Saturday, September 29, 2012

Bag Lady

Paper or Plastic or Neither? The time has come to American shoppers that BYOB will now mean "bring your own bag". This is common place in that Socialist mecca Europe for decades. They haven't the space or shipping business to send waste overseas or to landfills.

I have no problem paying a small fee for sack when I don't have one. Frankly I do use all paper sacks for waste in my own home vs actually buying plastic ones. Notice that they haven't outlawed them...yet. I use compostable bags for food waste but for garbage I have always brown bagged it.

I have many times suggested that homes have set aside somewhere to actually recycle,compost and dump waste with another container for those items that need special disposal and then when convenient taking those CFL, Batteries, etc to appropriate locations. Its work and that is part of what it means to be a responsible citizen. Don't need to buy anything to make this your one shade of green.

And as we decry taxes and government intervention I did laugh at Parks and Recreation this week with Leslie Knopf taking on the infamous Soda tax that Mayor Bloomberg wants in NYC on large sugar laden beverages. Like anything it will have more loopholes than the tax code but the idea is sort of okay and stupid at the same time. Its the barn door meeting the horse who is already on the other side. How about education and support to encourage weight loss, free classes in nutrition or exercise? No its really about raising money in tough times and lets face it fat people are poor right? I live in Seattle where we have no income tax but we have a sales tax that hits the poor way more severely with regards to basic needs. But when Washington State tried to generate a law to change that the largest contributors to its failure were two of its richest residents, Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Steve Ballmer of Microsoft. Nothing says 1% more than that.

I love that the major complainer of the bag law in the article below is a Jeweler of high end jewelery. I am sure his customers are not going to buy that Rolex because of the dime tax. Really? I guess he is one of those who thinks because he sells things to the 1% he is one. John Galt would be proud.

I bought a fold up canvas tote on Etsy. Its made of recyclable materials and is great. I am a job creator! Anthropologie the store has offered 10 cents to charity if you decline the bag, which is great way to inspire that philanthropy we hear about from the rich that they are going to do when they are dead. We can do it now why we are alive! That is another way the rich are different apparently.

We have to change behaviors. We often don't do that without a prod. Sometimes its an electric cattle prod, I think this small fee is way better. Don't you agree?

Paper or Plastic? Some Communities Say Neither

Published: September 28, 2012

Bill Hoffman, owner of Aptos Jewelers in Aptos, Calif., sells bracelets, rings and pendants for thousands of dollars each. He balks at the notion of charging customers an extra 10 cents for a shopping bag, but Mr. Hoffman has no choice. It is the law.

Not just in Santa Cruz County, where Aptos is, but similar rules apply in more than two dozen California cities. Grocery stores, pharmacies and sometimes other retailers are no longer allowed to use plastic shopping bags and must charge customers for paper ones. Fees typically are 5 or 10 cents, and are aimed at nudging people to carry reusable bags when they shop.

California legislators have pushed for a statewide fee of up to 10 cents, coupled with a ban on plastic bags. The concept is sweeping across the most populous state two years after the District of Columbia adopted a 5-cent charge for paper and plastic. Similar laws are popping up in communities across the country.

But for consumers, it is also developing into something more than an environmental movement — it has become a kind of referendum of shopping culture at the cash register.

That is not by accident. Advocates for the movement (who now have their sights set on Manhattan) say they are trying to create a pointed reminder of waste by introducing a potential irritant to longstanding checkout choreography.

It strikes some retailers like Mr. Hoffman as insulting.

“I won’t ask 10 cents for a bag when somebody spends $10,000. That’s petty,” said Mr. Hoffman, who asked the county to exempt him from the 10-cent rule, which went into effect in March. The rule does not allow retailers to give away bags and build the charge into prices.

“Someone could walk in here with a cloth bag and carrots in it and stick their ring in it,” Mr. Hoffman said about the prospect of a person’s putting jewelry in a reusable bag. “That looks really good,” he added sarcastically.

Tim Goncharoff, a Santa Cruz County official who wrote the rule, said Mr. Hoffman’s exemption request had been denied on the grounds that complying would not create a hardship and that many other businesses had found a way to meet the requirement. Retailers risk a warning and then a fine of up to $500.

Mr. Goncharoff said the rules were intended to make people think about the wastefulness of single-use products.

“It’s the thoughtless disposal of things we want to challenge. It’s the throwaway culture,” Mr. Goncharoff said. He added that the checkout aisle was the perfect place for the reminder. “It’s a little tickle to the conscience.”

The plastics industry is fighting back with legal challenges, arguing that cities are not proving there is a sufficient environmental benefit from the policies and that the fees can constitute an improper tax. They say the rules are particularly onerous and impractical in places like San Francisco or New York, where tourists are unlikely to have packed a reusable bag.

“If a tourist buys a reusable bag, it will end up in a hotel trash bin and then a landfill,” said Stephen Joseph, lawyer for Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, which sued San Francisco. He is also arguing that plastic bags are safer than paper or reusable bags in certain situations, like carrying hot food from restaurants.

But earlier this month, a court in San Francisco rejected the group’s lawsuit. The decision will allow the city to roll out on Oct. 1 one of the nation’s most far-reaching bag ordinances, banning plastic bags at all retailers — big and small, and also restaurants — and eventually requiring they charge 10 cents for paper and compostable carryout bags.

Over all, more than 50 California cities have passed some bag ban ordinance (not all have taken effect), and many others are considering one.

Nancy F. Koehn, a retail industry historian at the Harvard Business School, said the rules seemed likely to spread across the country even though they “interrupt the grace and fabric” of the relationship between consumer and retailer. In that way, she said, it is distinct from previous environmental movements, like charging a nickel deposit for a soda bottle, that people could pay without thinking.

Unlike those movements, this one invokes something that bleeds from the checkout aisle into daily lives. Plastic bags are reused as lunch sacks, for composting and recycling, and as a carryall for a day at the beach.

“It’s like sharp-edged dental floss,” Ms. Koehn said of bag fees. “You’ve got to do it and maybe it’s good for you, but maybe it doesn’t feel so good.”

For some consumers, the bag fee can be a source of deep frustration, said Jeffrey Seltzer, an official in the Department of the Environment in the District of Columbia, which in 2010 mandated a 5-cent charge on paper and plastic bags. A report there had found that plastic bags made up 47 percent of the trash in the local streams. They have since seen a sharp jump in the use of reusable bags but have also heard some grumbling.

Referring to free bags, Mr. Seltzer said that some people could feel that “this is something that’s a right.”

From each nickel consumers pay for a bag, a penny goes to the store and 4 cents goes for restoration projects. Mr. Seltzer has seen people bundle their goods in their arms to avoid paying a nickel for a bag, and has heard of other people driving outside Washington to avoid it. “People go out their way to avoid it,” he said.

In Santa Monica, Calif., where a 10-cent charge for paper and a ban on plastic bags went into effect last year, the reusable bag culture has exploded, said Josephine Miller, an environmental program analyst with the city. There are sites where people can leave a bag for others, and she said she has heard stories of grocery employees who say to customers who forgot their bags, “If you give me your keys, I’ll got to your car and get it.”

People want to be seen with the coolest, hippest reusable bag, she said, adding, “Businesses are putting logos on reusable bags.”

Initially in California, cities were focused on banning plastic bags. But they started coupling that with a fee on paper bags after grappling with a question prompted in part by the plastics industry: Wouldn’t plastic bag bans drive people to paper bags, which themselves have an environmental cost?

The plastics industry said the cities were not taking into account just how much paper and plastic bags are important parts of daily life beyond the checkout line. The bag, they say, has been demonized, and the reusable bag unfairly celebrated. Such bags often themselves contain plastic and, the industry says, can even be unhealthy.

“They can harbor hazardous bacteria,” said Mark Daniels, chairman of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, an industry trade group.

Because of the popularity of reusable bags, he has changed his own shopping habits. He said he would not even get in line at a grocery store behind someone with a reusable bag because he was worried it would not have been cleaned since its last use and would pass bacteria to a bagger, who in turn could pass it on to his groceries.

Jennie R. Romer, the Atlantic region director of the Clean Seas Coalition, said that reusable bags, like many other items, would sometimes need to be washed, and should be made of washable material.

The coalition recently opened an office in New York City, where it plans to push for a bag ordinance.

In San Francisco, where the 10-cent fee will go into effect next month, many residents appear resigned to the idea.

“You already pay 25 cents for four minutes at a parking meter, so what do you expect?” said Robin Brasso, a retired schoolteacher here, who was shopping at a Trader Joe’s.

