Monday, December 28, 2009

The Party is Over

As the year and a decade closes I wonder if I should celebrate or take to the bed in hiding.

I want to look back at this decade and find a pocket of joy and well frankly that challenge is beyond me. I spent the best part of this decade struggling to make ends meet, ending a marriage, starting a business only to close it, having major health care issues causing me to go to Mexico next year, an aging dog who was hit by a car (thankfully though still with me), major moves and a return to a city that leaves me cold in every way possible and finally getting raped. Not in all a time for great reflection let alone celebration.

But I am still very much alive and still hoping and believing that the next decade will be less of the first but do I suspect a major improvement? No. In all honesty no.

There is little I read that provides the optimism and belief that we will come out of this unscathed. And the lack of true programs and workable solutions out of Washington continue to demonstrate that for some its "business as usual." We are a long way gone I am afraid.

So in the tradition of the Top 10 Best and Worst of the Year I offer my list:

The Good, the Bad and the plain Ugly

1. Asshole of the Year:

Lloyd Blankfien/Goldman Sachs. This man is the epitome of the era. Greedy, arrogant, isolated from the problem and not part of the solution. He is my person of the year as ASSHOLE of the year. I take this from the Huffington Post in response to the Financial Times naming him Person of the Year..

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein has been named Person of the Year by the Financial Times. The investment bank "not only navigated the 2008 global financial crisis better than others on Wall Street," the paper writes, "but is set to make record profits, and pay up to $23BN in bonuses to its 31,700 staff."

But while the FT may agree that Blankfein is doing "God's work," others view the bank as indicative of exactly what is wrong with Wall Street. Indeed, Blankfein himself apologized last month for Goldman Sachs' role in the financial crisis. And Goldman Sachs's trading practices are currently under investigation by the federal government.

In response to the FT's decision to honor Blankfein, noted bank analyst Christopher Whalen has canceled his subscription to the paper. "Mr. Blankfein and his colleagues at Goldman Sachs, in my view, have done more to damage the reputations of global financial professionals than any other organization in 2009, yet you applaud them," he wrote in a letter to the paper. "Not only is your suggestion ridiculous and repugnant, but it illustrates to me the fact that the FT is part of the problem in global finance, not as one would hope and expect, part of the solution."

If Blankfein really believes that he is doing "God's work" then that pretty much resolves the debate I have had about the existence of God.... there is none.

2. Board Directors:

You know these are the ones who sit on Corporations boards to hopefully provide influence, advice and occasionally adversarial opinions on everything from current risk strategies to compensation. They apparently do none of that. Shareholder reform another weak attempt by Congress to somehow stop the blank rubber stamping of the arrogant CEO's (Blankenfein/Fuld/Etc) will likely fail but I think Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times did an excellent article naming a FEW of the many individuals who sat idly by and collected large paychecks and perks from their positions on boards of businesses that failed brilliantly.

<>What Iceberg? Just Glide to the Next Boardroom


Published: December 26, 2009

YOU might think that board members overseeing businesses that cratered in the credit crisis would be disqualified from serving as directors at other public companies.

Frederick E. Rowe of Investors for Director Accountability says you will never hear board members say how beholden they are to management.

You would, however, be wrong.

Directors who were supposedly minding the store as disaster struck at companies like Countrywide Financial, Washington Mutual or Fannie Mae have not all been banished from other boardrooms. In many cases, directors just seem to skate away from company woes that occurred on their watch.

To some investors, this is an example of the refusal of those involved in the debacle to accept responsibility for it. Whether you are talking about top executives loading up on leverage, regulators who slept while companies took on titanic risks or mortgage lenders that made thousands of dubious loans, few in this crowd have acknowledged culpability. Taxpayers and shareholders, meanwhile, who had nothing to do with the problems, are left holding the bag.

“None of these directors have stood up and said, ‘We made a mistake here by not calling management to account,’ ” said Paul Hodgson, senior research associate at the Corporate Library, a corporate governance research firm. “They have certainly avoided the limelight as far as blame is concerned.”

Moreover, they continue to get work as directors at other companies.

Three large public companies provide excellent examples. They are Sunoco, the oil company; Paccar Inc., a truck manufacturer; and Tetra Tech Inc., a management consulting and technical services concern. Each of these companies has two directors who, until recently, were on the boards of institutions that were centrally involved in the mortgage meltdown.

Let’s begin with Sunoco. Its outside directors include two who did stints at Fannie Mae, the mortgage finance giant seized by the government in September 2008. They are Thomas P. Gerrity, a professor of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and John K. Wulff, former chairman of Hercules, a specialty chemicals maker.

Mr. Gerrity has been a Sunoco director since 1990 and was a board member of Fannie Mae from 1991 to 2006. He was on the board when Fannie Mae’s balance sheet took on enormous risk and when accounting irregularities in 2004 prompted the ouster of Franklin D. Raines, Fannie’s chief executive.

At Sunoco, Mr. Gerrity serves on the audit and governance committees.

Mr. Wulff, who serves on the audit and corporate responsibility committees at Sunoco, joined Fannie Mae’s board in 2004, after the accounting problems emerged, and is no longer a director there. That was also the year he became a director at Moody’s, one of the three credit-ratings agencies that failed so colossally to assess risk in the debt securities at the heart of the crisis.

“I think it is appropriate for institutions and other shareholders to look at the backgrounds of directors and other boards they have served on, but you need to interpret the data in the context of the specific circumstances of each board,” Mr. Wulff said. “If you vilify board members purely because the companies they oversee ultimately fail, you risk discouraging anyone from getting into a situation with any risk.”

Sunoco and Mr. Gerrity did not return messages seeking comment.

At Paccar, two of its 12 directors were on the boards of big mortgage lenders that imploded. Robert T. Parry, a former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, was a director at Countrywide from 2004 to 2008. Mr. Parry served on four committees of Countrywide’s board: audit, ethics, credit, and operations and public policy. Countrywide, a huge subprime lender, was acquired by Bank of America in early 2008 in a fire-sale transaction.

Also a Paccar director is William G. Reed Jr., a board member at Washington Mutual since 1970. Most recently, he was chairman of WaMu’s governance committee and also served on the audit and finance committees. WaMu’s collapse last year under the weight of absurdly risky loans was the largest bank failure in history.

Although other companies often list board memberships held by their directors, Paccar’s proxy statement does not mention Mr. Parry’s service on the Countrywide board or Mr. Reed’s 38 years as a WaMu director.

Paccar’s spokesman declined to make either director available for comment. But the company said in a statement that its board “provides excellent governance and risk management oversight, which is reinforced by the experienced management team.” Paccar added that it had delivered annual returns to shareholders for the last decade that significantly exceeded those of the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index.

Finally, two directors at Tetra Tech are both refugees from the board of IndyMac Bancorp. IndyMac, spun off from Countrywide, is another subprime lender that failed spectacularly last year.

Hugh M. Grant, a corporate consultant and an IndyMac director since 2000, was chairman of the lender’s audit committee. He also served on IndyMac’s management development and compensation committee as well as those devoted to corporate governance and legal compliance.

His colleague Patrick C. Haden, an executive at the private equity firm Riordan, Lewis & Haden, also spent eight years on the IndyMac board. He was chairman of its strategy and execution committee.

Mr. Grant, a director at Tetra Tech since 2003, is chairman of its audit committee and serves on two other committees: one devoted to compensation and the other related to nominating and corporate governance. Mr. Haden has been on Tetra Tech’s board since 1992; he is chairman of the compensation and nominating committee and serves on the audit committee. Tetra Tech has six outside directors.

Neither Mr. Haden nor Tetra Tech responded to messages seeking comment. Mr. Grant could not be reached.

This is not to say that these directors are not performing their duties. Indeed, some would argue that directors who have witnessed at close range the collapse of a company may learn a great deal from that experience and bring to their boardroom activities an increased sense of responsibility. But it is hard to blame shareholders for wondering whose side directors are on, given the broad failures by many board members to recognize and rein in risk-taking at so many companies.

As fiduciaries for the owners of the companies on whose boards they serve, directors have a duty to act in shareholders’ interests. After all, they are the shareholders’ representatives, and they are charged with ensuring that their companies are operated soundly and with long-term profitability in mind. Yet it doesn’t always seem to work out that way.

Frederick E. Rowe, president of Investors for Director Accountability, a nonprofit shareholder advocacy group, said, “Here’s a conversation you’ll never hear: ‘Yes, I get paid $475,000 a year. I play golf with the C.E.O.; he’s a personal friend. I go to interesting places for board meetings, I am around interesting people, and I would never say one word that would jeopardize my position on the board.’”

The main reason for director dysfunction is that board members have little fear of being fired for incompetence or sleepwalking through meetings. Because of the way director elections are structured, board members can win their seats if they receive just one vote of support. And even if a majority of shareholders withholds support from directors at annual elections, the directors who are singled out are often allowed to stay.

Shareholders interested in ousting a director or two must mount an expensive proxy fight to do so.

There is movement afoot to change this arrangement. The Securities and Exchange Commission has proposed new rules that would give large shareholders a way to replace incompetent directors with their own nominees. Two weeks ago, the S.E.C. reopened its comment period for these rule changes.

