Author Archives: Peter Galuszka

Bye, Bye, Smokey Stacks

By Peter Galuszka

Many years ago, when I was a young cub reporter at The Virginian-Pilot, I had a lonely assignment that had me spending some of my mornings watching big ships come and go into Chesapeake Bay.

I worked a night police beat until at least midnight with Wednesdays and Thursdays off, ruining my social life. I saw on occasion many horrible things. For therapy, if I got up early enough and the weather was good, I might go to Fort Story, a military base in Virginia Beach, where I could sit on a bluff at Cape Henry and watch ships come and go. They were easy to see if it wasn’t windy since they emitted tall plumes of pale yellow and dirty brown smoke visible from miles away.

That smoke came from burning cheap, low grade, viscous bunker oil. It was like this for years until recently when the International Maritime Organization (IMO) of the United Nations issued strict new rules to cut sulfur oxides that pollute the air globally and could cause acid rain not to mention some carbon pollution.

Burning such oil had become a bigger problem since container or bulk carrying ships have gotten much bigger, especially as trade with strong economies such as China’s has greatly expanded.

On Jan. 1, ships around the world must use fuel with only 0.5% sulfur, rather than the 3.5% sulfur level that had been using. The levels will be measured by maritime enforcement agencies such as the Coast Guard and shippers who fail to comply will face stiff fines. Continue reading

Two More More Book Reviews: This Time C-Ville

By Peter Galuszka

I was impressed with Dick’s thoughtful take on Margaret Edds’ book on early civil rights leaders that I thought I’d point readers to two reviews of books on the Unite the Right Movement that ran in this week’s Style Weekly:

More in the Nefarious Hunt for DARK MONEY!

By Peter Galuszka

Sound the klaxon horn at Bacon’s Rebellion! More DARK MONEY is coming to pollute the state’s glorious electoral process.

Emily’s List, a PAC supporting female Democratic candidates, has announced that it is planning on donating an extra $1.5 million to help flip the GOP-controlled Virginia General Assembly.

Along with another $600,000 Emily’s List gift made jointly with Priorities USA, the money is the largest single investment the PAC has ever made in an individual state’s legislative elections, according to WTOP Radio of Washington.

Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock said the races are underfunded and the funds should help 39 women running in Virginia’s off-year elections flip the General Assembly.

That’s not all. According to The Washington Post, U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria (D. 2nd) has created a committee to raise $228,000 to match the same amount raised by Republicans to fight her reelection next year. The reason for the GOP largesse? Luria, along with U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-7th), had the unmitigated gall to sign a letter in the Post of several Members of Congress with defense or intelligence calling for the impeachment of President Donald Trump (not a bad idea in my book). Luria is a retired Navy commander and Spanberger was a covert officer for the Central Intelligence Agency.  Continue reading

The Last of The Pistol Packin’ Mamas?

By Peter Galuszka

Part buffoon, part populist, state Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, has for years represented white resentment against modern times, Tea Party-style.

She’s picked up on every bad feeling out there and amplified it, including pent-up anger against minorities, immigrants, government workers, women’s rights and gun control advocates and more.

She’s had a weekly radio show, “Cut to the Chase” in her home Chesterfield County where she vented her views.

When the Senate considered ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment passed decades ago, she strapped on a .38 revolver on her right hip, sashayed to the podium and pronounced it “My personal ERA.”

To be sure, Chase did some things right. She blocked Dominion when it tried to push its way to dispose of coal ash waste on its terms. Then she stumbled. She got into a pointless verbal battle with a Capitol police officer, who happened to be African-American, about where she can park. She annoyed female voters by implying that rape can somehow be their own fault. Her campaign material said she’s not afraid to “shoot down gun groups” in a state where worries about gun control are the No. 1 concern. Then she insulted Sheriff Karl Leonard, a fellow GOP candidate, by saying he had let Chesterfield become “sanctuary” for illegal immigrants. The untruthfulness of the comment was too much for the county GOP, which booted her on Sept. 30.

