Friday, April 30, 2010

Citigroup or Great Visionary Prophets of the Future

Looking at the 2005 memo from Citigroup entitled, Revisiting Plutonomy, I had to wonder if the authors were some type of visionaries or seers in their estimate on the state of the economy.

Here is one such observation, how prescient.


Citigroup Mar 5 2006 Plutonomy Report Part 2

Revisiting Plutonomy: The Rich Getting Richer

“Industry Note” from Citigroup that posits wonderful things such as:

“Our whole plutonomy thesis is based on the idea that the rich will keep getting richer. This thesis is not without its risks. For example, a policy error leading to asset deflation, would likely damage plutonomy. Furthermore, the rising wealth gap between the rich and poor will probably at some point lead to a political backlash. Whilst the rich are getting a greater share of the wealth, and the poor a lesser share, political enfranchisement remains as was — one person, one vote (in the plutonomies). At some point it is likely that labor will fight back against the rising profit share of the rich and there will be a political backlash against the rising wealth of the rich. This could be felt through higher taxation on the rich (or indirectly though higher corporate taxes/regulation) or through trying to protect indigenous [home-grown] laborers, in a push-back on globalization — either anti-mmigration, or protectionism. We don’t see this happening yet, though there are signs of rising political tensions. However we are keeping a close eye on developments”


Other charming elements to this infamous memo....

ack in October 2007, Citi coined the term “plutonomy,” the report says, in an article in The Global Investigator called “Plutonomy: Buying Luxury, Explaining Global Imbalances,” Oct. 14, 2005.

The report continues:

“Our thesis is that the rich are the dominant drivers of demand in many economies around the world (the US, UK, Canada and Australia). These economies have seen the rich take an increasing share of income and wealth over the last 20 years, to the extent that the rich now dominate income, wealth and spending in these countries.

“Asset booms, a rising profit share and favourable treatment by market-friendly governments have allowed the rich to prosper and become a greater share of the economy in the plutonomy countries.

“Also, new media dissemination technologies like internet downloading, cable and satellite TV have disproportionately increased the audiences, and hence gains to “superstars” – think golf, soccer and baseball players, music/TV and movie icons, fashion models, designers, celebrity chefs, etc.

“These ‘content’ providers, the tech whizzes who own the pipes and distribution, the lawyers and bankers who intermediate globalization and productivity, the CEOs who lead the charge in converting globalization and technology to increase the profit share of the economy at the expense of labor, all contribute to plutonomy. (1)

“Asset booms” – the subprime mortgage scandal plus the sale of American assets to foreigners, the only thing America had left to sell after it shipped its factories overseas.

“Increase the profit share of the economy at the expense of labor.” According to Michael Moore, the increase in labor’s share of wealth since the days of Ronald Reagan remained flat, increasing by no more than 1%. No wonder the share of the top 10% increased.

Citigroup goes on to state that it is particularly interested in not just the top 10%, but particularly the top 1% of the US – the plutonomists in our parlance who have benefited disproportionately from the present productivity surge in the US.”

This productivity surge saw jobs automated, factories sent offshore, and the remaining workers obliged to work more at longer hours for the same amount of money, year after year since Reagan.

The report contrasts the performance of what it calls “egalitarian” countries such as Japan, France and the Netherlands. Egalitarianism “has kept the rich to a similar share of income and wealth that they accounted for in the 1980s – in other words, they haven’t really gotten any richer, in relative terms.”

Citi furnishes us with their vision of where they want to take the global economy in coming years.

“Despite being in great shape, we think that global capitalists are going to be getting an even greater share of the wealth pie over the next few years, as capitalists benefit disproportionately from globalization and the productivity boom, at the relative expense of labor. As we believe plutonomy explains away some of the conundrums [low consumer confidence, high consumption, low savings rates, etc.].”

Plutonomy, which wants labor to go to the wall, had no difficulty asking for and receiving a $25 billion bailout itself when it own fortunes plummeted in late 2008. While capitalism meant sink or swim for the poor, it meant no such thing for the rich, leading some to say that capitalism was for the poor and socialism was for the rich.




I don't think any of this shocks me. Tonight is Bill Moyers last night on PBS. He brought this memo to my attention last week and again tonight. Ironic that many of the issues addressed in the memo are coming to a head this week. I cannot in my right mind fathom why any ordinary working class individual would continue to tolerate any party that defends the outrageous greed demonstrated by these Oligarchs/Plutocrats and dismiss anyone who advocates parity, equity and equality. I wonder what happened in your life to be so lacking in empathy and compassion.

The myth of the self made man who pulled himself up by the boot straps is as false as the Myth of Ronald Reagan. Reagan was not the hero of our economy, he was not a demagogue who saved America he in fact contributed to its fall. A man who began his life as a Democrat and switched to the Republican party in response to a divorce and a loss of his first million dollar paycheck; a man touted as religious yet did not participate in any faith nor attend Church regularly; a man touted as the great leader who was disengaged from daily management and leadership of his own staff; a great family man whose own family was distant and disconnected from him. That is his Myth and that is what seems to bind the current conservative movement to an ideal that has been demonstrated as a failure.

When we hold on to false truths, to beliefs that are wrong we will not grow. Read the words of these Citi seers and wonder how they can with any great faith take the money and run, not once but twice. You see this is not Citi's first dip at the taxpayer well we just forgot. Don't forget this time.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Green Bill in Congress

I received a copy of this today from Builder regarding the bill that passed Congress last week. If this manages to go through the "contentious" Senate I can hope that this might be the beginning of establishing standardized and uniform Green Building Codes and push for a consistent emphasis on conservation and performance and away from third party certifications and verifications that are liability laden and excessive.


House Committee Approves Green Building Bill

AIA report says GREEN Act could create or save as many as 140,000 design and construction jobs.

By: Jenny Sullivan Related Articles

The U.S. House of Representatives' Financial Services Committee marked Earth Day last week by giving a green thumbs-up to legislation that seeks to make homes and other buildings more energy-efficient and affordable by providing sustainability incentives to lenders and financial institutions.

The bipartisan GREEN Act (Green Resources for Energy Efficient Neighborhoods) now moves to the full House for a vote. This latest version of H.R. 2336, authored by Reps. Ed Perlmutter and Judy Biggert, incorporates consensus changes to earlier legislation that passed in the full House in 2008 as part of the Comprehensive Energy Security and Consumer Protection Act, as well as in 2009 as part of the American Clean Energy & Security Act (ACES).

The proposed legislation, which enjoys broad support from builders, developers, architects, real estate agents, businesses, and environmental groups, contains several provisions prompting the federal government to lead by example. It requires HUD to insure loans made by qualified lenders to finance the acquisition of renewable energy systems for use at residential properties. It also directs HUD to establish a four-year, 50,000-unit pilot program as a means of demonstrating to lenders that funding projects that adhere to higher energy-efficiency standards can be cost-effective.

In addition, the GREEN Act encourages the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to insure at least 50,000 energy-efficient mortgages by Dec. 31, 2012--the thought being that as FHA begins seeking these types of mortgages, a market will emerge among home builders, homeowners, and lenders seeking to acquire federal insurance on mortgage products.

If passed, H.R. 2336 will also award residential block grants for energy-efficient retrofits; channel resources through community groups to extend the availability of energy-efficient products for existing homes; and create partnerships to promote sustainable site planning, building orientation, and landscape architecture.

