Thursday, November 29, 2012

Do I Have To?



The
Affordable Care Act (ACA) also has a mandate to encourage Doctors and Hospitals to switch to electronic medical records to supposedly expedite care and in turn reduce costs.  And I have a nice bridge to sell you.

Once again the blame game is on full volume with the Medical profession whining that they are not ready to do so because the big bad Government wolf is not providing the safeguards needed to make this transition a secure one.  In other words the fraud and abuse are all the Government's fault and not the Medical professionals who are actually doing it.

And on this note the price of brand-name prescription medicines is rising far faster than the inflation rate, while the price of generic drugs has plummeted, creating the largest gap so far between the two, according to a report published Wednesday by the pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts.    And given that generics are exempt from malpractice and regulation in the same ways brand name drugs are I can see that once again Doctors 2, Patients Zero.  It just never ends.

If I meet a Doctor who is a competent, honest, ethical professional that may actually kill me.  I just met another "highly qualified"  Ph.D who managed to not again read one word of my electronic medical records and instead simply had a single page, extrapolated what information he thought essential, and said, "this doesn't say traumatic brain injury so unless it says that I can't say that."  And as I pointed out the phase "IVH means TBI just in fancy terms" And his response: " that is not the same" Yes, blood in the brain or inter venal hemorrhage in the brain is not the same at all if you don't understand neurology. I guess he doesn't. So what does he understand.. stuff on the page that he can read duh!

I cannot believe the utter incompetent professionals that are earning a living in the medical fields but alas they are and they are earning said living off of your living or dying, either is fine.

Billions of our dollars are going to this concept of putting our medical records online. How about putting it into affordable decent care, I will be happy to put my medical records in my smartphone to use that to coordinate and communicate care myself and will call it even! Then as they wheel me into the ER (hopefully never again actually) they can extrapolate that data and actually use that to help me versus surfing my phone to find the the moron they called whom they ended up releasing me to before I was acceptably recovered.  That is one thing that electronic medical records do provide - excellent bedside reading as you recover. I find mine hilarious.



Medicare Is Faulted on Shift to Electronic Records

By
Published: November 29, 2012



The conversion to electronic medical records — a critical piece of the Obama administration’s plan for health care reform — is “vulnerable” to fraud and abuse because of the failure of Medicare officials to develop appropriate safeguards, according to a sharply critical repor to be issued Thursday by federal investigators.

The use of electronic medical records has been central to the aim of overhauling health care in America. Advocates contend that electronic records systems will improve patient care and lower costs through better coordination of medical services, and the Obama administration is spending billions of dollars to encourage doctors and hospitals to switch to electronic records to track patient care.

But the report says Medicare, which is charged with managing the incentive program that encourages the adoption of electronic records, has failed to put in place adequate safeguards to ensure that information being provided by hospitals and doctors about their electronic records systems is accurate. To qualify for the incentive payments, doctors and hospitals must demonstrate that the systems lead to better patient care, meeting a so-called meaningful use standard by, for example, checking for harmful drug interactions.

Medicare “faces obstacles” in overseeing the electronic records incentive program “that leave the program vulnerable to paying incentives to professionals and hospitals that do not fully meet the meaningful use requirements,” the investigators concluded. The report was prepared by the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees Medicare.

The investigators contrasted the looser management of the incentive program with the agency’s pledge to more closely monitor Medicare payments of medical claims. Medicare officials have indicated that the agency intends to move away from a “pay and chase” model, in which it tried to get back any money it has paid in error, to one in which it focuses on trying to avoid making unjustified payments in the first place.

Late Wednesday, a Medicare spokesman said in a statement: “Protecting taxpayer dollars is our top priority and we have implemented aggressive procedures to hold providers accountable. Making a false claim is a serious offense with serious consequences and we believe the overwhelming majority of doctors and hospitals take seriously their responsibility to honestly report their performance.”

The government’s investment in electronic records was authorized under the broader stimulus package passed in 2009. Medicare expects to spend nearly $7 billion over five years as a way of inducing doctors and hospitals to adopt and use electronic records. So far, the report said, the agency has paid 74, 317 health professionals and 1,333 hospitals. By attesting that they meet the criteria established under the program, a doctor can receive as much as $44,000 for adopting electronic records, while a hospital could be paid as much as $2 million in the first year of its adoption. The inspector general’s report follows earlier concerns among regulators and others over whether doctors and hospitals are using electronic records inappropriately to charge more for services, as reported by The New York Times last September, and is likely to fuel the debate over the government’s efforts to promote electronic records. Critics say the push for electronic records may be resulting in higher Medicare spending with little in the way of improvement in patients’ health. Thursday’s report did not address patient care. 

Even those within the industry say the speed with which systems are being developed and adopted by hospitals and doctors has led to a lack of clarity over how the records should be used and concerns about their overall accuracy. 

“We’ve gone from the horse and buggy to the Model T, and we don’t know the rules of the road. Now we’ve had a big car pileup,” said Lynne Thomas Gordon, the chief executive of the American Health Information Management Association, a trade group in Chicago. The association, which contends more study is needed to determine whether hospitals and doctors actually are abusing electronic records to increase their payments, says it supports more clarity. 


Although there is little disagreement over the potential benefits of electronic records in reducing duplicative tests and avoiding medical errors, critics increasingly argue that the federal government has not devoted enough time or resources to making certain the money it is investing is being well spent.
 

House Republicans echoed these concerns in early October in a letter to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services. Citing the Times article, they called for suspending the incentive program until concerns about standardization had been resolved. “The top House policy makers on health care are concerned that H.H.S. is squandering taxpayer dollars by asking little of providers in return for incentive payments,” said a statement issued at the same time by the Republicans, who are likely to seize on the latest inspector general report as further evidence of lax oversight. Republicans have said they will continue to monitor the program.

In her letter in response, which has not been made public, Ms. Sebelius dismissed the idea of suspending the incentive program, arguing that it “would be profoundly unfair to the hospitals and eligible professionals that have invested billions of dollars and devoted countless hours of work to purchase and install systems and educate staff.” She said Medicare was trying to determine whether electronic records had been used in any fraudulent billing but she insisted that the current efforts to certify the systems and address the concerns raised by the Republicans and others were adequate.
The report also takes to task another federal agency that certifies the software systems used to qualify for the Medicare incentive payments, saying it should do more to ensure the systems’ reports are accurate and meet the “meaningful use” criteria. 

Medicare has not audited any of the $3.6 billion payments it has made to date, according to the report, which faults the agency for its lack of prepayment review and reliance on self-reporting after money has been spent. 

In their written response to the report, federal officials said they agreed with some of the inspector general’s recommendations that they clarify what hospitals and doctors need to do to qualify for the payments. But Marilyn Tavenner, the acting administrator for Medicare, strongly disagreed with the idea that the agency should do more to ensure payments are appropriate before writing a check.
Requiring an audit before paying hospitals and doctors “could significantly delay payments to providers,” she said, and these reviews “would also impose an increased upfront burden on providers.” Ms. Tavenner said Medicare took some steps to make sure providers were eligible for the payments but “does not believe prepayment audit is necessary at this juncture.” Medicare maintains that it has systems in place to verify the information being submitted.

Medicare has developed plans to audit payments it has made since the program started in 2011 and says it expects to issue additional guidance for hospitals and doctors.

The other federal agency, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, agreed with the inspector general’s recommendations and said officials were already working to improve the process of certifying systems.

The inspector general said Medicare should be able to review at least some payments before they were made to determine whether the hospitals and doctors actually qualified. The investigators suggest identifying a small number of providers where the information provided was inconsistent and conducting a review or audit.
  

LEED Me Up

I found this ironic on many counts:  One - that Greenbuild the annual come look at all the Green products we have to sell you and oh yeah talk about green build and stuff and Two - that this was in San Francisco which is having a problem managing to commit to certifying buildings Green due to costs and Three - that I read it in all things Green Build NYC.  (Although the original article is linked within.)

Ah where to begin? Well basically it says what I have been saying all along - its the costs.  And the fact is that its all good being green when its being paid for by others but when tax dollars are going to pay for a plaque to a door telling people who don't work in there and the tenants inside are wealthy and demand it in order for them to work there it becomes a very mixed message. And when did you constantly need rewards and prizes in order to do the right thing?

