Random Thoughts on Another Trek

Four days on the road gives you many observations as one travels across two thirds of America.  Beginning my journey on a Saturday morning meant I had very little traffic with which to deal.  I sailed through our Keystone State and noted some closed rest areas.  This is happening everywhere as states cut budgets.  I’m not sure how many rest areas I passed were shut down but it was many.  This creates a real hazard for motorists.  I hit Columbus, Ohio, as planned, after the Ohio State game began and hit my hotel in Dayton much earlier than last time.  As you might recall a jacknifed truck cost me several hours in June.  I’m not sure why I can’t find a decent place to stay in western Ohio, it may be there aren’t many.  Each place had a pet fee but aside from that traveling with dogs was no problem.

I got through Indianapolis Sunday morning well before the Colts game and driving through southern Indiana and Illinois is tedious.  There is NOTHING to see but flat expanses of farm country speckled with an oil rig here and there.  Then you cross the Mississippi at St. Louis and see that giant Arch over the river welcoming you to the west.  Again, I arrived during the Rams game so there was very little traffic.  As long as one plans their fall trip around football driving is easy.  The freeways around St. Louis were as empty as they were in Indy.  From there it was still a long haul to Springfield, that night’s destination.  It rained intermittently that entire day and I was very relieved to get to La Quinta Inn.  I’ve never stayed at one and this was very nice.  I relaxed in the spa across the hall from my room and had a nice breakfast in the morning.  At that point I had 1100 miles under my belt.

The dogs were extremely nice, loving and experienced travelers.  I think it helped that we were in their owner’s car but I speculated if they wondered “who is this man and where is he taking us?”  Walking them gave me a nice chance to stretch my legs every day.  We bonded nicely but I was no substitute for their Mommy when we got to Santa Fe and they jumped at the sight of her.  I’m just chopped liver now, lol.

Oklahoma was greener than I remembered in June but offered very little in cuisine.  The rest area option was McDonald’s and…nothing.  Those who know me know I hate fast food.  I found a chicken club on the menu and was glad I packed a bunch of energy bars.  Monday was clear and bright as we sailed along at the posted 75 mph speed limit.  Even at that speed it takes eight hours to cross Oklahoma.  I ran into some traffic through Tulsa and Ok City then hit the broad expanse of prairie towards Texas.  We spent that night in Elk City where the chef at the Clarion has no idea what medium rare means.  Those $20 baked potato and green beans really burned me.  I had breakfast in Amarillo, a city you definitely want to miss if at all possible.

Since I’d hit the tourist spots along Route 66 on the June trip I continued on and spent all day going west towards Albuquerque.  The towns are few and far between, nothing but prairie and then desert.  Most of the time there were no other vehicles in sight.  Many of the rest areas were closed and I saw quite a few people pulled over on the shoulder relieving themselves.  I pulled off at one exit for gas and found a lone building, old and rustic, with old fashioned pumps.  A German Shepherd lounged outside the door until a black and white cat came along and took the spot.  I pumped 420 and continued to New Mexico Route 285.  This was the first time in four days I was going north.  The two lane road was posted 65 mph and it was forty miles until I encountered an intersection or building.  This is very soothing and relaxed driving, I could feel myself unwinding as the Rocky Mountains came into sight before me.  We coasted in The City Different and I handed Zombie and Lou Lou to their excited Mom.  The 14 year old Lab took one look at Linda and jumped over the Element’s tailgate in joy.   It only took me an hour to miss those two dogs.

I crossed many rivers on my trip and aside from the Ohio and Mississippi they looked like dry beds.  I’ve never seen such massive drought before, especially considering I went 1900 miles.  In Oklahoma they were nothing more than mud holes.  Climate change is having a severe effect on the Southwest and it is very obvious.  I’m not sure where the water will come from after weeing what is left of the Canadian River which flows (not any more though) through the Texas panhandle and Oklahoma.  It is the main source of water for that region.  This must be a wake up for action.

Senate Investigates ITRR Scandal

As lawsuits begin to be filed following the disclosure that Pennsylvania was spying on activists, comparing them with anarchists and terrorists then providing that intelligence to gas drillers concerned about citizen opposition the State Senate held a hearing on the issue.  They brought before them Jim Powers, still the head of the PA Department of Homeland Security which let the contract, and the head of the Pennsylvania Keystone Kops.  Obviously no one in the Senate seemed thrilled to listen to excuses brought forth.  One likened the reports to a “clipping service” since much of it was compiled by simply reading public websites of various groups.