“The GREEN Act will forge a new path for achieving energy and cost savings in our nation’s buildings, homes, and offices,” said Biggert, who co-chairs the Congressional High-Performance Building Caucus. “It utilizes creative financing mechanisms, demonstrations, and incentives to promote the use of the latest in sustainable building designs and technologies. At the same time, it places a premium on energy-efficient construction and upgrades that will revitalize investment in the green jobs of tomorrow.”

How many green jobs? A report issued by the American Institute of Architects suggests that the legislation could create or save an estimated 140,000 building design and construction jobs each year.

“As the United States struggles with a sagging housing market and rising energy prices, now is the time to encourage investments that promote energy independence, grow the economy, and save American homeowners money,” said AIA President George H. Miller. “By including incentives for energy efficiency into lending and housing programs, the GREEN Act is the sort of innovative and common-sense approach we need to spark our economy while saving energy.”

Jenny Sullivan is a senior editor for BUILDER.

LEED for Neighborhoods

I have been receiving regular press notices regarding the new LEED for Neighborhood Development.

Not happy with assigning and creating elaborate building design models, LEED has expanded into local cities and communities.

I don't know what to make of this move into urban development and basically City and Municipality governance. I know there is this overwhelming Tea Party-esque concept of less Govenrnence but turning over a entire neighborhood to the USGBC seems well an act of hubris and arrogance that really transcends the ideas of education, collaboration and cooperation.

The problems with this program seem obvious. How can you come up with a sole blueprint of what works in every and each city and neighborhood? How does it allow for a City to take into account its own dynamics, history and ultimate needs? Who will live in a LEED neighborhood? Will they be able to come up with outrageous qualifications that can be extraneous and well discriminatory? Let's not even get into the whole idea of what it will cost and how that too can factor in the accessibility of a community.

In this time of Economic downturn right now we are facing huge reductions in services, community centers and parks are closing. Schools are undergoing massive budget cuts and non profit organizations that often compensate for after school or child care and support are also closing or reducing their services. And here comes LEED with the sudden pronouncement that they are working in making Green Communities. Yikes Utopia or just plain outrageous.

I have long been a cautious proponent of LEED. The problems with their certification programs requirements, the cost and time involved and basically the overall failure of many buildings performance or even certifications of questionable projects (such as the infamous parking garage) has led me to think that LEED is taking on too much. This now seemingly assures that in my mind.

I know for some its sacrosanct to criticize LEED/USBGC but I have never been one to drink any kool-aid, green or otherwise. I have always been pragmatic and advocated green building but to do so with appropriate need, a focus on efficiency and resourcefulness and on practicality. But most importantly on affordability.

When we begin to LABEL, CERTIFY and DESIGNATE cities and towns as greener over another we are already starting a strange hyper competitiveness and vulnerability I believe that will encourage risk taking lending and aggressive financing. We already have cities with massive infrastructure issues that need correction and Birmingham Alabama is one city that took Greek like financing to do so at significant cost and risk. The city lost.

We really need to re-think USGBC's new program and well again use it as an optional ideal.



LEED for Neighborhood Development Rating System Launches as Benchmark for Green Neighborhood Design

Environmental Leaders Partner to Advance Walkable, Sustainable and Economically Thriving Communities


Washington, D.C. – (April 29, 2010) – Today, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) announced the launch of the LEED for Neighborhood Development green neighborhoods rating system. LEED for Neighborhood Development integrates the principles of smart growth, new urbanism and green building and benefits communities by reducing urban sprawl, increasing transportation choice and decreasing automobile dependence, encouraging healthy living, and protecting threatened species.



The rating system encourages development within or near existing communities and/or public infrastructure in order to reduce the environmental impacts of sprawl. By promoting communities that are physically connected, LEED for Neighborhood Development conserves land and promotes transportation efficiency and walkability. A 2008 study entitled “The Economic Value of Walkability” found that households in automobile-dependent communities devote 50% more money – more than $8,500 annually – to transportation.



The correlation between transit-oriented development and proximity to services, amenities and jobs to human health benefits and economic capital has been found by numerous studies and is advocated by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services. Furthermore, the connectivity to neighboring communities with existing transportation and thoroughfares or local retail and services, greatly benefits the citizens, businesses and local economy of the surrounding regions.



“Sustainable communities are prosperous communities for the occupants and businesses which inhabit them,” said Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO & Founding Chair, U.S. Green Building Council. “LEED for Neighborhood Development projects are strategically located in or surrounding metropolitan areas – often times revitalizing brownfields, infills or other underutilized spaces, opening new revenue streams, creating jobs opportunities and helping to drive the local, state and national economies.”



LEED for Neighborhood Development strives to create healthy, safe neighborhoods in which people from a wide range of economic levels and age groups can live and work together. Green neighborhoods foster social inclusivity as they provide accessibility to transportation, jobs, resources, education and promote healthier lifestyles. LEED for Neighborhood Development projects include or are sited to have good access to schools, businesses, residences, shopping, dining and entertainment.



"Half of the buildings we will have in 25 years are not yet on the ground,” said Kaid Benfield, Director of the Smart Growth Program, Natural Resources Defense Council. “Where we put them is even more important to the environment than how we build them, and NRDC is proud to stand alongside our partners with a system that helps guide them to the right places while avoiding the wrong ones."



NRDC helped to establish LEED for Neighborhood Development by soliciting the help of Smart Growth America, a national coalition of organizations working for better communities and recruiting smart growth experts to participate on the committee of volunteers that authored the rating system. The principles of smart growth focus on the importance of considering location, transportation alternatives, equity, and community form when developing land use plans.



“LEED for Neighborhood Development contains the components for compact and complete neighborhoods. With walkable streets, appropriately-scaled schools, and a mix of amenities close by, residents can lower their environmental impact while improving their quality of life,” said John Norquist, President and CEO, Congress for the New Urbanism.

CNU brought a number of leading planners and architects from the New Urbanist movement to help shape the new rating system. New Urbanism promotes compact neighborhood form, a wide range of urban housing types from multi-unit buildings to single-family homes, a vibrant mix of uses within close proximity of each other, humane public spaces and well-connected streets and blocks serving users ranging from pedestrians and cyclists to transit riders and drivers.



“LEED for Neighborhood Development projects are designed to highlight the best in a community,” Fedrizzi continued. “By bridging together adjoining districts, neighborhood developments take advantage of the greatest things a community has to offer – the people and amenities which enrich our lives on a daily basis.”

The consensus-based process that drives the development of the LEED rating systems ensures and encourages the very best in building, design and development practices.



The scope of LEED for Neighborhood Development projects can range from small projects to whole communities and encompasses a broader set of stakeholders in the process. Because of the scale of neighborhood development, projects are measured on acreage – the first LEED rating system to use a measurement other than square footage.



This is the seventh LEED rating system released by USGBC and is the first comprehensive benchmark for green neighborhood design. Projects certifying under LEED for Neighborhood Development must achieve points in three major environmental categories: Smart Location & Linkage, Neighborhood Pattern & Design, and Green Infrastructure & Buildings across a 110-point scale.



Also launching this spring is the LEED Accredited Professional (AP) Neighborhood Development (ND) credential for professionals participating in the design and development of neighborhoods. To read more about the LEED AP ND credential, go to www.usgbc.org/credentials or to learn about the neighborhood development educational offerings, visit

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Green Thoughts

Today there are numerous articles regarding the current Energy Bill being devised in Congress. We know that at one point it had "bi-partisan" support which under the current political climate means nothing.

