Friday, August 26, 2011


Lumenhaus – VA Tech Student Model House
Energy demand is down because we’re growing more efficient – because we have had to become more efficient.
Another trend is we are turning to the sun for energy and to other renewables.
There are plenty who think solar and energy efficiency is a fad but our fuel sources below the ground – coal and oil and gas - are not only dirty and toxic energy sources, they are limited, as reflected by how we have to scheme and war to acquire oil especially and foul the air we breathe and the water we drink here at home to produce this dirty energy.
Some are so entrenched in old technologies (we call this “the dark ages”) and the propagandizing newspeak of the energy industry (“drill baby drill”) that they resist change because it means they’ll have to make adjustments and the fossil fuel companies will suffer smaller profits over time if they don’t convert to renewables themselves.
If you want to be encouraged that the future has promise, and has already arrived, you should acquaint yourself with Virginia Tech’s prize-winning model solar home, aptly called, Lumenhaus, “lumen” for light and “haus” for house (also a reference to the Bauhaus architectural movement).
It’s an 800 square foot single level one-bedroom home that is open to extended decks outside (weather permitting) with a double efficient solar cell system on the roof that collects enough power-packed photons from Ol Sol to run the house, making the house energy a net of zero, no more energy expended than taken in from the sun. 
The solar cell system is interesting because it uses both sides of the cells to increase energy output by up to 15 percent and the system tilts to the maximum optimum angle to receive energy.  A geothermal heat pump heats and cools the home.  You reduce artificial lighting in the home by how the home is oriented and designed to allow for a day-lit home.  There is a two-layered advanced shading system, Eclipsis, that automatically opens and closes depending on the weather conditions. 
You can control the various energy systems and the shades (by your own preference) with a smart phone or iPad, so if you forgot to turn off the lights or turn down the thermostat when you reach your office, you can make the adjustments without going back home.  You might find a virtual tour of the Lumenhaus interesting - .
Your reaction may be, sure, but when will there be such houses that we can buy?
The time is now.
Nexus Energy Homes is building 55 solar homes, with about 2,700 square feet in space, in the mid-$200,000s in the historic North Pointe neighborhood in Frederick, Maryland ( ). 
These homes rely on solar panels (20 panels each), geothermal heating, structural insulation, and a sophisticated computer system (unique to each home) to maintain net-zero homes very much like the Virginia Tech students’ Lumenhaus; in fact, the house can be operated from a smartphone or laptop.  Another sweetener is that these Nexus Energy Homes are also eligible for 5-figure energy efficiency state and federal tax credits.
Solar will yet lead the way and we’ll all be better for it.
# # #

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Gail and Geary Higgins
Geary Higgins called me back about 9 pm after a hard day’s work at his NECA office in Bethesda , Maryland and a long and hard commute to join his wife, Gail, at his home on Old Waterford Road.
NECA is the National Electrical Contractors Association and Geary is its Vice President for Labor Relations, and responsible, among other matters, for negotiating contracts for management with the union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (“IBEW”).  Geary is following in the footsteps of his father and grand-father at NECA; all three generations have worked for the electrical contractors’ association.
But Geary wants another job, perhaps a job that is more demanding than his “real” job at NECA.  He wants to be elected to the Board of Supervisors from the Catoctin District in Loudoun County.  This is not a recent idea.  He ran twice before as the Republican challenger to Supervisor Sally Kurtz and he lost both times but he’s hoping this third time will be the charm because Sally is retiring from office, and, he believes, the Republican tide is running his way. Malcolm Baldwin, the Democratic nominee from Lovettsville in this same race, has another idea about how this is going to turn out in November.
“Growing up in Montgomery County, Maryland,” Geary said, “across the river [from Virginia], every time it snowed, I would hear the school closings on the radio, and invariably Loudoun County Schools were closed, and I thought, I don’t know where that is but I’d sure like to live there.”