Activist organizations use web sites to inform the public of their agendas, activities and goals.  All ITRR had to do for $103,000 was visit them regularly to note what and where they’d be doing.  Gee, I’d have done that for half the price.  The PSP says the reports actually impeded their work because almost none of these groups present any threat other than to traffic flow.  Sen. Jim Ferlo announced a group to which he belongs, Green Drinks, will be filing suit.  I think anyone who is a  member of any of these organizations spied upon has standing to sue.  This is going to cost taxpayers and I don’t understand why no one has been fired.  I understand Ed Rendell, like Tom Corbett is a whore of the gas drilling industry (both have been bought off and are putting out) but this is ridiculous.

News & Notes September 29, 2010

Things got a bit crazy there last week between preparing for my trip, changing the plans to drive instead of flying, having the lightning strike then spending four days on the road all the while campaigns and events were happening.  There’s tons of stuff to get to so I might do more than one News & Notes today catching up.

While I’m here in New Mexico’s state capitol I might mosey over to the Roundhouse and rustle up some information on this state’s experience with shale gas drilling.  The energy companies have been in some New Mexican areas fracking for gas for several years.  I’ll see what I can dig up.

Meanwhile the Pennsylvania Budget & Policy Center has their latest report on Marcellus Shale severance tax rates and its interesting.  The industry, through its bought and paid for mouths in the legislature, is claiming falsely that SB 1155 calls for a severance tax rate of 7.3% which puts it below that of western states which include property taxes on top of the gas tax to bring an effective rate of 7.9%  The gas drillers haven’t left any of these states for “greener pastures” and New Mexico’s shale gas is a fraction of that in the Marcellus formation.  These are scare tactics designed to let them exploit a non renewable resource belonging to Pennsylvanians.

President Obama was in Albuquerque yesterday before traveling to Wisconsin trying to motivate liberal Democrats to vote.  He and VP Biden, who was at Penn State, are criticizing us for being “whiners.”  The White House is so f*cking tone deaf it is beyond comprehension.  Instead of castigating those it betrayed they should be apologizing and begging for understanding.  I’m simply astounded by their cluelessness.

polls seem to be all the place this fall.  I’m not sure, going forward, how accurate any polling is.  More and more of us are going to cell phone only, especially the youth, and are outside the scope of traditional polling.  I also think these samples are highly sensitive to whomever happened to be contacted and show a divergent electorate.  I think anything can and will happen in November.  For example last week an F&M poll showed Mike Fitzpatrick leading Patrick Murphy by double digits in PA-10, something I found hard to comprehend.  Yesterday another poll puts Murphy ahead by 3.  The only poll which counts will be the one on election day.

Veterans and labor are joining other groups to do canvassing and phone banking at a feverish pace.  While organizations such as Karl Rove’s American Crossroads are pumping $50 million into ads this year the work on the ground remains the focal point of voter contact.  The Citizens United decision is having a serious impact on this race as billionaires are dumping millions into anonymous contributions.  You, the voter have a right to know who is funding these ads.

Manan Trivedi has a very effective ad attacking Jim Gerlach for his giant faux pas attacking his opponent for being out of the district for eight years.  Manan explains why to the voters with this ad:

Commonwealth Court went after Big Pharma Bristol-Myers Squibb for gouging Pennsylvania taxpayers last week.  They caught the company cheating us for drugs for the senior prescription program.  Businesses are constantly crying about all the regulations they are forced to endure but if they weren’t all crooks these wouldn’t be necessary.  Honest people don’t need someone holding them accountable, crooked ones do.  This is but one more example.  I’m fed up with Chamber of Commerces crying and whining about this through their elected representatives.

On my drive west through Pennsylvania Saturday I heard a radio ad by Pat Toomey touting his experience as a small business owner.  Toomey’s family owned and operated several restaurants in the Lehigh Valley, presumably with the funds he earned on Wall Street.  Pat co-owned the business but never managed or operated it, his brothers did that work.  Pat Toomey was in Hong Kong then working for an Enron investor who was caught defrauding shareholders:

I’ve nailed down what Toomey did during that year: His campaign confirms to me that he did research on capital market formation in southeast Asia for a company owned by the billionaire Chan brothers, one of whom, Ronnie Chan, was a former Enron director who settled a massive $168 million lawsuit brought against the company by shareholders.

