Tuesday, March 18, 2014

DC Council Approval of 2 Tax Revision Commission Recommendations Will Put $85 Million Annually in Our Pockets

DO YOU WANT $85 MILLION IN ALL OUR POCKETS?
My 10 year effort to restore Tax Fairness to Working Poor and Middle Class is now bearing fruit. G. Lee Aikin, Candidate, Council At Large, Statehood Green Party

If you would like to support my efforts, please send a check written for "Elect G. Lee Aikin, to 1754 Swann St., NW, Washington, DC, 20009.

In 1973 when DC obtained Home Rule, our DC income tax Deductions and Exemptions had parity with the Federal IRS 1040 rates. Unlike the Federal rates which increase yearly with inflation, the DC rates only increase when our Council remembers to do so. For almost 40 year the mostly Democrat DC Council has failed to increase them annually. This failure means that for 2013 taxes a family of 4 pays DC taxes on income above $10,800. What a kick in the gut for poor families! With the Federal D&E rates this same family of 4 only pays taxes on income above $27,800.  

This Council failure has cost us well over a $billion throughout the years since we got Home Rule.  I cannot even begin to calculate the harm this his done to our working poor and lower middle class.  Has it been one important factor in forcing people in Anacostia out into Prince Georges County?  Think how much money has NOT been available for local spending.  Imagine what a difference it will make if we are getting this $85 Million back every year.

The Tax Revision Commission agrees this is grossly unfair. They want to put $85,000,000 back in our pockets annually. We must all lobby Council members or elect Council members to get this done. Here are the current DC rates compared with the Federal rates by family type and numbers.
FAMILY SIZE – Deduction    DC Tax   Federal Tax                                                                                                  D&E's     D&E's
Single, under 65                        $  5,775    $10,000
Single, over 65 or blind                 7,450     11,500
Single, over 65 & blind                 9,125     13,000

Couple, under 65                           7,450      20,000
Couple, 1 under 65, 1 over 65      9,125      21,200
Couple, both over 65                   10,800      22,400
Couple, both over 65, 1 blind      12,475      23,600

Single, 1 child                               7,450     16,750*
Couple, 1 child                              9,125     23,900
Single, 2 children                          9,125     20,650*
Couple, 2 children                    10,800      27,800
Single, 3 children                        10,800      24,550*
Couple, 3 children                       12,475      31,700
Single, 4 children                         12,475      28,450*
Couple, 4 children                       14,150      35,600

I should point out that the above chart is by no means complete. *These figures include the additional amounts for "Head of Household" or "Qualifying Widow/er" on the Federal form which apply to one adult caring for dependents. There are other credits and benefits that the very poor may be able to deduct, but this provides a stark overview of how decades of Council neglect have systematically injured poorer people and families. This one simple fix, is worth $85 million a year. Let's get it approved quickly. Lobby Council. VOTE: G. LEE AIKIN

I would also like to pass a bill to allow anyone with a medically certified disability who is as handicapping as a blind person to deduct the same amount as a blind deduction. The federal government should also consider adding this to the 1040 form. From years of experience caring for a husband dying of Alzheimers, I can assure you that in the last 3 years he required more care than a blind person. We have many sick and injured in DC who should be eligible for this tax consideration.


See my other tax posts on this blog for more information on this and other issues.  Check the Index posted Sept. 3, 2013.  All tax related issues are dated in red.

Monday, March 17, 2014

DC Low Income Housing Needs New Ideas

G. Lee Aikin, Candidate, Council At Large
DC Statehood Green Party, March 2014

This article was prepared as a handout to distribute at the recent TENAC (DC Tenants' Advocacy Coalition) Candidate Forum.  This is a complex and difficult problem and I will add new thoughts and links to this post from time to time.  To start with, I would say there are 4 major groups of particular concern regarding housing.  These are
1) young people, often college students or graduates coming to DC to study or work,
2) young people growing up in DC but ready to leave home,
3) lower income families, and
4) lower income elderly.
Much of the new housing being built in DC is apartments in the 1 and 2 bedroom category.  Even the 1 bedroom apartments often start at $2,000 a month or more.  Established people with good jobs can afford such rents but not very many in the 4 categories above.

Washington DC needs breakthrough legislation that will mobilize the energy and resources of DC people and government to solve the pressing problem of affordable housing. Exclusively central planning style management of resources and pricing will not solve the problem. DC simply has too great an attraction for too many kinds of people who want to live in DC. There is too little supply so the prices go up. If prices are frozen then new supply will stop, which will just be another way for us to have a dramatic lack of affordable housing.

One TENAC question wanted to know what we candidates will do to protect tenants against the permitted rent increase in rent controlled apartments of 2% above inflation (CPI) rate.  I pointed out that I have seen 3 proposed property tax assessments for 2015 of row houses in various areas of northwest.  Two of them were for 10% the third was for 14.6%, that one was also on the block where there were still some modest room rents.  They won't be modest long at that rate.  So this is at least 5% more than inflation plus 2%.  I certainly understand the tenants grief at having to pay more, but will owners want to rent rooms and apartments if their margin drops 5% or more year after year?.

In addition utilities are increasing.  WASA has recently more than doubled its base rate to pay for the big tunnel storm overflow project.  We now must shell out over $18 before one cent pays for water  The Council has given preliminary approval to let PEPCO spend $1 billion to put more electrical lines underground.  Although the article linked says they estimate a $1.50 increase to our monthly electric bills, I don't trust that figure.  In addition they will be wanting an additional $2 billion to complete the job.  Big digging and paving contractors are no doubt supporting those Council members who vote for this.  Another article points out that rates will increase to $3.25 per month and there is a local hiring mandate (which we darn well better enforce!!).  Keep an eye on this issue.

Habitat for Humanity has an attractive framework for a solution. Large enough volunteer teams with the right number of professionals to supervise and do work requiring licensed professionals serves well to provide modest cost housing. Imagine if Washington DC budgeted $200 million a year for building materials and professional talent to move the Habitat for Humanity model to large scale.  Actually at TENAC Mayor Gray proposed spending closer to $300 million.

People may think the many thousands of volunteer hours required to use such a large investment would not be present. However, all we need is for people to see a practical self interest in volunteering their time. What if after 1,000 hours were donated to such effort they could expect a down payment on an inexpensive condominium is a reward? What if this were an option that young workers could follow when convenient over a period of years? What if the costs were so low that people would love to buy such units at prices that would provide enough profit to the DC government, to create more funds to provide housing? What if many of the 60,000 returning citizens in DC could be trained in construction as part of this process? This would provide apprenticeship pathways to well paying jobs and a clear path to affordable housing.

Several in our DCSGP have spent long hours working to create a DC Public Bank. Why put our money in Wall Street owned banks when we can have our own? The bank charter could focus on small business assistance, infrastructure development including housing, and job creation.

Big increases in housing will lower the cost. Over 800,000 people were living in our city at one time. There is room for a substantial expansion back to those levels. We just need the creativity to provide that housing at affordable costs. It is presumed that DC funded housing is just for the poor. If this model is applied to the many young people with middle class assumptions and ambitions then it would have much broader support and funding might conceivably be raised above $200 million per year.  The needs of such newcomers to DC were provided after World War II by places like Hartnett Hall.  With 800 units around the city, with the units described below on 21st St. between O and P Sts., NW, it was a first stopping place for many young people.  There was a cafeteria which served some 3 meals a day.