Are they as committed to this idea in public housing? I doubt it. In fact this is the very city that is now looking to the absurd cells/pods as affordable housing as they have long been neglecting the needs of developing affordable housing for those not so lucky to work in a  LEED Gold building, such as the one being developed for billionaire Twitter founder's new start up.  Well with the hours they supposedly put in its like living there really. Points for that bike rack! Tweet that one!

The funny thing is that LEED like many "green" ideas are really just another acronym and shocking to realize that the majority of people I meet know nothing about it.  And with that you wonder if they would consider green build just another entitlement that is throwing us off the fiscal cliff?  You wonder as LEED does not entitle anyone to anything other than the USGBC  their fees and the  builder and developer with tax cuts and the ultimate ability to attain higher rents as a result of that certification. Hmm... and to think that banks still refuse to appraise green buildings at higher levels.    Wow I never thought I would agree with banks. But there is a first time for everything.

Citing Costs, San Francisco Officials Grapple with City’s LEED Lease Requirements

With Greenbuild underway in San Francisco, two public leases are coming under scrutiny from city officials because of perceived LEED Gold certification costs, required for all of the city’s office leases larger than 5000 square feet.
As Greenbuild takes place this week in San Francisco, the city’s LEED-driven Green Building Ordinance is making waves for other reasons too: over the last month, two pending public commercial office leases have raised eyebrows over the perceived costs of LEED certification for each space’s build-out, which is required by local-level legislation that the City of San Francisco enacted last year.

Not only does the Ordinance require San Francisco commercial buildings over 25,000 square feet and taller than 75 feet to be certified LEED Gold, but Gold certification is also required for all of the city’s leased office space larger than 5000 square feet. It’s that latter requirement which is causing some consternation among city officials charged with approving the two deals, who cited LEED certification costs in a recent article reported by the San Francisco Examiner.

The first lease is for the city’s Department of the Environment to take 25,000 square feet at 1455 Market Street, a 22-story tower near Twitter’s new downtown headquarters in the city’s fledgling technology sector district (pictured). Owned by Hudson Pacific Properties, the tower is also home to Square – the mobile credit card service recently launched by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey. In a $5.1 million deal set for seven years, the Department was to pay $28 per square foot and spend $2 million for tenant improvements, requiring a $244,000 loan from the landlord at an 8 percent interest rate.

Similarly, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency recently signed a 20-year, $71 million lease with Prologis in Daly City for the agency’s vehicle towing operation. (Part of the angst with that deal appears to be that Prologis purchased the site for $21 million last summer after the agency’s bid for it fell short).

But both deals share a common denominator: by statute the tenant improvements must earn LEED Gold certification. The city’s Board of Supervisors told the Examiner that although it wasn’t necessarily against “investing city funds” in LEED certification, it “would like to have a sense of what the larger impact of that is throughout the city.” More specifically, one Supervisor told the Examiner that the extra layer of LEED-related costs for the DEP’s tenant improvements “doesn’t seem worth it.” Importantly, the Board will now require LEED-related costs to be “highlighted in future lease proposals.”
 
In defending the buildout costs, DEP told the Examiner that its new space is currently a “cold shell” and “that is one reason why the cost sounds high. The LEED process is very complex. … [W]e are doing everything that we can to maximize LEED points.” The Examiner also reported that DEP gave up going after five HVAC-related points because it would have cost $200,000 and “we don’t have that money.”

With today’s prevailing economic climate shrinking budgets at every level of government, we can expect that this type of scrutiny will become more comonplace. It’s also likely that other municipalities across the country will similarly examine green- or LEED-related premiums driven by legislative activity. More practically, this type of legislation – requiring LEED certification for tenant spaces in commercial office buildings – is important for brokers, contractors, and design professionals to review in order to adequately assess and address the risks that a certification mandate implicates.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Rich Get Richer and Elected

This was from the Washington Post via MSN Money discussing the richest members in Congress. Surprise they are very much the same 1% that benefit from the very legislation that they create. Is that hypocrisy or a conflict of interest?
The personal wealth of members of Congress increased by more than 5% between 2007 and 2010, on a collective basis, even as median household net worth in the United States dropped by 39%.
The wealthiest lawmakers saw their net worth rise by more than 14%, according to The Washington Post, which recently examined politicians' finances.
Key findings from The Post:
  • The number of millionaires in Congress dropped in the wake of the Great Recession; the 253 who have served during the current session represent the fewest since 2004. But the total population of millionaires is likely to be underestimated because lawmakers are not required to list their homes among their assets.
  • Between 2004 and 2010, 72 lawmakers appeared to have doubled their estimated wealth.
  • At least 150 lawmakers reported receiving more income from outside jobs and investments than from their congressional salaries of $174,000 for rank-and-file members.
  • Representatives in 2010 had a median estimated wealth of $746,000; for senators, it was $2.6 million.
  • Since 2004, lawmakers reported more than 3,500 outside jobs paying their spouses more than $1,000 a year. Members of Congress are not required to report how much the spouses are paid or how they earned the money.
Lawmakers' wealth is held in a variety of ways: 127 legislators have their money primarily in real estate, 117 in institutional funds, 75 in their spouses' names, 51 in essentially cash, 36 in specific stocks and bonds, 32 in high-turnover trading, 30 in business ownership and 20 in agriculture.
I have long stopped identifying with a political party as I have come to realize that they don't identify with me.  I still vote but I often write in my candidates and simply don't vote on any Judicial positions as I don't believe a Judge should run for office unless they are utterly exempt from private funding. We have long found our country either demonstrating the same hypocrisy or conflict of interest by demanding other countries pursue democracy while our own is eroding. 

My main concern is when does someone in the what is the majority step up to lobby or speak up and stand up for the majority? Are we all that afraid or simply bought off by cheap goods from Wal Mart, Target or wherever to assuage our anger?  I don't know but its not sustainable.  The parallels to a banana republic cannot be lost.  And we find ourselves misdirecting our anger to anyone different which is all part of the larger idea. Divided you can be conquered.  A study found that while most Americans live in urban areas they are more divided and less communicative about issues that matter. It's Stranger Danger grown up version. 

The idea that the very people we elect to serve sign pledges to individuals to commit to one idea, concept or value is absurd.  The only pledge any elected Official should do is Allegiance to the Flag. We have become a Nation largely disconnected from each other and its no shock those whom represent us are as well.




Stop the Madness!

I have been listening to BBC America of late discussing the new neuro psychology "trend" that hearing voices in the head are quite real.  Frankly with some of the conversations I have been listening to, I would welcome one within my head, as least it would be articulate!

But as I have also written that I find much of this utter bullshit and the fact that mental health is so overlooked and often run by nut jobs themselves it makes this quest an almost impossible one to find the trees for the forest for what is legitimate medical and psychological research and information.

We clearly need a nationalized health code that includes mental health as a part of the program. The idea that medicating someone to garner compliance and ease of control is clearly not working. The medicine is only good if used appropriately and within reason. But we love drugs in this country especially the ones Doctors give us.

Understanding mental health is complex and time consuming and therefore costly. I find that few Therapists actually ask questions as that would require them to listen and then to listen is to actually have to ironically analyze and collaborate with you and others to determine the best course of action for what ails you.  Regular Physicians are on the drive through program so how would therapy be much different.  At the end of a day to make it work in the current economic climate a Therapist would have to see at least 10 patients a day.  Ten people with ten different ailments, emotional or otherwise that may require the same commitment and time, I don't think so.  So you get the one size fits all diagnosis. "Depression" "Anxiety" "Bipolar' or whatever hot new trendy disorder is on the Big Pharm lists and Voila! you will fit that quite nicely thankyouverymuch NEXT!

Below is an article that is discussing the current model of Psychoanalysis and what it means to have a "personality disorder."  Frankly I could save time by saying if you aren't like your therapist in any way shape or form you will have something wrong.  We tend to identify ourselves in relation to others and if you think Therapists are any different then you have a personality disorder! But also it falls under the nemesis of insurance. Whatever is covered by a plan the higher the likelihood that will be the disorder your medical "code" will fall under.  At times you are simply diagnosed by codes that can ensure the highest premium return. Shocking, I know.