Toomey’s boss has been fighting democratic progress in China and is tied to China’s refusal to float their currency.  That policy is costing millions of American jobs.

Ten Fundamental Truths that the Tea Party Needs to Understand

Cross-posted from deciminyan

  1. The IRS is not evil.
  2. You can support the troops while still be against the war.
  3. Labor unions are not evil.
  4. It’s easy to compare someone you don’t like to Hilter, Attila the Hun, or Pee Wee Herman.  Why not look for people you could compare to Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, or Jesus Christ.
  5. America is not a Christian nation.  
  6. Who my neighbor chooses as a life partner is not my concern, and will never impact the sanctity and wonder of my marriage.
  7. People have souls.  Corporations do not.  Hence, corporations are not people.
  8. Free, quality public education is a cornerstone of American society.
  9. We can differ on opinion.  We can’t differ on facts – even if Fox “News” says so.
  10. Yes, you are your brother’s keeper.  

The Trip

We’re 1100 miles into a 1900 mile trek to Santa Fe.  In a Honda Element the two dogs are wonderful, veteran travelers.  Their Mommy and Daddy are in the movie business so they are accustomed to traveling to various locations.  Fortunately they are from New York City so they don’t cop any “Hollywood” attitudes.  I delayed my onset about an hour Saturday so as not to hit Columbus, Ohio during Ohio State’s game day traffic.  The rout was well under way when we cruised through.  Same for yesterday as we hit St. Louis during the Ram’s game.  Leaving on a weekend has worked out well because traffic has been light.  Other than Tulsa this morning its clear sailing through the prairie and the desert from Springfield, Missouri.  Yesterday was a long, 600 mile leg and I should have arranged a hotel in Rolla.

There have a few interesting stories along the way.  I stopped for dinner yesterday in southern Missouri, the Ozarks, very redneck country.  Having New York plates identifies me as an “eastern liberal,” I’m sure.  I pulled into this local restaurant hoping for a good steak dinner.  This is cattle country with the old stockyards of Missouri still present.  Last June I had a fantastic filet mignon dinner in Springfield.  I walked into a mostly empty place as I’m still on Eastern time and I’d driven through lunch.  Three people were seated at a table, locals who greeted me and asked where I was headed.  I’m sure my response of the very socialistic city of Santa Fe, along with NY plates, was interesting for them.

Their conversation, at the table next to mine, was about whores and prostitutes, not a subject I normally enjoy for dinner conversation.  One elderly gent chain smoked cigarettes so I assume Missouri doesn’t yet have a smoking ban for public places.  It could also be they didn’t care.  One man sat with his back to me and had a “Don’t tread on me” sticker on his cap, he didn’t know enough to remove his hat in a restaurant.  He also was going “commando” and I was given a broad view of his crack while I had dinner.  Soon the woman, who it turns out is a prostitute (explaining that conversation) discussed some local politics with the elderly gent with the smoking habit and they talked about a recent race where he was a candidate.  They discussed his opponent’s asking him directly if he was the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan for which he refused an answer.  Of course that means he is…  An interesting meal since the steak was rather poor.  Who needs a good steak when you get local color of this quality?

Last night we were at a La Quinta Inn, very nice with an indoor pool and spa which I enjoyed.  The spa is great for relaxing after ten hours on the road.  You get sore, tensed muscles at my advanced age.  Tonight we stay in Elk City, Oklahoma which is halfway between Oklahoma City and Amarillo, Texas.  In June I pushed to Amarillo and it was a long day.  With just 800 miles to go I decided to split the second half into 400 mile segments.  Well, we’re on our way.  Hopefully I’ll get to our hotel early enough to do some writing.

On the Road Again

I’m pushing off for Santa Fe, New Mexico once again this morning.  My friends who are moving out there have a guest who needs her pooches brought along.  Since I was flying out anyway to dog sit and work on the book we decided I could drive them since I know the route.  Lulu and Zombie seem to be veteran travelers as their mommy and dad are frequently on various movie sets making films.  Tonight’s stop is on Dayton, Ohio my usual first stop.   Finding pet friendly hotels is a bit of a challenge but I found a service which does it for you.  We’ll how they do tonight and I’ll check to see how walking a Lab and a Whippet mix cut into the miles driven each day.  But Santa fe and my favorite little Tibetan Spaniel await at the destination along with a scheduled massage for all my tired, aching muscles.

