Friday, October 30, 2009

Green Sex/Good Sex

When I think of Green Sex I think of Captain Kirk bagging some intergalactic hot broad on the Starship Enterprise. But green sex now means something completely different.

I came (no pun intended)across an article in Time Magazine discussing Sex and Eco-friendly products now available in the pleasure market.

First there is the whole concept of birth control. And nothing says organic more than the rhythm method. Its now called "natural family planning" (NFP) and is being sold as not only morally correct but green. The advocates of this method known as Fertility Awareness Method are non-Catholics who praise it as a way of avoiding nasty ingestion/absorption of chemicals, artificial hormones and excreting them into our water table via well numerous means.

I personally stopped using artificial hormones years ago when I realized the havoc they played on my body and feared the long term outcomes, along with the idea that this was NOT covered by health care and that men are largely exempt in the way of preventing pregnancy and that they too should shoulder more responsibility. So my feminist leanings have more to do with it than my green leanings but I certainly have not had any unwanted pregnancies nor forgone sex (although there are times it feels that way). There are many non chemical options available but very rarely available in this country, thankfully for the Internet the choices are numerous and just across the Canadian border.

But its not just limited to that end. Earth Erotics an online purveyor of erotica and sexual aids deal with the green end of the spectrum. Yes, sex toys and sexual aids are also going green. Earth Erotics among other have organic massage oils, whips made of recycled content inner tubes and other non toxic toys and delights.

Babeland, my local sex shop emporium, has also seen an uptick in sales of sex toys made of stainless steel, wood (yes Mahogany no less) and glass. Jimmyjane a manufacturer of elegant items are all very Eco-friendly aside from being both elegant in design and well useful. Yes, I am a customer of both store and product.

Babeland sells four times as much of Good Clean Love lubricants over the synthetics; Mamba is the current line of vegan condoms; Naked is another organic lubricant that is free of any petroleum base as many more conventional lubricants. Along with the eco safe whips, neoprene appears as handcuffs and "other" sex items.

While I am a great advocate for natural when it matters I cannot say that the NFP method is 100% perfect (but then even chemical means fail) and that in reality a world that encourages multiple births, interfering with a woman's natural ability to reproduce and the problem in poorer nations to control their birth rates the real issue is overpopulation which has a greater effect on our planet and its resources than using phthalates based sex toys does.

That said understanding ways to improve your sex life and make the planet safer is all good green fun.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

To Remodel or Not to Remodel that is the Question

I thought this was a good article in MSN today about the return to investment on remodeling.

The most important questions that need to be asked are as follows:

1. Is the home energy efficient?
2. Is the home watertight?
3. Is this home going to be lived in for a significant time period?
4. Can we afford this?
5. What can we do to encourage more Eco friendly ideas and sustainable products?

Notice I put "green" as the last item on the to do list. Frankly finding Eco friendly products should also be the priority but you may not even know what that means or if those are really "needed."

I formed Vida Verde first to actually do and encourage Green Remodeling but when I realized that I could better coach, educate and inform clients of their options in remodeling without pressure or conflict of interest I decided to switch my focus. This enabled me to fully source, investigate and debate what products and processes are fully green and how well they fit into the overall cost benefit analysis of a project. A good example is Solar Energy. I feel that is the least beneficial and most exorbitant of options right now and should only be done AFTER all other improvements have been made.

I will reprint the article below and it gives great analysis to exactly what the real return on investment is when it comes to remodeling. The article does not address the most significant and necessary reason to remodel and that is to improve energy efficiency and indoor air quality to a home. Those are the ones currently with the most tax credits available and are the most affordable with the quickest payback.

Remodeling? It's a waste of money
One of the big myths of homeownership is that upgrades are investments. In reality, renovating is consumption spending. But if you want to remodel anyway, do it right.

By Liz Pulliam Weston
MSN Money

There could be one upside to the real-estate implosion. Plunging prices finally could shatter our national delusion that home improvements are somehow an "investment" in our homes.

Think about it:

With a real investment, you commit your money and hope to make some kind of profit.
With remodeling, you're all but guaranteed a loss.
Even at the real-estate market's peak, most remodeling projects didn't pay for themselves.

Home-remodeling horror stories
Homeowners typically recouped an average 86.6% of their costs, according to Remodeling magazine's 2005 Cost vs. Value report -- and that's only if homeowners sold within a year of finishing the work.

Wait any longer, and your return will be less. That's because home-improvement projects start to get dated as soon as you finish them. Today's stainless steel is tomorrow's harvest gold, in other words.

Ah, that stainless-steel debt
These days, the average return is just 67.3%of what you pay. No improvement came close to paying for itself in 2008. Even projects with the best payoffs, such as new siding and minor kitchen remodels, typically resulted in a significant loss.

Remodeling costs recouped, by project and year:

2005 2008
Upscale siding replacement

Bathroom remodel (midrange)

Minor kitchen remodel

Major kitchen remodel (midrange)

Major kitchen remodel (upscale)

Master suite addition (midrange)

The home-improvement-as-investment myth, combined with easy credit, fueled an awful lot of irresponsible spending in the past few years. People thought it was OK to tap their home equity so they could ape the fancy kitchens and bathrooms on HGTV, little realizing they were throwing away their wealth.

This is not to say you should never remodel your home. Appliances and surfaces wear out over time. You might want to improve an inefficient layout. Or perhaps the home's previous owners had awful taste. (One of my relatives, a serial remodeler, says most of what she does is tear out the "improvements" of past owners.)

Also, it might make more sense to remodel than to sell and buy another home. Swapping homes is really burning money, as you lose about 10% of your current house's value to real-estate commissions, selling expenses and moving costs. If your home update would cost less than 10% of your home's value, or if you really love your current neighborhood, the improvement project might be worthwhile.

But you should view home improvements for what they are: consumption spending, not investing.

Remodel for the long haul
Ideally, you should pay cash for consumption. The only time it makes sense to borrow money is when you're buying an asset that stands a chance of gaining value over time.

Of course, the right project, carefully chosen and executed, can add some value to your house. If you plan to live in it for many years, you could consider financing 50% of the cost of any major improvements.

The 50% limit is just a rule of thumb. Because most projects are unlikely to recoup more than two-thirds of their costs and some will return less, it's smart to be conservative by saying only half the cost of your project will increase your home's value and thus can be financed.

But if you're going to finance any part of the cost, make sure your improvement really does add value. That means you should:

Beware any upgrade that makes your house bigger or fancier than most others in your neighborhood, as such remodels are unlikely to add much value.
Be cautious about adding pools or spas, as they repel as many buyers as they attract in most markets (because of the hassle or because of the drowning risk with young children).?
Aim to please the crowd rather than indulging your personal tastes. Bold statements like brightly colored appliances won't be a hit with many buyers.
What if you can't finance the project you want, either because your credit or your home equity is shot? Then it's time to start saving cash and considering alternatives.

Among the possibilities:

Can you refurbish rather than remove? Refinishing or refacing cabinets is usually less expensive than replacing them. Reglazing tubs and sinks can extend their lives and save you thousands compared with a gut remodel.

Can you rethink how you use space? Adding square footage may seem like a logical way to deal with a space crunch. But maybe you just need to ditch some clutter or re-purpose a room. Never use your formal dining room? Maybe it could be your office or a guest bedroom instead.

What can you do with a little paint? Paint is inexpensive and relatively easy to apply, and can dramatically transform the look of a room.

When a little remodeling pays off

Finally, if you're trying to sell your home, you clearly shouldn't sink money into a major remodel. But there are some low-cost fixes that real-estate agents typically recommend as likely to return far more than they cost. Such as:

Lighten and brighten. Wash windows, remove heavy curtains, trim back branches and bushes that cover windows (free to do it yourself, $100 to $300 to hire window washers).
Declutter. Pack up at least a third of your belongings and store them ($200 to $300 a month for off-site storage).
Deep-clean. Scour your house from top to bottom ($200 to $300 for professionals, basically free if you do it yourself).
Spruce up landscaping. Trim bushes and hedges, plant flowers, renew mulch ($300 to $400 for professionals, free if you do it yourself).
Staging. Rearrange furniture and décor to highlight positives and downplay negatives (costs can range from free, if you pick up a home-staging book at the library, to $500 and up for professional help).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Follow the Leader

My favorite columnist, Bob Herbert of the New York Times, discussed in today's paper a subject that I have been harping on for quite some time - the passivity of the American Public. What I don't get is that just numbers alone should be sufficient enough to send a message.. 45 million or more without Insurance, 5-10 million un or underemployed, 67 million working poor... need I go on?

If these people simply took to the streets just their presence alone would send a powerful message to those in the Government that there are real people with real issues that need to be addressed.

I do believe a great deal of the problem is founded in the fact that there are no leaders, no figureheads who have the ideals, the passions and the commitment to organize and take that displaced populace and make a coherent voice. As I have said the bullies, the Glenn Becks, the Rush Limbaugh's, the Keith Olberman's are used to somehow be the "voice of the people." RIGHT.

I often walk into classrooms and see posters of famous figureheads whose voices are powerful reminders of movements that brought real change. Remember it was change that Obama promised and has yet to deliver. Perhaps we need to remind him.

I reprint Bob's column today and frankly he says what I have said for a long long time... we lack leaders, we lack ambition and we lack passion.


Changing the World

Published: October 26, 2009

One of the most cherished items in my possession is a postcard that was sent from Mississippi to the Upper West Side of Manhattan in June 1964.

“Dear Mom and Dad,” it says, “I have arrived safely in Meridian, Mississippi. This is a wonderful town and the weather is fine. I wish you were here. The people in this city are wonderful and our reception was very good. All my love, Andy.”

That was the last word sent to his family by Andrew Goodman, a 20-year-old college student who was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan, along with fellow civil rights workers Michael Schwerner and James Chaney, on his first full day in Mississippi — June 21, the same date as the postmark on the card. The goal of the three young men had been to help register blacks to vote.

