Amtrack vyes for high-speed rail funds amidst further cuts

April 13, 2011

by Lindsay Brown

Stating the need for tough sacrifices starting in the 2012 budget, President Obama’s speech today outlined a deficit reduction plan which aims to reduce the national budget by $4 trillion within 12 years. If approved by Congress, it will include a 70% cut for clean energy and a 30% cut for transportation.

Honing in on transportation, this week’s newly released budget bill calls for a 100% slash in funding to the Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration, Capital Assistance for High Speed Rail Corridors, and Intercity Passenger Rail Service. This change comes on the back of last week’s challenging-enough cuts, but dwarfs their impact.

Last week’s 2012 budget approved the removal of just $1 billion from the $2.5 billion in annual spending allocated for high-speed rail. This week’s proposed annihilation of all funding is a drastic reduction considering the original $8 billion allowance secured by the 2009 stimulus package.

As railway funding shrinks, the importance of state-level railway grants grows, namely those that are unwanted by a state government. In February, Florida’s Republican governor Rick Scott rejected $2.4 billion of federal money, condemning it as wasteful government spending. It was returned to the Department of Transportation in order to be awarded to interested bidders. Transportation organizations are now welcome to vy for those rejected funds. Amtrak is one example.

“Our ridership has grown more than 36 percent since 2000, and I expect that trend to continue – and if gas prices continue to rise – to accelerate – our only restriction will be the available capacity,” Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman said. Amtrak is in a planning phase for next-generation high-speed rail on its Northeast corridor lines.

According to a US News Wire, March marked 17 consecutive months of ridership growth for Amtrak. Providence Business News reported that Amtrak ridership reached 28.7 million in the fiscal year 2010. Supporters of high-speed rail are stressing that public mass transit will help mitigate the financial burden on commuters in the face of rising fuel costs, as well as shorten the duration of commutes.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Rep. John Mica (R-FL), believes federal funding for high-speed rail should focus on the Northeast corridor and senators serving states in the Northeast are requesting the money on behalf of their populations. The time-saving benefit for commuters would be significant. If the Northeast corridor builds a high speed railway, the commute between Wilmington, DE and Washington, DC would shorten from four hours to less than three.

Audio: The Solid-Not Slavish Relationship

produced by Lindsay Brown

Solid-not slavish relationship – abridged by LindsayBrown81
“The Solid-Not Slavish Relationship: Britain’s Media Coverage of America from September 2009 to July 2010”  explores the coverage of the BP oil spill, Kraft’s acquisition of Cadbury, and the banking crisis.

Produced by Lindsay Brown in part fulfillment of a Masters level dissertation for Edinburgh Napier University’s graduate program in Journalism. This abridged version was made in August 2011 and is trimmed down to 19 minutes in duration.

Barack Obama and David Cameron renamed the relationship the “Essential Relationship” in May 2011. The original phrase the “Special Relationship” was coined shortly after World World II when Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt shared a close working relationship that ebbed and flowed throughout their tenures in power.

Fed's First-ever Press Conference

April 27th, 2011


Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke made history by holding a formal press conference after a regularly held Federal Open Market Committee meeting. Since the central bank’s beginning 97 years ago, few reporters have covered the ongoings inside. The debut press conference and Q&A session will likely set a precendent for future Fed chairs to remain transparent about monetary policy.

From the podium, Bernanke described recent surges in global commodities as transitory. At this time the committee does not forsee the need to tighten monetary policy, yet he iterated that the committee has expanded their balance sheet in the event that long-term instability becomes a more concrete threat.

Bernanke also stated that QE2 will be complete by the end of this quarter, citing that the $600 billion asset purchase program is accomplishing it’s goals to help core prices rise. Core prices exclude food and energy.

Docile demonstrations at World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings

April 17, 2011

by Lindsay Brown

There seems to be a gag on the classic rhetoric of monetary policy protesters. Less than 100 activists convened in various parks near the World Bank and International Monetary Fund buildings today, yet their demands were ambiguous.

Injustices to poorer nations are harder to pinpoint. In the past decade developing nations have welcomed pro-market reforms. Whereas in 2000 developing nations accounted for one-fifth of the global economy, today their share has grown to more than a third of the world’s total output. The policies of the World Bank and IMF are changing, acclamating to the new world-wide flow of capital.

The Spring Meetings of the World Bank and IMF began on Friday and will continue through Sunday. Finance ministers and central bank governors are discussing how to engage developing countries in meeting Milennium Development Goals agreed upon by leaders of the G20, or the world’s reachest 20 nations. Those goals, such as avoiding sudden cycles of booms or busts, strive to benefit the flailing economies of the G20 nations while also empowering developing nations to bring greater economic and social stability to their own regions.

