Godspeed Sen. Byrd

West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd passed away early this morning after  along and distinguished career.  Beginning in 1959 he was currently the longest serving Senator.  In his early career, as tyler is wont to remind us, he was a white racist member of the KKK.  Unlike others he saw the error of his ways and reformed becoming a spokesman for progressive issues and for West Virginia.  He more than brought home the bacon for his constituents and took good care of a state in desperate need of jobs and economic impact.  His stature in the Senate was enormous and his passing along with Ted Kennedy last year leaves a void of leadership which must be filled.  Godspeed Senator.

Route 66: The Mother Road

Route 66 was a classic old two lane road which, before the age of interstates and easy air travel went from Chicago to LA.  A 1960’s TV show glamorized what was called The Mother Road with three handsome young guys starring in a show along with a beautiful Corvette.  All along what remains of the route, now mostly I-40 in Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico in these parts, I thought I needed to be doing it in a 1962 Vette.  A lot of the old places remain, tourist traps, motels, drive ins, etc.  Most are decaying, abandoned structures but in Tucumcari, new Mexico they’ve preserved much of the local flavor of Route 66 and the small town is filled with murals dedicated tot he memory of the legendary road.  The best way to share the experience is with pictures so here goes:

Entering the town from the west you come across this sculpture:

The route is covered with signs depicting the classic “Route 66” markings:

Here’s one of the murals, done on the side of a local supermarket (and liquor store, they sell booze everywhere in New Mexico):

Many of the places along 66 were done in art deco style:

The Blue Swallow motel remains as an example of the type of place travelers would stay:

The Tee Pee is a gift, kitsch shop which dates back to the old days also.  I picked up some postcards and souvenirs:

A Harley, one of today’s favorite modes of transport along the road, is parked in front of the shop:

More pics are under the fold…

A few other random pictures from Tucumcari:

I-84 from Santa Rosa to Las Vegas (NM):

Afghanistan: Mineral rich means long term

The McCrystal firing provides quite a distraction from the main point, our stalemate in Afghanistan.  I am glad General Petreus is being put in charge, but this does not change the game we’ve been playing for a decade in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s focus should be to change course and to solely focus on training and strengthening the Afghan forces to take over.  Prolonging the war until 2015, or 2020 from a fiscal standpoint is sheer lunacy, particularly in light of the global economic uncertainties we face.  It is also sheer foolishness for our Democratic representatives to support such a long term commitment.  Some of us (particularly Republicans with cut off barn tee shirts) are not too bright to think that “winning” means we’ll kill all the enemy….this is obviously insurgency warfare, but I will say that Gen. Petreus seems to understand that the victory is in the successful transition.  Too bad, they did not have a plan for the first 6 years or so there.

But, no… the US does not seem to realize that much like Vietnam, Afghanistan is a rogue nation that has been the doom of armies since Alexander the Great.  Instead, we drop billions into “nation-building” mode, a strategy which takes billions of tax dollars and spends them as global welfare to try to civilize a completely different society.  Those billions get doled out, alot of which go to Contracting companies.  It makes me sick and should you too, to know that Xe Services (formerly Blackwater) got a $120 million contract to perform private security services in Afghanistan.  


This is the same Blackwater mercenary army that was banned from Iraq for its brutality against civilians, the same private army that we as Democrats have railed so hard against and now that we are in charge, we are still awarding them contracts.  Of course, like the Beverly Hillbillies… the Xe mercenaries have struck it rich.  There have been massive mineral discoveries in Afghanistan… which means that the US will not be leaving anytime soon.  


All the while, it has been discovered that our combat troops face a new challenge besides terrorists and snipers.  Toxic sand has been discovered to cause soldiers severe respiratory and cognitive function disorders.  


Just imagine what it does to someone who has been on their third, fourth, and fifth deployment over there.  Its time to bring our soldiers home, and if it cannot be done within the near future, we need to not waste our most valuable resources, our brave troops, in a country baby sitting, while private companies make billions in contracts and mineral farming.

