Thursday, February 27, 2014

Deposed Ukrainian President Yunukovych Reportedly Flees Ukraine as Masked Gunmen Take Parliament, Airport in Crimean Region

Less than a week after the closing ceremony of the Sochi winter games and Ukrainian president Yanukovych's exodus from Kiev, Russian news agency RIA Novosti is reporting that the deposed Ukrainian leader has fled the volatile Crimean peninsula to the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don on Thursday night. Yanukovych's flight reportedly received fighter escort to the southern Russian city once inside of Russian airspace.

Meanwhile, the nominally autonomous Crimean peninsula has become the new flashpoint in the Ukraine as ethnic Russians clashed with Ukrainian nationalists in Simferopol. The strategically situated peninsula is majority Russian but still considered part of the Ukraine since the 1992 breakup of the Soviet Union. During the breakup, Russia and the newly-independent Ukraine reached an agreement to partition the Soviet Navy's Black Sea Fleet in exchange for ongoing use of the Crimean port of Simferopol.

Shortly after the 2008 Russian incursion into the former Soviet republic of Georgia, Yanukovych's predecessor- Viktor Yushchenko- announced that the lease on the Sevastopol naval base would not be leased past 2017. However, Yanukovych reversed course on Yushchenko's decision and agreed to extend to lease on the Sevastopol facility in exchange for discounted natural gas from Russia in 2010.

In the early morning hours on Thursday, dozens of masked, heavily armed gunmen seized the Crimean parliament building in Simferopol and raised a Russian flag on the roof. Later in the day, masked men in fatigues but with no insignias took up positions in Simferopol's airport- the main air hub in the region. Eyewitnesses say the men arrived in trucks adorned with the Russian Navy's Black Sea Fleet insignia and the road leading to the airport was now ringed with checkpoints manned by armed men in plainclothes with a Russian flag raised at each one. The takeovers come shortly after Russian President Vladmir Putin ordered troops to mobilize on the Ukraine's doorstep. Ukraine's interim president- who the Kremlin does not recognize as the Ukraine's legitimate government- has called the 'mystery troops' occupying the parliament building and airport in Simferopol a 'Russian incursion'.

Crimea's parliament had voted to oust the region's premier on Thursday and a referendum on greater autonomy from Kiev is set to take place on May, around the same time as the rescheduled Ukrainian presidential elections are slated to take place.

Meanwhile, Israel has expressed concerns that the makeup of the opposition groups and demonstrators that ousted Yanukovych includes ultranationalist, anti-Semitic and pro-fascist parties such as Svoboda. Op-ed pieces in Israeli media are calling for the Ukraine's 65,000 or so Jews to 'come home' to Israel amid concerns that racist and anti-Semitic groups could take advantage of the turmoil on the Ukraine to step up attacks on Jews and other minority groups. On Monday, a newly built Chabad facility in the southeastern Ukrainian town of Zaporozheye was firebombed- although Chabad officials say the damage was 'mostly cosmetic and the arsonists were caught on camera.

Anti-Semitism is nothing new in the Ukraine- there have been vicious pogroms and purges directed at the Jews in Kiev since medieval times. In the 20th century, the Soviet Union shut down Jewish groups and synagogues, exiling many Jews in other Soviet republics thousands of miles away. During World War II, the occupying Nazis exterminated Jews and other Ukrainians- the most infamous incident was the Babi Yar massacre in which SS Officers- aided by Ukrainian collaborators- massacred more than 30,000 Ukrainian Jews in a ravine outside of Kiev over two days in September 1941.

Towards later years of the Soviet Union, many Jews in the Ukraine and elsewhere in the USSR began to take advantage of Mikhail Gorbachev's policies of glastnost and peristroika to move overseas to the USA or Israel.

UPDATE 2/28- Moscow has admitted the troops with no insignia that took up positions at the Simferopol Airport are in fact Russian. The troops that initially set up positions in Crimea's parliament and the airport came from the Russian naval base on the Crimea while additional troops from Russia were flown in.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Today's Train of Thought- Orange and Ore, February 26th, 2014

Today's Train of Thought takes us to a western Pennsylvania carrier that is sort of the odd man out in the Canadian National system that started out life as an outlet for Andrew Carnegie's US Steel to reach the Great Lakes and the rest of the American Railroad network.

Almost an afterthought in Canadian National's 2004 acquisition of Great Lakes Transportation, the Bessemer & Lake Erie has operated largely unchanged since the CN takeover and still primarily operates as a conveyor belt for ore arriving from the docks at Lake Erie in Conneaut, OH to the steel mills around Pittsburgh, PA. Odds are pretty good that the ore originates along other former US Steel railroads- primarily the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range The line also brings in coal and coke from surrounding areas to fire up the furnaces and occasionally handles aggregates, frac sand and scrap metal. Although some B&LE power has found its way to other parts of the CN system, motive power from other CN line seems to only occasionally make its way to the Bessemer Line.

Here, contributor J Alex Lang caught snow-encrusted B&LE SD40T-2 #902 leading a southbound train of stockpiled ore under Pennsylvania Route 8 in Meharg, PA on the last day of January 2009 with symbol freight 902 S.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

At Least 59 Boarding School Students Killed in Nothern Nigeria Islamic Terrorist Attack

Attackers from the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram stormed into a government school in the northern state of Yobe in the overnight hours on Monday, shooting and burning 59 students according to government officials and a hospital in the state capital of Damaturu. The death toll was revised upwards from earlier reports of 29 after further bodies were discovered in the brush outside the school where the attack took place.

Survivors said that the assailants arrived on the campus of the Federal Government College of Buni Yadi in 11 Toyota Hilux pickups, a government-run secondary school similar to others that Islamist group Boko Haram has targeted in the past.

All the victims were teenage boys and 11 others were seriously injured. Most of the school was burned to the ground.

Teachers at the school in Buni Yadi said the gunmen gathered the female students together before telling them to go away and get married and to abandon their education.

Earlier this month, gunmen from Boko Haram surrounded a Christian village in Borno province along the border of Cameroon and opened fire before moving through the village and torching homes. That attack on Izge village was believed to have killed 90 people.

Boko Haram has carried out terrorist attacks near Nigeria's capital, including a January 2012 series of bombings on police stations and government offices in the northern Nigerian city of Kano that killed more than 160 people in 2012. The terrorist group has also carried out intermittent bombings and jailbreaks in the country's interior and capital city of Abuja.

Despite launching a military counteroffensive against Boko Haram strongholds in northern Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan has come under criticism for his government's inability to quell the frequent Boko Haram attacks against civilians. The stated purpose of Boko Haram [who's name roughly translates to 'Western Education is Forbidden'- NANESB!] is to overthrow the secular government seated in the predominantly Christian center of the nation and impose Islamic shari'a law throughout the country.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Ukrainian President Yanukovych Flees Kiev as Demonstrators Overrun Presidential Compound, Topple Lenin Statues

As anti-government Maidan protestors gained increasing control over parts of the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, President Yanukovych fled his presidential compound to the majority-Russian Crimean port of Sevastopol on Friday.

While Russia denounced the ousters of Kremlin-allied Yanukovych as 'Kalashnikov-toting people in black masks', Ukraine's parliament voted to strip Yanukovych of office and issue a warrant for his arrest in the death of dozens of Maidan protestors in clashes with police last week.

