Sunday, September 14, 2008

Army Times Hits McCain For Flip-Flop

Has Sen. John McCain renounced his longtime antagonism toward the Army's Future Combat Systems?

On Sept. 8, the Republican presidential candidate told a rally crowd in Lee's Summit, Mo., about an Obama video message to a liberal advocacy group.

Gasoline rises on Ike, but crude dips below $100

Gasoline prices jumped at the wholesale level Friday as Hurricane Ike swept through Gulf of Mexico, prompting companies along the Texas coast to shut down refining and drilling operations.

Crude oil on the futures market, however, briefly sank below the psychologically important $100-a-barrel mark for the first time since April 2—showing that investors believe a worsening global economy will continue to drive down demand for some time in the United States and elsewhere.

The fact that U.S. fuel demand is so weak right now might mean the recent surge in the wholesale price of gasoline—which rose to about $4.85 a gallon in the Gulf Coast market Friday—might not be passed along to consumers unless Ike's impact is severe and long-lasting.

"Major oil companies are sensitive to raising prices in this environment," said Ben Brockwell, director of data pricing and information services at the Oil Price Information Service.

Ike is forecast to land early Saturday as a Category 3 hurricane near Galveston, a barrier island about 50 miles southeast of Houston. The Houston region is home to about one-fifth of U.S. refining capacity, and the site of a major fuel and grain distribution channel.

Wholesale gasoline prices on the Gulf Coast moved further into uncharted territory Friday, as refineries anticipated that Ike would lead to at least a significant pause in their operations, and at worst damage to their facilities. On Thursday, the Gulf Coast wholesale price of gasoline last traded at around $4.75 a gallon, according to OPIS, up substantially from about $3.25 Wednesday and less than $3 Tuesday.

Wholesale prices were much lower in other regions such as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, but even those areas saw prices rise.

"Hopefully it's a temporary phenomenon, but we won't know until next week," Brockwell said.

Wholesale prices are determined by major players in the supply chain including refining and trading companies, which constantly buy and sell barrels. These prices end up deciding what refineries charge distributors, before they get marked up further at the retail level for the consumer.

The average U.S. retail price for gasoline edged up less than a penny to $3.675 Friday from Thursday, according to auto club AAA, OPIS and Wright Express.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, light, sweet crude for October delivery fell 6 cents to settle at $100.18 a barrel in afternoon trading, after briefly sinking to $99.99.

October gasoline futures climbed 0.11 cent to $2.76 a gallon on Nymex.

"All week long, it's been a gasoline story more than anything. If you just looked at the crude market independently, you wouldn't know that we had a couple of hurricanes," said Jim Ritterbusch, president of energy consultancy Ritterbusch and Associates, referring to Ike and last week's Gustav.

"This dichotomy could persist for a few more days next week," he said. But "once the storm factor subsides, we'll see a much higher correlation between gasoline and crude oil."

Also, the demand for crude tends to fall off when refineries shut-in, as the have done this week, because they are not taking new crude shipments.

Exxon Mobil Corp., Valero Energy Corp., ConocoPhillips and Marathon Oil Co. have begun halting operations as the Category 2 hurricane headed straight for the nation's biggest complex of refineries and petrochemical plants. U.S. wholesale gasoline prices spiked 30 percent Thursday.

As of Friday, nearly 98 percent of crude production and more than 94 percent of natural gas production in the Gulf were shuttered, according to the Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service.

By Friday afternoon, Ike was a Category 2 storm centered about 165 miles southeast of Galveston, moving to the west-northwest at nearly 12 mph. Forecasters warned it could become a Category 3 storm with winds of at least 111 mph before the eye strikes land.

Ike is huge, taking up nearly 40 percent of the Gulf of Mexico. The National Hurricane Center said tropical storm-force winds of at least 39 mph extended across more than 510 miles.

Ike and last week's Hurricane Gustav have helped to stanch a sharp downturn in oil prices. Concerns over slowing economic growth on a global scale and a strengthening U.S. dollar have led funds to liquidate their commodities holdings, pushing crude prices down about 30 percent from their record $147.27 set on July 11.

U.S. fuel demand in June was down 5.6 percent from the same period a year ago, according to a recent report from the Energy Department, so many market watchers are expecting oil prices to resume their tumble.

"With demand being down as much as it is, the market, some argue, is a bit oversupplied," said Stephen Maloney, a senior consultant in energy risk management at Towers Perrin. "When you ask, how does Ike affect things? Its impacts are going to be in the context of lower demand for products than a year ago."

In other Nymex trading, October heating oil futures rose 1.45 cents to settle at $2.93 a gallon. Natural gas for October delivery rose 7.37 cents to settle at $7.372 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, October Brent crude fell 6 cents to settle at $97.58 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange, after closing at a six-month low in the previous trading session.

Delhi shopping areas hit by bombs


The aftermath of the blasts in Delhi

Five bombs have ripped through busy shopping areas of India's capital, Delhi, within minutes of each other, killing at least 20 people, police say.

