Friday, November 30, 2012

Canada Actively Seeking American Workers Left Jobless by 'Obama Recovery'

Jeff McIntosh photo- Canadian Press

As the American economy continues to receive bad news amid Barack Obama's reelection and increasing concerns about the upcoming 'fiscal cliff', Canada has made it clear that it needs workers and is looking to the USA to help fill that gap [and I for one welcome our new Canadian overlords- NANESB!]

Much of western Canada is experiencing a shortage of skilled laborers- this is particularly true of the energy sector in oil-rich provinces like Alberta or Saskatchewan. Despite the fact that just under 30,000 Canadians made their way to Alberta from other provinces to find work in the last year, oil industry consultants believe they'll need more than 35,000 additional workers over the next decade for the oil sands alone. Moreover, companies will be losing a large number of worker due to attrition as statistics have shown much of the current workforce in the oil sands, exploration and refineries is middle-aged.
[...] the industry’s growth is far from certain.

“Labour shortage impacts could threaten investment, revenues and sustainability throughout the entire energy value chain,” said Peter Boag, president of the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute, which recently changed its name to Canadian Fuels Association.

The country’s energy sector industry directly employed 187,000 workers last year, and that’s set to grow exponentially.

“There will be no reprieve from current hiring challenges for oil and gas services as the sector will need to fill thousands of positions between now and 2015,” says HR Petroleum Council in a report. “Employee turnover is the sector’s greatest workforce concern as it escalates costs and exacerbates sector-wide labour and skill shortages.”
The oil sands are different in that they have to be extracted in a manner more reminiscent of mining for ore than drilling for oil. Although environmentalists opposed development of Alberta's oil sands, the oil has been naturally seeping into nearby bodies of water such as the Athabasca River for centuries. Although much less straightforward to extract, the mixture of sand, clay, water and bitumen locked in the ground are said to rival the conventional petroleum reserves of Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Much of the oil sands activity is centered northeast of Edmonton around Fort McMurray, Alberta- a latter-day boomtown dubbed by some as 'Fort McMoney'.

As Canada continues to tap the vast energy reserves out west, employers and recruiters are looking beyond their own borders to help offset the shortfall of skilled workers- including the USA.
Since 2010, about 35,000 U.S. workers a year have been issued work permits, according to Canadian immigration statistics. That's up 13% from earlier in the decade. And that figure is expected to grow as provinces continue to loosen requirements for temporary foreign workers.

Rudolf Kischer, a Vancouver-based immigration attorney, said his firm can hardly keep up with the processing of work permits for employers hiring U.S. help.

"We're the busiest we've ever been," he said.

Many of those workers are heading to where the labor market is hottest: Edmonton.

Edmonton has become a staging ground for oil companies that include Canada's Suncor Energy Inc., Shell Canada Ltd. and Chevron Canada Ltd. The energy sector has in turn boosted industries such as manufacturing, home building and retailing.

With a population of about 812,000, Edmonton looks a lot like many American cities. There are large strip malls anchored by U.S. retailers such as Costco and Home Depot, and ubiquitous coffee shops — except here Tim Horton's doughnut shops outnumber Starbucks 3 to 1.

The biggest difference: The unemployment rate here is 4.5%, and "We're Hiring" signs are posted in almost every window.

Jobs near Fort McMurray, a remote town six hours north, are the best-paid; a welder can make up $37 an hour. (At present Canadian and U.S. dollars are almost equivalent in value.) But laborers must stay in barracks-style camps, which energy companies have upgraded to woo them. The best ones offer private rooms with flat-screen TVs, gyms, prime dining and wireless Internet access.

Workers spend as long as a couple of months at a stretch laboring before returning to Edmonton "moneyed up," as the expression goes around here. Workers then pump those dollars into the local economy.

The province of Alberta boasts a median household income of $83,000 compared with $50,000 in the U.S.

Andrew Hoggard, a 35-year-old auto mechanic who moved to Edmonton from Michigan in March, can hardly keep up with his workload. He puts in 12-hour days at a local Chrysler dealership, including some Saturday shifts.

Still, he's not complaining. In eight months, he's made $70,000. Back in Holland, MI, where he worked on commission at Nissan dealership, he relied on his parents to help him pay rent when the work slowed.
In British Columbia, an unprecedented construction boom has left the province short on workers. However, in southern California, even before the current recession there have been thousands of skilled tradesmen who remain unemployed, underemployed or are working outside their field altogether. This led to officials in Riverside County, CA to coordinate with Canadian delegations and organizations like the British Columbia Construction Association to hold a job fair slated for early December in Indio, CA.
“Some have not found work for the past four years in their trade,” said Tom Freeman, commissioner with the Riverside County Economic Development Agency’s office of foreign trade, which has helped set up a Dec. 4 job fair in Indio to recruit workers willing to move north.

Economic development specialists and others in the Coachella Valley have been very involved in what is called the “workforce mobility program,” with initial meetings taking place in Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs, Freeman said.

The British Columbia Construction Association, which represents some 2,000 companies, will have a delegation at the job fair, as it has at similar job fairs held in Ireland and Scotland, said Abigail Fulton, vice president and an attorney with the association based in Victoria, British Columbia.

“We actually do the immigration work at no charge,” said Fulton, who noted the association is not looking for laborers but rather skilled tradesmen familiar with large commercial and industrial-type projects.

Along with competitive or even higher wages than companies are paying in the U.S., Canadian recruiters are touting steady work, retention bonuses, free universal health care and quality schools.

A flier sent out by Riverside County, the British Columbia Construction Association and the Canada California Business Council lists heavy equipment operators, iron workers, pipe fitters, mechanics, and mechanical and electrical engineers as among trades that are needed.
Of course, Canadian companies and recruiters aren't just limiting their search to the USA. Similar trade shows like the one set to take place in Indio have already been set up in Ireland and Scotland. Canadian officials have also been courting Polish immigrants in the United Kingdom, attempting to coax them into making the move to Canada. While this may sound like an unusual or way-too-specific niche, as of 2001 there are an estimated 980,000 Canadians of Polish ancestry [including Wayne Gretzky, Geddy Lee and William Shatner- NANESB!] and the UK's Office for National Statistics estimated there were an estimated 515,000 Poles either temporarily or permanently residing in the United Kingdom as of 2010.

UK Federation of Poles chairman Włodek Mier-Jedrzejowicz said he had been contacted by Canadian officials who said they were particularly keen on Poles able to fluently speak English.

While there are no doubt some drawbacks for Americans working in Canada [ie- you'd be taxed four times- US federal taxes, Canadian federal taxes, the provincial tax of wherever you live and the state tax of the last state you resided in before leaving- NANESB!] the Canadian dollar and the US dollar are roughly on par, interest rates for savings is slightly higher in Canada and provinces like Saskatchewan and Alberta enjoy more economic freedom than all but a handful of US states according to a Canadian think tank. A recent report from the Fraser institute also stated that Canada is among the top five nations in the world for economic freedom while the USA has plummeted from second place to 18th.

I find it interesting that when I was growing up, I remember that American liberals wanted the nation to follow Canada's lead as far as healthcare, military spending and gun control went. However, now that Canada is drilling for oil, sending troops to Afghanistan and rolling back gun control laws the liberals here in the USA aren't as keen to have the country be more like Canada.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Today's Train of Thought- Classic Brick Work, November 29, 2012

In keeping with the recent autumnal theme, Today's Train Of Thought takes us to the Volunteer State.

