Saturday, November 28, 2009

The future is not that bright, shades not required

I keep thinking there will be a bright spot, some good news to shine the dull pallor of winter but unless you work on Wall Street or are CEO of a major corporation lobbying against universal health care, I am not sure I will be getting out my sunglasses anytime soon.

This editorial was in the NY Times today discussing the current housing stats and Bob Herbert discusses the issues of economy and its affects on the children, you know the children that our Congress seems so worried about when it comes to the deficit but less inclined when it comes to health care, employment opportunities and education.

And it the meantime I continue to recieve information about more CEO and Executives in the course of their "good" "green" businesses who seem to be more concerned about health care reform in ways that are the antithesis of their business.

CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, who while proving health care for his employees is against any government run option. Of course he also feels that most health problems are the "fault" of the individual. He is another "Libertarian" that needs to remove the "lib" part of that description.

Eric Wiseman, CEO of the clothing and apparel conglomerate VF Corp., is a perfect example: he's on the board of directors of Cigna health care.

VF Corp. makes all kinds of clothes you might be familiar with. They own the brands Nautica, North Face, Lee, Wrangler, Vans, and Lucy. Irony that many of those brands encourage active healthy lifestyles. Good thing because getting sick with CIGNA insurance may be a problem.

If interested Cigna is the same company ,Wendell Potter, blew the whistle on for their policy decisions. Well they did spend 3 million lobbying against reform they had to pay for that somehow!

If you are interested in more information about Health Care, go to this site Health Care For America NOW! where you can get non partisan and accurate information regarding health care as well as who to contact to encourage reform.

We really have to get off the idea that we don't want people who don't "deserve" or "earn" it.. the amount of discrimination and silliness associated with health care is truly embarrassing. When asked who doesn't deserve it it always seems associated with immigrants or minorities on welfare.

The irony is that anyone on welfare gets insurance via Medicaid while hard working people like illegals and me and many other working professionals do not. And instead wait until care is urgently needed and get it via emergency rooms or so late that additional treatment and therefore expensive treatment all which ends up going unpaid. Add the additional bankruptcies tied to this and you see why many costs increase each year. By simply covering everyone I wonder if much of the "increases" you see will decline? When profit is made on the sacrifices of people's health I really do not understand this "undeserved" viewpoint? Except to say that it is one from a place of misinformation and poor education.

I again wish nothing but pain on those people who are so misguided, misinformed and that self involved who believe health care is something that is akin to buying a car and can be charged or paid off in "time" or is a fault of someone's neglect.


Housing Weighs on the Economy

Published: November 28, 2009

All roads into and out of the recession run through the housing market. During the summer, that road seemed to be heading toward recovery. These days, it seems to be headed back toward hard times. A reversal would have big implications for the economy and, by extension, the policies now being pursued by the administration, Congress and the Federal Reserve.

The Commerce Department reported this month that new-home construction fell sharply in October. That led many economists to reduce their estimates for economic growth in the current quarter.

Even this month’s other seemingly good news had a dark lining. Reports from industry and government showed that sales of both new and existing homes rose in October. But much of that was driven by buyers who rushed to claim the first-time home buyer’s tax credit before it expires on Nov. 30.

Though the credit has since been extended, it is not expected to spur many more sales anytime soon, in part because many buyers who would have been in the market in 2010 bought in advance of the first expiration date. The mini-frenzy of buying also did not prop up prices much, as a glut of homes on the market has depressed home prices over all. By conservative estimates, prices are now expected to fall by another 10 percent next year, bringing the average decline nationwide to 40 percent.

A weakening housing market in a fragile economy is a recipe for pain. Already, nearly a third of homeowners with a mortgage — 15.7 million people — owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, according to Moody’s Negative equity combined with high unemployment greatly increases the risk of delinquencies and foreclosures, which, not surprisingly, continue to hit new highs.

A question for policy makers is, if real estate is not going to lead the way out of recession, what will? A related issue is where best to aim government resources as the hard times endure. The extension of the home buyer’s tax credit, which failed in its first go-round to spark lasting improvements, was a giveaway to the real estate industry. Relief and recovery efforts that are focused on job creation more directly, rather than on favored industries, are needed.

The administration must also be prepared to alter its anti-foreclosure effort if, as expected, foreclosures surge again in 2010. And the Federal Reserve, whose interventions have sustained the housing market over the past year, must show flexibility. The Fed has made it clear that it would prefer to begin withdrawing support for the market in the months ahead. But without other strong and successful fiscal measures in place, that could do more harm than good.


Stacking the Deck Against Kids

Published: November 28, 2009

Every year at Thanksgiving, parts of the Upper West Side of Manhattan become like a paradise for children. There’s the exciting preparation of the balloons and floats for the Thanksgiving Day parade, and then, on Thursday morning, the parade itself.
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The weather isn’t always kind. I’ve seen the kids out there in snow, in freezing rain, in winds that threaten to send the balloons and their handlers soaring to distant venues. It doesn’t seem to matter. The children come into the neighborhood in waves, holding the hands of adults or riding atop their shoulders, smiling, laughing, playing hide-and-seek among the police barricades. Finally, inevitably, they end up staring in absolute open-mouthed, wide-eyed awe as the mammoth, colorful helium-filled creations of their favorite characters begin making their majestic way down Central Park West.

We have an obligation and an opportunity at this special moment in history to do right by these youngsters, and all the rest of America’s kids. It’s a special moment because we’ve seen so clearly the many things that have gone haywire in the society, and while it may not be easy to articulate, we have a sense of what needs to be done.

The American economy is broken, ruined by the greed and irresponsibility of fabulously wealthy corporate chieftains and their shabby acolytes and enablers in government. While Wall Street is handing out billions in bonuses, American families are struggling with joblessness, home foreclosures and rampant debt. The economic woes are exacting a fierce toll on family life, and children are taking a big hit — emotionally, psychologically and otherwise.

One effect of the Great Recession, according to a recent series in The Times, has been a big jump in the number of runaway children, many of them living in dangerous conditions on the street.

Family homelessness is also up, and poverty is increasing. More than a third of all black children in America are poor, and that tragic percentage is expanding. The outlook for America’s working classes is bleak. A few weeks ago a New York cab driver nearly broke down in tears as he told me he’d had to apply for food stamps to continue feeding his family.

A sense of urgency may be starting to emerge. With President Obama’s jobs summit approaching, representatives from labor and progressive organizations gathered in Washington to warn of the lasting damage being inflicted on the prospects of young Americans by the continuing employment crisis.

Millions of youngsters like those who were suffused with such delight at the Thanksgiving Day parade are being buffeted by an economy that is eroding their quality of life, curtailing their educational opportunities and undermining their prospects for economic success as adults. That more attention is not being paid to this growing disaster is criminal.

Groups represented at the meeting in Washington, which was sponsored by the Economic Policy Institute, included the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the N.A.A.C.P., the National Council of La Raza and the Center for Community Change. Among other things, they urged the administration and Congress to provide substantial additional relief to economically distressed state and local governments, to invest in much more widespread infrastructure improvements, and to engage in some direct government creation of jobs.

All of that, in my view, would amount to just a first step. We remain stuck in an economic model that not only permits but encourages the continued existence of financial institutions that are too big to fail, which means that when one or more of them fail — as will surely happen at some point — we’ll again be rushing to “save the system” by bailing them out at taxpayers’ expense.

The system remains grotesquely unfair, with the deck stacked against working people, even as we’re desperate to have them sustain the economy with nonstop consumer purchases. Keep in mind that at the start of the recession the collective wealth of the richest 1 percent of Americans was greater than that of the bottom 90 percent combined. The economic and political clout of that bottom 90 percent has only weakened since then.

We still have a hideously dysfunctional public education system, one that has mastered the art of manufacturing dropouts and functional illiterates. We have not even begun to turn that around.

We still keep fighting tragic, futile, stupid wars, squandering lives and resources and creative energies that could be put to use right here at home, where the need for nation-building is beyond critical.

The U.S. should be a paradise for young people. We need big changes in this country, approaches that are constructive, creative and fundamentally new, if we’re going to give those smiling kids I saw on Thanksgiving Day the kind of society they deserve.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanks for what...the memories?

On the eve of this Thanksgiving I am trying hard to think about what to be thankful for and frankly that list is light at best but in comparison to some it could be worse.

This mornings New York Times covers the loss of homes by those facing enormous medical bills. Well I too have 10K in upcoming dental surgery and will also be financing with credit cards until I can have an Estate Sale selling everything I have not absolutely essential to my life to pay for the debt. Thankfully I have stuff to sell. The stories of these folk don't have such luck.

In addition I received an email letter from Ron Jones of the NAHB and Green Builder Media discussing the issue the housing crisis in relation to the economy.

The numbers are not good. You lose your home in relation to your job, you lose your home due to lack of medical insurance and coverage, you lose your job because you have bad credit due to the medical bills that led to the loss of your home and so on and so on......

Congress of course dithers on respect to finding a solution for medical reform. My premiums are going up the first of the year in response to new state legislation regarding organ transplants. Apparently I am being penalized for what is a small but significant life saving procedure. There is no logic to why rates increase but every year they do and they become so random that you wonder if there is a real need to having it. When you read the stories of the cases in the paper those who did have insurance found it so inadequate it did nothing to help them in their time of need. That is quite true in my case. Of the 10K in treatment insurance will cover only 1K. Wow just wow! I don't know if I should laugh or cry. But I keep thinking that without it it could be worse. Could it? Could it be worse?

I reprint both the article from the paper and Ron's touching letter. READ THEM.. And anyone who has the audacity to say that we don't need a public option in health care and serious financial reform well let's just say this I wish our pain on you. EVERY LAST BIT OF IT! Perhaps if you actually walked in our shoes you might just understand why this is so important.