Hartnett Hall consisted of 80 individual townhouse buildings located around Dupont Circle offering daily, weekly and monthly boarding facilities to over 1000 persons. Rental fees ranged from $10-$25 per week and included daily housekeeping and two meals per day. They specialized in multi-cultural living and served, at one point, one out of every five persons who had moved into DC from the 1940's - 2000s.
Persons could rent a private dorm room or share a room in a house that consisted of men or women's dorms with a shared bath, pay phones for each building and a general meeting room with a television, chess and bridge games and an opportunity to meet persons from every country in the world.

In times past when new, mostly young people came to the city, they expected to live in small studios or in shared apartments. The city is currently overbuilt in middle/upper middle income apartments. Recently, a friend posted ads for a $900 room and a $1,800 one bedroom apartment. Dozens of responses came in for the room but almost none for the apartment. Craigs List has hundreds of postings for apartments in the $2,000 to $2,500 range showing up repeatedly. DC law requires 150 square feet for a one person dwelling, plus an additional 100 sf per each extra person. A bedroom must have 70 sf, not counting closet for one person, or 50 sf each for more than one. Very small, low cost units can be built with these rules.

The best way to prevent rising apartment rental costs from making housing unaffordable is put people in housing that they own. The best way to prevent people from flipping that housing at much higher prices is to keep the supply of new housing flowing so a substantial shortage does not develop. One option being explored is the concept of the very tiny house (a one hour 20 min. video with a number of links) or efficiency. One experimental project is currently under construction where tiny homes (this in DC with around 600 comments) might be purchased for less than $50,000. The needs of young people, both college graduates, and young people in town turning 18 are somewhat different, but neither can afford to spend a lot on housing. Nor do they need a very large space to live in. They have not yet accumulated the “stuff” of living. Young professionals have expressed interest in living in cheap small units of 260 square feet or less. There is a need for high quality design so that use of the space would be similar to a much larger living space. The same design expertise needs to be brought to the creation of highly functional spaces for families.

Unfortunately, most builders in DC seem to have a Donald Trump complex.  Mr. Trump's father built a very successful business meeting the needs of blue and white collar workers in New York.  When Donald grew up he had learned a lot from Dad, but he wanted to build big, fancy, spectacular buildings and he has.  Do we have any builders in DC with the vision to see that these goals can be combined?  For example, especially in the fast growing popular areas of the city, why not include a segment of dormitory style housing in new market rate apartment buildings.  There new arrivals in DC could rent rooms by the week and month while sharing a bath and cooking areas or having a functioning cafeteria, where some could even be employed.  While there they could make friends and discover who would be a good apartment roommate.  The management would by then have a record of who was a stable room rent payer, and move appropriate people into their nice new apartments.

Hopefully, some builders would even be willing to build mixed income apartments.  The health of a given community is far better if there is socio-economic diversity. Outcomes for children will be better if there are example of success through education that are very visible in the immediate surroundings. We need to focus on reasonable sized multi-family housing clusters that do not extend to a size that has failed in the past. DC residents do not want Cabrini Green or Pruitt-Igoe type projects.

A critical design criterion is long term costs of maintenance and operation. There is a passive house standard very popular in Europe and especially Germany. This standard has highly insulated R40 walls, R60 insulation for roofs, triple pane windows with creative features in the frames to prevent thermal loses, very tight seals everywhere to prevent leakage and a high tech heat exchange unit for preserving 90% of heating and cooling energy. Long term durability and low cost maintenance must also be central to design philosophy.

My answer to all of the TENAC concerns about housing affordability is to provide the supply needed to keep housing affordable. The housing philosophy advocated here can be very complex in practice. In addition I believe a substantially larger part of the DC budget must be allocated to housing. This can best be done with the focused attention of a DC City Council Committee dedicated to housing.

Socialism as a philosophy does not overthrow the basic laws of supply and demand. However, caring for the poor that is implicit in socialism is a moral good that we must embraced. If we can start with a vision based on a creative sense of inclusive community and use it to solve the critical problem of housing it would be a massive win for our city. DC should want to be the caring community that can solve this problem with a style that can be a shining example for the rest of the nation.


Here is one group's efforts to produce a solution

Home, squeezed home: Living in a 200-square-foot space

By Emily Wax, Published: November 27, 2012 E-mail the writer
Step into an alleyway in the Northeast Washington neighborhood known as Stronghold, and you will see a vegetable patch, a campfire, a view of the Capitol and a cluster of what neighbors call “those tiny people, building their tiny houses.”

The people aren’t really tiny, but their homes are — 150 to 200 square feet of living space, some with gabled roofs, others with bright cedar walls, compact bathrooms and cozy sleeping lofts that add up to living spaces that are smaller than the walk-in closets in a suburban McMansion.

“This is the dream,” says Rin Westcott, 28, who lives in Columbia and came out on a wintry Saturday afternoon bundled in a flower hat to help her friend Lee Pera with a tiny-house raising.

Pera, 35, wore safety goggles as she treated the cedar boards of her “little house in the alleyway,” one of three under construction in what is thought to be one of the country’s first tiny-house model communities.

If these affordable homes — which maximize every inch of interior space and look a little like well-constructed playhouses — are the dream, they represent a radically fresh version of what it takes to make Americans happy.

Tiny homes first drew national attention when the Tumbleweed Tiny House Co., now based in Santa Rosa, Calif., launched the concept in 2000. The idea gained visibility when it was featured in several national magazines and, in 2007, became the focus of the Tiny House Blog, established by self-proclaimed “lover of tiny spaces” Kent Griswold.

The small homes, some on wheels, don’t warrant many trips to the Container Store. There are no kitchen islands, three-car garages or living rooms that are never lived in. In fact, their increasing popularity could be seen as a denunciation of conspicuous consumption and a rejection of the idea that more is, well, more.

The group behind Stronghold’s tiny-house community calls itself Boneyard Studios. “As property values and rents rise across the city, we want to showcase this potential option for affordable housing,” the group writes on its Web site. “We decided to live the questions: Can we build and showcase a few tiny homes on wheels in a DC urban alley lot? . . . Not in the woods, but in a true community, connected to a neighborhood? Yes, we think. Watch out left coast, the DC adventure begins.”

There’s one problem: The city’s zoning laws don’t allow residential dwellings on alley lots unless they are a minimum of 30 feet wide, or roughly the width of a city street. D.C. is currently discussing lifting the 30-foot restriction. So, as Boneyard Studios continues to advocate more progressive zoning laws, it is using the property to showcase what could be.

“We want to inspire thinking about this as a possibility in the District,” says Brian Levy, 37, one of Boneyard’s founding members, who is building his tiny home in Stronghold but currently lives in a rowhouse off of U Street.

Monday, March 10, 2014

League of Women Voters Questionnaire--Tax Revision Comm., Affordable Housing, Electoral Reform, Charter/Public Schools

Answers: G. Lee Aikin, to League of Women Voters Questionnaire, 
2-16-14
[The LOWV limit of 2500 characters per question limited answers to the first question.  Here is a more complete statement.]