EMD's SD40-2 unquestionably turned out to be a popular locomotive- just under 4,000 were produced for North American and export markets between 1972 and 1989. Many of the ones that ended up on the Norfolk Southern fleet were a little different, however. The two railways that would merge in the 1980s to form the Norfolk Southern- the Norfolk & Western and Southern Railway- were holdouts in an operating method known as long hood forward.

Since the arrival of the first GP7s on the Southern, the two lines had a tendency to operate the diesels long hood forward- basically with the engine, generator and radiators at the front of the locomotive while the cab and control stands were actually closer to the train. While it might appear at times that the train was running in reverse, the control stands were actually bi-directional. Up until around the time of the merger, the Norfolk Western and Southern ordered locomotives from both EMD and GE that featured a high hood towards the 'front'. That gave the locomotives- regardless of the model or manufacturer- a very blocky appearence, leading some to dub the high hood units as 'bricks'.

Although the Norfolk Southern acquired a number of new locomotives as well as a significant portion of Conrail's engine fleet, none of those were suited for long-hood forward running like the former Southern and Norfolk & Western diesels were [it was never a common practice on Conrail or any of the predecessor railroads, either- NANESB!].

A number of the high-hood 'bricks' have since been retired, scrapped, stored or sold off. Although a number of railroads purchasing former N&W or Southern high hood units have opted to rebuild them so they'd have a lower nose on the short hood for increased visibility, lines like the Georgia Central or Guilford/Pan-Am simply kept the high hood locomotives they acquired from Norfolk Southern the way they were.

Still, even on the rails originally belonging to Norfolk & Western and Southern, the long hood forward practice is becoming increasingly rare, let alone the locomotives manufactured for the Southern or N&W.

Here, contributor Chris Starnes caught 38 year old Norfolk Southern SD40-2 #3232 on the point of Knoxville to Clinton, TN local freight T12 operating short hood forward on a sunny fall day in October 2011 [video of the #3232 in action can be found here]. The venerable 6-axle, 3000 HP beast was built for Southern in September of 1973 and while she could be found almost anywhere on Norfolk Southern's vast system, the photographer caught her on 'home' rails in Knoxville, TN as the leaves above the tracks are changing into various shades of yellow and orange.

It's worth pointing out that while the #3232 has toiled away for one or two owners in nearly four decades of largely uninterrupted service, Knoxville is home to an even older Southern alumni- 1890-built 2-8-0 steam locomotive #154- that sees action a few times a year on the Three Rivers Ranbler excursion train.

Blue State Graft Watch- Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr Resigns Over Misuse Of Campaign Funds

Illinois Democrat Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr has stepped down last week, reportedly as part of a plea arrangement stemming from a federal investigation over his misappropriation of campaign funds. Earlier this month, Jackson Jr handily won re-election in his south Chicago district despite being at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota since June- reportedly for treatment of 'exhaustion' and a previously undiagnosed bipolar disorder.

Federal investigators believe Jackson illegally siphoned off campaign funds to pay for renovations to his Chicago home, a $40,000 Rolex for a 'female friend' and plane tickets to fly Washington DC restaurant hostess Giovana Huidobro to Chicago at Jackson's request. There are also reports that Jackson was tipped off about the federal probe into his finances shortly before taking his leave of absence.

Jackson Jr's wife- Chicago Alerwoman Sandi Jackson- may also be facing jail time for her role in redirecting campaign funds. An estimated $20,000 went towards renovations on their Chicago home and many have speculated an increased willingness to cooperate with investigators on her part upon learning about the Rolex and plane tickets.

The son of increasingly irrelevant race baiting attention whore civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, Jackson Jr has been in congress for about 17 years and is no stranger to controversey. While still in law school, a Nigerian drug lord named Pius Ailemen was supposed to be the best man at his 1991 wedding [Aileman is currently serving a 24 year prison sentence for trafficking heroin- NANESB!]. More recently, Jackson Jr's name has come up repeatedly in the scandal surrounding former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich's attempt to sell off Barack Obama's vacant senate seat to the highest bidder after the freshman senator won the 2008 Presidential election.

There is also the possibility that Jackson Jr could retain his $45,000 a year Congressional pension unless he is convicted of one of several possibly public corruption felony charges.

Meanwhile, Illinois Gov Pat Quinn has tenatively set a special election date to fill Jackson's vacant seat for March 19, although he left open the possibility of moving it further back to April 9th so it would coincide with municipal elections. At least a dozen candidates including state representative Toi Hutchinson and Blagojevich's attorney Sam Adam Jr have announced their plans to run for the vacated seat in Illinois' almost exclusively Democrat 2nd congressional district.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Borderline Psychosis Update- Popular Ex Mayor Abducted, Killed in Michoacan; More Mass Graves Unearthed in Chihuahua; Sinaloa Beauty Queen Bites the Bullet

MICHOACAN- Dr Maria Santos Gorrostetia, a former mayor of a small town in Michoacan was found dead by laborers in a field after she was abducted at gunpoint in front of her daughter while taking her to school in Morelia earlier this month.

Gorrostieta served as mayor of the Michoacan town of Tiquicheo from 2008 to 2011 and survived at least two assassination attempts during that time- including a 2009 shooting that killed her then-husband, Jose Sanchez. After the shootings, she displayed her scars to the Mexican press as a symbol of defiance against the cartels that had attempted to silence her.

While serving as mayor, Gorrostetia said she didn't know exactly what she had done to earn the narcos' wrath, but struck a defiant tone after the first attempt on her life.

Earlier this month, Gorrostetia was abducted by gunmen who cut her vehicle off while on her way to drop her daughter off to school in Michoacan's capital of Morelia on November 12. Witnesses say that she got into a vehicle belonging to her assailants after pleading with them to spare her 12 year old daughter. Her body was found on Tuesday and reportedly showed signs of torture. Unnamed media and police sources state the the likely cause of Gorrostetia's death was bludgeoning.

Slightly smaller in total area than West Virginia, Michoacan is a mountainous state along Mexico's central Pacific coast and in recent years has been used to cultivate marijuana and poppies as well as offload chemicals shipped in from Asia for use in the manufacture of methamphetamine. The state was also home to the powerful and cult-like La Familia Michoacana cartel until it began to collapse under the weight of a military assault that saw much of its leadership captured or killed by early 2011. Since then, other organizaitons such as the Knights Templar or New Generation cartels have either reconstituted themselves from the remnants of La Familia or taken over areas previously under the control of La Familia.

Photo- Ricardo Ruiz
CHIHUAHUA-  At least 19 bodies have been discovered over the weekend throughout northern Mexico.

Forensic experts say that 11 of the bodies at a ranch about 30 miles southeast of Ciudad Juarez were apprently killed anywhere from four to ten years ago and buried two years ago. The bodies range in age from 18 to 40 years old at the time of death.

Meanwhile eight more bodies were dumped along the side of the road at Rosales, about 130 miles south of the remote Texas border town of Presidio.

According to reports, the bodies in Rosales showed signs of torture and the apparent cause of death ranged from gunshot wound to asphyxiation. Some media reports stated that the eyes on some of the bodies had also been gouged out.

SINALOA- State prosecutors say that a 20 year old beauty queen was among those killed in an hour long running gun battle between cartel gunmen and Mexican soldiers on Monday.

Maria Susana Flores Gamez was reportedly travelling on one of the vehicles whose occupants opened fire on Mexican troops, and after a lengthy pursuit Gamez and two others travelling in the narco convoy were killed in a hail of gunfire in a mountainous region of Sinaloa. An AK-style rifle was found near her body shortly after the shootout and an unkonw number of narcos managed to escape.