But the proposal has too many limitations, shareholder advocates say. For example, only those who have owned a stock for one year and who hold a stake of at least 1 percent in a big company may have their director nominees included in a company’s proxy materials and submitted to a shareholder vote.

“It’s a step forward, but a pretty embarrassingly baby step,” said John Gillespie, a former investment banker who, with David Zweig, is co-author of “Money for Nothing,” a forthcoming book on board failures. “The bigger problem is the culture of boards, which doesn’t allow directors to do an effective job even if they wanted to.”

Solutions to the culture problem, he said, would include instituting term limits for directors, in order to keep fresh blood circulating on a board, and separating the roles of board chairman and chief executive.

MOST important, Mr. Gillespie said, United States shareholder groups holding 10 percent stakes in companies should have the right, as they do in Britain and other countries, to call special meetings. Then and there, they could jettison directors who are seen as not doing their jobs.

“The reality of our human nature is to pay more attention to people who can fire you than to those who can’t,” Mr. Rowe said.

Even though the stock market has performed well this year, Mr. Hodgson of the Corporate Library says he thinks that many directors will face significant opposition, albeit still toothless, from shareholders at annual elections in 2010.

“I think we are going to see some of the highest levels of either ‘no’ votes where companies have a democratic process or withhold votes,” he said. “People were at fault there, and saying that nobody could have predicted it is not an excuse. If you are on the board, you have the responsibility to find those things out and not just believe what management is telling you.”

3. Misc. CEO Assholes:

I would have to say leading that list is John Mackey of Whole Foods. His version of "conscious capitalist" masks a libertarian/insane rhetoric of another Free Market economist. While espousing philosophical bullshit and selling expensive organic food to the middle and upper class also feels that nationalized health care is a detriment to society. Apparently his hippie leanings stop at yoga and granola. (Read a recent New Yorker profile for true amusement on this asshole)

CEO of VF.. Eric Wiseman. This company makes North Face clothing. You know the stuff you wear while pursuing healthy outdoor activities that hopefully won't make you sick. Mr. Wiseman also sits on the board of CIGNA. A healthcare (really are you in HEALTHcare when you do your best to block it? Isn't that an oxymoron) provider who does little to provide health or care.

Here some information reprinted from the NOW website with regards to Mr Wiseman...

Eric Wiseman makes $6.2 million running the publicly traded VF Corp., and he makes another $430,000 for sitting on Cigna’s board.

Cigna is one of the three largest health insurance companies in the country, and it has the track record to prove it. Cigna is the company that insurance industry whistle-blower Wendell Potter used to work for, so all the things he says about how the industry cheats, lies, and tries to kill reform come from personal experience with this company. Cigna is right now under investigation from Senator Rockafeller and the Commerce Committee for allegedly failing to disclose whether their money went to people’s health care or executive salaries and bonuses. And Cigna is the company that denied Stacy Ritter’s sick daughters their care, forcing her into bankruptcy.

Eric Wiseman makes money off of all of that. He makes money when Cigna denies care. He makes money when they use premiums to pay his salary instead our doctors. And he stands to make a ton of money if Cigna, along with the rest of the industry, kills health care reform and the public health insurance option.

So if you’re planning on buying some Wranglers for your husband, Vans for your son, or North Face for your wife, maybe you should think twice about where that money is going. And while you’re at it, why don’t you give Eric Wiseman a call, along with thousands of other shoppers who are getting this message at malls around the country?

Let him know that you understand the connection between his coveted clothing brands and reform, and tell him to stop being grinchy with our health care. Trust me, nothing scares the head of a publicly traded company more than going after their highly protected brands.

Here’s the number to call: (336) 424-6192

4. Misc Congressional Assholes:

This group seems to be an ever increasing group but some highlights:

Joe Lieberman - could you get even more pathetic and transparent in your methods? No.

Max Baucus: Please retire and go have a "mature" relationship elsewhere.

Charles Grassley: You are from the Heartland. Remove the heart and well that suits.

Olympia Snow: Who are you and why are you so important from a State with 1/10th of the population. Could we kiss your ass more.. oh wait Ben Nelson is coming by and his pants are dropped.

Joe Wilson: You LIE and are annoying. Of course you are really only part of the problem. The problem being the STATE of South Carolina.

Harry Reid: Compromise with whom exactly? I could get better odds and results in your home state at a casino.

John McCain: Pouting on a three year old is pathetic on a 70+ year old, tragic.

Sarah Palin: Batshit crazy.

The Republican "coloreds" You know Michael Steele, the house negro, and Bobby Jindal, the resident AV geek. Could you two sell out more? Oh wait Joe Lieberman is in da house!

Blue Dog Democrats: Bitch please. I looked into Evan Bayh's father and he wrote early legislation (Bayh-Dole 1980) selling out to the pharmaceuticals decades ago. Well the apple doesn't fall far from that tree. Keeping the legacy alive!

I could go on but the Republican party and some Democrats do so well on their own garnering attention I feel that they need little help from me.

5. Lobbyists: I really needed to move into that line of work. Although I was told the new growth area is Corporate espionage. That seems less salacious.

6. The word "green." I am over it. I am even ashamed as it now seems to be a whole new category that people say with disdain. Like Hippie, Black or Mexican.

7. The internet.

Man you would think its the cure for cancer with the carryings on over WORLD DOMINATION. Do you Google or do you Bing? Yes it really makes a difference when searching for porn or info on anal leakage. Can you Facebook or Twitter me that? Thanks. Then I will Podcast it on my own App which is linked to my blog.

8. The Economic Hangover.

Until Americans really sober up from the shock that what really happened here was a greater "conspiracy" and exploitation of the population than any bullshit theory being investigated by Jesse Ventura on his show. Sorry but the facts speak for themselves...

Some simple numbers that explain the FACTS. (Taken from MSN Money)

* In 1999, 67% of workers had to pay part of their health care benefits cost, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2008, that had risen to 75%.

* According to the Census Bureau, 10.3% of U.S. families lived under the poverty line in 2008, versus 9.3% in 1999.

* Households in the bottom 10% made $12,181 or less in 2008, which was down 8.1% from 2000. But the threshold for household incomes in the top 5% was $180,000, down just 0.9% from 2000.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage for workers not in management positions -- such as reporters, food servers and teachers -- is $18.72, up an inflation-adjusted 6.8% since 1999.

In that same period, however, personal income for all Americans rose 14%. Why the discrepancy? Economists say Americans at the top of the income ladder keep making more money each year, while those in the middle have, in some cases, seen their wages drop.

College tuition at public universities, for example, jumped 61% -- or about twice the inflation rate -- to $7,020, according to the College Board. National spending on health care jumped to an annual $4,289 per American from $2,534, according to the government.

Middle-class Americans' earnings haven't kept up with their spending, and many are slipping behind and mired in debt.

You already know that the recession punched Americans in the wallet and vaporized years of hard-earned wealth. But middle-class Americans have steadily lost income, assets and benefits over the past 10 years.

"This hasn't been a sterling decade," says Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution and the author of "Creating an Opportunity Society." She argues that the American dream of prosperity and advancement has turned into a myth. "The average American family hasn't been able to improve its financial situation."

Of course, it's impossible to compare 1999 with 2009 without noting that in 1999, the economy was still floating happily in a dot-com bubble, while this year we've been mired in the worst recession since the Great Depression.

But experts say these are just details. They argue that dozens of indicators -- after adjusting for 30% inflation since 1999 -- have been marching in the wrong direction for years, in ways big and small:

* In 1999, 67% of workers had to pay part of their health care benefits cost, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2008, that had risen to 75%.

* According to the Census Bureau, 10.3% of U.S. families lived under the poverty line in 2008, versus 9.3% in 1999.

* Households in the bottom 10% made $12,181 or less in 2008, which was down 8.1% from 2000. But the threshold for household incomes in the top 5% was $180,000, down just 0.9% from 2000.

Making less and spending it . . . less wisely

Let's start with earnings. Although Wall Street wages and bonuses for Fortune 500 CEOs have soared over the past decade, average Americans aren't earning much more than they were 10 years ago.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage for workers not in management positions -- such as reporters, food servers and teachers -- is $18.72, up an inflation-adjusted 6.8% since 1999.

In that same period, however, personal income for all Americans rose 14%. Why the discrepancy? Economists say Americans at the top of the income ladder keep making more money each year, while those in the middle have, in some cases, seen their wages drop.

Smart financial moves for 2010 and beyond

"We've seen some of the widest gaps between the top 1% of Americans and everyone else," says Arloc Sherman, a senior researcher at the nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "The income growth that happened during most of the decade didn't reach the middle and bottom levels."

It's not just that incomes have stagnated. Americans are now spending more than they did 10 years ago on necessities.

College tuition at public universities, for example, jumped 61% -- or about twice the inflation rate -- to $7,020, according to the College Board. National spending on health care jumped to an annual $4,289 per American from $2,534, according to the government.

Granted, the prices of some other items have declined over the past decade, and Americans now spend less of their incomes on food than ever before. The real question is: Have Americans' earnings kept up with their spending needs?

Economists say no.

"Americans are spending less than they used to on food, partly because demands on their budgets have increased," says Ephraim Leibtag, a senior economist at the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "We now have cell phones and Internet, multiple cars and expectations for living standards that have increased our housing costs."

That's the polite way of saying that Americans want to buy a lot of stuff but aren't making enough money to pay for it.

