Tag Archives: Peter Galuszka

Rethinking Afghanistan

By Peter Galuszka

On Feb. 15, 1989, I was standing amid reporters and people waving red flags and holding flowers at the northern end of a metal bridge linking Uzbekistan with Afghanistan. A row of Soviet BTR armored personnel carriers streamed home as their crews waved and smiled.

These were the last troops to withdraw from Afghanistan, where the nearly 10-year war had killed about 15,000 Soviet troops and 2 million civilians. The Soviet Foreign Ministry badly wanted foreign correspondents to record the last of the withdrawals.

They chartered a plane to take us from Moscow to Tashkent, the Uzbek capital. From there we went to a Soviet Air Force base where tough looking men loaded flares on the sides of gigantic cargo planes. They would shoot off the flares to distract U.S.-made Stinger missiles as they corkscrewed into Kabul.

Next on our trip was the small town of Termez where Russian helicopter gunships buzzed overhead. Near the bridge, was a parade ground covered with locals. I spoke with a teenage girl who said: “They’ve taken us out of school four times to practice this.”

The lesson was that Afghanistan is always going to be a remote quagmire. The British and Russian empires found that out in the 19th century and now the Americans are after a seemingly endless 18-year-long war that has left about 2,400 U.S. troops and more than 58,000 civilians dead. Continue reading

The Gas Boom Is Over

Natural gas storage tanks in the Marcellus shale fields. Photo credit: New York Times

By Peter Galuszka

The boom in shale natural gas is over, reports The New York Times.

The trend raises more questions about billions of dollars worth of gas-related projects in Virginia, including Dominion’s plans to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and other firms’ efforts to place two big generating stations near Charles City.

The boom in shale gas began a decade ago when hydraulic fracking methods went into wide use in fields such as Marcellus in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, Eagle Ford and Permian in Texas and Williston in North Dakota.

The results were profound as gas displaced coal as a major generator of electricity. A bump in exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) loomed, as Dominion converted its Cove Point LNG facility to handle exports.

Independent firms such as Chesapeake Energy in Oklahoma led the way. Big energy firms such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron bought up smaller firms and invested billions in shale gas operations. Numerous pipeline projects were announced, including the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley projects in Virginia.

The result? Too much gas and resulting price drops.

Continue reading

S&P Global Slams Dominion for Gas Plants

Dominion Virginia Power’s gas-burning plant in Brunswick County.

By Peter Galuszka

International financial analysis firm S&P Global has issued a scathing report criticizing Dominion Energy Virginia for over emphasizing future electricity demand and proposing unneeded natural gas-fired generating plants.

According to S&P: “An examination of State Corporation Commission, or SCC, records; Dominion’s past integrated resource plans, or IRPs; campaign finance documents; and independent reports, along with interviews with utility analysts and environmental advocates and statements from Dominion officials, shows that the company has consistently over-forecast electricity demand to justify building new capacity, primarily natural gas plants with dubious economics that will ultimately be paid for by ratepayers.”

Dominion plans on adding at least eight gas plants with a generating capacity of 3,700 megawatts by 2033, S&P reports. An update to its 2018 IRP plan would add three alternatives that would add 2,425 megawatts of gas capacity by 2044. Continue reading

How Influence Is Played in Richmond

By Peter Galuszka

It helps to have an influential father, especially if you are Peter Farrell.

The 36 year-old former Republican delegate and financial investor has been named to the Board of Visitors of Virginia Commonwealth University by Gov. Ralph Northam.

Northam, a Democrat, has accepted thousands of dollars in political donations from Thomas Farrell, Peter’s father, who heads Dominion Energy, which has also contributed to Northam.

There’s nothing especially wrong with young Farrell’s appointment although his age and relative inexperience might raise eyebrows. He served in the House of Delegates from Henrico County from 2012 to 2018 when he said he wanted to “retire” to spend more time with his family and investment business.

But there’s always been a whiff of inside baseball with him. According to a 2016 book by Richmond author Jeff Thomas, the way was cleared for Farrell’s ascendance into politics literally behind closed doors. Continue reading

The Rank Hypocrisy of Rural Gun Sanctuaries

by Peter Galuszka

When Donald Trump ran for president on a platform of virulent xenophobia, one of the rallying cries he favored was the idea that liberal-minded localities were forming “sanctuary cities” and would not cooperate with federal immigration officials on the prowl for undocumented aliens.