Not to utterly condemn the field as I think it has a purpose but like their brothers in the Medical Industrial Complex they are utterly adrift in bullshit frankly and after awhile bullshit smells. But they could always get a low paid home health care worker to clean it.

Thinking Clearly About Personality Disorders


Jonathon Rosen

For years they have lived as orphans and outliers, a colony of misfit characters on their own island: the bizarre one and the needy one, the untrusting and the crooked, the grandiose and the cowardly.
 
Their customs and rituals are as captivating as any tribe’s, and at least as mystifying. Every mental anthropologist who has visited their world seems to walk away with a different story, a new model to explain those strange behaviors. 

This weekend the Board of Trustees of the American Psychiatric Association will vote on whether to adopt a new diagnostic system for some of the most serious, and striking, syndromes in medicine: personality disorders. 

Personality disorders occupy a troublesome niche in psychiatry. The 10 recognized syndromes are fairly well represented on the self-help shelves of bookstores and include such well-known types as narcissistic personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder, as well as dependent and histrionic personalities.
But when full-blown, the disorders are difficult to characterize and treat, and doctors seldom do careful evaluations, missing or downplaying behavior patterns that underlie problems like depression and anxiety in millions of people. 

The new proposal — part of the psychiatric association’s effort of many years to update its influential diagnostic manual — is intended to clarify these diagnoses and better integrate them into clinical practice, to extend and improve treatment. But the effort has run into so much opposition that it will probably be relegated to the back of the manual, if it’s allowed in at all.

Dr. David J. Kupfer, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh and chairman of the task force updating the manual, would not speculate on which way the vote might go: “All I can say is that personality disorders were one of the first things we tackled, but that doesn’t make it the easiest.”
The entire exercise has forced psychiatrists to confront one of the field’s most elementary, yet still unresolved, questions: What, exactly, is a personality problem? 

Habits of Thought
 
It wasn’t supposed to be this difficult. 

Personality problems aren’t exactly new or hidden. They play out in Greek mythology, from Narcissus to the sadistic Ares. They percolate through biblical stories of madmen, compulsives and charismatics. They are writ large across the 20th century, with its rogues’ gallery of vainglorious, murderous dictators. 

Yet it turns out that producing precise, lasting definitions of extreme behavior patterns is exhausting work. It took more than a decade of observing patients before the German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin could draw a clear line between psychotic disorders, like schizophrenia, and mood problems, like depression or bipolar disorder. 

Likewise, Freud spent years formulating his theories on the origins of neurotic syndromes. And Freudian analysts were largely the ones who, in the early decades of the last century, described people with the sort of “confounded identities” that are now considered personality disorders.
Their problems were not periodic symptoms, like moodiness or panic attacks, but issues rooted in longstanding habits of thought and feeling — in who they were. 

“These therapists saw people coming into treatment who looked well put-together on the surface but on the couch became very disorganized, very impaired,” said Mark F. Lenzenweger, a professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Binghamton. “They had problems that were neither psychotic nor neurotic. They represented something else altogether.” 

Several prototypes soon began to emerge. “A pedantic sense of order is typical of the compulsive character,” wrote the Freudian analyst Wilhelm Reich in his 1933 book, “Character Analysis,” a groundbreaking text. “In both big and small things, he lives his life according to a preconceived, irrevocable pattern.” 

Others coalesced too, most recognizable as extreme forms of everyday types: the narcissist, with his fragile, grandiose self-approval; the dependent, with her smothering clinginess; the histrionic, always in the thick of some drama, desperate to be the center of attention. 

In the late 1970s, Ted Millon, scientific director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Personology and Psychopathology, pulled together the bulk of the work on personality disorders, most of it descriptive, and turned it into a set of 10 standardized types for the American Psychiatric Association’s third diagnostic manual. Published in 1980, it is a best seller among mental health workers worldwide. 

These diagnostic criteria held up well for years and led to improved treatments for some people, like those with borderline personality disorder. Borderline is characterized by an extreme neediness and urges to harm oneself, often including thoughts of suicide. Many who seek help for depression also turn out to have borderline patterns, making their mood problems resistant to the usual therapies, like antidepressant drugs. 

Today there are several approaches that can relieve borderline symptoms and one that, in numerous studies, has reduced hospitalizations and helped aid recovery: dialectical behavior therapy.
This progress notwithstanding, many in the field began to argue that the diagnostic catalog needed a rewrite. For one thing, some of the categories overlapped, and troubled people often got two or more personality diagnoses. “Personality Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified,” a catchall label meaning little more than “this person has problems” became the most common of the diagnoses.
It’s a murky area, and in recent years many therapists didn’t have the time or training to evaluate personality on top of everything else. The assessment interviews can last hours, and treatments for most of the disorders involve longer-term, specialized talk therapy. 

Psychiatry was failing the sort of patients that no other field could possibly help, many experts said.
“The diagnoses simply weren’t being used very much, and there was a real need to make the whole system much more accessible,” Dr. Lenzenweger said. 

Resisting Simplification  

It was easier said than done.
The most central, memorable, and knowable element of any person — personality — still defies any consensus. 

A team of experts appointed by the psychiatric association has worked for more than five years to find some unifying system of diagnosis for personality problems. 

The panel proposed a system based in part on a failure to “develop a coherent sense of self or identity.” Not good enough, some psychiatric theorists said. 

Later, the experts tied elements of the disorders to distortions in basic traits. 

For example, the team’s final proposal for narcissistic personality disorder involved rating a person on four traits, including “manipulativeness,” “histrionism,” and “callousness.” The current definition includes nine possible elements. 

The proposed diagnostic system would be simpler, as well as “responsive to the array of diverse and sometimes contradictory suggestions made by other” personality disorders experts, wrote Dr. Andrew Skodol, a psychiatrist at the University of Arizona and chairman of the group proposing the new system, in a paper published last spring. 

But since then the outcry against the proposed changes has only grown louder.
Some experts argued that throwing out existing definitions was premature and reckless. Others insisted that the diagnoses could not be simplified so much. And some complained that the effort to anchor the disorders in traits had not gone far enough. 

“You simply don’t have adequate coverage of personality disorders with just a few traits,” said Thomas Widiger, a professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky. 

Dr. Widiger compares the process of reaching a consensus on personality to the parable of the six blind men from Hindustan, each touching different parts of the elephant. “Everyone’s working independently, and each has their perspective, their own theory,” he said. “It’s a mess.” 

“It’s embarrassing to see where we’re at. We’ve been caught up in digression after digression, and nobody can agree,” Dr. Millon said. “It’s time to go back to the beginning, to Darwin, and build a logical structure based on universal principles of evolution.” 

At least for now, then, the misfits will remain in their colony, part of mainstream psychiatry but still in the back country. 

And if a unified theory can be devised to explain them, most agree that it will be some time in the making — perhaps requiring the efforts of an obsessive-compulsive narcissist with some political skills.

Europe and Sustainability

Maybe because they are just those filthy "Socialists" or the fact that their countries have been long since populated and existence much longer they have a better grip on what sustainability means, but I am always impressed when I receive information about what is being done to continue to work on finding ways to make our lives greener.

To think that what happens in Europe is akin to what happens in Vegas stays there is absurd.  The air, the water and the people travel. The world is in fact that - a big one that our forefathers whom we apparently have cult-ish fanaticism over would have never imagined us traveling across the same seas in big jets with Direct Satelite TV.   Times change as do people.  Even the forefathers would agree on that.

The irony is that they call themselves Free Choices. Its true we are still free in this market to make choices - appropriate or not - they are still free, for now. But if we continue to ignore the basic needs we will be paying much more for even the basics we think are free. 


Free Choices Campaign 


Cleaner and more energy efficient energy solutions, propelled by targeted EU policies, could transform today’s energy profile for rural communities, according to a White Paper on ‘Policy Recommendations for Sustainable Rural Communities in Europe’ released today.