But the real issue is what will be done? What can be done and why are businesses so loathe to make real significant changes and compromises to business practices without needing Government regulation or legislation?

Well we saw that in 2006 following a mine disaster legislation was passed and enforcement did not happen. In 2010 another disaster occurs and the Republicans and Libertarians the one who believe in free market regulation and supervision point fingers and are of course horrified but will likely do nothing to change what needs to be changed.

We have financial regulation and reform. Much like heath care it will become watered down and be largely ineffective in truly bringing change let alone regulation. Anyone watching the Goldman Sachs testimony yesterday knows that stalling and playing dumb really works.

Immigration reform began at the state level. You know the level of Government that is again touted by Libertarians and Republicans as far superior to Federal legislation. And of course it is the most racist and bizarrely written bill with violation of Civil Rights firmly built in its vague and unclear enforcement concepts. As the Governor said "I don't know what an illegal alien looks like hopefully those in charge of enforcement do." Yes I have been really concerned about the tremendous influx of the Russian mob here... I guess on that note we will trick them into speaking to ID them.

And finally climate reform. An Oil Rig blast off the Gulf of Mexico has already shown the dangers of what off shore drilling can bring. The debate on how to stop the slick also shows we have no clear method on how to handle this disaster with controlled burn as the most likely option. That is not great but then again is there anything that is? And of course it comes at a time when BP posts record profits for the first quarter. Currently at 6.08 billion at this time an over 4 billion increase from last years profit of 2.56.

And lastly the NY Times opinion page has three editorials discussing the options for Green Energy and the Green Economy that was central to Obama's campaign. One is a discussion on using Trash as energy. The waste-to-energy idea that while it definitely encourages recycling and reducing actual waste it also converts trash via burning it to create energy source. Again America is far behind our European counterparts who embraced this a decade ago.

Another discusses the use of waste water by treating it and cleaning sewage and turning it to into another energy source. Something currently being done in England with great success.

And finally Tom Friedman who has long been a green energy advocate regarding the growth of China in the field again to the detriment of the American economy and environment.

We are seriously behind the times, behind the world in truly embracing and moving forward on improving our country and our life.

Republicans constantly point to the debt as the albatross that hangs detrimentally over the head of the future generations. Yet I wonder what will be here for them to have?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day

Its once again Earth Day. And what does one do to celebrate the Earth?

Well DO NOTHING. Seriously walk somewhere, take public transport, stay in and cook healthy foods and watch DIRT, the Movie or Inconvenient Truth or LIFE the series on the Discovery Channel, Food Inc or anything that actually teaches you something about what the world around you is doing.

Don't buy anything. Don't proselytize or lecture. Don't use your computer (unless you have to to say read this) or your Cell phone, IPad, IPod or anything that takes you away from the earth. Yes you could say watching TV or a DVD does that but its nice to sit home with friends or family and share something informative or beautiful when eating. We aren't communicating with each other much.

Don't DIGG, Tweet, Facebook, Text, email or IM. Call them on the phone (well if you have a land line but otherwise cell is good) and invite someone over. Talk to someone to their face about LIFE. That is what we are here for. LIVING.

I wonder then by finding each other in real meaningful ways we can then do something real and meaningful for our planet.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Move Away from Anonymity and the Internet

I read an article in the NY Times this week about a move away from anonymous commentary to the varying newspapers and blog sites to reduce some of the more vitriolic state and dash to a more reasoned thoughtful discourse.

Well that is what blogging is the place to rant and rail. You can do so anonymously and allow yourself your own freedom to monitor or not the comments provided.

My blog is an editorial site. I use it as an opportunity to discuss my opinions on issues that I find affect my work, my community and my beliefs. I am not adverse to discussions or debates. In fact I love hearing legitimate opinions and information that will enable me to learn. I may not change my opinion but I am at least willing to understand how and why someone has come to that conclusion and they are expected to return the concept in kind.

What I have found is that the word debate in this culture is non-existent. It has been replaced with bullying, nasty name calling and spamming over and over again with the same talking points, thoughts and information that borders on lies and misrepresentations. Debate is a thoughtful process requiring analysis and facts and citing of data not silly retorts and inflammatory rhetoric.

I find that when you go to your local news source you can pretty much say within reason anything that pops into your head and moderators can at their discretion remove the post but it doesn't stop anyone from coming back with another e-mail address if they are that well crazy.

I don't allow unmoderated comments here. I prefer if you would email me directly with issues or comments first and I can validate your identity and in turn actually converse with you. I take many blog submissions and I love when people want to link to my blog. I am "officially" a green blogger but the economy, the decline of community and the increase in temperament of the overall country has led me to comment on issues that are outside the realm of build.

This blog is not however an educational or "informative" blog on Green Building Materials, Green Building, Building Science, etc. I might comment on some issues but as there are MANY blogs and sites devoted to the education and exchange of information on construction I don't feel the need to add another. I might talk about some subjects or processes that I encounter but I have found that again Green builder sites are very protective of their information and want you to go to their sites alone. So I respect that and choose no longer to reference them.

I think that if you have something to say the "dine and dash" approach is truly cowardly and has no purpose. If I am concerned about my employer or friends who google my name and find it associated with less than tasteful subjects or egregious comments on varying sites perhaps I should rethink why I feel the need to be that way. I cannot believe that you can truly make a distinct and separate self on the Internet that is anything not who you really are. With me you know my opinions and that is clear and I have no reason to hide them. If I am not employed or allowed to associate with someone because of them perhaps that is for the best as it can only lead to problems down the line.

My mother used to say think before you speak. The Internet suddenly took away that filter and perhaps now its time to return to that. If you are not willing to sign your name to something then perhaps you shouldn't.

You may not like someones opinion, you may love someones opinion but you have to remember that the shoe may be on the other foot and you may not like that fit.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

When Buildings go Bad

I am reprinting an article on a local Apartment structure called the McGuire, as it brings to light many issues I frequently address when talking about buildings, building codes, third party verifications, etc.

The McGuire is not a "green" building. It was built at the very beginning of what became the 10 year boon. It was built in the city itself as Seattle was trying to turn the Belltown neighborhood into some version of a San Francisco/New York style hood which of course fails on that account as well.

The story begins early on as the building has been plagued with problems most of related to water infiltration it has been during this current retrofit that the discovered serious structural problems leading to the buildings ultimate demise and destruction.

As of last night the builder (who no longer has an office nor builds here anymore) has said the building can be repaired and does not need demolition. Of course this means for the residents they may or may not move and years of course litigation on what will become a dilapidated property in an already overdeveloped neighborhood during an hideous economic downturn for real estate. This sounds great already.

What the problem is or was that this issue was structural and without the needed precautions done upfront there is serious issues that render the building potentially unstable. At this point I have no experience in commercial structures so it is hard for me to fully offer any opinion on the matter. But needless to say rebar is the "glue" in providing tensile strentgh. Forensic Engineers who specialize in this will have varying opinions but it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Could this happen in a Green Building... YES. Structures of this magnitude have to have certain elements in them in order to make them well structures. That means potentially hazardous chemicals, working with materials that are not that green because the stability and longevity they offer. The failure of this build was not that the city did not have inspections or requirements of code but that the "third party inspections" were not done or that simply a failure to communicate and follow procedure occurred. Litigation will of course uncover what happened.