From the Hospital to Bankruptcy Court

Published: November 24, 2009

NASHVILLE — Some of the debtors sitting forlornly in this city’s old stone bankruptcy court have lost a job or gotten divorced. Others have been summoned to face their creditors because they spent mindlessly beyond their means. But all too often these days, they are there merely because they, or their children, got sick.

Wes Covington, 31, and his wife, Katie, live with their daughter, Lizzie, 1, in an apartment in Smyrna, Tenn., after losing their house because of medical debts. More

Wes and Katie Covington, from Smyrna, Tenn., were already in debt from a round of fertility treatments when complications with her pregnancy and surgery on his knee left them with unmanageable bills. For Christine L. Phillips of Nashville, it was a $10,000 trip to the emergency room after a car wreck, on the heels of costly operations to remove a cyst and repair a damaged nerve.

Jodie and Charlie Mullins of Dickson, Tenn., were making ends meet on his patrolman’s salary until she developed debilitating back pain that required spinal surgery and forced her to quit nursing school. As with many medical bankruptcies, they had health insurance but their policy had a $3,000 deductible and, to their surprise, covered only 80 percent of their costs.

“I always promised myself that if I ever got in trouble, I’d work two jobs to get out of it,” said Mr. Mullins, a 16-year veteran of the Dickson police force. “But it gets to the point where two or three or four jobs wouldn’t take care of it. The bills just were out of sight.”

Although statistics are elusive, there is a general sense among bankruptcy lawyers and court officials, in Nashville as elsewhere, that the share of personal bankruptcies caused by illness is growing.

In the campaign to broaden support for the overhaul of American health care, few arguments have packed as much rhetorical punch as the there-but-for-the-grace-of-God notion that average families, through no fault of their own, are going bankrupt because of medical debt.

President Obama, in addressing a joint session of Congress in September, called on lawmakers to protect those “who live every day just one accident or illness away from bankruptcy.” He added: “These are not primarily people on welfare. These are middle-class Americans.”

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, made a similar case on Saturday in a floor speech calling for passage of a measure to open debate on his chamber’s health care bill.

The legislation moving through Congress would attack the problem in numerous ways.

Bills in both houses would expand eligibility for Medicaid and provide health insurance subsidies for those making up to four times the federal poverty level. Insurers would be prohibited from denying coverage to those with pre-existing health conditions. Out-of-pocket medical costs would be capped annually.

How many personal bankruptcies might be avoided is unpredictable, as it is not clear how often medical debt plays a back-breaking role. There were 1.1 million personal bankruptcy filings in 2008, including 12,500 in Nashville, and more are expected this year.

Last summer, Harvard researchers published a headline-grabbing paper that concluded that illness or medical bills contributed to 62 percent of bankruptcies in 2007, up from about half in 2001. More than three-fourths of those with medical debt had health insurance.

But the researchers’ methodology has been criticized as defining medical bankruptcy too broadly and for the ideological leanings of its authors, some of whom are outspoken advocates for nationalized health care.

At the bankruptcy court in Nashville, lawyers provided a spectrum of estimates for the share of cases in Middle Tennessee where medical debt was decisive, from 15 percent to 50 percent. But many said they felt the number had been growing, and might be higher than was obvious because medical bills are often disguised as credit card debt.

“This has really become the insurance system for the country,” said Susan R. Limor, a bankruptcy trustee who calculated that 13 of the 48 Chapter 7 liquidation cases on her docket one recent afternoon included medical debts of more than $1,000.

Under Chapter 7, a debtor’s assets are liquidated and the proceeds are used to pay creditors; any remaining debts are discharged, and filers are left with a 10-year stain on their credit ratings.

“You can’t believe how many people discharge medical debts,” Ms. Limor said. “It’s a kind of trailing indicator of who’s suffering in this economy.”

Kyle D. Craddock, a bankruptcy lawyer here, said his medical cases were heartbreaking because the financial devastation was so rapid and ill-timed. “They’re sick, they’re bankrupt, and if they stay sick for too long, they end up losing their jobs as well,” he said.

That was the case for Ms. Phillips, 45, who said she was fired in October from her job in a shipping department because she had missed so much work while recuperating from her car accident and operations. Her firing came only 11 days after she filed for bankruptcy, listing about $7,000 in unpaid medical bills among her $187,000 in liabilities.

“The medical bills put me over the edge,” said Ms. Phillips, who lost her health insurance along with her job. “I had no money for food at this point. How was I going to do it?”

It was the same for the Mullinses, who have two children. They had a mortgage and owed money on credit cards and student loans. “But the medical problem is what took us down,” said Ms. Mullins, who is packing to move from the two-bedroom house they will soon surrender to Wells Fargo. “Everything was due, they wanted their money now, now, now, and it just became overwhelming.”

For some, like Nathan W. Hale, 34, who had an attack of pancreatitis two months after losing his job with a Nashville cable company, it is the absence of insurance that pulls them under. Others, like Robin P. Herron, 35, of Eagleville, Tenn., have insurance, but it is not enough. Her Blue Cross Blue Shield policy covered only 80 percent of the cost when her daughter needed surgery to remove a cyst from a fallopian tube, leaving her $6,000 in debt.

After cortisone injections failed to cure his gimpy knee, Mr. Covington, 31, had surgery because the pain was forcing him to miss days of work as an emergency medical technician. His recovery kept him off the job for five months.

Simultaneously, his wife, a 911 dispatcher, developed sciatica while pregnant and had to take months off on reduced disability pay. Their insurance policy, with an $850 monthly premium, has a $4,000 annual deductible per family.

As the bills rolled in, the Covingtons compounded their troubles by placing medical charges on credit cards, simply to make the collection agencies stop calling. They fell months behind on their mortgage, and by August had lost their house and both cars.

Mr. Covington, who has taken a second job, said he found it ironic that it had not been the recession that forced them into bankruptcy. “I tell my wife that we beat the economy,” he said, “but health care beat us.”


All Roads Lead Home?

The story on the evening news could have come from just about anywhere in the country and it could have been reported on practically any day of the week. A young single man, a firefighter in Nevada, was briefly profiled in a report about the realization of one of his long term goals. He was being handed the keys to the home he had just purchased, apparently his first home.

He was obviously excited, even though it was expressed in a controlled and quiet way, but it was equally clear that he understood the gravity of the responsibility he had just taken on, which carried with it a risk that is not insignificant to his financial future. He didn't have to be hit over the head by the irony that the home he had just purchased had been previously lost to foreclosure by a prior owner. Even though he had purchased the home for roughly half the price it had been sold to the previous owner for, it was inescapable to him, and to the television viewer, that he could conceivably find himself in a similar, if not identical, situation down the road.

Earlier that very same day I had been forwarded a press release from the Mortgage Bankers Association with news that the delinquency rate for home mortgages broke the record set last quarter, based on MBA data dating back to 1972. The release went on to state "the delinquency rate includes loans that are at least one payment past due but does not include loans somewhere in the process of foreclosure" but also adds that "the percentages of loans 90 days or more past due, loans in foreclosure, and foreclosures started all set new record highs".

Just a few evenings before the story about the new homeowner aired I had watched a news segment involving a middle-aged couple who have, like so many others in this economy, lost their jobs and have since come to realize that it is only a matter of time until they will be forced to vacate their home, leaving their dreams in ruins. They were stoic in their acceptance of the situation and expressed that they are simply trying to enjoy each and every day they remain under that roof, because any day there could be the last. It was not clear where they intend to go when that day finally comes.

As I mentally compared these two news stories, I was reminded of yet a third news report, one that I had read in recent days, this one involving a growing set of Americans who are voluntarily opting to walk away from residential properties because they are upside down on their mortgages, owing more on the mortgage (in many cases much more) than the property is currently worth, deciding to cut their losses rather than toughing it out over the long haul in the belief that property values will recover over time. It's difficult to say why, but in some ways the most troubling part of the trend is that there is such a clinical approach to the decision by many. It is clear that having one's home foreclosed on simply no longer seems to carry the same stigma that it traditionally has, at least for certain consumers.

I think it is safe to say that a growing number of people in this country no longer hold onto the traditional view of home ownership, that it is so much more than a financial consideration, which has been an essential part of life for the vast majority of us.

All of this strikes me as particularly poignant stuff in the context of Thanksgiving and the rest of the impending holiday season. If you have ever spent your Thanksgiving volunteering at a homeless shelter or other venue providing meals to those people we carefully refer to as "the less fortunate" you cannot escape the fact that "home" is much more than shelter, more than just a place, in American culture. So it is alarming when I hear quotes from people for whom having theirs repossessed is entirely an immediate "dollars and cents" decision.

Hardly a day goes by when we are not faced with an avalanche of images featuring people who are joining the rapidly swelling ranks of the world's displaced. They are political refugees, climate refugees, natural disaster survivors, those desperately escaping war torn regions or even genocide. In our collective experience they historically come from the far corners of the world, the kinds of places that we only know through sterile television pictures. Even those images that have domestic origins have always contained an element of separateness about them, scenes from the historically least fortunate, least affluent parts of America...Appalachia, urban ghettos, obscure backwaters.

But now the faces are looking more familiar. Economic refugees who more often resemble the guy next door. Literally, in some cases. And while those who are choosing to walk away from their homes (and the mortgages that go with them) presumably have a plan "B" in mind, knowing where they are going to land once they leap, their decisions expose an unsettling reality that the underpinnings of home ownership as we know it are deteriorating for a substantial segment of the population.

My purpose here is not to judge these fellow citizens or to second guess their decisions or their actions. Rather it is to rhetorically ask whether this change if for better or for worse? Have new economic and social realities so altered the playing field that we need to reevaluate how we keep score? What does all of this portend for the future of American home ownership, and for those who are in the shelter industry?
Not too long ago the Oldsmobile division of General Motors embarked on a sales campaign suggesting that their cars were no longer the cars of our fathers. Soon after, they were no longer anybody's cars. They simply stopped making them. I wonder if there is a larger, more impactful lesson to be learned from that experience?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Chinese Drywall

It has been confirmed that the use of Chinese drywall products contributed to the problems in much of the electrical issues and poor air quality in the homes that were built with that product.

