Monday, April 22, 2013

DC Special Election, At Large Candidates, April 23, 2013, A DCSGP View

Washington DC is having another Special Election, this April 23, 2013,  less than two days hence.  So, here to enlighten and influence are my observations and musings after attending more than a dozen Candidate Forums and public events.   I am not a disinterested observer. I believe in the DC Statehood Green Party ideals and its' refusal to take corporate or PAC donations.  And I urge you to vote for PERRY REDD, number 2 on the ballot.

Last year I ran in the April 2012 primary for At Large city Council as one of two DC Statehood Green Party candidates.  I was new to the party and realized my worthy opponent, Ann Wilcox would probably win, so asked people to write me in for other possible slots.  Thus I ended up as the official DCSGP candidate for "Shadow" Representative to Congress (basically an unpaid lobbying job).  I was pleasantly surprised to receive over 31,000 votes, almost 10,000 more than Mitt Romney.  It has been suggested that only 50 to 60,000 votes will be cast in this Special Election giving DCSGP's Perry Redd a real chance.

Since at that time our party only had about 4,200 members this was especially gratifying.  Unlike Independents, the DC Statehood Green Party is a real and growing party, with platforms, political/issues advisors, and a monthly meeting.  Our meetings are open to all, and are the first Thursday of each month, 7 pm, at the David Clarke Law School just north of Van Ness Metro on Connecticut Ave.  If you are curious about what we stand for, or want to join, please look us up.  While we are DC's Second Political Party if you go by total number of votes received by all our candidates, we still need to build actual membership.

This year I decided to give my 100% support for the At Large Special Election to PERRY REDD (  He had been one of my early supporters last year.  He has run a dynamite campaign, with significant support from a number of our DCSGP activists.  He has been complimented by political observers for the kind and variety of his various campaign posters and materials.

There has been a fairly systematic effort to tear down his campaign posters and stickers.  If I had to guess who is most responsible, my guess would be the Anita Bonds and Elissa Silverman campaigns.  At the corner of 16th and U Sts, I found an Anita Bonds sign on a lamp post, a sticker I had placed scraped off and a Zukerberg sign in the trash 15 feet away. Another person was going up a street upset to see that Perry Redd posters placed a few days before were all gone.  A number of Elisa Silverman posters were in place, and then he discovered Elissa Silverman's brother up a ladder posting her campaign posters on a lamp post that no longer had a Perry Redd poster in place.  Words were exchanged and I hope had the appropriate effect.

Some have suggested that Patrick Mara, a pleasant, mild person has the best chance of winning as he is not a Democrat, which after the recent scandals and investigations is seen by some as a plus.  Of course, Perry Redd is not a Democrat either, and moreover is not beholden to moneyed interests.   I was disappointed to read in several places that Mara signed the Grover Norquist "no new taxes ever" pledge, that has made Congressional compromise almost impossible.  How would that play on our Council, especially in an economic emergency?  He is also the only candidate who sees no need to increase our DC Minimum Wage Law.  Somehow he thinks that $1,430 per month for 40 hour weeks, or $1,251 for 35 hour weeks is enough to live on in DC!!  And that pay is BEFORE deducting FICA, and Federal and DC taxes.  I invite him to find a decent place to live close to a DC job for that money.

Perry Redd supports a "living wage", while Matthew Frumin suggests providing $500 a month to teachers, firemen, and police who live in DC.  While good as far as it goes, this does not help the many other people who cannot afford to live near their work, and thus must factor transportation costs into their already minimal pay.  In fact, Perry Redd and our DCSGP are the only political force in the city with a systematic plan to make this city affordable for all her citizens.  Supporters of the rich and upper middle class are well represented on the DC Council.  Our party wants everyone to prosper, but feels strongly that an eloquent voice for the poor and lower middle class is needed on the Council.  This brings us to the only other black candidate left in the race.  More on that later.

Anita Bonds sounds as though she has a clear understanding of the lower income groups, but as a product of the Democratic party bureaucracy and more specifically of Marion Barry politics,  there are those who will support her for that reason.  For those who do NOT want more of DC machine politicians, Perry Redd is the logical candidate.  He was born and grew up in Ward 8 and knows these issues well.  Uniquely, he is campaigning on the issue that with around 60,000 "returned citizens" in DC, we must make special efforts to reintegrate them and their disrupted families into the economic life of the city.  [For those who don't know, "returned citizens" means people who have been released from prison after paying their debt to society.]

Anyone who doubts the power of the Barry forces to mobilize their power base, had only to attend the Eastern High School forum.  There, the Barry supporters packed the back of the auditorium, giving Ms. Bonds 3 times the vote of any other candidate.  On the subject of straw polls, one telephone poll gave Perry a low rating, but one must remember that land lines are owned by long time residents and older voters.  Everyone else has cell phones so does not get counted, but young people often think GREEN, and we hope they vote.