But when you do have problems of this magnitude you can imagine why there will be many fingers cross pointing and during depositions "I don't recall" or "I thought someone else was doing that" will be heard a great deal.

Even on my small projects it is difficult to make sure the right and the left know what is what and on this project there were multiple teams. Green Building is no different. As I have not sat in on a commercial project I cannot imagine however it being much different. Getting all the players together at a single time is corralling kittens only without the cute. Arguments over who is doing what and when and who is billing for it (sometimes twice or more with no one doing it) is not unheard. Even electricians who can see problems will not say anything so mistakes go undocumented. It is what it is until or if the building fails.

Its why I would like to see a ICC that is both Green and consistent and that inspectors and permits are issued with a more is more policy and that teams are more in line with what each person is doing. The larger the structure the more this needs to be done as a punch list in this case is not going to cut it.

Its also why adding more cooks may not be better. Imagine if this was a green build? I don't see LEED addressing structural issues at all. In fact I will be writing another blog about the environmental impacts on buildings in general - from Earthquakes to water intrusion I have to think those are vital elements in a buildings sustainability and little is done on most (all) green building programs to address those issues.

And of course it brings to mind the density debate and the issue of how this building will be "deconstructed" vs "demolished". That too must be a part of our future code when it comes to commercial and residential build.

I think the McGuire is the tip of the iceberg and the Titanic has not hit yet when it comes to many more buildings crushing under the weight of this building boon.


____________________________________________
Information cited from CHS blog, Crosscut and The Seattle Times blogs


The formal announcement came over the weekend from the building owner, Carpenter's Tower LLC, citing "extensive construction defects, which principally involve corrosion of post-tensioned cables and concrete material and reinforcement placement deficiencies."

Harbor Properties had a Development Services Agreement with the building’s owner, Carpenters Tower, LLC, to serve as a development consultant, administer contracts and make recommendations to the owner’s manager, Kennedy Associates. Harbor Properties was not part of a joint venture partnership with the property’s owner. Nor was Harbor Properties involved in any ownership aspect of the property.

As a development consultant, Harbor Properties did not enter into construction and design contracts on the McGuire Apartments project, or make any ownership decisions. Harbor Properties is not party to the current suit or aware of details of that suit, and does not have a role in the ongoing work associated with the property. Harbor Properties is referring all questions to the owner’s manager, Kennedy Associates.

The structural problems stem from cables that are are corroding because they were not properly protected with corrosion-preventative paint, the grout used to seal the cable ends and anchors was not the specified non-shrink grout, and it was defectively installed. "As a result," the announcement from the building owner continues, "water leaked into these areas and caused the cable ends to rust, and then corrode." What's more, reinforcement in the building's exterior frame turns out to be defective, resulting in structural impairment and cracking of the building's concrete shell.

In other words, a nightmare. The problem is intractable, the owners have concluded, and they've decided to dismantle the building. "The McGuire is not in imminent danger of a structural failure," according to Brian Urback, a consultant hired by Carpenter's Tower. However, he acknowledges, "the experts have advised that the building be vacated by the end of 2010."

The McGuire isn't the first Belltown building with such "issues." Five years ago, Seattle Heights was similarly sheathed in scaffolding, with the added indignity of Tyvek swaddling, while work crews replaced every window and sliding door in the 28-story luxury condo. Lawsuits flew, insurance companies settled, and homeowners gritted their teeth and eventually paid large assessments to cover the shortfall. The problem stemmed from improperly installed and slowly rotting window insulation, a condition that appeared to spread like a measles outbreak across several Belltown highrises

Monday, April 12, 2010

He who hates least hates more or what is it again?

I have come to terms with the fact that our political system in its current state is a dysfunctional one at best. At its worst its corrupt, serves the special interest and is little about Government for the People by the People but for the Business by the Business.

This is where the Constitution is at best attended. Glenn Beck loves to wave it about, his followers the "Tea Partiers" or whatever they like to call themselves demand an adherence to Constitution. A Constitution that is more akin to the Articles of Confederation than well the Constitution... details details.

I frequently ask exactly what or where in the document they are referring. A tour of the varying websites, Facebook pages and blogs don't exactly show which Amendment they are referring. Its often vague and usually always centers on the Bill of Rights but mostly its centers around the idea that a State is the sovereign being. And it does go in line with both Madison and Jefferson who wrote the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions advocating states rights in response to the Alien and Sedition acts. According to this theory, the federal Union is a voluntary association of states, and if the central government goes too far each state has the right to nullify a federal law.

I believe this is what the Anti Government groups are referring. Most of the members claim to read the Constitution but in reality they are relying on the interesting if not totally biased "interpretations" being presented to them. Frequently they demand an adherence to the Constitution and yet the irony is that Obama was a Constitutional Lawyer and educated in one of the top notch schools on the subject. But then again as their de facto hero Reagan said "facts are stupid."

Libertarianism that is now 50 years old is a sort of liberalism merged with conventional Republican platform. Tolerance to others and that great free market economy thing. The idea is a sort of Baja faith to cover all the goods of one and well the "goods" of the other. Libertarianism of course eschews social programs and well anything that may require Federal oversight, regulation, supervision.. etc.

Ron Paul the darling of the Libertarian set or now mainstream Republicans is leading the way in the 2012 campaign for President. He has been in Congress for 20 years or so a former Doctor and has drawn the fervor of the college set... the conservative college set who are of course rebelling against the contemporary flavors of youth and probably their much more liberal or even conservative families. It is Anarchy for the future corporate America.

The tea partiers like to point to the Anarchists as Liberals. Well they are to Liberals as Libertarians are to Republicans. Extreme views of the same coin. I eschew Anarchy and I don't tolerate violence as a means of expressing one's point. For Republicans I have observed a sudden willingness to use the same tactics while simultaneously reminding everyone about the SDS, the Black Panthers and other extreme left wing groups of the 60s and 70s. Again, Democrats did not embrace those fringe groups and left to their own they collapsed and have had no real influence on contemporary' politics. Liberal Democratic principles however those of the "hippie" or the Southern Leadership Conference ( Martin Luther King's group) did. They embraced concepts of transparency and justice. The "hippies" really were peace loving advocates who in their protest were on the receiving end of violence but were they the ones firing the first shots at Kent State or at the Chicago Convention? Even the WTO conference in Seattle was meant to be a statement but unfortunately the Anarchist groups refused to play by a common set of rules or shared agreement and in turn violence erupted.

But as my mother used to say "he who accuses excuses"

In the case of revisionist history we like to just lump everyone into one group or one category. We are calling the Tea Partiers one group, Libertarians another, Republicans a third. They are all one in the same I am afraid. Angry people who are a new form of what is largely the Conservative Christian Coalition. Their values, their beliefs and even their role models are largely Republican. The few "Independents" are still coming from the Republican party.

The new "Republicans" are like "New Coke" the same beverage with a little less sweetener. This group thinks by simultaneously embracing the tactics of Saul Alinsky yet excusing it by distractions, lies and well denials they will successfully obfuscate who they are and what they really hate.

I will leave what they hate for you to conjecture.. but this is what it is hate. There is nothing reformative or realistic about their goals.

Top Green Buildings

Betty from the Top Engineered Buildings asked if I would include a mention about her blog site and their rankings of the Top Green Buildings in the world.

I would have liked to know how they came to the ranking and what the qualifications and measurements were but undoubtedly the buildings are worth looking at.