She said she had reusable bags but had forgotten them that day. After a bit of reflection, she added this about the rule: “It’s a pain in the butt, but it’s an understandable one.”

Friday, September 28, 2012

Clean Care? Think Again

Yes my assault on the medical industry contines. Its an industry, like building, auto manufacturing, or any other trade. The difference is that they have the most fragile and most intimate of industries under their watch - your health.

To pretend that these individuals are somehow above the law, basic ethics and responsiblity is why the medical industry is in the state its in today. And that is a hell of a state.

I just watched the documentary on PBS called Medicine and Money. It clearly showed the absolute lack of coordination and care that is most evident in cost of treatment. Depending on where you live and what is available the level and cost of care varies. It does not change or in fact improve the quality of care it just costs different and in turn that is often the largest determinent of care in this country- costs. So to put it this way Mercedes C class costs 30K in Seattle, same car in Ohio 20K. Same car, same engine, same performance. Why is it different in sticker price. Because no one knows, cares or its what they can get and that is what matters, the bottom line. So in medicine the same Doctors in one location can relocate and suddenly their level of care is dramatically different. Why? Because they can.

And then when you do manage to get care the next risk is the hospital itself. The amount of infections alone are enough to make a sick person sicker. In the year 2006 a study found that Sepsis and Pneumonia caused by Hospital-acquired Infections killed 48,000 Patients, with a cost of $8.1 Billion to treat

In 2002, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that all hospital-acquired infections were associated with 99,000 deaths per year. All of this is not a big whoops by hosptials they in fact absorb the costs and then pass them on just like an infection to patients. Sounds like banks only worse.

And today I read this in the NY Times. I am passed being shocked at this point.

A Duty of Health Care

Health care workers should know better than anyone that it is important to get vaccinated against the flu virus to protect their own health and prevent the possibility of infecting patients. There were some encouraging signs in an analysis issued Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that doctors and nurses are beginning to get the message. But other health care workers — a broad group that includes clinical personnel like nurse practitioners and physician assistants and various nonprofessional aides and assistants — show remarkable indifference to performing what ought to be considered their civic duty.

The C.D.C. survey found that 67 percent of all health care workers were vaccinated during the 2011-12 flu season, up slightly from 64 percent the season before. Looking back over the past three seasons, the C.D.C. found that the percentage of physicians getting flu vaccine rose from 81 to 86 percent; the percentage of nurses jumped from 69 to 80 percent. Those rates don’t meet the national goal of 90 percent, but they are headed in the right direction.

Vaccination rates for other health care personnel remained roughly similar for all three years, in the low-60 percent range. Most disturbing, excluding doctors and nurses, only about half of the workers in long-term care facilities, which treat patients at high risk of complications if they get the flu, got vaccinated last season. When respondents were asked why they were not vaccinated, the most common reasons were a belief that they did not need it, concern about whether the vaccine was effective and worries about side effects.

Vaccinations of health care personnel should be required, either by state laws or by employers. The survey found that 95 percent of workers in hospitals that required vaccinations got them, compared with only 68 percent of those in hospitals without such a rule.

Even without making it mandatory, employers can make a difference by promoting vaccination through educational campaigns, by providing incentives and making vaccine easily available at no cost. Some 75 percent of workers whose institutions promoted vaccination got the flu vaccine. Employers need to press more of their workers to do so

So if one wonders why this goes on? There is no regulatory body, no centralized agency in charge of monitoring and advising health care and what needs to be done to improve care, reduce costs and overall make the health care industry a responsive one to the needs of its consumers. And yet we have a Consumer Protection Agency. Doesn't medicine fit under that umbrella?

Cell Block 9

I loved that Aussie soap opera as a kid. My mother was Australian and when it was finally broadcast on US shores we were hooked. Little did I know that soon we will all be living in cells as that is the new boon, bomb or wave in housing; next to pre-fab, passive, LEED, etc, etc. This takes the concept of this small house to an entirely new level.

San Francisco, a city where I used to live but had to leave as it was way to expensive and New York are front burners on this new movement to build cells for the SINKs.. you know the single income no kids/kin in which to house. Seattle is not far behind and another reason why I am getting the hell out of here asap. And Vancouver BC has had a recent debate over the rise of the new "SRO". What I think is the appeal is the lipstick to the pig frankly via the "high end" appearing finishes.

I am not against communal living and economizing, living in smaller more efficient spaces but this is not about that. This is about cramming as many people in a densely packed space as a way of reducing social services, such as mass transportation and affordable housing for families and individuals while in turn increasing a tax payer base and developer profit. There is no indication that these cells will be below market value (in fact do the math of rent/per square foot its quite shocking) and therefore justifying the smallness is size, they are targeted in fact to a very certain market of young and the nearly affluent who are used to living in dorms or even shared flop pads to crash while "hacking the night away" These are more like bed-sits or transient housing aka "flophouses" for the soon to be rich when the dot com bomb hits.

I am all about re-examining our housing needs but this is not it. This is a joke and again something that will be added to the ever absurd hits and misses by a housing market descimated and trying to find new ways to rebound. This is not the way.

San Franciscans Divide Over Pint-Size Apartments

Published: September 26, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO — This city of sprawling Victorian homes and expansive harbor views has erupted into a fight over itty-bitty apartments.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors had been scheduled to vote on proposed legislation to change the building code to lower the minimum size for apartments, allowing developers to build so-called micro-units as small as 220 square feet.

But amid a fierce debate over housing set off by the micro-apartment proposal, lawmakers chose to postpone the vote until November.

“We have a housing affordability crisis here; rents are through the roof,” said Scott Wiener, the city supervisor who introduced the legislation and who says tiny apartments will help provide affordable housing to single people, students and the elderly. While the city’s affordable housing advocates agree that there is a crisis, many feel the micro-apartments will only exacerbate the problem by catering to the young, high-tech set, further driving up rental prices.

Opponents of the legislation have even taken to derisively calling the micro-units “Twitter apartments.”

The proposed change in the building code comes at a time when the city is already deep in the throes of an identity crisis brought on by an influx of technology workers from across the globe. In recent years, several large technology companies, including Twitter and the online game company Zynga, have chosen to locate their headquarters in the city’s urban core, eschewing more suburban Silicon Valley locales. The higher-earning newcomers have contributed to rapidly rising rental prices.

The average rent for a studio apartment in the city is $2,126, an increase of 22 percent since 2008, according to RealFacts, a company that tracks apartment rental data in cities across the country.

Mr. Wiener estimates that the rent for a micro-apartment will be $1,200 to $1,500 per month. The legislation would allow only new buildings to include the 220-square-foot apartments.

“What San Francisco really needs is affordable family housing,” said Ted Gullicksen, director of the San Francisco Tenants Union. “This is not family friendly. This is aimed at tech workers and those who need a crash pad.”

Proponents like Mr. Wiener say the units are not intended for those in the technology industry and point instead to the growing population of people living alone. Nearly 40 percent of residents here live by themselves, the census has found.

But such cramped quarters — about the size of five Ping-Pong tables — worry tenants rights advocates.

“Are we saying it is acceptable to box people up in little tiny spaces?” said Tommi Avicolli Mecca, director of counseling at the Housing Rights Committee, a nonprofit organization. “What standard are we setting here?”

Similar small-studio proposals are being considered in urban areas across the country. New York City recently approved a 60-unit pilot project containing apartments as small as 275 square feet. San Jose, about 60 miles south of San Francisco, already allows 220-square-foot units. Cities like Seattle, Chicago and Boston have also experimented with such units.

Internationally, cities like Paris and Tokyo have long been known for their pint-size pads. But in recent weeks housing authorities in Singapore, a hub of dense development, limited new small apartments to encourage developers to build more diverse and family-oriented housing.

“Units of this size already exist in the city,” said Tim Colen, director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, a group that supports the micro-unit legislation. “And we think these small units are a logical, necessary response to an extremely high-cost housing market.”

Green Clean Auto Machine

Below is a guest blog entry about the rise of the new green clean automobiles coming on market.

It's nice to think that after years of SUV's and Trucks being the dominant focus of the Big Three they are looking greener and cleaner in both energy use and design. Like homes going green doesn't mean sacraficing design for purpose. They are not mutually exclusive.


With the myriad of car choices on the market it’s difficult to decide where to begin. The good news is that more and more companies are making their vehicles increasingly cost effective by going green. What exactly does that mean for you?

An environmentally friendly car or truck will emit lower levels of harmful gases, including carbon monoxide which decreases the pollution in the air we breathe. As a bonus to the owner of the vehicle, lower insurance rates are common amongst green or hybrid cars, as they pose a lesser risk than others.