There are many indicators that measure this, but the most sobering one is that the amount of debt per credit card has risen at almost twice the rate of inflation since 1999, by 59% to $695, according to The Nilson Report, an industry newsletter, although the number of cards in circulation has actually dropped from 1.4 billion to 1.3 billion.

Regardless of whether you want to blame falling incomes or our increasingly profligate habits, the end result is the same. Net worth -- assets (real estate, stocks, cars) minus debts (mortgages, credit cards) -- rose just 5% after inflation in the past 10 years, to $53.1 trillion, according to data from the Federal Reserve.

That's not surprising, considering that the savings rate, 3.3%, has barely budged in the past 10 years and remains only a third of what it was in the 1960s and 1970s. The savings rate includes any money that Americans don't spend but instead set aside in their checking accounts, stock portfolios or homes. At times in the mid-2000s, the savings rate went negative as homeowners mined their equity to pay for lifestyles their incomes couldn't support.

Americans' preparedness for retirement looks almost as bad. In 1999, Americans had saved $11.8 trillion in retirement assets, but by June of this year that number had increased only to $14.4 trillion, lagging far behind inflation, according to the Investment Company Institute. Of course, the numbers are skewed by the recent stock market crash, which lopped $3.9 billion off the top in 2008.

Although stocks have recovered spectacularly from last year's carnage, returns over the past 10 years have been the worst ever in a calendar decade. Despite the Dow Jones industrials' gain of nearly 19% this year, as of Dec. 21, they're down 9% since the end of 1999, while the Nasdaq Composite Index has lost 45%.

And even though mutual funds, after a $2.4 trillion drop in 2008, are expected to return 26% year over year for 2009, the average return over the past decade has been just 3.3%.

And today Paul Krugman of the NY Times reiterated much of this as well..

quote>The Big Zero


Published: December 27, 2009

Maybe we knew, at some unconscious, instinctive level, that it would be an era best forgotten. Whatever the reason, we got through the first decade of the new millennium without ever agreeing on what to call it. The aughts? The naughties? Whatever. (Yes, I know that strictly speaking the millennium didn’t begin until 2001. Do we really care?)

Skip to next paragraph

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

But from an economic point of view, I’d suggest that we call the decade past the Big Zero. It was a decade in which nothing good happened, and none of the optimistic things we were supposed to believe turned out to be true.

It was a decade with basically zero job creation. O.K., the headline employment number for December 2009 will be slightly higher than that for December 1999, but only slightly. And private-sector employment has actually declined — the first decade on record in which that happened.

It was a decade with zero economic gains for the typical family. Actually, even at the height of the alleged “Bush boom,” in 2007, median household income adjusted for inflation was lower than it had been in 1999. And you know what happened next.

It was a decade of zero gains for homeowners, even if they bought early: right now housing prices, adjusted for inflation, are roughly back to where they were at the beginning of the decade. And for those who bought in the decade’s middle years — when all the serious people ridiculed warnings that housing prices made no sense, that we were in the middle of a gigantic bubble — well, I feel your pain. Almost a quarter of all mortgages in America, and 45 percent of mortgages in Florida, are underwater, with owners owing more than their houses are worth.

Last and least for most Americans — but a big deal for retirement accounts, not to mention the talking heads on financial TV — it was a decade of zero gains for stocks, even without taking inflation into account. Remember the excitement when the Dow first topped 10,000, and best-selling books like “Dow 36,000” predicted that the good times would just keep rolling? Well, that was back in 1999. Last week the market closed at 10,520.

So there was a whole lot of nothing going on in measures of economic progress or success. Funny how that happened.

For as the decade began, there was an overwhelming sense of economic triumphalism in America’s business and political establishments, a belief that we — more than anyone else in the world — knew what we were doing.

Let me quote from a speech that Lawrence Summers, then deputy Treasury secretary (and now the Obama administration’s top economist), gave in 1999. “If you ask why the American financial system succeeds,” he said, “at least my reading of the history would be that there is no innovation more important than that of generally accepted accounting principles: it means that every investor gets to see information presented on a comparable basis; that there is discipline on company managements in the way they report and monitor their activities.” And he went on to declare that there is “an ongoing process that really is what makes our capital market work and work as stably as it does.”

So here’s what Mr. Summers — and, to be fair, just about everyone in a policy-making position at the time — believed in 1999: America has honest corporate accounting; this lets investors make good decisions, and also forces management to behave responsibly; and the result is a stable, well-functioning financial system.

What percentage of all this turned out to be true? Zero.

What was truly impressive about the decade past, however, was our unwillingness, as a nation, to learn from our mistakes.

Even as the dot-com bubble deflated, credulous bankers and investors began inflating a new bubble in housing. Even after famous, admired companies like Enron and WorldCom were revealed to have been Potemkin corporations with facades built out of creative accounting, analysts and investors believed banks’ claims about their own financial strength and bought into the hype about investments they didn’t understand. Even after triggering a global economic collapse, and having to be rescued at taxpayers’ expense, bankers wasted no time going right back to the culture of giant bonuses and excessive leverage.

Then there are the politicians. Even now, it’s hard to get Democrats, President Obama included, to deliver a full-throated critique of the practices that got us into the mess we’re in. And as for the Republicans: now that their policies of tax cuts and deregulation have led us into an economic quagmire, their prescription for recovery is — tax cuts and deregulation.

So let’s bid a not at all fond farewell to the Big Zero — the decade in which we achieved nothing and learned nothing. Will the next decade be better? Stay tuned. Oh, and happy New Year.

9. Obamistas: Sorry but you people annoy me. From the ones who say "he should be President for Life" to those who go "he inherited a lot of problems" They along with some of his own staff and advisors who are clearly disengaged from resolving these problems I have nothing to say. From Desiree Rogers the gorgeous Social Secretary who early on spoke of "Obama Brand" as if he is a new IPhone App to the response when asked what she was wearing at the first State Dinner "of course" to Rahm Emmanuel who might be channeling his more loquacious brother Ari (you know the agent in Entourage) which makes you wonder if they think they are in Hollywood not the White House. Even Reagan who came from that world understood the dignity of the office and his elitism and distance from the American people annoyed many. You see the legacy that many people and especially Republicans cling but it was a good prototype. Anytime we stray too much from the formality expected - Jimmy Carter and cardigans to Bill Clinton and blow jobs we get a backlash.

I am all for a modern Presidency and a Obama is the epitome of that but sometimes traditions especially in this age with such vitriol already in place (some of it partisan politics but some of it racist) it becomes necessary to bring that CHANGE to the areas that really need it.. in other words the business of governing not marketing and socializing.

10. Angry White Men. Saving the best for last. Well I have seen them come in all shapes and sizes this year. Joe the Plumber to Glenn Beck (and yes my rapist would count) I cannot say which one has captured the epitome and prime example of the loud angry bore who has channeled their inner Howard Beale (the lamented character in the movie Network) and soon we can only hope a minority in the world. A fact that I am sure only further enrages these AWM's to think that Blacks, Mexicans and goddamn Women are usurping their dominance in a country that is now in tatters. Well you had your moment - a really long over 200 years moment - that maybe now it might be a good idea of handing the reins to someone else for awhile.

And the GOOD:

The music of Beethoven which I look forward to hearing on NYE. Ode to Joy always brings me to tears and ending and beginning this year it could not be more welcome or appropriate.

The Progressive Movement. Your time is coming and I am proud to be a small part.

Surviving. I made it through. There are times I wondered if I would but I am still here.

Green Day and Pearl Jam. Reminding me that you can still have positive voices and express them in song.

Beyonce. Hey she is a the star for the decade. Beautiful, scandal free a pop star that takes us away from those who aren't.

Comedians talking: Thank God for Bill Maher, Wanda Sykes, Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert who manage to use their platforms and talents to allow other voices and satire to make points lost often lost to the general public.

Bill Moyers. I am devestated by your retirement announcement. My Friday night dates with you are something I have looked forward to and will until you leave.

The Economist/The New York Times/BBCAmerica: I listen and read you religiously. Without that connection to the world I wonder how connected I would be.

Books: I read a lot of history, economics and some other great books this year. But Dave Eggers, Zeitoun and Mary Karr's Lit stand out as prominent non-ficton. But the real award goes to Jon Krakauer's Where Men Win Glory. The story of Pat Tilman brought reality to a man who died at the hands of the American Government and by the men with whom he served. It made me rethink the whole concept of that vacuous statement "support the troops." Well kids I quit doing that awhile ago. They enlisted by choice or out desperation but it does not excuse or explain why they participate in war with no reason or purpose, why they kill and cover up their murders, their rapes of their own troop mates and their own angry vigilant behavior from torture to rage at home. Sorry I will never be foolish enough to ever use that expression in my life. Our very modern army is anything but.

True Blood/Breaking Bad/Mad Men/30 Rock/The Office/Dexter/Lost: There are no more shows that truly are required viewing and essential watching for whatever reason. Laughter, thought provoking, seduction or simply shock and awe for the talent, the writing and the journey that these shows have provided. I am glad they are there to take me to another place sometimes not a pretty one but one nonetheless.

CDs: I discovered the great British Divas.. Adele, Duffy, Estelle and yes Amy Winehouse who took you to the 60s and made me look up Julie London, Shirley Bassey among others who could sing of pain and love (are they any different?) than no others. Other favorites the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Silversun Pickups, Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes. So many great concerts and CD's this past decade I lose count.