A Little Culture and Art

We get so tied up in politics and social commentary and sometimes we forget about the other things in life. Things that make life a bit more rewarding and happier. Things that move our spirit and our soul as well as our brains.

Last night a friend and I went to see London’s National Theatre production of Phedra by Jean Racine (1677) starring Helen Mirran and Dominic Cooper. It was, in a word, astonishing.

We didn’t travel to London to see the production. London’s National Theatre films their stage productions and beams them to cinemas around the world. For $17.00 at Allentown Symphony Hall we saw one of the greatest of the Greek Tragedies performed by a consummate ensemble of wonderful actors.

The Reading RC-11 theatre at 2nd and Washington Sts, which, for some unknown reason, did not show Phedra, IS scheduled to show the rest of the National Theatre season which includes Hamlet, King Lear (with Derek Jacobi), Fela!, Frankenstein and Chekov’s masterpiece The Cherry Orchard.

And even if the RC-11 decides to back out, the trip to Allentown is worth it for shows of this quality.

For those of us who love great theatre, London’s National Theatre program is a wonderful treat.

The Reading RC-11 also shows the Metropolitan Opera for those of you who are opera lovers. Not really my cup of tea but the Met is showing new productions of the first 2 operas in Wagner’s Ring Cycle this year, Das Reingold and Die Walkure. I assume Seigfried and Gotterdammerung will be coming next season to complete the cycle.

If you want to know more about London’s National Theatre Live program you can go to www.ntlive.com.

For info on the Met Opera go to:


and click on ‘HD Live’.

The opera program starts on 9 October with Wagner’s Das Reingold and I believe the RC-11 charges $22.00

For those who enjoy theatre, the NTLive season begins 14 October with Complicite’s The Disappearing Number followed in December by Shakespeare’s tragic Hamlet.

Opinions aside, opera and theatre enrich our lives in so many ways.

If you enjoy the theatre or the opera I urge you to take advantage of these wonderful resources and to introduce young adults to the wonders of great theatre. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I know but what a great way to enjoy an evening for those who do enjoy.

News & Notes September 23, 2010

Our house was hit by lightening in last night’s thunderstorm and fried my desktop while I was writing an article.  I’ve been busy all day getting our contractor out to survey the damage.  I’m leaving for Santa Fe (driving now instead of flying) and need to get this done before departing.  Luckily we have a rubber roof on this flat area where it hit and there’s no risk of water damage.  The internet line is damaged, I’m assuming the surge went through the ethernet cable, and the electrical system will also need to be examined for damage.  The strike hit about four feet from where I was sitting writing about Keystone Progress suing Tom Corbett, does this mean he has connections in low places?  I’ll try and get that article written yet.

The health insurance reform law is now taking effect six months after signing.  No insurance company can now drop you because you get sick, because you have pre-existing conditions, etc.  Many of the key provisions of the bill are going to help many people who desperately need assistance with these low lifes.

The House passed a small business jobs bill today.  From the White House:

The small business jobs bill passed today will help provide loans and cut taxes for millions of small business owners without adding a dime to our nation’s deficit.  After months of partisan obstruction and needless delay, I’m grateful that Democrats and a few Republicans came together to support this common-sense plan to put Americans back to work.  I look forward to signing the bill on Monday.

Tall Tales About Deep Wells: Setting the Record Straight About a Pennsylvania Severance Tax

(Important information, please click through to the linked articles. – promoted by John Morgan)

As Pennsylvania lawmakers debate the structure of a severance tax on natural gas extracted from the Marcellus Shale formation, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center has been busy educating lawmakers and the public on how to shape a tax that is fair to all Pennsylvanians.

A key part of that effort is a series of brief reports we're calling “Tall Tales About Deep Wells.” You can check out the first two parts in the series here and check back often as we continue to set the record straight about the impact of a severance tax.

In our latest report, we take a close look at the tax plan put forth by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a group representing the natural gas industry. The industry plan invokes the tax model in place in Arkansas, but in fact it is far more generous than Arkansas's severance tax, with a lower effective rate and outright exemptions in the later years of production. The industry plan would significantly reduce revenue collected from the tax, which is intended to compensate Pennsylvanians for the removal of a valuable non-renewable resource. It's a bad deal for Pennsylvanians.