What about the cost of gas? Depending on the vehicle you choose, you may be stopping at the gas station less frequently as the MPG (miles per gallon) for city and highway increase with each new model.

The 2012 Chrysler 300 is a perfect example of cost and fuel efficiency. With its estimated 31 highway MPG, this model has also earned recognition from Roadfly, Kelley Blue Book and received a 5 star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The Dodge Ram 2500 Pickup Truck delivers with an 18.2 gallon equivalent CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) tank that boasts 255 miles of driving as well as an 8 gallon gas tank for an additional 112 miles.

What is compressed natural gas and how will it benefit us as consumers? CNG is a fossil-fuel substitute for petrol gas. As opposed to the unhealthy petroleum gas which produces large amounts of harmful toxins that cause global warming, CNG produces significantly less while also maintaining a considerably higher MPG rate. Studies show that CNG costs fifteen to forty percent less than petroleum gasoline, as well as producing a better engine performance. Gasoline can only be accessed through authorized stations, CNG can be refilled at home through ones own natural gas line.

Diesel fuel, another variant in the market, also claims better fuel efficiency while also emitting twenty to forty percent less greenhouse gas than other vehicles. The 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee will be seen under its new badge, EcoDiesel. EcoDiesel will be used by Chrysler to distinguish their new line of clean diesel vehicles that are expected to be introduced within the next few years. Though the Jeep Grand Cherokee bears 2014, it is set to be released in early 2013. The EcoDiesel engine is predicted to run 33 highway miles and 23 city miles, making it more fuel efficient than its gas fueled counterparts.

At the Lou Fusz Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep dealership located in O’Fallon, Missouri, you can test drive several different models that achieve the 31 MPG rate along with other key features that will help you decide which vehicle is right for you.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Build It Right Make it Right

I was reading my online copy of Green Builder mag and they were proud of their attendance at the star studded opening of the homes built by Brad Pitt's Make It Right foundation.

Now in my contrarian fashion (okay cranky) I am always suspect of foundations, particularly any with celebrities attached. But then every now and then I am surprised and pleasantly so.

The Make It Right foundation did have a major competition to design and ultimately construct new afforable and more importantly sustainable homes after the destruction of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricaine Katrina. And of course its packed with the requesite designer divas, I mean Architects, but also local people who know first hand what it means to live and work in New Orleans. The goal was to make the area, once the poorest in New Orleans, the greenest.

Their mission is clear and plainly stated:

Beyond building new homes for residents who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina, Make It Right is a unique laboratory for testing and implementing new construction techniques, technologies and materials that will make green, storm resistant homes affordable and broadly available to working families in communities across America

The Make It Right program is designed to help Lower 9th Ward residents become homeowners. The buyer is expected to contribute as much of their own resources as they can to cover the purchase price of the home. The average price of a single family home is $150,000; the average price of a duplex is $200,000. Prices vary based on home sizes and designs.

The average resident contribution to date (cash at closing) has been $75,000, usually made up of grants from Road Home, other programs, and outside mortgage financing. Make It Right provides financing to cover the gap. Make It Right offers the following financial products:

Soft seconds – loans with no payments and no interest that are forgiven over a period of time in exchange for the homeowner’s commitment to remain in the home as an owner-occupant

Affordable mortgages – qualifying applicants who can afford monthly mortgage payments but do not qualify for a mortgage from a private bank.

My beloved Treme returned on Sunday night. And I love the work of David Simon, a master story teller telling a masterful story of what it means to Re-build America. Its not just the structures, its the people. I cannot reiterate more how important is to hear all the voices in the city and the streets despite the din and the message. No matter if we agree we have the right to be heard and respect the difference.

The homes are LEED certified... frankly my one complaint, why that matters or is necessary is to me money spent on better needed things, such as ensuring that jobs are there, that the groceries, drug stores and other essentials of an infrastructure to make a community a living one. All buildings are living and green when people occupy them.

I am hopeful and excited that these efforts show that people regardless of what &% they belong that they belong to somewhere. A community can be your next of kin too.

Chi Town Green Town

My kind of town Chicago is. I got this the other day and after staying at an "eco hotel" that had more hotel, less eco, I am thrilled to find more and more commercial spaces where people do sleep and eat outside of their homes going green.

The big issue is Indoor Air Quality and Heating and Cooling. I joked that my air conditioner was akin to a white noise box that they sell at Brookstone to aid sleep only no sleep was aided with this box. (Good God I am now officially designated cranky).

So I pass this along to see what Chicago is doing right. Let's hope more follow.
Innovative Technology and Two Very Smart Guys in the Basement

Author: Rebecca Stanfield, NRDC Switchboard

September 18, 2012 -- In June, NRDC’s Midwest Program joined the City of Chicago in announcing the Commercial Buildings Initiative (CBI) – a component of Retrofit Chicago that aims to dramatically reduce the energy needs of Chicago’s commercial buildings. With the Mayor’s leadership, the owners of fourteen major commercial buildings, with a combined 14 million square feet of space, stood up that day and committed to cutting their energy needs by 20% over the next five years through energy efficiency improvements. This will save the buildings money on their electric bills, put Illinoisans to work making building improvements, and reduce harmful pollution caused by generating electricity.

Each building is now working to decide out how to meet that goal, and coming up with strategies and technologies that can pave the way for others. I’ll be checking in with each of the CBI partners over the coming months to highlight their progress and spread the word about the energy saving tools they’re using to make their buildings more sustainable and profitable.

First stop-- The Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers. I met up with Ryan Egan and Jim Fitzmaurice – who serve as the building Chief Engineer and Assistant Chief Engineer, and whose pagers never stop beeping as they hustle through the hotel making sure everything works just right.

Ryan and Jim have been working with a company called Telkonet to install motion sensing thermostats in every single one of the 1214 rooms in the hotel. It’s a simple concept, but it is making a huge energy savings impact at the hotel. Rather than keeping all of the rooms at a comfortable 72 degrees at all times, why not just heat and cool the rooms that are occupied? This simple change will lower the hotel’s electric bills by more than $150,000 per year.

Here’s how it works. If a room isn’t even reserved for the day, the system allows the room to go on “deep setback.” Once a guest checks in, the thermostat automatically resets and the room is comfortable by the time the guest reaches it. When a guest leaves the room for a meeting or sightseeing, the temperature will be allowed to drift just to the point that it could be brought back to that ideal temperature within 15 minutes. The system is automatically notified when you check out of the room, so that it can go back into deep setback.

“It seems so simple, but it’s an enormous improvement in our ability to manage our energy use and costs,” said Egan.

To make this improvement, a team of roughly ten workers were employed for nearly a month, alongside the building engineers and the team from Telkonet. The Sheraton was eligible for a rebate offered through the “ComEd Smart Ideas for your Business” program, which contributes to the short payback for the capital investment. This program is part of a statewide policy initiative to make the state more efficient. The system will pay for itself in 2.5 years, after which time the $150,000 savings can be used as the owners see fit – maybe to improve the building’s bottom line or to make additional hotel improvements that will enhance the guest experience.

Oh, right, and what about the environment? Is this an improvement that will make a real difference?

Each of the 1,219 hotel rooms will save 5 kwh per day, which means the hotel will save 2.4 million kwh per year. This one measure installed at this one hotel can reduce carbon pollution by about 2,000 tons per year – the equivalent of taking 436 cars off the road.

Stay tuned for more tales of progress as the Chicago Commercial Building Initiative moves forward.

Politics is a Dirtier Job

My beloved spokesman for the working man, Mike Rowe, went to the dirtiest job ever, the campaign trail. His point was that anyone willing to listen to real men who do real jobs really building things need to be heard. And he was, heard.

As I said in I Am No One and Its Been Confirmed when you are no one in America your voice is one lost. If no one can hear you scream in America you are a 0% a no one. I had written a letter to Michelle Obama and copied my two Senators, Murray and Cantwell. Senator Murray responded but then did nothing more. Thanks, I think.

Mike did not "endorse" Mitt Romney but he was there speaking for those who are the zero percenters, the 47%, the 99% who may or may not even have a job, let alone a dirty one, but he does get that we sometimes need cooks, bottle washers and other assorted labor that builds and creates jobs in ways often not recognized nor respected. At least he was heard and that is better than not. Whom Mike votes for is none of my business nor influences whom I do or do not vote for. The point is that he has a right to speak and and a right more importantly to be heard. Thank you Mike.