I toured the Perkins + Will building when it was completed. Unfortunately like many in this economy they have suffered massive layoffs and it was nearly devoid of staff at that time. A tragedy on many fronts.

Take a look at the blog and the list.....

Friday, April 9, 2010

Is there a "Post Racial" Society?

I always talk about being a woman in a man's world - be it the world of Construction or well even broader here in Society.

As I have been emerged of late studying, reading and coming to terms with the Financial Meltdown of late I have never been more aware of the perpetrators of the "fraud" as being largely white men, middle aged and from Ivy League or well recieved academic institutions.

This should not be a shock to anyone who has been to Wall Street. Only one firm, Merrill Lynch, had a black CEO and well he was no better (or worse in this case) than his brethren so at least you can't say he was different on any count.

With Obama's election the hysteria that resulted has led to a large discussion on the issue of race. Its clear to me that from listening and monitoring the varying media and Facebook pages of the "extreme" right (tea parties etc...) there is an underlying resentment, fear or simply hate towards minorities. Certainly the constant drum beat of the Immigration reform issue is a result of the reality that Hispanic populations are now the largest growing and the predominant minority in this country and soon white/Caucasians will be in the minority. And given how well we have run things I don't know if we should be afraid or well relieved.

Until someone decided that they had enough of my left wing questions and statements on Facebook and flagged my account I would often go to the Glenn Beck site or to the varying tea party, reduction in Government sites or even Scott Brown and ask well leading questions to what was clear racist rhetoric. They usually ended with the repsondent leaving. Taking the high ground I guess or simply embarrassed to really be called out for who they are. They are, however, the most virulent in seeking to validate and torment anyone who disagrees. The permeate the "Glenn Beck is an Idiot" site with constant questions that are really instigation's to fight and their favorite accusation is "ad hominem attacks" when you point out how weird and redundant they sound with their repetitive talking points.. right down to "ad hominem."

Go to most local news paper sites online and many blogs you will see over and over again the negative brow beating and hostile commentary that dominate the feedback area. This too is also part of their motus operandi and why I control the commentary here. They simply are not welcome. They do not debate and engage in discourse, they bully, harass and when all else fails threaten to retaliate. It has been quite obvious of late with the verbal assaults on Senator Murray and Speaker of the House Pelosi. Of course denials and cross accusations usually commence but few to rare do you find left wing liberals so hateful with their rhetoric.

So what has this to do with race. Well having a black President who is articulate, highly educated and seemingly relaxed as he moves between the upper "white" world and the one of the urban streets must be disconcerting. He has what I like to think the true nature of the "birth of the cool." And it suits his demeanor and moniker of "No Drama Obama." A real opposite of the stereotype of the Angry Black Ghetto Male that predominates our media.

Having been working in the public schools of late I have many observations and insight into what to me is a very different black culture than the one I grew up with. This one is angry but its rooted in depression - anger turned inward. It affects and permeates like a heavy weight all encounters with suspicion, doubt and distrust - on both ends. I had and still do have many black friends. Lived in black communities for years - Oakland of late and South Seattle of recent - but the differences are palpable.

I read this morning a blog entry from one of my favorite sites, American Prospect, about a new book called Whistling Vivaldi. I reprint it here below and I find that much of what is said is quite telling and well only really covers one surface of a largely deep pool.

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Our Racial Interior
As we try to avoid stereotypes, we actually reinforce group identity and discrimination
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Adam Serwer | April 9, 2010

Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us (Issues of Our Time) by Claude M. Steele, W.W. Norton, 224 pages, $25.95 Two explanations for the persistence of racial inequality predominate in America's ideological battles. The left blames racism, while the right pins the responsibility on minority groups' own culture and behavior. Some on the right insist that racial minorities face no impediments. Just the opposite, they say -- white people now encounter discrimination because of policies such as affirmative action.

The picture of race that the social psychologist Claude Steele offers in his work is different. Racial identity, as he sees it, affects people's thinking and action in countless ways but often without any awareness or malice. People pick up on cues -- a topic of conversation, the language used in an employment brochure, the number of people of their own race or gender in a classroom or office -- and react on the basis of internalized concerns about being stereotyped. While people in every group register these signals, members of racial minorities often experience a threat -- what Steele calls "stereotype" or "identity" threat -- that impairs their performance.

Recently named provost of Columbia University, Steele has spent years studying how self-image and group identity affect individual behavior. The title of his new book, Whistling Vivaldi, comes from an anecdote from Brent Staples, an African American writer at The New York Times, who discovered he could assuage the fears of white people he encountered walking the streets at night by whistling classical music. The music signaled to the people shrinking from him that he was educated, probably middle-class, and in general not the type of black man they should cross the street to avoid.

In Whistling Vivaldi, Steele primarily focuses on underperforming college students, particularly blacks and women, who by reaching college might be thought to have conquered negative stereotypes. But the research that Steele and others have done indicates that when facing identity threat -- that is, when they are reminded of the shortcomings associated with their group -- these students tend to underperform in comparison to their male or white counterparts with similar scores.

The experiments Steele reviews follow a fairly consistent format: Give a test to at least two groups of students at similar skill levels, and with one group, emphasize that the test measures "cognitive ability," while stressing to the other that the test is a "task" for measuring "problem solving" or signaling in some other way that the test is not an intellectual assessment. For example, black subjects who were told that a test measures "cognitive ability" did worse than whites, while blacks who were told the test does not measure ability performed as well as whites did. Similarly, when informed that women always do as well as men on a particular math test, women did better than when they weren't given that cue. And when told that a miniature-golf test would measure their athletic ability, white men performed at a lower level than when they were told the test measured their "sports strategic intelligence."

Other studies have found that test takers under identity threat show physiological signs of anxiety -- increasing heart rate and higher blood pressure -- even when they say they don't feel anxious. Steele refers to this pattern of denial as "trying to slay a ghost in the room." The Herculean effort of trying to disprove a stereotype, Steele argues, "leaves little mental capacity free for anything else we're doing." These cognitive effects, he explains, are as potent a limit on the life chances of minorities as the segregated institutions of his youth in Chicago.

Steele's observations about black students are especially disquieting. Their academic struggles, aren't due to weaker skills or lesser motivation. According to Steele, far from expecting "someone else to do it for them," black students have often internalized the notion that they have to be "twice as good" as anyone else if they are to succeed. Identity threat pushes them to be independent to the point of self-sabotage. Compared to Asian and white students, black students are less likely to study in formal or informal groups, to ask for help from other students or teaching assistants, or to drop classes in which they're doing poorly, and they are more likely to reject feedback from teachers.

In one of the experiments Steele discusses, the black test subjects under stereotype threat opted to do more of the difficult problems on the test than did their white counterparts, who in this situation had nothing to prove. When the black students then did badly, it was a crushing confirmation of group shortcomings -- proof that they didn't "belong there." In fact, the more minority students worried they were being stereotyped, the worse they did. The students who cared more about their education were the ones more likely to underperform. Stereotype threat didn't affect the test subjects who lacked the appropriate skills or didn't care about school to begin with.

Steele also shows how stereotype threat can be mitigated to the point of irrelevance. In an experiment with no identity threat, the black test takers were able to focus on completing the test, and the disparity with whites disappeared. Likewise, Steele points out that giving more constructive feedback, increasing the population of minorities, and encouraging black students to study with one another in groups can entirely eliminate the disparities caused by identity threat -- at least among those students whose deficiencies are caused by identity threat, not by a gap in actual skills.