The postcard was given to me by Andrew’s brother, David, who has become a good friend.

Andrew and that postcard came to mind over the weekend as I was thinking about the sense of helplessness so many ordinary Americans have been feeling as the nation is confronted with one enormous, seemingly intractable problem after another. The helplessness is beginning to border on paralysis. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly a decade long, are going badly, and there is no endgame in sight.

Monday morning’s coffee was accompanied by stories about suicide bombings in the heart of Baghdad that killed at least 150 people and wounded more than 500 and helicopter crashes in Afghanistan that killed 14 Americans.

Here at home, the terrible toll from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression continues, with no end to the joblessness in sight and no comprehensible plans for fashioning a healthy economy for the years ahead. The government’s finances resemble a Ponzi scheme. If you want to see the epidemic that is really clobbering American families, look past the H1N1 virus to the home foreclosure crisis.

The Times ran a Page A1 article on Monday that said layoffs, foreclosures and other problems associated with the recession had resulted in big increases in the number of runaway children, many of whom were living in dangerous conditions in the streets.

Americans have tended to watch with a remarkable (I think frightening) degree of passivity as crises of all sorts have gripped the country and sent millions of lives into tailspins. Where people once might have deluged their elected representatives with complaints, joined unions, resisted mass firings, confronted their employers with serious demands, marched for social justice and created brand new civic organizations to fight for the things they believed in, the tendency now is to assume that there is little or nothing ordinary individuals can do about the conditions that plague them.

This is so wrong. It is the kind of thinking that would have stopped the civil rights movement in its tracks, that would have kept women in the kitchen or the steno pool, that would have prevented labor unions from forcing open the doors that led to the creation of a vast middle class.

This passivity and sense of helplessness most likely stems from the refusal of so many Americans over the past few decades to acknowledge any sense of personal responsibility for the policies and choices that have led the country into such a dismal state of affairs, and to turn their backs on any real obligation to help others who were struggling.

Those chickens have come home to roost. Being an American has become a spectator sport. Most Americans watch the news the way you’d watch a ballgame, or a long-running television series, believing that they have no more control over important real-life events than a viewer would have over a coach’s strategy or a script for “Law & Order.”

With that kind of attitude, Andrew Goodman would never have left the comfort of his family home in Manhattan. Rosa Parks would have gotten up and given her seat to a white person, and the Montgomery bus boycott would never have happened. Betty Friedan would never have written “The Feminine Mystique.”

The nation’s political leaders and their corporate puppet masters have fouled this nation up to a fare-thee-well. We will not be pulled from the morass without a big effort from an active citizenry, and that means a citizenry fired with a sense of mission and the belief that their actions, in concert with others, can make a profound difference.

It can start with just a few small steps. Mrs. Parks helped transform a nation by refusing to budge from her seat. Maybe you want to speak up publicly about an important issue, or host a house party, or perhaps arrange a meeting of soon-to-be dismissed employees, or parents at a troubled school.

It’s a risk, sure. But the need is great, and that’s how you change the world.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Me Generation is Over

Years of success has finally come to a thudding halt for those who saw their rise in the 20th Century dramatically fall in the 21st.

I really have no words only this article from today's New York Times to remind everyone AGAIN about the rising unemployment among my generation of highly successful achieving individuals.


Generation B
Tables Turned, Former Hirers Can’t Get Hired

Published: October 22, 2009

NANCY FINK is a career coach for Maryland’s department of labor, running seminars for the most skilled unemployed workers.

For 17 years, she has counseled professionals, business managers, engineers, accountants, scientists — people who are mature, middle-aged, highly motivated, well-educated, well-spoken. But in all that time, she’s never seen so many of the jobless with such impressive skills as this last year. “Last week I had seven lawyers in this room,” she said. “I’ve had lots of folks from TV and The Baltimore Sun. This week I’ve got five human resources directors — I’ve never had that.”

The number of professionals and managers in unemployment programs at this suburban work-force center halfway between Baltimore and Washington is the highest it has been since the state first made this group a target for outplacement support in 1992.

They ask questions young workers don’t. David Kozlowski, 52, a systems vice president laid off in June, wanted to know how far back to go when an interviewer inquires about his work experience in information technology. “I’ve had 30 years in I.T.,” he said. Many of the 53 people at a recent two-day seminar had themselves hired employees before being fired. When Ms. Fink quizzed them on the first question interviewers ask, Jim Chrzanowski, 45, a systems engineer who once oversaw 83 workers, knew immediately. “ ‘Tell me about yourself’ — it was the first question I always asked,” he said.

During a discussion on cover letters, Ms. Fink wondered if the human resources directors in the room had any thoughts. “It can make a big difference,” said Hal Hamil Jr., 56, unemployed since August, but before then, a senior vice president of PNC Bank making $130,000 a year. Mr. Hamil said that last March he posted three openings for tellers paying $10 an hour and got 1,008 applications. “I hired two of them because of their cover letters,” he said.

Ms. Fink urged rehearsing before an interview, and Arlene Hernandez, 44, who was a human resources director doing the hiring for a 150-person retail company until last month, agreed. “People who took too long to make their point, I’d be thinking about what I was cooking for dinner,” she said.

They strategized about befriending the receptionist when going for an interview. “You get that receptionist on your side, it frames the interview,” Ms. Fink said. “ ‘Nancy is here,’ versus ‘Your 10 o’clock is here.’ And later you write the receptionist a thank-you note. She’ll show her boss. It will make an impression.”

“So,” Ms. Fink continued, “you’ve made friends with the receptionist. Now, what do you do while you’re waiting to be interviewed?”

“Start working on your thank-you note,” said Ellen James, 49, a contractor whose home-improvement business collapsed in March.

Shelley Nituama, 50, an unemployed librarian with two master’s degrees, said, “We could start a new society with all the talent in this room.”

Maryland, with its proximity to the federal government, is usually insulated from severe downturns, but even here in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, unemployment is the highest in decades. The number of jobless professionals taking these seminars at the work-force center — one of 34 statewide — has doubled in a year, to 210 a month. Nationally, the unemployment rate for managers and professionals increased to 5.2 percent in September, from 2.8 percent the year before, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Many, like Mr. Hamil, who as a human resources director provided services for 3,500 workers at PNC Bank, had never needed a government program before. “I find it useful to be with other people and hear their ideas,” he said. “I’ve had all the time I needed at home cutting the lawn and reseeding the lawn.”

They were wowed by their fellow jobless. “It’s wonderful to be with people of this caliber,” said Ms. Nituama, the librarian, who said she never went for an interview without memorizing the employer’s mission statement.

There were handouts galore: 12 tips for making small talk; the Noel Smith-Wenkle salary negotiation method; inspirational quotes (Victor Borge: “The shortest distance between two people is a smile”); advice from the man Ms. Fink described as, “the father of modern job search, Richard Nelson Bolles.”

Some exercises let them vent. Ms. Fink asked them to list what kind of workers employers wanted and several shouted, “Cheap.”

“Young,” said Jeffrey DeBois, 58, who had been a construction manager with the same company for 21 years.

“They want experience but they want youth,” said Steven Dembo, a photographer dressed in coat and tie.

“They want a senior player at entry level pay,” said Mark Roper, 50, an information technology specialist whose daughter had to move home and transfer to a local community college after he lost his job.

“I don’t think they know what they want, the job description doesn’t match the interview,” said Pamela Robb, who was taking down Ms. Fink’s tips on her laptop.

Ms. Fink warned: “You could find yourself being interviewed by a millennial. As a boomer, you’re thinking that could be my kid. Your instinct is to use their first name. Don’t. They could have an M.B.A. from Wharton. It should be Ms. or Mr.”

They posed questions Ms. Fink had no answers for. “Why do they bring me in, then tell me I’m overqualified?” asked Amy Studnitz, 59, a former accounting manager who made $68,000 in her last job.

“How do you know,” Ms. Nituama asked, “if you’re being brought in and they already have an insider for the job?”

They discussed how to respond when an interviewer asked them to describe a weakness.

“I say, ‘Sometimes my expectations are too high,’ ” said Marlene Manley, an analyst with T. Rowe Price making $73,900 until she was laid off in April.

“Absolutely,” Ms. Fink said.

“Can you say ‘I don’t have a weakness,’ ” Ms. James, the contractor said. “‘I’m just even-keeled’?”

“No, no,” Ms. Fink said, “you need a weakness that’s not really a weakness — they want to see you dance around the question.”

As a group they joked, but one-on-one many sounded scared. “I’ve been discouraged these last few days,” said Ms. Nituama, a single mother of 9-year-old twins. “In job interviews, I try not to come across as desperate. I try to seem relaxed.”

Jim Hess, 46, a former comptroller for a construction company, said he had cashed in his 401(k).

“If something doesn’t happen soon,” said Ms. Studnitz, the former accounting manager, “I’m in real trouble.”

Richard Mantsch, 52, who was projects manager for an engineering firm that closed in July, said he was hoping that he, his wife and their children, 10 and 12, could hold onto their home. “It’s the only house we’ve known as a family,” he said. When he first lost his job he was embarrassed when people found out, he said, but lately, he’s stopped trying to hide it.

After the seminar, Ms. Fink said a lot of what she does is therapy — helping worried people feel less isolated.

Her boss, Stephen Gallison, who directs the program for skilled workers known as the Professional Outplacement Assistance Center, said that in the past people typically found jobs within five months, but in this economy that’s not a reliable gauge. Asked if he saw any hopeful signs, he said: “No. Nothing. Not yet.”

Green NYC

My trip to New York was invigorating personally and professionally. I was able to see buildings, hear a lecture and see an architecture competition that were all inspiring.

The 1800 Broadway building across from my hotel was built green, has cisterns and an active green roof. The Condo project on 47th also built green and even the older hotel next door had added cisterns and revamped its mechanical systems.