Parliament Speaker Oleksandr Turchinov was named the interim president of the Ukraine while former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was released from prison and flown to Kiev to address the victorious pro-Western Maidan demonstrators.
Tymoshenko, 53, was freed from prison Saturday after two-and-a-half years, most of them spent in a detention hospital.

Dressed in black, she later emerged at Kiev's Independence Square in a wheel chair. Cheers erupted.

Tearfully, she hailed the sea of protesters, who listened and occasionally waved.

"Today, Ukraine has finished with this terrible dictator," she said, referring to ousted President Viktor Yanukovych.

She then passed on a not-so-subtle message.

"There'll be no Ukraine but the Ukraine you want," she said. "And I'm the guarantor of that Ukraine."

The polarizing former Prime Minister has a complicated relationship with Yanukovych

Both have dominated the nation's politics for years. Both have a rivalry that dates years.

Her international popularity soared a decade ago as a result of her ardent speeches that helped overturn Yanukovych's presidential win in 2004. She's considered a hero of the country's 2004 Orange Revolution, a wave of peaceful protests that swept her and Viktor Yushchenko into power as Prime Minister and President, respectively.

The same revolution successfully overturned what many believed was a largely false presidential win by Yanukovych.

But the promise of the revolution soon turned sour. The two feuded publicly, prompting Yushchenko to fire her a few months into her term.

In 2007, Tymoshenko was back as Prime Minister. But she was dogged by accusations of irregularities and overlooking the nation's economic problems.

Her tense working relation with Yushchenko did not help their case. Analysts say it was one of the reasons she lost to Yanukovych in the 2010 presidential elections.

After Yanukovych won that election, Tymoshenko, was forced out of office and into the courtroom. In 2011, she was on trial over a costly natural gas agreement that she signed with Russia while she was Prime Minister.

In October of that year, a Ukrainian court found her guilty of abuse of authority for signing overpriced gas contracts with Russia and sentenced her to seven years in prison.

The prosecutor said the gas deals inflicted damage to the country amounting to more than 1.5 billion hryvnias (almost $190 million at the exchange rate at the time). In addition to the sentence, the court ruled she must repay the money.

Amnesty International slammed the verdict as "politically motivated" and called for the release of Tymoshenko, who was Prime Minister from January to September 2005, and December 2007 to March 2010.

The case against her was widely considered politically motivated, and the United States and other Western nations called her "a political prisoner."

Both Tymoshenko and Yankukovych have been accused of being oligarchs who have consolidated their power and used the presidential office for personal gain. On Saturday, Maidan demonstrators made their way to Yanukovych's hastily-abandoned presidential mansion. According to watchdog website, Yanukovych's presidential salary as the equivalent of US $25,000 per year- yet Yanukovych's mansion in Mezhyhirya is worth an estimated US $75 million and features a private zoo, antique car collection and life-size mock galleon and marina.

Meanwhile, the nationalist Svoboda Party used the collapse of the government to start tearing down statues built to honor Vladmir Lenin that date back to the Cold War- some statues in the eastern and central part of the Ukraine were never torn down with the collapse of the USSR either due to the high Russian population or lingering nostalgia for the old Soviet union by die-hard communists.

Meanwhile, Luxembourg-based steelmaker Arcelor-Mittal [NYSE- MT] announced that they would be removing a Lenin statue and temporarily relocating foreign workers on the grounds of their facility in the Ukraine.

The next round of presidential elections were scheduled to take place in February 2014, but with the ousting of Yanukovych the parliament has now moved election day up to May 25th, 2014.

Russia has said they do not recognize the interim government and there are concerns that the turmoil in the Ukraine will provide Russia with the pretext to change previously negotiated prices for natural gas imported from Russia. Although the Ukraine has sought to diversify its imports of natural gas- as well as exploit their own shale reserves- due to previous disputes with Russia- by early 2014 Energy and Coal minister Eduard Stavytsky said that the Ukraine was importing natural gas almost exclusively from Russia due to a clear price advantage.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Borderline Psychosis Update- Mexican Marines Capture Elusive Sinaloa Cartel Head 'El Chapo'; Colombian Police Seize 'Game Changing' Coca Paste

MEXICO- Elusive Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman- who has been on the run from US and Mexican authorities since escaping prison in 2001- was captured by Mexican Marines in the resort town of Mazatlan on Saturday.

While on the run, Guzman had enough assets to be named to a list of wealthiest billionaires in the world according to Forbes magazine- although he recently dropped off the list. Some quarters of Mexico viewed him as a sort of Robin Hood figure- so much so that the hashtag #FreeElChapo was trending internationally on Twitter within hours of his arrest.

According to Mexico's Secretariat of the Navy, El Chapo's capture was facilitated by the capture or killings of his top lieutenants and their family members starting in 2013. The son of the Sinaloa cartel's #2 man was arrested in Nogales, AZ in November 2013 while the cartel's top enforcer was detained by Dutch border police in January.

Acting on information from wiretaps, Mexican troops and federal police combed through the streets of the Sinaloan capital of Culiacan earlier this month. While El Chapo initially evaded the dragnet, each raid seemingly turned up cartel safehouses containing weapons, drug caches and cellphones. The day before Valentine's Day, police arrested the Sinaloa cartel's new top enforcer on the highway outside the resort city of Mazatlan. Days later and in two separate arrests, two men who were reportedly part of Guzman's personal security detail were arrested along with hollowed out produce stuffed with cocaine. Between the wiretaps and information gleaned from the arrests of Guzman's inner circle, police and Mexican marines focused in on a beachfront condo in Mazatlan.

Agents learned that Guzman, 56, had started coming down from his isolated mountain hideouts to enjoy the comforts of Culiacan and Mazatlan, said Michael S. Vigil, a former senior DEA official who was briefed on the operation.

"That was a fatal error," Vigil said.

Working on the information gleaned from Guzman's bodyguards, Mexican marines swarmed the house of Guzman's ex-wife but struggled to batter down the steel-reinforced door, according to Mexican authorities and former U.S. law-enforcement officials briefed on the operation.

As the marines forced their way in, Guzman fled through a secret door beneath a bathtub down a corrugated steel ladder into a network of tunnels and sewer canals that connect to six other houses in Culiacan, the officials said.

Guzman fled south to Mazatlan. On his heels, a team of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents set up a base of operations with Mexican marines in the city, according to the current U.S. law-enforcement official.

Early Saturday morning, Guzman's reign came to an end without a shot fired. Marines closed the beachside road in front of the Miramar condominiums, a 10-story, pearl-colored building with white balconies overlooking the Pacific and a small pool in front.

Smashing down the door of an austerely decorated fourth-floor condo, they seized the country's most-wanted man at 6:40 a.m., a few minutes after the sun rose.

The arrest of El Chapo will likely quell US official's concerns that the office of Mexican president Peña Nieto will be reluctant to directly take on the cartels or aid US law enforcement in Mexico's ongoing narcoinsurgeny.

However, the arrest of Joaquin Guzman also raises questions about possible extradition to the United States, a succession battle within the Sinaloa cartel itself or rival organizations such as Los Zetas or the Knights Templar aggressively moving in to seize territory from a now-vulnerable rival organization

COLOMBIA- In what law enforcement is calling a game-changer, police in Colombia seized more than 1000 lbs of an unrefined coca paste from an aircraft that was getting ready to take off in Southern Colombia earlier this month.

