilman George Muschal, a frequent critic of Mack's management of the city, said he was not surprised when he received a text message notifying him that the FBI was raiding City Hall this morning. He only asked one question:

“What took them so long to get there?” Muschal said when reached by phone this afternoon. "There is full blown corruption in the city of Trenton. We have to go to a rock bottom low before we can rebuild. This might be a rock bottom low.”

A number of employees have sued the administration, including a former recreation employee who alleged that a close Mack associate, acting public works director Harold Hall, acted to bypass public bidding requirements and hired unqualified friends and relatives.

The FBI has investigated a political action committee that funneled donations to Mack, but the mayor has not been known to be under investigation personally.
One of the homes raided was that of 'Jojo' Giorgianni, a local steakhouse owner who was convicted of molesting a 14 year old girl in his restaurant in 1978. Tipping the scales at more than 500 pounds, Giorgianni and his legal team pleaded that he would be unable to survive in prison due to his considerable girth- an argument the presiding judge ruled in favor of until a videotape of the newly-freed Giorgianni ringside at a boxing match in smoke-filled arena without his oxygen tank was shown. Giorgianni reportedly exceeded the legal campaign contribution limit when he donated to Mack's 2010 Mayoral campaign.

In January, Mack's half-brother who was a manager at the city's water utility pleaded guilty to two counts of official misconduct after investigators discovered he was using city employees and city-owned equipment to carry out private side jobs while billing the city.

Other highlights of Tony Mack's two years in office include his chief-of-staff assaulting a police officer while carrying heroin in his pocket just days after leaving the scene of an accident, disguising a $20,000 campaign contribution as a loan, awarding municipal contracts to campaign donors, disbanding the police department's anti-gang and anti-narcotic units for more foot patrols and circumventing the city council to appoint friends and family to jobs within different city agencies.

Separately, the Mercer County prosecutor's office announced that they had a number of ongoing investigations over corruption in Trenton. They had successfully prosecuted Mack's half brother in the Trenton Water Works investigation earlier this year.

Like convicted felons Kwame Kilpatrick, Rod Blagojevic and Eddie Perez, Tony Mack is also a member of the Mike Bloomberg-sponsored Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Sports Chowdah Update- Cody Red At Fenway, Red Hot Ross At It Again; Colts Stroke of Luck

RED SOX- On Thursday night, it was looking as though the Red Sox were going to squander a perfectly good start from Clay Buchholz where he went 8 full innings, allowing 1 run on six hits.

However, Chicago's Quintana had done one better than Buchholz, going eight shutout innings and allowing with Boston managing just 5 hits. Through eight innings, the only scoring in the game was Adam Dunn coming home on an Alex Rios sac fly in the top of the 4th.

In the top of the 9th, Alfredo Aceves got out of a 2-out situation with runners on 2nd and 3rd to keep the game at 1-0. In the bottom of the 9th, Carl Crawford led off the inning with a single, but was out on second on a Dustin Pedroia groundout. Adrian Gonzalez would follow that up with a single, setting up this bit of awesomeness from Cody Ross

Just in case the embedded video isn't working, Cody Ross belted his THIRD 3-run homer in 2 nights for give the Red Sox the walkoff 3-1 win [congratulations to whoever has Ross on their Fantasy team- NANESB!]. The game winning blast by Ross gave came off of White Sox reliever Addison Reed and gave the Red Sox their 3rd win against the White Sox in this week's 4-game series. White Sox manager Robin Ventura gave Kevin Youkilis the night off- his first and only in the 4-game series at Fenway.

Friday night's game will see the Red Sox host the Toronto Blue Jays with Beckett going to the mound [5-7; 4.44 ERA] against the Jay's Aaron Laffey [1-1; 3.38 ERA]. The game gets underway at 7:10 ET with the game being televised on NESN.

NFL- The Indianapolis Colts and first round draft pick Andrew Luck have agreed to terms on a 4-year, $22 million contract this week. A highly sought-after product of Stamford, Luck was the #1 overall draft pick in the NFL this year.

The Colts' interest in luck prior to the draft led to speculation that All-Star QB Peyton Manning would be released. He eventually signed with the Broncos for a 5 year, $96 million contract.