The problems are seemingly confined to homes built in the South during the boon and of course are truly secondary to the real issue, homes built using inferior and cheap products, homes poorly ventilated and homes with inadequate heating/cooling systems in humid climates.

I reprint the article from today's New York Times that addresses the issue in detail but I also would like to say that this influx of inferior product largely from China from lead paint toys to dangerous drywall only further reminds me of the overall deterioration in quality coming from our decline in manufacturing.

Only last week did I read that two Chinese firms, one of them Suntech, is opening up a solar plant facility to manufacturer PVC panels. Why are they here at all.. shouldn't all of the innovation from the design, the plant and the operation be American made.

Bob Herbert in today's paper also discusses meeting with an entrepreneur, Stan Ovshinksy, who has opened up a unique solar plant creating flexible panels. He is also the inventor of a nickel metal hydride battery that operates hybrid vehicles. Yes he is re-inventing the "wheel" of our cars and our energy sources and doing it where the heartland of manufacturing most needs it - Detroit.

Why we continue to allow our industries, our business, our lives to be part of the Chinese machine that provides nothing of quality and meaning to our lives mystifies me. My concerns are not that of Xenophobia but of genuine appreciation of having a diverse and driven economy that can help America grow, be green and help others by being successful on our own turf first.


Chinese Drywall Linked to Corrosion

Published: November 23, 2009

Federal investigators reported on Monday that a “strong association” exists between chemicals in Chinese drywall installed in thousands of homes during the housing boom and electrical problems in those homes.

In addition, investigators said that the drywall was a possible cause of respiratory problems reported by homeowners, brought on by hydrogen sulfide gas emitted from the imported drywall in combination with formaldehyde, which is common in new homes.

The finding, released by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, is the second in a series of progress reports on a widespread investigation into complaints by homeowners that their newly built homes were giving off a rotten egg odor and causing respiratory problems, and that appliances and electrical systems were failing quickly.

More than 2,100 homeowners, mainly in Florida, Louisiana and Virginia, have complained to the government of problems with their homes. Those three states experienced a home construction boom after devastating hurricanes. With domestic sources of drywall running low a few years ago, many home builders turned to imported drywall from China, which investigators now say is linked to many of the homeowners’ problems.

The report found that Southern homeowners were particularly vulnerable. The problems were brought on by a higher-than-normal level of hydrogen sulfide, worsened by high humidity, high temperatures and poor air circulation in highly air-conditioned homes.

“The real suspect can now be confirmed,” said Jack McCarthy, president of Environmental Health and Engineering, hired by the government to study 51 homes. “There’s a strong association with the drywall and hydrogen sulfide and the corrosion that we see in these homes. Temperature, humidity and air exchange rates are contributing factors.”

An estimated 60,000 homes may have been built with Chinese drywall, but the commission said that not all Chinese-made drywall was tainted.

Federal investigators shied away from any definitive statements about the relationship between the drywall and reported health problems, saying that further studies were under way. But they clearly pointed in that direction.

“When we look at these levels, we see how this could possibly contribute to some of the health problems reported to the C.P.S.C.,” said Mr. McCarthy.

Of the 51 homes examined, 41 had problems and 10 did not. Air samples were taken, and X-ray and infrared tools were used to determine drywall composition. Wiring and copper plumbing were inspected and homes were tested for temperature and air exchange. The investigation, which is costing $3.5 million, is the largest in the safety commission’s history.

Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the commission, said that the agency’s next step would be to look into possible ways to fix the problems facing homeowners and possible ways to provide financial aid to homeowners.

The commission has sent a letter to the Internal Revenue Service asking that the service allow homeowners to deduct drywall-related costs as a casualty loss on their federal income tax returns.

Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who has been critical of the government’s response, said on Monday that he was “disappointed the government is taking too long to establish whether there is a link between drywall, corrosion and health problems.”

He added that “we still lack definitive answers.”

Further studies will be conducted at the federal Sandia and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories to better understand and isolate the chemical emissions and to determine the long-term corrosive process.

The commission also said that no new Chinese drywall had entered the United States since 2009, although stockpiles of uninstalled Chinese drywall had been located. The owners of those stockpiles have been notified by the commission that they must report to the government if they sell or dispose of the material.

The Formaldehyde Council, a trade organization, disagreed with some of the findings

Water Water Everywhere

Winter is here and yes even in Seattle where rain is a natural state of things you would think we would be prepared and tolerant. But yes even we get too much rain. We are at flood watch and our infrastructure, particularly our roads, show the affects of too much standing water.

We are not the only city that suffers and currently our biggest problems are with again infrastructures that cannot handle the population, the change in climate and the simple fact they are OLD.

I have written about the infrastructure and thought that many times the private sectors are not held accountable for their role in the deterioration, maintenance and upkeep. Will Swedish Hospital rebuild the roadway outside the building on First Hill when complete? Will they make a contribution to our City Light and Water Department for the increase in capacities that building will lead to? Are they taking measures to incorporate grey water and renewable energy sources as to not further deplete our cities municipal grids? Likely no and the City does not require such investment. The time has come to change that.

I have attached the article from yesterday's New York Times discussing the problems as it relates to New York but also to many cities elsewhere. The risk of drinking water, the risk to our homes increases with each season.

The need for change is now. What better opportunity to go green, to create jobs and improve the quality of life for everyone. This is another significant reason to add Green Build techniques into the code. As for the water treatment itself the legislation has always been there as was the money but it was largely ignored. It cannot be so any longer. Frontline has done specials on our toxic waters and this issue is not something of a far off land but ours. Clean drinking water, quality health care and education. We fail on all three, however on I, Me, Mine however we don't. Shameful and disgraceful is what I think our future holds if we continue with that mindset.


Sewers at Capacity, Waste Poisons Waterways

Damon Winter/The New York Times

The Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn is the largest of New York City’s 14 treatment plants.

A few miles away, people were walking home without umbrellas from late dinners. But at Owls Head, a swimming pool’s worth of sewage and wastewater was soon rushing in every second. Warning horns began to blare. A little after 1 a.m., with a harder rain falling, Owls Head reached its capacity and workers started shutting the intake gates.

That caused a rising tide throughout Brooklyn’s sewers, and untreated feces and industrial waste started spilling from emergency relief valves into the Upper New York Bay and Gowanus Canal.

“It happens anytime you get a hard rainfall,” said Bob Connaughton, one the plant’s engineers. “Sometimes all it takes is 20 minutes of rain, and you’ve got overflows across Brooklyn.”

One goal of the Clean Water Act of 1972 was to upgrade the nation’s sewer systems, many of them built more than a century ago, to handle growing populations and increasing runoff of rainwater and waste. During the 1970s and 1980s, Congress distributed more than $60 billion to cities to make sure that what goes into toilets, industrial drains and street grates would not endanger human health.

But despite those upgrades, today, many sewer systems are still frequently overwhelmed, according to a New York Times analysis of environmental data. As a result, sewage — including human excrement and dangerous industrial chemicals — is spilling into waterways.

In the last three years alone, more than 9,400 of the nation’s 25,000 sewage systems — including those in major cities — have reported violating the law by dumping untreated or partly treated human waste, chemicals and other hazardous materials into rivers and lakes and elsewhere, according to data from state environmental agencies and the Environmental Protection Agency.

But fewer than one in five sewage systems that broke the law were ever fined or otherwise sanctioned by state or federal regulators, the Times analysis shows.

It is not clear whether the sewage systems that have not reported such dumping are doing any better, because data on overflows and spillage are often incomplete.

As cities have grown rapidly across the nation, many have neglected infrastructure projects and paved over green spaces that once absorbed rainwater. That has contributed to sewage backups into more than 400,000 basements and spills into thousands of streets, according to data collected by state and federal officials. Sometimes, waste has overflowed just upstream from drinking water intake points or near public beaches.

There is no national record-keeping of how many illnesses are caused by sewage spills. But academic research suggests that as many as 20 million people each year become ill from drinking water containing bacteria and other pathogens that are often spread by untreated waste.

A 2007 study published in the journal Pediatrics, focusing on one Milwaukee hospital, indicated that the number of children suffering from serious diarrhea rose whenever local sewers overflowed. Another study, published in 2008 in the Archives of Environmental and Occupational Health, estimated that as many as four million people become sick each year in California from swimming in waters containing the kind of pollution often linked to untreated sewage.

Around New York City, samples collected at dozens of beaches or piers have detected the types of bacteria and other pollutants tied to sewage overflows. Though the city’s drinking water comes from upstate reservoirs, environmentalists say untreated excrement and other waste in the city’s waterways pose serious health risks.

A Deluge of Sewage

“After the storm, the sewage flowed down the street faster than we could move out of the way and filled my house with over a foot of muck,” said Laura Serrano, whose Bay Shore, N.Y., home was damaged in 2005 by a sewer overflow.

Ms. Serrano, who says she contracted viral meningitis because of exposure to the sewage, has filed suit against Suffolk County, which operates the sewer system. The county’s lawyer disputes responsibility for the damage and injuries.

“I had to move out, and no one will buy my house because the sewage was absorbed into the walls,” Ms. Serrano said. “I can still smell it sometimes.”

When a sewage system overflows or a treatment plant dumps untreated waste, it is often breaking the law. Today, sewage systems are the nation’s most frequent violators of the Clean Water Act. More than a third of all sewer systems — including those in San Diego, Houston, Phoenix, San Antonio, Philadelphia, San Jose and San Francisco — have violated environmental laws since 2006, according to a Times analysis of E.P.A. data.