The Civilian and the General: The Reality Behind the McChrystal Interview Fall-Out

by Walter Brasch

For a few days last week, the harpies of the extreme right assaulted the president of the United States for first considering, and then firing Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of allied forces in Afghanistan.

           In a 10-day interview with Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone, McChrystal and his senior aides poked fun or criticized almost every civilian in the highest levels of the chain of command, including the President, Vice-President, and National Security Advisor James L. Jones, former Marine Corps commandant who, an aide told the magazine, was a “clown.” Another aide told Hastings that Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) “turn up, have a meeting with [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai, criticize him at the airport press conference, then get back for the Sunday talk shows. Frankly, it’s not very helpful.”

           Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and almost the entire tea bag movement supported McChrystal. They screeched that it was not McChrystal who should be fired but Obama for his war strategy. That would be the same strategy that was designed and executed by-Gen. McChrystal.

           This wasn’t the first time McChrystal was out of line. Previously, he tried to box in Obama. His tactic was not to be a part of a vigorous discussion with other military leaders and the Commander-in-Chief about the strategy in Afghanistan. He decided to just go to the media and “tell all,” essentially begging the President to significantly increase troop presence in Afghanistan and widen the war, which has now lasted more than eight years. This is also the same general who we now know was one of the major players in covering up the cause of the death of former NFL millionaire star Pat Tillman who became an Army Ranger, and then was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. This is also the general who was in command of a task force that had 34 of its members disciplined for prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.

           McChrystal wasn’t about to get any sympathy from his superiors. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who had served George W. Bush prior to being asked to stay by President Obama, said that McChrystal “made a significant mistake and exercised poor judgment.” Adm. Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also supported the firing. But, it was the words of three leading senators who should have provided the beacon to the unenlightened of the reactionary right. In a joint statement, the senators said they had “the highest respect for General McChrystal and honor his brave service and sacrifice to our nation,” but that his comments were “inappropriate and inconsistent with the traditional relationship between Commander-in-Chief and the military.” The three senators, all known hawks, were Joe Lieberman, an Independent; and Republicans John McCain, a former Navy captain; and Lindsey Graham, a colonel in the Air Force Reserve.

           For his part, Gen. McChrystal knew he was out of line. “I extend my sincerest apology for this profile. It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened,” McChrystal said, and noted that he believed that in his 34-year military career, he “lived by the principles of personal honor and professional integrity [and what] is reflected in this article falls far short of that standard.”

           Of course, the attacking force on the right flank, who were silent when the Bush-Cheney administration choked the First Amendment rights of civilians, put both their brain cells together and claimed Obama was stifling free speech. Here’s some constitutional law that will enlighten even the dimmest bulb. Freedom of speech, by law, does not extend to the military. That applies to privates as well as generals. The extreme right, which has proven embarrassing to true conservatives and the Republican party itself, apparently overlooked the fact that George W. Bush, while President, fired or marginalized senior officers for disagreeing with civilian policy. Gen. Peter Pace, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did not get a usual second term after he not only challenged the Bush-Cheney Administration on its stand about torture and on Administration claims, later proven to be false, that Iran was supplying munitions to Iraqi insurgents. Sealing his fate, however, was his public belief that gays were immoral. Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army’s Chief of Staff, had bluntly told the Senate Armed Forces committee in a mandated appearance that there were significant problems with the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld plan for the forthcoming invasion of Iraq. He retired without the customary recognition by civilian leadership. Adm. William Fallon, commander of the U.S. Central Command, was terminated for challenging the Bush-Cheney strategy that might have led to war with Iran. The reality that Shinseki and Fallon were eventually proven to be right was of little consequence. The President, in his role as Commander-in-Chief, has authority to discipline his senior officers for disagreeing with him, even privately.