The Colts have included an option for a 5th year in their contract with luck.

ELSEWHERE IN THE NFL- Seattle Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch was arrested over the weekend for driving while intoxicated in the Oakland area. The California Highway Patrol said that Lynch submitted to a test while in custody and that it showed he was over the legal limit.

In March, Lynch had signed a 4-year $31 million contract extension with the Seahawks. His trial begins on Aug 14, although it isn't know if he faces any sanctions from the team or the NFL front office.

At Least 12 Killed After Gunman Opens Fire in Crowded Theater in Suburban Denver

A gunman wearing a gas mask and riot gear shot moviegoers at a theater in the Denver suburb of Aurora, CO in the early morning hours on Friday.

According to eyewitness accounts the shooter forced his way through a side door about a half hour into the midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, tossed a smoke grenade and began making his way up the aisles, shooting patrons as they attempted to flee. Some present in the theater initially thought the smoke and gunfire was part of the show or a prank before seeing the gunman moving up the aisles, shooting some people at point blank range. After running out of ammunition for his shotgun, the shooter reportedly continued shooting with a semiautomatic rifle and two pistols.

The gunman then reportedly made his way out to the parking lot where he was confronted by police and surrendered. The suspect in custody has been identified as 24 year old James Holmes. While being taken into custody, Holmes had reportedly warned officers that there were more explosives stored in his apartment. When police and federal agents went to search Holmes' apartment, they reportedly discovered explosives, ammunition and booby traps that the Aurora police chief described as "pretty sophisticated".

Earlier Friday, an ABC news reporter had erroneously identified Holmes as a member of the Colorado Tea Party. However, ABC had to walk back their comments after it was learned that the James Holmes listed on the Tea Party website was in his 50s. The University of Colorado confirmed that the Holmes in custody dropped out of their medical school back in June.

When news of the mass shooting first broke, there were numerous contradictory reports claiming that the killer was Indian, a second shooter was killed by police at the theater, or that the shooter was dressed like Bane, the antagonist from the Dark Knight Rises and the Batman comics- none of which were reportedly true. Cellphone footage showed some of the walking wounded making their way out of the front door of the Aurora Century 16 theaters with blood on their clothes. Bullets from theater 9- where the shooting started- tore through the wall and injured moviegoers in the adjacent theater 8.

President Obama and presumed GOP nominee Mitt Romney both issued brief statements regarding the mass murderers and both campaigns announced they would postpone some campaign events in the coming days.

Police and eyewitnesses say there were numerous children present in the theater at the time of the shooting and a 6 year old girl and 3 month old baby were among the wounded. In an eerie development, an aspiring sportscaster named Jessica Ghwai was among the fatalities at the Dark Knight Rises screening. In June, Ghwai- who sometimes broadcasts and blogs under the name Jessica Redfield- had a close call at Toronto's Eaton Centre when a gunman opened fire on the crowded food court on June 5th, killing 2 and wounding three. Ghwai reportedly changed her mind on where to eat at the last minute and passed up eating at the restaurant where the killings took place. Her final blog entry consisted of her further elaborating on the near miss and her reaction immediately afterwards.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Today's Train of Thought- Dragon by the Tail, July 19, 2012

Today's train of thought takes us to the coastal waters of Maine. Although better known for operating passenger excursions between Brunswick and Rockland, ME the former Maine Central line also hauls cement, steel, sand and perlite. One of the biggest customers for the Maine Eastern has been the Dragon Cement terminal at Thomaston, ME. Dragon holds the distinction of being New England's only cement manufacturer.

Maine Eastern's parent company is the New Jersey-based Morristown & Erie, the company also operates lines in northern New Jersey as well as the Stourbridge Line in the far northeastern corner of Pennsylvania. Curiously, although the M&E has demonstrated a preference for operating with more venerable ALCo diesels, the Maine Eastern is a primarily EMD operation.