Looking forward to more music and I leave you with they lyrics of my favorite folk singer, David Gray, from his CD, Draw the Line.

I will see you there............................

"The Other Side"

Meet me on the other side, meet me on the other side

I'll see you on the other side, see you on the other side

Honey now if I'm honest, I still don't know what love is

Another mirage folds into the haze of time recalled

And now the floodgates cannot hold

All my sorrow all my rage

A tear that falls on every page

Meet me on the other side, meet me on the other side

Maybe I oughta mention, was never my intention

To harm you or your kin, are you so scared to look within

The ghosts are crawling on our skin

We may race and we may run

We'll not undo what has been done

Or change the moment when it's gone

Meet me on the other side, meet me on the other side

I'll see you on the other side, see you on the other side

I know it would be outrageous

To come on all courageous

And offer you my hand

To pull you up on to dry land

When all I got is sinking sand

That trick ain't worth the time it buys

I'm sick of hearing my own lies

And love's a raven when it flies

Meet me on the other side, meet me on the other side

I'll see you on the other side, see you on the other side

Honey now if I'm honest, I still don't know what love is

Saturday, December 26, 2009

What is Sustainable and its role in the Community

I know I am supposed to blog endlessly about Green Building or current Green issues but there are many many sites dedicated to those issues and do a bang up job promoting "green" buildings or debating current issues surrounding building and the environment and one more or less does little to change the status quo or improve on what is out there. And I will not advertise or promote them here as its not my job to sell products, sites or blogs unless I find the information useful and essential to making a point and then I will provide the necessary credits, links, etc for it to be found.

I prefer my blog to be a place of discourse and information about issues in "Sustainability." By that I mean of growth, change and longevity for the the better. And that is why now I spend most of my time and my blog dedicated to finding resolutions regarding how I define "sustainability." And for me that is not just green building, but health care, financial and campaign reform and other issues under the umbrella of "social justice" and building true community.

I am an advocate for Sustainability in the bigger picture. Its why I chose West Coast Green over Greenbuild as my Convention choice. I don't need LEED or the benefits of Green Build shoved down my throat. Its why I prefer going to seminars by Building Science over those held by EEBA or NAHB who are there to sell product not information. I try to find balance and find voices from all across the country (and our friends in Europe and Canada too) that are pushing the envelope and devising new ways to build and sustain our environment in mutually beneficial ways.

I love the idea of Passive House and can see its criticisms but I accept that like anything its an idea and a work in progress that allows for adjustments in scale with experience. I am all for LEED but prefer them to be a tool of education rather than certification as it bogs down the process, becomes too enamored with labels, levels and extraneous information and requirements that may or may not lend itself to the buildings overall purpose and performance. I see many housing and building organizations establish a quality "Green Build" organization but ironically lobby against changes or improvements to codes that are in direct contradiction to the very premises of what Green Build is and should be.

Politics is EVERYWHERE. And we cannot seem to come to an agreement or consensus as we fear LOSING something versus GAINING anything. The argument is always truly centered around money.

The average wages of the American worker has declined or stagnated for the last 20 years. The belief or misconception that purchasing power which had increased somehow compensated for that wage decline. We are buying cheap shit right so its okay? That while inflation rises and costs of basic needs rise we can still get an HDTV, a boat and a bigger house so its not that bad right? Living beyond our means was the watchword and fueled by easy credit it made extras seem natural and not well "extra." It only became a problem when you tried to actually use or need money for basics - such as Education or Health Care - is when the balance become disproportionate. Now suddenlty that 1OK in debt overwhelmed you and led to defaults and bankruptcy. Getting a degree or getting surgery became optional and only if truly necessary.

But the "I was brought up on my bootstraps" type mentality - the American way or should I say myth continues to perpetuate the thinking. I don't know ANYONE who did anything on their own... short of some orphan who without family or means managed to somehow make it some poor public school with shit for teachers and yet manage to get into college and pay for it himself without aid and then become a millionaire. I don't know that person and would love to meet him or her. But you would think everyone who suddenly finds themselves in a position of success is that person. Being poor and working hard to get to school and get a good job and work your way up the ladder should be the norm but as that become more elusive I see why the illusion of success becomes well "legendary."

Is there anyone in business currently who will admit the assistance of anyone who lended and hand or supported their efforts or helped them emotionally, intellectually or financially on their climb? Apparently no and that seems shared across the ladder be you in the middle, top or yes even the bottom.

We seem to be the most selfish and confused and greedy of population. We are less educated than ever and much of that is also encouraged by those at the "top." How many Microsoft employees are NOT college graduates and yet make incomes parallel to those who are? How confusing and misleading that is to those who make a six figure income and well gives them the false impression that they are "self made." By having a poorly educated work force businesses can train the employees to do what they want, how they want it and adjust salaries to make sure that type of compliance is always guaranteed. It makes it tough to leave when you know only one way to do something, have had little exposure to other ways and well have luxurious benefits and options that competitors or entrepreneurs do not. Its also quite scary.

Sustainable to me is allowing growth, making change and not being afraid of something new. Its ironic that "old" people are considered stick in the mud's when in actuality I am constantly seeking out new information, learning new ideas and pushing the envelope in what would supposedly the years I would be "winding down." Really and the most interesting and intelligent people I have met of late are all older and wiser and even more excited about work and where things are going. The ones afraid are the ones who haven't experienced the same challenges and hardships that we have.. you know the 30-40 somethings that are in debt, with kids and colleges and car payments. They are the ones who cannot see the FSC certified woods for the trees.

The concept of Stranger Danger is not just something we use to warn kids about its our credo our motto and our culture. The Fear Doctrine is used to protect us from Communists or Terrorists or from "Socialists" or from anything that might make us change our way of thinking or or lifestyle.

I see many people here in my city (a City that is in such disarray and decline that I know for certain the reason has to be Microsoft as it a culture/business that perpetuates a paranoid and in turn arrogant way of thinking) who are so afraid and so tightly wound in a way of life that I am not surprised that for many they see Microsoft as the enemy. For if they are not part of the solution they must be the problem? Why else is there a dynamic here that parallels their corporate culture?

When you work and live in fortress you will do anything to maintain its security and consistency for those within the fortress and that is not always a good thing for sustainability inside or out either.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Christmas Miracle

Well on the eve of Christmas the Senate in typical contentious and useless fashion passed a health care bill that well is little what is needed and even more about politics then health care.

I am extremely disappointed in what resulted from this divisive and incomplete reform, the one of many Obama promised but has not yet delivered. I don't know who or where to place the blame or responsibility on but I have to say its time the Progressives step up the plate.

The real new year will begin with the massive elections being held in 2010. That is the time for all of us regardless of party affiliations to find reasonable and educated voices who will do more for the country and less for their party and the corporations that dictate policy.

The real problem is that democracy is now "corporacracy" and Obama, like Joe Lieberman, Max Baccus and others beholden to their largest donors. Its difficult to expect change and reform from those who take the money of these businesses, whose states and very jobs are largely connected to the hand that feeds.

Financial reform has failed because Obama took more from the financial services industry than any prior President. His advisers are largely linked to their industry and they too cannot truly advocate reform. As in health care the first to advise was the very businesses they are seeking to regulate. It can't happen when the chicken hawk is running the hen house.

Can Obama lead us from this quagmire. Not until he frees himself from those corporate oligarchs of whom he is obligated. Can the progressives truly reach him and get him to act upon the best reforms that are good for the country and not necessarily bad for business?

Banking reform came in the form of taxes on bonuses of 50% in London and France and Germany are following suit. The U.S. could easily enact this type of tax and despite the threats by the industry to move there are few options - Singapore perhaps - which would take their business. And really are they ALL going there? I think not.

Health care cannot be ignored. It is not going to stop the behemoth it has become. No ONE I speak to can explain why exactly costs are rising except we all know that in reality treatments are not improving. So why are costs outrageous? Well I am in the process of reading a book about the subject and so far it has to do with once again the Wall Street greedsters who dictate the profit margins. Good to know that your needs are decided by those with no interest in your personal well being but that of the shareholders. And yet those who fear reform have no real connection to the industry they only think somehow its going to cost them more by "giving" it to those who don't "deserve" it. Well we all know now thanks to Lindsey Graham's excellent dispute to Nelson's negotiation strategy that South Carolina has a lot of black people and poor people. The "negro" in the room is now officially out of the bag.

Next up Cap and Trade. Well let's just say that I don't expect anything on that forefront in the near or well even distant future. I am just at this point going back to the 70s speak and talking about pollution and clean water. I seem to get more agreement on those concepts than I ever did with my arguments for health care.

I think Obama is no LBJ. He knew how to get things done. He was a politician. And Obamas fear of becoming another LBJ should be so fortunate. Despite Vietnam the man got the largest sweeping social reforms that without we would likely be in much worse shape. Yes Vietnam was his swan song, his nemesis but he knew that getting equality and black civil rights would cost the Southern Democratic rule but he did so anyway. Anyone who knew how to make a deal better than Monty Hall should be respected and LBJ goes largely unmentioned in the Obama White House.