I attended the green fair in Madison Square Park and loved some of the local artisans works. My personal favorite was a handbag crafted from leftover candy wrappers. Nearby I stumbled on a hotel that reminded me of a Gaudi work.

The MOMA had its annual competition of inspiring modern architecture but I had to laugh when I gravitated to the original green architect, Frank Lloyd Wright's model of Falling Water.

I have put some pics below of what I mentioned along with an illustration that I thought was symbolic of my fields tools. I didn't know the artist but the illustration is the word.

There is a book out by David Owen called Green Metropolis. He contends that New York is a very green city. I have to concur. This is a city that has delt with density, the need for making a city that is very urban still very green by offering parks, space and transportation while maintaining its growth. There current programs encouraging green building and retrofitting is done despite the cities obvious chalengs and when it comes to the concept of change New Yorkers do it with complaint but they do it. Here in Seattle NOTHING comes without debate and the same in San Francisco. The West Coast's desire for collaboration, cooperation and constant discussion and debate often stagnates any real measure of change.

New York truly is America's Greenest City... it just does it its way.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Struggle Continues

I have been railing against the current economic situation as it particularly relates to my industry, Construction, as one of the prime perpetrators and causalities of the housing boom. Good people wanting to do good things are suffering while many jumped into the industry without any real experience and became developers. The green side of this business particularly attracted a great deal of carpetbaggers. I look now at the numerous projects here turned over to receivership and wonder what the long term affect on programs like LEED for Homes, et al will have on green development in the future.

But aside from the green issue I have been very adamant that there is a REAL need for a national health care plan, be in single payer or public option. We really don't do change well in this country and Obama truly brought that home to MIT this week addressing the need for renewable energy.

There is also another myth we must dispel,” Mr. Obama said in his speech after the tour. “And it is one far more dangerous than any attack made by those who wish to stand in the way of progress — and that’s the idea that there is little or nothing we can do.

“That is the pessimistic notion that our politics are too broken and our people too unwilling to make hard choices. Implicit in this argument is the sense that we’ve lost something important — that fighting American spirit, that willingness to tackle hard challenges and the determination to see those challenges to their end.”

With that we must also dispel the other "isms" that dictate our attitude about work, people and what it means to be a productive member of society.

I am always reiterating that I did not have real problems with any male crew I worked with. Again, I hired and compensated and more importantly RESPECTED the men I worked with. I recognized their talents and cared only about those skills their personal peccadillo's, issues or problems were not an issue to me. I think my willingness to really embrace diversity and talent over "fitting in" (you all fit in when you are working and getting paid anyone who doesn't know how to do that rarely stays anyway who are you kidding with numerous interviews, tests and etc.... that is not the real test.. showing up and doing the job... this worked for years and made America a productive successful nation.)

I sadly have more problems now with those of "white collars" who find women like me, intelligent, strong, independent and attractive, a threat. I have been verbally abused and sexually harassed more than anytime I was working with my "boys in the field." Let's face it women in the military take more abuse than any other group. This again is part of my belief that the rise in AWM is so serious that until we deal with this we will see a much greater increase in violence against women.

And on that note when I went to look for work then I did find a problem from both men and women and that was my age, my looks, my smarts. None of it had to do with my skills, my knowledge and my willingness to work. We have a long way to go before we get close to absorbing the massive amounts of people currently unemployed. And the attitudes of hiring need to change if we truly are getting back to work.

I found two articles in the New York Times today - one about the aging workforce another an editorial about the role of women in the workplace. I am glad to finally see admission by those in the Whine Generation admitting that what we trail blazed for them they totally overlooked for the efforts made and that more need to be done if parity and equity and more important Social Justice is to be attained. Now we just need a leader of the movement(s). That is one big job opening right there.


65 and Up and Looking for Work

Published: October 23, 2009

It is well known that during the nation’s gale-force recession, many older Americans who dreamed of retirement continued to work, often because their 401(k)’s had plunged in value.

In fact, there are more Americans 65 and older in the job market today than at any time in history, 6.6 million, compared with 4.1 million in 2001.

Less well known, though, is that nearly half a million workers 65 and older want to work but cannot find a job — more than five times the level early this decade and this group’s highest unemployment level since the Great Depression.

The situation is made more dire because of numerous recent trends: many people over 65 have lost their jobs as seniority protections have weakened, and like most other Americans, a higher percentage of them took on debt than in previous generations.

The expectation once was to pay off your 30-year mortgage before you retired, or come close. Instead, the level of indebtedness among older Americans has risen faster than in any other age group, partly because so many obtained second mortgages to take money out of their homes.

This financial squeeze is one reason President Obama has proposed giving a special $250 one-time payment to all Social Security recipients.

Many out-of-work older Americans complain that they face foreclosure or have had to give up their car.

“It’s a big deal for a lot of these people not to find a job,” said David Certner, legislative policy director for AARP. “That so many of them are still trying to find work shows how bad the economic situation is. A lot of people normally give up at that age.”

The unemployment rate for older Americans is still much better than for others — 6.7 percent compared with 9.8 percent in the general population. But 6.7 percent is more than double the level of two years ago — and far higher than the minuscule 1.9 percent rate early this decade.

And unemployed older workers stay out of work longer — 36.5 weeks on average, 40 percent longer than for the unemployed in general.

Patricia Warmhold, who has worked as a translator and telemarketer, would love to retire, but at age 67, she says that is out of the question.

Her mortgage payment is nearly $1,500 a month, and her car payments and auto insurance are another $350. She receives $1,071 a month in Social Security and $918 in pension.

“I have very little after the mortgage,” she said.

Ms. Warmhold, who speaks German, French and Creole, was laid off a year ago from her job as an interpreter for a law firm. “I’ve been looking for jobs ever since,” she said. “I applied to Nassau County and Suffolk County, and they don’t call back.”

A divorce worsened her financial situation, although her mother, who is in her 90s, helps by sometimes sending her $100.

“In a month’s time, I sent out 101 job applications,” she said, including more than 50 to school districts, to no avail.

The recession has battered young, middle-aged and old, although several modern trends have left older workers more vulnerable than in the past — for instance, the shift toward 401(k)’s and away from traditional pensions that give retirees a monthly stipend for life has pressured many Americans to continue working well past 60.

Another force pushing Americans to delay retirement is that the percentage of companies that provide health coverage to retirees is half what it was two decades ago. Moreover, the age to obtain full Social Security benefits has increased to at least 66 for people born after 1942, from its traditional 65.

The median income for those 65 and over was just $18,208 in 2008 — a quarter of them had incomes under $11,139, according to Patrick Purcell, an expert on older workers and pensions with the Congressional Research Service.

The average Social Security recipient age 65 and over receives just $12,437 in annual benefits, he said, and among individuals 65 and older who received income from financial assets, half received less than $1,542 last year.

While Social Security keeps most seniors above the poverty line, there are a substantial number near poverty “who are just getting by,” said Richard W. Johnson, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. Many economists say it is good that Americans are working later in life — many are living longer and able to contribute longer.

Still, many older job seekers insist they are losing out because of age discrimination. Last year, nearly 25,000 workers filed age discrimination complaints, a 29 percent jump over 2007, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“I often get told that I’m overqualified,” said Barbara Brooks, 71, who retired in 2003 after 30 years as an administrative assistant at the University of California, Los Angeles. She said being told that is code language for “you’re too old.” But Ms. Brooks said she wanted to work — and needed to — citing her monthly mortgage of $1,500, which eats up half her monthly pension.

“I would like to be able to treat myself to a couple of dinners, maybe a movie,” Ms. Brooks said. “I think as long as people have excellent skills, and they can get around like a 40-year-old — I’ve been told I look 40 or 50 — why shouldn’t I work?”

For years, unemployment among older Americans was largely ignored because so few of them were jobless. But now more than a million Americans over age 60 are unemployed, two-and-a-half times the level two years ago.

And at least jobless workers 65 and over are guaranteed health coverage through Medicare. Workers laid off before that age often have to fend for themselves to obtain health insurance, which is often prohibitively expensive for those over 60.

One such worker is Michael Husar, 62, a former engineering manager who spent 38 years with General Motors and then its Delphi auto parts spinoff. Mr. Husar, a resident of Scottsdale, Ariz., retired in 2003 at age 56, but as a result of Delphi’s bankruptcy, he now has to purchase his own health insurance. He pays $1,600 a month, which translates to $19,200 a year.

Despite two engineering degrees, his search for consulting work has come up empty in recent months.

“There are two reasons I feel a need to continue working,” he said. “One, I still have a lot to offer, and two, I need the money.”

Alicia H. Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, says older workers have fared better by and large than younger workers in this recession. The percentage of workers ages 25 to 54 with jobs has fallen to 75 percent, from nearly 80 percent two years ago, while the percentage of older Americans with jobs has risen slightly, to 16.3 percent.

But that is fewer than the number who want to work.

Patricia Piazza, 66, who worked for Chrysler for 30 years as an analyst, knows that all too well.

She and her 72-year-old husband, a longtime employee at General Motors Acceptance Corporation, had planned to retire by now, but she is hunting for job, and he recently landed one with the local transit system.

Their home in Warren, Mich., has dropped $100,000 in value, Ms. Piazza said, while their pensions, as former nonunion employees, will be far less than anticipated because of the auto company bankruptcies.

Chrysler recently took away her life insurance policy and optical coverage, she said.

“It’s like the bottom fell out of everything” she said. “This isn’t the way we planned retirement.”


The Mismeasure of Woman

Published: October 23, 2009

FINALLY! I hear we’re all living in a women’s world now.

For the first time, women make up half the work force. The Shriver Report, out just last week, found that mothers are the major breadwinners in 40 percent of families. We have a female speaker of the House and a female secretary of state. Thirty-two women have served as governors. Thirty-eight have served as senators. Four out of eight Ivy League presidents are women.