Thousands of other sewage systems operated by smaller cities, colleges, mobile home parks and companies have also broken the law. But few of the violators are ever punished.

The E.P.A., in a statement, said that officials agreed that overflows posed a “significant environmental and human health problem, and significantly reducing or eliminating such overflows has been a priority for E.P.A. enforcement since the mid-1990s.”

In the last year, E.P.A. settlements with sewer systems in Hampton Roads, Va., and the east San Francisco Bay have led to more than $200 million spent on new systems to reduce pollution, the agency said. In October, the E.P.A. administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, said she was overhauling how the Clean Water Act is enforced.

But widespread problems still remain.

“The E.P.A. would rather look the other way than crack down on cities, since punishing municipalities can cause political problems,” said Craig Michaels of Riverkeeper, an environmental advocacy group. “But without enforcement and fines, this problem will never end.”

Plant operators and regulators, for their part, say that fines would simply divert money from stretched budgets and that they are doing the best they can with aging systems and overwhelmed pipes.

New York, for example, was one of the first major cities to build a large sewer system, starting construction in 1849. Many of those pipes — constructed of hand-laid brick and ceramic tiles — are still used. Today, the city’s 7,400 miles of sewer pipes operate almost entirely by gravity, unlike in other cities that use large pumps.

New York City’s 14 wastewater treatment plants, which handle 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater a day, have been flooded with thousands of pickles (after a factory dumped its stock), vast flows of discarded chicken heads and large pieces of lumber.

When a toilet flushes in the West Village in Manhattan, the waste runs north six miles through gradually descending pipes to 136th Street, where it is mixed with so-called biological digesters that consume dangerous pathogens. The wastewater is then mixed with chlorine and sent into the Hudson River.

Fragile System

But New York’s system — like those in hundreds of others cities — combines rainwater runoff with sewage. Over the last three decades, as thousands of acres of trees, bushes and other vegetation in New York have been paved over, the land’s ability to absorb rain has declined significantly. When treatment plants are swamped, the excess spills from 490 overflow pipes throughout the city’s five boroughs.

When the sky is clear, Owls Head can handle the sewage from more than 750,000 people. But the balance is so delicate that Mr. Connaughton and his colleagues must be constantly ready for rain.

They choose cable television packages for their homes based on which company offers the best local weather forecasts. They know meteorologists by the sound of their voices. When the leaves begin to fall each autumn, clogging sewer grates and pipes, Mr. Connaughton sometimes has trouble sleeping.

“I went to Hawaii with my wife, and the whole time I was flipping to the Weather Channel, seeing if it was raining in New York,” he said.

New York’s sewage system overflows essentially every other time it rains.

Reducing such overflows is a priority, city officials say. But eradicating the problem would cost billions.

Officials have spent approximately $35 billion over three decades improving the quality of the waters surrounding the city and have improved systems to capture and store rainwater and sewage, bringing down the frequency and volume of overflows, the city’s Department of Environmental Protection wrote in a statement.

“Water quality in New York City has improved dramatically in the last century, and particularly in the last two decades,” officials wrote.

Several years ago, city officials estimated that it would cost at least $58 billion to prevent all overflows. “Even an expenditure of that magnitude would not result in every part of a river or bay surrounding the city achieving water quality that is suitable for swimming,” the department wrote. “It would, however, increase the average N.Y.C. water and sewer bill by 80 percent.”

The E.P.A., concerned about the risks of overflowing sewers, issued a national framework in 1994 to control overflows, including making sure that pipes are designed so they do not easily become plugged by debris and warning the public when overflows occur. In 2000, Congress amended the Clean Water Act to crack down on overflows.

But in hundreds of places, sewer systems remain out of compliance with that framework or the Clean Water Act, which regulates most pollution discharges to waterways. And the burdens on sewer systems are growing as cities become larger and, in some areas, rainstorms become more frequent and fierce.

New York’s system, for instance, was designed to accommodate a so-called five-year storm — a rainfall so extreme that it is expected to occur, on average, only twice a decade. But in 2007 alone, the city experienced three 25-year storms, according to city officials — storms so strong they would be expected only four times each century.

“When you get five inches of rain in 30 minutes, it’s like Thanksgiving Day traffic on a two-lane bridge in the sewer pipes,” said James Roberts, deputy commissioner of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Government’s Response

To combat these shifts, some cities are encouraging sewer-friendly development. New York, for instance, has instituted zoning laws requiring new parking lots to include landscaped areas to absorb rainwater, established a tax credit for roofs with absorbent vegetation and begun to use millions of dollars for environmentally friendly infrastructure projects.

Philadelphia has announced it will spend $1.6 billion over 20 years to build rain gardens and sidewalks of porous pavement and to plant thousands of trees.

But unless cities require private developers to build in ways that minimize runoff, the volume of rain flowing into sewers is likely to grow, environmentalists say.

The only real solution, say many lawmakers and water advocates, is extensive new spending on sewer systems largely ignored for decades. As much as $400 billion in extra spending is needed over the next decade to fix the nation’s sewer infrastructure, according to estimates by the E.P.A. and the Government Accountability Office.

Legislation under consideration on Capitol Hill contains millions in water infrastructure grants, and the stimulus bill passed this year set aside $6 billion to improve sewers and other water systems.

But that money is only a small fraction of what is needed, officials say. And over the last two decades, federal money for such programs has fallen by 70 percent, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which estimates that a quarter of the state’s sewage and wastewater treatment plants are “using outmoded, inadequate technology.”

“The public has no clue how important these sewage plants are,” said Mr. Connaughton of the Brooklyn site. “Waterborne disease was the scourge of mankind for centuries. These plants stopped that. We’re doing everything we can to clean as much sewage as possible, but sometimes, that isn’t enough.

For the Love of a Pet

I am a "parent" of a 16 year old shar-pei/lab mix, Emma. She has been the bright spot and sore spot of my life these last 16 years and I dread to think of the day when she decides she has had enough to move on.

We have been through numerous moves, illnesses both her and me, divorce and she survived being hit by a car last year. I think this dog has more lives than cats and constantly amazes me at her resilience and devotion. I treat her well and just recently noticed some fat deposits which thankfully were non-cancerous and while there discovered a yeast infection in her ears. I still think that she has selective hearing and is in fact fine even with the blockage. Its like being with your older relative who might be a touch cranky and have a slight drinking problem but little compares to the genial nature and true love we have for each other.

As we approach the Holidays I think there is little right now I am thankful for and yet I realize I am luckier than most and I try to put that in perspective when I look a the big picture.

But if not for Emma I do think there would be little to look forward to when I come home. For many others that is also true but its also becoming a serious choice and effort to maintain and keep pets. As I said Emma has had a serious of unfortunate events this year, some tied to aging, some not that has escalated medical bills and costs. I too face a 10K dental bill this year and shudder on paying it off.

As a result pets are increasingly becoming abandoned and left at shelters or sometimes just deposited elsewhere. This crisis is escalating and I reprint an article from MSN regarding the situation.

If you are worried about keeping your pets healthy, talk to a Vet about sliding scale or finding ways to maintain their health without costly visits.. I know they want to work with you to avoid abandoning your loved one. Talk to shelters about what they offer especially when it comes to neutering. And if you are looking to do something for the holidays, volunteer, foster or donate to the shelters. Saving animal lives is a great gift. And find ways to give food, care or options to those in your lives that have animals and may need financial support. I think you can go without the latest Iphone, MP3 or whatever when it comes to loving and caring for woman and man and all humans best friends.


In recession, pets go homeless in droves

ELKHART, Ind.— Each day at five, staff members of the Humane Society of Elkhart County close the animal shelter and hold a meeting. And each day, like clockwork, they begin hearing a “thump, thump, thump” from outside.

That is the sound of pets being abandoned by owners who either do not want them or cannot care for them anymore.

Among the recent arrivals left in “drop boxes” — kennels that are accessible through doors on the outside of the facility — are Sweet Pea, a Chihuahua being nursed back to health from near starvation, a cocker spaniel named Cookie and a “family” of three pets left together — a dog, a cat and rat.

These animals add to the usual traffic of strays, rabid raccoons and animals rescued from abuse. When the drop boxes are full, the Humane Society finds pets tied up at the door, or — as was the case with a domesticated ferret — running around in the parking lot. Recently a whole litter of kittens was left in the Humane Society dumpster.

With as many as 600 or 700 animals arriving each month — sometimes 30 animals in a single day — the facility, which has space for only 266, is in crisis mode.

'Unsavory position'
The numbers are “staggering” and resources are stretched, said Ann Reel, the Humane Society of Elkhart County’s executive director.

“Since the economy has been like this, even rescuers have been down,” she said, referring to nonprofits that provide temporary homes until animals can be adopted. “(Now) we’re in the unsavory position of having to euthanize because we just can’t turn animals around fast enough.”

In one month alone, the shelter had to euthanize 600 animals, she said. Carissa Ray/msnbc.comJack O'Lantern, an orange tabby cat, was thrown from a car in front of the Humane Society of Elkhart County's shelter over Halloween weekend.
The Humane Society staff believes the poor economy is behind the high rate of abandonment — forcing people to give up pets when they run out of money to feed them or lose their homes and move into apartments or in with relatives. It’s impossible to know for sure because many people drop off their pets anonymously in the drop boxes and don’t fill out the forms that would help the Humane Society staff understand the animal’s health background and breeding. Since October 2008, the shelter has handled 5,783 animals, 42 percent of which were abandoned anonymously.

“For the most part, people just cram the animal in the door, get in their car and speed away as fast as possible,” said Reel. “Occasionally we have someone walk through the front door and say ‘I’ve been laid off my job, we’re moving into an apartment, we can’t find anyone to take them,’ and do it responsibly.”

Looming cuts?
The number of cats dropped off is especially high, perhaps because people have been reluctant to spend money to spay or neuter their cats under current economic conditions.