An official from the state's Attorney General's office said that Gamez was the first to emerge from the vehicle, brandishing a weapon while the narcos reportedly used her as a human shield. Investigators are conducting a ballistics test to determine if the weapon Gamez was seen brandishing had been fired during the shootout.

Observers have already drawn comparisons to the 2011 Mexican drama Miss Bala in which a Baja California beauty queen gets involved with narcos who use her as a diversion from their criminal dealings. The film highlights how the country's pageants and narco culture can be closely interwoven and the film itself was reportedly inspired by the 2008 arrest of beauty queen Laura Zúñiga and her narco boyfriend in Jalisco with two AR-15 style rifles and three handguns.

Maria Susana Flores Gamez has been incorrectly identified as Miss Sinaloa by a number of international media outlets. Although she reportedly competed for the title, the current Miss Sinaloa is in fact 23 year old Karime Macias.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tryptophan Post Thanksgiving Sports Chowdah Update- Failure to Launch, Patriots Demolish Jets in Turkey Day Laugher at Meadowlands; Irish Eyes Smiling- #1 Notre Dame Remains Unbeaten

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
NFL- The Thanksgiving Day NFL tripleheader wrapped up on Thursday night with the defending AFC East Champion Patriots travelling to the Meadowlands to wrap up their season series with the New York Jets. However, Jets fans had little to be thankful for that evening.

Although the first quarter went by with no score, the Patriots were driving and Brady connected with Welker for a short 3 yard pass to open up the 2nd quarter and put New England up 7-0.

A little later was a series of events that could almost be described as comical as the Patriots managed to score three TD's in less than 52 seconds- all of them either directly off of turnovers or made possible thanks to a short field from turnovers. With 9:43 to go in the first, Jets RB Shonn Green fumbled the ball on 4th and 1 from the Pats 31 yard line. The fumble was recovered by New England Safety Steve Gregory and on the very next play, Brady made an completion to RB Shane Vereen for 83 yards and a TD.

On the ensuing Jets possession, Zoltan Mesko booted the ball into the end zone for a touchback and after getting the ball out to their own 31 yard line, hilarity ensued as Jets QB Mark Sanchez attempted to rush for the first down marker, only to run into one of his own blockers, get knocked down and have Steve Gregory once again show up and recover the ball for New England, this time running it 32 yards to paydirt to give the Pats a 21-0 lead and undoubtedly creating one of the best animated GIFs that doesn't involve a bouncy Carrie Keagan.

Immediately following that opportunistic TD, Jets return man Joe McKnight fumbled the ball. It didn't even hit the ground, obligingly landing in Julian Edelman's arms as he returned it 22 yards for the 3rd Patriots touchdown in 52 seconds of playing time.

On New England's next posession, they were able to find their way to the end zone without any help from the Jets offense of special teams, capping off their drive with a 56 yard pass from Brady to Edelman to make it 35-0 in the 2nd quarter. The 35 point second quarter tied a franchise record for most number of points scored in a single quarter and New England headed into halftime up by a score of 35-3.

The second half wasn't much better, and even though the Jets were able to get some points on the board, the Patriots basically continued spanking them like they were some unruly brats. Although the Jets played the Pats tough in Foxbourough last month, forcing OT in a 29-26 New England win, the Thanksgiving turkey shoot at the Meadowlands was a different story as a 35 point 2nd quarter helps propel the Patriots to a 49-19 win over the Jets.

Tom Brady went 18-28 with 323 yards and 3 TDs- including one rushing touchdown. Julian Edelman had 67 yards and two TDs on the day while on the defensive side of the ball, Dont'a Hightower and Jerod Mayo each had a sack.

For this upcoming weekend, the Patriots will travel south to Miami to take on the 5-6 Dolphins. This would be the first time New England has played Miami this season, and a win could clinch the AFC East title for the 8-3 Patriots.

Keith Nordstrom- Attleboro Sun Chronicle

OTHER PATRIOTS NEWS- After 13 seasons with the New England Patriots, running back Kevin Faulk has announced his retirement last month. Drafted by New England in the 2nd round of the 1999 NFL Draft, Faulk became known among fans and teammates as the go-to guy for key 3rd downs during the Patriots championship seasons. Faulk retires as New England's all-time leader in all-purpose yards (12,349), return yards (5,041) and kick return yards (4,098).

Faulk saw increasingly limited playing time after an ACL tear in 2010 and announced his retirement in an October press conference.

EVEN MORE PATRIOTS NEWS- Third year defensive end Jermaine Cunningham recieved a 4-game suspension from the NFL for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

Although the banned substance in question wasn't publicly disclosed, the league announced their decision on Monday. Cunningham- who's credited with two and a half sacks this season- will be eligible to return to the active roster in time for the regular season finale against Miami.

Cunningham is the second Patriot to recieve a suspension for taking prohibited substances this month. RB Brandon Bolden also recieved a 4-game suspension earlier this month.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

NCAA FOOTBALL- After travelling to Los Angeles for a showdown with the USC Trojans, the top ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish finished the regular season perfect for the first time since 1988.

All eyes were on the Collesium as the Irish jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. The Trojans seemed game after heading into the half trailing 10-13. However, in the second half, Notre Dame began to pull away and with 5 minutes to go in the second half, the Irish turned away the Trojans on their own 1 yard line.

Notre Dame goes on to win by a 22-13 final and will advance to the BCS championship game in Miami in January. Their opponent will be determined over the weekend- over in the SEC, Alabama remains in the #2 spot after shutting out Auburn 49-0, #4 Flordia got past the #13 FSU Seminoles while Georgia moved up in the standings to #3 after demolishing Georgia Tech 42-10 during Rivalry weekend. Formerly undefeated #7 Kansas State had the weekend off but has one game remaining against the #23 Texas Longhorns this weekend. Despite the one loss and doubling up in-state rival Oregon State by a 48-24 final, #6 Oregon will be sitting out the Pac 12 title game. Instead, the Pac 12 championship game will be between #8 Stanford and #17 UCLA.

BIG EAST- Out of all the FBS schools in New England, UConn is the only one that has a shot at a bowl game this season. After getting out to a 10-0 lead against Louisville thanks to a rushing TD from WR Nick Williams and a 39 FG from Chad Christen, Louisville tied the game in the 2nd half to force overtime. The Cardinals and Huskies traded FGs in the first OT while UConn had a brief 20-13 lead after a Johnny McEntree TD pass to WR Shakim Phillips before Louisville got 7 of their own to force a 3rd OT.

To start off the 3rd OT, Huskies Cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson picked off Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater and UConn kicked the game winning FG to win the game 23-20. The Huskies wrap up their regular season next week against the 8-3 Cincinnati Bearcats. Should UConn win, they'll finish the season with a 6-6 record, making them bowl-eligible....although that doesn't necessarily guarantee an invite.

MID AMERICA CONFERENCE- Once again taking a lead into the 3rd quarter, the UMASS Minutemen were up 21-14 on the Central Michigan before the Chippewas scored 28 unanswered points to go on to win by the final of 42-21.

Despite the 1-11 record, UMass actually hasn't finished dead least in the MAC- their sole win came against the Toledo Zips who also finished with a 1-11 record. Toledo didn't win any games against a MAC opponent, while the Minutemen went 1-7 with their sole win against the Zips.

The MAC title game will take place on Friday and pit #21 Northern Illinois and #17 Kent State.

ACC- The Boston College finished up their dissappointing 2012 season and cemented their last place finish in the Atlantic Coast conference with a 27-10 loss to the NC State Wolfpack. The BC Eagles finish up with a 2-10 record with their only wins coming against Maine and Maryland.