I am currently running for DC Council, At Large in the April 1, 2014 primary.  If you like my ideas and wish to support my candidacy, please mail a check marked ELECT G. LEE AIKIN, to 1754 Swann St., NW, Washington, DC 20009.  If you are a member of my party, please on April 1st also write in my full name (G. Lee Aikin) for "Shadow" Representative to Congress.  Thank you.

Education
*BA, St. Univ. of Iowa, major-general science, minors-Spanish, Education. 
*Two summers, Mexico City College, studies in Anthropology, Sociology, Spanish and Linguistics. 
*Dept. of Agriculture Graduate School, courses in Abnormal and Cross Cultural Psychology, and Psychology of Public Opinion
Qualifications
*Fifty plus years living in DC. As worker, homeowner, car owner, parent with children in public schools, have experienced many of the problems of ordinary citizens with DCRA, Tax and Revenue, DMV, and Special Education. Mostly with successful resolution. 
*Four years on Mayor's Commission for Food,. Nutrition and Health, Four years and 500+ hours with Mayor's Task Force on Street Vending (trying to save vending for the smallest, poorest venders). Three years work as bilingual Admin. Assist. to At Large School Board member. 
*Union member 9 years (OPEIU,#2), was Shop Steward, on Grievance Comm., and Contract Negotiating Comm. Promoted collection of 24 cartons of books and magazines from members to deliver to Lorton Reformatory. 


Campaign Questions

Q. The Tax Revision Commission recently released their findings. What are your positions on the various tax code changes recommended by the Tax Revision Commission? How would you ensure that the tax code would protect less affluent taxpayers while continuing the revitalization of neighborhoods and overall economic development?  
     I use numbering from the TRC Chairman's Draft Mark of Major Tax Changes, 12-18-13.  I testified twice before the TRC.  [June 24, 2013 testimony and Nov. 12, 2013 testimony]  There are some differences in proposals over time as my knowledge and thinking have developed.  Overall my goal is maximum benefit to save our lower income residents, while not driving out those able to contribute the most.

     Sales Tax
   1. I would need to know more about Prof. Fox's services suggested for sales taxes. Currently our economy is now more service oriented and some should certainly be taxed.
   2. A use tax for internet purchases will only gain $1 million. Too much generalized pain for too little gain. Perhaps a line saying internet purchases above $1667 should pay the sales tax (this is $100 at the 6% rate), or else forget about it until a DC internet sales tax would garner $5 million.
   3. I agree with unifying tobacco product taxation. Also earmark it for health and addiction treatment and education services and programs.
   4. I'm not happy about increasing the sales tax back to 6%, but it IS the rate in MD and VA, and we do NOT tax food, and we have the August back to school tax free days, to reduce impact on the poor, so I am willing if not happy to pay it.

     Individual Income Tax
   5d) I generally approve of the new brackets and percentages except at the upper levels.
For couples the $80,000 to $350,000 jump with increase from 6.5% to 8.5% is too great.
Better would be $80,000 to $150,000 at 7%,
$150,000 to $350,000 at 8.5%,
$350,00 to $1 million at 9% (or 9.5%), and
above $1 million at 9.5% (or 10%).
For singles $60,000 to $100,000 at 7%,
$100,000 to $200,000 at 8.5%,
$200,000 to $600,000 at 9% (or 9.5%) and
above $600,000 at 9.5% (or 10%).
The small increases at the top would more than make up for the reduction in the middle.  [This would be nowhere near California's top rate of 13%.]

   5e) Drop this one. Make the small increases in the top marginal rates I have suggested in 5d) above permanent in 2016.  [In other words 9.5% or 10% rather than a reduction to 8.75%]

   5f) I have been working for TEN YEARS to restore the Standard Deduction and the 5g) Personal Exemption to the Federal parity we had in 1973 when we got Home Rule. The failure of our majority party and elected Council to maintain that parity over 40 years is shameful and has cost taxpayers more than $1 billion. [See a number of relevant posts at my blog: gleeaikin.blogspot.com.] I believe my ten year effort has helped produce this $85 million recommendation for annual savings to our tax bills.  [These two measures combinged are the largest benefit recommended by the TRC.  You can click the two blue "testimony" words above to see my testimony at the TRC.]

   5g) I agree with phasing out the personal exemptions for people earning $150,000 and above.

     Estate Tax

   6. Using the Federal rate for this is consistent with 5f) and 5g) above and is common in many other states. Too much pain for too little gain. Could drive low cost elders out of DC. Most revenue is from very large estates. Also many small businesses and homes plus family savings means that heirs will get a big economic hit at a most distressing and vulnerable time if the $1 million level is kept. Having lost both parents and my husband, I know how stressful that time is for families. It would force a number of small family businesses to liquidate or take on burdensome debt to resolve taxes at that low rate. [Heirs are already burdened by the ONE MONTH vacant property registration rule. This is additional burdensome paperwork and costly legal advice needed to keep heirs from having their legacy confiscated through the 5% and 10% class 3 and 4 tax rates.  It would also drive up rental rates as heirs are force to sell family rental property which is then taxed at the higher sale rate.  Also with the probability of forcing tenants out for the sale.]

     Business Taxes

   7.  Reducing the Unincorporated Business Franchise Tax from 9.975% to 8.25% may be too much. This ties in with the D-30 tax form which requires anyone grossing above $12,000 to complete this opaque and burdensome form. That figure has not been changed since 1986, and in today's money should be almost $26,000. The UBFT minimum tax of $100 was recently increased to $250. That is grossly unfair with no comparable increase in the minimum gross. There is also a $5,000 deduction, which should be increased to $10,000. This benefit at the lower level would thus make a 1.725% reduction less necessary. The $57 million in tax loss predicted could thus be pared down a bit without hurting lower income businesses. The D-30 taxation could be greatly simplified for people with only rental and simple sales income and I would love to be involved in that process.

   8) & 9).   I have no experience with passive investment vehicles or single weighted sales formula. Regarding out of state municipal bonds the TRC pointed out we have few such bonds here in DC, and I think this issue needs more examination. Certainly bonds already held should be grandfathered from taxation.

   10) A local services fee on employers will cause the 70% of people employed in DC who do not live here or are taxed here to help pay for police, firemen, street repairs, etc. However, I don't think it should be $25/employee/quarter. I think that out of state employees should be rated higher, perhaps $40 and DC residents lower, perhaps $10. It might be an incentive for hiring DC residents.

   [I believe that in sum my recommendations would reduce the expected shortfall in Total Revenue.]

     --Following the Tax Revision Commission recommendations with the modest changes I have proposed will help reduce the tax burden for the middle 20% of tax payers who currently pay the highest percentage of taxes. [See charts with my Nov. 12, 2013 testimony.]  Restoring the original parity of Deduction and Exemptions with Federal rates, that I have fought so hard to achieve, will especially help the lowest paid workers and families.  For example, parents with 2 children currently deduct only $10,800 from their Adjusted Gross Income.  Coupled with the Federal D&Es they can deduct $27,800.  The $85 million that this will put back in our pockets will especially benefit lower income neighborhood businesses and residents.