According to citizens surveyed for the World Development Report 2011, unemployment was overwhelmingly the most important factor cited for recruitment into gangs and rebel movements. The report also shows that violence in developing countries is linked to income shocks, unemployed youth, social tensions, and trafficking networks. The Spring Meetings’ focus is on providing citizens with improved security, justice and jobs, and understanding the positive and negative inter-relationships between them.

Protesters’ outdoor events were cancelled due to rain on Saturday. Fair weather on Sunday allowed activists to voice their views. A Klesmer band played and protestors relaxed in the sun as one speaker called for officials at the World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings to stop military discrimination against the LGBT community. He called for an end to all wars, as well.

Hydrofracking frenzy: Penn State forum on the future of US energy policy

November 19, 2010

by Lindsay Brown

Penn State University hosted a forum today at the National Press Club on sustainable energy. Researchers, think tanks, and federal agency personnel convened to discuss the economic and environmental issues surrounding hydrofracking, a process which some argue could transform Pennsylvania into a major international energy exporter. The Marcellus Shale rock formation in western Pennsylvania is laden with natural gas reserves soon to be “fracked” by Royal Dutch Shell.

Marcellus Rally in Washington County, Pennsylvania on September 7, 2010/Photo courtesy


The process of hydrofracking, formally known as hydrolic fracturing, involves horizontal drilling and the injection of millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into underwater shale formations. After the shale breaks apart, the gas–in combination with the involved chemicals– is leaked to the surface.

Public concern over the health and environmental hazards caused by hydrofracking has grown in the past two years. This year’s release of the film, Gas Land, has heightened awareness of the controversy. According to Kim Sandum, director of the Community Alliance for Preservation in Pennsylvania, the process creates great potential for contamination of drinking water. Due to the marine origin of the Marcellus Shale, the fluid that flows out of the producing gas contains high levels of total dissolved solids (TDS), commonly referred to as “salts.”

“Although it puts salt in the water, its creating jobs,” said Brian Dempsey, Professor of Environmental Engineering at Penn State. “Mercellus is not the only company putting salt in the drinking water.” 

Salt could be removed by crystallization, concentration, or deep well injection, but Dempsey favors reusing it for future fracking jobs.

Tom Murphy is Co-director of the Marcellus Shale Center for Outreach and Research and the Associate Extension Educator at Penn State. When faced with a question from the audience, Murphy said, “The water industry is not opposed to rules and regulations.” He speculated one such regulation could entail well casing standards, yet the newly elected leadership in Washington would determine whether or not oversight policies will be made. Washington is contending with the demand to fix the economy and the pressure to protect the environment.

Hydrofracking extracts natural gas, which is the source for 23.9% of America’s energy. According to the Department of Energy, America uses petroleum-based sources for 37.4 % of its energy, coal for 22.4%, nuclear for 8.5%, and renewable sources for 7.7% of its overall energy usage. Environmentalists are pushing for policies to promote clean and safe energy.

At today’s forum, Tom Richard of the Penn State Institute for Energy and Transportation described renewable biofuels as efficient, clean energy for transportation. “People have been making ethanol with yeast for years,” he said. Other sustainable strategies being developed include the use of organic wastes, perennial crops, and 21st century forestry. He described aspects of multifunctional agriculture, including biodiesel made from algae, fibrous woodchips, grass and trees. He also trumphed Sweden’s use of bio-DME produced from black liquor.

 “Politicians use religious terminology and zeal to describe energy issues,” said David Biegel, who runs an energy agency within the State Department. “We need an actual energy policy in the USA.”

Audio: Media on Muslims

November 10, 2009

produced by Lindsay Brown

With so much mention of Islam in the media over the last decade, stereotypes of the religion have emerged. Some Muslims here are feeling increasingly misunderstood by their fellow citizens. A new exhibition in Edinburgh aims to tackle prejudices on Islamic culture. Local correspondent Lindsay Brown went to find out more…

MediaOnMuslims by LindsayBrown81

More BA Strikes

May 10, 2010

by Lindsay Brown

British Airways staff have announced strikes from 18-22 May, 24-28 May, 30 May-3 June and 5-9 June. The Unite Union announced this after talks with BA broke down this afternoon.

The BA website states “We are currently considering our response so we can minimise any disruption during this strike period.”

BA will update its website as more information becomes available.

During a series of strikes in March, BA trained and used roughly 1,000 temporary cabin crew workers and volunteers to resume flight schedules to their best ability. Nearly half the BA flights to and from Edinburgh airport were delayed or canceled during the March 20-22 period.

Passengers booked to fly during the strike dates are citing BA’s obligation under EU law to offer either a refund or a reroute, but the airline could avoid paying refunds for the reason that the strike is “beyond its reasonable control”.

During the strikes in March, BA offered passengers the option to change the booking to any other time within the next year.

Travel insurance policies bought before the strike announcement should operate according to their regular terms and conditions.