Will Obama come out of this in the next year a better President? Will the rise of Progressive overshadow and dominate the news in ways that right now seem to be the domain of the "tea party" set? When extreme nutcases seem intent on dominating a political party and the fringe becomes the norm well whose to say that this can't happen to the Democratic party too - only for the good. I laugh when I see Republicans so intent on destroying an entire political party while also using Socialism as their weapon of choice. Isn't a single party system Communism?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Discussion Continues

After my "rant" last night that supports Howard Stern's discussion on reasons why there are so few Doctors and so little reform I read this Editorial in the NY Times this morning regarding the current bill to increase medical residencies.

The authors are from the Dartmouth Institute the one that studies the discrepancies with regards to health care costs and benefits. They are widely cited in their research that shows care costs are all over the map and there is little real reasoning or need for some of the outrageous costs and expenses when it comes to saving a life.

I have to agree that until its you that is "dying" you wonder why you would go to one Hospital and the procedures there could make the end of life equally helpful or extended and go to another with basically the same result and the costs 10x higher. The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota is one noted hospital where care, quality and costs are significantly lower than many other major counterparts. Reasoning aside there is no universal "standard" when it comes to treatment and therefore no universal cost either. So an X-Ray could cost in one city $150 dollars and $400 in other. Same equipment, same technician and skill set so why the difference.

As I have theorized some of it is dictated by what the Doctors (specifically specialists make) there is encouragement to run numerous treatments and tests with significant financial rewards and outcomes for the Doctor/Hospital often with little result or affect on the patient. That and that Insurance also dictates costs, treatments and in turn payments you have this odd discrepancies between treatment and care and ultimately costs.

So would having more Doctors benefit us? YES if they were in the General Practice category. Those in the front lines of medical treatment for early diagnosis and preventative care. But there is no MONEY in that field so we have more Doctors practicing in cities where fees can be higher and more and more "specialists" who can demand exorbitant fees. The more the "specialists" the more the cost. Nothing wrong with getting quality care as those people are always supposed to be on the cutting edge of change but again I really wonder are they? The lack of transparency is something here I would like to see. If the medical field were like car dealers or even construction businesses where they had to show the actual costs on invoice for each item and the markup for them that is based on overhead of the business you would see exactly how and why something costs what it costs.

I used to work in Time and Materials contract. I had a standard markup for simple standard building items a higher markup for those special orders and requests that were not readily available. The reasoning being is that I may have to take more time in finding, storing or even understanding the needs for that item. I can't bill for "time" to read specs or information which could take hours on some things so I simply marked that item up more to cover the time required to make sure we had the things we needed to install it and that more importantly HOW to do it. Many contractors have markups that vary on the type of work.. interior vs exterior, plumbing vs electrical needs and so. Its often complex and confusing so many choose to keep that "rationale" to themselves and ultimately it can bite you in the ass later when trying to truly maintain bookkeeping records.

I chose transparency and then I could easily measure what was costing me more vs less and adjust accordingly. If I found that installing IKEA cabinets took more time and materials their markup was simply higher. People were always surprised that I had a higher markup on those cabinets as well as any restored or recycled ones. They simply took more time and not just labor (and materials) but in planning and that needed to be compensated as well.

So having a fully itemized billing with costs, time and full awareness of why each thing is this is not easy and that took time.. but my customers saw where there dollar was going. I included copies of time sheets as well for any worker. TMI was the end result but I had never had a dispute of why something was this.. they saw it.

Most people hate accounting and bookkeeping and few professionals outside of business majors take the course work needed to understand the complexities of running a business. Again be you Doctors or Dentists or Contractors you have the cost of doing business. Insurance - liability and otherwise, employees, materials, rent and other expenses. The value of having an Accountant or Consultant who specializes in that type of business to set up and periodically come in audit and plan would I believe largely help offset these outrageous and sometimes unexplainable costs; as well as help these businesses succeed.

The other is being realistic about what you want to earn. I truly am mystified that Doctors think that six figure salaries are acceptable. Much like Bankers who claim to be doing "God's work" also feel that is equitable we have become a nation where all professions deserve huge incomes which for years were considered noble or decent or simply a desire to do "good". Meanwhile those individuals such as Farmers who feed us, Educators who teach us, Nurses who do the front line work are paid significantly less. The reasoning being is that they "chose" their profession and needed less schooling etc. Okay.... There is no justification that they are doing any less of "God's work" than the assholes at Goldman's or some Doctor/God at UCLA.

Equity has been the large argument in regards to reform. Deserving or not and no one wants to give up anything. I remember growing up we used to all know that Doctor's wives were the one's in fur. I never understood that as frankly I have not been all that impressed with Doctors in my life. I have prayed, hoped and feared every time I go to a Doctor. I simply do not trust them. I sadly now have gotten older and had to go them. Right now I wish I could go to Peru to get my Dental work. I feel very much exploited and exposed and have no other choice. And to those who don't want reform well one day you will be here too and these are tight shoes to walk in.


Doctors No One Needs

Published: December 22, 2009

FOR anyone who has had to wait a long time to schedule a medical appointment, it might seem as if the world needs more doctors, and that training more of them would be a good idea. An amendment that teaching hospitals are pushing to include in the health care legislation before a final vote is taken in the Senate and the House would do just that. It would add 15,000 medical residency slots to the 100,000 residencies the federal government now finances, most of them through Medicare.

This amendment is being heavily promoted by several doctor specialty societies and the Association of American Medical Colleges, a group that represents the nation’s major teaching hospitals. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. It would raise Medicare’s bill for residencies, which is already $9 billion a year. More important, since the cost of health care follows the supply of doctors, the added slots would substantially increase the national health care bill. And the measure would not address the underlying reason that patients are forced to wait to see doctors.

Over the past 20 years, the number of doctors in relation to the American population has risen by 30 percent. Yet in many parts of the country, more doctors has simply meant more doctors, not better access for patients, not better communication among a patient’s health care providers, and not better results. The truth is that regions with the highest number of doctors per capita tend to deliver lower quality care at a higher cost.

Increasing the number of doctors would make our health care system worse, not better, because the United States doesn’t actually need more doctors. What we do need is for primary care to reclaim its central role in the delivery of medicine, to provide the preventive care, chronic disease management and coordination of services that is lacking in so many parts of the country. Primary care doctors can help patients avoid unnecessary visits to specialists, hospitals and emergency rooms, thus lowering health care costs.

Granted, the teaching hospitals and others lobbying for more doctors would have Congress designate some of the new residency slots for family practice, pediatrics and internal medicine. But there are already plenty of residency openings in those areas that currently go unfilled. And since the amendment would not prohibit the positions going to specialists, that is who would fill them. If the past is prologue, these newly minted specialists would most likely gravitate toward cities like New York, Los Angeles and Miami, which already have plenty of doctors — and relatively poor care.

Our national problem is that primary care doctors are leaving their practices in droves, driven out by their low pay (relative to that of specialists), long hours and mountains of paperwork. Some of them go to work in emergency rooms or hospitals, others become specialists, and many simply abandon medicine. The idea that there’s a supply-side solution to this problem is a little like thinking you can fill a bucket with holes in the bottom by pouring in more water.

Increasing the number of residency slots would also mean that the United States would continue to rob other nations of their doctors. More than a quarter of American residencies are filled by graduates of foreign medical schools, more than half of them from poor countries. After training here, many stay, leaving the people of their own countries holding the bill for their training. In a kind of reverse foreign aid, the president’s Global Health Initiative is poised to invest millions in medical education in Africa and elsewhere, while American academic institutions expect to employ more of their medical school graduates.

Before adding residency slots, Congress should demand that academic medical centers come up with a plan to improve the disorganized, fragmented care that plagues much of the country. Insurers and Medicare should pay family-practice doctors and general internists enough to keep them in the field. And federal financing for medical education programs should hinge on their plans to train more primary care doctors and fewer specialists.

Otherwise, we’ll simply end up perpetuating a system in which too many doctors provide poor-quality care at too high a price.

Shannon Brownlee, a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation, is the author of “Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer.” David Goodman is a professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Howard Stern may be right

Last week I was listening to Howard Stern discussing why he believes most Doctors are AGAINST health care reform. Now Howard may be the last person one would validate as an accurate pundit on the issue but there were some things he said resonated with me that made me think he may be right.

His points were that the AMA wants fewer Doctors as fewer Doctors mean a select supply of available physicians who will corner the market and in turn dictate fees and rates. Yes tort reform is essential but one has to wonder with the level of care by these "elites" why would anyone sue let alone win for negligence. Well maybe that is because the elite aren't necessarily good at what they do despite the ability to pass the complex test and stringent and bizarre requirements (days with no sleep, etc) during their training which somehow makes someone a "better" Doctor.

Howard reminded the listeners that the amount of time 8 years and more in school and internships puts one in a vaulted place of few and the God like belief that you are unique and talented. So talented that you should receive a higher salary and lifestyle befitting one of such status. So one who believes as such would go to great lengths to assure its retention and do little to affect its loss.

Doctors are not satisfied making middle class incomes they want to be rich. They "heal" people. Well what they do is administer the teachings and practices of years gone by practices and the work done by their more intelligent and innovative physicians who research for years unrecognized for their efforts.. of course they are compensated and financed well by the drug companies for their efforts. But let's get real there are FEW Doctors that are "geniuses" who solve and cure illness. I commend the Doctors that do advocate reform but I have to wonder if they are just more ethical or simply more pissed that they can't get their share of the pie.