     --I also urged that we follow the example of PG and Montgomery Counties which have variable business tax rates. [See chart in my June 24, 2013 testimony.]  I testified it just didn't seem fair that businesses in blighted neighborhoods were paying $1.85 per $100 assessed valuation.  [Homeowners only pay $0.85 per $100.]  About a year later the Council recommended and voted a reduction to $1.65 per $100 for property valued under $3 million. We need an additional reduction for property under $1 million to perhaps $1.45, and for property under $1/2 million to $1.20.
      This should save some of the businesses that could be pushed out by Walmart competition [click “Walmart Realty” to see their suspect business model.  Reading between the lines, it sounds like they don't care if their primary stores fail, just so long as they can buy up the failed businesses around them, and get the cooperation of elected leaders, such as the one who now has 2 Walmarts in her Ward.  There are many 2 story business properties there an elsewhere which assembled when businesses fail can then be developed as much larger buildings to the benefit of big developers and the politicians they support financially.].  Also businesses in poorer neighborhoods would have a bit more money to improve their properties or be less afraid that improvements would cause a big jump in their taxes.

Q. What policies do you support to create more affordable housing?

     --The tax credit from a few years ago worked well and perhaps should be reintroduced.
     --Young people need to learn to save at an early age, perhaps like the program in my childhood public school to set aside money for savings bonds. 
     --Perhaps a loan guarantee for lower interest rate long-term housing loans, especially if people took a homeowners course on money management and basic maintenance and repairs. This could be offered as part of an adult education program and would be good in high schools as well. 
     --We must require builders to follow low-cost and affordable unit number legal requirements in new construction and major renovations. Some provision has to be made for including very low cost housing. 
     --Eliminate the Basic Business License for business income under $100,000. People have to jump through major hoops to legally rent rooms in their homes, although they are allowed as “a matter of right” to rent out two rooms in their house. Some “right” given the BBL issue! This is really hurting the elderly who want to rent out a room, and others who just want a low cost room to rent.

Q. What changes would you support to improve the election process and increase voter participation?

     --Ideally we should have a money limit and publicly financed elections. Lacking that we must have a realistic campaign contribution limit. $100 a few years ago was unrealistically low. 
      --Instant run-off or similar mechanism would help situations like our current Democrat campaigns for Mayor and At Large which have 3 or more candidates. Someone is likely to win with less than 50% of the vote. 
      --Since at least one Democrat looser in the Mayoral race is likely to declare themselves an Independent and run At Large, this completely nullifies the intent of the law that states that each party can only elect one person to At Large. We need a law that states politicians must declare their Party one year before the General Election, or else cannot change parties after loosing in the preceding Primary Election. 
      --If students do not have experience with elections such as voting for Class President and Vice President, then something like this should be instituted. It could be connected with something like announcing at sporting events and the like.

Q. What is the major issue facing our charter schools and the major issue facing our traditional public schools? How would you address these issues?

     --Strong feelings regarding the two types of public schools are linked with the gentrification issue and specific efforts of right wing groups to eliminate as much government as possible. Many feel it was no accident that the Walton Foundation (Walmart) financed IFF study wanted to close or repurpose a large number of our Public Schools, especially in Wards 7 and 8. Walmart blackmail on the $12.50 large retailer pay bill further angered many. Parents certainly have a right to want to have good, and even experimental schools for their children (charter schools), but parents also have a right to not fear for their youngsters who may have long dangerous walks or even require transportation as under-filled public schools in the cluster system are closed or turned over to charter schools.  
     -- Two practices are particularly burdensome to the public school budget and reputation, and give unfair advantage and reputation to charter schools. Charter schools are known to discharge a number of students as soon as the official count has been made, and also just before standardized tests are conducted. As soon as a student is transferred back to the public school system, the money MUST go with them instead of staying in the charter school as happens now. Also, if students are kicked out of the charter school within a certain number of weeks of standardized tests, then their scores MUST be assigned to that charter school. Parents choosing charter schools must know if the statistics that attract them are phony or real. There should definitely be a moratorium on new charter schools until that is fixed. 
     --Underutilized schools in poorer neighborhoods should add community functions like after school study help, day care for working mothers, adult education classes, and similar programs. Studies have shown that mothballing schools does not result in significant savings. We must hold on to the schools we have for the children our many new young residents will be having, provided we make DC and it's schools attractive enough for them to continue living here when married.

****I am currently in a contested Primary Election race for At Large Council with another DC Statehood Green Party candidate.  The Primary is April 1, 2014.  If you like what you see here and are registered Statehood Green, I hope you will vote for me.  You can also change your registration on election day.  If you are not DCSGP, but would like to support my efforts to continue these battles for economic justice for the working poor, the middle class, and small business and entrepreneurs, please mail my campaign a check.  The check should be written to ELECT G. LEE AIKIN, and mailed to G. Lee Aikin, 1754 Swann St., NW, Washington, DC 20009. 
     Two years ago, I also ran for At Large Council, but a long time DCSGP activist won the Primary.  However, she was not allowed to speak at the League of Women Voters candidate forum because she did not have at least 20 contributions of $5 or more.  Please don't let this happen again.

Monday, March 3, 2014

We Must Reconsider DC Marijuana Laws--Decriminalization and Legalization

The Washington, DC Council has been considering a law to decriminalize possession of 1 ounce or less of pot, with a $25 civil fine.  Today, (March 4) the DC Council voted 10 to 1 for a decriminalization bill.  Both the Washington Post and the Washington Times carry detailed stories.  Ward 7 Council member Yvette Alexander voted no saying she though it could compromise the city's medical marijuana program and creates disparities in punishment for use in public housing versus private homes.  Mayoral candidate Vincent Orange, Council At Large, abstained when his amendment to the bill preventing employers from testing for marijuana during the hiring process failed.  Mayor Gray has said he will approve the measure.  Let's hope he gets that done before the other shoe gets dropped on the "Shadow" Campaign investigation.  [ The Mayor has signed the bill as of the last week of March 2014.]

Now that the bill is signed, folks favoring legalization are moving that measure forward and the DC Board of Elections has approved the Ballot Initiative language for the Nov. 2014 election.  I thought I would look into the most recent results and attitudes in Colorado (a March 22, 2014 article) and Washington state.  Even some of the super-rich favor legalization as explained in this Forbes article.

Many here believe we should follow the example of Washington state and Colorado and legalize marijuana. However, almost one third of residents in Wards 5, 7, and 8 do not favor this, many to a strong degree. Here is where parents are most likely to see marijuana use and other problems in tandem.  It is important to understand that we political supporters of legalization generally favor modeling this after our alcohol laws. There should be underage rules, and others regarding safe driving and public behavior.  In addition we must be aware of potential harm to younger smokers, and have adequate education, counseling and treatment for those who end up using and in trouble from other problems.  This will be especially important if decriminalization means fewer court ordered referrals for drug counseling.

The drug war has been as big a mistake as was alcohol prohibition a century ago. It has created an army of criminals who are willing to to murder to protect the interests of their 'hoods or cartels. There are regions of Mexico where the crime lords are the rulers.  In far too many US neighborhoods gangs distributing drugs are a very real and dominate part of daily life.  As happened with alcohol, polls now document that much of the public does not support the laws against marijuana.  Medical marijuana seems to have overwhelming support even in somewhat conservative parts of the country.