The Humane Society is struggling to meet the increased demand. Its budget for free spaying and neutering of cats was shot by April. The pet assistance program, which provides free pet food to help owners who are struggling financially, had 444 requests this year, about two-thirds of them first-time requests. This program is important because it keeps pets with their owners, avoiding unnecessary abandonment.

About half of the Humane Society’s $700,000 annual budget is provided by the county and cities, under a contract for animal control. But the organization is anticipating cuts in the next round of government budgets and, like many nonprofits, is casting about for new fundraising ideas, and trying to expand its donor base.Carissa Ray/msnbc.comA dog sits quietly at the Humane Society of Elkhart County while awaiting adoption.
Meanwhile, Reel brought in a fatigue specialist to work with the staff of 16.

“We are overwhelmed in trying to decide who stays and who will have to be eliminated,” she said, referring to animals that have to be euthanized. “It takes a toll on our staff. It is not a pleasant job. “

The staff also grapple with a year caring for and cleaning up after all these creatures — many which are in terrible condition by the time they are dropped off, with severe such maladies as ringworm, fleas and mange. That requires careful handling, and a lot of bleach to prevent the spread of disease.

When people ask Reel, “How can I help?” she tells them to “adopt, donate or send bleach.”

Friday, November 20, 2009

Housing Crisis Escalates

In my business forecast for next year I have to decide how I will market my business, the budget, the target audience, the type of marketing and overall rate of success from each method. So I look to Home Shows, Trade Fairs, mailing, print and other forms and ways to build my brand and sell my services.

I get calls but so few want to actually pay or the kinds of calls I get are for services I don't offer. In that case I have to decide if I want to build those services and skills or continue to turn them away as it may not be a sufficient enough trade off for the time and expense to garner those skills.

Since my long term goals are to move into commercial retrofitting I have decided to take the necessary steps that will aid that including relocating to find the kind of work I am seeking. That decision is based on the need to have meaningful work and financially supportive work but also the desire to live in a city that offers more than I have in the way of social and personal interests. This almost seems antiquated but I still believe in the idea that work is there if you work to find it and that is the major reason for the switch.

I would have liked to continue helping those in the residential fields but that likelihood seems dim due to the current economic situation (aka the "jobless recovery") and the fact that 1 in 10 Homeowners are currently delinquent on their mortgages. Today's article in the New York Times discusses the bleak future regarding the state of foreclosures and housing market. I, like many others, believe that the extension of the tax credit will do little to stimulate house sales, the October build stats are at the lowest in decades and the amount of surplus build both in residential and even multi-family (apartments) are at glut levels. So it doesn't appear I along with many of my colleagues will be doing much in that field for quite some time. So I am using that time to build new skills and get out of the residential market - for now.


U.S. Mortgage Delinquencies Reach a Record High

Published: November 19, 2009

The economy and the stock market may be recovering from their swoon, but more homeowners than ever are having trouble making their monthly mortgage payments, according to figures released Thursday.

Nearly one in 10 homeowners with mortgages was at least one payment behind in the third quarter, the Mortgage Bankers Association said in its survey. That translates into about five million households.

The delinquency figure, and a corresponding rise in the number of those losing their homes to foreclosure, was expected to be bad. Nevertheless, the figures underlined the level of stress on a large segment of the country, a situation that could snuff out the modest recovery in home prices over the last few months and impede any economic rebound.

Unless foreclosure modification efforts begin succeeding on a permanent basis — which many analysts say they think is unlikely — millions more foreclosed homes will come to market.

“I’ve been pretty bearish on this big ugly pig stuck in the python and this cements my view that home prices are going back down,” said the housing consultant Ivy Zelman.

The overall third-quarter delinquency rate is the highest since the association began keeping records in 1972. It is up from about one in 14 mortgage holders in the third quarter of 2008.

The combined percentage of those in foreclosure as well as delinquent homeowners is 14.41 percent, or about one in seven mortgage holders. Mortgages with problems are concentrated in four states: California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada. One in four people with mortgages in Florida is behind in payments.

Some of the delinquent homeowners are scrambling and will eventually catch up on their payments. But many others will slide into foreclosure. The percentage of loans in foreclosure on Sept. 30 was 4.47 percent, up from 2.97 percent last year.

In the first stage of the housing collapse, defaults and foreclosures were driven by subprime loans. These loans had low introductory rates that quickly moved to a level that was beyond the borrower’s ability to pay, even if the homeowner was still employed.

As the subprime tide recedes, high-quality prime loans with fixed rates make up the largest share of new foreclosures. A third of the new foreclosures begun in the third quarter were this type of loan, traditionally considered the safest. But without jobs, borrowers usually cannot pay their mortgages.

“Clearly the results are being driven by changes in employment,” Jay Brinkmann, the association’s chief economist, said in a conference call with reporters.

In previous recessions, homeowners who lost their jobs could sell the house and move somewhere with better prospects, or at least a cheaper cost of living. This time around, many of the unemployed are finding that the value of their property is less than they owe. They are stuck.

“There will be a lot more distressed supply entering the market, and it will move up the food chain to middle- and higher-price homes,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief United States economist for MFR Inc.

Many analysts say they believe that foreclosures, instead of peaking with the unemployment rate as they traditionally do, will most likely be a lagging indicator in this recession. The mortgage bankers expect foreclosures to peak in 2011, well after unemployment is expected to have begun falling.

There was one sliver of good news in the survey: the percentage of loans in the very first stage of default — no more than 30 days past due — was down slightly from the second quarter. If that number continues to decline, at least the ranks of the defaulted will have peaked.

“It’s arguably a positive, but it doesn’t undermine the fact that there are still five or six million foreclosures in process,” Ms. Zelman said.

The number of loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration that are at least one month past due rose to 14.4 percent in the third quarter, from 12.9 percent last year. An additional 3.3 percent of F.H.A. loans are in foreclosure.

The mortgage group’s survey noted, however, that the F.H.A. was issuing so many loans — about a million in the last year — that it had the effect of masking the percentage of problem loans at the agency. Most loans enter default when they are older than a year.

When the association removed the new loans from its calculations, the percentage of F.H.A. mortgages entering foreclosure was 30 percent higher.

The association’s survey is based on a sample of more than 44 million mortgage loans serviced by mortgage companies, commercial and savings banks, credit unions and others. About 52 million homes have mortgages. There are 124 million year-round housing units in the country, according to the Census Bureau.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Good Green News

I read this article today there is nothing that I don't like. The building itself, its goals, the vision and more importantly transparency. Discussion and sharing information and total cohesion in the project. Yes they are going for LEED platinum but that seems very secondary in their aspirations, in fact the real strategy is devised from the ASHRAE standards a by far superior I believe measurement tool. The cost is disclosed and they on target with completion date for next year. Nothing outrageous here but simple smart build with net zero (that term I still hate) energy goals. A green star for sure!


Energy Dept. Walks The Walk With Smart Building
Energy Dept. Leads By Example, Erects Colo. Building That Uses As Much Energy As It Creates

GOLDEN, Colo. (AP) - Homes and office buildings consume three-quarters of U.S. electricity, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory wants to lower that figure by erecting what it believes will be the largest "net-zero" energy building in the world - one that produces as much power onsite as it uses.

The Department of Energy, which runs the Golden-based lab nestled in the foothills west of Denver, and its contractors hope the $64 million structure will provide a national blueprint for making buildings greener and cutting energy use.

"Our hope is that it really starts to change the direction of society and the way we think of buildings," said Byron Haselden, president of Haselden Construction, the general contractor.

Achieving a zero-energy, "green" building is driving the 220,000-square-foot complex's design and construction.

"What typically happens is when a building gets designed, the architects design something and the engineers figure out how to build it, how to heat it and how to cool it," said Eric Telesmanich, project manager of NREL's infrastructure and development office.

In this case, engineers steered the design. Stantec Consulting started by studying what materials to use and how to orient the building. What emerged is a big "H'' shaped structure with the two prongs on the west end closer to each other than on the east end. That configuration provides the best daylight and cuts the amount of electricity needed for lighting.

The connecting structure is the lobby, which will feature paneling made from pine trees killed by the bark beetle infestation in Colorado's central mountains. The wood also is used to fuel a heating plant on the campus.

Other features include natural ventilation, large windows to let in light and evaporative cooling. For comfort, no employee will be farther than 30 feet from windows, which are 6 feet wide and 7 to 9 feet long. The windows have a combination of glass and coatings to let in light while keeping unwanted heat out.

Transpired solar collectors - metal sheets with strategically cut holes designed by NREL - will pull air heated by the sun into the building on cold days.

In the basement, a labyrinth of concrete walls will capture the day's heat or the night's cool air to be slowly released upstairs. Engineers wrote a computer program to determine the labyrinth's size and shape and calculate air flow.

Exterior walls feature an insulated precast concrete panel system. Water will flow through piping in the floors to warm or cool the air. Recycled materials include reclaimed natural gas pipes as the columns to support the floors and walls.

And the building will let people know when it's a good day to open the windows or leave them closed, based on temperatures and historical climate information.

"There will be a little icon on your computer," Macey said. "It will tell occupants how the building is doing over the course of the year."

Once completed in June, the building will provide offices for 740 NREL employees. It's expected to use one-half to one-third the power of a similar-sized office structure.

The project's architects, engineers and contractors have an exacting client. NREL evaluates private-sector buildings for energy efficiency and is starting to track zero-energy buildings.

"It allows us to demonstrate what we can do with our technologies," said Jeffrey Baker, director of the office of laboratory operations at the DOE field office in Golden. "That's what this project is all about. This is walking the walk and shouting the talk."

NREL is documenting all work and will make that information public. Contractors working on the project insist that following NREL's example won't be too costly or cumbersome for the private sector, considering savings in energy costs over the life of the structure.