Geary moved to Virginia with his young wife, Gail, with his business degree from Clarion State College, for a sales job, selling building materials, for Georgia Pacific in Manassas. 
After drawing a 30 mile radius circle around Manassas, Geary and Gail decided in 1977 to live in Bluemont, Virginia.   
“We got interested in antiques,” Geary said, “because that’s all that we could afford; we couldn’t afford anything new.” 
Their house was an antique, dating back to 1825.  “We didn’t know what we were doing, when it came to restoring,” Geary said, “but we got it done.” 
As for Bluemont itself, Geary thought it was “a neat village” and set out to make it an historic district, gathered all the deeds and paper work, and convinced his neighbors to opt in. 
Gary’s motivation was that he didn’t want Bluemont “gone” like “what happened to old town Rockville,” Maryland; Rockville’s quaint town square, court house and historic statue were “scraped” away, Geary said, and replaced by an unprofitable shopping mall.
When Geary’s grandfather, a reader of history, took him on a road trip to historic Williamsburg, at 12 years of age, Geary said, “I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.” 
As for his favorite historical figure, he said, “Lincoln was an amazing guy.” 
“Eisenhower was one of my father’s heroes,” Geary said.  “One of my early memories was at the beach, wearing an ‘I like Ike’ t-shirt.”
Geary first had an insight into his personal connection to politics, his first “political experience,” when he was 11, in the 6th grade: “My father says to me what did you guys do in school today,” Geary said, “we were talking about this issue, and decided that it was the government’s job.  My father looked at me, whatever he had in his hand, he dropped on the table.  He said, ‘Who do you think the government is, the government is you.’  That has stuck with me since…. If we are the government, then it’s our responsibility in participating, shaping, and forming what the government does.”
After Geary and Gail moved to Waterford, Geary ran for the School Board, serving from 2000 to 2004.  David Wilkinson, the founder of “Citizens for Affordable Schools,” said Geary’s “finest hour” on the School Board “was his stand opposing the building of two new high schools …”  Geary said he contributed to policies that gave the teacher’s association “more input and consistency in the application of personnel policy to the teachers” and was told by the teachers’ representatives that he was “the only person on the board who understood personnel policy.”
Asked what he learned from wrestling at the Citadel, and then again when he transferred to Clarion State College, he said, “You learn more in defeat most of the time, than you do in victories.”
Asked what he learned then from running unsuccessfully against Supervisor Kurtz to succeed her, he said, “anytime you run against an incumbent is tough; I’ve learned that for sure” 
His second loss to Ms. Kurtz was not so close but, he said, there was an “anti-Republican wind blowing in 2007.”  
This race with Malcolm Baldwin, he said, will “put us on more of an even keel.” 
Having said that, Geary was not pleased with how the district lines were drawn for this race after the census.
Re-districting is the process by which the Board of Supervisors establishes district boundaries, voting precincts and polling places for eight election districts including the Catoctin District.
Geary complained that there was “not a lot of interest in public input” and he charged that “the plan that gained the most traction came out of no place.”  He also said, “I don’t know whether one plan was right or wrong.”  He added, “I don’t sit here and profess to be the smartest guy in the world and know everything.  You can learn from people every day.  Assuming I get elected, I’m going to have a very open policy towards constituents and listen to what they have to say, what their interests are, what their desires are, what they’d like to have done as well.”
Another example that plainly bothered him, Geary said, was “this Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordnance that came out of nowhere.”    In 2009, there was an assessment of the streams in Loudoun - , and they were found wanting; 78% of the stream miles in Loudoun and Fairfax did not meet aquatic life use standards.  The County considered a proposal to require 100 foot buffers adjacent to Loudoun’s streams to retard the runoff spoiling them.  It was estimated that these buffers could reduce sediments by 70% and reduce nutrients by 40%.  There’s an interactive County map that identifies the condition of streams across the County - .  Higgins, however, reportedly insists that there’s little evidence that Loudoun streams require any protection at all. 