DC residents are more liberal than the nation as a whole.  Thus, it should not be a surprise that 75 % of DC residents support making possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a civil violation punishable by a fine with no jail time. Only 21% would oppose doing this.  In fact, 60% strongly support decriminalization. Support for complete legalization is only slightly lower. When DC residents are asked if they would support Colorado and Washington state type legalization 63% favor it versus 30% opposed. Most politicians in our nation would love to rate 2 to1 over their opposition.

Popularity does not imply a policy will best serve the people. There is considerable evidence that marijuana use by children is not good. With legalization all sellers will be required to verify the age of people buying the product. Obviously illegal dealers do not check the age of their customers, nor do they care if it is spiked with other more dangerous drugs.  

There is considerable research on the effectiveness of advertising in reducing tobacco use.  Such advertising can be very effective if funds are used by people who really want less tobacco use. We have every reason to think realistic information could have similar effects with marijuana. Obviously it should be sound science that is felt to be credible by its target audience.

Colorado estimates $100 million in new revenue can come from taxing marijuana. DC has slightly more than one tenth the population of Colorado. Thus we could expect roughly $10 million in taxes if we used Colorado's 29%  tax rates on their sales of roughly $34.4million. A small fraction of this tax flow would be more than enough to pay for needed advertising, with money left over to fund drug and alcohol counseling and treatment.

Legalizing pot removes the business from criminal hands.  This would go a long way toward eliminating criminal violence associated with this criminal enterprise.  Instead we would have legitimate, taxpaying and regulated businesses.

On the other hand, decriminalization will reduce penalties for the end-users, but supplying the demand would still be in the hands of criminals.  This would include dealing and selling within DC as well as the illegal transport across Maryland and Virginia.  Hopefully this unfortunate situation would be corrected before it gave prohibitionists the argument that we "tried legalization and it didn't work."  Allowing growth of small numbers of mariguana plants would reduce this problem.

Legalization would also allow the regulation and monitoring of the product which is sold. PCP is very common in DC and is an example of an adulterant that can have bad consequences.  Roughly 12% of males arrested in DC tested positive for PCP in 2012.

People should understand the medical implications for cannabis users (cannabis is the scientific name for marijuana).  The brain and body have a complex system of cannabinoid receptors specifically designed to process cannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), one of the primary active components of marijuana. This enhances its effectiveness as a pain reliever.  There are many functions for these receptors. Their importance is highlighted by the fact that many cannabinoids in marijuana are found in mother's milk. The well known tendency of THC to enhance enjoyment of sensation includes delight in taste, colloquially called “having the munchies.”   The endocannabinoids of mother's milk specifically activate cannabinoid receptors to reinforce the critically important sucking response in infants.

For people addicted to other drugs (such as heroin, cocaine, tobacco or alcohol) marijuana can ease withdrawal symptoms and provide an alternative which, for most people, will cause less harm to the body and mind. Cannabis has many categories of potential harm, some of them very significant. However, even with these negative effects it is one of the most benign recreational drugs in common usage. It has on average less negative effects than any other recreational or illicit drug with the possible exception of ecstasy. This can be seen by comparing marijuana with commonly used drugs on addictiveness, lethal dosage, deaths caused, and association with crime.

Some people say with justification that Internet use can be addictive. Anything pleasurable can be addictive and create other problems in life.  The most commonly cited number on NIH web sites is that 9% of marijuana users will become addicted.  These agencies report much higher rates of addiction for alcohol-15%, nicotine-32%, and other hard drugs. About half of addicted marijuana users will report some explicit withdrawal symptoms.   The rest will be addicted because of pleasurable experiences.  A 1999 Institute of Medicine report says, “A distinctive marijuana withdrawal syndrome has been identified, but it is mild and short lived.”  Based on the relative ease of dealing with withdrawal symptoms a number of researchers have rated caffeine as more addictive than marijuana.  Other researchers believe the greater pleasure and intoxication effect from marijuana makes it more addictive than caffeine. This shows the subjective nature of addiction study.

In toxicology the lethal dose of a compound is usually designated with the term LD50 (deadly for 50% of organisms dosed).   The level of THC that would be fatal to half of dosed people is literally 40,000 times greater than the amount required to saturate all cannabinoid receptors and cause maximum intoxication.  For comparison, nicotine from 60 average cigarettes will reach the LD50 level for half of 60kg people (60kg=132 pounds). Caffeine from 80 to 100 cups of coffee reaches the LD50 level.  A small number of deaths from caffeine have been seen with the growing popularity of caffeine laden energy drinks. The LD50 level for alcohol is considered to be between 0.4% and 0.5% in the blood. Some fatalities occur with blood alcohol levels lower than this range. Eight ounces of pure alcohol absorbed in less than an hour will produce this level in most people weighing 160 pounds or less. Fifteen to 21 average drinks can easily provide this depending on what else is being consumed. Cocaine is also very toxic.  

Heroin is not directly toxic. However, as with all opioids it is a potent respiratory depressant and deaths can occur from a dose of 75mg to 400 mg in an inexperienced opiate user.  [A friend of my husband's stopped using heroin, finished law school, and decided to get high to celebrate.  His clean system could not handle his old higher dose and it killed him.]  The CDC reports the opioids Oxycontin and Vicodin were responsible for three fourths of the 38,329 US drug overdose deaths reported in 2010. Heroin deaths are about 3,500 per year.  The CDC estimates alcohol kills 80,000 each year and causes about 1.2 million hospital admissions.  The CDC estimates 443,000 people die prematurely from smoking tobacco or exposure to secondhand smoke.  Another 8.6 million live with a serious illness caused by smoking.  Marijuana has a minute level of risk.

People typically do not get violent on marijuana as they do with alcohol.    Three out of four reported cases of spousal abuse are associated with alcohol. One third of prisoners in local jails self report that they had used alcohol at the time of offense, and 37.7% of violent criminals say they had used alcohol.  Some years ago isolated Barrow, Alaska eliminated alcohol.  There was a 70% reduction in crime, especially domestic violence.  PCP, cocaine, and methamphetamine are other drugs known to engender violence.  Methamphetamine is one of the most addictive drugs known.  [Someone I knew, now dead from cocaine lung injury, said he would rather have used marijuana if it were easier to get than crack.]

There is ample documentation of the low to non-existent risks with cannabis for every relevant measure. Perhaps the most important issue with marijuana is the systemic use of prosecution to target African-Americans. In June of 2013 the ACLU release a report titled The War on Marijuana in Black and White. The subtitle is Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests. It is a staggering indictment of DC policy.  Our City spends at a higher rate to prosecute and incarcerate marijuana users than any American state. This “investment” resulted in a record 846 people arrested per 100,000 population during 2010. The highest state rate was New York with 535 per100,000.  It is also over three times the national rate of 256 per 100,000. Marijuana use rates are very similar across racial groups. The arrest rates of 1,489 blacks and 185 whites (per 100,000) in DC is a ratio greater than 8 to 1. This is higher than all other states with the exception of Iowa at 8.35. It is over double the 3.73 to 1 ratio for the nation as a whole.