Right-wing Virginia politicians, notably Corey A. Stewart, who led anti-foreign hate raids when he was Chairman of the Board of Supervisors of Prince William County, locked onto the idea with a vengeance. Listed as “sanctuary” cities were places like Virginia Beach and Richmond.

The problem was that they were no such cities or counties. True, short-funded police departments tended to stick to their real work – enforcing local and state laws as they should – but there were no formal pronouncements of “sanctuary cities.”

So, it is indeed ironic that the anti-control mob is creating a series of so-called “sanctuary” cities and counties where authorities will refuse to enforce gun control laws. So far, the counties of Appomattox, Campbell, Carroll, Charlotte, Patrick and Pittsylvania have declared themselves ‘Second Amendment Sanctuaries,” reports the Washington Post. Continue reading

How No Regulation Toasted Vaping

By Peter Galuszka

There’s a mighty disconnect between being innovative in developing new products and putting the buying public in danger. We are often lectured about the benefits brought by industrial creativity unfettered by regulation on this blog and elsewhere but that isn’t always the case.

In fact, doing so without meaningful regulation can spell big disaster for both the public and corporations. The case in point: vaping.

About a decade ago, tinkerers in Asia came up with a pipe-like, vapor device that could give the user an addictive kick of nicotine mixed in a soup of vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol and any number of hundreds of flavors.

In a few short years, vaping grew with mostly-Asian-made devices to head-shop-like outlets typically located in chic-chic shopping districts or strip malls, some with the motif of 50-year-old head shops with lots of the art of psychedelic or the heavy metal era.

Obviously aimed at young vapers, flavors galore were added. Here’s one of them pitched by a vaping shop I visited for a news story:

“If you gaze at the stars long enough, you might get a glimpse of the proverbial “pie in the sky.” Reward yourself here on Earth, instead, by trying this incredibly delicious toasted coconut cream flavor. The buttery baked piecrust and the sweet vanilla with coconut filling are enough to make you feel like you’ve tasted heaven!”

Continue reading

BEELZEBUB!

By Peter Galuszka

The Lord of the Flies is upon us! We have been plunged into the darkness by a tsunami of moderate to progressive Democrats who have taken both the House of Delegates and the state Senate for the first time since 1993.

This means that Democrats now control everything from the offices of the Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General. All three had been tainted by scandal but it turned out that Virginia voters thought that President Donald Trump was a much dirtier, ruder and offensive customer, hence their sweep.

A view big wins: Ghazala Hashmi, a Democrat, a retired school administrator and the first elected Muslim ever in the state legislature, beat Republican pretty boy Glen Sturtevant. In Suffolk, Democrat Clinton Jenkins took down powerful GOPer Chris Jones. House Speaker and Republican Kirk Cox kept his seat but will have to leave the coveted House Majority Speaker slot to most likely Eileen Filler Corn, now Democrat House Minority Leader. Some old standbys like Tommy Norment and the ever-amusing Amanda Chase stay in power.

What’s likely? A short list: Continue reading

Send in the Carriers! What Carriers?

By Peter Galuszka

The stunning slaying of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ultra-violent Islamic State terrorist leader, on Oct. 25 by U.S. Special Forces in northwestern Syria was the most spectacular such endeavor since  Osama bin-Linden was dispatched in Pakistan in 2011.

President Donald Trump, under attack for withdrawing most American forces from war-torn Syria, got a big, temporary bump from the raid in which no U.S. service people were lost.

But one might ask the question of why the raid got its start by helicopters based in Iraq? They had to roar in at very low altitude under dangerous conditions on a flight that lasted more than an hour. They risked being shot down by Russia, Turkey or Syria.

Wouldn’t it have been easier if they were launched from an aircraft carrier sailing much closer in the Mediterranean?

One answer seems to be that many aircraft carriers just weren’t available. Six of them were stuck at port in Virginia undergoing maintenance or their construction had been delayed by unexpected problems. Continue reading

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

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