A self-styled “fiscal conservative,” Geary thinks we can save more on what we spend on schools, the largest component of the County Budget (at 70%), and he hopes to cut taxes. 
Geary wrote the Board of Supervisors an e-mail stating, “you should not raise property taxes this year and in fact, I would propose that you should reduce the amount of taxes that we are currently paying.” 
He wrote that the $20 a month proposed tax increase that the Board estimated was “unthinkable” in the current economy; he said his office staff had been reduced by 25%, they had no raises for three years, and suffered a 12% wage cut the year before; and, all the while, heating oil and gas were more expensive, and “food prices are soaring.”
Geary hopes to grow the commercial tax base instead and believes that Dulles airport is the engine that makes that growth possible, although new business have been preferring Fairfax over Loudoun. 
As we don’t live in a kinder and gentler time when it comes to public dialogue, we talked about how we could “all get along” including the members of the Board of Supervisors with each other, and the Board of Supervisors with the School Board.
We concluded our discussion, in a sense, where we began.  In his negotiations with labor, he said, “Disagreeing doesn’t mean being disagreeable.  That’s what I hope to bring to the table as a Supervisor.”


Malcolm and Pamela Baldwin
I caught Malcolm Baldwin pruning his grape vines.  Earlier in the day, he had to bury his ram Aeneas.  Malcolm and his wife Pamela founded the Weatherlea Farm near Lovettsville in 1992 and they grow grapes for vintners and shear sheep for the wool.
Malcolm is active in the Loudoun Wine Growers Association and the Loudoun Valley Sheep Producers Association. 
But this year he wants to grow enough votes so that he can represent the Catoctin District on the Board of Supervisors. He seeks to succeed Sally Kurtz who is retiring from the Board.  His opponent is the Republican candidate, Geary Higgins from nearby Waterford.
Malcolm has always been interested in public affairs but he said he first got really concerned about Loudoun County when Scott York won election as the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors in 2004 and the Board then “took York’s County-wide mandate and made a shambles of it.”  The Board gave the Chairman’s authority to the Vice-Chair instead.  “This was totally contrary to what the voters expected,” Malcolm said, “it was a real disservice to the community.” 
In response, Malcolm started appearing and testifying before the Board of Supervisors with some regularity.  He joined the Board of the Piedmont Environmental Council (“PEC”), because the Board of Supervisors had “rejected a host of smart growth management strategies.”  The Community was “endangered,” Malcolm said, by the Board’s “one-dimensional development approach, too many houses in the transition zone, requiring public services that the County couldn’t pay for, and the Board’s attitude was that the public be damned.”  
“The problem then and now is we’ve forgotten how to talk with one another,” Malcolm said.  “There is a polarization at the national and county level, although,” Malcolm said, “I believe it’s less here.”
Malcolm had a chance to work for community harmony when, with others in the community, he led the charge to stop the dirty coal power transmission line that PATH proposed to run through West Virginia, Loudoun County and Maryland so that PATH could sell this energy in the Northeast, and not even in this region.
This was going to be “destructive over the properties it passed, have a degrading effect on appearance and value,” said Malcolm, but, more than that, “we didn’t need the power line.  PATH needed the line to make a profit, but the people didn’t.” 
Malcolm is proud how “the community worked together, from diverse jurisdictions and various groups including the PEC, the Sierra Club, and Friends of the Earth; there was also the County government, and not just Loudoun; also landowners even those not directly affected got involved, they all pitched in,” said Malcolm.  “I still run into some who don’t know that we stopped this power line,” Malcolm said.  “We got an outcome we can all be proud of.”
Malcolm was tireless in that campaign, holding meetings in churches, the library, and at his Wetherlea Farm to teach, confer and discuss how to meet this offensive intrusion by PATH.
It’s ironic that Malcolm’s Dad was a public utility executive in upstate New York. 
“My Dad believed, however,” said Malcolm, “that a public utility was intended to serve the public, not the other way around.”