           While President Obama, perhaps more than most of his predecessors, encourages debate and vigorous discussion, he couldn’t have a field commander publically disagreeing with him. McChrystal’s statements, said the President, represent conduct that “undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system.” It was a concept fully supported by Gen. George Washington before and during his presidency.  

           When the right-wing got tired of attacking President Obama, they attacked the messenger. Rolling Stone, they shrieked, wasn’t even a good magazine. Gen. McChrystal shouldn’t even have been talking to it. It was-you know-an entertainment magazine, thus proving how little they truly know about the media or journalism.

           The 24/7 cable news networks, ecstatic that they had a brief diversion from the Gulf Coast oil spill and athletes not kicking soccer balls into nets, for their part brought in all kinds of experts to spew opinions that sometimes seemed to make the pundits look brilliant by comparison.

           Somehow in all this orgasmic hyperbole, Fox’s Gretchen Carlson told the “Fox and Friends” audience that being president involves making “these tough, huge, monumental decisions.” But then she explained that the work of TV anchors-the real journalists, apparently-was similar to that of the president of the United States, since they have to make decisions on breaking news stories under near-battlefield conditions all the time, and “they would have to carry a story all along.” This is the same news anchor who called Ted Kennedy a “hostile enemy” and whose own combat experience was restricted to fighting with double-sided tape to hold her swim suit intact during the Miss America competition.

           There is no question that President Obama needed to relieve Gen. McChrystal of his command or risk appearing to be weak and ineffective during wartime. But there are other realities. The extreme right wing, blinded by their venomous hatred of President Obama, used the words of Gen. McChrystal to bolster their attacks upon the President. The left-wing, already upset with the expansion of the war, piously screamed their support of the President, but only if he got rid of the “troublemaker.”

           Lost in the war of words is the reality of who and what Stanley McChrystal is. He is a loyal American who grew up in a military family and who has siblings and in-laws who also were career soldiers. He is, by training and disposition, not a diplomat but a warrior, the kind you want on the front lines of any war. He was obviously frustrated by the lack of progress in Afghanistan, by a war that seemed to be doomed to failure no matter whose strategy was used, by an Afghani army and a civilian population that was easily compromised by warlords and the Taliban, by a country whose cash crop isn’t grain but opium.

           McChrystal understands the military system; he has little understanding of civilians and the media. Perhaps in the field, he and his senior aides would have been more cautious than on a diplomatic mission in Paris and Berlin hotels and nightclubs, areas that invaded their comfort zone. He was poorly prepared and ill-advised about being so open when talking to a reporter who had a notepad, a tape recorder, and made clear the rules of the interview. For a junior officer to make these mistakes is understandable; but, a four-star general should have known better. And that, not his words, was his downfall.  

Trip Update

A quick update on my trip.  I arrived in Santa Fe yesterday at noon local time (2 hour time difference) after 2,000 miles, three bad hotels and one Hotel From Hell (more on that later) and too much bad fast food.  I was able to shoot a good bit of video through Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico.  Saturday night I wound up sleeping in the car due to the rudest people in the world who turned the Comfort Inn of Las Vegas, New Mexico into their site of drunken revelry.  Alcoholism and public drunkenness is a major problem in New Mexico.  Drunk Driving has been an issue they simply haven’t been able to overcome and all of this was on display Saturday night.

Entering Santa Fe, The City Different, makes it worthwhile though the problems and issues in the rest of this state are significant.  Santa Feans couldn’t be nicer, more polite and friendlier than anywhere else.  Unfortunately to get here I had to deal with their polar opposites in Las Vegas.  I’ll have much more later today.

I’ll be here until Friday morning when I fly home and meanwhile I hope to get to Taos, Bandolier and the Georgia O’Keefe farm. It’ll be a busy week and I’ll upload pictures and video as I go.