Police found the paste in a Cessna airplane at Ipiales airport in Narino province, close to the border with Ecuador. Intelligence shows it was destined for Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, according to the police. Discovering coca paste shipments is rare, says Steven Dudley, a director at InSight Crime, a research group that studies organized crime in Latin America.

“We’ve seen some laboratories in Honduras and there are rumors of them being in other places, Mexico being one of them,” Dudley said by telephone from Washington D.C. “It’s not common, that’s for sure.”

Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cartel and other Colombian crime gangs imported coca paste from Peru and Bolivia in the 1980s, transforming it into cocaine before exporting it. Mexico could now be traveling down the same road, Restrepo said.

Drug gangs would lose less if a shipment of paste were seized, he said, since its wholesale price is only about a fifth of the value of refined cocaine. A difference in the cost of precursor chemicals such as acetone or the Colombian police’s success in finding and blowing up labs are possible explanations for the change, [Colombian police General Ricardo Restrepo, head of antinarcotics] stated.

In the 1990s, Colombian coca output soared, often in areas where the presence of Marxist guerrillas made it hard for police to enter. The farmers turn the leaves of their coca bushes into paste in jungle shacks, in a bucket chemistry process using gasoline, caustic soda, sulphuric acid, ammonia and cement. They sell the paste to mafia groups for about $1,250 per kilo, Restrepo said, who process it into pure cocaine in laboratories hidden in the jungle.

The country’s largest Marxist rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, currently controls about a quarter of the country’s annual 309 metric tons cocaine output, according to Restrepo.

The government is holding peace talks with the FARC in Havana in a bid to end a five-decade civil conflict. Negotiators have reached partial agreement on agricultural policy and political representation, with discussion now centering on illicit drugs.

As well as the FARC, Colombia’s cocaine trade is controlled by offshoots of illegal paramilitary “self-defense” groups, such as the Urabenos gang, which has its roots in the border zone near Panama, Restrepo said.

A peace deal will make it easier for security forces to enter some coca-producing regions, although it won’t end the cocaine trade, he said.

“Drug trafficking is going to continue, with or without the FARC,” the counter-narcotics chief said. “The business is constantly changing and mutating. As long as it’s economically productive, drug traffickers will be looking for ways to earn more profits with less risk.”

The seizure means that at least one Mexican drug trafficking organization has switched from trafficking to manufacturing cocaine- intelligence indicating that the Sinaloa cartel was the likely recipient. Should other cartels follow suit and begin manufacturing cocaine from coca paste in Mexico's borders, this would change Mexico from a strategically-placed way station for trafficked cocaine to an active producer, even though the raw ingredients originate in the Andean countries of South America.

Tennesee VW Workers Vote to Reject UAW Representation

The United Auto Workers designs on expanding their reach into southern Right to Work states was dealt a blow last week when workers at Volkswagen's Chattanooga, TN plant decided to reject UAW representation in a close vote.

What made this vote unusual was that Volkswagen didn't oppose the UAW's efforts to organize, allowing the union to distribute flyers and talk to workers inside the factory while locking out groups opposed to the UAW setting up shop in the Volunteer state. The final vote tally was 712 against and 626 in favor.

The UAW's attempt to set up shop in Chattanooga was opposed by Republican officials like governor Bill Haslam and US Senator Bob Corker- a former Chattanooga mayor who was in office when VW opened up the Tennessee facility. A number of right-to-work groups set up billboards on highways adjacent to the plant reminding workers in the predominantly Republican state that the UAW funnels union dues into the campaign coffers of liberal politicians who support 0bamacare, gun control and abortion.

Meanwhile, the UAW has accused Corker, Haslam and groups like the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation of influencing the decision with public comments opposing UAW expansion before the vote. However, a number of the anti-union activists who hosted townhall meetings and Q&A sessions offsite included current and former employees of the VW Chattanooga plant.

Republican officials and right to work supporters were concerned that a UAW local in Chattanooga would be used as a beachhead to unionize additional foreign automaker's facilities in the predominantly Right to Work southeast. Other right-to-work proponents point to Detroit and US automakers' declining fortunes that the UAW played a role in as well as widespread corruption within the United Auto Workers itself. A recent Associated Press reports that although membership in the UAW is slightly up, dues have declined sharply- making the union's attempts at expansion out of its traditional rust-belt stronghold a financial necessity. This reportedly has US automakers worried- setting up a 'devil you don't know' since a declining UAW could end up being absorbed by a more hostile labor union.

German corporate management practices includes something called 'co-determination', which allows employee representation a seat on the board of directors through the labor union. This explains in part why VW didn't object to UAW's attempt to organize in Chattanooga and why the UAW has been concentrating their efforts on German automakers in the south such as the Mercedes Benz plant in Vance, AL or the BMW facility in Spartanburg, SC.

While the UAW has taken their accusations of political meddling to the NLRB, Bernd Osterloh- Volkswagen's top labor representative- implied that the outcome of last week's UAW vote would adversely affect the company's decision to expand operations in the US Southeast. Osterloh himself had openly expressed support for unionization in a 2013 visit to the Chattanooga facility.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Venezuela Rocked by Escalating Anti-Government Protests As Maduro Orders Crackdown on Opposition

Amid several days of clashes between police and antigovernment demonstrators in the capital city of Caracas, Venezuela's embattled president has ordered paratroopers to crack down on protests that have been spreading to other cities.

President Nicolas Maduro's opponent from last year's presidential election- Miranda governor Henrique Capriles- hasn't taken as active a role in the demonstrations, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez turned himself over to authorities who were seeking his arrest on charges of fomenting unrest against the state earlier this week. Capriles and others have condemned the Maduro regime's detention of opposition figures, but have cautioned supporters to avoid violence.

Early reports indicate that the death toll is at least eight after antigovernment demonstrators clashed with riot police and masked Tupamaros- masked urban guerillas operating in support of the regime- opened fire on a crowd of protestors last week.

Skyrocketing inflation, rampant crime, government expropriation of businesses and shortages of basic consumer goods such as flour and toilet paper led to a massive antigovernment demonstration in Caracas calling for Maduro's resignation from office on Feb 12th, and angry college students have not let up. Nicolas Maduro, the successor to strongman Hugo Chavez, narrowly won a special presidential election in 2013 after the death of Chavez and has carried on nearly all of Chavez's economic policies. As a result, the country is currently experiencing an inflation rate of more than 56%, one of the highest murder rates in the world and near-constant shortages of basic consumer goods, food and fuel.

According to publications in both Venezuela and the USA, the demonstrations got their start in the Andean border town of San Cristobal, which is home to three universities. After the attempted rape of a female student on one of the university's campus, students demonstrated in public, protesting the lack of adequate security on campus. The police reacted swiftly and harshly, reportedly arresting five demonstrators and sending some of them to a detention facility hundreds of miles away. The police reaction led to an even larger demonstration with students from all three universities in San Cristobal as Venezuelans in other cities joined in, using the demonstrations to protest over unemployment, crime, inflation and curbs on the freedom of the press. Maduro has blamed the demonstrations on 'right wing extremists' and 'foreign agitators' while sending paratroopers to the border city of San Cristobal to crack down on demonstrations there, implying that Colombia has sent agent provocateurs across the border to foment further unrest in western Venezuela.

