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Off the rails: Two trains derail days after deadly Amtrak accident

© Reuters/John Altdorfer

A freight train stand idle after a derailment involving at least 10 cars which left the tracks in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania May 14, 2015.
Two U.S. trains slipped off their routes on Thursday, two days after a deadly Amtrak accident near Philadelphia, according to reports.

Parts of a freight train derailed in Pittsburgh on Thursday morning, leaving some cars overturned or detached from their wheels, according to local station WPXI. No injuries were immediately reported.

A minor derailment also took place in South Carolina with no injuries reported, according to Georgia outlet WRDW. The engine compartment of another Amtrak train caught fire in Milwaukee on Thursday afternoon, though no passengers were hurt.

The incidents come as the Philadelphia accident—which left eight people dead and more than 200 injured—places scrutiny on the state of America's infrastructure and railroads.

"If we are going to have safe transportation systems in America, you have to invest in them. You have to keep up with state-of-the-art infrastructure," former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said in an interview with CNBC's "Power Lunch" on Wednesday.

Comment: It looks like everything is coming 'off the rails' in North America lately! Other train derailments over the last several days include:

a train carrying gravel derails outside Pleasanton, Texas

a fiery oil train derailment in North Dakota

a non-hazardous mixed freight train derailing in Cook County

Eight train cars carrying sulphur derailing in Alaska

Gold Coins

UK's richest are 105 times better off than the poorest

© Reuters / Luke MacGregor
The UK'S richest 20 percent have more than one hundred times the wealth of the poorest 20 percent, with the combined household wealth of £9.1 trillion remaining for the most part in the hands of the elite.

New analysis from Lloyds Bank Private Banking revealed that if the combined household wealth was evenly distributed, each family in Britain would have an annual income of £326,414.

But in spite of a rise in household wealth of more than £216,000 in the past 10 years, the increased prosperity appears to remain in the hands of "a growing number of older households," according to Markus Stadlmann, chief investment officer of Lloyds Bank Private Banking.

The analysis shows that individuals, who own property or have invested in pension schemes, have also seen a rise in the level of their personal wealth.

Property has seen the greatest increase in value, with the average house price rising by nine percent in 2014, adding £452 billion to the combined household wealth total.

As well as property, which accounts for 39 percent of total wealth, other assets such as pension pots and life assurance have doubled since 2004, and are now worth £5.5 trillion, or 61 percent of the UK's total wealth.

These encouraging figures, however, don't show the distribution of the UK's increasing wealth. The Equity Trust says 34 percent of the population control the lion's share of the £9.1 trillion, leaving 60 percent without any positive financial assets.

Comment: Last month, a study was published in the British Medical Journal - "Austerity, sanctions, and the rise of food banks in the UK,". The authors, academics from Oxford University, noted that the harsh austerity measures (introduced by the then coalition government) including slashed welfare payments and dwindling public services have caused the rapid spread of food banks across Britain.
When the coalition government came to power in 2010, the Trussell Trust food banks were active in 29 local council areas throughout Britain, according to the report. By 2013/14, however, this number had risen to 251.

Over the same period, the Trussell Trust's rate of emergency food aid distribution had tripled.
Conservative politicians suggested that the trend was not 'symptomatic of growing food insecurity', but was a 'direct result of food charities broadening their operations' and that those who espouse this view say 'more people are merely helping themselves to free food'.

In a joint report published late 2014, the Trussell Trust, the Church of England, Oxfam and the Child Poverty Action Group revealed that those who use food banks are more likely to be "single adults or single parents, live in rented accommodation, suffer unemployment and have borne the brunt of some sort of benefits sanction."

Clearly, despite the pro-austerity rhetoric from Westminster, we are not "all in this together". Having won the recent General Election, the Conservative Party is committed to implementing their manifesto pledge to cut £12bn from welfare, which according to the Oxford report would result in the number of people using food banks to "double to more than two million a year".

Hunger leads to revolution: World Bank warns of food riots


Meteorite? Terrorists? Amtrak train may have been struck before crash

© Reuters/Lucas Jackson
Emergency workers and Amtrak personnel inspect a derailed Amtrak train in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania May 13, 2015.
The engineer who operated Amtrak 188 was qualified and competent, but remembers nothing from the fatal crash, investigators said after interviewing him. The NTSB is now asking FBI help to look into allegations the train was struck or shot at.

Speaking to reporters at the last Philadelphia-based briefing, Robert Sumwalt of the National Transportation Safety Board said his investigators have interviewed the engineer and two other crew members from the Amtrak 188 train, describing them as "traumatized" and not yet fully recovered from their injuries.