I chatted with Ms. Bonds on the day everyone turned in their 3,000 or more petition signatures.  I made a joking remark about people challenging petitions.  She remarked she thought it would be the "boys" who would do that kind of thing.  Imagine my surprise when Elissa Silverman decided to challenge John Settles (a black man) and Paul Zukerberg.  She had worked to put Initiative #70 on the ballot and discovered flaws in Board of Elections recording of change of voter addresses.  Her constant theme is her high level of ETHICS.  However, she used this knowledge of BOEE flaws to successfully disqualify Settles, but failed with Zukerberg.  Some are really disgusted that she had homeless and elderly disqualified as petition signers, even though they lived and registered in DC but had moved.

Now, this just in and reported in The Washington Post, this Monday, April 22.  In a startling effort to knock one major competitor for her demographic she has approached Frumin with the suggestion he drop out in her favor,  in exchange for Silverman supporting him against Mary Cheh (ward 3) in a future race.  Sounds like serious wheeling and dealing to me.  Frumin to his credit has refused this last minute deal.  I have been favorably impressed with Mr. Frumin's grasp of issues in the western wards of the city.  However, I feel that Perry Redd has a stronger grasp and emotional commitment to issues on the east side of the city, and he has those of use who have lived many years west of 16th St. NW to be sure that full attention is given to those issues as well when he is elected.

When Zukerberg asked Ms. Silverman if she planned to return money she had received from a questionable developer, she hemmed and hawed, and the people at the TENAC (rent control issue) Forum cried out in anger and disgust.  Interestingly, although Anita Bonds did not attend that forum, she ended up getting their endorsement.  Silverman also  touts her credentials as a tax policy person.  However, I wonder why she has never noticed or publicized the serious tax unfairness for lower income workers that I highlighted last spring at this blog for my campaign.  

This year, if a DC family of 4 could use the Federal Deductions and Exemption amounts to calculate their DC taxes, the family could earn $16,400 more income free of DC taxes.  When we got Home Rule in the early 1970s, our Deductions and Exemptions were about the same as the Federal rates.  Why have all the Democratic politicians in all these years failed to maintain that advantage.  Perry Redds tax justice platform includes this issue, and we, his DCSGP tax and economic advisers, will help him implement it.

Different news outlets and politicians have endorsed different candidates.  "The Nose" in the Hill Rag community magazine has made an amusing series of observations and titles about each candidate some of which is quoted below:
1.  Anita "The Apparatchick" Bonds:  Endorsed by Councilmembers Muriel Bowser (strong Fenty supporter, and mayoral ambitions), "Mayor for Life" Barry, and Jack Evens (also rumored to be interested in the Mayoralty).
2.  Patrick "The Kinder, Gentler Republican" Mara.  He is backed by big business and much to my shock and horror, the Sierra Club, and he signed the Grover Norquist pledge.
3.  Elissa "Wonkette" Silverman has the support of Greater Greater Washington and David Grosso.  She is knowledgeable on economic issues, but does she really feel for lower income people like the homeless and the elderly?
4.  Matthew "The Spoiler" Frumin has done good work in Ward 3, but as I said before, the demographic is well represented on the Council.  Also he will take votes from Mara and Silverman, and possibly throw the election to Bonds, unless the "anyone but Barry" vote goes to the polls and gives their support to Perry Redd.
5.  Perry "Just Say No" Redd has been the sole voice calling for a moratorium on school closings and a thorough study of our future enrollment needs, and possible use of our underused schools for adult education and other community development activities.
6.  Paul "Legalize It" Zukerberg has highlighted the harm caused by hanging a criminal rap  for minor marijuana possession on 2 1/2 times as many teens as graduate from high school each year.  Perry Redd is in full agreement with the need to correct this waste of young lives and police and court costs, and has a much better chance of winning in more wards.

Perry Redd fully supports the common sense views about marijuana which the Washington Post Editorial Board wrote of Paul on March 21:  "Paul Zukerberg (D) is an authentic new voice with a smart grasp of the issues, a commitment to pragmatism and a powerful message about marijuana laws making criminals out of too many of the District’s young people." He was the Post's top pick among Democrats. However, we have DC Statehood Green Party candidate for those who feel there are enough Democrats on the Council already.

A surprising dust up occurred when Tom Sherwood (Channel 4) referred to Anita Bonds as the only black person left in the race after Michael Brown dropped out.  I immediately called Perry and said, "Hey, do you know you have just been promoted to the White Race?"  A quick email to Mr. Sherwood resulted in a correction, and Perry is now safely back to being the only black MAN in the race.  Kojo also made the same mistake, which is really strange since he is a black man too.