Steele's experiments show that identity threat can affect a member of any group given the right context, but minorities and women face more of a problem because the stereotypes that work against them are so deeply rooted in our culture. The stress caused by identity threat then becomes an ever-present burden. Steele points to high rates of diseases such as hypertension among African Americans as an example of the physiological effects of coping with identity threat on a constant basis.

Toward the end of the book, Steele explores more deeply the effect of identity threat on race relations. He focuses particularly on the hypothesis that whites avoid interaction with blacks because they fear being seen as racist and don't want to confirm that stereotype. In one experiment, he assembled two different groups of white students, telling the first they would have a conversation about relationships and the second that they would discuss racial profiling. Each subject was to talk with two black men. When the subjects entered the room, they were asked to rearrange the chairs, and the whites who were told they were to discuss racial profiling tended to move the other chairs farther away from their own. To be sure that the white students weren't just reacting to the topic itself, Steele redid the experiment with whites alone, and this time, the subjects who were told they would discuss racial profiling didn't try to place their own seats farther apart from the others.

It's easy to see how the patterns Steele identifies perpetuate social segregation. One side anticipates the other's stereotype that it is inferior, while the latter fears that it will be seen as prejudiced -- and often both sides have no understanding of why they act the way they do. Social segregation can then persist in perpetuity, chugging along with the inertial force of centuries of legalized racist hegemony. The good news is that if deliberate measures can reduce identity threats for students taking a test, there may be ways to reduce those threats more generally.

Steele's research suggests how educational institutions might improve performance among women and minorities. But as he acknowledges, addressing stereotype threat will not affect the underlying problems of poverty, lack of access to good schooling, or estrangement from profitable social networks and other forms of social capital. As Steele notes, "Even if a magic wand waved away all of the prejudice in our society, there would still be pressures keeping us apart."

The political implications of some of the research are also disturbing. We tend to "feel" our identities more acutely when that identity is under siege, but even that minimal identification is enough to make us discriminate against others we see as part of a competing group. That pattern goes a long way toward explaining why Republican white identity politics have been so effective at discrediting liberal attempts to expand the social safety net. Twenty years ago, right-wingers talked about "welfare queens." Now Rush Limbaugh derides the Democrats' health-care reform plan as "reparations" and "a civil-rights bill," coded language calculated to raise the specter of exploitation by racial others.

Whistling Vivaldi conveys an understanding of why race remains such a powerful factor even in a society where racial discrimination is seen as abhorrent and prohibited by law. And while Steele's research gives some measure of hope, I'm not betting that people would change even if they learned about his findings. Dealing with stereotype threat requires a willingness to admit the power that group identities have over our minds and actions, and most of us don't believe that we're susceptible to bias, whether we're the guy whistling classical music or the person sighing with relief and deciding not to cross the street.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Everything bad happens in threes

Today was interesting to say the least.

First up was a call by my bank altering me to some fraudlent charges to my bank account. My business account had been hacked and they were purchasing Microsoft XM stuff. Being that it was my company account which I keep a low balance and infrequently use for only business related purchases it was an immediate flag.

Thankfully they called and we quickly resolved the issue.

Then I came home to find my personal Facebook account disabled. I suspect it was my ardent use of that page to express my political disinchantment with the extreme right and my memberships in such illustrious groups as "Glenn Beck is an Idiot" "Rush Limbaugh is an Idiot." That or Bill Maher and Rachel Maddow fan pages set the nut right into seizures. I suspect its the same boring mentality that at one point flagged this blog and brought it down.

And then later this evening I recieved a call from the Washington State Compliance Department regarding my Craigslist Ad for my "construction business." I searched Craigslist for said ad and found none and wonder what ad this officer is referring to. Unfortunately when I returned the call he was out of the office.

There is little one can do when someone uses your business information which is of course largely available and easily duplicated but what it does it puts the already exhausted resources of all of us into resolving this with great and unnecessary stress.

I spend a lot of time dealing with idiots and my political expressions and honest and intelligent manner has led me to be the target of ire. But it is exhausting and I find myself further and further retreating into isolation as a coping strategy.

I think my greatest yoga teacher, Katchie, said "everything is temporary, both the good and the bad and you must always remember that." Well I keep thinking this temporary thing of late has been seemingly permanent.

I hope that for that sake its the former and not the latter.

The Green in Commercial Build

As a long time practitioner of remodeling over building new I am glad to see a focus on retrofitting commercial builds. As I learned when I attended a GreenBuild NYC lecture in October there is a great need as well as interest in retaining buildings but renovating them to be energy efficient, aesthetically interesting, enhanced capacity and green features.

Today's article in the New York Times discusses such projects at length as they relate to New York. But I am aware that Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are also two highly focused cities keen on restoring buildings with a green appeal.

There is inherent value of seeing the green in these projects. From costs savings to overall materials use and reuse along with time, this is one way to see the value in going green - certified or not.

As I look forward to seeing more interesting projects on the horizon I see it also as a way of further restoring the industry as well.

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Developers See Possibility (and Value) in Old Steel

By ALISON GREGOR
Published: April 6, 2010

As commercial real estate development nearly comes to a halt in the economic downturn, some well-capitalized investors are focusing instead on sprucing up existing properties. The process has various names: retrofitting, renovating, repurposing, even repositioning. But the underlying idea is to wring out more value at a time when rents will not support new construction.

In New York, prominent buildings like the Empire State Building and 500 Fifth Avenue are being rehabilitated, while 475 Park Avenue South will get a $25 million renovation and face-lift led by the architect C├ęsar Pelli. Refurbishments have just been completed at 200 Fifth Avenue, the former International Toy Center, and 545 Madison Avenue.

While not all of these projects have a direct tie to the recession, many do, including one started by the Hampshire Real Estate Companies, a real estate firm in Morristown, N.J. The company plans to spend roughly $16 million upgrading a rather ordinary four-story suburban office building called Centra, at 186 Wood Avenue South in Iselin, N.J., near the Metropark train station.

The architect for the project, Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, which typically takes on projects like the 101-story Shanghai World Financial Center, envisions taking the building down to the steel and expanding the fourth floor to create an overhang supported by a treelike column. A causeway entrance will span a sunken garden that will open up the basement for office use.

“Here’s a small building that’s going from about 75,000 square feet to 110,000 square feet, but with the redesign, it will have the presence of an iconic building that tenants can rent for a reasonable price in New Jersey,” said A. Eugene Kohn, chairman of Kohn Pedersen Fox. “This is a really good example of repositioning a building.”

Mr. Kohn said his architecture firm had completed designs for dozens of rehabilitation, renovation and expansion projects over the last three decades. The projects may range from simply redesigning the lobby and upgrading elevators to stripping a building down to the frame and replacing almost everything but the foundation.

“All these projects are taking existing structures and enhancing them, allowing the owners to get much greater return on them,” he said.

While building owners may begin such projects any time it makes financial sense, they tend to predominate during recessions, Mr. Kohn said.

“One of the first problems that developers face in a recession is the office rents you can get do not equal what it would cost to buy a site and build new,” he said. “In bad times, dealing with existing stock and upgrading it seems to make more sense.”

Also, in recessions, tenancy in general is shrinking, leaving some buildings half-empty, especially older ones that may have lost tenants who took advantage of falling rents to trade up. Office buildings that are empty or half-empty can be good candidates for repositioning.