One of the conductors testified she had heard an engineer aboard a local SEPTA train reporting "either being hit by a rock, or shot at," and putting his train into an emergency stop with a broken windshield, Sumwalt said. The conductor believes she heard the Amtrak engineer reporting "something about his train being struck by something" as well.

The NTSB has not independently confirmed the information, but investigators have seen damage to the "left-hand lower portion" of the Amtrak train's windshield. The Bureau has asked FBI crime scene teams to examine the Amtrak locomotive, which showed a "circular pattern emanating outward," perhaps caused by an external object.

Sumwalt told reporters that the train's engineer, whom he did not name, felt "fully qualified and comfortable with his equipment, and reported no problems with his train handling." The media have identified the man as Brandon Bostian of New York.

Bostian did not feel tired or ill, and "when asked, he demonstrated a very good working knowledge of the territory, speed limitations, things like that."

The investigation will proceed to reassemble the wreckage and examine the braking mechanism, compare the damage to the cars to computer models, and await the results of medical tests administered to the engineer, as well as the FBI examination of the windshield. Sumwalt declined to offer any preliminary conclusions or speculation as to what might have caused the derailment of Amtrak 188 on Tuesday evening.

Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman posted an open letter to the company's website on Thursday, saying it was working with the individuals and families affected by the crash to "help them with transportation, lodging, and of course, medical bills and funeral expenses."

"Amtrak takes full responsibility and deeply apologizes for our role in this tragic event," Boardman wrote.

Eight passengers died in the crash and more than 40 remain hospitalized. There were 243 people on board, including five Amtrak crew workers. Security camera footage showed the train entering a sharp turn at over 100 mph in a 50 mph zone. NTSB investigators say the train operator had applied emergency brakes and reduced the speed from 107 mph to 102 before the train jumped the track.

Amtrak continues to run trains north of New York City and between Washington, DC and Philadelphia, but the Philadelphia-to-New York route remains suspended. The railroad's Northeast Corridor, between Washington, DC and Boston, carries 12 million passengers a year.


Arizona activists protest Israeli firms militarizing border of U.S. and Mexico

© Bob Torrez
On May 2, a few miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, just north of Nogales, on Tohono O'odham land, a group of activists unveiled a banner of protest in front of a new surveillance tower, manufactured and operated by the Israeli company Elbit Systems. The group came to bring border justice, indigenous rights and power, and anti-militarization movements together with the Southern Arizona BDS Network to confront the Israeli/US partnership that is militarizing the US/Mexico border with increasingly profound effects on the people of this region. As is the normal case for residents who live and work in this hyper-militarized border zone, on our excursion to the tower, it didn't take long for a U.S. Border Patrol agent, on an all-terrain vehicle, to speed up and rush toward our group, asking us what we were up to—and asking us to leave.

Comment: Is it any surprise that the U.S. and Israel, purveyors of oppression and destruction, would collaborate on such measures?

Black Cat

Researchers find greed is alive and well in study of corporate CEO's

CEO greed is the topic of studies by UD's Katalin Takacs Haynes and collaborators from Texas A&M University and the University of Cincinnati.
That gut feeling many workers, laborers and other underlings have about their CEOs is spot on, according to three recent studies in the Journal of Management, the Journal of Management Studies and the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies that say CEO greed is bad for business.

But how do you define greed? Are compassionate CEOs better for business? How do you know if the leader is doing more harm than good? And can anybody rein in the I-Me-Mine type leader anyway?

University of Delaware researcher Katalin Takacs Haynes and three collaborators - Michael A. Hitt and Matthew Josefy of Texas A&M University and Joanna Tochman Campbell of the University of Cincinnati - have chased such questions for several years, digging into annual reports, comparing credentials with claims and developing useful definitions that could shed more light on the impact of a company's top leader on employees, business partners and investors.

They test the assumption that self-interest is a universal trait of CEOs (spoiler alert: it's alive and well), show that too much altruism can harm company performance, reveal the dark, self-destructive tendencies of some entrepreneurs and family-owned businesses and provide a way to measure and correlate greed, arrogance and company performance.

Comment: Those who are addicted to greed are typically found in business as entrepreneurs, investors, speculators, lenders, CEOs. Often their successes contribute little or nothing to society, while their actions frequently inflict considerable damage on others. Their undertakings are cunningly contrived to transfer money out of the pockets of others and into their own. Exceedingly competitive and aggressive, they take ruthless advantage of every opportunity to turn a profit - and not shy away from turning against others in the process.

Arrow Down

'Crucified Putin': Latvian artist nails Russian president's effigy to cross

© TB5
The statue of a crucified Russian President Vladimir Putin has appeared at an art exhibition in the center of Latvia's capital, Riga, local media report. Visitors are allowed to put nails into the installation, but not everyone is keen to do so.