Last year I averaged about 20% of the vote in Wards 1, 2, and 3.  If Perry Redd can hold on to that percentage from pro statehood and green voters, and those who don't particularly want to vote for a Republican, or yet another Democrat,  he has a real chance.  He should do far better than I did in the eastern wards of the city.  Many people are dissatisfied with the current Democratic lock on Council seats.  Often Democrats suddenly discover they are Independents so they can run for the two At Large seats reserved for non Democrats.  So unfair!!  Some like Michael Brown try to run as Independents but then try to go to the Democratic Convention as delegates.  Well, this year Brown has decided to drop out of the April 23 election.   Unfortunately, his name is still on the ballot which will confuse the easily confused.

So, dear voters, think hard before you vote.  One forum observer told me she liked Perry the best but would vote for someone else because she "didn't think he has a chance to win."  I think she is wrong, but we also have the longer range objective of growing our DC Statehood Green Party so we can add real diversity to our politics and Council.  Even if Perry does not win, the more votes he gets, the better chance we have to grow the party.  Also the better chance we have of lobbying effectively for some of the excellent ideas presented at the forums.

I don't think it will be a catastrophe if any one of the candidates wins, although the Grover Norquist pledging Republican is harder to swallow.  There has been an unusual amount of cordiality among most of the candidates.  But if you really want to support change, then vote PERRY REDD, because he will be "Doing it Different, and Doing it Right" for all of us.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Boston Marathon Bombing, Summary & Updates

I will be posting updates here as significant new information develops.  Single additions will be dated in brackets [ ].  
G. Lee Aikin, DCSGP

May 1, 2013 (update, 6:00 pm)
Now, on Monday, there is more news about the family and the remaining bomber. This  past Friday saw an event filled 24 hours, which finally resulted in the capture and hospitalization of the remaining bomber.  Below is an excellent article which captures all the significant details of the take down, except that "flash bangs" were used to disorient the fugitive.

On Monday (April 15, 2013) I had just returned from mailing my taxes, and discovered that DC area channels 4, 7, and 9 were all doing nonstop coverage of bombings at the Boston Marathon.  I will continue to provide summaries for those who don't have time to watch the Special Reports that have been especially active since midnight on Thursday.

Monday, April 15th, two bombs went off about 15 to 20 seconds apart at 2:50 pm, near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  This was after the best runners had finished the race. There are 3 reported dead including Martin Richard 8, Krystle Campbell 29, and a Boston Univ. graduate student a young woman, Lu Lingzi from northeast China.  Over 175 have been treated, including children, at least 17 critical.  Massachusetts General Hosp. reports that 4 had a lower limb amputated, they hope to save one leg, and 7 are still critical.  Doctors are finding metal balls 2 to 3 mm in diameter and small nails that appear to have the heads cut off.  All this material is being given to police as soon as it is removed.

As of late Thursday, some 50 people are still hospitalized.  One or more limbs have been lost by 13 people including a 7 year old.  Below is a link describing the hopes and potential treatment and restoration of regular living for the victims.

April 15, the city and airport were in lockdown and the large crime scene was roped off and evidence gathering rushing to finish before rain arrived.  There were 27,000 runners, plus at least 2 support team for each runner, lots of family and other spectators--a huge crowd.  Over the weekend of April 26 and 27 the streets were reopened and a number of people made a point of shopping there because the store owners had lost 10 days of income.

Security was high.  The Al Qaeda magazine, Inspire, has been urging independent actions against high profile events, especially in the US.  Our Emancipation Day Parade was a success with no incidents. I did not hear anyone talking about security or Boston, but also did not ask questions.  I am told the turnout was better this year than last.  At any rate, we should be very alert to stray packages/backpacks/suspicious behavior, and cooperative if police want to inspect what we are carrying.  Security was enhanced for the parade, but not oppressively visible.  DC will soon be hosting the Marine Marathon.

At this time,  the President has call this an "act of terror."  On Tuesday the question was still wide open as to whether it is domestic, like Oklahoma, or foreign, like 9/11, London, and Madrid bombings.  The FBI and Boston police have the investigation.  A Saudi man was investigated because of suspicious burns on his hands, but it seems to only be a visa violation issue, although some conservative sources are still trying to build a Saudi connection.  A Pakistani Taliban group which claimed credit for a recent bombing attempt in NY has denied this one [apparently truthfully].  Because this occurred on Tax Day some are wondering if there is a domestic connection.

It is now pretty clear that the perpetrators were Islamic Jihadist in orientation, evident from Facebook and other communications.  The  older brother was married to a 24 year old American who had converted to Islam.  Apparently he was an abusive husband.  Police are also investigating her possible knowledge/involvement.  One source has indicated his interest in a Mahdis, end times orientation.  I will be watching that one. He had internet sites that were pretty far out, including one that decried the evils of Harry Potter.  He had a 3 year old daughter.  The older brother launched himself at officers in what might have been a suicide by cop.  His younger brother jumped in a vehicle and fled.  Was he totally committed, or did his brother drag him into this?  Since he has been caught alive, hopefully they will find out more.  Currently he cannot speak because of a bullet to the throat.