The explosions, which also injured about 90 people, are not thought to have been very powerful but happened in crowded areas.

Four unexploded bombs were also found and defused, police said.

More than 400 people have died since October 2005 in bomb attacks on Indian cities such as Ahmedabad and Bangalore.

India has blamed Islamist militant groups for these previous bombings.

They want to break the spirit of Delhi
Arti Mehra,
Mayor of Delhi

CNN-IBN, a local TV news channel, said it had received an e-mail before the blasts from a group calling itself the "Indian Mujahideen".

"Do whatever you can. Stop us if you can," the e-mail reportedly said.

The same group has claimed responsibility for two other recent bombing attacks.

The Indian government has put the security agencies on high alert.

Pakistan has joined in official Indian condemnation of the attacks.

Chaotic scenes

Two bombs are believed to have been planted in dustbins metres away from each other in the central shopping district of Connaught Place.

13 September: Five bomb blasts kill 18 in Delhi
26 July: At least 22 small bombs kill 49 in Ahmedabad
25 July: Seven bombs go off in Bangalore killing two people
13 May: Seven bomb hit markets and crowded streets in Jaipur killing 63

Police believe that at least three other devices were planted at busy markets in the Karol Bagh area, on the Barakhamba Road and in the Greater Kailash area.

Chanchal Kumar helped carry several casualties to ambulances after witnessing one of the explosions, outside a metro station.

"Around 1830 we heard a very loud noise, then we saw people running all over the place," Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

"There were about 100-200 people around this place."

Gulab Singh, an underground train guard, saw an explosion in Greater Kailash.

"I was stepping out for a cup of tea when everything turned black in front of me," he was quoted as saying by AFP news agency. "Then everyone started running."

Television pictures show scenes of chaos at the blast scenes. Crowds milled around mangled vehicles, with debris and blood scattered across the streets.

'Enemies of humanity'

The Mayor of Delhi, Arti Mehra, said the city would not be intimidated by the "cowardly" attacks.

Map of areas hit

"They want to break the spirit of Delhi," he told reporters.

"They have tried this in other places before and they have not succeeded and they will not succeed here. They will not scare us."

Pakistan's new President, Asif Ali Zardari, "strongly condemned" the bomb attacks, expressing "shock and grief over the loss of precious human lives".

After bombings in Jaipur and Bangalore, a group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen also claimed responsibility.

While it is too early to say exactly what caused Saturday's blasts in Delhi, they appear similar to the earlier attacks.

The earlier attacks involved multiple small devices hidden in small boxes or bags and aimed at soft targets such as crowded markets, analysts say.

The devices contained shrapnel such as nuts, bolt and ball bearings while the explosives used were improvised. Islamic militants in Kashmir have tended to use military-grade explosives.

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Andover law school convenes Bush War Crimes Conference - WATCH LIVE


Saturday morning, the dean of Massachusetts School of Law at Andover will convene a two day planning session with a single focus: To arrest, put to trial and carry out sentence on criminals in the Bush Administration.

The conference, arranged by Lawrence Vevel, cofounder of the Andover school, will focus on which of Bush's officials and members of Congress could be charged with war crimes. The plan also calls for "necessary organizational structures" to be established, with the purpose of pursuing the guilty "to the ends of the Earth."

"For Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and John Yoo to spend years in jail or go to the gallows for their crimes would be a powerful lesson to future American leaders," Velvel said in a media advisory.

In a published document entitled "The Long Term View" (PDF link), Vevel argues, at the very least, "there is no question" George W. Bush is guilty of conspiracy to commit torture, a war crime.

"He is a former drunk, was a serial failure in business who had to repeatedly be bailed out by daddy's friends and wanna-be-friends, was unable to speak articulately despite the finest education(s) that money and influence can buy, has a dislike of reading, so that 100-page memos have to be boiled down to one page for him, is heedless of facts and evidence, and appears not even to know the meaning of truth," said Vevel.

The conference will focus on:

# What international and domestic crimes were committed, which facts show crimes under which laws, and what punishments are possible.

# Which high level Executive officials -- and Federal judges and legislators as well, if any -- are chargeable with crimes.

# Which international tribunals, foreign tribunals and domestic tribunals (if any) can be used and how to begin cases and/or obtain prosecutions before them.

# The possibility of establishing a Chief Prosecutor’s Office such as the one at Nuremburg.

# An examination of cases already brought and their outcomes.

# Creating an umbrella Coordinating Committee with representatives from the increasing number of organizations involved in war crimes cases.

# Creating a Center to keep track of and organize compilations of relevant briefs, articles, books, opinions, and facts, etc., on war crimes and prosecutions of war criminals.

And, addressing the conference will be:

# Famed former Los Angeles prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, author of the best-selling "The Prosecution of George W. Bush For Murder" (Vanguard).