The statue is part of a 10-exhibit art display which can be visited free of charge. It is located near the building which in Soviet times housed the Latvian headquarters of the KGB security service.

It depicts Putin on a red cross, with nails driven through his hands and head, complete with a crown of barbed wire. Unlike the creators of the other exhibits, the author of this piece has preferred to remain anonymous, reports Latvian channel TV5.


Medicine Hat is the first Canadian city to eliminate homelessness

© Andy Clark/Reuters
A homeless woman lies on a sidewalk in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Medicine Hat, a city in southern Alberta, pledged in 2009 to put an end to homelessness. Now they say they've fulfilled their promise.

No one in the city spends more than 10 days in an emergency shelter or on the streets. If you've got no place to go, they'll simply provide you with housing.

"We're pretty much able to meet that standard today. Even quicker, actually, sometimes," Mayor Ted Clugston tells As It Happens host Carol Off.

Comment: It's amazing what treating human beings like human beings can accomplish.

Eye 1

Ukrainian nationalist thugs assault women and elderly on Victory Day

"Glory to Ukraine's Nazis!"
As the world marked the 70th anniversary of Nazi Germany's defeat in WWII, Ukraine has seen a wave of attacks against Victory Day symbols associated with May 9 celebrations in Russia and the former Soviet Union.

On May 9, activists from the nationalist Ukrainian Svoboda ("Freedom") party were seen attacking people for wearing the traditional black-and-orange St. George ribbons or carrying red Victory Day banners in several cities across the country.

Among those assaulted was the head of the Antifascist Committee in the western Ukrainian city of Lvov, pensioner and member of the Communist party Aleksandr Kalinyuk. He was sprayed with kefir (a fermented milk drink), and prevented from leaving his home to attend unofficial Victory Day celebrations.

The video of the incident was posted on YouTube by Svoboda members, who later wrote on Facebook that "Kalinyuk and his Colorado ribbons and Soviet flags won't be attending," saying he was "grounded." "Colorado" is the derogatory term used in Ukraine for the St. George ribbon, referring to its resemblance to the color of the Colorado potato beetle.

Comment: We have to thank these Ukrainian 'nationalists' for being so over the top, such caricatures of brutish thugs, and such obvious examples of everything wrong with Ukraine today. Their actions do speak much louder than their pathetic, laughable slogans. To anyone who watches, it's perfectly clear: these people are the scum of the earth, and seemingly proud of it. If only other, decent people would not suffer as a result...

Star of David

Roger Waters to Dionne Warwick: "You are showing yourself to be profoundly ignorant of what has happened in Palestine since 1947″

© AP/Vadim Ghirda
Roger Waters
Singer and U.N. global ambassador Dionne Warwick recently released an interesting if puzzling statement asserting that she would, and I quote, "never fall victim to the hard pressures of Roger Waters, from Pink Floyd, or other political people who have their views on politics in Israel."

"Waters' political views are of no concern," I assume she means to her, the statement read. "Art," she added, "has no boundaries."

Until today, I have not publicly commented on Ms. Warwick's Tel Aviv concert or reached out to her privately. But given her implicit invitation, I will comment now.

First, in my view, Dionne Warwick is a truly great singer. Secondly, I doubt not that she is deeply committed to her family and her fans.

But, ultimately, this whole conversation is not about her, her gig in Tel Aviv, or even her conception of boundaries and art, though I will touch on that conception later. This is about human rights and, more specifically, this is about the dystopia that can develop, as it has in Israel, when society lacks basic belief in equal human value, when it strays from the ability to feel empathy for our brothers and sisters of different faiths, nationalities, creeds or colors.


Catholic school fires unmarried, pregnant teacher -- denies her right to sue

© Shutterstock
Attorneys for a Catholic school in Montana claimed this week that a woman who was fired for being unmarried and pregnant has no right to sue for discrimination, the Associated Press reported.

Former Butte Central teacher Shaela Evenson got pregnant through in vitro fertilization. Her bosses found out in January of 2014, when an anonymous letter arrived for then superintendent of schools for the diocese, Patrick Haggarty, alleging that Evenson "was pregnant and not married." On January 12, Evenson received an official termination letter from Butte Central, stating that Evenson was out of compliance with her employment contract.

Evenson sued the school and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena for pregnancy discrimination, sex discrimination and breach of contract in 2014.

Comment: Apparently, to the Catholic Church, a pregnancy is just too obvious a breach of their high moral standards. Meanwhile, pedophile priests are charged with sodomizing children and they are merely transferred to another diocese. If it's easier to hide, it's okay?