Officials held him without a Miranda warning because of ongoing potential danger.  Over the next two (?) days they questioned him for a total of 16 hours, presumably using writing, and taking breaks because he was still seriously wounded.  He is now in a prison hospital.  It seems his older brother was the prime mover, and Russian intelligence had been watching the family and communicated with US authorities several years ago. Various failures of trust, spelling, etc. lead to failure to track the brothers by US intelligence.  More details will be uncovered.  The mother seems to have been a militant Islamic influence, and Dagestan is a very troubled and violent country where the older brother spent 6 months.  Here is a fascinating analysis of the Russian aspect of their warnings to US and treatment of family.  [Needs more research.]

[6/1/13]  Here is a decade long survey of some FBI actions regarding what they have perceived as various important threats.  Have they once again focused on the wrong potential enemies as happened years ago when Hoover focused on the civil rights movement and neglected organized crime?  ]

The actual devices are now described as black back packs or duffle bags containing a gallon and 1/2 pressure cooker, which on some domestic terror bomb instruction sites is called a "Hellhounds" device.  A pressure cooker lid was found on top of a roof, and fragment of a circuit board possibly used in triggering, now identified as from a mobile toy vehicle.  They were packed with the previously described metallic debris which has caused severe trauma and more than 13 traumatic leg amputations.

A detailed survey of security cameras, and personal cameras and cell phones has disclosed a man with a cell phone in hand who put down his backpack and as the first bomb went off quickly left the scene of the second bomb.  It is probable both bombs were set of by a cell phone.  The man had dark clothing and a white baseball cap worn backwards.  Here is the Thursday evening FBI link showing the official camera feeds.  Now we know they had photos of two men, see details below.

The two young men are described as Tamerlan Tsarnaev (26), now dead and his 19 year old brother Dzhokhar, currently (Friday) subject of massive manhunt which has now succeeded as shown in the link at the top.  The story below has many details on the dead Tamerlan.

Their uncle in Gaithersberg, MD, has expressed deep shame regarding their behavior, and urged Dzhokhar to turn himself in.  The boys were brought to the US in 2002-3, and received green cards as Chechen refugees.  Dzhokhar became a naturalized citizen on 9/11/12, very ironically or was it deliberate??  Tamerlan remarked he had no US friends, a small child, and a working class job.  He wanted to be an Olympic boxer.  The police are now looking into a triple murder that killed a good friend(?) who was also a boxer.  Was the b The phone call to an uncle whom he had not talked with for two years is indicative of pre suicide behavior. On Saturday, his parents in Dagestan and the leader of Chechnia blame the US and suspect a frame up.  It is reported that his parents went back to Dagestan because the father was ill and wanted to die there.

Their father, Anzor Tsarmaev, from Makhachkal, Dagestan (Russia) thought the 19 year old was in his second year of medical school.  Did his son lie to him, feel like a failure??    They were originally from Kyrgyzstan.  Thursday night the men robbed a 7/11, and ended up killing a police man and wounding another.  Then they were chased to Watertown where a huge battle took place, shooting, bombs thrown, Tamerlan running at police hurled an exploding bomb and killed by a hail of gunfire.  Apparently the lid of a pressure cooker came off.  If it had not, many police probably would have been injured.  Dzhokhar jumped into a van and rammed through the police lines, then fled on foot.  The massive manhunt is finished, and barring info on additional plotters, people should be able to return to normal. Amtrac service between Boston and NY was suspended.

While still hospitalized in serious condition it appears that Dzhokhar will probably live.  He is already writing some answers since there is a tube down his throat.  Here is a detailed link regarding the period from the 7-11 robbery to the final confrontation with police, and an excerpt from the carjacked driver who must have been absolutely terrified.  There are more than 2,000 comments, and a complete copy of the Criminal Complaint filed with the court.  One detail provided by the cab driver is that their plan was to go to New York with bombs next.

     "Did you hear about the Boston explosion?" a man said to the driver after reaching in his window and opening the car door. "I did that," he said while pointing a loaded firearm at the driver.   According to the complaint, the driver told police the carjacker forced him to pick up a second man. The two men, speaking in a foreign language, put something in the trunk of the stolen vehicle.    The victim moved to the passenger seat and gave the two men $45 from his wallet. The armed man drove the car to an ATM, where they tried to empty the victim's account. The victim escaped at their next stop, a gas station and convenience store on Memorial Drive in Cambridge.