# Phillippe Sands, Professor of Law and Director of the Centre of International Courts and Tribunals at University College, London. He is the author of "Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values" (Penguin/Palgrave Macmillan), among other works.

# Jordan Paust, Professor of Law at the University of Houston and author of "Beyond The Law."

# Ann Wright, a former U.S. Army colonel and U.S. Foreign Service official who holds a State Department Award for Heroism and who taught the Geneva Conventions and the Law of Land Warfare at the Special Warfare Center at Ft. Bragg, N.C. She is the coauthor of "Dissent: Voices of Conscience."

# Peter Weiss, Vice President of the Center For Constitutional Rights, which was recently involved with war crimes complaints filed in Germany and France against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others.

# Benjamin Davis, Associate Professor at the University of Toledo College of Law and former American Legal Counsel for the Secretariat of the International Court of Arbitration.

# David Lindorff, journalist and co-author with Barbara Olshansky of "The Case for Impeachment: Legal Arguments for Removing President George W. Bush from Office"(St. Martin’s Press).

# Colleen Costello of Human Rights USA.

# Christopher Pyle, a professor at Mt. Holyoke and author of several book on international matters.

# Lawrence Velvel, a leader in the field of law school education reform, who has written numerous internet articles on issues relevant to the conference.

Watch the Bush War Crimes Conference on Saturday, 9 a.m. EST - 5:15 p.m., and Sunday 9 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. EST. in the embedded video below. This story will be updated as noteworthy.

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Commuter train in fatal wreck ran red light

Image: Rescue workers remove the freight train engine that collided head-on with a commuter train
Gus Ruelas / Reuters
Rescue workers remove the freight train engine that collided head-on with a commuter train in the Chatsworth area of Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES - A commuter train engineer who ran a stop signal was blamed Saturday for the nation's deadliest rail disaster in 15 years, a wreck that killed 25 people and left such a mass of smoldering, twisted metal that it took nearly a day to recover all the bodies.

A preliminary investigation found that "it was a Metrolink engineer that failed to stop at a red signal and that was the probable cause" of Friday's collision with a freight train in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell said. She said she believes the engineer, whose name was not released, is dead.

"When two trains are in the same place at the same time somebody's made a terrible mistake," said Tyrrell, who was shaking and near tears as she spoke with reporters.

Authorities later announced that the effort to recover bodies from the Metrolink train's crushed front car had ended, with the death toll at 24. It rose to 25 when a 50-year-old man transported to a hospital from the wreck died.

"It was a very, very difficult operation," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said of the search for bodies. "It was like peeling an onion to find all the victims there."

'Like an accordion'
A total of 135 people were injured, with 81 transported to hospitals in serious or critical condition. There was no overall condition update available Saturday, but a telephone survey of five hospitals found nine of 34 patients still critical. Many were described as having crush injuries.

Firefighter Searcy Jackson III, a 20-year veteran and one of the first to pull bodies from the wreckage, said he had never seen such devastation. The 50-year-old said his team pulled one living passenger from the train and cut the mangled metal to remove about a half-dozen bodies.

"The metal was pushed together like an accordion," Jackson said.

Firefighters who extricated the dead from the wreck were rotated in and out of the scene to prevent emotional exhaustion.

"There are some things we are trained for, there are some things I don't care what kind of training you have, you don't always prepare for," fire Capt. Armando Hogan said. "This situation, particularly early on, with people inside the train, with the injuries, and with people moaning and crying and screaming, it was a traumatic experience."

'Our engineer failed to stop'
The collision occurred on a horseshoe-shaped section of track in Chatsworth at the west end of the San Fernando Valley, near a 500-foot-long tunnel underneath Stoney Point Park. There is a siding at one end of the tunnel where one train can wait for another to pass.

"Even if the train is on the main track, it must go through a series of signals and each one of the signals must be obeyed," Tyrrell said. "What we believe happened, barring any new information from the NTSB, is we believe that our engineer failed to stop ... and that was the cause of the accident.

"We don't know how the error happened," she said, adding that Metrolink determined the cause by reviewing dispatch records and computers.

National Transportation Safety Board member Kitty Higgins said her agency, which is leading the probe, is waiting to complete its investigation before making any statements about the cause of the accident. It hopes to complete its final report within a year.

Higgins said rescue crews on Saturday recovered two data recorders from the Metrolink train and one data recorder and one video recorder from the freight train. The video has pictures from forward-looking cameras and the data recorders have information on speed, braking patterns and whether the horn was used.

The Metrolink train, heading from Union Station in downtown Los Angeles to Ventura County, was carrying 220 passengers, one engineer and one conductor when it collided with the Union Pacific freight, with a crew of three, about 4:30 p.m. Friday. It is common in California for freight and commuter trains to use one track.

The crash forced the Metrolink engine well back into the first passenger car, and both toppled over. Two other passenger cars remained upright. The passenger train was believed to have been traveling about 40 mph.

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