Mike Rowe lends ‘dirty jobs’ cred to Mitt Romney in Ohio, but no endorsement


Mike Rowe, host of the television show "Dirty Jobs," joined Mitt Romney during a campaign stop at American Spring Wire in Bedford Heights, Ohio, on Wednesday.
Mike Rowe of The Discovery Channel's reality hit "Dirty Jobs" lent Mitt Romney some working-class cred in Ohio on Wednesday — but no official endorsement.

His appearance with Romney grew out of an open letter the TV star wrote the Republican candidate about his effort to remove the stigma from manual labor.

"If you read the whole thing, I'll vote for you in November," Rowe promised in his missive, which pushed for a "national conversation" about the way American society treats some crucial career paths like "vocational consolation prizes."

Rowe noted that he wrote a similar letter to Obama 2009, but didn't get a response.

When the Romney campaign tweeted a photo of the candidate reading the letter on an iPad, Rowe tweeted his own surprised reaction: "Holy crap! He read it…"

In introducing the TV star at a manufacturing roundtable discussion, Romney pre-empted the jokes about Rowe's "dirty job" for his campaign.

"Mike Rowe, as you know, is — well, he's a guy who has made a name for himself by doing things other people don't want to do — really ugly, dirty jobs, like standing with a politician," Romney quipped, getting a laugh from the crowd.

Mike Rowe tweeted his surprised reaction to proof that Mitt Romney read his letter: "Holy crap! He read it…"With recent polls showing Romney trailing President Obama in the key battleground of Ohio, Romney was touring the Buckeye State to woo working-class Americans like the ones featured on Rowe's show.

But despite Rowe's promise to pull the lever for Romney, the GOP candidate clarified that his appearance at the Bedford Heights event didn't amount to an endorsement.

"He's not here to endorse me," Romney said, "he's here to talk about his ideas about how to help America create more jobs."

Rowe, who is also a pitchman for Ford Motor Co., repeated the same points from his letter when he took the stage at Romney's Ohio event.

"I personally and honestly believe that we have unintentionally disconnected ourselves in a really fundamental way from the most important part of our workforce," he said. "I'm talking about the men and women who do the kinds of jobs that make civilized life possible for the rest of us."

Mitt Romney and Mike Rowe rolled up their sleeves for a tour of American Spring Wire's factory floor.Rowe also recalled spending "a very long day in the middle of July" in Ohio working with the Department of Transportation's road kill cleanup division for his TV job.

"You'll be pleased to know, Ohio, that you do in fact have a road kill cleanup division and they are excellent at what they do," Rowe said. "You'll also be pleased to know the road kill itself here in Ohio is second to none, both in volume and variety."

The Cleaver Family Go Green

I found this article this morning from Atlantic Cities regarding the net zero home in the suburbs. Been there done that. We had one built by Shirey Construction three years ago and this is not something new to the plate at all.

However, what made it interesting is that I never heard of this house until now. Which is hilarious given that I was at the big contest of energy egos in Denver in July at the DOE conference, which ironically and acutally discusses how to make this a reality across the United States by 2030. But swinging dicks often get in the way of actual reality. Its a conference run and administered by men, so one needs to expect that bragging rights often trump information. (Okay I am really turning into less a contrarian into someone just cranky) Sorry but I was shocked that Building Science who is doing this home never actually mentioned it. Or maybe they did and in between the insulting and ego managing I missed it.

We have to change how we live. We have to. We have to find ways to make homes suitable for a multitude of families and needs. Not homes for starters or homes for aging in place but homes for anyone and of any kind to live in affordably and sustainably. We need to realize one size doesn't fit all and that we can again find effective and manageable ways to meet the 2030 challenge with all the appropriate bells and whistles.

At the convention the term or label "building science" was mentioned as something anyone is using and I feel the same about "consultant" which is why I have gone back to my first one "educator". I believe that is the key to change, education and teaching. We cannot ask people or even demand from them the expectation that its the "right thing to do." We have to be able to meet the needs of a society undergoing immense change from aging to economics. We have to look at the idea of multi-generational and co-housing as appropriate options. All building are living buildings and they too are throwing their hat in that ring and should have also been at the party in Denver. Working together is what makes a collective. From the collective comes change and growth. Together we stand alone we fall. Its my re-occuring theme and I know this first hand.

This House Consumes Less Net Energy Than Your Little Urban Studio
Emily Badger
Sep 26, 2012

Three mornings a week, Bill Healy or Hunter Fanney lead tours for their government colleagues of the newest and most curious project on the campus of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland, a place where federal researchers tinker with wild ideas like refrigerants that could combat global warming and sensors that could measure human brain activity. This latest $2.5 million experiment went up slowly over the course of 18 months on a grassy lawn just inside the campus’ main entrance and across the street from its childcare center. So lots of people have been waiting to get a peek inside.

Set anywhere else – in fact, even just outside of NIST’s security gates in suburban Washington, D.C. – this laboratory would look entirely unremarkable. It is, by all appearances, a typical suburban American home. It has three upstairs bedrooms, 2,700 square feet of living space, another 1,500 square feet of unfinished basement, a detached two-car garage and the kind of yawning driveway you could spend an entire weekend shoveling in wintertime.

"Now," says Healy, starting a tour this week inside the two-car garage for a dozen curious colleagues, "this isn’t a small home."

Of course, he’s stating the obvious. But the size of this house is one of the most novel things about it. NIST believes that this home – with 10 kilowatts of photovoltaic panels on the roof, and another four solar thermal panels over the front porch – will generate as much energy as a four-person family can consume in a year. This is, in other words, a “net-zero” house. But most attempts at building such places have taken the form of futuristic or minimalist creations, of tiny pod homes or avant-garde construction.

"We wanted to show that it could be done in a normal house," says Healy, a group leader in NIST’s Energy and Environment Division. "We could have done small little pods, but we didn’t think that would really have the impact of showing what could be done in a real, American house."

This is, in fact, pretty close to the types of houses builders have been constructing for the last decade (not counting the recession). The average new home in America peaked in size at about 2,500 square feet in 2007. The inside of the NIST home, designed to be LEED Platinum by the firm Building Science Corporation, feels spacious but not quite excessive for a family of four. You could probably yell from one corner of the kitchen to a family member in the master bedroom.

This is the kind of home – already complete with wall sconces, built-in cabinets and warm paint tones – where a sizable share of Americans live (or, at least, aspire to). In the quest to combat climate change and reduce our energy consumption, it’s easy to sidestep this reality. Cities are inherently more energy efficient than the suburbs, just as apartment buildings and town homes do a better job of insulating and sharing energy than detached single-family houses do. We could put a pretty significant dent in America’s carbon footprint if everyone would just move from suburban houses that look like this one into urban, transit-oriented developments. But this is, of course, unrealistic.

If, on the other hand, American tastes for the 2,700 square-foot, two-car garage homestead don't change, we could at least change these homes themselves. Give them solar panels, double- and triple-paned windows, hyper-insulated walls that are twice as thick as typically built and the most energy efficient spaces on the market. Every advance in NIST’s net-zero home is currently available commercially, if not at Home Depot (it’s also possible to buy almost all of these things in America). This is the other piece of what this experiment is trying to prove: The typical suburban home can go net-zero, too – and right now, not 10 years down the road.

The project underscores that we probably need to invest in both of these futures: one where more people have the opportunity to move into dense and car-free urban neighborhoods, and the other where we recreate the alternative for people who don’t want to do that.

The endeavor, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, cost $2.5 million. But the actual cost of constructing a home like this is probably closer to $600,000 to $800,000 (not counting the value of the land below it). As part of its future research, NIST plans to study just what such a home might run you if it were located not on a government campus, but in a real Maryland subdivision.

At some point later this year, when all of the instrumentation is ready, the Energy and Environment Division will stop giving tours. At that point, the home will be sealed off for a year as researchers study it in living action. There will be no furniture in the house, and no real people, either. Instead, life with a typical family of four – including a 14 and 8-year-old – will be minutely simulated based on national data, with sensors turning on and off and consuming energy to the rhythms of a family’s morning coffee pot, evening TV time and nighttime showers. Any appliance found in more than 50 percent of American homes – hair driers, toasters, clocks – will be simulated. The people will be, too. When you breathe, after all, you produce humidity.

“People matter significantly in residential [buildings],” Healy says. The energy consumption in a large office building is effected more by equipment and large systems than individual people. But your home is different. How you use your home – how long you shower, how often you wash your clothes, where you set the thermostat – goes a long way toward determining how much energy your home uses.

If you were to press your face to a first-floor window of the NIST house later this year, you might see a faucet briefly running as if someone were washing dishes at the kitchen sink, or the lights dim as the invisible occupants retreat upstairs for bed. It sounds almost as if simulating this family will be a greater technical challenge than building the house was (when you put a hot casserole into a cold fridge, even that impacts energy use – and NIST has taken this into account, too).