The paper was published by the Future of Rural Energy in Europe (FREE) initiative, a platform dedicated to realizing the potential of rural communities through greater energy choice. FREE developed this White Paper as part of the launch of its FREE Choices Campaign, aimed at overcoming regulatory barriers and offering tools to help choose energy solutions particularly suited for rural and remote areas.

Challenges

Across Europe, rural communities are faced with a series of energy challenges. These were highlighted in last year’s Ecofys study on ‘Rural Energy in the EU’, which revealed that a different fuel mix is used in rural areas, with generally more polluting fuels and higher emissions per capita. These are caused by the greater use of coal and heating oil and higher emissions of pollutants as NOx, SOx and Particulate Matter affecting the environment and human health. Without particular attention paid to rural areas, the EU’s goals of a competitive, low-carbon and secure energy supply are thus jeopardized.

“Those who live in cities and those who live in remote and off-gas grid areas deserve the same types of choices – cleaner and healthier energy choices – and at the moment we simply don’t have that. They need support for new initiatives,” MEP Lambert van Nistelrooij underlined at the launch.

Solutions

Introducing a strategy on renovation of buildings in rural areas, streamlining direct investments into energy efficiency projects, supporting lower carbon and renewable energy, and ensuring that energy policy is ‘rural proofed’ will guarantee a level playing field between rural and urban energy users, according to the paper’s findings. More specifically, the White Paper calls for policymakers to:

Create direct investment in rural energy efficiency for greater environment and social benefit and remove barriers towards the roll-out of new technologies;
Promote a balanced lower-carbon, low-polluting portfolio of energy solutions for rural communities;
Ensure that environmental, social and health impacts are taken into consideration when setting taxation rates and incentives for fuels or energy technologies.


The White Paper also proposes some thought-provoking ideas for further stakeholder discussion, including a 3% annual renovation target for rural buildings and a 40% gas / 60% renewable energy mix.

The FREE Choices Portfolio provides an initial overview of available energy sources and technologies such as Micro-CHP, condensing boilers, heat pumps, solar thermal, solar PV, LPG, LNG, biomass, insulation and high performance glazing. These technologies could significantly contribute to higher energy efficiency levels in rural areas, whilst stimulating growth and jobs in Europe’s rural regions.

Alongside the White Paper, the FREE initiative developed an online tool – FREE Choices Portfolio – which illustrates the low carbon and highly efficient technologies available to rural energy consumers today. “It is designed to act as a guide for policymakers and other members of the European energy community when they consider legislation or even specific rural energy choices. With the right policy framework in place, these technologies can be made more accessible, for the benefit of rural energy users and the environment,” Andrew Ford of SHV Energy, founder of the FREE initiative, explains.

ENDS

A full copy of the White Paper can be downloaded here.

For more information, please contact Ewa Abramiuk, FREE Secretariat, +32 495 80 88 88 ewa.abramiuk@fleishman-hillard.com

ABOUT FREE

The Future of Rural Energy in Europe (FREE) initiative was created by SHV Energy in 2010 and is supported by a wide variety of groups, such as CEJA, Cogen Europe, Euromontana, Glass for Europe, Renewable Energy Foundation, AEGPL, Podlaskie Region, BDR Thermea, RINNAI, ACRE, NEA, Tecnocasa Climatizzazione, Polyurethanes, EC Power, Regional Office of Silesia Region and RURENER, which are committed to improving the lot and realizing the potential of rural communities through greater energy choice. This pan-European platform is aimed at promoting the use of sustainable energy within rural communities through research, energy advice and promotion of lower carbon energy options available to consumers living beyond the natural gas grid.

ABOUT ‘FREE CHOICES CAMPAIGN’

The FREE Choices Campaign aims at raising awareness among stakeholders about currently available energy solutions which are lower carbon, energy efficient, commercially available and affordable. In order to truly roll-out these solutions, policy barriers to energy efficiency, climate change, air quality and affordability need to be removed. The FREE Choices Campaign was launched in November 2012, with the publication of a ‘White Paper’ and a ‘FREE Choices Portfolio’ – an online tool outlining cleaner and energy efficient technologies currently available in rural areas:  www.freechoices.eu.

These activities constitute the launch of the FREE Choices Campaign. The FREE initiative will follow up with a stakeholder engagement programme to bring this discussion to the next stage. Interested stakeholders are welcome to further contribute to this debate.

Join the debate online through Facebook and do the ‘FREE quiz’ to get rural energy facts and to support rural communities.

Can You Hear Me Now

As most of our industries are in fact ones owned by Corporations we have few to blame but our own negligence.  We have allowed most small businesses to be absorbed into the big box businesses that replaced them and we have sat by, much like Boards of Directors, as one business became absorbed by another with the belief that it would make things cheaper.  From farming, to food, to transportation, to banking to health care there is little competition thanks to the ever increasing desire to ensure that under the guise of "free market."

The idea of free market meant that anyone could open shop, with some guidelines aka regulations, and establish a competitive marketplace that let the market aka the consumer decide who wins or loses. In this free market there are clear winners and losers - I will let you figure out who or which that falls.

The editorial below I think explains quite adequately the problems that are exemplified by the telecommunications industry.  The recent rejected acquisition of T-Mobile by AT&T is one of the few of recent times that actually stopped, albeit briefly, the rush to further consolidate what has been happening with regards to the field.  We have the same right now happening in the airline industry and add health care to the list.  More and more hospitals are being consolidated as are insurance providers in anticipation of the windfall that the Affordable Care Act provided by mandating more to the rolls of the for profit industries.  Much of our food supplies as our energy sources are also owned by the few to provide for the many.   Competition much?

These same industries that balk at the thought of regulation have not been subject to much of it for decades.  Regardless of who was in office or majority the push to privatize our economy has taken a large precedent over actual growth and improvements to both society and in turn the people who live in it.    But when you think or believe that you have choices you have no idea that the choices you have are actually held by the few and far between.  Look at the Forbes 400 list; a list that has had little transition or change for decades.  The few that alight upon it temporarily are often new industries and tech sector paper millionaires.   The real money is old money and well established old money with well established connections and relationships that money can't just buy. Well actually it can - politics and in turn laws or lack thereof.

We built it alright. A long time ago. So maybe its time for some remodeling and a need to bring this old house up to code. 

Perhaps the peripatetic love of the smartphone that is affixed to the ear of almost all our citizens might be the catalyst to propel those who love to find an issue that they can relate to might be the tipping point.  But that would actually mean getting off it for a minute to see how much those are actually costing you. They should bring back Cingular and rename it "Singular" as in sole provider.


Bad Connections

by David Cay Johnston
Published: November 27, 2012


SINCE 1974, when the Justice Department sued to break up the Ma Bell phone monopoly, Americans have been told that competition in telecommunications would produce innovation, better service and lower prices.
What we’ve witnessed instead is low-quality service and prices that are higher than a truly competitive market would bring.

After a brief fling with competition, ownership has reconcentrated into a stodgy duopoly of Bell Twins — AT&T and Verizon. Now, thanks to new government rules, each in effect has become the leader of its own cartel.

The AT&T-DirectTV and Verizon-Bright House-Cox-Comcast-TimeWarner behemoths market what are known as “quad plays”: the phone companies sell mobile services jointly with the “triple play” of Internet, telephone and television connections, which are often provided by supposedly competing cable and satellite companies. And because AT& T’s and Verizon’s own land-based services operate mostly in discrete geographic markets, each cartel rules its domain as a near monopoly.

The result of having such sweeping control of the communications terrain, naturally, is that there is little incentive for either player to lower prices, make improvements to service or significantly invest in new technologies and infrastructure. And that, in turn, leaves American consumers with a major disadvantage compared with their counterparts in the rest of the world.

On average, for instance, a triple-play package that bundles Internet, telephone and television sells for $160 a month with taxes. In France the equivalent costs just $38. For that low price the French also get long distance to 70 foreign countries, not merely one; worldwide television, not just domestic; and an Internet that’s 20 times faster uploading data and 10 times faster downloading it.