On Monday the smoke was white, the bombs not too large, and many injuries to lower parts of bodies.  This suggests low level explosives and not too large a package, the kind of thing independents (domestic or foreign inspired) might put together.  C-4 and ammonia nitrate fertilizer have been ruled out.  While not a fertilizer bomb, it was a stronger type that can be home manufactured but requiring some skill, but not the level of skill taught in Jijadi terror schools.  Now on Friday we have a huge new amount of information.  Authorities are currently preparing to explode bombs found in the suspects' home.  A woman was removed from the house screaming.  They have found a veritable bomb factory there and may not be able to remove before exploding.

On Monday it was said two more bombs had been found before they exploded (this information has now been officially denied).  An explosion at the JFK library occurred around the same time.  It was in a utility area, and it is not known if it was accidental or on purpose, and possibly a pure coincidence.  It is now being called fire related and not bomb connected.

In Washington, DC, security around the White House and the Mall and museums has been heightened.  There is also added security for the Metro subway system.  DC's Mayor and Police Chief say there is no indication at this time of any credible DC threat. Will be back by Friday with more updates.

Meanwhile, we have had two other incidents of major concern--letters to Congress and the President containing powder and apparently the poison Ricin.  A man, Paul Kevin Curtis, from Mississippi, has now been picked up because of a similar act not too long ago.  He had been trying to get his Congressman's attention for some time.  See link.

In addition there is the huge explosion in Texas, at a fertilizer plant.  Naturally, after Boston, people have been concerned about the possibility of an additional terror act.  One peculiar tidbit was the possible presence of a Turk asking questions at a local press briefings.  However, an expert has explained that there is a strong possibility that water put on the fire at the plant caused a violent chemical reaction and thus the huge explosion.  This explosion was at least 30 times larger than the Oklahoma truck bombing, but about 1 tenth the size of the Texas city explosion that killed 500.  Twelve people are reported dead.  Many more still unaccounted for.  Five are firemen, search is still ongoing, and many surrounding homes, and school are severely damaged and will need to be searched.  See link.

I will continue to follow the bombing story, but only add something when major information is released.  This may take a while even if the bomber recovers enough and is willing to cooperate.  I will probably not continue with the Ricin and explosion unless it turns out that they are connected to the bombing in some way.  No information that the Texas explosion or the Ricin poisoning are related to Boston has surfaced.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

DC Emancipation Day, and Martin Luther King

 April is an very important month for people concerned with human rights, and especially with the long hard fight to achieve justice and equality for black people in the United States.  April 16, 1863 is the day President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation to free the slaves in Washington, DC.  April 4, 1968 was the day our great civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.  There will be a number of Emancipation Day related events which can be seen in the link below.

Over 100 years after President Lincoln's freed slaves in DC, and subsequently throughout the United States, there were/are still many inequities and injustices plaguing people people of color.  The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. made many creative and active efforts to bring these injustices to the awareness of our country and paid the ultimate price for his courage.

A notably effective effort was a great march on Washington on Augues 28, 1963, that ultimately attracted 250,000 people.  My late husband and I were thrilled to be able to take part in this historic event. It was a multi-ethnic event and was the largest protest gathering in DC history.

Originally it had been planned to use the march to dramatize the terrible conditions for blacks in the South.  It would be an opportunity to bring organizers' concerns and grievances to politicians in the nation's capital. Organizers wanted to denounce the federal government because it had failed to safeguard the civil rights and physical safety of civil rights workers and blacks. Eventually it was agreed to have a less militant event, and some groups dropped out in disappointment..
Specific demands of the march were: an end to racial segregation in public schools; meaningful civil rights legislation, including a law prohibiting racial discrimination in employment; protection of civil rights workers from police brutality; a $2 minimum wage for all workers; and self-government for Washington, D.C., then governed by congressional committee.  Unfortunately, DC still does not have Statehood or full self-government, although a vote on April 23, 2013 for Budget Autonomy will be a step in the right direction. 
Most remembered from this event was Martin Luther King's dramatic "I have a dream" speech.  Fifty years later I can still remember the sensation of chills running down my spine while hearing his stirring speech.  Below is a portion of that oration.

"I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today."

Below is a summary of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life prepared by one of our faithful DC Statehood Green Party members.  While I have your attention, please remember that April 23, 2013 is a Special Election to fill the vacant At Large city Council seat.  Please check out DCSGP candidate Perry Redd's campaign site:  If you like what you see please vote, tell your friends to vote, and consider clicking on the DONATE page or volunteering some time and effort.  Perry is the one candidate in the race who will especially focus on the needs of our poorer citizens if he becomes the Council member.