Great news, right? Well, not exactly. In fact, it couldn’t be more spectacularly misleading.

The truth is, women haven’t come nearly as far as we would have predicted 25 years ago. Somewhere along the line, especially in recent years, progress for women has stalled. And attitudes have taken a giant leap backward.

I never expected that we would be in this predicament. My generation of professional women took equality for granted. When I was in college in the 1980s, many of us looked derisively at the women’s liberation movement. That was something that strident, humorless, shrill women had done before us.

We were sure we were beyond it. We were post-feminists. After all, we lived equally with men. We felt that when we took our place in society, issues of gender — and race too — wouldn’t be a factor.

Back in college, my friends and I never even had a conversation about balancing work and family. We had never heard of glass ceilings. We didn’t talk about sexual harassment — that was just part of life. As a freshman, I had an interview for a magazine internship in New York City. As I sat down, making sure to demurely close up my slit-front skirt over my knees, the interviewer barked, “If you want the job, you’ll leave that open.”

We felt the same way when we went to work. After graduation, when I first joined The Wall Street Journal, I could count the number of female reporters there on one hand. The tiny ladies’ room was for guests. The paper was written by men, for men. It didn’t even cover industries that were relatively female-friendly, like publishing, advertising and retailing. When the newspaper finally did introduce coverage of those sectors a few years later, most male reporters weren’t interested. So we women stepped up.

Our corner of the newsroom was promptly dubbed the “Valley of the Dolls.” But we gained respect after one of our number won a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting on the tobacco industry. Of course, when Hollywood made the movie about the investigation, her role was played by a man.

During these years, we were competing with men and we were winning. We learned to curse like truck drivers and work our sources as well as the next guy. We broke major stories. And we dressed the part, out-machoing the men with our truly tragic wardrobe choices — boxy suits with giant shoulder pads and floppy bow ties.

I was promoted to a Page One editor while I was pregnant. When my children were babies, my bosses allowed me to work mostly at home. Eventually, I became The Journal’s first female deputy managing editor. By the time I left the paper in 2005, more than a third of the paper’s editors were female. And when I moved on to create Portfolio for Condé Nast — the magazine company best known for titles like Vanity Fair, Vogue and The New Yorker — half of our top editors were female.

And yet during the last few years, I couldn’t help but notice that the situation for women as a whole wasn’t improving, and was even getting worse.

Consider the facts: When I graduated from college in 1983, women earned only 64 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

Today? Women earn just 77 cents. By other measures, women’s gains have stalled: board seats and corporate officer posts have been flat — or declined in recent years.

More proof: According to the American Bar Association, women in 2008 made up almost half of all associates, but only 18.3 percent of partners. Only 15 women run Fortune 500 companies.
I am still one of the few women to have run a major business magazine. My career was recently summed up in a New York magazine article as leggy.

And I got off easy. During the presidential primaries, while the news media was on their best behavior to avoid racial stereotypes, it was still O.K. to discuss Hillary Clinton’s “cankles.”

Even the positive numbers we’ve heard about during the recession are misleading — the ones that seem to indicate that women have suffered fewer job losses than men. The reason? Women are still concentrated in lower-paying fields, rather than the high-paying industries like finance and real estate that were hardest hit.

So why have we stalled out?

Part of the reason can be traced to the aftermath of 9/11.

Everyone’s life was reshaped by 9/11. Like many New Yorkers, I experienced that day in an intensely personal way: I was in the World Trade Center with a colleague when the first plane hit. And we were just outside the second tower, making our way through burning debris, hunks of airplane seats and far worse when the second plane came in directly over our heads.

In the aftermath of the attacks, Americans pulled together. Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, famously declared it was “the end of the age of irony.”

He was right.

And then he was wrong. Because, as so often happens in the wake of a traumatic event, the pendulum swung to the other extreme. The war in Iraq tore America apart. The Internet gave everyone a soapbox. The louder, the more offensive, the better.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that exactly at this moment, women began losing ground — and not just in measurable ways, like how many women make partner or get jobs as chief executives.

I’m referring to how we are perceived. The conversation online about women, as about so many other topics, degenerated from silly and snarky to just plain ugly — and it seeped into the mainstream.

Recently, before a TV appearance, I did an Internet search on one of the interviewers so I could learn more about her — and got a full page of results about her breasts.

This was hardly an isolated incident. Whether it’s Keith Olbermann of MSNBC calling Michelle Malkin, the conservative blogger, “a big mashed-up bag of meat with lipstick on it,” or Glenn Beck of Fox News suggesting that “ugly women” are probably “progressive as well,” women these days are portrayed as either witches or bimbos, with pretty much no alternatives in between.

I’ve been puzzled by these screeds, which are so at odds with the real achievements documented in the Shriver Report and elsewhere. And then it struck me: Part of the reason we’ve lost our way, part of the reason my generation became complacent, is that many of us have been defining progress for women too narrowly. We’ve focused primarily on numbers at the expense of attitudes.

I’ve spent my adult life in business journalism, where we calculate success using hard facts and figures. Researchers have evaluated women’s progress the same way. But in today’s noisy world, that approach isn’t enough. We’ve got to include popular perceptions in the equation as well. Progress in one area without the other is no progress at all.

This isn’t simply a woman’s issue; it affects us all. It isn’t about blaming men, or about embracing feminism, which remains a toxic term for some women. Instead, it is up to all of us to help change the conversation.

How do we get to there from here?

First, we can begin by telling girls to have confidence in themselves, to not always feel the need to be the passive “good girl.” In my time as an editor, many, many men have come through my door asking for a raise or demanding a promotion. Guess how many women have ever asked me for a promotion?

I’ll tell you. Exactly ... zero.

Sure, it’s a risk to ask for a raise. But women need to take risks — and to realize that at some point they will fail. This is an incredibly hard thing to do, especially for women brought up in a culture that celebrates unrealistic perfection in every sphere, from beauty to housekeeping. The biggest professional risk I ever took was leaving a secure job at The Wall Street Journal to create a business magazine at a company known for glossy fashion titles — and that at a time when all print was struggling.

There were plenty of naysayers, and I got to see myself portrayed as both a witch and a bimbo, a twofer! But I believed in our mission.

At the end of the day, Portfolio couldn’t survive the economic collapse. Still, we had created a magazine we were proud of that provided a venue for talented writers and editors, many of them women who hadn’t had that kind of chance to shine before in the macho world of financial journalism.

Which leads me to another piece of advice — have a sense of humor. Believe me, it’s needed.

Case in point: My favorite Christmas card ever came from Martha Stewart — while she was in prison in West Virginia. It was beautiful, on heavy paper stock, and showed a gorgeous wreath. And on the inside, homey as could be, it was engraved with holiday wishes from “Martha Stewart, Alderson, West Virginia.”

One final suggestion: don’t be afraid to be a girl.

Women do have a different culture from men. And that can give us some tremendous advantages. Women are built to withstand hardship and pain. (Anyone who has given birth knows what I’m talking about.) That’s a big benefit at a time like this, with the unemployment rate at 9.8 percent and rising.

Women define success differently; for some it may be a career, for others the ability to stay home with children. They also define themselves differently. I’m in the unfortunate position of witnessing many friends and colleagues laid off over the past year. But the women are less apt to fall apart — and this goes even for the primary breadwinners — because they are less likely to define themselves by their job in the first place.

Certainly, when you look at the numbers, women have made tremendous strides over the past 25 years. But in the process, we lost sight of something important. After focusing for so long on better jobs and higher pay, maybe the best thing — the enduring thing — we can do is make sure respect is part of the equation too.

If we can change the conversation about women, the numbers will finally add up. And that’s what real progress looks like.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dreaming "The Greenest Building in the World"

I received this the other day about a project being "envisioned" in Oregon. With that title I really hope he has another vision that is more in line with the world.

Its interesting that the current economic meltdown has done nothing to discourage green visionaries from their Utopian green communities of the future.

Here on planet earth I am seeing more and more "green consultants" enter the market with former real estate backgrounds, etc as they too want to help those green their homes. Well good luck with that and have a second source of income. Maybe they can envision work and business.

Unlike many, I only do the work I am experienced and qualified for. I spend a great deal of time educating, training, researching, investigating and working on what it means to be green. I get we all have to make a living but mine is not panning out and as result I am spending more time moving away from residential work (which I still believe is critical in the future) into commercial. I turn away more business there as I don't feel comfortable enough taking it on and the liability insurance will frankly kill me. But if I am to work in the field that has been my love and passion for the last dozen years I will have to move into a broader field. Up until this point I avoid LEED, etc as frankly I can't risk these arduous projects with no experience and even less guarantee that this undertaking will work. Sorry following some checklist for me is just not cutting it. I sign my name to something I better be sure its more than for awarding a gold star. But if it is to mean a more financially stable and better professional career than I will forgo my personal beliefs for the longer prospects of having work.

And then I get this missive. The Utopian community of the future. Good on you. Sorry if I can't toast the glass of green kool aid in your direction as I read this I think you must have had the green tab of acid to spend all your energies on this. I wish I had that time and luxury to be a visionary.

Its a pitch for money, its silly and overkill and well frankly get real. Its a dream project. Yes dreams are good but honestly take a hard look around you and ask yourself what do we really need in the NOW. I need real work and income, real clients and a business that will sustain me. As I said I am seriously changing my educational goals, occupational ones and hoping that within the next two years moving to New York. Yes I think Virginia that city has more opportunity for someone like me who sees what is there and what can be done that worrying about the "visions" of the future.

I will let you read about this project and wish him well. He can go in line with all the others that have similar living buildings, green buildings, etc. I just want a job.


And so this title - World’s Greenest Building - is very important. Like it did for me, it will always get attention and start a conversation in the direction of, “Really? Just how is that so?” For Mr. Rebeiro this is fantastic. He enjoys sharing the incomparable comprehensive nature of the project. The development company’s goal is to be a platform that complies with the year 2050 goal of the 2,000 Watt Society. This will represent an 87% reduction in the full lifestyle energy use for the average American. Is that “green” enough for ya?