America’s Internet started out as No. 1 in speed. It now ranks 26th, far behind the networks in Bulgaria, Ukraine and Lithuania. Americans pay the sixth highest median price in the modern world for Internet data — 16 times the rates paid by South Koreans, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Just as serious is the problem of coverage: in France, South Korea and other modern countries a superfast Internet is or will soon be available everywhere. In America, AT&T’s fiber optic lines stop short of homes and small businesses, while Verizon plans to end its fiber-optic installation work once it reaches 18 million residences.

As of now huge parts of the United States will never get on the information superhighway but will rather slog along on the digital equivalent of a country road. This presents a genuine economic threat to America: the future industries and jobs that require a universal ultra-high-speed network, after all, will most likely be developed somewhere else.

But the problem is more immediate for consumers. That’s because both of these cartels are telling lawmakers that they need less regulation, not more. A lighter government hand, they say, will mean more competition and yield a better deal for consumers.

In practice, though, deregulation has meant new regulations — written by corporations and for corporations — that have often thwarted competition and run roughshod over the customer.

Few know, for example, that since 1913, Americans have had a legal right to telephone service at any address — or did until recently. Asserting that we now live in a world of competitive telecommunications, the Bell Twins have already managed to repeal this right in at least six states (Alabama, California, Florida, North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin). And the cartels are apparently working vigorously to extend this repeal. Doubters have only to count the lobbyists hovering around state legislatures: in Kentucky, AT&T  employs 36 of them.

The new regulations have the potential to leave some customers with only mobile telephone service, which does not work in many areas. Moreover, some proposed new rules, if adopted, may actually put people at risk: AT&T, for instance, has suggested shutting down its old copper wire system — the only telecommunications platform that worked in some areas after Hurricane Sandy because it relies on a separate, minimal supply of electricity.

The remedy for these anti-consumer practices is straightforward: bring back real competition to the telecom industry. The Federal Communications Commission, the Justice Department and lawmakers have long said this is their goal. But absent new rules that promote vigorous competition among telecom companies, it simply won’t happen.

Just as canals and railroads let America grow in the 19th century, and highways and airports did so in the 20th century, the information superhighway is vital for the nation’s economic growth in the 21st. The nation can’t afford to leave its future in the hands of the cartels.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The new BFF - Your "Smart" Phone

We no longer call them cell phones. They are now going the way of the beeper, pager and land line.  For the record I still have a land line, actually it works all the time, its cheap and I can sit and work and do something few do - talk.  Call me crazy (oh wait they have I actually have some medical record that says that - I win again!) but I prefer to meet, greet and actually discuss issues in person or with a real person.  A "smart" phone is not that smart and doesn't read nuance, humor, sarcasm or even duplicity.  I have an app for that its called being intuitive and intelligent and relying on both.

Now they have failed me. Rarely and only once. Once is all it takes and then it does throw you off for a bit, but then everyone does fail and that you don't learn from your mistakes you get past them. What did I learn from mine.. well nothing except how it related to that situation and application it has no relevance for anything other than that. Really that is what mistakes teach you, not to do something exactly like that again.; Some things are consistent but in most cases variables are independent not dependent so you have to go with the flow. What happened once may not happen again. Its also called risk taking.

But then I do see an aversion in this new highly connected and in turn stratified generation - fear of risk. Maybe its the test taking and the trained seal responses that it generates.  You do well on a test you get rewarded and believe you are the smartest bestest seal. What you don't realize is that in that situation and circumstance you are.   And not all situations and circumstances are consistently the same with the same expectation and outcome. So you can avoid that by doing what? Avoiding risk and in turn spontaneity.   Bark Bark - Clap Clap = here's a fish... Good Seal!

But this is the generation whose parents also arranged play dates and highly scheduled, managed their social lives. That for them "group dating" was the norm and stranger danger was a repeated if not full on philosophy on which to live.  My parents said "go outside" and we did. We also had 3 TV stations and I watched them religiously and PBS too and I seem actually fine. Oh wait I have that "crazy" thing again, but then my respect for the medical profession is much like my admiration for social media - non existent. 

And then I read this article and I literally laughed out loud causing ironically the two people sitting together at the coffee shop texting on their smart phones, while not talking to each other. to look in my direction! What are you crazy?  Yes I have again the records that substantiate that!    Ah modern relationships - do they have an app for that? Basically I think this is just a sales pitch for all the bullshit apps that they listed and frankly reminds me of the New York Times obsession with the Facebook IPO. And that went well didn't it. Hey even the gray lady needs to make a buck.

Along with my land line I still have business cards, fabulous rolodex made by a gal on Etsy where I put said business cards, I don't text, I removed that from my phone and don't miss it in the least.  I still rely largely on email and yes I still call people, make appointments and meet in person in an office in a distraction free zone.  I also when in a new location don't rely on any Social media to arrange to meet, greet or find things to do. Its called risk taking, researching and actually enjoying being alone and having something called thoughts, books or just observations to amuse me.  Don't sharks swim all the time and never rest?  Hmm....


Business Cards Give Way to Cellphone Apps for Networking


by: JULIE WEED
Published: November 26, 2012




The business card has long since left the realm of the office Rolodex and entered the world of the Web.

Business acquaintances and meeting attendees now transmit contact information between cellphones, and Web sites and mobile apps can connect that information to social and business networks.

Sandy Avvari, a digital and social media analyst at a Canadian automotive manufacturer, said she met about 15 people a week in her job but exchanged paper business cards only about 20 percent of the time. “We’re much more likely to exchange Twitter handles or connect to each other on LinkedIn,” she said.
Ms. Avvari said she used CardMunch, a free app, to take a photograph of a business card and send it to a service that transcribes the information and adds it to her phone’s address book. CardMunch is owned by LinkedIn, and so if the person is a member, a photo and basic profile of the business card’s owner appear on Ms. Avvari’s phone, allowing her to connect with the person on that service.
Attaching a LinkedIn profile to the business card “makes the contact dynamic, showing job changes or new phone numbers when they happen,” Ms. Avvari said. “It becomes more than a static piece of paper or address book entry.”
With the free app Bump, users can bump or tap their phones together to share contact information. The phones vibrate when they, or the hands holding them, make contact, and information is exchanged between the users’ address books.
If both users are signed into Facebook or LinkedIn, a list of acquaintances they have in common on those sites and in their address books will be displayed. Users can also transmit a photo, for example, of a product they sell if they are meeting at a trade show. Once two people have exchanged data, they can stay in touch using a messaging feature in the app. Bump works across platforms on Android and Apple devices.
With so many contacts flooding into business travelers’ address books, the details of how they met, what they talked about or why someone may be a good contact in the future can fade. Apps like Contacts Journal ($7.99 for iOS, or a free trial version) help users keep track of interactions. Documents like contracts or brochures can be attached to contact information, and users can see a map with pushpins denoting their contacts’ locations.
Many networking apps go beyond electronic business card exchanges and mobile contact databases. LinkedIn is the largest player in the business networking market, with more than 187 million members around the world. In addition to displaying their résumés online, LinkedIn members “connect” to people they know on the service, creating a virtual who-knows-whom map. Job seekers can look for a specific hiring manager and see if they have any connections in common. An employer evaluating a job candidate can get a trusted reference from someone they both know.
The basic functions of LinkedIn are free for individual users. For a monthly fee ranging from $16 to $500, users can gain access to additional search features and contact other members directly without waiting for an electronic introduction. 

To network while on a business trip, travelers can use the free Planely Web site to type in their flight itineraries and see who else is traveling at the same time, with overlapping flight plans. Conference- or conventiongoers might find other attendees to share a taxi to the hotel, for instance. Nervous fliers might find someone to take their mind off a long or bumpy flight. The app lists all the Planely travelers on the user’s flight and those who are passing through the airport at the same time, to create a “social flying experience.” 

Some networking apps use the phone owner’s location. The Friendthem app works with Facebook, displaying all members who are nearby and have signed up to be visible. This allows two people who meet at a conference, or perhaps at a hotel bar, to become Facebook friends easily, without having to search through a list of similar names to find the right person. 

Friend requests can be sent to people who appear nearby, but no instant messaging is available because “our users don’t want creepy people sending them messages like, ‘I see you across the room,’ ” said Charles Sankowich, chief executive and founder of Friendthem. “We want our users to have total control of who communicates with them.” Friendthem also allows users to specify “hiding places,” like home or work, where they want to be invisible. 