Chase is still running for the 11th Senate seat against Democrat Amanda Pohl who has seriously out-raised her in political funds. Chase could still win in November, but the events represent a turning point. Continue reading

Mayberry on Acid

By Peter Galuszka

In a bizarre case for a small Virginia locality, 14 former and current local leaders of Warren County and Front Royal — including the entire Board of Supervisors — have been charged with misdemeanors relating to a major embezzlement case that involves the local economic development authority.

The Sept. 24 charges by the State Police follow the indictment in May of Jennifer McDonald, the former head of the local EDA, on 28 felony charges related to embezzling funds in a deal involving a promised new data center and office park.

Although he was not charged, Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron killed himself with a self-inflicted gunshot wound a few days after McDonald was indicted. He had been involved with an $8 million scheme to build a regional law enforcement training center at the project.

This could be the largest-ever public fund embezzlement scheme involving a single locality in Virginia’s history. To be sure, the state recently has had its share of schemes and scams. They include a $1.4 million state grant to a bogus Chinese company in Lynchburg. The executive director of the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission was caught siphoning away public funds some years ago. Continue reading

Bad News at Richmond’s City Hall

Selena Cuffee-Glenn

Back in 2015, the City of Richmond was a managerial mess. Accusations flew of incompetence, conflicts of interest and revolving chair style management. One big problem was the deeply flawed installation of a financial computer system crucial to keeping the municipality functioning.

Then-Mayor Dwight Jones’s solution was to hire a ringer, Selena Cuffee-Glenn, who had earned a reputation for efficiency and competence as Suffolk’s city manager. She had a pair of degrees from the University of Virginia and a personable manner. When Levar Stoney succeeded Jones as mayor in 2017, he kept Cuffee-Glenn as the city’s chief administrative officer.

Then, reports circulated that relatives of Cuffee-Glenn seemed to be getting prize positions. Her daughter got a job at the city’s human resources department. A niece didn’t even have to formally apply for her $70,000 a year position.

An Inspector General’s report showed that as many as six Cuffee-Glenn relatives were working in some city capacity. On Sept. 18, Stoney fired her.

She says that her hiring policies did not violate any rules. She says she had no role in helping relatives get jobs. Her husband, for example, works for the city Sheriff’s Department, which she does not oversee. On the other hand, one relative got a Public Utilities job at a higher than average hourly rate. Continue reading

Politico’s Juicy Tale of Liberty and the Falwells

by Peter Galuszka

Jerry Falwell Jr. is hitting the news big time following a Politico investigation that alleges self-dealing and sexual misconduct by the powerful head of the evangelical Christian school Liberty University.

More than two dozen Liberty officials and Falwell associates working for Falwell as a “dictatorship” where people are afraid of discussing issues involving him and the school. One allegedly said, “we’re not a school, we’re a hedge fund.”

Personally, I would not really care much about the inner workings of a private, religious school.

What makes this different is that the Falwell family has been major force in conservative, Christian politics for decades. Liberty’s phenomenal growth from a small bible school to a $3 billion operation with more than 100,000 students is a remarkable story.

Falwell’s and the Lynchburg school’s support of Donald Trump is curious given its intensity and contradictions due to Trump’s serial adultery and taped recorded admissions of sexual abuse. Liberty is so strict it hands out demerits or even expels students for what it considers sexual misconduct. Continue reading

Richmond’s World of Secrecy and Collusion

VCU President Michael Rao

by Peter Galuszka

There’s long been the “Virginia Way” of ruling oligarchs making decisions in backrooms while leaving the public out of the picture. But then there’s also the “Richmond Way,” which is the same thing on steroids.

The key focus today is the so-called Navy Hill District Corporation, a group headed by Dominion Energy chieftain Tom Farrell that wants to replace the aging Richmond Coliseum and build a $1.4 billion mixed-use project on 10 blocks just north of Broad Street downtown.

With Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney complicit, the group which involves some of the city’s biggest movers and shakers has worked mostly in secret and has gone to great lengths to keep the public as far away from planning as possible.

Richmond has had its share of flops when it gets into top-down, centralized economic planning somewhat reminiscent of Moscow, where I used to live and work. One was the 6th Street market, a failed project not far from Navy Hill. The city, which has a poverty rate of about 25%, is paying millions to the Washington Redskins, one of the richest firms in the National Football League, to train at a city facility for three weeks every summer.

Navy Hill also had an inauspicious start. When the city sent out requests for proposals for replacing the Coliseum a few years ago, it got exactly one proposal – from Farrell’s group.  Continue reading

Philip Morris: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

by Peter Galuszka

It’s been a very long goodbye. Faced with billions of dollars in health-related lawsuits and huge public relations problems in 2008, cigarette giant Philip Morris split itself in two very different companies.

It reminds me of the scene in Stanley Kubrick’s brilliantly sarcastic war move, “Full Metal Jacket.” A colonel stops Private Joker and demands to know why he has born-to-kill and peace symbols on his helmet at the same time. “What does it MEAN?” growls the Colonel. “I dunno, Sir,” replies Private Joker, “I guess it’s the Jungian thing, you know, the duality of man.”

Duality of cigarette making is more like it. Back in 2008, Philip Morris split itself into a Swiss-based international firm while Richmond got Philip Morris USA and its holding company, The Altria Group. The latter is still a potent force with 3,750 local workers and a big honey pot of largess.

Philip Morris International boosted sales by creating such nicotine laden smokes as “Marlboro Wides” and Marlboro Max 9,” which sold in Third World countries that didn’t have the bucks or the court systems to challenge cancer causing products. Continue reading

How Trump’s Trade Madness Hurts Virginia Farmers

by Peter Galuszka

Virginia farmers are paying a big price for President Donald Trump’s chaotic trade war with China. If anything, it’s likely to get worse as Trump vows even bigger tariffs, drops the idea and then comes back to it.

There’s no question that Trump’s peculiar negotiating behavior and questionable logic are having their effect.

China had been Virginia agriculture’s number one export destination with soybeans leading the list, along with apples, livestock and other products.

In 2017, China bought $671 million worth of farm goods from state farmers. Then, Trump became president and quickly imposed a series of tariffs against China about a year and a half ago. Exports to China dropped precipitously to $235 million. Canada is now Virginia’s biggest export partner for agriculture. Continue reading

The Death of David Koch

by Peter Galuszka

Imagine the coincidence. On Friday I was reading business writer Christopher Leonard’s excellent “Kochland” book on the hard-right, billionaire industrialists, Charles and David Koch. I put my Nook down for a moment to check the news. David Koch had died at age 79.

He, his brother, the rest of the family and their sprawling, secretive business empire based on oil trading and petrochemicals are fascinating topics. And, the Kochs, especially Charles, have had a huge influence in Virginia as they spread their gospel of free market libertarianism.

David Koch, who lived in New York City rather than Wichita, the headquarters of Koch Industries, had been known as a man-about-town.He was a bachelor until later in life and gave freely to medical research and the arts.

Gifts include $100 million for cancer research art his alma mater, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he still held the record for the most points ever scored in a school basketball game. He also gave $100 million to underwrite a ballet theater at the Lincoln Center in New York.

When he died, David and his brother were each worth about $50 billion. They got their money by running the family business, which buys and sells oil and distributes it through pipelines. They also have petrochemical plants where they make plastics used in windows, clothing and a lot more.

With Charles taking the lead, they developed a tough corporate control system that involved loyalty, secrecy and tough discipline. According to Leonard’s even-handed book, they Kochs were accused of making millions by cheating oil producers by under-reporting the amount of crude oil they received. The company settled the case. That and smart business led to success. Continue reading

Why Is Expanding Broadband Still Such a Problem?

by Peter Galuszka

U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-7th) has drawn lots of attention for her Rural Broadband Summit at Louisa County High School in Mineral on Aug. 17, which got plenty of comment from primarily rural residents unhappy that they can’t get access to quick, reliable Internet service.