One of the most widely known casualties in this month's demonstration was former beauty queen Genesis Carmona, who was shot in the head during an antigovernment rally in the city of Valencia- to the west of Caracas. Carmona was a student at the university in Valencia and relatives said that she was a semester away from graduating. In 2013, Carmona served as Miss Turismo Caribobo. Eyewitnesses said that about 50 men brandishing handguns and riding on motorcycles drove up to the assembled students and began firing indiscriminately. Carmona was shot in the head and later died from her wounds at a nearby hospital- cameras recorded her limp body being carried off on a motorcycle to a nearby hospital. Government officials claim the fatal shot was fired by opposition demonstrators.

Relatives described Genesis as apolitical but was likely drawn to the rally by worsening economic conditions in the world's 4th largest oil producing nation. Beauty pageants are to Venezuela what baseball is to the Dominican Republic or College Football to Texas- the country has produced seven Miss Universes, more than any other nation.

Meanwhile, Venezuela's oil minister has announced they are suspending fuel shipments to areas under opposition control [How this is any different from the routine shortages under Chavez and Maduro, I'm not sure- NANESB!] oil minister Rafael Ramirez announced via Twitter on Friday. And speaking of twitter, it was becoming rapidly apparent that the social networking site was at least partially blocked by the Maduro government when users attempted to tweet pictures of the demonstrations and attacks by masked Tupamaro gunmen on motorcycle.

Reports have also been circulating that Cuban president Raul Castro has sent Cuban troops to bolster Maduro's regime- although thousands of Cuban troops were reportedly stationed in Venezuela under Chavez, long before the most recent demonstrations. Even after Chavez's death, Venezuela remains a source of cheap oil for the communist island nation- a supply that could be cut off should Maduro's regime collapse.

FCC Proposes Putting Monitors in Newrooms Across United States. POSSIBLY UNRELATED STORY- USA Plunges to 46th in Press Freedom in Reporters Without Borders Index

Under the auspices a pilot program called 'Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs', the Federal Communications Comission announced a pilot program to insert federal monitors into newsrooms throughout the country.

The stated purpose of this program is to help the agency better understand how reporters and editors select news stories for publication. The Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs is supposedly voluntary. However, an FCC commissioner warned in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed that the survey would be detrimental to press freedoms and ultimately lead to the government dictating to news outlets which stories get coverage and which ones will never see the light of day.

The purpose of the CIN, according to the FCC, is to ferret out information from television and radio broadcasters about "the process by which stories are selected" and how often stations cover "critical information needs," along with "perceived station bias" and "perceived responsiveness to underserved populations."

How does the FCC plan to dig up all that information? First, the agency selected eight categories of "critical information" such as the "environment" and "economic opportunities," that it believes local newscasters should cover. It plans to ask station managers, news directors, journalists, television anchors and on-air reporters to tell the government about their "news philosophy" and how the station ensures that the community gets critical information.

This is not the first time the agency has meddled in news coverage. Before Critical Information Needs, there was the FCC's now-defunct Fairness Doctrine, which began in 1949 and required equal time for contrasting viewpoints on controversial issues. Though the Fairness Doctrine ostensibly aimed to increase the diversity of thought on the airwaves, many stations simply chose to ignore controversial topics altogether, rather than air unwanted content that might cause listeners to change the channel.

The Fairness Doctrine was controversial and led to lawsuits throughout the 1960s and '70s that argued it infringed upon the freedom of the press. The FCC finally stopped enforcing the policy in 1987, acknowledging that it did not serve the public interest. In 2011 the agency officially took it off the books. But the demise of the Fairness Doctrine has not deterred proponents of newsroom policing, and the CIN study is a first step down the same dangerous path.

The 'survey' was reportedly the brainchild of FCC official Mignon Clyburn- daughter of Democrat congressman and Fairness Doctrine supporter Jim Clyburn. In the wake of the 2011 Tuscon shooting that killed six and injured 14- including then-congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords- Clyburn blamed conservative talk radio on Jared Loughner's murder spree and called for the reintroduction of the Fairness Doctorine [even though Loughner was determined to be an irate loner who was fixated on Giffords before the advent of the Tea Party- NANESB!].

Since FOX News and conservative talk radio are one of the few media outlets host pundits and media personalities openly critical of President Obama's policies, the proposed FCC guidelines seem designed more for stifling their editorial process as opposed to MSNBC, which is a de-facto TV network for the ruling Democrat party

The news comes around the same time the advocacy group Reporters Without Borders released an index that listed the United States as 46th- between Romania and Haiti- for press freedom. Previously, the Reporters Without Borders survey had listed the United States as 13th overall in press freedom.

However, in May 2013 it was learned that the Department of Justice had seized phone records from the AP in addition to wiretapping Fox News reporter James Rosen and seizing his parent's phone records.

UPDATE- Heading into the weekend, reports were circulating that the FCC was revising or backing away altogether from their proposed Critical Information Needs survey.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Officials From Philly Ironworkers Union Local Arrested on Racketeering Charges

FBI agents arrested ten officials with Ironworkers Local 401 in Philadelphia on charges of racketeering amd arson that targeted contractors in the Philadelphia area who used non-union labor. Prosecutors claim that longtime Local 401 head Joseph 'Doc' Dougherty orchestrated a campaign of assaults and intimidation against business owners, contractors and laborers and projects using nonunion labor and sabotaging those projects.

According to the 49-page indictment, Dougherty, 72, coordinated the campaign of sabotage and extortion, urging members to picket, threaten, and destroy the property of contractors who ignored threats against hiring nonunion employees.

At the meetinghouse work site, prosecutors said, three union members cut steel beams and set fire to a crane in December 2012, setting the project back weeks and costing the contracting firm, E. Allen Reeves Inc. of Abington, more than $500,000.

At the time, Local 401 business agent Edward Sweeney told reporters that he knew nothing about the fire, saying only that he had asked the company to hire union workers.

Authorities said Tuesday that Sweeney ordered the attack.

Dougherty and others in the Ironworkers 401 were also politically active and enjoyed connections with state and local officials [all of whom likely knew of Local 401's violent tactics- NANESB!] to further their goals. While publicly disavowing violence as a negotiating tactic, members of the Local 401 reportedly referred to themselves as The Helpful Union Guys (i.e. THUGs) and promotion within the ranks was said to rely upon participation of attacks on nonunion workers at jobsites. The Ironworkers Local 401 also reportedly earned the ire of other area unions for 'poaching' lucrative contracts away from them.

Like in many labor strongholds, the tactics used by unions like the Ironworkers 401 were viewed as part of the status quo and the price of doing business in the city. In recent years, however, labor's influence in the Philly are has been on the wane. Beginning in 2012, a pair of Philadelphia-area developers began posting surveillance videos of union workers attacking contractors and nonunion workers from their jobsites online.

Instead of cowering or capitulating, the Pestronks used batteries of video cameras to record the activities of picketing union members, which they posted online at YouTube and a website they dubbed “” And the effect was galvanic.

For many years, Building Trades has been criticized—usually in fearful whispers—for stifling development and economic growth, shutting out new investors, and undermining this city’s entire political process. But the videos shot and posted by the Pestronks provided something to go with all those allegations: evidence. Footage of leering, chuckling union men spitting profanities—so afraid of losing what they have, they can’t see what they’ve become.

Since the first videos went up in spring, the tide of public sentiment has turned, and the Pestronks won a court order restricting the picketers’ behavior

Investigators say that the 2012 Quaker meeting house jobsite sabotage involved intruders using torches cut through steel beams and torched a crane causing $500,000 in damages. Members of the Local 401 are also accused of smashing windows and slashing tires on the cars of contractors and nonunion workers, forming picket lines to block deliveries of equipment, throwing caltrops in front of vehicles, gluing locks shut and pouring oil in front of construction site entrances.