At home or on the road, the MeetMe app can offer two people convenient locations to meet. Users can choose the type of restaurant they want and use a slider bar to specify whether the meeting place should be equidistant from the two people or closer to one of them. The app also displays user reviews of meeting places and information from Yelp.com, along with directions. 

There are, of course, downsides to the constant tracking of business colleagues. Networking apps make it harder to excuse not getting in touch with people by claiming you lost their card or did not know they had changed jobs. “The location-aware apps can also be tricky,” said James Sun, chief executive of Pirq, a mobile app developer in Seattle, “because once someone knows you are in the area, can you avoid having coffee with them?” 

And the convenience and abundance of digital contact can be overwhelming, said David Domke, a communications professor at the University of Washington. People can become almost numb to the constant stream of data. “That’s why face to face, human interaction between people has become even more valuable in the digital age,” he said. 

Still, users say social media can make initial business meetings less awkward. When she was applying for her current job, Ms. Avvari found the hiring manager’s Twitter stream and noticed they shared a love of baked goods. During the interview, Ms. Avvari brought up her own passion for food and her food blog, which she might not have mentioned otherwise, and the two hit it off. 

“Whether it’s an employer or customer, I think few people realize how valuable researching them on social media can be for business,” she said. 

Twitter also offers in-person networking on the road. At conferences, there might be a Twitter hashtag, Ms. Avvari said, like #CIAS for the Canadian International Auto Show, so attendees can see one another’s posts. “Sometimes I’ll see a funny or interesting tweet and ask to meet that person for coffee during one of the breaks,” she said.

Krista Canfield, a spokeswoman for LinkedIn, said she used the site to meet people when she traveled for her job. “If I am going to Japan or Brazil and I don’t know anyone,” she said, “I try to connect with people who know someone in my network and meet them for a meal, instead of eating alone.”

Hazel Long Retired

We have a long legacy in our American Unicorn mythology about the family Maid.  What began with Hazel (my boomer generation may recall her or not if you buy into more quackery of neuroscience), then Alice, Flo, Rosie (come on boomers don't fail me!) or more recently The Help which portrayed servitude as a type of dignity within an indignity.   Or we have the sex kitten Maid, even J Lo portrayed a hard working hotel maid with the heart of gold or whatever. Maybe Dominique Strauss Kahn saw that movie on the plane from Paris when he decided to sexually assualt the woman cleaning his room? 

What all of them have in common, aside from the sassy sexy imagery provided, was the truth and facts. Well those are ugly and have no place in the Unicorn Mythology.

The truth is much like many night crews in Restaurants which even before Anthony Bourdain became the infamous drunken dullard of Television wrote in Kitchen Confidential, the efforts of many immigrant workers of color who do the real "dirty jobs" behind the scenes.  Its not pretty work, its not easy work and its not well paid.  Yet to many Americans they assume that once we get rid of them from our country we should have no problem putting Americans to work.  Uh, why do you think they are there in the first place? Americans didn't want those jobs then, they don't want them now.  As I wrote earlier, even Manufacturing is having problems finding workers, not because of the skill gap but that pay gap.  When one can make $10-$12 hour in retail sales or fast food why would you do a job doing ostensibly shit work.  Really,  that is what many home health care workers do - clean shit.

These are the women who change your child's diapers, clean your eldster's undergarments, bathe and care for those whom you love and would do anything for - except lift them up onto a toilet - ick!

I have written that the home health care worker has been trying to get legislation forward to ensure that they are protected under the same federal or state laws that many other minimum wage workers have and that they too have access to the same retirement benefits, Social Security and Medicare, when they age. These are very demanding physically related professions and they will be needing them not to mention their own home aide, much earlier on in life than say the Executive management team at Goldman Sachs. What comprises a hard day for them?  Waiting for the elevator I presume.

So what are the professed politically enlightened doing to help these workers, in between demanding boycotts of establishments they would actually never set foot in? Well nothing I can see upon a quick perusal of the world's communication tools - social media.  I am not sure there is a catch phrase or # that would draw attention to the issue.  Plus let's face it there is something about the phrase "get a Mexican" that regardless of the party with which you belong is often unspoken when it comes down to doing "dirty jobs."

I have come to realize that shame, guilt and obstreperousness is the best way to actually get people to listen. Being honest, direct and focused doesn't draw the attention and in turn support one needs. Sad isn't it.  No wonder these people with their quiet voices are ignored but their work is so not.


A Study of Home Help Finds Low Worker Pay

by Steven Greenhouse
Published November 27, 2012


Nannies, caregivers and house cleaners earn a median wage of about $10 an hour, and few receive benefits like health insurance or paid sick days, according to the first-ever national statistical study of domestic workers, which is being released on Tuesday.

The study, based on interviews with 2,086 workers in 14 major metropolitan areas, found substantial differences in pay across ethnicity, immigration status and whether the worker lived with her employer.

The report found that the median wage for nannies was $11 an hour, compared with a $10-an-hour median for caregivers and housecleaners. But 23 percent of the workers earned less than their state’s minimum wage, which varies but must be at least the federal level of $7.25 an hour. Domestic workers are generally not covered by federal or state minimum wage laws. 

The study noted that white domestic workers generally earned more than their black, Hispanic and Asian counterparts, although the study said that African-American nannies earned slightly more — a median of $12.71 an hour — than white ones ($12.55 an hour). Hispanic nannies earned $8.57 an hour, while Asian ones earned $11.11. 

Called “Home Economics: The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work,” the study was based on interviews with nannies, caregivers and housecleaners who now work in the United States but originally came from 71 countries. The interviews were conducted in nine languages: English, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese, Tagalog, Mandarin, Cantonese, Haitian Creole and Nepali. 

The researchers found that domestic workers who were illegal immigrants earned considerably less than those who were American-born or naturalized citizens. Nannies who were citizens had a median pay of $12.50 an hour, while illegal immigrants earned $9.86 an hour. Caregivers who were American citizens received a median of $10.30 an hour; caregivers without legal work authorization earned $8.33. 

“The upshot of the study is that domestic workers who help so many families with taking care of their loved ones and taking care of their homes often earn so little that they have a difficult time supporting their own families,” said Nik Theodore, an author of the study and an associate professor of urban policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. 

Mr. Theodore said there are about 800,000 nannies, caregivers and housecleaners who work for households who pay them directly. The researchers did not study domestic workers employed through companies or outside agencies. 

The study’s other author was Linda Burnham, research director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, an advocacy group. The study was financed by the Ford Foundation, the Open Society Foundations and the Alexander Soros Foundation. 

The study noted that the American Community Survey, conducted by the Census Bureau, found that 95 percent of domestic workers were women, 46 percent were immigrants, 54 percent were nonwhite and 35 percent were noncitizens. 

Live-in domestic workers were found to earn far less than “live-outs.” Live-in nannies earned a median wage of $6.76 an hour, the study said, while live-out nannies earned $11.55. Live-in caregivers earned $7.69 an hour, compared with $10 for live-out caregivers. According to the study, 67 percent of live-in domestic workers earn less than their state’s minimum wage. 

With many domestic workers called on to take care of infants or the elderly during the night, the study found that 25 percent of live-in workers said their responsibilities prevented them from getting at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep. 

Most domestic workers do not receive fringe benefits from their employers, the study found. About 65 percent of domestic workers reported that they did not have health insurance of any kind, and just 4 percent said they received coverage through their employer. About 82 percent said they did not receive paid sick days, and only 9 percent said their employers paid into Social Security for them.
“The good thing about the job is you get to meet different people and form a bond with people,” said Barbara Young, who worked as a nanny and caregiver for 17 years in New York and is now a full-time organizer with the National Domestic Workers Alliance. “But the big problem was compensation. It’s often very low salary and there are often no benefits.”

Ms. Young said she once asked her employer to take out money to contribute to Social Security for her. But at the end of the year, she recalled, the husband in the house returned that money, saying he had not bothered to pay it into Social Security. 