But a virtual family, rather than a real one, will allow the researchers to more accurately test all of the building’s features and systems as they interact with each other. Product manufacturers, Healy says, are already lined up to work with NIST on the findings. NIST falls under the federal Department of Commerce, which means that a large part of its mission lies in pursuing research that could help American industries (and inform standards such as building code). In this case, it’s also pursuing research that most home builders, or air conditioning companies, would be unable or unlikely to do on their own.

"We certainly don’t want to publish data that says, ‘this looks great,’" Healy says, referring to a particular refrigerator or insulation brand. "We’re not Consumer Reports. We have to be careful of that. But we want to help industry evaluate how different technologies would work in a home."

Depending on where this house may be built in the real world, its location (and associated transportation) could offset some of its energy efficiency. But a subdivision of net-zero homes would still be a vast improvement on the status quo. And in some ways, these houses are also better prepared to take advantage of solar energy than an urban home beneath a dense tree canopy. A lot of the other technologies inside the NIST house are meant to work just as well for a detached home on five acres as for five smaller town homes on half of one. But the real innovation here is that you may have the option of choosing between either model in the very near future.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Gone with the Wind

As the Galtian mantra of "We Built That" is being bandied about with apparently no credit to anyone but the unicorn Alger who by his bootstraps alone managed to somehow overcome all the obstacles that the big bad Government put in his way to build America. Not just his business but the ENTIRE country apparently.

And on the heels of the Government's lack of support an industry might be blowin in the wind - Wind Energy. Ironically its biggest supporter, T.Boone Pickens, a well known Republican and Oil Man was at one point going to build the biggest Wind Farm in America. That gone with the wind and the subsequent orders from another American company, GE, kicking up dust, it was only a matter of time that without the lobbying efforts of a well connected and oiled supporter Wind Energy would be turned off.

As we already learned with other DOE supported ventures in Solar its who you know not what you do that matters. This is not surprising that once again alternative means and sustainable methods to fuel our economy are secondary. We have no voice loud enough and powerful enough to be heard. But this not just about alternative sustainable energy it was about manufacturing and production - skills and jobs that will also be lost in the dust.

Tax Credit in Doubt, Wind Power Industry Is Withering

Published: September 20, 2012

FAIRLESS HILLS, Pa. — Last month, Gamesa, a major maker of wind turbines, completed the first significant order of its latest innovation: a camper-size box that can capture the energy of slow winds, potentially opening new parts of the country to wind power.

But by the time the last of the devices, worth more than $1.25 million, was hitched to a rail car, Gamesa had furloughed 92 of the 115 workers who made them.

“We are all really sad,” said Miguel Orobiyi, 34, who worked as a mechanical assembler at the Gamesa plant for nearly five years. “I hope they call us back because they are really, really good jobs.”

Similar cuts are happening throughout the American wind sector, which includes hundreds of manufacturers, from multinationals that make giant windmills to smaller local manufacturers that supply specialty steel or bolts. In recent months, companies have announced almost 1,700 layoffs.

At its peak in 2008 and 2009, the industry employed about 85,000 people, according to the American Wind Energy Association, the industry’s principal trade group.

About 10,000 of those jobs have disappeared since, according to the association, as wind companies have been buffeted by weak demand for electricity, stiff competition from cheap natural gas and cheaper options from Asian competitors. Chinese manufacturers, who can often underprice goods because of generous state subsidies, have moved into the American market and have become an issue in the larger trade tensions between the countries. In July, the United States Commerce Department imposed tariffs on steel turbine towers from China after finding that manufacturers had been selling them for less than the cost of production.

And now, on top of the business challenges, the industry is facing a big political problem in Washington: the Dec. 31 expiration of a federal tax credit that makes wind power more competitive with other sources of electricity.

The tax break, which costs about $1 billion a year, has been periodically renewed by Congress with support from both parties. This year, however, it has become a wedge issue in the presidential contest. President Obama has traveled to wind-heavy swing states like Iowa to tout his support for the subsidy. Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, has said he opposes the wind credit, and that has galvanized Republicans in Congress against it, perhaps dooming any extension or at least delaying it until after the election despite a last-ditch lobbying effort from proponents this week.

Opponents argue that the industry has had long enough to wean itself from the subsidy and, with wind representing a small percentage of total electricity generation, the taxpayers’ investment has yielded an insufficient return.

“Big Wind has had extension after extension after extension,” said Benjamin Cole, a spokesman for the American Energy Alliance, a group partly financed by oil interests that has been lobbying against the credit in Washington. “The government shouldn’t be continuing to prop up industries that never seem to be able to get off their training wheels.”

But without the tax credit in place, the wind business “falls off a cliff,” said Ryan Wiser, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who studies the market potential of renewable electricity sources.

The industry’s precariousness was apparent a few weeks ago at the Gamesa factory, as a crew loaded the guts of the company’s newest model of the component, a device known as a nacelle, into its fiberglass shell. Only 50 completed nacelles awaited pickup in a yard once filled with three times as many, most of the production line stood idle, and shelves rated to hold 7,270 pounds of parts and equipment lay bare.

“We’ve done a lot to get really efficient here,” said Tom Bell, the manager of the plant, which was built on the grounds of a shuttered U.S. Steel factory that was once a bedrock of the local economy. “Now we just need a few more orders.”

Industry executives and analysts say that the looming end of the production tax credit, which subsidizes wind power by 2.2 cents a kilowatt-hour, has made project developers skittish about investing or going forward. That reluctance has rippled through the supply chain.

On Tuesday, Siemens, the German-based turbine-maker, announced it would lay off 945 workers in Kansas, Iowa and Florida, including part-timers. Last week Katana Summit, a tower manufacturer, said it would shut down operations in Nebraska and Washington if it could not find a buyer. Vestas, the world’s largest turbine manufacturer, with operations in Colorado and Texas, recently laid off 1,400 workers globally on top of 2,300 layoffs announced earlier this year. Clipper Windpower, with manufacturing in Iowa, is reducing its staff by a third, to 376 from 550. DMI Industries, another tower producer, is planning to lay off 167 workers in Tulsa by November.

Wind industry jobs range in pay from about $30,000 a year for assemblers to almost $100,000 a year for engineers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The industry’s contraction follows several years of sustained growth — with a few hiccups during the downturn — that has helped wind power edge closer to the cost of electricity from conventional fuels. The number of turbine manufacturers grew to nine in 2010 from just one in 2005, according to the United States International Trade Commission, while the number of component makers increased tenfold in roughly the same period to almost 400, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Aside from Clipper Windpower and General Electric, most of the turbine manufacturers operating in the United States have headquarters overseas, especially in Europe, where wind power took off first, spurred by clean energy policies and generous subsidies.

As the United States put in place mandates and subsidies of its own, several large outfits, including the Spanish company Gamesa, set up shop stateside. Because the turbines, made of roughly 8,000 parts, are so large and heavy — blades half the length of a football field, towers rising hundreds of feet in the air, motors weighing in the tons — they are difficult and expensive to transport.

As a result, manufacturers invested billions to develop a supply chain in the United States. More than 100 companies contribute parts to Gamesa’s 75-ton devices, which are the most expensive and complex major components of high-tech windmills.

Some longtime Gamesa partners like Hine Hydraulics followed the company from Spain, investing millions in building plants in the United States and sending workers to Spain for expensive training.

Rich Miller, who works for Hine in Quakertown, Pa., said that when he went to Spain to learn how to build and test power units for its hydraulic systems, it was his first trip out of the country.

“That was quite an experience in itself,” said Mr. Miller, who is 58, adding that he probably learned more in four years at Hine than at previous jobs.

Now he worries about having to move on. “Hopefully it will go back to the way things were.” Losing his job at his age, he said, “would be devastating for me.”

Riots in the Streets

Europe the bastion of the Social safety net has been undergoing an Austerity path for 3 years now. Less bootstraps more about paying of banks and bond holders that inspired this economic plan of action.

The European safety net much decried here in the sneered "socialism" as its some type of nasty epithet thrown at you as you are less than worthy has found many Countries in worse state than had they actually tried to fix the safety nets that preserved a quality of life. Bankers, clearly love their hair and to them getting a haircut as its called was not an option. Much like the infamous collapsed Solyndra loan or even the loans and grants to Tesla Motors in this country they real plan is pay investors first and if they can they will trickle it down. Solyndra has shut its doors and Tesla Motors is well busy creating cars that no one in the 99% will ever buy. Good luck with that target market of 1%.