[Hat tip- Support Your Local Gunfighter; Friends of Ours]

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Death Toll Climbs as Police and Protestors Clash in Ukrainian Capital

At least 77 people were killed in Kiev on Thursday after Ukrainian officials claimed that riot police opened fire on antigovernment demonstrators advanced on their positions around government buildings.
Ambulances ferried dead and wounded to hospitals after a truce that had been declared Wednesday night fell apart hours later. At a makeshift medical center inside a cathedral, some two dozen doctors from across the country treated those they could as a steady stream of cars delivered medicine, food and other supplies.

Medics working with the opposition said that most of the casualties were civilians, clad in motorcycle helmets and carrying homemade shields fashioned from wood and metal, apparently shot by snipers.

Several corpses, some covered in sheets, others in Ukrainian flags, were laid out on Kiev's main street and in the lobby of a downtown hotel, which served as a first-aid station and a morgue.

The death toll for the week climbed to 77, according to the government; opposition representatives put it at more than 100. Ukraine's Interior Ministry said 16 police officers were among the dead.

Independence Square in Kiev in April 2009, left, when a Ukrainian student group formed a smiley face, and on Thursday, as protesters inspected damage from recent clashes with government forces. .

Both sides braced themselves for more fighting. On Kiev's Independence Square, protesters buttressed their defenses and their chants against the president turned from "Get the criminal out" to "Death to the criminal."

In addition to the 16 police officers the Ukrainian Interior Ministry claimed were killed in clashes with demonstrators while the antigovernment protestors who had been camped out in Kiev's Independence Square to demonstrate against President Yanukovytch's vote against closer ties with the European Union claimed that police snipers shot and killed 20 in the demonstrator's camp. The EU decision by Yanukovytch's cabinet prompted fears that the Ukraine would fall back into the Kremlin's sphere of influence barely 20 years after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Protestors also seized the central Post Office in Kiev and the interior ministry claimed that they had also overrun a police station in suburban Kiev and were able to loot the armory. Ukrainian television networks showed video of some of the protestors being cut down by police gunfire while demonstrators claimed to have hindered reinforcements from arriving by blocking streets and captured 67 police officers amid clashes.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

In Soviet Russia, Sports Chowdah Updates YOU- USA Leads Medal Count in Sochi; Team Canada/USA to Duke it Out On The Ice; Topless Lebanese Skiier in Hot Water; Bruins Shut Down Sens Before Olympic Break; BC Takes The Fifth in Beanpot; Syracuse Falls to Boston College

I swear, I'm not boycotting the Olympics- although a casual glance of this blog since the Winter games got underway in Sochi might lead one to that conclusion. On the other hand, Wyatt Earp of Support Your Local Gunfighter is keeping track of the compelling human-interest stories concerning the athletes competing in Sochi.

WINTER OLYMPICS- Despite the highly publicized gaffes such as reporters checking into hotels still under construction and a technical miscue during the opening ceremonies, the Winter Olympiad at Sochi got off and running last week.

US Snowboarder Sage Kostenburg won the first gold medal of the games in the men's slopestyle event back on Feb 8th. Well beyond the halfway point of the 2014 Sochi games, Team USA currently leads the overall medal count with 23 (7 gold, 5 silver and 11 bronze). Both Russia and the Netherlands trail the USA in the medal count by one while Norway has the most gold medals with a grand total of nine.

Of most interest to me is the Team USA Men's hockey- which got off to a stellar start with a 7-1 thumping of Slovakia on Feb 12th for their Olympic debut. On Saturday, the USA needed a controversial disallowed goal and OT to get past a heavily favored Russia team, with St Louis Blue Center TJ Oshie becoming something of a cult hero with his game-winning shootout goal to give Team USA the 3-2 win.

On Wednesday, Dustin Brown got the game-winning goal for Team USA as they cruised past the Czech Republic by a 5-2 final while host Russia was eliminated from medal contention by Finland in a 3-1 loss. Team Canada got by a very game Latvia, winning 2-1 to set up a semifinal contest with Team USA on Friday. The winner of the USA/Canada men's game will go on to face the winner of the Sweden/Finland men's semifinal game for the gold.

For those of you who can't wait until Friday for some good ol' USA-on-Canada puck action, the women's hockey gold medal game will feature the USA taking on Canada on Thursday at 12:00 ET for all the marbles. The game will be televised on NBC and streamed on the NBC Olympics website.

ELSEWHERE IN THE OLYMPICS- Lebanese downhill skier Jackie Chamoun has reportedly raised the ire of politicians in Beirut after topless pictures of her were circulating online. Lebanon's interim Sports Minister reportedly called upon the Lebanese Olympic Committee to launch an inquiry and 'take the required steps to avoid harming Lebanon's international reputation'.

Chamoun has her defenders both inside and beyond Lebanon's borders, and after condemnation from Islamic clerics and demand for a parliamentary inquiry, social-media savvy Lebanese took to twitter and Facebook- sometimes posting pictures of them topless or seminude- using the hashtag #StripForJackie.

NHL- Of course, all these NHL All-Stars mean that there's no NHL for nearly 3 weeks. In fact, we're still nearly a week away from the resumption of NHL play- and that is a single game between the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes that was postponed earlier in the year due to a blizzard before being rescheduled to Feb 25th.

Thanks to the Olympic break, the Boston Bruins have a grand total of five games in the month of February- including a Feb 26th matchup against the Sabres at the First Niagara Centre. After a quick 1-game road trip to St Louis, the Bruins returned home to the Garden to face off against the Ottawa Senators for the final game before the Olympic break. The B's jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first thanks to goals from Patrice Bergeron and Chris Kelly- and they never looked back, adding on to their lead with goals from Bobby Ryan, Jarome Iginla, Carl Soderburg, Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic to cruise to a 7-2 victory.

Although the Bruins head into the 3-week long break leading the Atlantic Division, they're still 5 points behind the Penguins for the Eastern Conference lead.

While we still have to wait for a whole week for the next Bruins game, the good news is that it will be televised nationally on NBC Sports Network on Feb 26th with the puck scheduled to drop at 7:30 ET.

NCAA HOCKEY- For the fifth straight year, the Boston College Eagles are the Beanpot champions, having defeated Northeastern during the Beanpot Finals on Feb 10th.

Although Boston College got out to a 1-0 lead, Northeastern managed to tie the contest back up at 1-1 in the closing minutes of the second period. However, BC senior forward Patrick Brown would get what would prove to be the game winning goal with just under 5 minutes to go in regulation before the Eagles added on with an empty netter from Junior Johnny Gaudreau with less than two minutes to go in the game and another tally from Brown.

The 5-straight titles for BC is the first since the 1999-2000 season when the BU Terriers had won their 6th straight. Boston College came into the 2/10 Beanpot final ranked the #1 program in the USA according to a USCHO poll.

NCAA HOOPS- As awesome as a fifth straight Beanpot title for the men's hockey program might've been, the BC Eagles made headlines on Wednesday night when they toppled previously undefeated Syracuse in OT at the Carrier Dome. Sophomore Olivier Hanlon led BC with 20 points and three assists.

The Eagles went on a 29-12 run in the second half to take a 46-42 lead and Junior Lonnie Jackson had 10 points, making three out of his four free throws in OT to help BC go on to their 62-59 win. The win by Boston College means that the Wichita State Shockers are now the sole undefeated Division I men's basketball program in the nation.