The study found that white caregivers received a median wage of $12 an hour, Hispanic and African-American ones, $10 an hour, and Asian ones, $8.33 an hour. The study found that for white housecleaners, median pay was $12.50. For blacks, it was $10.80, and for Hispanics and Asians, it was $10. 

A recurring theme in the report was that domestic workers were more isolated than those in most other jobs. “Working behind closed doors, beyond the reach of personnel policies, and often without employment contracts, they are subject to the whims of their employers,” the study said. “Some employers are terrific, generous and understanding. Others, unfortunately, are demanding, exploitative and abusive.” 

Domestic workers are covered neither by federal minimum wage laws nor by most states’ minimum wage laws. Nor are they generally covered by unemployment insurance, or antidiscrimination or workers’ compensation laws. 

Ten percent of the domestic workers reported that at least once during the past 12 months they were paid less than agreed to or not at all. In addition, 29 percent of housecleaners said they had suffered from skin irritation over the past 12 months, while for caregivers, the same percentage reported suffering a back injury in the prior year. 

The report made several recommendations, including ending the exclusion of domestic workers from state minimum wage laws, providing them with workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance coverage and guaranteeing them overtime pay and meal and rest breaks. 

Namrata Pradham, an immigrant from Nepal who works as a nanny in the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood of New York, said she enjoys the respect of being treated as a responsible professional. She earns $14 an hour, more than many domestic workers, and has been promised five paid sick days a year, if she needs them. 

“I’m not scared about speaking up about my salary and my rights,” she said.



Monday, November 26, 2012

The Green Stamp of Approval

Anyone who reads the blog on a regular basis would know I am very much against the need of third party certifications  when it comes to Green Building but it doesn't mean I am against the role of the being a Green Consultant. . I do think that having a Green Consultant/Advisor who is familiar with the varying programs needs to be a part of the process but not to go beyond the scope and scale of research, which is all that should be done. Providing sufficient options in which to pursue and assess.  It takes immense time and energy and one hat, one size, does not fit all. It  also frees companies from having to have permanently on staff an individual whose sole job is Educator and  Trainer on all things "green"    There is something about having an independent as a part of the process to retain transparency from products to economics when it comes to building a high performance building.

I have never supported any type of  certifications for residential housing but  I do support Energy Star with regards to residential housing.  I do feel they are tying to devise a national approachable and affordable spectrum in which to conserve energy and advocate sustainability in housing, while also keeping regional climate differences in mind.

As for commerical projects,  I am big on Net Zero and a more limited but given the current climate - literally and figureatively - a big advocate for the Living Building Challlenge.  With the idea that storms and other potential  interferences to the grid have long term affects on living and working, there is something attractive about a building that produces and uses its own energy, including food.  Imagine a Living Building in New Jersey right now with geothermal heating, compostable toilets, alternative energy sources such as solar and a garden available. Sounds like Nirvana right? That said, its a large scale type of endevor but the Living Building Challenge people seem up to the challenge and would welcome more opportunities to put it to the test.

As for the other Certification programs, the dominant is LEED. Again the ubiquitious non profit acronym that both lobbies and in turn takes Government money, via tax credits to encourage their program's use, while also charging inordinate fees to the cost of building; LEED has become a spec plan vs optional concept when frankly building smart, energy efficient buildings should not be an option.

I read the Construction Law Blog's thoughts on the matter and the article below from Eco Home that discusses many of the same concerns I have expressed with regards to cost and overall actual performance that results from adding a bike rack to gain "stars."

Green Building Study Reveals Widespread Commitment to Sustainable Practices


Turner Construction survey finds fewer companies are likely to seek LEED certification.

By Jennifer Goodman

A new study released in advance of the 2012 Greenbuild Conference and Expo has found that while companies remain committed to constructing green buildings, fewer are likely to seek LEED certification.

Ninety percent of real estate owners, developers, and corporate owner-occupants surveyed said their companies were committed to environmentally sustainable practices. Of that percentage, 56 percent of executives said their companies were extremely or very committed to following environmentally sustainable practices in their operations, while an additional 34 percent said they were somewhat committed. In addition to citing financial reasons for this commitment, executives were most likely to cite broader considerations as extremely or very important including:

--belief that it's the 'right thing to do' (68%)
--impact on brand/reputation (67%)
--cost savings (66%)
--customer requirements (61%)

Executives were most likely to cite financial factors as being important to their companies' decisions on whether to incorporate green features in a construction project. Respondents indicated that energy efficiency (84%), and ongoing operations and maintenance costs (84%) were extremely or very important to their decisions.

More than two-thirds of executives also said that non-financial factors were extremely or very important including indoor air quality (74%), health and well-being of occupants (74%), satisfaction of employees/occupants (69%), and employee productivity (67%). However, only 37% of executives said it was extremely or very important to their companies to minimize the carbon footprint of their buildings.

FEWER CERTIFICATIONS

Although the vast majority of companies remain committed to sustainable construction, the percentage of executives who thought it was extremely or very likely that their company would seek LEED certification if they constructed a green building was 48 percent, down from 53 percent in the 2010 survey and 61 percent in the 2008 survey. Among executives who said their companies were not likely to seek LEED certification, the most important reasons cited were:

--the cost of the certification process (82%)
--staff time required (79%)
--time required for the process (75%)
--the overall perceived difficulty of the process (74%)

At the same time, 41 percent of executives thought it was at least somewhat likely that their companies would consider seeking certification under a rating system other than LEED if they constructed a green building. Of those executives who indicated they would consider another system, 63 percent said they would be extremely or very likely to consider seeking certification under Energy Star.

We've seen from our own work and the continuing growth of the green building market that in spite of this reduction in enthusiasm for LEED certification, respondents are still building green," says Michael Deane, vice president and chief sustainability officer at Turner Construction. "While some respondents are relying on their own standards or are considering another rating system, LEED certification remains the most widely used third-party verification of achievement that is recognized by consumers and that can be used to market and promote a property."





Adieu But Not Goodbye

I heard last week that the Discovery Channel is canceling Dirty Jobs and sending Mike Rowe to the lines of the gainfully underemployed. Welcome!   Mike still has a day job as a spokesperson for Ford but I will miss frankly the myriad of facial expressions generated by Mike as he brought Dirty Jobs into our homes. 

I was fortunate to be familiar with who Mike was  when I lived in San Francisco and he was the host of Evening Magazine.  His dry humor and easy demeanor wore him well on that show and on Dirty Jobs, which I frankly loved more.  Why? Because it brought real people doing real jobs into the forefront. In a time when we think "middle class" means white collar, Dirty Jobs reminded people that many middle class jobs had very blue collars.

I also greatly admired that Mike was willing to go beyond host, he spoke to Congress and wrote both President Obama and Candidate Romney asking them to join his dirty jobs crew.  Romney did and of course in our histrionic times many confused that with an endorsement and immediately began to vilify him without reason, valdiating my long held belief that if your diet is one of cable news versus cable television you have a bitter taste in your mouth regardless of the origin of flavor.

I hope Mike continues to speak on behalf of the working man and woman.  They are the backbone, the foundation, the true support walls of this America.  We built it and that We is a big number.  I know that he will undoubtedly retain the Mike Rowe Trades Hub site of which I am a proud member and contributor, that means more to me than anyone could ever know.  And I look forward to having Mike back in my home again, its not the first time he has been there nor hopefully the last but next time dude bring a bottle of wine!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Fries With That?

A couple of weeks ago I watched a 60 Minutes segment on the "problems" employers are having finding trained and work-ready employees for the jobs they have available.  They profiled a company in Las Vegas that was having problems finding those workers with the skill sets necessary.  Many of them were technical some were simple organizational and communication skills. The latter does not surprise me frankly, as I have had to rely more on Substitute Teaching to pay my bills I see an unbelievable problem with the ability to write logical and cohesive papers, not to mention anger management and organizational skills which are clearly needed to perform the most routine and simplistic of jobs.  The PTSD of the poor is not something easily done by Public Educators frankly.