In 2013 the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs reported a huge 91% of drug arrests were of Afro-Americans. Actually, it is even worse than this since a number of the “white” arrests were Latinos with mixed ancestry. Washington DC has the national record for arrest rate and spending on marijuana arrests and prosecution with almost a national record high rate for differentially targeting African-Americans. In 2011 DC graduated 2,868 people from high school and arrested 5,759 for marijuana possession. This means we are giving out twice as many arrests records than high school graduation diplomas. 

High unemployment rates among blacks in DC are a serious problem. The extremely high rates at which DC gives “criminal records” to DC blacks for a “crime” largely ignored among whites explains a big part of how and why we have this problem. The legal structure of this system was laid down by Congressional Dixiecrats with a deep racial bias in a period from 1940 to 1973. Obviously there is no valid white interest in maintaining a black underclass. Society as a whole will be much more pleasant for everyone if we have greater equality and economic inclusion.  The current marijuana policy is a major destructive engine creating our black underclass.  This massive racial differential in the treatment of blacks and whites will only be eliminated with a rational legalization policy that properly reflects the underlying science.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Pres Obama, "Save the Middle Class;" Sen McCain, "put an end to greed!"

Forty years ago, a highly destructive trend began in American life.  This was the unmerited skyrocketing growth in top corporate executive salaries relative to pay of low level workers.  Since 2008 it has become starkly evident how harmful this has been to the well-being of America and destructive to the middle class.  The same pattern occurred just before the "Great Depression" of the 1930s.  While President Obama recognizes that we must save the middle class, and John McCain in 2008 was actually highlighting the greed on Wall Street, few non violent "revolutionary" ways to save us all and particularly the middle class from this greed have gained wide traction.  Moreover, how many of our leaders have given intensive thought to the corrosive effects on the hopes of the poor that failure of the middle class could engender?  The poor must be helped with education, jobs and homes, and the middle class saved.

Some of my fellow DC Statehood Green Party members have complained that I don't seem to care enough about the poor.  This is entirely false.  During 4 years I met weekly for 3 hours with other DC street vendors trying to save the vending industry from Corporate DC and DCRA.  I saw vending as one important way for the poor to begin to work for self-sufficiency.  You didn't even have a box to check if you were a returned citizen.

 The city has systematically corporatized independent entrepreneurship with the Basic Business License, made it impossible to get one if the City says you owe $100 or more, and also made it much harder to become a resident independent taxi driver.  We managed to save about 1/2 the vendors, mostly the more economically solvent ones.  The saddest thing I saw was an elderly black man who would wheel out a chair and his shoe shine box to make a few dollars (probably no more than $30 or $40 a day) on Connecticut Ave.  DCRA made sure he and those like him lost the possibility to have a single chair operation.

On November 24, 2013, the Swiss voted on something called the 1:12 Initiative, which was basically a Maximum Wage Law saying that big company CEO's should be paid no more than 12 times the wages of their low level workers.  It won the support of over 35% of Swiss voters.  While it didn't win, it has helped accelerate the discussion on maximum wages. Supporters of the measure felt that extreme ratios enable the super rich to wield undo influence over society, economics and politics, thus threatening democracy.

Last year the Swiss ratio was not 12 to 1, it was more like 148:1 according to the AFL.  They also said that the US ratio was 354 to 1, although other suggest only 273:1.  Bloomberg reported that JC Penney (a company which elsewhere has been reported to be in economic trouble) has a CEO:low worker ratio of 1,795 to 1 ($53.3 million to $30,000 typical wage).  Is this one reason JC Penney has problems?  The Economic Policy Institute reports that between 1978 and 2012, CEO's were up 875%, but workers were up only 5.4% adjusted for inflation.

What would be an ideal ratio in this country is certainly up for discussion. Peter Drucker in 1965 felt that 20:1 was a good ratio.  Recently several have suggested 100 to 1.  A refinement has been 100:1, tied to the Minimum Wage which tends to be lower than the typical lowest level wage in a major corporation.  If CEO's wanted a wage increase, they would then have to increase their bottom level corporate wages, or even lobby for raising the minimum wage.

I began thinking seriously about this issue around 2004 when I encountered the 40:1 ratio figure of 30 years earlier.  I thought that with the increased efficiencies of modern phone and computer communication that holding to no more than a 50 to 1 ratio would stop the massive increases of the last decade in check.  Here then are some of the resulting ideas.

50 to 1 AND NO MORE!!  
Should be our war cry and a focus for group action

Wall St. has the most overpaid CEOs of the entire world's capitalist sector. Of course it makes sense that people who are obsessed with money will want the most of it. Since 2007/8 there had been some reductions in the obscene salaries paid to CEOs and upper management, but they are creeping up again. Around 1980 top CEO's earned about 40 times the salary of their low level workers. By 2007-8 this had skyrocketed to a range from 400 to 1,000 to one. In 2012 the CEO of Ford Motors was getting $58 million while the unions were negotiating for something between $50,000 and $58,000. This is a 1000 to 1 ratio, STILL??
So my motto is – THE 99% UNITE -- 50 TO 1 AND NO MORE!!

From 2007 to 2008 Goldman Sachs' CEO salary jumped from $37 million to $74 million. Spring of 2008, after discovering that the top 3 GS executives all had salaries above $65 million, 43% of stockholders approved a proposal for a Stockholders Advisory on Executive Compensation. While not a win, this was enough to scare the 2009 CEO salary down to a dainty $26 million.
So my motto is -- STOCKHOLDERS UNITE -- 50 TO 1 AND NO MORE!!

This chart from Forbes can show annual details by clicking your mouse over a single year chart column.  You cannot do that here but must click "This chart" to use the original Forbes chart.



















In 2010 and 2011, the average CEO compensation for the Fortune 500 has ranged from $10 to $13 million. If the workers get $50,000 a year this is over a 200 to 1 ratio. If the lowest level workers (such as in businesses like Wal-Mart and McDonalds) only earn $20,000, then the CEOs are still averaging more than 500 to 1.  A recent progressive's victory in Seattle, around the $15 minimum wage has created considerable excitement there.  The 1% are now rallying to suppress this surprise victory.
So my motto is -- WORKERS UNITE – 50 TO 1 AND NO MORE!!

Some related thoughts: Since most annual stockholder meetings are held in the spring, people in the Occupy movement, successor organizations, and other progressives should determine date and time of meetings for major corporations and occupy the sidewalks around their meeting sites. This was done in spring 2013 at the Bank of America meeting.  Other thinkers are now raising the possibility of a maximum wage limit, while also providing a scathing analysis of the corporate compensation decision process.

Also, there are often small dissident stockholder groups which can be contacted to further enhance efforts to modify excessive upper management pay with proposals for a Stockholder Advisory of Executive Compensation. This can be tracked by buying even ONE share of a major company's stock and reading the annual Proxy information.  This will include any new Proposals by groups of stockholders.  You can even form your own group to propose changes in the company.