Today their are riots in the streets of Spain, as they had a year ago in Greece. The recent elections in both Greece and France, kicked out the Austerity cheerleaders and then they found out that different uniform same cheer. Regardless of where you live in the world the Banks are the real leaders.

We in America seem to eschew or even ignore European politics, a grave mistake. Its what led us down the road to not one but two World Wars and numerous other problems that often end up filling our plate by far more than what we should. We are bigger, stronger but are we better? When it comes down to death and dying no one should be the best.

The current political climate is moving in this direction of Austerity under the micro-economic idea of "tighten your belt" Again applying domestic terminology to a professional circumstance is not only absurd its insulting. But colloquialisms make good poli-speak.

Yesterday the New York Times had an article on the dumpster diving in Spain. Having lived in Spain I knew first hand the Spanish pride and history that lived in its countryside, its buildings and more importantly its people. I loved that they seemed harmonious with their past and seemingly integrating its future. The Barcelona Olympics had just finished and that city was alive with energy and dynamism that I suspect Athens had four years ago. Times change and another Olympics in London just occurred and I saw from a distance the same passion, enthusiasm and positivity about the future in line with its past. And then all those opening and closing ceremonies end and people go home and the buildings that are built go empty. Even the famous Bird's Nest sits empty.

Hey it was a great party right, but clean up is a bitch. And today we have riots in the streets of Madrid while the poor dumpster diving on the Las Ramblas, the famous street in Barcelona. Here in America we have 21% or nearly one quarter of America children living in poverty. Read the article below do these Spaniards sound any different than their American equivalent?

I often call the aesthetic of Seattle Dumpster Divers from outside Value Village as they couldn't even manage to go inside to get clothes. That is the "choice" many do make as they laugh and call it Dumpster Diving Chic. Sorry I find it repugnant and demeaning. A mockery of people who for them its basic necessity.

America is not Europe and that is neither bad nor good. It is what it is. But they are our allies, we think of them as in this together. And by that we mean only apparently in war not peace. As I write about the safety nets, ours don't just have holes they have fissures. They will get worse not better if we don't pull ourselves out of our collective bubbles and actually help each other lift our bootstraps. The Me Generation that is so mocked in the 70s is the current society its way transcended a boomer nickname its become an American way of life. It the I got mine and you well you get yours and good luck with that.

Spain Recoils as Its Hungry Forage Trash Bins for a Next Meal

Published: September 24, 2012

MADRID — On a recent evening, a hip-looking young woman was sorting through a stack of crates outside a fruit and vegetable store here in the working-class neighborhood of

At first glance, she looked as if she might be a store employee. But no. The young woman was looking through the day’s trash for her next meal. Already, she had found a dozen aging potatoes she deemed edible and loaded them onto a luggage cart parked nearby.

“When you don’t have enough money,” she said, declining to give her name, “this is what there is.”

The woman, 33, said that she had once worked at the post office but that her unemployment benefits had run out and she was living now on 400 euros a month, about $520. She was squatting with some friends in a building that still had water and electricity, while collecting “a little of everything” from the garbage after stores closed and the streets were dark and quiet.

Such survival tactics are becoming increasingly commonplace here, with an unemployment rate over 50 percent among young people and more and more households having adults without jobs. So pervasive is the problem of scavenging that one Spanish city has resorted to installing locks on supermarket trash bins as a public health precaution.

A report this year by a Catholic charity, Caritas, said that it had fed nearly one million hungry Spaniards in 2010, more than twice as many as in 2007. That number rose again in 2011 by 65,000.

As Spain tries desperately to meet its budget targets, it has been forced to embark on the same path as Greece, introducing one austerity measure after another, cutting jobs, salaries, pensions and benefits, even as the economy continues to shrink.

Most recently, the government raised the value-added tax three percentage points, to 21 percent, on most goods, and two percentage points on many food items, making life just that much harder for those on the edge. Little relief is in sight as the country’s regional governments, facing their own budget crisis, are chipping away at a range of previously free services, including school lunches for low-income families.

For a growing number, the food in garbage bins helps make ends meet.

At the huge wholesale fruit and vegetable market on the outskirts of this city recently, workers bustled, loading crates onto trucks. But in virtually every bay, there were men and women furtively collecting items that had rolled into the gutter.

“It’s against the dignity of these people to have to look for food in this manner,” said Eduardo Berloso, an official in Girona, the city that padlocked its supermarket trash bins.

Mr. Berloso proposed the measure last month after hearing from social workers and seeing for himself one evening “the humiliating gesture of a mother with children looking around before digging into the bins.”

The Caritas report also found that 22 percent of Spanish households were living in poverty and that about 600,000 had no income whatsoever. All these numbers are expected to continue to get worse in the coming months.

About a third of those seeking help, the Caritas report said, had never used a food pantry or a soup kitchen before the economic crisis hit. For many of them, the need to ask for help is deeply embarrassing. In some cases, families go to food pantries in neighboring towns so their friends and acquaintances will not see them.

In Madrid recently, as a supermarket prepared to close for the day in the Entrevias district of Vallecas, a small crowd gathered, ready to pounce on the garbage bins that would shortly be brought to the curb. Most reacted angrily to the presence of journalists. In the end, few managed to get anything as the trucks whisked the garbage away within minutes.

But in the morning at the bus stop in the wholesale market, men and women of all ages waited, loaded down with the morning’s collection. Some insisted that they had bought the groceries, though food is not generally for sale to individuals there.

Others admitted to foraging through the trash. Victor Victorio, 67, an immigrant from Peru, said he came here regularly to find fruits and vegetables tossed in the garbage. Mr. Victorio, who lost his job in construction in 2008, said he lived with his daughter and contributed whatever he found — on this day, peppers, tomatoes and carrots — to the household. “This is my pension,” he said.

For the wholesalers who have businesses here, the sight of people going through the scraps is hard.

“It is not nice to see what is happening to these people,” said Manu Gallego, the manager of Canniad Fruit. “It shouldn’t be like this.”

In Girona, Mr. Berloso said his aim in locking down the bins was to keep people healthy and push them to get food at licensed pantries and soup kitchens. As the locks are installed on the bins, the town is posting civilian agents nearby with vouchers instructing people to register for social services and food aid.

He said 80 to 100 people had been regularly sorting through the bins before he took action, with a strong likelihood that many more were relying on thrown-away food to get by.

But Mr. Berloso’s locks created something of an uproar across Spain, where the economic crisis is fueling more and more protests highlighting hunger. A group of mayors and unionists in southern Spain, where unemployment rates are far above the average, recently staged Robin Hood raids on two supermarkets, loading carts with basic foods and pressing them to donate more food to the needy.

More than a dozen people are facing prosecution for theft over the stunt. But they are unrepentant and appear to have huge local support. “Taking some food and giving it to families who are having a really hard time, if this is stealing, I am guilty,” one of the men, Francisco Molero of the farmworkers’ SAT union, told the local news media afterward.

Some politicians say Girona’s locks are really all about protecting Girona’s image. Dominated by medieval buildings and the picturesque cobblestone streets of a beautifully preserved former Jewish quarter, the city of about 100,000 derives most of its income from tourism.

“The social workers or civil agents could refer people to the food distribution center without having to lock bins,” said Pia Bosch, a Socialist councilor in Girona. “It’s like killing a fly with a cannonball.”

The unemployment rate is still relatively low in Girona — 14 percent over all, compared with 25 percent for the country as a whole. But more and more families have no income. Of the 7,700 unemployed in Girona, Mr. Berloso said, 40 percent have now run out of benefits.

Many, he said, were “people who never expected to find themselves in this position.”

Ramon Barnera, who runs the Caritas programs in Girona, said the organization realized early on that shame was a factor preventing people from coming forward to ask for food. So three years ago, it helped create food distribution sites that looked more like supermarkets, and removed the charity’s name from the outside of the building.

“We looked for a system that would give dignity,” Mr. Barnera said. “This is not easy for people.”

On a recent morning, Juan Javier, 29, who had come to collect milk, pasta, vegetables and eggs from one of the distribution centers, was one of the few clients who would discuss his circumstances. A former printer, he has been out of work for two years. “I would like to have a job,” he said, “and not be here.”

In a nearby soup kitchen, Toni L√≥pez, 36, waited quietly for a free lunch with his girlfriend, Monica Vargas, 46, a beautician. The couple recently became homeless when they fell two months behind on their rent. “All our lives we have been working people,” Mr. Lopez said. “We are only here because we are decent people. The landlord was knocking on the door demanding the rent, so we said, ‘Here, here are the keys.’ ”

Mr. Lopez, who gets occasional work these days in restaurant kitchens, said he had a sister but had not gone to her for help. “I can’t bear to tell her,” he said. “I have always pulled through. I’ve always managed to get by. This is new.”