In all sincerity I have to wonder where we really are with resolutions. Nixon declared a war on cancer in 1971 and little has been done to cure this disease. Well why when there is money in the treatments for the "cure." And yet we have a pill that enables men a one hour erection but nothing that prevents that same role in conception? Priorities and finances dictate care and treatment. Why else would they spend 1.5 million plus a day to ensure little is done to change the status quo.

I am facing debts of a small car in Dental care. Dental care has risen even faster than medical costs over inflation with great advances in technology that should make both costs and treatments less so. But instead its just the opposite. I was told by one Dentist if I wanted to do this right I should just get out the gold Amex. I was wondering whose gold Amex to which he was referring.

I found this in ParaPundit blog site....

A federal survey shows that 27 percent of adults without insurance saw a dentist in 2004, down from 29 percent in 1996, when dental fees were significantly lower, even after adjusting for inflation. For adults with private insurance, the rate was virtually unchanged, at 57 percent, up from 56 percent. Since 1990, the number of dentists in the United States has been roughly flat, about 150,000 to 160,000, while the population has risen about 22 percent. In addition, more dentists are working part time.

Notice the point above about more dentists working part time. That's probably at least in part due to a rising number of women working as dentists. Women work fewer hours than men on average. So when the number of training slots remains the same but more slots are given to women the effect is to decrease the supply of workers available.

Curiously, for those men who still manage to win a slot in dental school the effect is to raise their income. So the men who don't make it into dentistry make less money than they would have but the men who still manage to win a spot in a dental school make more. Yet another reason why inequality is rising. It really pays to be a winner. Try to avoid losing.

The inflation-adjusted cost of dentistry is rising.

Partly as a result, dental fees have risen much faster than inflation. In real dollars, the cost of the average dental procedure rose 25 percent from 1996 to 2004. The average American adult patient now spends roughly $600 annually on dental care, with insurance picking up about half the tab.

Dentists’ incomes have grown faster than that of the typical American and the incomes of medical doctors. Formerly poor relations to physicians, American dentists in general practice made an average salary of $185,000 in 2004, the most recent data available. That figure is similar to what non-specialist doctors make, but dentists work far fewer hours.

Since fewer dentists are getting trained now than in the early 1980s (a decline of over 20%) the number of dentists will actually decrease in coming years as many practicing dentists retire. So if you are thinking about getting dental work done best to get it done sooner. It will probably cost less now than in a few years from now. Another alternative is to get dental work done in another country if you have any plans for travel to countries with lower dental costs.

The article reports that pediatricians are applying flouride varnish to baby teeth so that poor parents can avoid the need to see dentists. Great idea. Avoiding cavities is the best outcome. Also, we could make much more use of cheaper dental technicians like other countries do.

Outside the United States, more than 50 countries, including some western European nations, now allow technicians called dental therapists to drill and fill cavities, usually in children.

One does not need all the knowledge of a dentist to do the drilling and filling of cavities. A dental caries vaccine would be a great way to cut the need for dentistry as well.

By Randall Parker at 2007 October 14 06:46 PM Economics Health

Again the concept of supply and demand, an aging population with increasing dental needs it seems that once again perhaps reform is not something anyone wants to see in this industry either.

Dental Insurance that I carry has a 1,000 limit annually. Not enough to even make headway on any major oral work required and once again most work is not covered, from implants to surgery the insurance coverage is denied.

So on this eve of supposedly health reform ask yourself what is really holding back reform. GREED. We have way too many individuals, including practitioners that would not like to see their income drop or costs to be transparent and equitable. Sorry that just is not the American way. I mean you spent six figures getting that "special" degree and yet you also signed an oath to do no harm but that hasn't stopped you.

I don't revere Doctors or Dentists. I respect them for their work. But I do not understand how they can be thought of as "deserving" a six figure income for simply administering basic care.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Health Care = Dead Care

I red this this morning in the American Prospect with regards to the ongoing hideous argument that seems to pervade when it comes to health care.

I also just read in Fast Company an article about John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods who is a self avowed Conscious Capitalist as in Libertarian in Green colors making excuses and spouting insane rhetoric about the need for less is more when it comes to regulation, Government and of course anything that stops the ongoing pursuit of company good at the sake of doing so for the benefit of all. In other words Free Market economy Ayn Rand style. God did she manage to blow him too? I am sure she was well into her dotage when the hippie philosopher was finding himself in the 70s? My God there is hope for me!

I will say the author, Paul Waldman, pulls no punches when it comes to assailing the reasons Republicans/Conservative and Joe Liberman are against health care. Not to mention the MILLIONS of dollars they reap from their alliance to this murderous industry. Ironic or is it an oxymoron to say health care is responsible for over 45,000 deaths a year in this country. What can you say when arguing for the right to health care for all. This is Darwinian let the weakest die off - oh wait that is a principle that Conservatives can't espouse. Wasn't Darwin one of those Evolutionists? Well in this case they would be happy to use survival of the fittest if it meant getting their way.

I reprint the article below and if you are interested in the insane interview with guru to the new Libertarian movement in Fast Company please click on the link to the article. I will not reprint it as one must also read the sycophants responses that undoubtedly flooded at Mackey's request decrying the interview. Good times!


A Eulogy for the Public Option?

If health-care reform is to be a true progressive victory, there has to be room for future improvement.

Paul Waldman | December 15, 2009 | web only

The debate over health-care reform has been many things. It has been an education in both the intricacies of public policy and the ease with which fears can be activated and deception accomplished. It has been a dispiriting exercise in the limits and pathologies of American politics. And it has been a clash of values.

Because progressives think government can actually solve problems, they tend to have at least a partially technocratic view of policy. At least in theory, it should be possible to analyze a problem, assess various solutions to it, select the one most likely to solve it, and then implement that solution. Yet so often in our country, this self-evidently sensible approach ends up feeling like an unattainable ideal.

In the course of this process, we've discovered -- if there was any doubt before -- just how deep conservatives' hatred of government runs, from the grass roots all the way to members of Congress. It's not just that right-wingers are suspicious of government or that they prefer the free market whenever possible. Their antipathy to government is so intense that they would rather see some of their fellow citizens die for lack of health insurance than see those citizens get government coverage. That may sound like a harsh assessment, but it is no exaggeration. In the system as it is today, 45,000 people die each year because they don't have health insurance. If you believe the status quo is preferable to an expansion of government's role in health care, you're supporting that.

Each week seems to bring a new proposal or compromise that inches us closer to a conclusion of this debate. The latest, announced in somewhat vague terms by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid last week, would have traded the public option for a new system that would have included national nonprofit insurers in the exchanges. Perhaps most remarkably, the proposal would have allowed people over 55 who didn't have insurance from their employers to buy coverage from Medicare. Yesterday, Sen. Joe Lieberman withdrew his support for this deal, effectively ruling out the Medicare expansion and killing hope for any sort of public option in the process.This latest compromise may have failed, but it's worth taking stock of where the progressive values that are supposed to be driving this whole effort now stand.

While health-care reform is a subject of almost infinite complexity and involves hundreds of other important issues (like cost), I would argue that there are two essential value questions progressives should continue to ask themselves at each bend in the road to reform: Are we getting a system that is universal? And will Americans get the security that so many of them now lack?

The fact that the United States is the only industrialized country where many citizens don't have access to medical care has always been a major offense to progressive values. Conservatives believe in markets, with the understanding that markets seldom work out for everyone. Progressives, on the other hand, believe that there are some areas – health care being one – where citizens should not be left to the market's mercies. The idea of universal coverage is that everyone – and we mean everyone – deserves coverage, just as everyone deserves an education or the right to worship as they please.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that both the bill passed by the House and the initial Senate bill would cover 94 percent of Americans when fully implemented. This is both very good and not quite good enough: Over 30 million people who wouldn't otherwise have coverage will get it, but around 18 million people will still be without it.

And what about security? As I've argued many times before, this was always the most compelling justification for the public option. The simple fact is that government health insurance offers security, while private health insurance doesn't. Most of the time, private health insurance works just fine for people. But people with pre-existing conditions can't get covered, people who get sick find themselves thrown off their insurance, and people who thought they had good coverage wind up being driven into bankruptcy by medical bills. None of these things happen to people who have government health insurance. Medicare doesn't deny people coverage because of their prior medical history. The Veterans' Administration doesn't have “lifetime limits."

That's the most critical fact separating government health coverage from private health coverage, and the essential reason progressives wanted even a watered-down public option. While an attempt to ensure security within the private system is certainly being made, most of us will still have no choice but to rely on a private insurance company now that the public option is on its way out.

So we need to consider whether health-care legislation sets the conditions for future improvements. How hard will it be to implement further changes that push the system in the direction it ought to go? If you establish one national health-insurance exchange instead of 50 state exchanges, for example, it will be much easier to deal with insurance-company abuses as they arise.

Health-care reform's ability to evolve is why the expansion of Medicare could be so important – and why conservatives are terrified of it. If we opened Medicare to anyone over the age of 55, it would change the nature of the program -- it would no longer be an insurance system just meant for retired Americans. If people from 55 to 64 turn out to like it (as they likely would, given that Medicare beneficiaries are substantially more satisfied with their insurance when compared to those with private insurance), it would become perfectly reasonable to open the program up to people over 45, or 35, or 25 in the future. Opening up Medicare would serve the progressive values of both universality and security, which is precisely why Joe Lieberman, who has made wreaking vengeance on progressives his twisted life's work, has now vowed to kill it.