Meanwhile this year's ACC Title game will take pleace between #13 Florida State and 6-6 Georgia Tech on Saturday at Bank of America Stadium in Charoltte, NC at 8:00 PM.

ELSEWHERE IN THE ACC- The ACC chancellors are expected to vote this week on wether or not to add the Louisville Cardinals to the conference. UConn and Cincinnati are also reportedly under consideration for further expansion of the ACC, but decision regarding Louisville moved to the forefront after Maryland's announcement that they would be leaving for the Big Ten conference starting in the 2014 academic season.

The ACC will also be adding Pitt and Syracuse in 2013.

Balk Like An Egyptian- Muslim Brotherhood Cancels Pro-Morsi Rallies as Opposition Grows

As opposition to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood-backed president Mohammed Morsi and his decree giving himself nearly unlimited powers last week grows, the Muslim Brotherhood has cancelled a series of planned mass demonstrations in support of the Egyptian president.

In Cairo, thousands of Egyptians flocked to Tahrir Square for a massive protest against Morsi on Tuesday in a scene reminiscent of the 'Arab Spring' from earlier this year that toppled the 30-year rule of strongman Hosni Mubarak.
By early afternoon, nearly 20,000 people were at Tahrir, birthplace of the 18-day popular uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian regime nearly two years ago. Security was tightened across Cairo, with police checking ID papers and searching cars coming into the center, but there was no sign of protesters being stopped from reaching Tahrir.

A chaotic city of some 18 million people, Cairo's traffic was uncharacteristically light on Tuesday, with many businesses and government offices closing shop early in anticipation of possible unrest.

A new banner in the square proclaimed, "The Brotherhood stole the country" and one protester, Mahmoud Youssef, said: "We are here to bring down the constitutional declaration issued by Morsi." Many chanted the iconic slogans "the people want to bring down the regime."

Several thousand lawyers meanwhile gathered outside their union building in downtown Cairo ahead of their march to Tahrir to join protesters there. "Leave, leave," they chanted, addressing Morsi, who narrowly won elections in June to become the country's first freely elected civilian president.

In the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, some 3,000 anti-Morsi protesters gathered outside the main court at the center of the ancient city.
The mass demonstration follows reports of angry mobs ransacking and torching offices of the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm- the Freedom and Justice party- in Mahallah and the Mediterranian port city of Alexandria.

Meanwhile, Morsi told top officials from Egypt's judiciary that he did not infringe on their authority when he granted himself near-absolute powers last week. Morsi had previously defended the move by telling the public that such measures would be temporary.

Since Morsi's decree and the gathering political unrest, shares in Egypt's stock exchange- the EGX30- have tumbled by as much as 9%, which was comprable to market activity leading up to the protests that swept Mubarak from power.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Union-Sponsored Wal Mart Employee Black Friday Walkout 'Mostly a Fizzle'

A threatened Black Friday nationwide walkout by Walmart employees sponsored by, Occupy Wall Street and labor unions reportedly has done nothing to crimp the mega-retailer's sales on the busiest shopping day of the year.
Protests did take place at some stores, with SEIU members, and Occupy Wall Street activists making noise, The Blaze reported, but very few Wal-Mart employees participated nationwide.

The Associated Press said that "nine people, including three employees, were arrested shortly after noon for blocking the street" outside the store in Paramount, Calif., but "more than 1,000 people" blocked traffic outside the store at one point in the protest.

"A union-backed group called OUR Walmart has said that it is holding an estimated 1,000 protests in 46 states. The exact number is unclear. Wal-Mart has refuted that estimate, saying the figure is grossly exaggerated and that the protests involved few of its own employees," the AP added.

Wal-Mart said that only 50 employees participated in the protests, but the United Food and Commercial Workers union disagrees, the Washington Examiner reported.

"It said 'hundreds and hundreds' joined in at events across the country," Sean Higgins wrote, but that number could not be verified.

"Even assuming the UFCW figure is correct, that is pretty small given that Wal-Mart is the nation’s largest employer, with 1.4 million people working at its stores," Higgins added.
A number of retailers, including Wal Mart [NYSE- WMT], didn't even wait for midnight on Thanksgiving to open their doors to hundreds of shoppers hoping to score Black Friday deals. Despite the threatened walkout sponsored by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) or SEIU, Wal Mart reportedly had their best ever Black Friday with an increasing number of transactions taking place online.

A number of both online and brick and mortar retailers such as Amazon, Wal Mart, Best Buy, Sears are expecting 'Cyber Monday'- the Monday the weekend after Thanksgiving- to be the single busiest online shopping day of the year.

Today's Train of Thought- Fall Classics, Nov 25th, 2012

Today's Train of Thought takes us to Pennsylvania's northern tier and gives us a glimpse of some old war horses doing what they were built for some 40 years after their manufacturer shut down.

The Western New York & Pennsylvania got its start in 2001 on a dormant former Conrail (nee- Erie) line between Meadville, Pa and Hornell, NY. Even before the 1999 takeover of Conrail by Norfolk Southern and CSX, the line had been taken out of service by Conrail.

After some legal wrangling, the line was re-opened by the Western New York & Pennsylvania railroad in 2003. In addition to attempting to generate traffic along the 190-mile Meadville line, the WNY&P also reached an agreement with the Norfolk Southern to use the line as a shortcut between the coal fields of Southwestern Pennsylvania and a number of power plants in the Northeast, bypassing the Buffalo area altogether.

By early 2007, the WNY&P had expanded further with the lease of a portion of the former Conrail Buffalo line from Norfolk Southern between Machias and Driftwood, PA. The former Pennsylvania railroad line used to run all the way between Buffalo and Harrisburgh, PA- the WNY&P leases about 90 miles which includes 5 miles of 2.6% grade at Keating Summit, PA.

Besides hauling water, pipe and frac sand for increased drilling in the Marcellus Shale along Pennsylvania's northern tier, the WNY&P got an unexpected revenue boost in 2009 when their portion of the Buffalo line was used for the filming of a number of scenes from Tony Scott's Unstoppable.

Here, photographer Aaron J Border caught burly 6-axle ALCO C630M #630 heading southbound with train DFT [the Driftwood Turn- NANESB!] at Sinnemahoning, PA on October 20th, 2009, framed by some trees changing color at WNY&P's southern end of the Buffalo line.

The WNY&P locomotive fleet is exclusively ALCO or Montreal Locomotive Works- an anomaly in these days. The steep grades around Keating Summit, PA justify the presence of the vintage 3000 HP beasts- management of the Arkansas and Missouri in northwestern Arkansas has also cited the steep grades on their former Frisco line through the Ozarks as the reason why they maintain an all-ALCO fleet. In fact, the #630 is still painted in Arkansas & Missouri colors- the locomotive started out life as Canadian Pacific #4500. The trailing unit is still wearing the colors of Quebec-Cartier mining.

While the WNY&P has experienced a number of setbacks since then- Norfolk Southern's overhead traffic has virtually dried up and a steep decline in the price of natural gas has cut back in drilling activities along the Marcellus Shale- the line still handles commodities like steel, aggregates, wax and cheese on both the Buffalo and Meadville lines.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Protests Erupt as Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Grants Himself Sweeping New Powers

Consider this a combination of 'Meet the new boss, same as the old boss' and a sarcastic 'Gee- didn't see that coming', Egypt's new president has granted himself broad new- what some are calling dictatorial- powers this week.

Clashes between police and protesters broke out in Cairo and Alexandria not even a full day after Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi issued a proclamation that granted himself sweeping new powers. The decree reportedly shields any decisions by him from any challenge by Egypt's judicial branch and has led to domestic and international observers dubbing the president 'Pharoah Morsi'.