The life of Martin Luther King Jr. 
Adapted by Michelle Tingling-Clemmons from a Seattle Times article

     Any number of historic moments in the civil rights struggle have been used to identify Martin Luther King, Jr. — prime mover of the Montgomery bus boycott, keynote speaker at the March on Washington, youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate. But in retrospect, single events are less important than the fact that King, and his policy of nonviolent protest, was the dominant force in the civil rights movement during its decade of greatest achievement, from 1957 to 1968.
     King was born Michael Luther King in Atlanta on Jan. 15, 1929 — one of the three children of Martin Luther King Sr., pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Alberta (Williams) King, a former schoolteacher. (He was renamed "Martin" when he was about 6 years old.)
     After going to local grammar and high schools, King enrolled in Morehouse College in Atlanta in 1944. He wasn't planning to enter the ministry, but then he met Dr. Benjamin Mays, a scholar whose manner and bearing convinced him that a religious career could be intellectually satisfying as well. After receiving his bachelor's degree in 1948, King attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pa., winning the Plafker Award as the outstanding student of the graduating class, and the J. Lewis Crozer Fellowship as well. King completed the coursework for his doctorate in 1953, and was granted the degree two years later upon completion of his dissertation.
     Married by then, King returned South to become pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. Here, he made his first mark on the civil-rights movement, by mobilizing the black community during a 382-day boycott of the city's bus lines. King overcame arrest and other violent harassment, including the bombing of his home. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court declared bus segregation unconstitutional.
     A national hero and a civil-rights figure of growing importance, King summoned together a number of black leaders in 1957 and laid the groundwork for the organization now known as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). King was elected its president, and he soon began helping other communities organize their own protests against discrimination.
     After finishing his first book and making a trip to India, King returned to the United States in 1960 to become co-pastor, with his father, of Ebenezer Baptist Church.
     Three years later, King's nonviolent tactics were put to their most severe test in Birmingham, during a mass protest for fair hiring practices and the desegregation of department-store facilities. Police brutality used against the marchers dramatized the plight of blacks to the nation at large, with enormous impact. King was arrested, but his voice was not silenced: He wrote "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" to refute his critics.
     Later that year King was a principal speaker at the historic March on Washington, where he delivered one of the most passionate addresses of his career. Time magazine designated him as its Person of the Year for 1963. A few months later he was named recipient of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. When he returned from Norway, where he had gone to accept the award, King took on new challenges. In Selma, Ala., he led a voter-registration campaign that ended in the Selma-to-Montgomery Freedom March. King next brought his crusade to Chicago, where he launched programs to rehabilitate the slums and provide housing.
     In the North, however, King soon discovered that young and angry blacks cared little for his preaching and even less for his pleas for peaceful protest. Their disenchantment was one of the reasons he rallied behind a new cause: the war in Vietnam.
     Although he was trying to create a new coalition based on equal support for peace and civil rights, it caused an immediate rift. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) saw King's shift of emphasis as "a serious tactical mistake" the Urban League warned that the "limited resources" of the civil-rights movement would be spread too thin.
     But from the vantage point of history, King's timing was superb. Students, professors, intellectuals, clergymen and reformers rushed into the movement. Then, King turned his attention to the domestic issue that he felt was directly related to the Vietnam struggle: poverty. He called for a guaranteed family income, he threatened national boycotts, and he spoke of disrupting entire cities by nonviolent "camp-ins." With this in mind, he began to plan a massive march of the poor on Washington, D.C., envisioning a demonstration of such intensity and size that Congress would have to recognize and deal with the huge number of desperate and downtrodden Americans.
     King interrupted these plans to lend his support to the Memphis sanitation men's strike. He wanted to discourage violence, and he wanted to focus national attention on the plight of the poor, unorganized workers of the city. The men were bargaining for basic union representation and long-overdue raises.
     But he never got back to his poverty plans. Unbeknownst to King and his allies, he had already been targeted for murder by the FBI for his views and work (How the Government Killed Martin Luther King, Jr. by Carl Gibson, Reader Supported News, April 3, 2013).
     Death came for King on April 4, 1968, on the balcony of the black-owned Lorraine Hotel just off Beale Street. While standing outside with Jesse Jackson and Ralph Abernathy, King was shot in the neck by a rifle bullet. His death caused a wave of violence in major cities across the country.
     However, King's legacy has lived on. In 1969, his widow, Coretta Scott King, organized the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change. Today it stands next to his beloved Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. His birthday, Jan. 15, is a national holiday, celebrated each year with educational programs, artistic displays, and concerts throughout the United States. The Lorraine Hotel where he was shot is now the National Civil Rights Museum.

— Based on The African American Almanac, 7th ed., Gale, 1997.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Straw Bale Buildings & Solar for a Sustainable Earth


In the 1990’s the international community set goals for saving the world as we know it from destruction by “greenhouse” gases and global warming. (Kyoto and other agreements.) These goals are not being met. The destruction of the vast tropical and subarctic forests through logging, drought-enhanced fires, and insect infestation continues. Antarctica, glaciers worldwide, and the polar ice cap are melting. Petroleum and other non-renewable carbon-based fuels are being used up. They become ever more expensive, hurting the poorer countries catastrophically and leading to conflict and war in many parts of the world.