Friday, February 14, 2014

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

Believe it or not, I actually have plans this Valentine's Day. Although I could fudge and claim that it involves a weekend romantic getaway of some sort with a Brooklyn Decker look-alike, instead I'll just say that I'm picking up some seasonal work.

But what would Valentine's Day be without an homage to pin-ups....particularly the artistry of the incomparable Gil Elvgren?

If we're to take the title of this 1959 portrait at face value, then this golden tressed beauty goes by the moniker of Mona. Actually, this particular Elvgren piece has the dual title of Mona/Heartwarming.

While this portrait is from Elvgren's tenure with Brown & Bigelow, it doesn't appear to be an ad for any specific sponsor, which leads me to believe that Mona/Heartwarming might've been done for a promotional calendar or deck of cards.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Today's Train of Thought- Whoa Whoa Whoa Waterloo, Feb 13th, 2014

Today's train of thought takes us to Waterloo, IA where a flood-damaged bridge nearly proved to be a successful shortline's Waterloo- for lack of a better term.

Started up in the 1980s from an abandoned and largely unwanted portion of the bankrupt Rock Island, the Iowa Northern operates more than 160 miles in northern and central Iowa between Cedar Rapids and Manly, IA. Although it's fortunes improved considerably with the advent of the ethanol boom in the mid-2000s, it all came to a grinding halt in June 2008 after an important bridge used by the line collapsed into the Cedar River, cutting off the Iowa Northern from their southern interchange with the Union Pacific, Cedar Rapids & Iowa City, Canadian National and Iowa Interstate. This necessitated lengthy detours across the DM&E and Canadian Pacific of up to 300 miles that increased fuel and labor costs for the line. To make matters even worse, the IANR didn't even own the damaged bridge- it was part of a lightly used former Chicago Great Western branchline now owned by the Union Pacific. The IANR simply exercised trackage rights over the bridge and the UP was in no hurry to repair it.

After much political wrangling, an estimated $5.9 million was secured- including more than $3 million in state and federal funding- for repairs to the collapsed bridge, which reopened in time for the 2009 harvest.

Here, contributor Scott Marsh caught Iowa Northern GP38-2 #3802 trundling across the Cedar River into Waterloo, IA with a southbound freight destined for the IANR's Bryant Yard in the middle of a snowstorm on December 20, 2012. Trailing the #3803 are a pair of rebuilt former Amtrak F40PHs that have seen service on both the Iowa Northern and Montreal, Maine & Atlantic predecessor Canadian Atlantic.

According to the photographer, the storm was in the middle of dumping some 10-12 inches on that part of the Hawkeye State.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

President Obama Orders Yet Another Delay in His Landmark Healthcare Law

So much for the Democrats running on 0bamacare in this year's midterm elections.

For the second time since November, President Obama has unilaterally ordered a delay in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act- his signature law that has been most often derisively referred to as 'Obamacare'. This latest delay is centered around the mandate for companies with between 50 and 99 employees, who reportedly won't have to be in compliance until early 2016.

A similar mandate for larger businesses had been delayed [once again, by Presidential decree- NANESB!] until January 2015. Critics point out that not only do both delays to the Affordable Care Act come after the 2014 midterm elections, but that President Obama changing the law whenever he feels like it is also- in all likelihood- illegal and constitutes a gross overreach of executive power.

In last month's State of the Union address, President Obama promised to go around the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and use 'the phone and pen' if he didn't get his way on a number of issues ranging from immigration to gun control and the federal minimum wage. The White House justified the most recent executive order by saying the delay would assist small and mid-sized businesses by giving them more time to fall into compliance with the 0bamacare employer mandates.

This most recent delay also reportedly comes with some strings attached for the affected businesses- namely signing an affidavit from the IRS that Obamacare would play no factor in any future layoffs or firings at that company.

Interestingly, some of the more watered down demands of the GOP during the October government shutdown included delays in part or all of the mandates attached to 0bamacare were rejected out of hand by President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

After repeatedly crowing that 0bamacare is the 'Law of the Land', the White House and vulnerable senate Democrats have been taking steps to make sure the full effects of their signature healthcare law is not felt during an election year.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Today's Train of Thought- Olympic Consolidateds, Feb 9th, 2014

In honor of the opening weekend of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Today's Train of Thought harkens back to the 2002 Winter games on Salt Lake City- the last Olympiad to take place in the USA.

Part of the ceremonies leading up to the 2002, the Olympic torch moved by rail more than once but it's final and most noteworthy leg was on the 16-mile Heber Valley Scenic Railroad in Utah where the tourist railway went past Soldier Hollow in Wasatch Mountain State Park- home of the cross country skiing and biathlon venues. The torch train featured three steam locomotives operating as a tripleheader- an impressive feat considering that at the time, the Heber Valley was home to two working steam locomotives at the time. A few weeks prior to the game, Nevada Northern 2-8-0 Consolidation was trucked in from Ely, NV to help with the Heber Valley's increase in traffic- allowing the ALCo to operate with Heber Valley's in-house Baldwin 2-8-0 Consolidations- former Union Pacific #618 and Great Western #75. Each of the Heber Valley's Consolidations were lettered for their former owners as well.

Here, contributor Greg Brubaker caught the rare tripleheader steaming across a trestle over the Provo River with the torch train enroute to the Soldier Hollow venue on Feb 7th, 2002. Within a few weeks of the closing ceremonies, the Nevada Northern #93 was trucked back to Nevada. While the Heber Valley still has the #75 and UP #618, both are idle awaiting their FRA mandated 15 year boiler inspection.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

More 0bamacare Good News! Democrats Spin CBO Report Estimating 2 Million People Will Lose Jobs as Freeing Americans From 'Job Lock'

According to a Congressional Budget Office report released this week, 0bamacare is set to push roughly 2 million Americans out of the workforce over the next three years as their hours are reduced or they leave the workplace altogether to qualify for subsidies offered by 0bamacare.

Although part of those numbers are attributed to job cuts, the vast majority represent workers who decide it makes more sense to stay home or work fewer hours, weighing the higher taxes they pay in the workforce versus their qualifications for benefits if they drop out.

“CBO estimates that the ACA will reduce the total number of hours worked, on net, by about 1.5 to 2 percent during the period from 2017 to 2024, almost entirely because workers will choose to supply less labor — given the new taxes and other incentives they will face and the financial benefits some will receive,” the nonpartisan tax agency said in its economic outlook.

Although the White House and Congressional Democrats initially disputed the CBO's findings, many of them had revised their strategy shortly thereafter and claimed its actually a good thing that 0bamacare was providing Americans disincentive to work less or employers from hiring, citing the dreaded phenomenon of 'Job lock'.

Yes- that's the actual phrase House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi used.

“What we see is that people are leaving their jobs because they are no longer job-locked,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters after House votes Tuesday afternoon. “They are following their aspirations to be a writer; to be self-employed; to start a business. This is the entrepreneurial piece. So it’s not going to cost jobs. It’s going to shift how people make a living and reach their aspirations.”

Pelosi said she hadn’t “fully” seen the report, but, “this was one of the goals. To give people life, a healthy life, liberty to pursue their happiness. And that liberty is to not be job-locked, but to follow their passion.”