Most of the Maine Eastern's motive power can trace their roots to Amtrak. In addition to a pair of newer former Amtrak F40PHs, the MERR also has a pair of streamlined former New Haven FL9's that saw nearly 30 years of service on Amtrak. The FL9s and F40s typically handle the excusrions that ramble along the coast on the MERR while freight duties are split between a former Canadian National MLW M420 and a high hood GP9. Although originally built for the Union Pacific, Maine Eastern #724 found its way to Amtrak as a Maintainence of Way unit, often powering work trains along the Northeast Corridor.

Amtrak sold off the #764 to the Morristown & Erie sometime in 2005, where she was painted into a snazzy new green and white color scheme in New Jersey before being shipped off to Maine.

Here, railpictures.net contributor Thomas Mik caught the #724 trundling along the coast through Wiscasset, ME with cement cars for Dragon Cement near the eastern end of the line at Thomaston, ME. The eastbound train was photographed along the shores in August 2007.

The former Amtrak units may be seeing more of their bretheren soon enough. Trains from Amtrak's Downeaster service could be operating from Portland to the eastern end of the MERR at Brunswick by this fall.

GAO Audit Uncovers Department of Homeland Security-Approved Flight School Run by Illegal Alien Training 25 More Illegal Aliens

A report released by the Government Accountability Office this week found that even a decade after the September 11th terrorist attacks, flight schools remain a weak spot for national security- one that could be easily exploited by terrorist organizations.
In testimony before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Homeland Security, the Government Accountability Office said it found fault with TSA's Alien Flight Student Program, which attempts to establish whether foreign students hoping to enroll at U.S. flight schools are a security threat to the United States.

Before foreign nationals can begin flight training, the Alien Flight Student Program requires they undergo name- and fingerprint-based background checks. They also must submit security documents, such as a passport, said Kerwin Wilson, the TSA official who oversees the flight school screening program.

But according to the GAO, the Transportation Security Administration has failed to keep its database of these background checks up to date.

By cross-referencing the Federal Aviation Administration's database of registered pilots with similar information kept by the TSA's Alien Flight Student Program, the GAO found that some of about 25,000 foreign nationals registered with the FAA were missing from the transportation agency's database, the GAO's Stephen Lord told the committee.

Moreover, the Alien Flight Student Program does not determine whether these individuals are in the country illegally, Lord said.

When Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., asked at the hearing Wednesday whether an individual who was unable to board a commercial plane because he posed a threat to U.S. security could begin to learn to fly that same plane, officials from both the GAO and the TSA said yes.
The report cited a 2010 case from a Stow, MA based flight school that was run by an illegal immigrant and was certifying at least 25 other illegal immigrants as pilots. The owner, who was charged with overstaying his visa and ordered to return to Brazil in late 2010.
The owner of the TJ Aviation Flight Academy and more than 30 students accused of being in the United States illegally received clearance to train as pilots despite strict security controls put in place after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Each of the three showed documents from the TSA approving pilot lessons through the federal agency's alien flight student program.

"If I was not supposed to do it, they were supposed to block everything and not give me permission. Not just me, but others," another said.

"You cannot start classes without clearance from the TSA," he said.
The school's owner- Thiago de Jesus- denied in a Boston Globe interview that he was in the country illegally, but reportedly declined to show any documentation that would prove his claim. The majority of the students from TJ Aviation flight were also from Brazil.

The findings came the within days of another security breach at an airport. On Tuesday, a fugitive pilot wanted in connection with the stabbing death of his Colorado girlfriend scaled the fence at a St George's, UT airport and attempted to steal a parked passenger plane before crashing while taxiing and before shooting himself.
Authorities were trying to determine just how Hedglin -- wanted in the murder of his girlfriend in Colorado -- gained access to the 50-passenger plane while the airport was closed, among other details.

The short ride was jarring enough to collapse the plane's front landing gear as it careened over landscaping, crossed a road and hit a curb before crashing into cars in the parking lot, St. George police Capt. James Van Fleet said

SkyWest officials said the company deactivated Hedglin's access cards and put him on administrative leave after Colorado authorities named him a murder suspect, but declined to explain how he was able to steal one of their planes.
The 50-passenger Bombardier passenger jet was scheduled for a flight later on Tuesday when Hedlin gained entry. A SkyWest spokeswoman declined to state whether or not the aircraft was secured within FAA guidelines when it was stolen.