The roughly $280 per square foot construction cost is in line with comparable office buildings, said Philip Macey of RNL Design Inc., the project's designers.

"NREL and the design team should be commended for the vision and effort to go far beyond the minimum standards that many buildings are built to," said Gordon Holness, president of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

Holness' group sets many of the U.S. standards and guidelines to make construction more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

The Department of Energy wants the complex to exceed by 50 percent the standard for energy efficiency used as a basis for building codes nationwide. Another goal is to earn the top rating - platinum - by the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Christmas For the Builders

This article was in the Business section of the New York Times this a.m. discussing the current tax breaks built in the most recent "stimulus" package.. you know the one that extends unemployment benefits (sorely needed) along with the absurd 8K tax credits to first time home buyers. What wasn't mentioned is the extensive write offs permitted to those companies that suffer red losses the past two years and not currently receiving TARP/TALF funds. Well that 8K credit is peanuts compared to what the builder's received.

They are already covering their losses just fine but well in an industry that there are 25 Construction individuals available for every one job available you think now would be a good time to find outstanding employees to get back to work but no. Instead that money will be used for "internal" operations. In fact one company, Beazer Homes, one fined for illegal activities are included in this group. Nice, rip people off and take a write off. Maddoff must be pissed he sits in prison while the Beazer Executives sit well at home (probably one nicer than a Beazer Home).

Yes and the foreclosed homes and unfinished and poorly built communities sitting dilapidated or nearly empty will hopefully get sold to more suckers taking "advantage" of that absurd tax credit that benefits no one especially more tax payers continuing to foot the bills of the greedy businesses that exploited the mortgage meltdown crisis. I can't wait to see what the Realtors are planning to do. They clearly need a better lobby.


Home Builders (You Heard That Right) Get a Gift

Published: November 14, 2009

ON Nov. 6, President Obama signed the Worker, Homeownership and Business Assistance Act of 2009 into law, extending unemployment benefits by 20 weeks and renewing the first-time homebuyer tax credit until next April.

But tucked inside the law was another prize: a tax break that lets big companies offset losses incurred in 2008 and 2009 against profits booked as far back as 2004. The tax cuts will generate corporate refunds or relief worth about $33 billion, according to an administration estimate.

Before the bill became law, the so-called look-back on losses was limited to small businesses and could be used to counterbalance just two years of profits. Now the profit offset goes back five years, and the law allows big companies to take advantage of it, too. The only companies that can’t participate are Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and any institution that took money under the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Among the biggest beneficiaries are home builders, analysts say. Once again, at the front of the government assistance line, stand some of the very companies that contributed mightily to the credit crisis by building and financing too many homes.

This is getting to be a habit: companies that participated on the upside and are now reaping rewards from the taxpayers on the downside. The banks that underwrote so many dubious loans, for example, received government aid to get them lending again. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the result.

One can make an argument that throwing money at the banking system is necessary if we are to jump-start the economy. And banks need a bigger capital cushion to protect against future losses.

But dropping helicopter money on the home builders — the folks who massively overbuilt in community after community — seems decidedly less urgent (unless you are one of these companies, of course). Given that the supply of housing far outstrips demand, it is unlikely that these companies will use these tax breaks to hire workers (unless they go into a completely new line of business).

“I AM surprised that home builders are getting hundreds of millions of dollars given that many have very strong balance sheets,” said Ivy Zelman, chief executive at Zelman & Associates, a research firm. “We question the public policy decision to gift home builders with capital that many will not use to create jobs, since they admit that job growth will be dependent not on capital, but on improving demand.”

When Mr. Obama signed the law, his administration said the tax break would help “struggling businesses.” But as Ms. Zelman pointed out, many large home builders are sitting atop mountains of cash. Pulte Homes, which will receive refunds exceeding $450 million under the new law, has $1.5 billion in cash and cash equivalents on its balance sheet, according to its most recent financial statement.

Hovnanian Enterprises is another big beneficiary of the tax break. It anticipates a refund of $250 million to $275 million next year. It had $550 million in cash in its most recent quarter.

Smaller recipients include Standard Pacific, which is poised to reap cash refunds of $80 million under the new tax break. According to its most recent financial filing, Standard Pacific held $523 million in cash and cash equivalents.

Finally, Beazer Homes told investors that it expects to receive a refund of $50 million. The company reported cash and equivalents of $557 million at the end of September.

Some of the home builders poised to receive tax refunds have even more cash today than they did last year. D. R. Horton, for example, has $1.966 billion in cash, up 45 percent from September 2008 levels. And some are healthy enough to have retired significant amounts of debt from their balance sheets this year. Pulte has bought back $1.93 billion in debt in 2009.

So what do these companies plan to do with their refunds?

Ken Campbell, the chief executive of Standard Pacific, said the money would allow his company to continue buying land. “Will we build more houses or will there be more people employed in the first quarter? Probably not,” he said. “Will employment accelerate when the market starts to grow? It will.”

Caryn Klebba, a spokeswoman for Pulte Homes, said in a statement that the company planned to use the funds it receives “to support its current operations and, when market conditions improve, fund future growth and expansion.”

In other words, job creation does not seem imminent, notwithstanding the claims of the administration or those in Congress who supported the giveaway.

Representative Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat, has conducted a lonely fight against the tax break all year.

“Some have said this is like a bridge loan to these companies,” Mr. Doggett said in an interview. “Well if it’s a loan, it is like a no-doc loan, because the recipients provide no indication that they will create jobs or do anything other than keep the money. I just feel it is a total windfall.”

Unfortunately, this seems to be another example of an age-old phenomenon: Good Things Come to Those With Lobbying Power.

Securing this tax break was a top priority for home builders, lobbying records show. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that through Oct. 26 of this year, home builders paid $6 million to their lobbyists. Last year, the industry spent $8.2 million lobbying.

Much of this year’s lobbying expenditures were focused on arguing for the tax loss carry-forward, documents show.

Among individual companies, Lennar spent $240,000 lobbying while companies affiliated with Hovnanian Enterprises spent $222,000. Pulte Homes spent $210,000 this year.

That’s some return on investment. After spending its $210,000, Pulte will receive $450 million in refunds. And Hovnanian, after spending its $222,000, will get as much as $275 million.

Meanwhile, the bag that we taxpayers are left holding gets bigger and bigger.

THE problem here is that this public policy decision was made with little to no input from the public. Sure, tax rebates like these give a lifeline to companies that were about to sink beneath the waves, but would it be so terrible if some builders that lost their heads during the housing mania ceased to exist? It is not as if a housing shortage will result or that more jobs will be lost if these companies don’t receive these tax breaks.

Pretending to promote job creation, the government is dispensing cash to companies that either do not need it or need it precisely because they didn’t run their businesses prudently. Isn’t there something wrong with that picture?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Veteran's Day

I had been thinking about writing about the Military and my thoughts on the recent Jon Krakauer book on Pat Tilman, Where Men Win Glory, and thought undoubtedly my reactions to it and the current crop of articles in Rolling Stone, the New York Times and others discussing the state of our modern Military would likely reign unpopular and right now I choose to avoid that for another day.

But the word "Veteran" means many things and refers to many professions. I am a Veteran Educator. I left the profession after serving my initial term of 5 years and found myself back now and finding much like the Military a system broken I believe beyond repair.

My "job" as a Substitute has found me in a myriad of schools, dynamics, students and levels of teaching and academics that make me glad I left for Construction a long time ago. I like taking things apart, seeing how they work and then fixing them to work again. Education or Teaching I thought was like that but I was wrong. I like to see end results and have measurements of success and failure.

I have little hope for the future given the state of the world right now. Education has long been a declining resource for both attracting quality individuals into the profession, keeping them and more importantly building them. Schools are dilapidated in more than physical ways. Communities play a great role in developing a schools character and the students that populate both are a reflection of that exterior community. There are true problems in both communities.

Yesterday I was in a school where I have been before. Its location is bordering a neighborhood that is transitional but largely poor. The school has a very strong minority population and the children reflect that communities social and economic struggles in ways that are beyond the obvious. Often seemingly too mature for their needs these middle schoolers use language, possess attitudes and beliefs that are mirrors of their older siblings and families and their attitudes about school, race and community. They are angry, confused, misguided and neglected. They are put through the system without real regard to who they will be and where they will go as long as they go from here.

I have been assaulted and robbed in similar schools last year. But the worst is the constant verbal abuse and bullying I am subject to. I was called a street walker, a bitch, narcissistic, a "racialist" and mocked for simply trying to reign in and discipline a class of children who cannot sit for a minute, have true problems following instructions, come to class ill prepared and have no real foundation or skills to excel or meet the most minimum of requirements. That frustration leads to a boiling point and ultimately when the opportunity arises to abuse anyone they think they can victimize instead. When confronted many Educators, Administrators, etc deny the problem and deflect it back to you or they simply shake their head.

President Obama wants to improve Education. He thinks there has to be a better way but when did he last or ever go to a public school? His children do not and he has no real idea of what it truly is like to enter a place on a given day where you will be greeted with cheers or jeers.. well Congress but now I think you see the picture.

I fear for our Society and laugh at the notions that the current crop of Politicians who use children as the bully pulpit or the excuse for why they cannot provide health care or birth control or abortions or any other reason to fund a domestic social program that would improve much of societies lot. Its very convenient to say children are our future. Well if you met as many as I have these past few years you would be less inclined to worry about that and just be willing to worry about today.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

More about the Whine Generation

Because I have had to return to the classroom I have really been made aware of how severe the education crisis is in this country. But while in reality "education" has not much changed (and I mean that literally very little of the subject matter or methods have changed) its the attitude of the students that concern me the most.

This week in our local alternative paper, The Stranger, had an I Anonymous written by a teacher lamenting the quality of students he/she has had over the last 10 years in the profession. So you can assume by that this person is likely under 40 and even they are alarmed at the lack of intellectual curiosity and discipline required to get through even the simplest of demands in the public schools.