Let’s start with a quiz shall we? What project do you know of that excels at energy efficiency, energy storage, Smart Grid, DC power, renewable energy, waste water, rainwater re-use, community services outreach, transportation, telecommuting, onsite food production, green job training, energy efficiency monitoring, open source data sharing, green IT, renewable and reused building materials all under one roof?

The building will run primarily on PV. In Oregon, when they have clouds, the weather tends to be cool as well. This is when they are more likely to use waste vegetable oil for co-gen. You get both the propulsion and byproduct of heat from the engine. Currently they have found a few local restaurants as sources for oil donation. These restaurants will get publicity and PR for being part of the World’s Greenest Building. Aldeia currently has other oil sources pending including algae production on-site that will also do carbon capture, oxygen production, local animal feed supplements, and compost feedstock for on-site year-round crop production and tilapia farming in greenhouses utilizing waste heat from the co-gen plant.

Personally, I am curious about odors that residents or people working or visiting the building may experience. Aldeia claims that if any aroma is noticed it will be very pleasant for most and likely confused as that from a restaurant. Fish and chips anyone?

Recently Aldeia partnered with EcoDomo. This is in fact a great example of showcasing sustainable product entrepreneurs. Think of EcoDomo as the nau of tiles. Ribeiro met them at Greenbuild and showed them his project. They have a great story to tell and so an agreement was made to assist them in promotion of their unique tiles and be a highly visible part of the ecotourism program.

As many of you know LEED has switched up to v3.0 and Independence Station is looking at moving to LEED v3.0 from their current application filed under LEED v2.1. A primary purpose of Independence Station is to be a permanent showcase and beta test bed for the latest sustainable equipment, technologies, and methods. Aldiea wants to assure those questioning their dedication that they will always being on the cutting edge. In addition, they also plan to regularly re-certify under LEED-EB (there’s our proof!). To top it all off they are also doing many important things that the current LEED program gives no credit for including on-site food production, green job training, green IT, DC power, carbon capture, energy storage, community outreach, etc. It looks like this building may be able to jump out in front of LEED criteria set.

Ribeiro took some time to even share with me what he’s done different from a design-build process. Integrated design sessions are very important early in the process along with design charrettes. A lot of the design ran simultaneously with the construction and actually threw the team some curve balls. A prime example of this is when Ribeiro decided to bring Coolerado into the project. Aldeia had to spend money on design changes to bring them in, but were able to literally eliminate some of the chillers to save capital costs and much operational expense. They went through the tough R&D process so future developers won’t have to. You see, Aldeia is planning on licensing out the plans to other developers. How many developers would envision energy savings resulting from the selection of polished concrete floors? He met with FGS Permashine and they opened Aldeia’s brains and hearts to their full message. The floors are highly reflective. This reduces the required density of our LED lighting fixtures thereby saving capitol costs. The Johnson Controls building controls can then throttle back the lighting as a result of the floor’s reflectivity that allows the natural daylight to penetrate further into the building. As Riberio says, “Synergy, man. Tunnel through the costs…”

So who’s the best fit for the building?
When they start the marketing effort they will be looking for locally owned start-up neighborhood services such as a barber shop, a Slow Food themed restaurant, a sustainably minded bank, etc. The project is still a year from completion so they have not turned the marketing machine on just yet.

A model for the future?
I didn’t say it, but people are and Ribeiro is ready. He plans to license the building plans to save other Developers money and time when future copies of Independence Station are built. The vision here: to build one in California, Arizona, Alaska, Idaho, and Florida making adjustments in the systems to the local climate and site conditions to prove that this can and should be done everywhere. Calling all developers!

Can the social web play a role?
Web 2.0, or the social web, is now an important part of the process. Mr. Ribeiro is looking to do everything possible to broadcast what he and his team have come up with: a breakthrough solution. The project has both a Facebook group and Twitter account. In fact, Ribeiro, who also happens to be on Twitter, was in the White House last week with 150 other sustainable business leaders from around the country. They are clearly looking for solutions that line up precisely with what we are doing here with Independence Station. Facebook and Twitter are ideal to get such teaser quips out to inform and hopefully foster deeper investigation. Many of the developers supplier partners are now on Facebook and Twitter. This is a sea change from less than a year ago. And if Mr. Ribeiro needs some help on this front, Konstructr has his back!

Concluding thoughts
Even with all this going on, Ribeiro is convinced the most complex part of constructing a building today is obtaining the financing. In the construction world success these days is all about getting funded. Currently Aldeia Development has a 400 home LEED-ND approved project in Boise, Idaho that will be a Zero-Net energy community. The homes in this community will eliminate energy bills and gasoline expenses from the typical family budget. They are currently looking for funding.

“Once you get the vision of the 2,000 Watt Society, it will be hard finding any building that can measure up,” says Ribeiro. “Someone, please ‘outgreen’ me. The effort spent will move all of us forward. I welcome it and want to assist. I get calls from folks saying I must be a greenwasher. If they have an open mind and an open heart, I usually can turn them into a fan of the project in a matter of minutes. Most critics have never done anything to change the world for the better. I can’t help those folks. If a legitimate point is made, I love to give credit to the source. I love learning.”

Oh, and remember that 2,000 Watt Society goals? Well, if the project is ever topped, and Ribeiro hopes it will be (and would help too!) he will offer up the World’s Greenest Building domain to the successor along with a to-be commissioned creation of the “Green Cup.”

As for now, these are the facts I know of and I wanted to share with you. If the project can become what it claims it can, then it will be impressive. We will keep an eye out for you, but let’s get to the comments! Can’t wait to participate.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Are we there yet?

I went to New York City this past week to tour some green buildings, hear a lecture and celebrate my milestone birthday.

I learned quite a bit and will post about the buildings of note that I saw and some reflections on conversations I had about where New York goes there goes the rest of the nation which is what this post is truly about.

Hotels had just started to rise in rates as are airfares gearing for the holidays. I managed to negotiate decent rate and attain a free night at the W Hotel in Times Square where not only was it close to the two buildings I wanted to see they actually gave me a room overlooking them so I could see and photograph them in their entirety. I normally am not one to stay in that area but the W Hotel staff there were amazing to me and I cannot thank them enough for all their courtesy.

And then I looked around ground level. The bars were packed, the stores were packed, the restaurants packed and sold out shows abounded on Broadway. Now when you are in Manhattan you are used to crowded streets etc but usually I stay in Union Square area and find pockets of side streets and quiet oasis of calm even there. I walked to the Park at Madison Square to their Kid's Green Festival and saw amazing green products and artisans showing that even in that city of cities there is a commitment to sustainable design and life. When we think of "change" I don't there is any city more committed to understanding and oddly embracing with "tude" this idea of change.

However there was something surreal about this almost absence of restraint. I certainly see it in Seattle, my friends across the country are experiencing it but on my last two trips to my old home San Francisco and now New York I thought I had time traveled.

There is no evidence of a wide scale recession. Now I was there during quite a week of banker celebration. Humongous profits, return of the bonus and the market clearing 10,000. So like a contact high the rest of the city was resonating I guess in its second hand smoke. I spoke to staff at bars or stores and they said its been like this now for the past few months. And it was not tourists as again hotels are seeing fewer travelers and the airports are packed, planes are full, but that is because of a decline in available flights not necessarily a greater number of travelers. Yet people are out. They are spending money and it worries me.

Saturday evening I was eating my 75 dollar sushi roll.. well its New York and next to me was a 19 year old Dimitri Martin look-a-like and his very pretty date. They were ordering dinner and enjoying themselves at Blue Fin where Jude Law (who is playing in Hamlet and frankly was amazing modern and yes gorgeous) had eaten just last week. I asked them how were they so privileged to be there and why when it is such a place of adults and not their peers? He told me he goes to nice places as that is what his parents want for him. He goes to school which they pay for, he does not work and can afford taking a date to what had to be 100 buck dinner.

I asked this young man why he felt that it was something to which he was entitled when the country is not in good shape, to this place is a place, not of his peers, and frankly expensive. He said again his parents did not mind. I wondered about his parents and why they were letting this young man believe it was okay and frankly just silly to be at a restaurant that was just inappropriate for a young man and his date. True how can I say what is and isn't appropriate? Well I guess I feel that if I wanted to hang with minors and college students I would go thier "places" and expect well a certain price point and ambiance and if they are to come to the adult playground well they need to be adults.. paying and working for the money to eat there as the rest of us were.

Something is not right in Denmark as Hamlet would agree when we no longer try to remain and socialize with those and at places where it is with like minded people. When I was in College I went to what I could afford. I had parents who paid for school but that was it anything beyond that I would not have partaken of it it was not "right." And besides who at 19 wants to sit near a bunch of 50 year olds? I certainly didn't. Such places of privlege were that and I knew the difference, respected that and well I see no problem having environments that cater to groups of similar backgrounds. There should be no problem nor a problem in going to one when appropriate. Was this "date" appropriate? I gathered from my converstion that this was in fact the "norm."

I asked him what he wanted to do and who he felt was his spokesperson of his generation? (I had a similar conversation last week with another student) and like her he said Obama. He also wanted to be a writer, what 'type" he did not know but novels he thought and at 19 I am not sure all can be Dave Eggers but I see the point. Although he did not know who Eggers was (ironically he had just adapted Where the Wild Things Are) nor who Van Jones (the maligned Green jobs czar) for that matter. When you glom onto icons of generations past or those not your own it is no surprise I guess that hanging with the oldsters is all that big of deal.

Where are the renegades of this generation? The bands like Green Day or Pearl Jam that speak the ire of the masses. Is Britney Spears the rebel? I worry that without the Bob Dylan's or the Malcolm X's there are no leaders to move this generation forward.