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Bubble-lator

It happened at the World's Fair. No really it did. In 1962 the World's Fair happened in Seattle, its how our iconic Space Needle came to be. When I seriously considered being an Architect at some delusional point in my life I worked one summer as a Receptionist for the famous firm of John Graham Associates, whose namesake, John Graham designed that modern landmark.

It took just that summer to realize that Architects are divas and that firm had its share of them. I have many amusing stories to share, my favorite being that the long time Secretary/Girlfriend/Whatever to the Senior John Graham, a woman well into her dotage when I worked there in the late 80s, used to ask her driver to run the red lights on East Madison enroute to her home. She lived with Mr.Graham (he was not yet deceased) in the one of the two most famous gated communities in Seattle, Broadview. Its located in a very well established Neighborhood of Madison Park where much of Seattle's "old money" reside. In those days yes even the 99% went to soirees and functions at homes there and in the other well known gated community - the Highlands. That was the home to another well established family - the Nordstrom family that has a department store chain named the same. As a child I went to that family home when my Mother a former clerk at their original store was invited. Yes in those days the 1% mixed with the 99%. It was a different time with different people.

But back to my original tale... I cannot recall this woman's name but she was very old school in behavior and appearance to the suits to the beehive, she ran a tight and terrifying ship. The firm was undergoing changes as they do in the times so letting go is tough but she was in the office every day and frankly as a woman she might have been ahead of her time. But she was also pretentious and I suspect racist. The neighborhood which she resided a lovely enclave where Howard Schultz of Starbucks now lives. More irony he was my former neighbor in Madrona living across the park from another very famous neighbor, Kurt Cobain and his wife Courtney Love. The same neighborhood that had clerks who worked in Nordstrom, but those kinds of "hoods" are eroding. And why was Madrona and Madison Park so eclectic? Because they were adjacent to our Central District, a largely black neighborhood, which you drive through to get there. So for Louise (I think that might have been her name) driving through quickly to her was a necessity she believed for safety reasons. She said to her driver, whom I was friends with, you know the Downstairs help and all, "drive through the lights if the police stop us shout out John Graham and they will let us go through. Don't stop you don't know what these people will do when the get close to the car"

Yes this story is true and oddly funny. As I said she might have been half right and somewhat ahead of her time as this became prescient and oddly true. Later this street would be the scene of a tragic death to a father of a family of who lived in the same area while waiting for a light ; however, I believe this is less a statement about race and more about a society that resolves its frustration through gun violence.

But the point of the story is that we all like to live in this Bubble-lator. And we forget who we were or how other people live. From politics to economics to well life, we have been riding this bubble-lator a lot. Rather than having real wages rise to meet needs and rising costs we use credit; to raise said credit Wall Street finds ways to generate income to further fuel that rise. First there was Energy crisis, remember that in the 70s. It still rises it head but it has less to do with the supposed politics and resources more with commodity trading but hey let's blame that Middle East for well everything! Its working out well or not but hey we need gas for our cars. Then we have the bomb it appears to be back and with a new dot.. the social media one. Then we had the mortgage crisis which on paper seemed great. Get people to buy and own homes, that is a good thing. Buying ones they can't afford with loans not clearly explained to them, not a good thing.

Bubble Bubble Toil and Trouble. Bubbles burst. And an economy built on them is not sustainable. Its not about down with the rich its about people. People matter, not all of us want to be "job creators" or "build" businesses. Some us like to work and there is nothing wrong with having a 9-5 job. Do those even exist anymore?

I thought this column by Paul Krugman summarized this nicely. We seem to forget that we are okay being Indians and not Chiefs. We do need bottles washed but that doesn't mean we deserve to be ignored, denigrated or mocked. You know the bubble is transparent I can see through it, in it and out of it. We are all in this bubble in some way or another.

Disdain for Workers

Published: September 20, 2012

By now everyone knows how Mitt Romney, speaking to donors in Boca Raton, washed his hands of almost half the country — the 47 percent who don’t pay income taxes — declaring, “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” By now, also, many people are aware that the great bulk of the 47 percent are hardly moochers; most are working families who pay payroll taxes, and elderly or disabled Americans make up a majority of the rest.

But here’s the question: Should we imagine that Mr. Romney and his party would think better of the 47 percent on learning that the great majority of them actually are or were hard workers, who very much have taken personal responsibility for their lives? And the answer is no.

For the fact is that the modern Republican Party just doesn’t have much respect for people who work for other people, no matter how faithfully and well they do their jobs. All the party’s affection is reserved for “job creators,” a k a employers and investors. Leading figures in the party find it hard even to pretend to have any regard for ordinary working families — who, it goes without saying, make up the vast majority of Americans.

Am I exaggerating? Consider the Twitter message sent out by Eric Cantor, the Republican House majority leader, on Labor Day — a holiday that specifically celebrates America’s workers. Here’s what it said, in its entirety: “Today, we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success.” Yes, on a day set aside to honor workers, all Mr. Cantor could bring himself to do was praise their bosses.

Lest you think that this was just a personal slip, consider Mr. Romney’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. What did he have to say about American workers? Actually, nothing: the words “worker” or “workers” never passed his lips. This was in strong contrast to President Obama’s convention speech a week later, which put a lot of emphasis on workers — especially, of course, but not only, workers who benefited from the auto bailout.

And when Mr. Romney waxed rhapsodic about the opportunities America offered to immigrants, he declared that they came in pursuit of “freedom to build a business.” What about those who came here not to found businesses, but simply to make an honest living? Not worth mentioning.

Needless to say, the G.O.P.’s disdain for workers goes deeper than rhetoric. It’s deeply embedded in the party’s policy priorities. Mr. Romney’s remarks spoke to a widespread belief on the right that taxes on working Americans are, if anything, too low. Indeed, The Wall Street Journal famously described low-income workers whose wages fall below the income-tax threshold as “lucky duckies.”

What really needs cutting, the right believes, are taxes on corporate profits, capital gains, dividends, and very high salaries — that is, taxes that fall on investors and executives, not ordinary workers. This despite the fact that people who derive their income from investments, not wages — people like, say, Willard Mitt Romney — already pay remarkably little in taxes.

Where does this disdain for workers come from? Some of it, obviously, reflects the influence of money in politics: big-money donors, like the ones Mr. Romney was speaking to when he went off on half the nation, don’t live paycheck to paycheck. But it also reflects the extent to which the G.O.P. has been taken over by an Ayn Rand-type vision of society, in which a handful of heroic businessmen are responsible for all economic good, while the rest of us are just along for the ride.

In the eyes of those who share this vision, the wealthy deserve special treatment, and not just in the form of low taxes. They must also receive respect, indeed deference, at all times. That’s why even the slightest hint from the president that the rich might not be all that — that, say, some bankers may have behaved badly, or that even “job creators” depend on government-built infrastructure — elicits frantic cries that Mr. Obama is a socialist.

Now, such sentiments aren’t new; “Atlas Shrugged” was, after all, published in 1957. In the past, however, even Republican politicians who privately shared the elite’s contempt for the masses knew enough to keep it to themselves and managed to fake some appreciation for ordinary workers. At this point, however, the party’s contempt for the working class is apparently too complete, too pervasive to hide.

The point is that what people are now calling the Boca Moment wasn’t some trivial gaffe. It was a window into the true attitudes of what has become a party of the wealthy, by the wealthy, and for the wealthy, a party that considers the rest of us unworthy of even a pretense of respect.

Not So Fast but Furious

Yes I am not stopping railing about the crisis in Medicine. It like one other "industry" in America is metaphorically and in some cases killing Americans. Education and Medicine are indebting people and destroying lives in ways only Wall Street can imagine.

The two most "egalitarian" means of equality - health and eduction - are the two most destructive means in preventing that from being so.

What industry puts 62% of its country's people into financial bankruptcy from which (and if ever) takes years to remove. The other from which you can never escape and pay for a lifetime? Only two - Education and Medicine. Setting into motion a type of indentured servitude to two industries that are part of the safety net in which we rely to pull us up by our bootstraps when we had to cut our arm off when we fell into that chasm 127 hours ago.