“I remember,” Malcolm said, “when someone couldn’t pay their power bill and the power was cut off.  They’d call my Dad at home.  He’d ask them to come down to the office with a small deposit and turn their power back on.”
“It’s funny,” Malcolm said, “when my Dad retired from the public utility company, he joined the Town Planning Board.  He did it as another form of public service.  He didn’t get paid.  Now here I am, retired, standing for office, doing the same thing.”
“When I was young,” Malcolm said, “I read a biography of John Adams and it had a profound influence on me; ever since I’ve been interested in politics, inspired by Adams’ selflessness, and by his noble pursuit.”
“What I learned from the PATH encounter,” Malcolm said, “was that you get the facts right, put emotions to the side, hold off your pre-conceptions, work together with differing views in good faith, and conduct an analysis of your alternatives and the best possible outcomes.”
“In PATH,” Malcolm said, “if the facts had been against us, as to whether or not a power line was needed, then those facts would have dictated a different outcome; but we got it right.”
Asked about his farming, Malcolm said he had always liked the country. 
As a kid, he lived in western New York, in Rochester, in a house built by his great grand-father; it was “a modest farm house.”
After Haverford College, he went to law school.  Malcolm planned to be a country lawyer in Vermont.  “I liked the small town atmosphere,” Malcolm said.  “I thought I’d enjoy that.”
He went to Chicago Law School, an especially prestigious school of law, well regarded for its influence on the economic analysis of the law. 
“You got a good education there; it had the advantage of being a small class,” Malcolm said.  “There weren’t any classes on the environment then, but I did attend a class in urban planning.”
Malcolm didn’t become a country lawyer in Vermont, he got detoured to Washington, DC instead, where he interned at the Pentagon in the General Counsel’s Office.
He walked into Brentano’s book store in the Pentagon one day, and saw a book titled, “Outdoor America.”  Malcolm thought, “I want to do that.”   He bought the book but never read it.  He lived it instead, focused on the environment for many years afterwards.
He first got hired at the Conservation Foundation, and thus began a 38 year career in environmental law that took him from the Environmental Law Institute that he helped found to the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), a division of the Executive Office of the President. 
The agency was created in 1969 during President Nixon’s Administration, as a part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and its purpose was to coordinate federal environmental efforts with agencies and other White House offices and to develop environmental and energy policies and initiatives. It was a simple principle, i.e., virtually every action by the government can have some effect on the environment. 
Malcolm was CEQ’s Acting Chairman during the Reagan Administration.
NEPA and CEQ arose out of necessity.  Malcolm said, “Very few lawyers knew how to deal with Love Canal and the CEQ and companion legislation was a creative answer to a most difficult set of questions.”
During the recent flap over the health of our streams in Loudoun County, Malcolm reverted to form, seeking how to harmonize the poor condition of our streams with a solution that was fair and just to the community.  In a recent debate with Geary Higgins, Malcolm said he wasn’t in favor of the original proposal but thought that the final version of the ordinance that the Board of Supervisors considered did resolve his concerns about cost and inconvenience to the landowners while helping to ameliorate water quality issues.
Malcolm repeatedly emphasized that finding the facts and putting ideology aside were the first steps in making public policy.  For example, he questioned the sense of a corridor of state significance through Loudoun West of Dulles airport if Maryland opposed any crossing into Maryland.  As for schools, Malcolm said we can’t have $100 million schools if we’re going to have even more students in the next generation.  From what he’s learned from his own farm, Malcolm feels he knows what other food and wine farmers need, and it’s keeping the land open and productive to generate revenue.
Malcolm said he hopes to be elected so he can say four years later, at the end of his first term, that “we had a strongly cooperative board where we reached decisions based on good analysis and understanding and avoided the ideological polarization that has plagued this country and we worked cooperatively with the school board with the same spirit.”
Asked if that was possible, he said, “I think that is possible and the results will be some good wise decisions.”