Although much is said about the need to reduce greenhouse gases produced by cars, trucks, ships, planes, etc., all these forms of transportation cause only 25% of the problem. Twice as significant is the 50% of greenhouse gases produced by constructing, demolishing and maintaining (heating/cooling) buildings and homes. Thus it is even more urgent we find ways to reduce the pollution resulting from buildings .The British estimate that post-construction building operations use 28% of their national energy.

Our own desires for comfort and convenience are reflected throughout the world. One point five billion Chinese want to be warm in winter and cool in summer. A billion Indians desperately need to be cool in summer as global warming makes heat waves above 100 degrees f (38 degrees C) a frequent occurrence. Even in the US, sustained high summer temperatures have killed hundreds of people annually in recent years.

Solar technology, both active and passive, can stop the burning of much fuel and save us from the greenhouse gases and acid rain thereby produced. This information has been fairly well publicized. Since manufacturers (at least in developed countries) can make money by promoting active solar, this technology will gain ever-increasing exposure. The same is true for wind power as can be seen especially in Europe. British Petroleum (BP) has already “seen the light” and is actively promoting their Solar Division’s products. Several US oil companies have begun work with alternative energy also.

We should be conserving as much oil and coal as possible for their useful chemical properties. What will we use for industrial chemicals a hundred years from now if we empty the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve’s petroleum deposits now, instead of when we truly have an emergency? We must also reduce our dependence on foreign oil and the potential political instability thereby created. Recent development of US shale oil and gas deposits has its own environmental problems. While China's potential to develop such deposits may reduce their coal use, they have an immediate air quality hazard.

What has not received so much attention is the amazing potential of straw bale construction. Strawbale (SB) homes, schools and other buildings can range from primitive to sophisticated futuristic architecture, but their production remains in the hands of home owners (often the actual builders), farmers (the bale producers), and architects (the designers of higher-end SB). Since major corporations have fewer incentives to become involved in this low profit activity, it is up to us, the people, to spread the word and knowledge of this world-saving approach to home building.  Here is another people based program which uses earth alone:  Combining some of their expertise using earth, with the strawbale approach could be very creative.


History – First let us look at what strawbale construction is, and then at what could be saved. Modern SB construction originated over 100 years ago in the Sand Hills area of Nebraska which lacked timber but had quality hay. Some buildings that age still exist. The recent invention of horse or steam powered baling machines made possible good compressed hay or straw for wire or string tied rectangular blocks called bales (Modern bales are typically 2 or 3 string tied—polypropylene twine is best—and roughly 36” x 18” x 14”, or 46” x 23” x 16”.) Nebraska settlers desperate for housing before severe winters set in, would use the bales like giant bricks for temporary walls, often resting pole and sod roofs directly on the bales. When they discovered how comfortable these homes were in the extremes of winter and summer, they were often plastered and adapted as permanent dwellings. This “load-bearing” type, resting the roof supports directly on the bales was the norm for decades.

Load-bearing construction is good for one-story buildings, but in 1938 a mansion using 2,200 wheat-straw bales was built in Huntsville, Alabama.  It is now the Burritt Museum. While not quite futuristic architecture, this building was very advanced for it's day.  This “non-loadbearing” type of building used the infill bale technique in which a frame (often barn style post and beam) and roof are built first and the bales set in the open spaces. Two or more stories are possible with this second major type of bale structure, but technical help with design and construction may be needed.

There are also hybrid and other methods for using bales in larger structures. Bales can be used to retrofit commercial metal or pole-building kit structures, such as farm sheds, warehouses and workshops. Other existing buildings can be wrapped with bales, the roofs extended and doors and windows modified.  I have seen photos of advanced and even futuristic architecture used for expensive straw bale buildings.  One such structure was built in the early 1990s for around $350,000 and sold 4 or 5 years later for double the price.

Benefits of Change – Straw is the waste stems from harvested wheat, rice, rye, oats, barley, etc. Unlike hay which is used for animal feed and has rodent attracting seeds, straw is a waste product. It is hard to get rid of except by burning causing greenhouse gases (carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide), and health-harming air pollution. Rice straw with its high silica content may be the worst. Rotting straw releases the greenhouse gas methane. Some straw is useful for soil conditioning, erosion control and animal bedding. Matts Myhrman says that if all US post-harvest straw were baled, 5 million 2,000 sq. ft. homes could be built annually (Annual conventional housing starts are about 1 million.)