Two fundamentally different visions of a just society are at odds in the debate over health care. Does that mean that if reform passes, the progressive vision will have triumphed? That depends on your view of the fullness of the reform glass.

Unfortunately, if it does pass, the United States will still have what is in many ways the worst health-care system in the developed world. It will still be the most expensive and the least able to control costs. It will still leave for-profit insurance companies with more control over citizens' lives than those companies have in any comparable nation. Even if the most optimistic predictions about coverage come true, it will still leave us with more uninsured than other countries have.

If we're lucky, reform will make it easier for those problems to be solved down the road. Whether a political and policy victory becomes a lasting triumph of progressive values is something we won't know for quite a few years.

Social Media and other Marketing Tools

One of the things that I value is privacy. This is getting tougher and tougher with the ever increasing ways one can invade and/or disclose one's personal privacy.

I recall reading an interview or two or ten where the author/speaker says "anyone without a website will not be in business by the end of the decade." Well we are ending a decade and you would be surprised at the number of business that still do not have web pages and those with web pages but no business anymore.

How significant a web page was in driving business is something I would like very much to see numbers on. For years business people were told without a presence in the Yellow Pages you would lose significant business. Again numbers like that would have to be measured and analyzed and most small businesses rarely do that type of cost benefit analysis.

I actually do ask every client how they found me. You would be surprised how few actually recall but most found me through a flyer, brochure or some actual physical contact with my information. I get some who found me from googling a yellow page ad which still lists my construction business but NONE who ever found me via googling "green consultant" and then going to my website reading the information and in turn contacting me that way. Few actually read my website and what is interesting is that they are sure I am still a contractor despite the information to the contrary.

Now admittedly I do perform a unique service and most people think all contractors and speciality contractors (roofers, etc) are fully educated and informed about current building science, green build, etc and in turn will inform they, the customer, about all those options. As you read in a previous blog we know that it is not the case and its why I thought education or coaching would be a beneficial niche. However being unique doesn't mean you are the only one. There are many in my field and many who do different things under the same "green" umbrella.

It is extremely challenging to be a small provider in business and spend the money getting new training, education and also supporting, marketing and running a business. So you get what we have in the field - those who have vested entirely in green build and those who are struggling to find the balance. The have and have-nots I call them. Like banks it appears that small single shingle businesses will dissolve in the wake of bigger better financed companies/builders who can ride this out by taking on remodeling while in turn driving out their competitors. Its going to get a lot worse on the construction front in the years ahead as they fight over the "cash for caulkers" program that Obama is proposing.

So how do you market your business in ways that is affordable and reaches a number of heads that will actually utilize your services?

1. Advertising. Through both conventional print, television and radio. Well I have done varying print options and I can assure you NONE of them brought me any business. I tried transit advertising and it did bring me one call for something so out there I can't even say what to say about it but it did get a call. But almost ALL of the calls were other advertising and marketing firms looking to further their business.

2. Networking. From joining varying groups - BNI, LeTip, Chamber of Commerce. Well those are fine if that is what you are looking for expensive organizations that are almost pyramid schemes to keep them in business. I have participated in the free meet and greets and frankly have NEVER gotten any business from them in anyway but hits from them to get their members business.

3. Google Ads. I have no idea if these work at all. Again what clients say is they don't recall exactly how they found me; I am thinking they probably don't want to admit that this is the way the found me. I spend very little on this and my belief is that it is not really the most successful way of advertising but it is a great way of building brand/name recognition. But as I don't "click that link" I think most consumers are like me and would prefer to research it further thinking of course that those not paying for advertising are not trying as hard and in turn are ones who business I support. If anything it is almost a reverse logic or at least inherent skepticism.

But again I try to think like my customers and my market and this is Seattle a notoriously "thrifty" city that prides itself on being green so they also don't think they need my services as much as they think. And in this economy people are not realizing how much they actually need me so going for word of mouth is not something I can rely on when there are few mouths.

5. Trade Shows. These are great again at building a brand. Ironically I got more out of state clients from a local trade show than local ones. Why? Because where they live they don't have this kind of service, I am affordable and accommodating.

In those cases I did much of the work via Skype and E-mail and sent them what they need in an easy report with samples and product specs. In that case they if they are seeking LEED or other certs, I will find out if these qualify for points and in turn they can find someone at "home" who will sign off at that time when they ultimately make the final decision.

Trade shows are great at finding partners for that endeavor, however, who share your these are extremely expensive and I will not do them again unless I can find a co-operative venture or small neighborhood/community ones that are affordable and on single weekend days or in summer months.

6. Guerrilla Marketing. These are the flyer's, brochures, etc that you literally spread throughout your community. This is small business but it builds your business in your area. You will have to do this alone or with help but this was and still is my larges and most affordable marketing tool.

7. Social Media. This is the MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Blogging, etc. I have a business Facebook page and a LinkedIn profile and guess what NOT a call or customer. Why that doesn't shock me. Again my odd niche of what I do attracts numerous "greenies" wanting to connect with me but mostly they are time consuming and distracting. My LinkedIn profile is so generic and vague with details and specifics that I get few inquires or "links."

I do not have a personal Facebook nor do I Twitter. I was highly reticent about blogging as there are so many enthusiastic bloggers about green building and the like I frankly did not want mine to become GBA or Jetson Green as that is not who I am nor have plans to be.

I real life I have no need to Facebook anyone. I can call them or email them and speak to them directly. I text only when I need to and do not use that as a substitute to actually pick up a phone and call. And guess what I have personal stationery and still send thank you cards and mail when I can. I think there is something meaningful about a personalized note. I do not need people from 20 years ago getting in touch with me because we went to grade/high school together. I am sorry but its not 1977 anymore and if we were such great friends then why weren't we still friends now and well its not 1977 anymore so I am not sure I care to relieve the time period thanks. I never looked good in clingy palazzo pants.

I read that you will have to have a Facebook to survive and Twitter if you want your business to succeed. What.Ever. I think like many millions of small business people the mundane details of our daily lives and business is not something for the masses. Do I think a Facebook page with my photos and personal information will find me business or a job that has meaning? I have no idea because given what I know about people and the marketplace I don't think so. I think its largely a fad and way to not be alone. To find people like you and to distract you from yourself or your poor work. I don't think real business people are using the site to find like business minds, employees or business (and I don't and I don't think I am all that unique either) I think they are using it to check up on employees or prospective employees and what they are up to. I don't think its a good thing.

I also don't think its a good thing to put up too much personal information. With hackers and identity theft on the rise do you really need anyone and everyone to know when and where you went to school, your past employment history and your personal details to the nth degree? What are you thinking. I have had two very odd encounters from online information and now no longer even use Craigslist to buy or sell anything. Think about it recall the power of Ebay? We stick with nothing long enough anymore to really measure its true meaning or longevity. Its only a matter of time before Craigslist is replaced. Too many frauds, scams and killers have destroyed its usefulness.

I received a call from someone who said he saw my profile on LinkedIn and was my classmate at the UW. I knew immediately he was lying because the dates I listed are current ones not actual ones but he said he wanted to talk about what I do. So I met him at a Starbucks far from my home in the midday. Sure enough a suburban dad arrived sat down said "you aren't who I think you are" and left immediately. That is another reason why my photo is obama-ized. You have to be careful regardless.

I was listening to Howard Stern this morning and he said this is further proof that we are de-evolving and are infantalizing ourselves. We have Apps (I am sure that will be the next MUST for business) that basically do everything now so we don't have to ever be home and when we are out its like being at home so its not so lonely. Next time you are in a coffee shop, bar or restaurant watch how many people are texting, surfing, listening to anything but the people around them. Its stranger danger but without the strangers or the danger right?

If you really believe your business thrives and your resume is attracting legitimate offers than I commend you. I just find that well businesses grew way before the Internet and they are the ones oddly still here. They understand the need for flexibility but one cannot underestimate the power of the past and what experience it brings to the table.

I am not set in my ways I just have divisions of what is personal and what is business. I respect my privacy and more importantly why I advocate transparency in business I don't feel the same way about that in person.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Survey Says...

This morning the front page of the New York Times shows a poll revealing how severe this recession is for the "everyman." You know the ones that Republican's claim to care so much about. The ones that point and laugh at the millionaires that run for public office in the Democratic party, the same millionaires in their party because that is the ONLY people who can run for office. Then ironically to stay there reardless of party affiliations, sell themselves like a Tiger Wood whore to whatever industry/business or lobbyist willing to "donate." Democracy in action and the nice thing is that it is definitely non-partisan!

I have no words about these stories as I know these people. Maybe not these one specifically but definitely friends of mine, myself included, as we face immense pressures to survive in a world and country that seems intent on denial and avoidance. I thought perhaps today of killing Senator Joe Lieberman. Why him? Well why not? Then I am guaranteed three meals a day and roof over my head for life. It couldn't be worse than this. They have work, gyms and I could meet a nice woman companion in which to spend my dotage. Sadly I think I would get off on the idea that I was either insane or that it was "justifiable." When prison is an option you wonder what is next.