The Oklahoma City Memorial

Fifteen years ago an American terrorist named Tim McVeigh blew up the Alfred P Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. I did a short detour this afternoon and visited the memorial which was built to commemorate the 168 souls who perished at 9:02 AM.  It is a very moving tribute and the fence along the street has a wall of wire mesh where countless people leave messages.  Alongside is a museum and in front of that is a tribute to the day care which was in the building and the children who were killed.

Two large structures stand at ends of a shallow pool.  One is marked 9:01 and one 9:03.  In between, where 9:02 occurred are 168 chairs representing the victims.  It is very simple, very meaningful and very moving.  I’m glad I went.  These are pictures but mostly I shot a video which I’ll work on when I reach Santa Fe.

more pictures are below…

Don’t ‘Give Away the Store’ With Industry-Friendly Severance Tax Exemptions

( – promoted by John Morgan)

If the Pennsylvania General Assembly listens to the natural gas industry, two-thirds of the gas extracted from a typical Marcellus Shale well will be exempted from a state severance tax.

That is the central finding of a report released Thursday by the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. It examines severance tax policies in Texas and Arkansas as the gas industry ramps up efforts to include exemptions in Pennsylvania’s severance tax that are more generous than the gas tax breaks offered by either of those industry-friendly states.

The gas industry has successfully lobbied Pennsylvania officials to include an exemption for low-producing wells in recent severance tax proposals. The exemption would be for existing shallow, or “stripper,” wells – in addition to Marcellus Shale wells in their later years of production.

More recently, the industry has been making the case for a tax exemption during the first three years of Marcellus Shale well production to recover capital costs. If both front- and back-end exemptions are included, a typical Marcellus Shale well would be taxed for only nine years of its 40-year life span.

Pennsylvania doesn’t need to offer tax breaks to attract gas producers. The state is already close to lucrative natural gas markets in the Northeast, and studies in other states have found tax breaks do little to spur production. Pennsylvania could end up leaving millions of dollars on the table without much to show for it.

While the industry cites Texas and Arkansas as models, neither state offers exemptions for all gas wells at the beginning or end of production. Texas, for instance, provides a rate reduction for “high-cost” wells based on the actual costs of drilling. Only in extreme cases will the tax rate be reduced to zero and only until half of capital costs are recovered. Unlike in Pennsylvania, Texas drillers also pay billions each year in property taxes on gas reserves.

As Center Director Sharon Ward noted in a press release on Thursday: “Pennsylvania taxes are already very favorable to the gas industry. Further tax breaks will drain revenue for core services like health care, education, and environmental cleanup. Communities across Pennsylvania are already feeling the impact of Marcellus Shale drilling. Lawmakers need to act now to put a properly structured severance tax in place.”

The Budget and Policy Center paper recommends that lawmakers reject an upfront severance tax exemption for Marcellus Shale wells and that any exemption for low-producing wells be conditioned on gas prices dropping below a certain level – the same way a rate reduction is triggered for shallow wells in Texas.

Read the full report here.

Check out media coverage of the report here.

And view video coverage of a Thursday press conference (taken by the Roxbury News), where Sharon Ward was joined by Representative David Levdansky and Jan Jarrett of PennFuture to discuss the report.

Revisiting the Afghan Strategy

Last December 1st President Obama laid out his plans for the War in Afghanistan.  He finally delineated a clear mission, something which had yet to be done following eight years of war and determined the road forward.  I was on a blogger conference call after that speech with senior White House officials in the area of national security and asked them if the President thought his mission was realistic, that is, achievable.  They responded only that Bush had so screwed things up in this war that there were no good options left available and the President selected the least worst.

I believe the least worse would have been to simply withdraw.  The 30,000 troops publicly insisted upon by Gen. McChrystal haven’t showed any substantial gains.  He didn’t get that winning a counterinsurgency operation by sending drones to kill civilians is counterproductive.  The war is a stalemate and now we’re funding the Taliban by paying them protection money to move our convoys.  This is beyond ridiculous.  It is time to revisit our strategy in Afghanistan.  With the General fired and hearings next week for Gen. David Petraeus Congress should ask the hard question:  is the mission realistic?  Is it achievable?  If not why are there?