In 1991 Calif. Agr. Mag., vol. 45, no. 4, compared annual carbon monoxide production in that state by straw burning and power plants as follows:

Source of CO     Tons Burned     Tons CO Produced

Power plants                                    25,000
Rice straw          1,000,000              56,000
Wheat straw            97,000                5,000

As you can see, that year straw burning produced more than twice as much CO as did power plants. A state crackdown on burning may be helping, but there is still the disposal problem. Ken Williams at a SB building seminar reported that California produces enough straw per year to build 45,000 homes.

It boggles the mind to imagine how many SB homes could be built of rice straw in China and Japan, or wheat and rye straw in Russia, the central Asian steppes and parts of Pakistan and north India. Simple adobe stucco can be hand applied inside and out to finish the kind of small homes and farm buildings that peasants and villagers might build. Thousands of lives in China and Pakistan could have been saved from earthquakes if community schools and homes had been built of strawbale instead of cement blocks.

Fiberglass insulation ratings for a standard wall of 2” x 4” studs is R-11, and for 2” x 6” walls it is R-19. Walls of standard bales have about an R-50 insulation rating. If a sandwich roof with straw infill is used, the R rating for the dwelling can be much higher—perhaps R-80 or R-90. Thus, heating and cooling costs are lowered greatly. In less developed countries forest destruction for both timber and firewood would be vastly reduced. China is currently denuding South Asia and Australia for timber. In densely populated areas health destroying air pollution would be greatly lessened.

Other benefits include:
  1. The light weight of bales, their flexibility and ease of reinforcement with bamboo, metal, or wood pins provides excellent earthquake and hurricane resistance* and lifesaving potential compared with the heavy stone, adobe, or earth blocks used in 80% pf the world's homes.
  2. People, including women and children, are empowered and given pride by building something lasting that involves all their participation.
  3. In overpopulated river valleys far less scarce agricultural soil is needed for coating SB structures than for making solid adobe or earthen blocks.
  4. The dense walls block noise pollution, promoting tranquility and peace, especially beneficial in crowded communities, multi-unit buildings and windy lands.
  5. Farmers have reported that pigs and other animals are more tranquil and productive in SB structures.
  6. Use of plaster/stucco construction permits “painting” with incorporated dry natural pigments or whitewash, reducing use of toxic paints and solvents.
  7. Fast growing bamboo, common in many heavily populated countries can be used with SB for roofing and other structural purposes.
  8. Fewer or no toxic components results in a healthy house that “breathes”.
  9. Strawbale walls are bullet proof, sad but true.


Each of the above-mentioned technologies—solar, wind power, and strawbale—if widely used—has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, if solar or wind power were combined with SB structures, the savings could be doubled, tripled or quadrupled.

By way of example, Spain has a goal of producing 20% of national energy using wind power within 5 years. If Spain were to combine this power with significant use of SB construction, perhaps wind power could provide 30 to 50% of national energy needs.

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Americans are finally becoming aware of how interconnected the world is where energy is concerned. We can see how energy use in China and India with a combined population roughly eight times our own is bound to greatly increase our energy costs, even without intervening disasters. If just these two countries could be helped to introduce SB housing on a massive scale it would greatly improve the future world-wide energy picture.

As pointed out earlier, there is much less incentive for large corporations to be interested in promoting SB technology as compared to solar and wind energy products. Therefore, if the major energy saving potential of SB construction is to be realized, it is important for governments overseas, nationally, statewide and locally to become involved in promotion. Carbon credit trading markets for SB usage by industry, and IRS tax credits for SB use in homes like those for energy saving autos, windows, solar panels, etc., could be instituted. In the long run, government funding for demonstration projects, technical education and training in the US and overseas would be far cheaper than the high cost of energy.

China has already produced cities full of futuristic architecture.  Imagine if this inventiveness were used to create quality straw bale homes in the suburbs and rural areas of the country.  Buildings could be visually exciting, highly energy efficient, and resistant to their tragic earthquakes.

These costs will impact us in ways we are only beginning to see. Recent mega storms and droughts are a wake-up call. They will affect the economy leading either to higher prices or less economic activity, and potential loss of tax revenues. Government costs to assist the poor with their energy needs promises to be very high. Tax payers are becoming ever more resistant to providing for those needs.


MacDonald, S.O. & Myhrman, M.: Build it with Bales, Out on Bale, Tucson, AZ, 1995.

Steen, A.S., Steen, B. & Bainbridge, D. (with D. Eisenberg): The Straw Bale House, Chelsea Green Publishing Co., White River Junction, VT, 1994.

Williams, K.: Personal communication,

* In 2006 I visited a one bedroom strawbale home that had survived severe hurricanes behind Pensacola, Florida with NO damage. Large trees were blown down nearby.

© Lee Aikin, Oct. 2005 (Revised 3/13). May be reproduced for non-commercial use.

Lee has been interested in environmental issues for more than 50 years and has identified strawbale as an application with tremendous potential for energy savings. She is available for lectures and demonstrations to appropriate groups.