I reprint the article below and included some readers comments from the NY Times website. Sometimes their words accurately surmise what many of us feel and cannot express so succininctly.

Poll Reveals Trauma of Joblessness in U.S.

Published: December 14, 2009

More than half of the nation’s unemployed workers have borrowed money from friends or relatives since losing their jobs. An equal number have cut back on doctor visits or medical treatments because they are out of work.

Almost half have suffered from depression or anxiety. About 4 in 10 parents have noticed behavioral changes in their children that they attribute to their difficulties in finding work.

Joblessness has wreaked financial and emotional havoc on the lives of many of those out of work, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll of unemployed adults, causing major life changes, mental health issues and trouble maintaining even basic necessities.

The results of the poll, which surveyed 708 unemployed adults from Dec. 5 to Dec. 10 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points, help to lay bare the depth of the trauma experienced by millions across the country who are out of work as the jobless rate hovers at 10 percent and, in particular, as the ranks of the long-term unemployed soar.

Roughly half of the respondents described the recession as a hardship that had caused fundamental changes in their lives. Generally, those who have been out of work longer reported experiencing more acute financial and emotional effects.

“I lost my job in March, and from there on, everything went downhill,” said Vicky Newton, 38, of Mount Pleasant, Mich., a single mother who had been a customer-service representative in an insurance agency.

“After struggling and struggling and not being able to pay my house payments or my other bills, I finally sucked up my pride,” she said in an interview after the poll was conducted. “I got food stamps just to help feed my daughter.”

Over the summer, she abandoned her home in Flint, Mich., after she started receiving foreclosure notices. She now lives 90 minutes away, in a rental house owned by her father.

With unemployment driving foreclosures nationwide, a quarter of those polled said they had either lost their home or been threatened with foreclosure or eviction for not paying their mortgage or rent. About a quarter, like Ms. Newton, have received food stamps. More than half said they had cut back on both luxuries and necessities in their spending. Seven in 10 rated their family’s financial situation as fairly bad or very bad.

But the impact on their lives was not limited to the difficulty in paying bills. Almost half said unemployment had led to more conflicts or arguments with family members and friends; 55 percent have suffered from insomnia.

“Everything gets touched,” said Colleen Klemm, 51, of North Lake, Wis., who lost her job as a manager at a landscaping company last November. “All your relationships are touched by it. You’re never your normal happy-go-lucky person. Your countenance, your self-esteem goes. You think, ‘I’m not employable.’ ”

A quarter of those who experienced anxiety or depression said they had gone to see a mental health professional. Women were significantly more likely than men to acknowledge emotional issues.

Tammy Linville, 29, of Louisville, Ky., said she lost her job as a clerical worker for the Census Bureau a year and a half ago. She began seeing a therapist for depression every week through Medicaid but recently has not been able to go because her car broke down and she cannot afford to fix it.

Her partner works at the Ford plant in the area, but his schedule has been sporadic. They have two small children and at this point, she said, they are “saving quarters for diapers.”

“Every time I think about money, I shut down because there is none,” Ms. Linville said. “I get major panic attacks. I just don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Nearly half of the adults surveyed admitted to feeling embarrassed or ashamed most of the time or sometimes as a result of being out of work. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the traditional image of men as breadwinners, men were significantly more likely than women to report feeling ashamed most of the time.

There was a pervasive sense from the poll that the American dream had been upended for many. Nearly half of those polled said they felt in danger of falling out of their social class, with those out of work six months or more feeling especially vulnerable. Working-class respondents felt at risk in the greatest numbers.

Nearly half of respondents said they did not have health insurance, with the vast majority citing job loss as a reason, a notable finding given the tug of war in Congress over a health care overhaul. The poll offered a glimpse of the potential ripple effect of having no coverage. More than half characterized the cost of basic medical care as a hardship.

Many in the ranks of the unemployed appear to be rethinking their career and life choices. Just over 40 percent said they had moved or considered moving to another part of the state or country where there were more jobs. More than two-thirds of respondents had considered changing their career or field, and 44 percent of those surveyed had pursued job retraining or other educational opportunities.

Joe Whitlow, 31, of Nashville, worked as a mechanic until a repair shop he was running with a friend finally petered out in August. He had contemplated going back to school before, but the potential loss in income always deterred him. Now he is enrolled at a local community college, planning to study accounting.

“When everything went bad, not that I didn’t have a choice, but it made the choice easier,” Mr. Whitlow said.

The poll also shed light on the formal and informal safety nets that the jobless have relied upon. More than half said they were receiving or had received unemployment benefits. But 61 percent of those receiving benefits said the amount was not enough to cover basic necessities.

Meanwhile, a fifth said they had received food from a nonprofit organization or religious institution. Among those with a working spouse, half said their spouse had taken on additional hours or another job to help make ends meet.

Even those who have stayed employed have not escaped the recession’s bite. According to a New York Times/CBS News nationwide poll conducted at the same time as the poll of unemployed adults, about 3 in 10 people said that in the past year, as a result of bad economic conditions, their pay had been cut.

In terms of casting blame for the high unemployment rate, 26 percent of unemployed adults cited former President George W. Bush; 12 percent pointed the finger at banks; 8 percent highlighted jobs going overseas and the same number blamed politicians. Only 3 percent blamed President Obama.

Those out of work were split, however, on the president’s handling of job creation, with 47 percent expressing approval and 44 percent disapproval.

Unemployed Americans are divided over what the future holds for the job market: 39 percent anticipate improvement, 36 percent expect it will stay the same, and 22 percent say it will get worse.


I was laid off in Sept. 09. No health insurance (I live in MA and can't afford the state mandated insurance - $320/month, COBRA is ~$450 with discount) and on food stamps. Working about 15 hrs a week doing some writing/consulting work. Fortunately, no kids, only dogs to feed. Just today had to put $400 into my car so it passes inspection next month.

I'm single and not tied down, so I am packing up and moving back to CA where I grew up. Moving near my sister, and can live for much less in her small town and help with her family needs (bro-in-law disabled from old mining accident). Fortunately also I can take my consulting work with me, and there are more hours in the new year.

I'm looking forward to it: not being defined by a stupid job, getting out of the rat race, no cable tv, lots of nature, family.

I agree with others who speculate that we will have a very different country in 5-7 years. We'll either go corporate fascist or Euro progressive. Personally, I'm hoping for a revolution where everyone turns off their tv, stops buying Chinese junk, starts to talk and listen to their neighbors and then hits the streets to begin real nation-building here at home.

We have to stop waiting for the politicians and government to "do something". The truth is, it's in their best interest to NOT do anything. We the People have to do something, however small, to reclaim our humanity: divest from the multi-national banks, er, investment houses; shop your local businesses and farms and support your neighbors; turn off the tv/video games and go outside with your kids to play; watch your neighbors kids as they play (remember those days when the adults would take responsibility for all the kids outside?); invite your friends and neighbors in for potluck supper - it's cheaper, healthy and fun!

Our government, electoral system and economic system have become irrelevant and no longer serve our needs as civilized people. The lobbyists own Congress and the Corporations are working hard to own us. Opt out people. Let's become human again.
------------Emma Goldman

I'm sure the discussions taking place in these comments will turn into an anti-banker backlash, but the financial crisis and chronic unemployment are merely symptoms of a multi-decade rot that's been taking place in America. I'm not sure exactly when, but at some point America decided it no longer 1) needed to save money, 2) needed to invest in infrastructure, and 3) needed to invest in the education and the wellbeing of its citizenry. Sorry, we can sit around and yell about the evils of Wall Street until we are blue in the face, but it won't fix any of the aforementioned root problems and it won't bring any jobs back. Pointing fingers feels good, but that's not fixing anything.

What many do not understand is that a lot of the unemployed are not young. Some have worked at their careers and often the same job for 20 or 30 years. Then in their 50's they are asked to start over. Taking A new career path means starting at the bottom of the wage scale. Something they spent their lives getting out of. Now with retirement jsut 10 or 15 years away, their 401k down in value or spent to cover expenses they are devistated. No longer seeing that path to retirement they worked for all their lives. Many lose their homes, some will never get another chance at the American dream of owing your own home to retire in. Some will have to work for as long as they can stand on two legs. And even that may not be enough.

I wonder each day. What is our government doing for the people?

Laid off in Sept; have applied for about 100 jobs; had 3 interviews, no offers. As a Boomer, wonder what part age discrimination and/or the old "overqualified" saw is playing a part. Retirement is not in my future, so I must work. How much of one's education and experience can one subtract from a resume/application, and is subtracting info considered dishonest? Much more money is needed to help people get retraining. I will start courses at a local community college in Jan to get certified in a new health care related profession, one that is in demand and predicted to stay that way. Altho I have a master's degree, I realize I need to reinvent myself. Paul Krugman suggested a new WPA type program; I would support that. Every time I read that the recession is ending, I and others I know who are unemployed are furious.

Someone needs to send this article to Joe Lieberman so that he maybe, just maybe can begin to understand the impact of his ego-driven opposition to the health care bill. Then again, maybe his opposition is due to the fact that his wife reaps tons of money from insurance companies. Someone please get this article to him. It might help.

From the FDR Memorial: "No Country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources. Demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance. Morally, it is the greatest menace to our social order."

It's frightening how true those words ring today