What is interesting however that was revealed in this segment was the reliance on the local Community college and its role in establishing a training and educational program to develop the skills needed to generate employees for these jobs available.  The irony is not lost here. Where the private marketplace claims they built it and don't need Government is in fact working in public-private partnership to develop the training program.  Who Built It? Well,  Who Paid for It? This is all paid for by taxes, local and federal, and the students were still collecting unemployment while undergoing the program.  The total cost per student was not specified but it appears that it was over 2K per student and only two were hired.  So what about the other 16?   Then add more irony is that they will remain on the assistance that is so derided.  So was this more of the government waste that we hear so much about?  You can't win for losing in this deal. Well you can if you are a private industry, you get fully trained workers, underpay them and it costs your company nothing. 

The catch? The jobs offered were at $12 hour.  Yes that is just slightly more than a retail clerk or home care worker or medical orderly and yes a McDonald's shift supervisor.   That is the real problem. Having the skills is one thing but are these really that technical a job to require all this intensive expensive education that must be tax payer supported or in fact private industry obligation to simply train and educate and more importantly pay their workers a liveable wage in which to pursue additional education and training on their own time and dime in which to advance if they so choose?

The article below reiterates that the skill set is not the issue the pay gap is.  A good example is the Hostess bankruptcy. Much was made of the Unions and their supposed incalcitrance in negotiation. But upon inspection there was no Bain there but in fact a Venture Capital firm actually dedicated to preserving unionized labor and the business but also clear mis-management and lack of oversight by the investors to ensure that their investment was being protected. Executives awarded themselves six figure salaries while demanding pay cuts to the actual workers who make their products.  Priorities clearly not the company nor its longevity was their focus.   This is just like those Boards of publicly held companies that did nothing as the banks burned.  But its easy to pick on the low hanging fruit and of course Unions are the new bad guy in the American private economy.

We want an economy of two tiers and a complacent, compliant work force grateful for whatever jobs at whatever pay offered.   This was not sustainable in our history, its not sustainable now.


Skills Don't Pay the Bills

By: Adam Davidson
New York Times Magazine
Published November 25, 2012


Earlier this month, hoping to understand the future of the moribund manufacturing job market, I visited the engineering technology program at Queensborough Community College in New York City. I knew that advanced manufacturing had become reliant on computers, yet the classroom I visited had nothing but computers. As the instructor Joseph Goldenberg explained, today’s skilled factory worker is really a hybrid of an old-school machinist and a computer programmer.

Goldenberg’s intro class starts with the basics of how to use cutting tools to shape a raw piece of metal. Then the real work begins: students learn to write the computer code that tells a machine how to do it much faster.

Deep thoughts this week:
1. There is no skills gap.
2. Who will operate a highly sophisticated machine for $10 an hour?
3. Not a lot of people.
4. As a result, there is going to be a skills gap.

Nearly six million factory jobs, almost a third of the entire manufacturing industry, have disappeared since 2000. And while many of these jobs were lost to competition with low-wage countries, even more vanished because of computer-driven machinery that can do the work of 10, or in some cases, 100 workers. Those jobs are not coming back, but many believe that the industry’s future (and, to some extent, the future of the American economy) lies in training a new generation for highly skilled manufacturing jobs — the ones that require people who know how to run the computer that runs the machine.

This is partly because advanced manufacturing is really complicated. Running these machines requires a basic understanding of metallurgy, physics, chemistry, pneumatics, electrical wiring and computer code. It also requires a worker with the ability to figure out what’s going on when the machine isn’t working properly. And aspiring workers often need to spend a considerable amount of time and money taking classes like Goldenberg’s to even be considered. Every one of Goldenberg’s students, he says, will probably have a job for as long as he or she wants one. 

And yet, even as classes like Goldenberg’s are filled to capacity all over America, hundreds of thousands of U.S. factories are starving for skilled workers. Throughout the campaign, President Obama lamented the so-called skills gap and referenced a study claiming that nearly 80 percent of manufacturers have jobs they can’t fill. Mitt Romney made similar claims. The National Association of Manufacturers estimates that there are roughly 600,000 jobs available for whoever has the right set of advanced skills. 

Eric Isbister, the C.E.O. of GenMet, a metal-fabricating manufacturer outside Milwaukee, told me that he would hire as many skilled workers as show up at his door. Last year, he received 1,051 applications and found only 25 people who were qualified. He hired all of them, but soon had to fire 15. Part of Isbister’s pickiness, he says, comes from an avoidance of workers with experience in a “union-type job.” Isbister, after all, doesn’t abide by strict work rules and $30-an-hour salaries. At GenMet, the starting pay is $10 an hour. Those with an associate degree can make $15, which can rise to $18 an hour after several years of good performance. From what I understand, a new shift manager at a nearby McDonald’s can earn around $14 an hour. 

The secret behind this skills gap is that it’s not a skills gap at all. I spoke to several other factory managers who also confessed that they had a hard time recruiting in-demand workers for $10-an-hour jobs. “It’s hard not to break out laughing,” says Mark Price, a labor economist at the Keystone Research Center, referring to manufacturers complaining about the shortage of skilled workers. “If there’s a skill shortage, there has to be rises in wages,” he says. “It’s basic economics.” After all, according to supply and demand, a shortage of workers with valuable skills should push wages up. Yet according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of skilled jobs has fallen and so have their wages. 

In a recent study, the Boston Consulting Group noted that, outside a few small cities that rely on the oil industry, there weren’t many places where manufacturing wages were going up and employers still couldn’t find enough workers. “Trying to hire high-skilled workers at rock-bottom rates,” the Boston Group study asserted, “is not a skills gap.” The study’s conclusion, however, was scarier. Many skilled workers have simply chosen to apply their skills elsewhere rather than work for less, and few young people choose to invest in training for jobs that pay fast-food wages. As a result, the United States may soon have a hard time competing in the global economy. The average age of a highly skilled factory worker in the U.S. is now 56. “That’s average,” says Hal Sirkin, the lead author of the study. “That means there’s a lot who are in their 60s. They’re going to retire soon.” And there are not enough trainees in the pipeline, he said, to replace them. 

One result, Sirkin suggests, is that the fake skills gap is threatening to create a real skills gap. Goldenberg, who has taught for more than 20 years, is already seeing it up close. Few of his top students want to work in factories for current wages. 

Isbister is seeing the other side of this decision making. He was deeply frustrated when his company participated in a recent high-school career fair. Any time a student expressed interest in manufacturing, he said, “the parents came over and asked: ‘Are you going to outsource? Move the jobs to China?’ ” While Isbister says he thinks that his industry suffers from a reputation problem, he also admitted that his answer to a nervous parent’s question is not reassuring. The industry is inevitably going to move some of these jobs to China, or it’s going to replace them with machines. If it doesn’t, it can’t compete on a global level. 

It’s easy to understand every perspective in this drama. Manufacturers, who face increasing competition from low-wage countries, feel they can’t afford to pay higher wages. Potential workers choose more promising career paths. “It’s individually rational,” says Howard Wial, an economist at the Brookings Institution who specializes in manufacturing employment. “But it’s not socially optimal.” In earlier decades, Wial says, manufacturing workers could expect decent-paying jobs that would last a long time, and it was easy to match worker supply and demand. Since then, with the confluence of computers, increased trade and weakened unions, the social contract has collapsed, and worker-employer matches have become harder to make. Now workers and manufacturers “need to recreate a system” — a new social contract — in which their incentives are aligned. 

In retrospect, the post-World War II industrial model did a remarkably good job of supporting a system in which an 18-year-old had access to on-the-job training that was nearly certain to pay off over a long career. That system had its flaws — especially a shared complacency that left manufacturers and laborers unprepared for global trade and technological change. Manufacturers, of course, have responded over the past 20 years by dismantling it. Yet Isbister’s complaint suggests some hope — that there’s a lack of skilled workers; that factory layoffs overshot, and now need a reversal. As we talked, it became clear that Isbister’s problem is part of a larger one. Isbister told me that he’s ready to offer training to high-school graduates, some of whom, he says, will eventually make good money. The problem, he finds, is that far too few graduate high school with the basic math and science skills that his company needs to compete. As he spoke, I realized that this isn’t a narrow problem facing the manufacturing industry. The so-called skills gap is really a gap in education, and that affects all of us.