I visited and spoke briefly to around 150 members of the Occupy group at Freedom Plaza, DC the fall of 2011. I asked how many people actually had stock. A few raised their hands. I asked how many were in a college or university. A few more raised their hands. I then asked how many belonged to a union with a pension fund. Also some hands were raised. I then asked everyone who had raised their hand to do it again and about 1/4th of the group did so. I pointed out that institutions of higher learning and unions invest many $millions in stock. I then urged them to find means to encourage their companies, schools, or unions to use their votes and proxies to support efforts to lower excessive upper management pay.

When top CEOs are overpaid, wage inflation also permeates the ranks of upper-level management, and affects stockholder profits and dividends.  Since more than 1/2 of Americans are invested in business through stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and pension plans, this is a very big issue for us all. However, it is also a great opportunity for us to apply leverage to corporate greed.  Since very high CEO pay in drug and health care companies also exists, this raises the cost of health care and job-sponsored health insurance, giving management another reason to move jobs overseas.

Illustrating extreme Greed Capitalism was the pay of major finance organization CEOs of Countrywide Financial and Lehman Brothers.  The 2007 Countrywide CEO salary was $142 million, in 2008 there was a modest drop to $102 million.  On the other hand, Lehman's CEO actually raised his salary from $52 million to $72 million. Then the 2008 housing bubble crash led to these companies' well-deserved extinctions.  Although Goldman Sachs' CEO salary rose from $37 million to $74 million in the same period the company survived for some reason.*

I believe that one motive for outsourcing work to cheap foreign labor countries is that it enables CEOs to overpay themselves while retaining enough profits to keep the stockholders from complaining. Lower the pay enough because of stockholder action and they will no longer have the incentive to move overseas. A look at the Forbes CEO Compensation sites for the past few years shows there had been a downward trend in CEO pay from 2008 onward, which is now moving up again. Unfortunately, while previously it was possible to examine pay figures by industrial sector, Forbes in 2010 removed this capability, and in 2011 made comparing these figures even more difficult. I doubt this was done accidentally.  This has made it a lot harder to compare CEO salaries by industry.

Another means of applying pressure is to see which companies pay their CEOs more, and patronize those who pay less. The CEO of CVS was paid $15 million for 2012,  the CEO of Rite-Aid was paid $1.32 million.  I patronize Rite-Aid.   The entire health related industry is studded with highly paid CEOs.

Perhaps Obamacare will help reduce this (probably an important reason Republicans are fighting to destroy it).  An example: for 2012 the CEO of McKesson (which helps health care providers improve their business health and care delivery, and is a pharmaceutical distributor and health care information technology company) was paid $131 million salary.  His 5 year total was $285 million.  The CEO of Gilead Science (which as a biotechnology company discovers, develops and markets therapeutics) earned $43 million, and over 5 years $214 million.  No wonder health care costs have risen far faster than the inflation rate.  Forbes link.  

* Could it be that GS had special influence, especially in the Bush White House?

Lee Aikin, Nov. 2011 to Dec, 2013

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Congress Illustrates DC's Need for Statehood Once Again: Prohibits Using our Tax $$


Once again Congress has moved to prevent DC from spending its own funds.  On Jan 9, 2014, Eleanor Holmes Norton, (D-DC) issued a press release detailing the latest disrespect shown her as our elected representative.  This simply serves to reemphasize why it is so important that we gain Statehood status.  She had requested the courtesy, a bipartisan one of long standing, of being allowed to testify on a matter relating to health services for DC women.

The Hearing on H.R. 7 before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, has serious implications for our autonomy.  Among other things it would PERMANENTLY PROHIBIT DC from spending its local funds on abortion services for low-income women.  It would also define the DC government as part of the federal government for the purposes of abortion.  It is interesting to note that during the recent half month shut down of the government, Congress was willing to let Mayor Gray declare all DC presonnel as ESSENTIAL.  I guess they did not want to face the danger or inconvenience of lack of garbage collection, street cleaning, routine fire and police services, and the like.

The author of this grotesque discourtesy is Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), chair of that Subcommittee.  Just as he did on this same bill in the last Congress, he denied her request again.  It is totally outside the civilized norms of Congress to treat a Representative this way when a bill directly affects their constituents.

A decade ago Representative Bob Barr (R-Georgia) was a key actor on denying DC voters the right to even count our votes in favor of medical marijuana.  If I remember correctly, DC residents were urged to actively campaign against his reelection to Congress.  He lost, gaining only 1/3 of the Republican Primary votes.  Various groups, and situations on the ground affected his defeat, but I like to think we in DC may have helped.  He subsequently completely reversed his stand on marijuna and subsequently ran as a Libertarian.

Perhaps what we need to do is plan a targeted campaign against Rep. Franks in the next election.  Maybe he might even be persuaded to reverse his racist, unfair, and discourteous treatment of our city and elected representative.  As the Barr case shows, miracles are possible.

Representative Norton wrote in her statement that "this subcommittee has been obsessed with dual objectives--infringing on the District's right to self-government and interfering with the reproductive health of the District's female residents, particularly its low-income women....this is the fourth bill [in 3 years] considered by this subcommittee that would both violate my local government's right to self-government and harm its female residents...Republicans say they support limiting the federal government's power and devolving that power to the states and localities....Republicans may not want to practice what they preach, but we do not intend to allow them to violate their own principles at our expense."  This is, of course, just one more blatant example of Republican hypocracy where women and people of color are concerned.

Rep. Norton also held a press conference with Mayor Gray and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Ranking Member of that same subcommittee, regarding this unfairness and discourtesy.  Nadler made a motion at the hearing to allow her to testify, but Franks again refused that courtesy.

Hopefully, this bill will not be approved in the Senate or signed into law by President Obama.  We should not be subject to this kind of outrageous treatment, especially as we pay both our federal and our local taxes, with limited or even NO rights to determine how they are spent.  The only solution is Statehood as quickly as possible.  DC STATEHOOD NOW!!!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Keystone XL Pipeline, Prevent Future Tragedy Now: Qingdao Pipline Explosion Kills 62

NOTE;  BIG DOINGS IN WASHINGTON, DC FROM APRIL 22 TO 27, 2014, TO FIGHT PRESIDENT OBAMA'S KXL APPROVAL  (See third paragraph)  

Once again the Keystone XL Pipeline issue is heating up.  More and more pressure is being applied to President Obama to have the State Department approve building the Pipeline from Canada to Oklahoma.  The portion from the giant oil hub at Cushing, OK to Houston refineries is already under construction.  I asked a pro environment person from Texas how serious that was.  His said that area is already so damaged by the oil industry that this additional pipeline makes little difference.  This link describes 45 oil disasters in 2013 the industry doesn't want you to know about. 

Here is a spill which occurred in North Dakota on March 20, 2014.  There are a lot of comments.  People are beginning to realize that once the pipelines are built, most of the jobs will actually be for repairing the damage these pipeline spills and breaks cause.  I wonder how many jobs were created by the $1 billion+ Kalamazoo River spill?  A recent follow-up reports a mixed outcome on this 2010 mess, and that at one time 300 people were working on the clean-up.