Santa Fe Travelogue

Day two of my trip was more uneventful than the first.  Lucky for me anyway, I didn’t have any major wrecks to deal with other than my hotel.  I don’t ask for a whole lot on a trip like this:  a nice room, comfy bed, good service since these folks ARE in the hospitality business, a nice hot tub to relax my sore and stiff muscles, a good meal nearby and internet access.

Last night the Days Inn in Dayton wasn’t much but I wasn’t expecting much for $50.  It delivered though.  Tonight’s hotel has been an unmitigated disaster.  One of my major pet peeves is having someone else waited on before me when I was already in line.  I’ve walked out of countless businesses for this major customer service faux pas.  I’m a marketing guy so when a business cannot deliver even basic customer service I refuse to give them my business.  I walked into this hotel after spending 21 of the past 36 hours in a Honda Civic driving 1200 miles.  One person was in front of me at the counter with 2 employees there.  A woman with a bad Kate Gosselin doo (the old one for our locals who are up on this since she’s local) walks up and immediately gets served before me.  Turns out she’s the general manager of the hotel.  I told the desk clerk that’s even more wrong than if she had been a customer:  the GM especially should know that customers always come first.  That was a clue about the way this entire hotel is run:  poorly.

I went to the restaurant in the hotel because I couldn’t stand the thought of getting in the car again tonight.  I waited five minutes to be seated and then interminable expanses of time between visits from the server.  The meal was fine though they tried the gourmet thing too hard (subtle flavors work better than overwhelming ones).  After that I headed for the spa to relax.  My favorite part of the day after 9 hours of driving…  It was hot, the jets were purring and my muscles melted away…until four kids showed up unsupervised.  As they got rowdier and rowdier and one began trying to drown his little brother I finally had had enough and told them to leave.  The hotel doesn’t even allow young kids (these were all under 10) to use the pool area without an adult.  So that completely spoiled my relaxation.  So, on to my room to get some work done on the laptop.   No internet…  I finally resorted to my air card meaning I’m paying for my internet access on top of the room bill.

I’ll never stay at a Ramada again after this fiasco.  Breakfast will probably be arsenic.  BTW Congressman Roy Blount had a fundraiser here tonight.  

Tomorrow I’m meeting an old online friend for coffee.  She lives here in Springfield and runs a Yahoo Group which is our online support group for people who have had tbi’s.  Then its on to Oklahoma City where I’ll visit the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building Memorial.  I spend tomorrow night in Amarillo, Texas then on to Santa Fe Saturday.

Rendell affair rumors to surface in Philly Magazine Friday???

In the soon-to-be-released issue of “Philadelphia Magazine,” Gov. Rendell said that there is no truth to rumors of an affair with a former Miss Pennsylvania who is now a state employee.

Rendell has done alot of things this year that have made people cringe, like seeing elections fixed and people disenfranchised (and not doing anything about it, busting up the Dem Party over the PA Senate race, and so forth.  There are a lot of women attracted to power as the Guv says, but he just does not strike me as the type who would engage in this type of adultery behavior so this, without any type of a credible source or substanital evidence (as we have on the 12th Congressional) is little more than a political National Inquirer story.


In fact, I certainly believe Rendell did not engage in an affair.  I would look into Snow’s record about how she was hired, etc. who made the decisions as an investigative blogger, but this seems a far flung.  Typically, there are some in politics who flock to be close those who have control.  My advice is… do not ever run for office if you are caught sleeping around in the sack with someone.  If you came up against someone like me, you’d get ravaged with it and end up like John Edwards or the countless list of others who sold their integrity down the tubes for their 5 minutes in the sack.  

And for god sakes… if you do do it… don’t tell anyone you’ve gone hiking like Sanford… or you’re off to New Mexico :) or one of those lame excuses.  We know whats going on here!!!