Friday, August 19, 2011


There are so many people who believe that there is this unerring “invisible hand” that makes the necessary corrections in the balance of capital, land and labor so that our economy stays on track.
It’s not so, and it’s not what Adam Smith was talking about when he made the original reference to an “invisible hand.”
The economy is our individual choices, taken in the aggregate, and, if you want to call that the “invisible hand,” you may do so, but it’s not working.
When some take too much out of our economy, too much in profit, a disproportionate income, others are paid less, they can buy less, businesses close, and jobs evaporate.
We are in the era of selfish ill will– too many at the top taking too much for themselves, leaving too little for everyone else.
In the best of times, we define ourselves in large part by the work we do.
The poet, Maya Angelou, wrote, “Nothing will work unless you do.”
In these times, many more work to subsist or work not at all.
The signs are everywhere.
On the Berlin Turnpike, as the cars stop at the intersection for Route 9, there’s a hand written sign looking for work.  The sign’s relatively new.
A young senior from Loudoun Valley High School graduated this year.  For his graduation “gift,” his mom gave him the keys to the house and left him to fend for himself, driving off for parts unknown in Texas with his younger sibling.  He’s having a tough time of it.
You may have seen some workers on a picket line outside the Verizon Office in Leesburg, at 501 Tolbert Lane, walking with signs, to and fro, from 7 AM to 6 PM.  Verizon insists on cutting its workers’ pension and health benefits even as Verizon’s profits increase.  That’s why they’re there protesting.
Verizon’s revenue rose 2.8 percent to $27.8 billion in the second quarter, mostly because of its new wireless business; Verizon added 1.26 million wireless customers, as compared with 665,000 a year ago; so Verizon is doing better now than a year ago. 
Verizon’s top six executives were paid about $7.5 million each last year. 
Verizon’s customer service reps were paid about $16.64 an hour, or about $34,000 a year.
Instead of empathy, some are mad at the unemployed like there was a job that they could fill but haven’t tried.
Others resent the fact that some workers fight collectively for their rights, for a fair wage and for benefits.  If these workers didn’t bond together, they’d have to take whatever an employer unilaterally dictated.  They’d be little more than wage (or salary) slaves -- condemned to receive less pay and fewer benefits at the whim of their greedy employer.
Increasingly the young come home after college because they can’t get work – and so they can’t live on their own.
Families are trying to get second jobs and working overtime when they can.
There isn’t enough work to go around.
It’s time for big business to take less and give back more – or they’ll kill the economy that makes them so rich.
If there’s an invisible hand, it’s wrapped firmly around the neck of the American worker and it’s choking him to death.

Friday, August 12, 2011


Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry, hands joined, face uplifted to the heavens, giving us his best Elmer Gantry imitation, invited politically active Christian groups from the far and intolerant evangelical right to join him fasting and praying to install himself as the President of United States, as an instrument of the Lord, so that he may put an end to this nation’s troubles by fulfilling his own personal ambition.  Amen Brother!  Can I have another amen?  Amen!
Perry said, “Father, our heart breaks for America.”  Is “our heart” an imperial reference to Perry’s holy ticker, or to his intolerant financial underwriter, the American Family Association, that insists that the First Amendment, guaranteeing Freedom of Religion, applies only to Christians? 
Perry prayed to relieve “discord at home” as if he had never sown discord himself.  He must remember that he told an Austin T-party rally that Texas might secede from the union.  This latter day Calhoun didn’t understand what Lincoln meant when he spoke against disunion and warrantied that “the better angels of our nature” swell “the chorus of union.”
Is Perry “just praying to a God he doesn’t believe in?” 
After Texas Governor Perry’s Office issued a proclamation for this day of Christian prayer and fasting, inviting state and national politicians, Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional scholar, said Perry was violating the establishment clause because he was “advancing religion.” 