Our other report takes apart the myth that severance taxes impede industry growth by taking a look at neighboring West Virginia, which has a severance tax and is experiencing significant new drilling activity, investment, and industry job growth.

Check out the reports on our web site. They're brief, easy to read and will open your eyes to what's happening with the severance tax in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvanian Honored With Medal of Honor

Hamburg native and Vietnam War casualty Richard L. Etchberger was honored by President Obama by posthumously receiving the Medal of Honor.  The Chief Master Sergeant heroically defended a mountain top radar installation from attack saving his fellow technicians from a massive enemy attack.  Because the installation was in Laos in violation of international law the U.S. wouldn’t admit the event or recognize Sgt. Etchberger’s heroism for decades.  The Pentagon and White House at the time routinely lied to the American people about our penetration of neutral country’s territory during that conflict.  Now the story of this Berks County man’s exploits can be aired and commended at the highest levels.  Remarks by the President yesterday:

Dick Etchberger was a radar technician and he had been hand-picked for a secret assignment.  With a small team of men, he served at the summit of one of the tallest mountains in Laos — more than a mile high, literally above the clouds.  They manned a tiny radar station, guiding American pilots in the air campaign against North Vietnam.  

    Dick and his crew believed they could help turn the tide of the war, perhaps even end it.  And that’s why North Vietnamese forces were determined to shut it down.  They sent their planes to strafe the Americans as they worked.  They moved in their troops.  And eventually, Dick and his team could look through their binoculars and see that their mountain was surrounded by thousands of North Vietnamese troops.  

    Dick and his crew at that point had a decision to make — ask to be evacuated or continue the mission for another day.  They believed that no one could possibly scale the mountain’s steep cliffs.  And they believed in their work.  So they stayed.  They continued their mission.

    There were 19 Americans on the mountain that evening.  When their shift was over, Dick and his four men moved down to a small, rocky ledge on a safer side of the mountain.  And then, during the night, the enemy attacked.  Somehow, fighters scaled the cliffs and overran the summit.  Down the side of the mountain, Dick and his men were now trapped on that ledge.  

    The enemy lobbed down grenade after grenade, hour after hour.  Dick and his men would grab those grenades and throw them back, or kick them into the valley below.  But the grenades kept coming.  One airman was killed, and then another.  A third airman was wounded, and then another.  Eventually, Dick was the only man standing.    

    As a technician, he had no formal combat training.  In fact, he had only recently been issued a rifle.  But Dick Etchberger was the very definition of an NCO — a leader determined to take care of his men.  When the enemy started moving down the rocks, Dick fought them off.  When it looked like the ledge would be overrun, he called for air strikes, within yards of his own position, shaking the mountain and clearing the way for a rescue.  And in the morning light, an American helicopter came into view.

    Richard Etchberger lived the Airman’s Creed — to never leave an airman behind, to never falter, to never fail.  So as the helicopter hovered above and lowered its sling, Dick loaded his wounded men, one by one, each time exposing himself to enemy fire.  And when another airman suddenly rushed forward after eluding the enemy all night, Dick loaded him, too — and finally, himself.  They had made it off the mountain.        

    That’s when it happened.  The helicopter began to peel away.  A burst of gunfire erupted below.  Dick was wounded.  And by the time they landed at the nearest base, he was gone.

    Of those 19 men on the mountain that night, only seven made it out alive.  Three of them owed their lives to the actions of Dick Etchberger.  Today, we’re honored to be joined by one of them — Mr. John Daniel.

Vietnam was a tumultuous time, I remember because I lived the era.  The people were being lied to repeatedly and there came to be known a “credibility gap” due to all the lies and propaganda.  Unfortunately true heroes were denied their due because of bad policies driving a bad war.  Unfortunately we’re still seeing such conduct with the likes of Pat Tillman when a propaganda driven White House saw a golden propaganda opportunity and tried to twist the NFL star’s death as something it wasn’t.  There’s very little I believe coming these days from the CIA.  The credibility gap in this war is as bad as it was in Vietnam.  I wanted to be happy last week when Iran released an American “hiker” but I have no confidence she wasn’t a spy.  What crazy person goes hiking in Afghanistan these days?

I do commend the Etchberger family for finally being honored for Richard’s deeds but let’s strive to be able to honor our heroes when they die heroically instead of forty years later and let’s do it legitimately.