Then I read the article below in the NY Times about how to communicate and relate to the younger worker. The implication is once over 40 you are completely unaware to current technology, communication and style of business. Well if anything that is again perpetuating the same nonsense that our generation said not that long ago. The number one complaint is the "manner" in which the young perceive elders communicate. Direct, with orders and without collaboration and consideration.

My favorite is the excuses as to why they don't return calls, answer them in the first place or respond to emails. Charming and they are just excuses. The silliness of Facebook and texting also seems to be a great divide. Again I thought Facebook is a SOCIAL networking device and texting a detailed memo or instruction seems odd as well... perhaps that is the real issue distinguishing between what is social and personal with what is professional.

EXCUSE ME? What happened to simply respecting your boss. If your boss is an asshole that is regardless of age. And why the young think they need to be considered when asked to complete a task or do the work required is beyond my understanding. Perhaps I am part of the problem then? I simply have the belief that when I work for someone else they have a reason, a plan and the experience to request of me whatever is in reason to do something. Now no one likes to be spoken to rudely but I get the idea if you speak "directly" to some individuals that is perceived as confrontational

I recently had a conversation with a gentleman in the Sustainable fields who was let go when he was perceived as just that - too aggressive, too demanding of his young staff and their sensibilities. He saw them as complacent and lazy and apathetic. He formed his own company and just took a million dollar contract from his former employers. This doesn't surprise me. The increasing number of frustrations I hear from people is all about how the young just don't get it.. they have had it too easy and not had to work hard enough. Interesting that is from the same people who contributed to largely that problem but tough times lead to tough reflection.

And I have to wonder about the popularity of shows where acclaimed chef, Gordon Ramsay or hairdresser, Tabatha Coffey, come in to remake failing salons or restaurants while the overwhelmed owners stand by alternately upset or afraid and often resistant to their harsh manners as they offer their ideas. These people are quite aware of these powerful (and ironically non-American) dominate and successful individuals personality and yet almost always they complain about their manner often flatly rejecting their advice. In the meantime both individuals have maintained successful jobs and television careers as people seem fascinated with them. Yet undoubtedly no one wants to work for or with them despite it because they cannot handle direct honesty.

I can assure you that is largely another reason why many companies are moving overseas. The cost of doing bu sines along with the ease of doing it makes it quite appealing. Something tells me in India and China there are not a lot of Meyer Briggs tests being administered and group hugs to get staff in place and working. The amount of psychology and silliness devoted to the "perfect fit" in the workplace has to be not only costly but time consuming. Perfect fit used to refer to shoes now it is about making sure the work place remains placid aka homogeneous if you ask me.. diversity be damned the tests make that almost impossible

My former business partner was 24 and despite his talent his work ethic lacked. It was a struggle and I knew when the economy turned I had to make the decision to shut the business because he was not capable or even interested in doing anything to make it otherwise. It was not something I enjoyed doing but ironically divorcing my husband and shuttering our prior business was easy because we may have had a poor personal relationship but our business and work ethic was solid and ultimately successful so we could do that with relative ease.

I will never work with a younger partner again and do not relish working with them. Its bad enough teaching again. I don't know how many times I hear from kids "you are rude" and when asked to explain what that means and for them to model what is not "rude" to them they are at a loss of words. They don't want to admit they want me to cajole and cater to them rather than perfunctorily request of them compliance and cooperation. Sorry I am not there to make friends I am there to administer and complete another teacher's lesson plan and I don't have the luxury and time to do it otherwise. And we wonder why our country is collapsing economically.


Bridging the Workplace Generation Gap: It Starts With a Text

Published: November 6, 2009

IF we believe the advertisements, with plastic surgery and Spanx we can all look 25 until we drop. But apparently that’s not enough anymore — looking young doesn’t do you much good if you still act old.

And I don’t mean old as in groaning when you get off the couch or driving an Oldsmobile. (Oops, they’re not made anymore.) It’s far more subtle than that. It means wearing a watch (young people just check their cellphones), counting out exact change and still using a landline.

Does it even matter if my actions give away my age? We all grow old, even the coolest among us, and there’s not a whole lot we can do it about it. Do I really want to wrap my brain around the latest Internet fad or celebrity of the month just to appear young?

See, there I am being cynical and defensive, which is an old attitude (see No. 177), says Pamela Redmond Satran, author of the book “How Not to Act Old: 185 ways to Pass for Phat, Sick, Hot, Dope, Awesome, or at Least Not Totally Lame” (HarperCollins, $14.99).

The point, she says, is not to look like a 26-year-old or even to necessarily act like one, but to be open to the fact that times have changed. And if we 40-plus-year-olds refuse to acknowledge that, we’re only punishing ourselves.

This is particularly true in the workplace. Much of the baby boom generation is going to want to — and, in many cases, going to have to — stay on the job longer. “But we won’t be working with our fellow septuagenarians, but with people our children’s ages,” Ms. Satran says.

Now, the generation gap is nothing new. In fact, it seems most people have recognized it since at least 40 years ago. In a Pew Research Center survey released this summer, 79 percent of respondents said they thought there was a generation gap, slightly higher than the 74 percent who answered affirmatively to the same question in a 1969 Gallup poll.

What’s interesting is that the generational divide is far less obvious than in the 1960s. Parents and their children dress similarly now, at least in casual clothes, and may listen to some of the same music. We don’t hear the ’60s slogan “You can’t trust anyone over 30,” but that’s probably because our children are silently texting it rather than shouting it.

Yes, much of what divides us now is technology. According to the Pew survey, while three-quarters of adults age 18 to 30 say they use the Internet daily, only four in 10 adults age 65 to 74 do so.

With cellphones, the difference is even greater: of adults 65 and over, just 5 percent get most or all of their calls on a cellphone, and only 11 percent sometimes use their cellphones to text. For adults under the age of 30, 72 percent use their cellphones for most or all of their calls, while 87 percent text. And according to my informal survey of two children living in my house, those under 18 years old text, oh, about 100 percent of the time.

The trouble is, even when I think I’m up to date, it turns out I’m not. Still sending e-mail? That’s so old. “Leave it to the evil young to get all of us old people addicted to e-mail and then to abandon the form in favor of texting and Facebook,” Ms. Satran writes. If you’re already hopelessly hooked on e-mail, like I am, just make them short and sweet — no rambling missives.

Do you obligingly leave a voice mail after the beep? Don’t bother if you’re calling someone younger than 30. They don’t listen to them. To see who called, they look at the missed calls on their cellphone (because they don’t use landlines, remember?).

But it’s not all about technology. Some of it is just attitude. The “old” management style was often harsh and combative, Ms. Satran said. The “young” style is more indirect and conciliatory.

“I grew up in a newsroom where everyone was confrontational,” she said. “The loudest guy won. That’s all changed, and older guys might not get it. Interrupting someone and being direct might not be effective.” Younger people, she said, tend to be more indirect; this isn’t necessarily bad or good, just different, and “for an older person who wants to survive and thrive, he needs to get on board with the changes.”

Here’s an example of how the generations may butt heads: Lisa Orrell, who has written two books about what she calls millennials — those now in their 20s — and conducts workshops for them, said she often heard complaints from younger workers about the curt tone from managers and bosses. They feel disrespected when they are ordered, rather than asked, to do something, when they are commanded rather than requested.

And maybe baby boomers have themselves to blame. After all, we are the generation that raised our children through negotiation, who explained why it was important to visit Grandma or wear a jacket rather than using the all-purpose “because I told you to.”

So a younger worker could easily anger an older manager by questioning why she has to do a certain task instead of just putting her head down and getting on with it. And an older manager who brusquely says, “Just do it,” or recounts how much tougher things were in his time, could easily — if unknowingly — help widen the generation gap.

“I advise managers to take a step back and try to explain to workers why it’s important what they do and how it will build on the goals they have in the company,” Ms. Orrell said.

But the etiquette divide can swing both ways. For example, most people of my generation, trained to write thank-you notes, find failure to answer an e-mail just plain rude. But, Ms. Satran said, it often means the person you wrote to is so inundated with information that he forgot. Don’t take it as a deliberate slight. If it happens, persist politely by calling or sending follow-up messages. If you continue to receive no answer, take it as a rejection. That’s the modern, nonconfrontational way.

Robert Butler, who is 82 and president of the International Longevity Center, a research organization, said he certainly agreed that older workers would benefit if they embraced rather than rejected novelty.

“My personal plea is for old people to get with it, technologically and in other ways,” Mr. Butler said.

Or, as Ms. Satran says, “Be open rather than skeptical, curious rather than dismissive, accepting rather than defensive.”

And sometimes the generations can synchronize wonderfully. A comment on a recent blog post on Ms. Satran’s book applauded the disappearance of voice mail: “At almost 48, I am definitely old, and all I can say about that whole voice mail thing is, ‘Thank GOD — finally freed from this hateful tyranny.’ Well done, young people. Well done.”

Friday, November 6, 2009

Miguided Dreams and Notions

Well Congress caved into the NAHB and other real estate lobby groups requesting the extension of the new home buyers credit. A real waste of time and money this credit has already served a purpose and with job losses on the rise and further deterioration of the economy (although not if you are on Wall Street) I find it hard to believe this is all that necessary.

The New York Times makes a good argument for why this is a useless waste of time. I cannot agree more. This along with the idiotic approval of mother-in-law units here in Seattle I have to wonder who these things really serve? I am not sure right now we NEED or even WANT more housing? True that homes closer to the cities and transportation are less likely to be foreclosed I am not sure in a city that struggles with transportation as Seattle does really needs more urban housing. And our housing crisis is just reaching new levels and the loss of Boeing's recent contract among other behemoths in the region struggling I can't see building 800 sq ft mother in law cottages as something that is all that important.