I saw Hair while there as well. This 40 year old musical with a message of love and peace so resonant today. I truly felt that while this young cast not even alive when it was first produced were truly children of love unaware that this they are playing the generation that evloved into the Wall Street titans of the future whose real children they now fund 100 dollar dinners. You can't find peace without anger and we have no anger we have shopping and eating.

No we are not there yet. Hope and Change came from anger and in my generation we had those who articulated it. They lead it and they followed it. We have no one leading and yet we have many many chiefs or are they simply Indians?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

This may explain Glen Beck

As I have said in prior blogs, there is a discernible notice in the rise of the Angry White Male (AWM). I believe this is largely in response to that group truly feeling the larger affects of the economic tsunami more than most other groups who were already there years ago. But as in everything when it happens to you it seems surreal as if you are the only one.

If you were just coming of age in the Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush years you were under the misguided impression that everything was rosy. Having nothing to compare except to the Joneses it was presumed that easy credit, large job choices, big stock market jumps - first by the faux dot com boom and then the faux housing boom - it gave people the "impression" that they were richer than it seems. Well what was happening was the rich just got richer and well everyone else didn't.

Add to this the large immigration boon, the acts of 9/11 and the proliferation of negative and bullying media outlets controlled by a single source and therefore voice, Americans slow decline in Education and ultimately again a significant amount of control held by a significant few I can see the raging need for a spokesperson like Glen Beck, Michael Savage, Tom Leykis and others who supposedly represent the "average American white male." Yet if any of them even know or can connect to any of these men is unimportant its that they have the loudest bully voices in the room and to recall the forgotten and best representative of the AWM, Wily Loman in Death of a Salesperson, he must not be ignored.

Irony that the figure of the man in the gray suit, a man of another era in a play by Arthur Miller would be such a symbol of today's working class man.

The NY Times profiles one such man today. Bryan Lawlor who saw his pay this year cut in half. His story is not unique. Those that have jobs are seeing a reduction in wages, a discontinuation of the faux 401K and a change in benefits. And yet these same AWM are against health care. Yes for years benefits have been used as carrots to allow people to believe that in lieu of real wages they had something that was just as good. 25K in benefits.. really who actually needs that as those are inflated thanks to the industry and cancelled or denied when actually needed. And 402K's that are rarely administered let alone understood by the rank and file and much like houses only worth what they are worth when cashed out.

Because when you have a systemic decline in wages paralleling a systemic decline in Education it is not surprising that many do not understand basic economics, accounting or finance. Is it all that shocking to think that people would sign absurd contracts or excessively over finance and in debt themselves? No because they did not have the education and they "trusted" those who did to make decisions on their behalf which they believed were on their behalf. They were wrong. It has been the biggest sucker punch ever landed and with now 78% of the unemployed white men I see their anger but sorry boys get in line, women, the poor and minorities have been in the front for years.


Still on the Job, but at Half the Pay

MECHANICSVILLE, Va. — The dark blue captain’s hat, with its golden oak-leaf clusters, sits atop a bookcase in Bryan Lawlor’s home, out of reach of the children. The uniform their father wears still displays the four stripes of a commercial airline captain, but the hat stays home. The rules forbid that extra display of authority, now that Mr. Lawlor has been downgraded to first officer.

Bryan Lawlor was reduced from airline captain to first officer and his salary lowered by 50 percent as his employer cut costs.

“I don’t want to be a 50-year-old pilot earning $40,000 a year," said Bryan Lawlor, First officer, ExpressJet Airlines

"We are actually very lucky. As someone pointed out, we are fed, we are healthy, and we have a roof over our heads. I know that many people do not have our kind of support, and they are the ones that are truly soldiering on."

»He is now in the co-pilot’s seat in the 50-seat commuter jets he flies, not for any failure in skill. He wears his captain’s stripes, he explains, to make that point. But with air travel down, his employer cut costs by downgrading 130 captains, those with the lowest seniority, to first officers, automatically cutting the wage of each by roughly 50 percent — to $34,000 in Mr. Lawlor’s case.

The demotion, the loss of command, the cut in pay to less than his wife, Tracy, makes as a fourth-grade teacher, have diminished Mr. Lawlor, 34, in his own eyes. He still thinks he will return to being the family’s principal breadwinner, although as the months pass he worries more. “I don’t want to be a 50-year-old pilot earning $40,000 a year,” he said, adding that his wife does not want to be married to a pilot with so little earning power.

In recent decades, layoffs were the standard procedure for shrinking labor costs. Reducing the wages of those who remained on the job was considered demoralizing and risky: the best workers would jump to another employer. But now pay cuts, sometimes the result of downgrades in rank or shortened workweeks, are occurring more frequently than at any time since the Great Depression.

State workers in Georgia are taking home smaller paychecks. So are the tens of thousands of employees in California’s public university system. The steel company Nucor and the technology giant Hewlett-Packard have embraced the practice. So have several airlines and many small businesses.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track pay cuts, but it suggests they are reflected in the steep decline of another statistic: total weekly pay for production workers, pilots among them, representing 80 percent of the work force. That index has fallen for nine consecutive months, an unprecedented string over the 44 years the bureau has calculated weekly pay, capturing the large number of people out of work, those working fewer hours and those whose wages have been cut. The old record was a two-month decline, during the 1981-1982 recession. “What this means,” said Thomas J. Nardone, an assistant commissioner at the bureau, “is that the amount of money people are paid has taken a big hit; not just those who have lost their jobs, but those who are still employed.”

Bryan and Tracy Lawlor, who is also 34, have hidden their straitened circumstances from their four young children, mainly at his insistence. But as their savings dwindle, Christmas, a key indicator in the Lawlor family, will mean fewer presents this year. The Lawlors have made a practice of piling on toys and new clothes for their children at Christmas, buying relatively less the rest of the year. That will make a cutback noticeable this holiday season, and the parents are concerned that their children will begin to realize why.

“You don’t want to see disappointment on their faces; that makes me feel horrible,” Mr. Lawlor said. “You can be the best pilot in the airline and make the best landings, and in their eyes, I am not going to be as important as I was.”

A Dream Come True

Bryan Lawlor was five years out of Virginia Tech before he turned to aviation, his first love as a boy. His mother still cherishes a photo of her son, age 5, seated in a cockpit. But Mr. Lawlor studied chemistry in college and he used that skill, taking jobs as a chemical technician, to support his growing family. Layoffs marred those early years and in 2003 Mr. Lawlor made the “crossroads” decision to become a commercial pilot, borrowing $24,000 to learn to fly and to acquire the necessary licenses.

His current employer, ExpressJet Airlines, is a spinoff from a feeder operation for Continental Airlines. It brought passengers to Delta hubs as well, mainly in the West, and to help handle that traffic, Mr. Lawlor was promoted to captain from first officer in July 2007. His pay rose to $68,000, with the prospect of reaching $100,000 — roughly triple a first officer’s pay.

That is not so much money by the standards of an earlier era. Even senior captains on legacy airlines rarely earn above $200,000 today, as they often did in the past. Mr. Lawlor says pilots’ pay these days fails to recognize the training and skill involved in transporting passengers even more safely than in the past.

But Mr. Lawlor felt he was headed in the right financial direction until the economy, and the airline business, took a tumble. It is a setback that worries his wife, who wants her husband back on the income path that was interrupted one year ago this month. “I certainly don’t earn enough to make up for what he lost,” she said, adding that to make matters worse, “teachers didn’t get a raise in our school this year.”

Still, as her husband’s ordeal drags on, Mr. Lawlor in some ways has risen in his wife’s eyes. “I have more respect for him,” she said. “I can see he is angry and upset, but he does not show it very often, and never to the kids.”

That is less and less true, Mr. Lawlor said, amending his wife’s appraisal. One year into his downgrade, “never” has turned to “rarely” and, in recent weeks, “not so rarely.” He blew up last week at his 3-year-old son, Shayne, for refusing to take a nap, and sent the child whimpering to his room. Then, after arranging with another pilot to delay a flight so he could “dead-head” home in the early afternoon instead of having to wait for the next flight, he blew up at his wife for failing to appreciate the effort he had made and the stress involved.

“My mind is always on 20 different things,” Mr. Lawlor said. “What do I need to get done? How much will it cost? Is it necessary? Can I do it cheaper if I do it myself? Can I make the earlier commute home? Rush, rush, rush, and then suddenly someone makes the wrong comment and I become uncorked.”

A Different Kind of Provider

As a captain for ExpressJet in calmer times, Mr. Lawlor commuted across the country to Los Angeles, his home base, for each three- or four-day trip. Now, as a first officer, his base is Newark, a far shorter commute from the Lawlor home in this Richmond suburb. So he is home more. He spends that time caring for the two youngest children, Shayne and Jackson, 16 months, while his wife takes the two oldest, Zachary, 7, and Kelley, 10, with her to the elementary school where she teaches and they are enrolled as students.

“A lot of my friends say their husbands would not stay home with the kids on their days off, even to save money,” Mrs. Lawlor said, “but Bryan feels that if he is going to be home more that is what he should do, and he is doing it.”

Mrs. Lawlor praises her husband’s adeptness in the routines of child care. But money also drives him. Each day that Jackson and Shayne are not delivered to the home of the baby sitter is $50 that can be spent elsewhere. That wasn’t a priority while Mr. Lawlor was captain. In the 14 months that he held that rank, his $68,000 in pay and Tracy’s $40,000 as a fourth-grade teacher were enough, as Mr. Lawlor put it, for the family — for the first time — to spend freely and still save money.

He purchased a white gold 10th anniversary band for his wife and a bright yellow Harley-Davidson motorcycle for himself, imagining that he would take it for spins on his days off, the wind blowing in his hair as he raced along the sparsely populated roads in Richmond’s semi-rural suburbs. “It was a present to myself when I upgraded to captain,” he said.