Dean Chemerinsky was right, but Governor Perry’s objective is “advancing” his bid to be the Republican nominee and, if convincing these folk he’s “advancing” religion does that, all the better. 
Had Perry been truly sincere about prayer and fasting, he would not have used his office as he did. 
More than that, he would have not been so prideful and public. 
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.”  See Matthew 6:6. 
As for fasting, Jesus said, “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast.  Verily, I say unto you, they have their reward.”  See Matthew 6:16.  Jesus instructed to fast “in secret.”  See Matthew 6:17-18.
Perry promised to pray and fast as Jesus did – but he wasn’t even close.
When Jesus prayed and fasted for 40 days, the devil tempted him with the power and wealth of Herod, and of Rome. See Luke 4:5-8. Jesus resisted while Perry has long since succumbed to this temptation.
When the devil suggested Jesus gain acclaim by hurling himself from the highest point of the temple, saved by angels from the fall, Jesus rebuffed the devil. See Luke 4:9-12.  Jesus instructed that humility, not pride, “shall lift you up.”  See James 4:10.  By contrast, Perry is as remote from humility as is darkness from the light.
The pundits predict that, if Perry enters the race, he’ll split the vote with that other fringe candidate, Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachman. After their sparring fest of Christian nostrums and imagined facts, should both lose the nomination, the burning question will be whether the Republican nominee will be forced to select one as Vice-President.
Let us pray!

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Patroculus – our Maine Coon cat (Photo by John Flannery)
Our Maine Coon cat, Patroclus, is presently cooling himself by placing his body astride a cooling vent, the air gently blowing the fur on his face and broad belly. 
Congress prefers the blistering heat of confrontation, and taunts the flames of economic catastrophe, as they represent to the world a nation changeable and uncertain of its purpose and objectives.
When Patroclus falls from a great height unexpectedly, he rights himself, turns his body so adroitly that he falls safely, landing on his feet.  Not so Congress.
The Tea-party folk are hell bent on dismantling the “Leviathan” that we ordinary folk call the people’s Congress and the government; they don’t even rent rooms for the night; they bivouac in their congressional offices. 
They are opposed to raising revenue and to borrowing, insolvency be damned. 
Real people rely on income or credit to cover outlays, but not these guys.
They oppose public schools, clean energy, think climate change is science fiction, and that it’s high time the sick, disabled and retirees fend for themselves.
They hold their leader, Republican House Speaker John Boehner, hostage to their vision of a suicide nation, bringing him to his knees in the Republican caucus he “leads,” disciplining him for agreeing with President Obama to raise taxes.
The T-party members’ malfeasance, if our nation’s future matters, doesn’t end at the Republican water’s edge. 
After the Democrats took the Republicans to task for proposed domestic-spending cuts, they threw their support to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s bill that will cut $752 billion from domestic spending and (of course) this is exclusive of what we spend on defense (those wars that are supposedly in our “national interest” in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya and Iraq).
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D.-CA) ranted about not wanting to hurt the Middle Class (those of us who know what we earn and don’t expect to earn $10 Million a year any time soon) but then the Democrats in the House supported those very same discretionary cuts in the Reid bill.
So we have a tumbling act of Republicans and Democrats doing back flips by the hour as they fall through space and time, giving self-serving sound bites that no one believes, and governing not at all.
A rejected Woody Allen once said, “I’m like a cat, I always land on my feet.” 
Congress, however, can’t land on its feet when it comes to the middle class.
Experts tell me my cat understand 35 words. 
But Congress knows only one word when it comes to the Middle Class - “No!” 
We went wrong when we gave a disproportionate vote to the filthy rich who don’t want to shoulder their fair share of what it will take to make this nation a going concern.  That’s why Congress won’t demand they pay a dime more for what they wrought.
We went wrong when we gave a vote in Congress to these T-party folk who do not honor our nation’s constitutional framework and its obligation to the people.  But we can cure that in the next election.
In the meantime, like Patroclus, we have to prepare to pounce in the next election.