Using their line of reasoning, I guess I should actually be thanking the Democrats for freeing me from 'Job Lock' [not to mention 'paycheck lock'- NANESB!] for several months back in 2009. Come to think of it, maybe the Democrats can market the War on Coal as freeing most of West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and Western Pennsylvania from 'Job Lock'- assuming those jobs had something to do with mining or transporting coal.

I'm pretty sure I've seen this somewhere before: After Obama's promise to Americans of "If you like your health insurance, you can keep it" turned out to not only be untrue, but the 'Affordable Care Act' resulted in roughly 4.7 million cancellations of already-existing healthcare plans, the spin from Democrats and editorial boards at the New York Times and Washington Post was that those policies were 'junk' and the people who were previously happy with their 'junk' policies could shop around for another plan [often offering even less than the cancelled 'junk' policies for much more money- NANESB!] on the not-really-working website.

Yet the Democrats and liberal pundits who somehow failed to go into detail on what made the millions of policies cancelled thanks to 0bamacare 'junk' are now opining what sort of jobs Americans find themselves 'locked' into- apparently involuntarily- when they could be spending that time with their family or pursuing a fulfilling career in interpretive dance [how exactly they still have a roof over their heads after being liberated from 'job lock' isn't really made clear- NANESB!].

Perhaps the most patronizing and insulting thing from the beltway pundits and liberal politicians who have most likely never worked a day of their life in the private sector is the assumption that Americans taking time off from work to be with family, switching jobs or quitting everything to pursue your dream job or start up your own business had never happened prior to the 2010 passage of 0bamacare. Even more dangerously, not only does the CBO report find this disincentivizes working full time but also tacitly promises success for those who strike out on their own thinking they have the Affordable Care Act to thank.

UPDATE 2/6- The Lonely Conservative points out that entrepreneurs 'liberated' from the drudgery of Job Lock could face an increase of as much as $20,000 for insurance if they cross the income level set out by 0bamacare guidelines (Calculated as roughly 400% of the Federal Poverty Level)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Super Sports Chowdah Update- Seattle Slew in the Meadowlands, Steamrolls Denver; Bruins Cruise Past Canucks; Former Red Sox Ace Announces Cancer Diagnosis

SUPER BOWL XLVIII- Wow. Here I was thinking that it was against federal law to slaughter Broncos en masse.

This one was pretty much over on the first play from scrimmage, and I mean literally. Although it didn't necessarily decide the game right then and there, Denver started out the game on their own 14 with a botched snap that flew over Manning's head and into the end zone for a safety, giving Seattle an early 2-0 lead.

Right away, Broncos fans were fretting whether or not that safety would come back to haunt them later on in the game. As it turned out, that was a non-issue as that would be as close as the game would get. Although the Broncos defense would manage to keep the Seahawks out of the end zone in the first quarter, Seattle did manage to get two FGs from kicker Steven Hauschka to make it an 8-0 game- still a one score game, but one that seemed increasingly out of reach with each offensive drive by Denver that sputtered and couldn't get past the 50 yard marker.

Still, Seattle didn't make the lead seem truly insurmountable until the second quarter when Hawks RB Marshawn Lynch capped a drive that began on the Broncos 37 with a one yard TD run- the first of the day- to put Seattle in front 15-0. The Broncos looked like they had managed to regain their composure and after starting out on their own 16, got as far as the Seahawks 44 before LB Malcolm Smith picked off Peyton Manning and returned it 69 yards for the second Seahawks TD with just under 3 and a half minutes to go in the half.

A shellshocked Denver headed into the locker room down 22-0 and things wouldn't get any better for them in the second half, when Seattle return man Percy Harvin returned the opening kickoff 87 yards for another Hawks TD to put them up by a score of 29-0. After adding on with a 21 yard TD pass from QB Russell Wilson to WR Jermaine Kearse to make it 36-0, the Broncos finally got on the board with a 14 yard TD pass from Manning to Demaryius Thomas and a successful 2 point conversion to make it 36-8.

However, it wasn't even that close- and to emphasize that point, the Hawks got another TD on their opening possession of the 4th quarter to make it 43-8, and that would be the final for Super Bowl XLVIII. Don't let the score fool you, though- it wasn't even that close. Malcom Smith was named Super Bowl MVP while Seahawks QB Russell Wilson went 18 for 25 with 206 yards and 2 TDs

Sunday's Super Bowl win marked the first big league sports championship to come to Seattle since the 1979 Supersonics brought home an NBA title after beating the Washington Bullets 4 games to one.

On Wednesday, the city of Seattle held a parade in which about 700,000 fans and revelers crammed into the downtown area of the Emerald City to honor the newly-crowned Super Bowl champions- something that was probably unthinkable when this July 2013 Forbes article crowning Seattle as America's Worst Sports City was published.

BOSTON BRUINS- In a rematch of the 2011 Stanley Cup final at the TD Garden on Tuesday night, the Boston Bruins came out on top, handing the Vancouver Canucks their 5th straight loss- quite a reversal of fortune when the Canucks blew away Boston by a 6-2 final on Boston's western Canada road trip back in December.

Milan Lucic opened up the scoring a little over 5 minutes into the first while Jarome Iginla would give Boston a 2-0 lead on a power play tally 8 minutes into the second. Rafael Diaz would make it a one-goal game for Vancouver with a goal at the 11 and a half minute mark,, but Danny Paille would give the Bruins some insurance with about 3 minutes to go in the second to make it 3-1- and that would be the final after a scoreless 3rd period.

Tukka Rask stopped 27 of 28 shots faced and the Bruins were 1 for 3 on their power play opportunities.

Wednesday is a travel day for Boston and on Thursday, they will face off against the St Louis Blues. The Blues come into Thursday night's game with a 37-12-6 record, good for 2nd place in the Central Division. Puck is scheduled to drop at 8:00 ET and the game will be televised on NESN.

RED SOX- Former Red Sox and Diamondbacks ace Curt Schilling announced that he has been diagnosed with cancer. Schilling pitched in the big leagues for 20 years with the Orioles, Phillies, Diamondbacks and Red Sox. His career highlights came in huge postseason games against the Yankees- such as Game one of the 2001 World Series when he was with the Diamondbacks and Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees as a member of the Boston Red Sox. Undoubtedly, Schilling's most famous moment with the Red Sox was game 2 of the 2004 World Series against St Louis- better known as the 'bloody sock game' after injuring his tendon earlier in the ALDS before having it surgically stabilized.

Schilling- along with then-teammates Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar and Jason Varitek- became affectionately known as the 'Idiots' and the team became the first to win an MLB postseason series after losing the first three game.

Schilling would struggle with injuries later on in his tenure with Boston but was still effective during the 2007 postseason when the Red Sox beat the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS and swept the Colorado Rockies to win their second World Series in three years. In March 2009, Schilling announced his retirement from baseball and took on work as a analyst for ESPN and started up his own gaming studio. As a player, Curt Shilling also started up an organization that provided support for sufferers of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS- AKA Lou Gherig's disease) called Curt's pitch for ALS.

There was no immediate word from Schilling of ESPN on the type of cancer or his prognosis. ESPN has reportedly given Schilling medical leave.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Iron Horse Update for February 2014

Southbound MM&A train with Vermont Railway and Montreal, Maine & Atlantic power seen rolling through a meadow in North Troy, VT on its trek between Farnham, Quebec and Newport, VT on June 15, 2013- a few weeks before the deadly explosion after a runaway MM&A oil train derailed in Lac Megantic, Quebec. Richard Deuso photo
MONTREAL, MAINE & ATLANTIC- After months of speculation and uncertainty, the beleaguered Montreal, Maine & Atlantic has a new owner.