“A lot of these buildings may be close to half their recent value, compared to where they were before the crash,” Mr. Kohn said. “If you can now buy an existing building for a great price, you can afford to upgrade it and get great rents, and you spend less than building new.”

Hampshire, which manages investment funds and is fully capitalized, is looking for such opportunities for its investors, said Todd M. Anderson, a principal with Hampshire. Its 19-acre site in Iselin, formerly owned by the Siemens Corporation, was the perfect investment candidate as it had unused development rights, he said.

In addition to the retrofitting of Centra, which will open by the end of this year, Hampshire is also preparing to build three more office buildings — which will total 535,000 square feet — and two large parking garages at the site.

Mr. Anderson said that some developers might have decided to demolish the rather mundane office building and replace it, but that retrofitting made sense for several reasons. First, even taking it down to the steel was cheaper than tearing down and building anew.

“A lot of people would say there’s nothing you can do with it; it’s a small building that’s badly sited,” Mr. Anderson said. “But there is inherent value in the bricks and mortar. Estimates were potentially up to $5 million in savings on a construction basis utilizing the existing structure.”

Even if the construction savings had been minimal, there were other reasons to save the building, Mr. Anderson said. If developers rebuilt, they would lose grandfathered zoning entitlements that were attached to the structure, he said.

Also, repurposing has received a push from the “green” building sector, where renovation is obviously looked upon more favorably than building new.

“The focus on sustainability in this business has become huge,” Mr. Anderson said. “So anything you can do to foster that effort is worthwhile and hopefully makes economic sense as well.”

The new Centra will be certified as either silver or gold by the United States Green Building Council, Mr. Kohn said.

At 545 Madison Avenue, near 55th Street, the owners invested $90 million in a gut rehabilitation and redesign led by the architecture firm Moed de Armas & Shannon to transform a faded Class C building built in the mid-1950s into a Class A office tower attractive to tenants like hedge funds.

It was the first time that LCOR, a real estate investment and development company, had done such an extensive rehabilitation project. When the company signed a 75-year ground lease at 545 Madison in 2006, the building’s office rents averaged less than $30 a square foot; after the work, asking rents are $75 a square foot, said David A. Sigman, a senior vice president. LCOR has recently leased to five companies, including CS Tang, a hedge fund.

“No question about it, it’s a more valuable property than it was the day we took it over,” he said.

LCOR saved the cost of building a new structure, which could have been $50 to $100 a square foot, and also avoided the delay of a demolition, which would have added a year to 18 months to the project. Though he described the project as a success, Mr. Sigman said he did not know if LCOR would repurpose more office buildings in the future. One reason 545 Madison Avenue was a good candidate was that all its office leases, which were timed to a ground lease, expired once LCOR leased the site in 2006, so the building was empty.

While buildings can be repurposed with existing tenants, those projects are typically much more expensive and risky, Mr. Kohn said. Tenants in the building must be shifted around to accommodate construction, which can only be done piecemeal and may create hazards.

“Still, as long as the bones of the existing building are good, and if the basic structure is in reasonable shape, and the floor sizes are O.K., any building can be a candidate for repurposing,” he said.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Lost Generation

I have been writing about my shadow people. My generation of 40-64 year olds suffering economic and employment problems that put them out of the running for Governmental assistance and programs but in precarious emotional and financial hardships. There is no question that coming out of this and returning to what was once a "normal" life will be a challenge on many levels.

But what about their children? Or in this case their grandchildren. I have a friend who just turned 60 and her grandson is 2. Her daughters in their early 30s are self employed and struggling in this economy. Neither are college educated as they could not afford it but they managed to find work that utilizes their talents and passions and ironically now are helping their mother get by.

But I have to wonder what kind of life they have had without the opportunities that we all had. I graduated college as did their mother. I came out of school with two degrees and no debt. I used my 20s as a chance to travel and expand upon that book knowledge. I entered the teaching profession in my 30s and ended up finding a new second career in remodeling and construction. And while on hiatus I still continue to glean knowledge and build my talents despite the fact that actual work related projects are slim to none.

My girlfriend chose the marriage option. She worked in design and retail and made a great living post divorce. While her children were not able or interested in college they did some travel and chose to find work that keeps them employed but not in any great financial security.

I have other friends whose kids are finding options some education related some not. But what is really tragic is that the sources of "education" outside of conventional means (as well as conventional ones) simply lack.

Growing up with less TV obviously was a better deal and the fact that television was not as dumbed down as it is now. Attempting to reach a "mass" audience leaves much to be desired. Cultural reference points such as Masterpiece Theatre, Dick Cavett and other lectures and intelligentsia presenting their views - from Sister Wendy, Thomas Hoving, Robert Hughes, Tom Snyder and dozens of others whose articulate views and frequent sparring with opposing ones led to discourse and dialogue much lacking in today's high paced Internet surfing culture.

I wonder who would be the cultural and intellectual totems for today's young - Oprah? Mafia Wars? Tiger Woods? Things look bleak on that scale. When the trials and tribulations of the adult authority figures and role models center more on their weight, earnings or sex scandals it says we are in trouble.

My experiences in the public schools sees a dilemma of mass proportions as rote learning and test taking are the norm and expected measure of success rather than critical and analytical thinking skills. The vocabulary is limited to acronyms and abbreviations... LOL, <3, FWB, etc.

I don't think this a group who will restore America's place in the greater grand scheme of the Economy, Education or Politics. Looking to their parents who are almost illiterate themselves (as illustrated by much of the writings, signage and verbiage of the tea party) I don't see how Education is valued as something to strive for.

I see a Lost Generation of people relegated to service jobs and yes the much maligned governmental programs to maintain a living as there is little there to provide me with much hope for else.

Chinese Drywall - The story continues

The U.S. Government has issued a warning that all homes that have Chinese drywall installed remove it immediately to prevent further health problems.

I first wrote about this months ago when I received a email from a concerned home owner in the area. What is further insult to injury the majority of these homes are in Florida where a large large percentage of these homes are well under water, in foreclosure or deeply in debt so the costs of this kind of extensive replacement - drywall, wiring and other related problems which will undoubtedly be revealed once the removal begins will be challenging.

The article below is from the NY Times discussing the current options. Lawsuits are pending, Insurers will balk and basically once again home owners will be screwed. Its that simple. The boon to bust mentality left many individuals and businesses without real recourse. The sadness is that I believe we have to be the one country that still believes in home ownership at the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt over one's head for DECADES. Think about that having a 200K debt over your head for the majority of your life. And yet its the one way of securing a decent livable place.

The cry against "socialism" makes me laugh as most of those people have never been anywhere where such policies have made people have better quality lives, less debt, more personal freedom and professional security. But well this is free market at its worst and our dependence on cheap Chinese shitty products continues.

Add this to lead paint in toys, melamine in milk, toxins in building materials. More to come...................
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U.S. Urges Homeowners to Remove Chinese Drywall
By JAVIER C. HERNANDEZ
Published: April 2, 2010

The federal government on Friday instructed families with certain Chinese-made drywall to rid their homes of the material and replace electrical wiring, gas pipes and sprinkler systems.

A new study found that drywall from China emitted hydrogen sulfide at a high rate.
The drywall has been linked to respiratory and electrical problems in thousands of new homes, primarily in Florida and Louisiana. Consumer advocates have argued that high levels of hydrogen sulfide in the drywall corrode electrical wires and create health risks.