Earlier in the week, Morsi had won international praise for attempting to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas after the IDF retaliated against a continuous barrage of rockets from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Not surprisingly, Egypt's judiciary slammed Morsi's proclamation- which seemed to be directed almost exclusively at the court system and the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court.
Egypt's liberal and secular forces -- long divided, weakened and uncertain amid the rise of Islamist parties to power -- are seeking to rally themselves in response to the decrees issued this week by President Mohammed Morsi. The president granted himself sweeping powers to "protect the revolution" and made himself immune to judicial oversight.

The judiciary, which was the main target of Morsi's edicts, pushed back Saturday. The country's highest body of judges, the Supreme Judical Council, called his decrees an "unprecedented assault." Courts in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria announced a work suspension until the decrees are lifted.

Outside the high court building in Cairo, several hundred demonstrators rallied against Morsi, chanting, "Leave! Leave!" echoing the slogan used against former leader Hosni Mubarak in last year's uprising that ousted him. Police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of young men who were shooting flares outside the court.

The edicts issued Wednesday have galvanized anger brewing against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, from which he hails, ever since he took office in June as Egypt's first freely elected president. Critics accuse the Brotherhood -- which has dominated elections the past year -- and other Islamists of monopolizing power and doing little to bring real reform or address Egypt's mounting economic and security woes.

Opposition groups have called for new nationwide rallies Tuesday -- and the Muslim Brotherhood has called for rallies supporting Morsi the same day, setting the stage for new violence.
Some observers believe that Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood allies in Egypt's Parliament are attempting to consolidate power while there is still some goodwill from the international community for brokering a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel and before more secular, pro-democracy factions in Egypt could galvanize and pose any significant opposition to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled government.

Although the Egyptian military has been conspicuous by their silence, there are reports in Arabic-language media that Egyptian officers tacitly approve of the anti-Morsi demonstrations taking place throughout the nation. This could lead to a tenuous alliance between Egypt's military and the nation's Supreme Constitutional Court- many of whom still have officers and officials appointed by the Mubarak regime- and the 'Arab Spring' protesters who ultimately ousted the former Egyptian strongman. Hosni Mubarak has been incarcerated and is reportedly in poor health since June.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Entire City Block- Including Strip Club- Levelled in Huge Blast in Springfield, MA

A massive explosion destroyed a strip club and levelled an entire city block in western Massachusetts, scattering glass shards and bricks early Friday night.
The explosion happened after a gas leak in the area, which was reported around 4:20 P.M.

The loud boom, which came just after 5:00, could be heard and felt as far away as Hardwick, Granby, Belchertown, and Monson. In downtown, the explosion sent a huge cloud of smoke into the air, and people standing nearby were knocked to their feet.

The Scores gentlemen's club was destroyed in the explosion.

Scores was closed on Friday, sparing exotic dancers [as depicted by Carrie Keagan in the animated GIF above- NANESB!] from any immediate harm. Police and fire were reportedly already on the scene when the explosion took place. Although the blast injured 18 people, officials said there were no fatalities- many of the injured were firefighters and the area was already in the process of being evacuated.

Mayor Dominic Sarno and Massachusetts Lt Gov Tim Murray were attending a tree-lighting ceremony across town when the explosion took place. State Fire marshall Stephen Coan said that his agency would be responsible for investigating the cause of the blast.

While most of the damage was sustained by commercial properties, officials condemned at least 40 nearby apartment units after the explosion and the number is expected to grow.

Springfield is Western Massachusetts' largest city and is perhaps best known as being the home of the Basketball Hall of Fame and Theodore Geisel- who would go on to be the author known as Dr Seuss. Some portions of the city are still rebuilding from a tornado that ripped through the city in June 2011.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving From Not Another New England Sports Blog!

Just a quick reminder to wish you and yours a happy and relatively stress free Thanksgiving- or as I like to call it "Football and Roast Beef November Thursday".

Now you might be asking 'Why Roast Beef?' or even 'Why should I care?Jees- get over yourself'. The menu selection is a family tradition dating back to when PETA had first launched a high profile campaign calling for Thanksgiving boycott of turkey. Faced with the prospect of weeks of incermentally less appetizing turkey leftovers and clearly not listening to the rest of PETA's message, I enthusiastically backed the idea of a turkey-free Thanksgiving and came home with a pot roast one year. Sure it was more than enough for the whole family, but for the next several days we had yummy roast beef leftovers- a good problem to have!

Other relatives warmed up to the concept- some apparently going so far as following through PETA's original message. So although Thanksgiving rotates between casa de Fenway and other relatives' places, in my eyes a Thanksgiving feast has become synonymous with roast beef, ham and even a cornish game hen with sides like scalloped potatoes and steamed asparagus- although I admit I find the concept of the turducken intruiging.

The saucy little brunette pilgrim above is from Freeman Elliot called  An Arrow Escape. The arrows in this case are not pointing the way to the Mass Turnpike as that logo was phased out by the 1990s. Although I'm unsure of the date, it was reportedly used in a 1950 calender from Brown and Bigelow.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Today's Train of Thought- Dakota Gold, November 21st, 2012

Today's train of thought takes us to the northern plains and a place one wouldn't normally associate with trees of any significant quantity, let alone fall foliage. But a little like the Mohave desert, all it takes is a few strategically located trees to set up a scene with as much fall color as Vermont.

Case in point, this scene out of North Dakota. Here, contributor Steven M Welch caught Dakota, Missouri Valley and Western SD45 #7515 leading a trio of SD50Fs with Bismark to Max, ND train #136 at Falkirk, ND on October 1st, 2012.

The train is seen dragging cars of coal, grain, aggregates and oil in the shade of some trees turning a golden hue as they make their way through some gently undulating grades enroute to Max, ND. Besides the abundant wheat crop which keeps regionals like DMV&W busy come harvest time, the line also handles lignite coal and oil from the Bakken shale.

Interestingly, all four locomotives on Train #136 came to the Dakota, Missouri Valley & Western by way of Canadian National. The SD45 is ex-Wisconsin Central, which was one of many that were deemed surplus shortly after the CN acquisition of the WC about ten years ago while the SD50Fs were acquired directly from CN in 2009.

Sports Chowdah Update- Colts Out of Luck in Foxborough; Oregon, Kansas State Losses Leave Fighting Irish Sole Undefeated FBS Team; Got Melk? Toronto Does

AP Photo/Steven Senne

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS- This weekend's matchup between the Colts and the Patriots marked the first time that the Indianapolis had played New England without starting QB Peyton Manning on the Colts roster since 1998. While Manning was recovering from spinal fusion surgery this time last year, the Colts struggled mightily under QB Kerry Collins and the final weeks of the Colts' season were referred to as the 'Andrew Luck Sweepstakes' as the bottom NFL teams were vying for the Stanford starting QB Andrew Luck.

Prior to the game, one of the broadcasters observed that as Tom Brady (not to mention current Colts teammate Adam Vinatieri) made his first Super Bowl appearence in February 2002, Andrew Luck was in the 6th grade. And despite getting out to the quick start in the first quarter, with the Colts getting out to an early 14-7 lead. The Pats would end up tying the game at 14-14 on a Julian Edelman punt return early in the second quarter. New England would take the lead for good when Pats cornerback Aquib Talib picked off Andrew Luck two plays into the Colts' next drive, returning it 59 yards for a pick-six.