From April 22 to 27, 2014 the Cowboy and Indian Alliance will descend on DC for a week of stop Keystone XL action.  Reject and Protect will bring tribal communities, ranchers, farmers and friends to DC to call on Pres. Obama to reject the pipeline with it's threat to climate, land, water, and tribal rights.  People wishing to participate should click the link above to their site.  The Hip Hop Caucus with Rev. Yearwood will also have a DC event as part of their Act on Climate Tour, on April 22, 2014.  This short video from The Washington Post shows the Mall encampment.

Over 100 people have died in the past year primarily from two major oil shipment disasters--one is a pipeline in China, the other an oil tanker car train on the US/Canada border.  Cleanup of a toxic dilbit (tar sands) oil spill on the Kalamazoo River has already cost over $1 billion and is still not clean.  This link has a number of articles detailing this spill as well as other pipelines of major concern, including a 60 year old one in the Mackinac Straits between the US and Canada Your elected leaders need to know how you feel about this.  Anyone who says transporting this oil is harmless, I DARE you to look at the photos in the two links further down.

While Canadian tar sands oil and the pipelines or trains to carry it can contribute to long range climate disaster, people who are not climate activists are more likely to be persuaded to care by immediate disaster scenarios.  The massive Qingdao oil pipeline explosion has received very little media coverage in the US, and is being suppressed in China. This link explains Qingdao censorship by China, as does this one.  Is it also being suppressed in our country?  Commentary on one Chinese netizen site even suggests the current flap about flying over certain islands is a ruse to distract Chinese people from the disaster and focus anger on Japan.  Was Vice President Biden aware of this prior to his China visit??  There seems to be no recent Qingdao news at Google, and the Chinese and South Korea are now making nice, with SK helping to return bodies of Chinese soldiers buried in SK during the Korean War.

Further research shows that on Nov. 27, China's Ruler visited Qingdao where stories promoted the lovely emergency shelters and good food provided by the military.  The same day, China, without warning announced an expanded defense zone off its coast, which prompted angry responses from Japan, South Korea, and the US as is shown in this link.  I predict that soon after Biden's visit, they will relax this crisis as they hold trials for those "responsible" for this disaster and promised major reforms.  A more recent story shows the damage to sea life from oil that flowed into the bay.  The latest articles for 2014 at this Google site mention that 63 people will be punished and that Sinopec (the company in charge) will pay damages.

The disaster happened on Nov. 22, in the port city of Qingdao. A 15 minute leak, failure to evacuate nearby people, and 7 hours later a huge explosion occurred.  [See horrific photos in 3rd link below.]  The most recent/final? count is 62 dead and 136 hospital treated.  Nine arrested, a national day of morning, and near silence except for nice human interest stories.  Very little meat with the potatoes.  See below.


This article points out that China plans to do a major infrastructure study throughout the country.  Should we do the same with our oil pipeline system, some of which are decades old, like the Enbridge pipline that caused the $billion plus Kalamazoo River toxic spill?  Do we have dangerous infrastructure siting issues here in the US, and specifically here in DC?  Yes we do, see last paragraph for details and link on a significant current issue that our Council has not addressed.  This link looks at important urban planning issues and danger to the public.

This link on Dec 7 has many youtube short clips and a long detailed explanation of how the disaster unfolded if you click "show more".  The following material includes two links with scores of photos from both the Qingdao pipeline disaster and the Lac Megantic oil train disaster.  Please forward these terrible pictures to as many movers and shakers as possible.  The danger is here and now, costly in lives and clean up, not just in some questioned (not by us) distant future.  Both disasters cost around 50 deaths. Moving certain kinds of oil including tar sands and some types of Bakken shale oil is far more dangerous than conventionally recovered oil types as explained here. These oils are also far more corrosive to the tank cars and pipelines transporting them.  Moreover, recent investigations show that these problems have been known for several years, and shipping is still being poorly regulated.  The material below was written 4 days after the Qingdao disaster when I first heard about it. 

In watching US news sources, I have failed to see the most recent major pipeline disaster in Qingdao, China mentioned.  It helps to look at the TV 30 channels, especially those from China.

This pipeline leak, fire, and explosion has killed at least 55 people, wounded over 150, with others still missing, and some arrested by the government for neglect and other (non terrorist) charges.  See links:  the second with a huge number of photos makes a powerful impression.



I have participated in a number of Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline events, including the one at the State Dept. where 70 people had committed to being arrested.  This is one more massive piece of evidence of why we need to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible.  First we had the tar sands oil pipline spill at the Kalamazoo River costing more than $1 billion to clean, so far unfinished, forcing people to abandon their lovely riverfront homes.  Wikipedia has an excellent article on the spill, explaining that Enbridge (the pipeline owner) knew in 2005 there were safety issues with this 40 year old pipe.  The Michigan Coalition Against the Tar Sands (MICATS) has been mobilizing activism:
http://interoccupy.net/blog/tim-dechristopher-lends-support-to-mi-cats-felons/  Students at McGill and elsewhere are urging universities, as are people in cities, to divest their investments in oil companies and related industries.

Then we had the horrific run away train derailing and exploding in the Canadian border town of Lac Megantic, incinerating 47 people and a big chunk of downtown.  A recent update reports that although safety rules/laws have been changed, there are big loopholes with bigger dangers:
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/loopholes-mean-crude-going-untested/article15575886/
A Jan. 1, 2014 editorial by the Montreal Gazette calls for a mandated judicial inquiry, as it appears the government can't be trusted with the regulator process or investigation.  I googled for more follow-up in 2014.  If you skip the first few stories regarding reopening the Lac Megantic library, there are a number of likely looking articles.
There has even been a more recent explosion in rural Alabama from a train carrying similar ND volatile Bakken oil.  For those who have forgotten, or for those who should see them, like our legislators, hundreds more horror photos.

Some suspect there may have been sabotage by pipeline interests to show how dangerous rail shipping is, the bottom line is that oil is dangerous to ship by whatever method, and some oils much more so than others.  Solar and wind can never cause the catastrophic damage and death already caused by oil, gas and coal.  We must move as quickly as possible away from carbon fuels (some will always be needed) and embrace the full potential of solar, wind, and super insulation.  

Please use these links to further environmental activism and alert our people and politicians to the very current dangers.  Now we can compare visually the impact of oil train versus oil pipeline catastrophe and human error.  On Dec. 30, 2013, another oil train explosion occurred in a small (under 2,500) town 20 miles from Fargo, ND.  A grain train derailed hitting the oil train and exploding cars.  Fifty of the 104 cars have been pulled away, but the fire is so intense they are just letting it burn and debating whether to evacuate the entire town.  Should we think, oh, no, we must use pipelines, here is a recent summary of big pipeline problems.  And this Wiki article on 21st Century accidents lists 34 just for 2013.

One last word--has anyone looked at the dangers of having freight hauled through our own Washington, DC?  What kinds of toxic, flamable or explosive materials are allowed on DC railroad tracks?  How good are our emergency response plans and responders?  Would they wait 7 hours before evacuating DC residents in a dangerous situation?  Does anyone have an informative comment?  I decided not to wait for information from others and found this link.  It describes current planned rail construction in DC which Eleanor Holmes Norton has viewed with alarm, but which, so far, does not seem to be on the radar of our City Council.  This must change!!

Is this our future?  [62 dead]

Damage caused by the Qingdao pipeline explosion

Or is this?  [47 dead]