As this has long transcended my personal experience. One I have no debt from Education my ex husband said to me when I was in the Masters/Ph/d program for ironically a degree in Education, hey here is a spread sheet of the costs and here is an anticipated lifetime of earnings, as you can see it will take you over 20 years and well into your 50s (as in right now ironically) before you will ever see payback. You know I am the first to say that calculating the simple payback period is often moot as if you can afford it, you want it done and that you think payback is more than simple dollar figures go for it. Then when you do it for such loftier pursuits as saying getting an education or even figuring out the costs of having a child (and who does that really?) it becomes more philosophical less financial. Well SPP is what it is and in reality few do it for anything. And the reason being is that its a tough calculation to do - no really mathematically its complex - but its also based on "theory". In my case with regards to my degree program that was based on if I stayed a teacher and well in this case stayed married. Both of those have dramatically changed. So that SPP was right and wrong on two counts. But it was right in the real picture at that moment. So in one way it worked out. I don't have that debt over my head.

My issues with the Medical system is not however as recent as one would presume and actually never was about the billing. I went to great lengths to ensure that Harborview Hospital was paid. For those who think Insurance will screw you when they can, I found out that State Farm Insurance was there. Period. They were there in more ways than one. And the other was the State of Washington Insurance Commissioner office and my auditor Dan Connolly. You see I actually know who he is and have spoken to this "nameless" Governmental bureaucrat. Why? because he audited the billings and my policy with Group Health and they paid Harborview what they were required by law. So much for this supposed failure by Government to actually do anything. So as one does when one provides a service you "thank them" and pay them. Dan is paid by my tax dollars so that was taken care of but a personal thanks that was required. You pay for services rendered. Apparently in this country services such as a band aid or aspirin are about 10 bucks. Okay then.

And this is why we need Government. And they still are coming through even now and then I am surprised, first from my letter from the a State investigator about my complaint over the mysterious Power of Attorney I "signed" while I lay in the ICU and finally the big kahuna - Senator Patty Murray. If she can/will a help me with regards to the issues about my "mis-care" at Harborview then we have a win-win for the safety nets of Government fully in my corner. The opera isn't over and I don't see a fat lady in the wings - Senator Murray is a petite lady but definitely the Soprano in this opera. So saying we built it .. yeah you did and its falling down and the Government that you so eschew seems to be the ones re-building it.

Its funny as the Public Education system is under fire and we have had the Chicago Teacher's strike in the news, which brings up the discussion of how to "fix" Education. And more importantly it should be a cross discussion not a top down one. Shouldn't all players in the game have a say how to play the game? All voices and ideas should be heard and through that strike that is how it works. But in reality its not just K-12 its in fact way beyond that. You want kids to go to college? Well make it affordable, accessible and more important DEBT FREE to ensure that the opportunity to "make it work" can put people to work without a lifetime of debt over their heads. Don't expect Professors or Administrators to do anything about that. Anytime you want to remind yourself of the lack of transparency in that "industry" I point to Jerry Sandusky, nuff said.

And the same issue is when one get's sick they should heal. Its impossible to heal when you have debt over your head and a medical bureaucracy so complex and impenetrable that healing is secondary. I don't understand a profession who can blithely go to work each day knowing that over one-half their "customers" are going to end up in debtor's prison as a result of that visit. If this was a car repair store would it still be in business? And the simple fact is that Doctors and other highly paid professionals in that field hold the cards (not just the ones presented to my minimum wage Barista to ask him to tell me to shut up and leave) that they could be like those Chicago teachers and striking to stop the insanity. But they don't. Just like the Doctor who wanted me to shut up and leave she left first just in case that was a battle she would lose. Shame, it hurts, not as much as a medical bill but hey.

And I found two good things. The other day another new element to the dreaded "Obamacare" was the establishing a system for patients to report medical mistakes; A kind of Yelp for Doctors and Hospitals. Can't wait! Let's see if like financial reform its decimated before it takes place. But having a resource where we can actually review and read the kind of care and mis-care in our health care system is long overdue. They are incredibly lacking in transparency and I have the mysterious references from Harborview and the results of their board meetings, the Joint Commission a supposed organization established to monitor said complaints and finally the Washington State Quality Assurance Board until the one actual response has been an entity not just lacking in transparency but in visibility.

But today there is hope - the Justice Department is investigating the Medicare fraud as the result of over billing at the hands of the Electronic Billing records fiasco that I wrote about it in Medicare and Medicine or the Me Me. Wall Street again must be thrilled as in comparison they actually didn't steal or defraud the Government directly. Government is not perfect but this is a start on peeling back that curtain of OZ when it comes to our Medical system.

U.S. Warning to Hospitals on Medicare Bill Abuses

Published: September 24, 2012

Saying there are “troubling indications” of abuse in the way hospitals use electronic records to bill for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, the Obama administration warned on Monday that it would not tolerate what it called attempts to “game the system” and vowed to vigorously prosecute doctors and hospitals implicated in fraud.

The strongly worded letter, signed by the attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., and the secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, said that “electronic health records have the potential to save money and save lives.”

But the letter continued: “There are troubling indications that some providers are using this technology to game the system, possibly to obtain payments to which they are not entitled. False documentation of care is not just bad patient care; it’s illegal.”

“Obviously, we are very concerned” that the adoption of electronic health records “could lead to coding inappropriately,” an administration official said. While aggressively looking for any providers who are committing fraud, the administration will also consider whether it needs to make changes in the way it pays for care.

The letter, sent to five major hospital trade associations, cited possible abuses including “cloning” of medical records, where information about one patient is repeated in other records, to inflate reimbursement.

“There are also reports that some hospitals may be using electronic health records to facilitate ‘upcoding’ of the intensity of care or severity of patients’ condition as a means to profit with no commensurate improvement in the quality of care,” the letter said.

The letter was sent two days after a front-page article in The New York Times detailed the ways in which the greater use of electronic records by hospitals and doctors might be contributing to a rise in Medicare billing. Much of the higher billing is taking place in hospital emergency rooms, where hospitals are classifying many more patients as sicker and needing more care.

Hospitals received $1 billion more in Medicare reimbursements in 2010 than they did five years earlier, at least in part by changing the billing codes they assign to patients in emergency rooms, according to an analysis by The Times of Medicare data from the American Hospital Directory. Regulators also say physicians have changed the way they bill for office visits similarly, increasing their payments by billions of dollars.

Regulators, including the Office of Inspector General for Health and Human Services, are concerned about the increase in billing for the most expensive evaluation services by hospitals, in the emergency room, and by doctors in their offices. Private insurers have also expressed concern about the higher level of billing.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is conducting audits to prevent improper billing. The agency is also starting more extensive medical reviews of billing practices that will identify those hospitals or doctors that are billing for much more expensive services than their peers, according to the letter. While not unprecedented, the letter is especially blunt.

The issue of Medicare costs is a contentious one in the presidential campaign and has been a centerpiece of the Obama administration. As part of a push that began under the Bush administration, government officials are spending tens of billions of dollars to encourage hospitals and doctors to use electronic records as a way to reduce costs and improve care.

“This letter underscores our resolve to ensure payment accuracy and to prevent and prosecute health care fraud,” the letter said. The letter reminded hospitals that a patient’s medical information “must be verified individually to ensure accuracy: it cannot be cut and pasted from a different record of the patient, which risks medical errors as well as overpayments.”

The five hospital associations receiving the letter were the American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, the Association of Academic Health Centers, the Association of American Medical Colleges and the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems. The associations, in turn, will notify their member hospitals about the administration’s concerns. Many hospitals and doctors argue that the new systems allow them to more accurately record information about their patients, leading to higher payments for the services they provide. They say the paper records often did not reflect how sick the patients they were treating were and how much time hospitals and doctors were spending during a visit.

Rich Umbdenstock, the chief executive of the American Hospital Association, which represents more than 5,000 member hospitals, responded to the administration’s letter, saying hospitals “take seriously their obligation to properly bill for the services they provide to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.”

“We agree that the alleged practices described in your letter, such as so-called ‘cloning’ of medical records and ‘upcoding’ of the intensity of care, should not be tolerated,” he wrote in a letter.

The letter also called for Medicare to develop clear national guidelines for the billing of hospital emergency room and clinic visits.

Some experts have criticized federal officials for not providing more guidance to the software companies developing the electronic records or to hospitals and doctors about what is and what is not allowed. Officials say they are considering whether they need to take additional steps to clarify the rules and educate hospitals and doctors. “Those are steps we could consider in the future,” said the administration official.

The letter from Ms. Sebelius and Mr. Holder said, “As we phase in electronic health records, though, we ask for your help in ensuring these tools are not misused or abused.”

The administration said it had undertaken record-high collections and prosecutions against fraud, contending that prosecutions in 2011 were 75 percent higher than in 2008.

In a report last February about the administration’s efforts, officials said the federal government had received about $2.4 billion in fiscal 2011 from health care fraud settlements and judgments.