The Pats and Colts would then trade field goals, giving New England a 17-24 lead at halftime. However, the seconds half was pretty much all New England as Brady connected with Julian Edelman and then Rob Gronkowski to make it 38-17 at the end of the 3rd and CB Alfonzo Denard intercepted an Andrew Luck pass and returned it 87 yards for paydirt. Although this was followed up by a 43 yard TD pass from Luck to Colts WR TY Hilton, the Patriots would get rushing TDs from Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen to tie a franchise scoring record with 59 points [I'm wondering the the guys dressed up as minutemen who fire off a volley from their muskets brought enough powder Sunday- NANESB!].

New England wins this one going away by a 59-24 final on Sunday. Tom Brady went 25-35 with 3 TDs and 331 yards while the rookie Luck went 27 for 50 with 334 yards, 2 TDs and 3 interceptions (two of them run back for TDs).

However, the victory came at a cost as TE Rob Gronkowski suffered a broken forearm with less than 4 minutes to go in Sunday's contest. Gronkowski reportedly had surgery on his forearm on Monday and is expected to miss anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks.

The Patriots only have a couple of days off as their next game will be on Thanksgiving against the Jets at the Meadowlands. New England has won 15 out of the last 19 regular season contests against their AFC East rival, although the Patriots needed overtime to get past the Jets at Gilette Stadium earlier this season. The prime-time matchup is set to kick off at 8:20 ET and will be televised on NBC.

ELSEWHERE IN THE NFL- A couple of rather noteworthy developments from week 10 that I failed to mention.

- Somewhere in Miami, there's champagne corks popping as the Atlanta Falcons, the NFL's last undefeated team, suffered their first loss of the season at the Louisiana Superdome to Drew Brees and the resurgent New Orleans Saints by a 31-27 final. This Sunday, the Falcons managed to squeak past the Arizona Cardinals by a 23-19 final despite QB Matt Ryan throwing 5 picks.

- The NFC West leading San Francisco 49ers and the St Louis Rams had the NFL's first tie under the league's revised overtime rules after the teams headed into OT knotted at 24-24 and swapped missed FG attempts.

- Week 10 saw at least four teams lose their starting QBs- three of them due to concussions. Colin Kaepernick came in for San Francisco's Alex Smith in their game against St Louis while Nick Foles had to come in for Michael Vick in Philadelphia's loss to the Cowboys. In prime time games from Week 10, Bears QB was knocked out of Sunday night's game against the Houston Texans while Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger left Monday night's contest with Kansas City.

- Week 11 saw three overtime games (none of them ending in a tie) with the Cowboys needing OT to get past the Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay getting past Carolina 27-21 in the extra quarter and the Houston Texans rallying past the Jacksonville Jaguars by a 43-37 final in OT.

AP Photo/Dan Ryan
NCAA FOOTBALL- Almost concurrently, two of the top-ranked teams in the polls were dealt their first losses of the season Saturday night.

Baylor jumped out to a 28-17 lead over #1 Kansas State in the First half and opened it up from there, upending the Wildcats hopes for a shot at the BCS title game after the Bears dealt them a 52-24 loss.

While that was going on, #2 Oregon and #13 Stanford were locked in a tight, low-scoring game with the Ducks up 14-7 late in the 4th when Stanford managed to tie it up on a 9 yard TD pass from Kevin Hogan to Zach Ertz with 2:17 to go and forcing OT, where Stanford's Jordan Williamson clinched the game with a 37 yard FG.

The Ducks loss could set up a scenario where they may not even be playing in the Pac 12 title game. Should Stanford beat #17 UCLA, then both the Cardinals and Bruins will meet in a rematch the following week in the Pac 12 chamionship game. Oregon has one remaining regular season game- their intrastate rivals, #15 Oregon State. If the Bruins and Ducks win their respective games this weekend, they'll meet in the December 1st Pac 12 title game.

The loss comes as good news for Notre Dame, who after shutting out Wake Forest 38-0, will travel to Los Angeles to take on the USC Trojans for their regular season finale. USC is coming off of a 10-point loss to crosstown rivals UCLA.

Meanwhile, Kansas State's remaining game is against the Texas Longhorns on December 1st. Should Notre Dame lose and Kansas State, Oregon and Alabama win out, that will once again murky up the FBS championship picture as there would be a number one-loss teams vying for a spot in the National Championship- the Georgia Bulldogs and Florida Gators have entered some chamionship conversations as well pending the outcome of their 'rivalry weekend' games; Alabama has Auburn to cap off the regular season while Georgia has the Georgia Tech Yellowjackets and Florida has the 10th ranked Florida State Seminoles.

BOSTON COLLEGE- While it's been an off year for Virginia Tech, it's been even more of an off year for the BC Eagles. Although the Eagles got off to a 13-3 lead at halftime, the Hokies clawed back and the second half was a back and forth affair that saw Boston College take a 23-20 over the Hokies with 5 minutes to go in regulation before Virginia Tech tied it up with a late FG with 1:10 remaining.

The Hokies got the ball first in the OT and scored a TD on their opening posession, meaning that BC needed a touchdown of their own just to extend the overtime. However, the game ended when Chase Rettig's completion to RB David Dudeck was only good for 8 yards on 4th and 12 from the Hokies 27 yard line. Eagles lose by a final of 30-23 in OT at Chestnut Hill.

The Eagles will wrap up their disappointing football season with an away game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Raliegh on Saturday afternoon at 3:00 ET.

ELSEWHERE IN THE ACC- The University of Maryland Board of Regents has accepted an invitation from the Big 10 conference and will start playing there starting with the 2014-2015 academic season. Maryland was a charter member of the Atlantic Coast Conference during its 1953 founding.

This followed reports over the weekend that Rutgers was set to join the Big 10, exiting the Big East conference. Maryland will become the furthest south member of the Big 10 conference as well.

The move has also sparked speculation on whether or not there would be any movement from either UConn or UMass to fill the vacancies left in eithethe Big East and ACC left by Rutgers and Maryland's respective departure [Although the ACC announced last year they would be adding the Pitt Panthers and Syracuse Orangemen beginning with the 2013 season- NANESB!].

UMASS- Despite shutting out Buffalo 13-0 in the first half, the Bulls came roaring back in the second half and capitalized on some UMass special teams errors to get on the board and take the lead.

Buffalo got on the board with a blocked punt attempt returned for a touchdown, slicing the UMass lead in half. The Minutemen then took a 19-7 lead on a 3 yard rushing TD from RB Micheal Cox. However, the two point attempt failed and the Bulls would go on to score three unanswered TDs to go on and win by a 29-19 final.

UMass wraps up their MAC debut season with one final home game this Saturday at 3:00 PM against the Central Michigan Chippewas at Gilette Stadium.

UCONN- Interestingly, after already having one in late October, this is another bye week for the Huskies. Their most recent game was a 24-17 home win over the Pitt Panthers at East Hartford and on Saturday, they'll travel to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville to take on the 9-1 Louisville Cardinals at Noon eastern before wrapping up the regular season at home against the Cincinnati Bearcats at home on Dec 1st.

Although this has been a disappointing year for UConn Football, the 4-6 Huskies still have an outside shot at a bowl game if they somehow manage to win their final two games of the season.

NEW HAMPSHIRE- Even though they were blown out by the Towson Tigers by a 64-35 final on Saturday (including Towson running the score by a 34-7 margin in the second half), the 8-3 UNH Wildcats have made the NCAA FCS bracket.

The Wildcats- who finished 3rd in the Colonial conference- will face off against the Wofford Terriers at Spartanburg, SC on December 1st. The game will kick off at 2:00 ET and will be streaming on ESPN3.

Villanova and Old Dominion have also made the tournament.