The $10,000 Harley sat for months in the garage before it finally sold, with only 175 miles on the odometer. Mr. Lawlor had never ridden it much. His wife objected that he would exclude the family unless, as she pointedly put it, he could “find some way to strap the kids on the motorcycle.” Now the desire to ride the eye-catching hog is gone. If he ever makes another vanity purchase, Mr. Lawlor says, it will be something the family can use.

His mother, Patricia Lawlor, anguishes over this scaling back of his exuberance and the psychological effect of the pay cut.

“Let me put it this way,” she said of her only son, the oldest of her three children. “When we went out to dinner and he was a captain, with a captain’s pay, he for the first time picked up the check. He would say, ‘I’ll get it, Dad,’ instead of letting his father pick it up. It gave him a great deal of pride to do that. ‘Let me buy, Dad, for once.’ And now he does not say that anymore.”

While Mr. Lawlor was still a captain, his parents decided to move into smaller quarters, and the son and daughter-in-law bought their five-bedroom house, getting a break on the price but increasing their mortgage payment to $2,000 a month from the $1,200 they had paid for their smaller home nearby.

They closed on the house in August 2008, on the eve of the downgrade, and soon there were regrets. “We would not have bought the house on a first officer’s salary,” Tracy Lawlor said. She had considered giving up teaching to be a stay-at-home mom. “We felt we had some breathing room for the first time in our 11 years of marriage,” she said, “and that went out the window with the downgrade.”

She was sitting at her kitchen table, and her husband, across from her, winced, but did not disagree. Even if his captain’s rank and pay are restored she will continue to teach, she said. His pay could be cut again. They are convinced of that and, in preparation, they made certain there would be no more children. Their fourth, Jackson, was just 4 months old when the downgrade came, and soon after, Mr. Lawlor underwent a vasectomy.

“We could not take the risk of having another child,” he said.

Silver, and Dark, Linings

The West Coast assignment, while representing a promotion, meant long, often overnight commutes, with Mr. Lawlor sleeping fitfully in the jump seat of a FedEx cargo jet or in a sleeping bag rolled out in the cargo area. His first day home, he often spent dozing on the living room couch. His wife hated the time taken from the family, and her husband’s exhaustion.

“He was totally worn out the first day back, and tired the whole time he was home,” she said.

One year later, even after such a big pay cut, Mrs. Lawlor sees her husband’s shorter commute to his new base at Newark as a blessing she is reluctant to give up. Her husband says that moving back up to captain, with a captain’s pay, might mean commuting again to California. “If that is what it takes, I’ll do it,” he said, and this time his wife winced.

“I would probably not be happy,” she said. But she “wouldn’t trade him for another husband,” as she put it, and while she had never wanted her husband to be a pilot, at this point she would be alarmed if he left aviation in an attempt to please her.

“He likes what he does,” she said, “whereas before he did not like what he did. That has made him easier to be around, whereas before he became a pilot, he wasn’t happy at all.”

Mr. Lawlor is vice chairman for contract enforcement for the ExpressJet unit of the Air Line Pilots Association. He had volunteered some months ago for the unpaid role, and now his fellow pilots seek his help in resolving scheduling disputes, pay issues, meal reimbursements. The calls and e-mail messages come in on his cellphone. When he is home, minding his sons, he lets the children migrate to the living room to watch a cartoon on the family’s big-screen TV while he sits nearby, at the kitchen table, absorbed in mediating appeals.

That is not the same as commanding an airliner — walking through the airport wearing the captain’s hat — but it brings him part way back. “My point would be that being in the captain’s seat made me feel in command, and capable and powerful,” Mr. Lawlor said, “and that has been taken away, and through the union, I can still experience some of that, in the admiration of my peers for being able to step up and help them. Maybe psychologically that fills a void; maybe that is why I don’t feel as bad as I would otherwise.”

So the Lawlors soldier on, with plenty of family help. Their sisters have pitched in with baby-sitting, gratis. His parents bought their kitchen table, the dining room table, a playpen, a living room sofa and the deck furniture. His father’s two unmarried sisters, both retired teachers, insist on helping their only nephew — the one family member perpetuating the Lawlor name not only in this generation but, through his three sons, the next generation.

The aunts offer a subsidy. They insist, for example, that Bryan Lawlor eat healthy meals when he is on the road, even if that means spending more than his airline-allotted per diem. They’ll pay, and Mr. Lawlor says he does now eat properly. The aunts also paid $200 to rent “moon bounce” equipment for a Lawlor child’s birthday party last month. The birthday boy had asked for the party entertainment, and the Lawlors obliged, with the aunts’ help, not wanting the father’s loss of income to translate into constraints on the children’s lives.

Still, their savings, built up in the good years, have dwindled to $10,000, from $28,000 last fall, and Mr. Lawlor said the next rung down, to four figures, is in his mind a crisis level. “I am beginning to feel like, what if something happens to me, where does that leave Tracy?” he said.

He called in sick recently, suffering basically from fatigue. “I think the reason I felt fatigued is the stress,” he said. “It is always there.”

Green Walls the new "green"

I read this article today and thought "oh here we go the newest trend, green walls are the new black" (using that eponymous fashion term semingly appropriate).

Like Green Roofs I like them aesthetically and principally in Cities and Urban areas where anything green is at a premium. But when it becomes touted as energy saving, water saving and just to perfect for words my neck mohawk raises.

When you substitute quality Architecture and quality Construction for fantastically designed elements that remove the need for better built buildings you deny the true purpose and function. Buildings can be attractive, practical and efficient. What we have seen is sometimes a hybrid, sometimes one or the above and every now and then the perfect symmetry of all those elements combined.

I complain a lot that we are such an extrinsic culture, the need for awards, platitudes and acknowledgements to simply do what we should be doing all along. We so fear change (that fear again) that we have to give buildings awards now too as if they know or care that they are silver, platinum or gold. Wow assigning levels of recognition.. my building is better than yours neenar neenar.. worries me.

No wonder the average "Joe" (joe the plumber, joe the whomever) feels frustrated, lost and simply resistant. It takes actual intellectual curiosity, a natural inquisitiveness and most importantly work ethic to change. And given our state of Education no wonder change is the new socialism.

So with green walls we get a pretty building that does good. But like green roofs do they really lend to performance? Not anymore than quality insulation, strong building materials and excellent mechanical performance loads do. As for allowing slower water absorption into the atmosphere well I would prefer all water to be incorporated into grey water systems and utilized throughout the building. Forget any release but instead capture and re-use as that is to me the most essential in any green commercial design. We have to really start addressing water as an element in a buildings overall use.

There are some homes here, the net-zero property who will have one and there are likely others. That is all fine but again silly and absurd for the average home owner who right now has more important elements in their home that need upgrading.

So enjoy this year's new black in the green fashioned world. Next week I am sure something new will come along.


Green walls taking root in green building design

PITTSBURGH — The next big thing in green building design might be to turn an existing idea on its side. PNC Financial Services Group Inc. recently installed a green wall the size of two tennis courts on one side of its headquarters.

Like green roofs — their perpendicular counterparts — green walls are covered in vegetation and provide the benefits of natural insulation and removal of air pollutants. PNC, which provides banking and wealth management services, estimates it will be 25 percent cooler behind the wall than the ambient summer temperatures.

Green walls also can be visually engaging.

The PNC wall features more than 15,000 ferns, sedums, brass buttons and other plants that create a swirling pattern of varying hues of green above the company's logo. They are divided among hundreds of 2-by-2-foot aluminum panels that were anchored onto the building's frame after part of the granite facade was removed.

"We think it's the right thing to do for our community, for our customers and our shareholders," said Gary Saulson, head of corporate real estate for PNC. "We wanted to add greenery to an area that didn't have any. ... We really view the green wall as public art."

Steven Peck, president of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, a Toronto industry association, said interest in green walls is growing, though the group does not keep statistics. He estimates green roof installations have increased at about 30 percent a year over five years.

Green Living Technologies LLC, of Rochester, N.Y., designed the wall at PNC. Chief Executive George Irwin said the company also has installed walls in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle.

PNC bills its green wall as the largest in North America. The wall covers nearly 2,400 square feet. PNC officials declined to give a precise estimate of its cost. Irwin said that on average green walls cost about $100 to $125 a square foot.

The structure at PNC requires only 15 minutes a week of watering during peak growing season — less in winter — provided through the building's plumbing system. PNC has a contract with the installer to prune the plants and replace dead ones if necessary.

Joanne Westphal, a landscape architecture professor at Michigan State University and part of the school's Green Roof Research Program, said the biggest benefit to green walls is their ability to help cool buildings through shading. They also help capture rainwater and release it more slowly into the atmosphere and stormwater systems.

Green Living says also that each of the roughly 600 panels at the PNC headquarters can offset the carbon output of one person a day.

Green Living got into the market several years ago after trying to devise a solution for a customer who wanted a green roof on a steeply pitched building. The walls can also be installed inside buildings.

Irwin said green walls aren't exactly a new idea: The Romans planted grape vines along building walls, resulting, he said, in faster growing and sweeter grapes for wine. The structures are also prevalent in Europe, where modern-day green roofs first took off.

Near ground level of the building where PNC's wall is located, at 1 PNC Plaza in downtown Pittsburgh, a small panel holds some of the plants and a plaque tells passers-by about the wall.

"I think they want to believe it's real," PNC's Saulson said, "and it is."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Re-inventing the Infrastructure

This morning in the Science section of the NY Times there was an article on building bridges of the future. The new technology of the science involved concerns the use of carbon and glass-fiber fabric. These new tubes called FRP's are proving to be both effective and in fact cheaper than standard concrete methods.

I will reprint the article as it goes into great depth and as I am not a Civil Engineer nor have that background I think its worthy to note here as I had written previously on Infrastructure as the way to recovery.