I see a ton of foreclosed condos converting to Apartments, tons of Apartments for rent and basically a lot of houses for sale. What exactly will these cottages do for the city and its overall desirability? That and is Seattle really that much of a destination city anymore? What cities other than San Francisco and New York are. They still have enough diverse job opportunities to attract a mobile young population who would buy such silly little foibles as the cottage. Yes I want to buy a home literally adjacent to my landlord/owner/seller.

I think its interesting that lobbying green, red, blue or otherwise goes to show that business is back 2005 style.

A Bad Way to Spend Money

The new program, which will continue through the spring, is being portrayed as a rescue plan for the ailing housing market. But this costly giveaway to the real estate and mortgage industry will spend far more in taxpayers’ dollars than it can ever deliver in economic benefit. As happened with the cash-for-clunkers program in the automobile industry, the program will make housing look momentarily better but is unlikely to contribute to long-term recovery.

The original program allowed a credit of $8,000 for first-time home buyers who earn up to $75,000 individually or $150,000 filing jointly. The program got a black eye earlier this month when the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration reported that tens of thousands of people had exploited loopholes in the law to claim credits for which they appeared not to be eligible.

But even before that, housing analysts were finding that the tax credit did little for home sales. Between 80 percent and 90 percent of the people who have bought homes using the credit would have purchased those homes without it. To put it another way, the tax credit has been wasteful spending, not stimulus spending.

The bill that passed both houses of Congress this week extends the program through April 2010 and grants the full tax credit to couples who earn up to $225,000. The expanded program introduces a $6,500 tax credit for people who already own homes but want to buy new ones.

The vote gives campaigning lawmakers something to crow about on the stump. But the new tax credit appeals primarily to affluent voters who do not need the government’s help buying property. And encouraging buyers to leave one house for another does nothing to reduce the glut of homes on the market, which is an important factor driving down housing prices. Finally, the tax credit does nothing about the central housing problem, which is foreclosure.

If Congress wants to spend the taxpayers’ money to do something about the struggling housing market — and it should — it should invest the money where it is most

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Getting Sick in America

Getting Sick in America is just a bad idea. If you are one of the many uninsured or under insured finding care for an illness is one tough challenge. Then the risk of being declared as having a "pre-existent" condition or simply being declined coverage for one of the many inventive and unique reasons insurers have to minimize coverage (well how do you think they pay for the 1.5 million dollars a day in lobbying against a public option?) makes it tough for the workers of America to get healthy.

Getting sick also means taking a day off work. This for many more Americans means a loss in pay and perhaps even a job. For me as a Substitute Teacher I am paid only when I work. I have no health care (I buy my own at significant cost) and I have no sick pay, vacation pay and when June comes NO pay. Ironically I sub for many teachers who are sick and well covered in schools where many students however are not. They come because their families cannot afford to keep them home.

Today the New York Times discusses this issue with special note of Wal-Mart (you know the company that does everything to promote sustainability but that does not include its workers) to food service industry. Yes nothing promotes the containment of illness by allowing people who handle food to remain sick on the job.

Its as if America has returned to its pre-industrial roots. Is this 1919 and can the Triangle Shirtwaist fire be far behind?  Given the current state of food handling I keep thinking Upton Sinclair would have a great sequel to the Jungle. The state of the Nation is one without a Nation. States seemingly have taken more control over their population with even cities demanding higher wages and health care that exceeds current Federal guidelines and standards. And with that you have some states whose progressiveness works (such as Massachusetts) and others that fail at minimal levels (too many to mention here).

We are also at 1919 levels with the idea that H1N1 virus is a pandemic. The flu pandemic of that earlier times killed millions but the world was a smaller place so I guess add a few zeros to see what the end results of this one will be. This is a National and International health crisis. Coupled with our economic one the results are devastating.

I again wonder why we are not angry. Why we aren't doing more, calling, protesting and writing demanding the CHANGE we so desperately need.


Lack of Paid Sick Days May Worsen Flu Pandemic
by Steven Greenhouse

Published 11/3/2009

Tens of millions of people, or about 40 percent of all private-sector workers, do not receive paid sick days, and as a result many of them cannot afford to stay home when they are ill. Even some companies that provide paid sick days have policies that make it difficult to call in sick, like giving demerits each time someone misses a day.

Public health experts say policies like these encourage many people with H1N1, commonly called swine flu, to report to work despite official warnings from the government and most companies that they should stay home.

“For people who are really caught on a weekly income, if they can’t make a go of it, they might say, ‘I’m desperate. I’m going to do what I have to do, and I’m going into work even though I’m sick,’” said Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy at Harvard.

He warned that this might spread disease, and that these financially squeezed workers might send their flu-stricken children to school, infecting others.

Well before President Obama declared H1N1 a national emergency, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was emphasizing that businesses should adopt “flexible leave policies” to allow workers with the flu to stay home. In one advisory, the C.D.C. encouraged employers “to develop nonpunitive leave policies.”

Despite such recommendations, some employees say they have no choice but to go to work sick.

When Latisha Carter caught H1N1 from her 6-year-old daughter in June, she suffered headaches, chills and diarrhea, but she reported to her $13-an-hour help desk job at a Milwaukee insurer nonetheless. The temp agency that placed her does not offer her paid sick days.

“If you’re sick, they encourage you to stay home, but I couldn’t afford to take off if I wasn’t going to get paid,” said Ms. Carter, 29, who said she stuck to her small work area to avoid spreading the flu.

Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, a group of 30,000 public health professionals, said, “Providing workers with paid sick days is essential if we’re going to get serious about the public health recommendations for swine flu — stay home until 24 hours after your fever is broken. That usually takes about five days.”

For many businesses, H1N1 has created a dilemma. “This is a very difficult issue for companies,” said Nina G. Stillman, a lawyer with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius who advises companies on sick-leave policy. “Employers who do not offer sick days are not prepared to offer them now, and they recognize that this may result in not achieving what they say they would like, which is that people who are sick stay home.”

The C.D.C. says that swine flu is widespread in 48 of the 50 states and has already hit as many as 5.7 million Americans.

Many worker groups and women’s groups have seized on the H1N1 pandemic to argue that Congress should enact legislation guaranteeing paid sick days. San Francisco and Washington have enacted such legislation, but similar measures face obstacles in Congress.

“Sometimes you talk about legislation in the abstract, but this is making people begin to understand the problem,” said Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut and lead sponsor in the House of a bill, with more than 100 co-sponsors, that would require employers with 15 or more workers to provide seven paid sick days a year.

Business groups oppose such legislation, calling it expensive and unnecessary. They say that employers already allow and even encourage sick employees to stay home.

“The vast majority of employers provide paid leave of some sort,” said Randel K. Johnson, senior vice president for labor at the United States Chamber of Commerce. “The problem is not nearly as great as some people say. Lots of employers work these things out on an ad hoc basis with their employees.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 39 percent of private-sector workers do not receive paid sick leave.

Workers at many retailers and restaurants say their employers’ policies discourage them from calling in sick. At Wal-Mart, when employees miss one or more days because of illness or other reasons, they generally get a demerit point. Once employees obtain four points over a six-month period, they begin receiving warnings that can lead to dismissal.

In addition, when Wal-Mart employees call in sick, their first day off is not a paid sick day (although workers can use a vacation day or personal day), but the second and third days are paid. The policy is meant to keep workers who are not actually sick from taking a day off to, say, go fishing.

Paul Hotchkiss, a support manager at a Wal-Mart store in Hastings, Minn., said the point system pressured him to report to work two weeks ago even though he had swine flu.

“There are a lot of people who have swine flu right now who are going in because they worry about getting fired for having too many points,” Mr. Hotchkiss said.

His supervisor sent him home because he looked pale, he said, adding that he did not see a doctor because he could not afford the company’s health insurance.

Wal-Mart officials say the company insists that workers with H1N1 stay home and has policies making it easy to do so.

Mandy Pillar, a nurse at Linwood Elementary School in Wichita, Kan., said more than 20 percent of the students were out sick when H1N1 swept through two weeks ago.

“We were sending 12 and 15 kids home a day with fever,” she said. “The next day they’d be back. They’d say, ‘I still feel bad. I still have a fever.’ So we’d ask, ‘Why are you back here?’ And they’d say, ‘because Mommy had to work.’ ”

A survey last year by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago found that 68 percent of those not eligible for paid sick days said they had gone to work with a contagious illness like the flu, while 53 percent eligible for paid sick days said they had done so.

That survey found that 11 percent of respondents said that they had lost a job for taking off for an illness for themselves or a family member, and 13 percent said they had been told they would be fired or suspended if they missed work because of personal or family illness.

Ricardo Copantitla, a food server at Thalassa, a restaurant in the TriBeCa neighborhood of Manhattan, said he called in sick last year when he had the seasonal flu, not H1N1.

“The restaurant said you have to come to work, because they were short of people,” he said. “I had a bad cough, and I felt tired and terrible. But I went to work because I feared being fired.”

Thalassa did not respond to phone and e-mail requests for comment.

Like many restaurant chains, White Castle, which runs 421 hamburger restaurants nationwide, says it takes H1N1 seriously.

“Our policy is that when team members experience illness, we require that they stay home until they are feeling better,” said Jamie Richardson, White Castle’s vice president for corporate relations. “Our policy provides for time off as people need it.”

White Castle does not provide paid sick days, he acknowledged, but he said that workers who stayed home sick would not suffer lost pay because they could work extra hours after recovering.

Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, said H1N1 had spurred an attitude shift throughout corporate America.

“Before, people looked askance at absenteeism — someone staying out was a problem to the company,” she said. “There was this view that being sick was malingering. But now if someone comes in sick — and there has been subtle pressure to do this — you worry that you can get something very dangerous. You worry that you could bring it home to your children, to your elderly parent, to your husband or wife.”