For now, homeowners must front the cost of removing the drywall, which builders estimate at more than $100,000 a home. But lawmakers and consumer groups called Friday for providing financial assistance to the about 3,000 households that have complained about the drywall.

“Removing the problem drywall is the best solution currently available to homeowners,” the chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Inez Tenenbaum, said in a statement.

The commission was joined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in issuing the recommendations. Those guidelines said homeowners should remove their walls and replace fire and carbon monoxide alarms, circuit breakers, outlets, switches and gas pipes.

The commission has recommended that the Internal Revenue Service allow homeowners to deduct drywall-related costs from their income tax returns.

“These are families who are suffering financially, they’re suffering physically, and in many cases the value of their home has gone down substantially,” said Scott J. Wolfson, a spokesman for the commission.

A study released Friday by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, which was hired by the commission, showed that the Chinese drywall emitted hydrogen sulfide at a rate 100 times greater than non-Chinese samples.

Preliminary studies have indicated that hydrogen sulfide, combined with formaldehyde, high temperatures and above-average humidity, has led to nosebleeds and headaches for some residents.

The commission has no evidence of long-term health problems, but it has hired an outside group to investigate that possibility. It is also exploring whether the long-term corrosion of the wiring could cause fires, though no fires have been reported.

A group of homeowners has sued the Chinese manufacturers and the American companies that imported the drywall in federal court in New Orleans. The case is pending.

The drywall was installed in homes across the South during the housing boom, when the supply of American-made drywall was limited and Chinese materials were cheap. Construction surged after hurricanes devastated many parts of the Gulf Coast.

The commission has received complaints about the drywall from households in Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Virginia.

On Friday, Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, suggested that the Chinese government take some responsibility for not pre-empting the problems.

“The way I see it, homeowners didn’t cause this,” he told the Associated Press. “The manufacturers in China did.”

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, another Florida Democrat, called on insurers to honor claims by affected families. Through a spokesman, she said she would continue to put pressure on local governments and the I.R.S. to offer relief.

She called the guidelines issued Friday “an important first step for homeowners who have been battling the nightmare of Chinese drywall

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Whirlwind of a Week

Last week I went to the Passive Haus Northwest Conference. I had a back injury which led me to be late and leave early but I was only interested in couple of talks and to see who was attending.

I saw a few new faces who are very passionate about Passive Haus and surprisingly some "Green" Developers who I never if ever see at any green events in the area. Its not shocking as Passive Haus is causing a great stir, interest and of course debate in the green build area.

I am impressed because that is what is sorely needed. The concept of house with LESS. And it is not just replacing one type of consumerism for another it does require a complete paradigm shift in consumption and behavior.

Passive Haus is highly engineered, it focuses on super insulation and very (none to any) external heating capacity. Its intent is to run on no more energy than it takes to operate a blow dryer. So you can imagine that takes more than adding stuff to make that equation work.

Popular in Germany for the last decade and taking off in Europe these homes are small and reflect a very European way of life. Having lived in Spain I was used to not having a dryer or dishwasher, using tankless water heating and well living in a very small space. Its this "lifestyle" choice/option that is why I think a few Americans will embrace leaving Passive Haus to a niche market.

What I do like is that the interest has led to further discussion on Windows, Energy/Heat Recovery Ventilation, water Heating and overall insulation requirements on a home to make it more energy efficient. As a result more improvement and in turn reduction in costs to make those products more widely available to all home owners.

That led to a presentation on Monday by an ERV manufacturer. ERV's are different than HRV's that they also deal with humidity and not just heat in improving a homes indoor air quality. Many of the same attendees were there as ERV's are not widely used here in the Northwest and at the conference on Friday HRV's were the only option endorsed. So you see we are still all in the learning curve here and that is a good thing.

Tuesday I went to another workshop presented by Seattle Utilities. Rain Wise is the new program that will encourage homeowners to install cisterns (landscape only) and Rain gardens through a rebate program as another means to stop residential overflow to city sewer systems. The program is beginning in a pilot program in Ballard and will include curbside rain gardens as well. The program has specific size requirements and will be I believe the most easiest and accessible way for anyone to make their home and garden green. Contractors interested must take the training and in turn will be listed as a "Rain Wise" endorsed specialist. Go to Rain Wise for more information.

And lastly I went to San Francisco for a PG&E presentation on lighting strategies to encourage the used of daylighting and appropriate lighting design using primarily LED's in building design. PG&E has been the strongest advocate of green build and offers I think the most comprehensive and accessible FREE education to trade professionals and residents regarding energy efficiency and green build. I wish all utilities were this aggressive.

The recession has taken a toll. The industry is definitely in flux and there is still a great deal of resentment and concern about what it means to build or remodel at this time. Yet for anyone truly interested there are many opportunities to use this downtime for education and training and in turn learning new things that will lead to a better future and better environment. I know its hard right now to see the green lining but its better than seeing none.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Bully for You

Ironic that that expression was often one associated with "Green" Republican Teddy Roosevelt. But today that expression "bully" is one associated with someone so intent on dominating and hurting another individual at whatever the cost as long as they "win" or are "right" (whatever that means).

Bullying as demonstrated by school age kids was taunts in playgrounds, name calling, writing notes and spreading rumors. Sometimes it escalated into fights but it was the belief that schools did discourage this and parents more importantly wanted to discipline and stop their child from being a victim or a perpetrator. I went to see in New York this October the play God in Carnage which is about two sets of parents getting together to discuss and "resolve" the bullying incident between their children. Written in a classic French farce style you see how and where the bullying began and wonder if it the children are just imitating their parents.

Well that is what bullying is. Emulation or replication of patterns of behavior LEARNED AT HOME. Be it from television, games, the Internet but most importantly from their parents. The language the demeanor and the attitudes displayed by the adults and the repercussions (if they exist) are how children learn.

Thanks to the Internet we have added a new dimension to bullying. Facebook, Tweets, MySpace, Blogs, YouTube, all have contributed and been cited in varying bullying cases and some ended in suicides by those at the receiving end. This young girl in Boston, Phoebe Price, is just such an example.

Of course Adults are hardly above the scrim. Just looking to the protest behaviors of the extreme right and left when it comes to driving the point home. The extreme left, Anarchy groups, Elf, etc did not have however the public forum and voices encouraging their "civil disobedience" to the level the tea baggers have with Fox and Rush Limbaugh, et al who continue to use highly charged rhetoric to encourage their followers to throw bricks, form militias or basically denigrate or harm anyone who expresses a view distinctly opposite to their own. Sarah Palin is encouraging those who follow her to go to owners/drivers of vehicles that have Obama stickers and ask them about the "hope-y-changey" thing working for you? I can see a whole new level of road rage resulting from this new campaign.

If you really expect children to not bully, not intimidate and learn respect and tolerance you must exhibit, demonstrate and practice what you preach.

As I have been subbing lately I cannot tell you what I witness and experience (yes kids try to bully me, an adult) almost subconsciously the level of nasty and mean spirited dialogue. Many children cannot even hear words that are associated with negative connotations in normal settings without descending into derogatory comments or hysterics. Use the word "retardant" and see the response by kids. They are so ill educated and informed that using language as it is originally intended is almost impossible due to the hijacking of words used to torment others.

Go to Media Matters and listen to the hateful rhetoric and when the right says they are victims too find the equivalent by mainstream sources when Bush and Company were in power. There is little there that even comes close to the level of hate espoused by these people. Monkey see Monkey do. And so do Children.