Additionally I also am reprinting an editorial regarding renovating and restoring the crumbling and aging schools. We have to find ways to repair our Education system and taking away the money to fix the buildings and giving it to private industry seems again a great way to get the most bang for the buck. Frankly there are better ways to spend the money that has a direct cost benefit analysis. It will also allow for better movement and use of buildings. Schools that have low enrollment can close without the costs and troubles involve and the buildings can be used for another purpose without any costs to the districts.

Again, looking to the private sector to restore what cities and municipalities are failing at can be effective and affordable and yes profitable.


Bridge of (and to) the Future
Published: October 12, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Me. — The Neal Bridge is barely a bump in the road for motorists roaring down Route 100 south of this central Maine town. It’s a modest bit of the nation’s infrastructure — two lanes wide and 34 feet long, enough to span a small stream.

The bridge is newer than most, as suggested by the still-black asphalt and the fresh galvanized gleam of the guardrails. But it’s what is underneath that really makes the bridge stand out.

Rather than steel or concrete beams, the structure consists of 23 graceful arches of carbon- and glass-fiber fabric. These are 12-inch-diameter tubes that have been inflated, bent to the proper shape and stiffened with a plastic resin, then installed side by side and stuffed with concrete, like giant manicotti. Covered with composite decking and compacted soil, the arches support a standard gravel-and-asphalt roadway.

The bridge is the first of what its designers, about 50 miles up the road at the University of Maine in Orono, hope will be many of its type, combining composite materials with more conventional ones like concrete. With an estimated 160,000 of the nation’s 600,000 road bridges in need of repair or replacement, if it or other hybrid designs catch on, they could mark a breakthrough in the use of fiber-reinforced plastics, known as F.R.P., on highways.

“This was an experiment for us,” said Habib J. Dagher, director of the university’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, where the design was developed over seven years. “It was time to get out of the lab and see if it really works.”

The bridge, built last November for about $600,000, is being monitored with deflection sensors and other instruments, and so far is holding up under the daily onslaught of traffic. “It went amazingly well,” Dr. Dagher said. “We learned a lot. It turned out to be $170,000 less expensive than a precast bridge.”

It worked so well, in fact, that it attracted the attention of the Obama administration; Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood toured the center in August. And a second, similar bridge was completed in late summer, farther north, in Anson. The fiber-arch design was the lowest of seven bids.

Long the stuff of surfboards and pleasure boats, and more recently used in aircraft wings and other components, plastic polymers reinforced with fibers were first researched for use in bridges in the 1980s. Civil engineers were attracted to them for the same reasons other designers were — their strength, light weight and corrosion resistance.

But the materials have not exactly revolutionized highway infrastructure. F.R.P. strips and sheets have been used to repair concrete or steel on existing bridges, or to strengthen structures against earthquakes. Glass-fiber rods have replaced steel in some reinforced concrete work, because corrosion of steel rebar from road de-icing chemicals destroys concrete.

When it comes to larger-scale structural components, however, fiber-reinforced plastics have had less of an impact. They have mostly been used in bridge decking, where corrosion resistance is critical and the lighter weight allows for a higher “live” load of vehicles. Only a handful of bridges have major support beams made from them.

One reason F.R.P. components haven’t caught on, experts say, is that engineers and contractors have little experience with the materials, and full standards guiding their use in highway construction have not been developed.

Engineers “have to deal with life-safety issues,” said John P. Busel, director of the composites growth initiative of the American Composites Manufacturers Association. “They have a desire to understand how materials fully develop and how they fully last before they specify them.”

The materials also do not always interact well with others. One problem with F.R.P. bridge decks, for example, is that the road surface — asphalt or concrete, applied as an overlay — can wear out quickly, said Lijuan Cheng, an assistant professor of engineering at the University of California, Davis.

But the main argument against using fiber-reinforced plastics has been economic.

“No. 1 is the upfront cost issue,” said Paul Ziehl, an associate professor of engineering at the University of South Carolina. “That’s a tough one to get around.”

Dr. Ziehl, who helped design and test F.R.P. beams used on a small bridge in Texas, said the problem was that no two projects were the same. “If you’re going to design things that really make sense from an optimized engineering standpoint, they are going to be one-of-a-kind items at first, until economies of scale kick in,” he said. The beams for the Texas bridge, for example, were custom designed and built using a labor-intensive method.

“The construction industry is very persnickety about cost,” Mr. Busel said. With F.R.P. decks, he added, “we’re more expensive, sometimes twice as expensive,” as conventional ones. What contractors need to understand, he said, is that there are transportation, labor and equipment savings from using lighter components, and potential maintenance savings, too.

Such savings were all part of the goal for the University of Maine’s design, Dr. Dagher said. Little costly F.R.P. material is used — it serves largely as a shell for the concrete, which is cheaper. The tubes help protect the concrete from de-icing chemicals, potentially reducing maintenance costs, and no internal rebar is needed. “It’s exoskeleton reinforcement,” Dr. Dagher said.

The arches are not the only hybrid design in use. John Hillman, an engineer and president of HC Bridge Company in Wilmette, Ill., has developed straight beams that combine polymers with concrete and steel. The basic beam consists of a rectangular F.R.P. tube with an arch-shaped conduit formed inside it. The conduit is filled with concrete, which provides compressive strength, and steel rods along the bottom of the tube provide tensile strength. The beams have been used on a test railroad bridge in Colorado and several road bridges in Illinois and New Jersey.

“Everything about the beam is designed to be compatible with conventional means of construction,” said Mr. Hillman, who has been working on the design for 14 years. “We’re very close right now to parity with concrete and steel on an installed-cost basis.”

Mr. Hillman’s beams still have to be delivered by truck, although they are light enough that several can be carried on one flatbed. The University of Maine arches, on the other hand, can be fabricated on site — the fabric inflated, bent around a simple form and infused with resin using a vacuum pump. Before they are filled with concrete they are light enough to be installed quickly, without the need for large cranes or other heavy-duty equipment. The second bridge was built in nine working days, Dr. Dagher said.

A spinoff company is working on more plans, including an 800-foot project that consists of multiple short spans. “We see single 300-foot spans in the future,” Dr. Dagher said. “We’re excited about taking this to the next level.”


Little Restored Schoolhouse

Published: October 12, 2009
Richmond, Va.

“MORE than a half-century after Brown v. Board of Education, the dream of a world-class education is still being deferred all across the country,” President Obama declared in a recent speech to the N.A.A.C.P. “There are overcrowded classrooms, and crumbling schools, and corridors of shame in America.” So we have come together — one Republican, one Democrat — to develop a common-sense solution to fix the problem of crumbling schools in a manner that doesn’t require the federal government to tax, borrow or spend one dime. Our School Modernization and Revitalization Tax Credit — Smart Credit — is also guaranteed to create hundreds of thousands of private-sector jobs, critical at a moment when unemployment has reached a 26-year high and threatens to climb even higher.

Go to the Department of Education Web site and search “How Old Are America’s Public Schools?” Click on the very first link and the “shame” President Obama spoke of becomes evident: The average age of America’s schools is 42 years. Twenty-eight percent of our schools were built more than 50 years ago. “After 40 years, a school building begins rapid deterioration,” announces the department study. Worse still is that this analysis was done a decade ago, and too little has been done since.

Several studies show a statistical connection between outmoded schools and educational underachievement and the schools most in need of modernization are disproportionately in inner-city neighborhoods and rural areas. But to fix these schools, Congress need only make a simple, one-sentence change to a little-known clause in the federal tax code.

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan and Congress created a 20 percent federal historic rehabilitation tax credit. Generally speaking, rehabilitation projects involving structures at least 50 years old can qualify for this credit, which is equal to roughly 20 percent of the modernization cost. It is widely acclaimed for having created jobs, restored buildings and spurred economic activity.

This credit is applicable when an aging local school building is renovated for a different use by private investors. But it is not should the same investors want to invest the same money to turn the same building into an up-to-date local school. The I.R.S. “prior use” rule disallows such credits in the latter situation.

But if this “prior use” rule were amended to allow for school rehabilitation, then decaying school buildings could be sold to private investors, modernized and then leased back to school authorities. This approach has already been proven to work and save taxpayers considerable money. When Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia was the mayor of Richmond, he used this basic sale-leaseback arrangement to update a local school, Maggie L. Walker High, built during the Depression, and transform it into a regional magnet school that reopened in 2001 and now serves the top students in Central Virginia. (This shift from local to regional school satisfied the “prior use” rule.)

Mr. Kaine saved local taxpayers millions in this $20 million renovation because Virginia has a 25 percent state historic rehabilitation tax credit, on top of the 20 percent federal tax credit. Other states have their own special incentives, and more are now considering them. In Virginia, when the various financial factors are taken into account, the tax credit approach greatly lowers the costs to local taxpayers — by as much as 33 percent — when compared with the conventional approach of financing construction through school bonds.

Critics may scream that our approach “sells our schools” to the private sector. But what national interest is served by denying local officials access to private capital to provide schoolchildren the opportunities they deserve? Besides, our market system works best when there is a level playing field for both the private and public sectors, and this plan wouldn’t preclude local governments from still using the traditional “borrow to build” strategy if they choose.

With the Smart Credit, previously unaffordable projects now become affordable. Moreover, we eliminate the costly political and bureaucratic favoritism now pitting one locality against another in a fight for the limited school construction money in the stimulus plan.

Potentially, there may be $100 billion in tax-credit-eligible school modernization projects nationwide. Now is the perfect moment, with prices for construction materials down, to unleash the private sector to create tens of thousands of jobs while making schools better for millions of students.

We have talked to business investors. If Congress will amend the law, we already have the money pledged to modernize more schools, at one time, than has ever been done in any locality in Virginia’s history. The same is possible for your community.

America faces many challenges, but fixing this “prior use” rule is easy. With all due respect to the president, the biggest “corridors of shame” will be the halls of Congress if our federal lawmakers fail to act.