MLB- The Toronto Blue Jays have followed up their acquisition of Jose Reyes, Mark Buerligh and Josh Johnson from the Florida Marlins by signing free agent outfielder Melky Cabrera to a 2 year, $16 million deal this week.

After playing the first half of the 2012 season with the San Frnacisco Giants, Cabrera recieved a 50 game suspension earlier this season for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs after the All Star Game. Although he was eligible for the postseason roster, the Giants declined to bring Cabrera back after serving his suspension.

The Blue Jays also announced the return of Josh Gibbons as the team's manager after John Farrell left for Boston last month.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Feds Arrest Four Southern California Men Accused of Plotting Violent Jihad

Four Southern California men were arrested this weekend and charged on Monday with plotting a violent jihad against the United States according to a criminal complaint filed in a US District court.
One of the men, Sohiel Omar Kabir, 34, allegedly traveled in July to Afghanistan, where he arranged for terrorist training to be conducted with Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives.

Kabir, who lived in Pomona, is a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Afghanistan, federal authorities said.

In 2010, Kabir allegedly introduced Ontario resident Ralph Deleon, 23, and Upland resident Miguel Alejandro Santana, 21, to "radical and violent Islamic doctrine," according to the complaint.

"Kabir influenced Santana and Deleon to convert to Islam," the complaint said.

The complaint said the men studied Internet essays and lectures by Anwar Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric and U.S. citizen who was killed in Yemen in 2011 by missiles fired from a U.S. Predator drone aircraft.

After arriving in Afghanistan, Kabir told the two men that he had arranged for them to travel to that country for terrorist training, the complaint alleged.

Santana and Deleon are accused of telling a confidential source working for the FBI that they planned to go to Afghanistan to take part in "violent jihad," the complaint said. Santana is a permanent resident born in Mexico, authorities said, and Deleon is a permanent resident born in the Philippines.

In September, the two men recruited Riverside resident Arifeen David Gojali, 21, to travel overseas with them and join Kabir for terrorist training, according to federal authorities. Gojali is a U.S. citizen.

Santan, Gojali and Deleon were apprehended Friday by authorities with the Joint Terrorism Task Force. They appeared before a magistrate Monday in federal court in Riverside.

Kabir was taken into custody in Afghanistan. The investigation is ongoing. If convicted, the men face up to 15 years in federal prison.
Authorities allege that Kabir kept in touch with his co-conspirators in Afghanistan via Skype and social networking sites. The four men were reportedly interested in training at a Taliban camp near Jalalabad and waging jihad against foreign targets in Afghanistan or Yemen using explosives. Federal agents reportedly moved in to make the arrests when a confidential informant told them that Santana, Gojali and Deleon had sold off posessions to purchase plane tickets from Mexico City to Istanbul with the intention of travelling on to Afghanistan from there.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Iron Horse Roundup for October/November 2012

EGYPT- At least 49 schoolchildren in southern Egypt were killed when the bus transporting them to school was struck by a speeding train at the village of al-Mandara on Saturday.
The bus was carrying more than 50 children ages four to six when it was hit near al-Mandara village in Manfaloot district in the province of Assiut, a security official said. He said it appeared that the railroad crossing was not closed as the train sped toward it.

Books, school bags and children's socks were strewn along the tracks near the blood-stained, mangled bus. Parents of the missing wailed as they looked for signs of their children. An Associated Press reporter at the scene said many of the remains were unrecognizable.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Residents in Assiut complained that there were not enough ambulances in the area that could respond quickly enough and that the ambulances themselves were ill-equipped to deal with the emergency.

At al-Mandara village, angry families and locals gathered near the tracks, shouting at officials. Some chanted: "Down with Morsi!"
This is the biggest disaster in Egypt since the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Mohammed Morsi took power in the wake of last year's 'Arab Spring' popular uprising. With frequent accidents and outdated equipment, Egypt's rail network has long been considered unsafe and accident-prone.
A pair of New Jersey Transit GP40s seen delivering 21 new Bombardier multilevel commuter cars at Dunellen, NJ on November 17, 2012. The cars are sorely needed after Superstorm Sandy damaged or detroyed 25% of NJ Transit's passenger cars after they were sent to a low-lying rail yard before Superstorm Sandy made landfall in late October. Robert Pisani photo

NEW JERSEY TRANSIT- New Jersey's commuter railroad agency has been dealt a considerable setback in their attempt to resume full service in the wake of Sandy after officials had decided to shuttle locomotives and rolling stock to a low-lying yard in Harrison, NJ ahead of the superstorm.

At least $385 million in equipment- including nine dual-mode locomotives, 84 multi-level commuter cars and NJT's computer equipment for dispatching- were damaged in a tidal surge at the Meadowlands facility while more equipment was damaged at the agency's Hoboken terminal and rail yard.
"If there's a predicted 13-foot or 10-foot storm surge, you don't leave your equipment in a low-lying area," said David Schanoes, a railroad consultant and former deputy chief of field operations for Metro North Railroad, a sister railway serving New York State. "It's just basic railroading. You don't leave your equipment where it can be damaged."

Most of the avoidable damage came at NJ Transit's Meadows Maintenance Complex, a sprawling 78-acre network of tracks and buildings in an industrial area of Kearny that is surrounded by wetlands. The complex is the primary maintenance center for the agency's locomotives and rail cars, with both outdoor and indoor equipment storage; repair, servicing, cleaning, inspection and training facilities; and the agency's rail operations center, which houses computers involved in the movement of trains and communication with passengers.

The yard sits in the swampy crook where the Passaic and Hackensack rivers come together. Elevation maps show that it lies between 0 and 19 feet above sea level. The National Hurricane Center was predicting a storm surge of 6 to 11 feet along the New Jersey and New York coast on top of an unusual tide that already had the rivers running high.

Forecasts were that the storm would make landfall on Monday, October 29, somewhere along the New Jersey or New York coast. On Friday, October 26, executives from the New York City subway system and all of the region's commuter rail systems - NJ Transit, Long Island Rail Road and Metro North Railroad - decided they would halt all service Sunday night.

NJ Transit's last trains left their originating stations at 11 p.m. on Sunday, and workers spent the next 12 hours securing equipment, said Weinstein.

At NJ Transit's emergency command center, reports streamed in from the governor's command center in Trenton, county emergency management officials and the National Weather Service, which provided frequent updates on the storm's progress. Monitoring those reports and advising the agency on what to expect from the storm was NJ Transit Police Capt. Robert Noble, who is well-versed and trained in monitoring storms, Weinstein said.
On any given weekday, New Jersey Transit carries an estimated 136,000 people between New Jersey and New York's Penn Station. NJT got some relief in the form of 21 new bilevel Bombardier commuter cars assembled in Plattsburgh, NY that arrived on Nov 17th.

Shortline operator Morristown and Erie has reportedly been contracted by the agency to repair at least ten of the damaged NJT locomotives at their Morristown, NJ shops.

Mass Coastal GP9M #2008 seen trundling down the Falmouth line past the cove at Bourne, MA with a trash train enroute to the Otis transfer station in August 2008. Ryan Parent photo
MASS COASTAL- Chicago-based Iowa Pacific Holdings acquired a controlling interest in the parent company of two southeastern Massachusetts shortlines in late October.

Iowa Pacific announced the acquisiton of Cape Rail, Inc- the parent company of Mass Coastal and Cape Cod Central- last month. Cape Cod Central hauls seasonal excursion trains on Cape Cod while Mass Coastal handles freight on the former New Haven Falmouth Line in addition to a pair of lines that serve New Bedford, MA and Fall River, MA from a CSX interchange in Taunton, MA. Both the Fall River and New Bedford lines are reportedly prime candidates for a proposed expansion of MBTA commuter rail service to Boston's South station. Mass Coastal has operated those lines for the last two years.