Good for Spanberger, who beat Republican Dave Brat in last year’s hotly contested election. But this all brings questions: after so many years why are we still facing this?

I am now in my second decade of writing about the lack of broadband access in rural and inner city areas.

A piece I did for Chief Executive magazine about 10 years ago explored how mostly minority business owners in inner Philadelphia couldn’t afford broadband because the big providers, which would include Comcast and Verizon, cherry pick their locations. The firms wanted to boost margins so they pushed “triple play” (Internet, telephone and television) access in wealthier areas. Those not so privileged had to struggle with higher costs and access issues. “I don’t need 400 channels,” an inner city business owner told me. Continue reading

My Three Days of Peace and Music

Fifty years ago, when I was 16 years old, a classmate from my high school in suburban Washington, D.C., called and asked if I wanted to go to Woodstock.

I  wasn’t exactly sure what it was about but I had some time off since I had just finished a summer journalism course at a D.C. college and wasn’t due back at school until the first of September. I packed my sleeping bag. I was less than transparent with my parents, telling them I would be gone for a few days to a camping outing in New York State.

Seven of us connected and rode in a station wagon borrowed from a friend’s mother. We knew the line up of music was phenomenal but we didn’t know what to expect.

As we approached Bethel, N.Y. and Max Yasgur’s farm we were overwhelmed by car traffic. We had to park seven miles from the entrance. By the time we reached the gate, it had been crashed open and the event was free. I naively paid $20 for a ticket anyway.

An unimaginable number of kids wandered everywhere. The designation was a huge stage at the base of a half-moon shaped side of a grassy hill. Continue reading

The Curious Case of the Amazon Op-Ed

Stephen S. Fuller

For decades, Stephen S. Fuller has been regarded as a regional asset.

His study of the state’s economy as a professor at George Mason University has been praised as insightful, especially his idea that Virginia needs to diversify from its traditional reliance on federal government spending.

So, it seemed odd that Fuller, who plans to retire in the near future, would get mired in a minor controversy over the ethics of an opinion piece he wrote for a local business newspaper.

One couldn’t ask for a more loaded sense of circumstances. Retail giant Amazon, which is building its second headquarters near Reagan National Airport with a payroll of thousands of people, wanted Fuller to write and pitch a story extolling the virtues of the multi-billion dollar project.

Amazon’s public relations people wanted the article out before the Arlington Board of Supervisors was due to consider $23 million in incentives for the plan in March.

Fuller agreed and made one bad mistake. He showed a draft of the work to Amazon and asked for their comments. He got some, rejected them and then tried to pitch it to the Opinions Section of The Washington Post. Continue reading

Jeff Thomas: “The Virginia Way” Prevails

A little less than three years ago, Richmond author and analyst Jeff Thomas shook up the state political elite with a densely research account of how “The Virginia Way” actually works and how major players schemed to benefit from it.

Thomas’s book was brilliantly timed, arriving after the state’s first major corruption trial involving from Gov. Robert McDonnell and his wife Maureen spectacularly portrayed before a global audience just how widespread and tawdry Virginia’s systems of political gift giving were.

The irony, of course, is that “The Virginia Way” paints a myth that public officials are so upright and high-minded that the usual ethics rules that other states might require regarded gifts and favors are not needed. After all, we have the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), which duly collects and reveals millions worth of perfectly legal donations and gifts that major politicians and corporations, notably Dominion and cigarette maker Altria proudly bestow.

Now, Thomas has written a sequel — “The Virginia Way. Democracy and Power After 2016” (The History Press) – which updates us after some of the most remarkable years in the state’s political history.

Here are a few points: Continue reading