New York-based hedge fund Fortress Investment Group [NYSE- FIG] was announced as the winning bidder in a Jan 23rd bankruptcy auction. Other bidders reportedly included Pan Am Railways and JD Irving, parent company of the New Brunswick Southern railroad and the refinery that the oil being hauled by the ill-fated MM&A train was destined for. Within days of the winning bid being announced, courts in both Canada and the USA approved the sale to Fortress.

Largely shut down in the wake of the July 2013 Lac Megantic derailment that killed 46 people, the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic filed for bankruptcy shortly after the disaster, the MM&A ran a test train through the La Megantic in December in anticipation of fully reopening the line. Reports surfaced in September 2013 that the oil being shipped was much more volatile than the manifest indicated. In 2010, the MM&A and the state of Maine agreed to terms on the sale of more than 230 miles of lines in northern Maine. By early 2011, the state of Maine had contracted with JD Irving to operate freight service over the recently sold lines between Madawaska and Millinocket.

Fortress Investment Group has also been the parent company of the Florida East Coast Railway since 2007 and was majority owners of shortline holding company Rail America until their 2013 sale to Genesee & Wyoming. The FEC has won a number of industry awards for safety, a background that could prove useful in persuading otherwise reluctant Canadian officials into allowing oil to once again move over Fortress-owned MM&A trackage. Shortly after the MM&A sale was made official, Great Northern paper of Millinocket, ME announced they would be suspending operations for sixteen weeks, depriving the railroad of a major shipper.

Other assets owned completely or partially by Fortress include private aircraft leasing firm Aircastle [NYSE- AYR], Luxembourg-based reality company GAGFAH, Brookdale Senior Housing [NYSE- BKD] and Canadian ski resort company Intrawest.

Union Pacific SD70M #4884 is seen leading 'Big Boy' locomotive #4014 through Ontario, CA en route to the former Southern Pacific yard in Colton, CA on Jan 25th, 2014. The locomotive was removed from the Los Angeles County Fairground Complex at Pomona, CA using temporary track and its final destination will be Cheyenne, WY. Matthew Griffin photo

UNION PACIFIC- Union Pacific's 4-8-8-4 'Big Boy' is on the move after crews painstakingly moved the giant steam locomotive out of the LA County Fairplex at Pomona on temporary track and onto the mainline to the former Southern Pacific facilities at Colton, CA.

The behemoth locomotive has another 1200 miles to go before reaching its final destination of Cheyenne, WY but will reportedly be on display in Colton for the first two weekends of February. In exchange for the Big Boy, the Rail Giants museum at the Pomona Fairplex will receive Union Pacific SD40-2 #3105 as well as a caboose and boxcar. Although the 4014 was the biggest steam locomotive on display, it was by no means the only one- Santa Fe 4-6-4 #3450, Union Pacific 4-12-2 #9000 and Southern Pacific 4-10-2 #5021 remain on display on the grounds along with restored freight cars.

The largest steam locomotive ever built, the Alco built Big Boys hauled freight and passengers for the Union Pacific over the Wasatch Range between Cheyenne, WY and Salt Lake City, UT in the 1940s up until dieselization in the 1950s. There are several surviving examples of the Union Pacific's Big Boys on static display- most notably in Cheyenne, WY and Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, PA- but after an exhaustive search, the Union Pacific determined that the #4014 in Pomona was the best candidate for a full restoration.

Motive Power Inc. HSP-46 demonstrator #2100 seen undergoing outdoor testing at the MBTA's South Station engine terminal in Boston, MA. David Hutchinson photo

MBTA- The first units from MBTA's order with Westinghouse Air Brake Technologies [NYSE- WAB] subsidiary Motive Power Inc have arrived and are undergoing testing on MBTA and elsewhere.

In 2010, the MBTA Board of Directors approved an initial 20-unit, $115 million order with Boise, ID-based MPI. However, since then the order has been upped to 40. The new locomotives are designated HSP-46 and are powered by General Electric GEVO engines and clock in at 4600 HP each. So far only one unit is on T property and has been undergoing compatibility testing with the electronic systems in the T's various coaches manufactured by Bombardier and Kawasaki. Two other HSP-46s are currently undergoing testing- one at GE's East Erie, PA test facility and the other at the FRA's Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, CO.

Oddly, this isn't the first appearance of MPI power on the T- the agency purchased two MP36PH-3Cs from Motive Power, Inc. The locomotives were originally intended for Utah's Front Runner commuter rail before the order was partially cancelled. For commuter rail, the T has been using 1970s built F40PHs along with rebuilt GP40MCs for passenger service along with some GP9s, GP40s and an NRE genset used for maintenance of way service.

MISSISSIPPI- At least 18 cars on a Canadian National train- some of them carrying hazardous cargo- outside of the southern Mississippi town of New Augusta derailed over the weekend. First responders were able set up barriers around some of the cars that had derailed and both lanes of nearby US highway 98 were shut down.

The train was carrying crude oil, liquid fertilizer and methanol- a state department of Environmental Quality official described the site as dangerous, but more dangerous to the first responders than the public.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Ukrainian Leader Takes Leave of Office Amid Escalating Clashes Between Police and Demonstrators in Kiev

Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych announced on Thursday that he was taking 'indefinite' sick leave on Thursday amid ongoing clashes between riot police and antigovernment demonstrators- the biggest domestic turmoil in the former Soviet republic since the 2005 'Orange Revolution'.
The official line is that the 63-year-old Yanukovych has an acute respiratory illness and a high fever.

But the opposition isn’t buying it. Some say he is looking for an excuse to avoid further discussions with opposition leaders, which have done nothing to resolve the tensions.

Vitali Klitschko, a leading opposition figure, has a more ominous theory — the president could be pretending to take himself out of action in preparation for imposing a state of emergency. That has been a persistent worry of the opposition since violent clashes two weeks ago killed three protesters.

‘‘I remember from the Soviet Union it’s a bad sign — a bad sign because always if some Soviet Union leaders have to make an unpopular decision, they go to the hospital,’’ Klitschko said.

Yanukovych has faced two months of major protests that sometimes paralyze central Kiev and have spread to other cities. The protests started after he backed out of a long-awaited agreement to deepen ties with the European Union in favor of Russia, but quickly came to encompass a wide array of discontent over corruption, heavy-handed police and dubious courts.

The protests escalated in mid-January when Yanukovych signed a series of strict anti-protest measures into law, but the president agreed to scrap the anti-protest laws of Jan 16th earlier this week.

The antigovernment demonstrators see the current government's rebuff of closer ties to the European Union as a sign that the Ukraine is falling back under the Kremlin's sphere of influence. During Soviet times, millions of Ukrainian were killed in an engineered famine under Josef Stalin and the northernmost part of the nation was irradiated with the 1986 explosion and meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

The protests aren't limited to the capital of Kiev- protestors are occupying regional government office buildings in the western part of the Ukraine and have even forced the resignation of Lviv's governor Oleg Salo.

At least four demonstrators have been killed in the ongoing protests in Kiev this month. Reports are circulating that riot police have been firing lethal munitions at some demonstrators, including buckshot and a sabot round designed to stop vehicles. European officials fear that the ongoing clashes could escalate to a full blown civil war within the Ukraine.