Other railroads in the Iowa Pacific fold include the Permian Basin Railways in New Mexico, San Luis & Rio Grande in Colorado, the Mount Hood Railroad in Oregon and the Saratoga & North Creek in upstate New York.

Norfolk Southern SD60 #6920 seen at Brea, OH with intermodal train 21G.
Dan Davidson photo.
NORFOLK SOUTHERN- Norfolk Southern unveiled a specially painted locomotive honoring veterans just prior to Veteran's Day.

Photographers got a glimpse of red white and blue (not to mention copious amounts of black) SD60M #6920 at the railroad's Altoona, PA facility before it headed south for a Veteran's Day event in Norfolk, VA. According to a press release, the special paint scheme required 26 employees (two of whom were veterans) and 66 gallons of paint. The railroad also stated that military veterans currently make up about 14% of their current workforce and they were ranked #32 by GI Jobs in their list of top 100 military and veteran-friendly employers.

After the Veteran's Day weekend ceremonies, the #6920 resumed regular service and was spotted leading intermodal freight 21G through Ohio.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

That's the Way the Twinkie Crumbles: With Hostess Shutdown, Twinkie the Kid's Salvation May Come From South of the Border

Growing up, I was more of a Little Debbie kind of guy, but this still sucks.

After more than 82 years in business, Hostess Brands, the maker of such iconic confections as Twinkies, Wonder Bread and Donettes, announced on Friday that they were closing their doors forever in the wake of a bankruptcy filing and protracted labor dispute.
The specter of liquidation has loomed large since the bankruptcy case, Hostess's second in recent years, kicked off in January. From the start, the company has warned that labor cuts were its only chance to survive in the marketplace and said the only other possible outcome was a full shutdown of the business. Both Hostess and its largest union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, have long agreed a widespread strike would spell the end of the company.
The shutdown and liquidation of Hostess is expected to leave as many as 18,500 employees at 36 plants throughout the country jobless right before Thanksgiving. Although the Teamsters union had agreed to wage and benefit concessions that was part of the Hostess restructuring, but the Bakers, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Miller's Union balked at any such concessions on their end and refused to return to work by a 5 PM deadline on Thursday. Apparently this wasn't an ill-conceived bluff on the part of the BCTGM, as the leadership was well aware Hostess didn't have the means to weather a prolonged strike by their workers [interestingly, while the BCTGM's website was offline with an "exceeded bandwidth" message throughout the weekend, it returned Sunday night with a slew of 'It's not OUR fault Hostess shut down!' articles- NANESB!]

With liquidation on the horizon, a number of potential bidders for Hostess' assets and trademarks have come forward. According to analysts, potential suitors include private equity firm and current Pabst Blue Ribbon owner C. Dean Metropoulos & Co, Kellog Company [NYSE: K], Kraft Foods spinoff Mondelez International [NASDAQ: MDLZ], Campbell's Soup [NYSE: CPB] and the largest baking company in the world, Mexico's Grupo Bimbo [BMV: BIMBOA].

In September 2011, Grupo Bimbo had completed their acquisition of Illinois-based Sarah Lee Corporation's baking unit and may be looking to further expand their market share in the USA with the purchase of Hostess' assets.

IDF Preparing For Ground Assault on Gaza Strip After Hamas Fires Rockets

Explosion and smoke seen during an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City. Reuters/Suhaib Salem photo

Air raid sirens sounded across Israel over the weekend as Hamas launched hundreds of rockets from the Gaza strip and the IDF retaliated with airstrikes targeted assassinations of Hamas leadership.

After the southern towns of Ashkelon and Beersheeba came under fire from rockets launched in the Gaza strip, the IDF killed senior Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari in an airstrike as Jabari and his aides were travelling by car on Wednesday. Hamas officials claim that additional Israeli airstrikes have killed 11 civilians in the Gaza strip. However, Hamas officials had been caught attempting to pass photos of Syrians killed in that nation's ongoing civil insurrection as Gazans victimised by Israeli violence earlier this week, casting doubt on the credibility of their claims.

Israeli officials said that most of the rockets- including the long-range, Iranian-made Fajr-5 capable of reaching Tel Aviv- were launched from civilian areas in the Gaza strip. Senior IDF officers say that the majority of the incoming rockets has been intercepted by the newly-deployed 'Iron Dome' interceptor system.

Israeli troops and armor have been massing along the Gaza border over the last few days as IDF commanders weigh an ground assault against Hamas targets in Gaza City. The Israeli army has also begun calling up thousands of reservists and erecting roadblicks in the southern portion of the country as both Hamas and the IDF took to social media to try and gain support worldwide.

While Israeli and Egyptian diplomats were meeting to discuss a ceasefire in Gaza, although Hamas has reportedly rejected any talk of a ceasefire.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Today's Train of Though- Climate Change, November 16th 2012

Today's train of thought takes us trackside to a pond Down East to highlight the change of seasons. What some people refer to as 'climate change', many in the Northeast simply refer to as 'fall', although the lead locomotive depicted above has come a long way since hauling fast freight and minerals through under the blazing sun of California's Mojave desert.

Here, contributor Dan Nelson caught Pan Am/Maine Central SD40-2M #617 roaring past a pond in Auburn, ME with symbol freight NMSE [Northern Maine Jct/Hermon, ME to the CSX Yard at SElkirk, NY] on October 9th, 2010.

The first two units are sporting a classy red and silver that was actually the colors of California's Trona Railway. The lead unit started out life as in May 1974 as Santa Fe SD45-2 #5710 before being rebuilt to SD40-2 standards in the 1990s and purchased by California shortline Trona Railway, where it wore the number 3003. The 30 mile line hauls soda ash, borax, coal and potash in the Mojave Desert, connecting with the Union Pacific.

In 2004, after a little over a decade in service on the Trona, the #3003 and its brethern had been sold to Helm Leasing as the line purchased a handful of former Southern Pacific and Union Pacific SD40T-2 Tunnel Motors. The red and silver units criss-crossed the country as a rent-a-wreck in service on the BNSF, Norfolk Southern, CSX, Union Pacific and shorlines or regionals like the Aberdeen, Carolina & Western or Pan Am.

By late 2009, the unit was one of dozens of six-axle 'rent-a-wrecks' purchased by Pan Am in anticipation of faster track speeds and more frequent trains on the Mechanicsville NY to Ayer, MA 'Patriot Corridor' [although in this instance, she's depicted hustling finished paper products and kaolin empties back to the CSX interchange- NANESB!].  Sister units 616 and 618- also rebuilt from former Santa Fe SD45-2s-  arrived in New England around the same time wearing Trona's distincitve colors. Hauling forestry products through Maine at or near fall's peak foliage season much be quite a change of pace from dragging minerals through the blistering heat of the Mojave Desert- even before being rebuilt and sold to the Trona, #617 was no stranger to the harsh desert climate that Santa Fe's Transcontiental main line passed through.

By the spring of 2012, the Trona paint scheme was gone from #617 as she was repainted into Pan Am's solid blue scheme and had Pan Am lettering and the globe logo applied at the Providence & Worcerster shops in Worcester, MA.

Interestingly, none of of the tunnel motors soldiering on for the Trona wear the railroad's silver and red scheme- the locomotives are still painted in Southern Pacific or Union Pacific colors while as of this summer, Pan Am #618 was reportedly still in Trona colors.