Thursday, March 31, 2011

Teach the Test

Finding people who recognize the value of "teaching" as a profession and recognizing its value is a tough one these days. As I wrote in Reform Skool our focus on Education is first to bust the Union and then get facilitators in with little Educational training to teach the Technology, oops I mean test. Its that simple and it will keep us simple no doubt.

Today I found this in the NY Times, a fitting reminder of what it means to Teach and what it means to be taught as an individual.

What I Learned at School
Published: March 30, 2011

The tumult over state budgets and collective bargaining rights for public employees has spilled over into resentment toward public school teachers, who are increasingly derided as “glorified baby sitters” whose pay exceeds the value of the work they do.

But how exactly do we measure the value of a teacher?

As a writer, I often receive feedback from readers I have never met. But the other day, I received a most unexpected message in response to one of my essays:

“I am so proud of you and all you have accomplished. I shared your opinion from The L.A. Times with my family and reminisced about you as my student at Hibbing High School.”

It was signed Margaret Leibfried, who was my English teacher — a teacher who appeared at a critical juncture in my life and helped me believe that I could become a writer.

Thirty years ago, in Hibbing, a town in northern Minnesota that is home to the world’s largest open-pit iron mine, I entered high school as a bookish introvert made all the more shy because I was the school’s only nonwhite student. I always felt in danger of being swept away by a sea of statuesque blond athletes. By 10th grade, I’d developed a Quasimodo-like posture and crabwise walk, hoping to escape being teased as a “brain” or a “chink,” and then finding being ignored almost equally painful. I spent a lot of time alone, reading and scribbling stories.

Ms. Leibfried taught American literature and composition grammar, which involved the usual — memorizing vocabulary and diagramming sentences — but also, thrillingly, reading novels.

Thrilling to me, that is. Many of my classmates expressed disdain for novels because they were “not real.” For once, I didn’t care what they thought. Ms. Leibfried seemed to notice my interest in both reading and writing, and she took the time to draw me out; she even offered reading suggestions, like one of her favorite novels, “The Bell Jar.”

That year’s big project was a book report, to be read aloud to the class. However, Ms. Leibfried took me aside and suggested I do something “a little different.” Instead of a report, I was to pick a passage from a book, memorize it and recite it in front of the class.

While I longed for the safety and routine of the report, I was curious how this new assignment might work out. By then obsessed with “The Bell Jar,” I chose a passage that I thought showed off the protagonist’s growing depression as well as Sylvia Plath’s sly humor.

The morning of the presentations, I remember my palms sweating so badly as I walked to the front of the class that I held my hands cupped in prayer formation, so I wouldn’t wipe them on my shirt.

I saw the days of the year stretching ahead like a series of bright, white boxes, and separating one box from another was sleep, like a black shade. Only for me, the long perspective of shades that set off one box from the next had suddenly snapped up, and I could see day after day glaring ahead of me like a white, broad, infinitely desolate avenue.

It seemed silly to wash one day when I would only have to wash again the next.

It made me tired just to think of it.

I wanted to do everything once and for all and be through with it.

Dr. Gordon twiddled a silver pencil. “Your mother tells me you are upset.”

I finished and, to my surprise, the class broke out in applause. “As a writer and a good reader, Marie has picked out a particularly sensitive piece of prose and delivered it beautifully,” Ms. Leibfried said, beaming. I felt, maybe for the first time, confident.

Ms. Leibfried was followed the next year by Mrs. Borman, quiet, elderly and almost as shy as I was. She surprised everyone when she excused me from her grammar class, saying my time would be spent more productively writing in the library. I took the work seriously, and on a whim submitted an essay I’d come up with to Seventeen Magazine. When they published it, it was big news for the high school — it was even announced on the P.A. system. Mrs. Borman wasn’t mentioned, nor did she ever take any credit; in her mind she was just doing her job.

I can now appreciate how much courage it must have taken for those teachers to let me deviate so broadly from the lesson plan. With today’s pressure on teachers to “teach to the test,” I wonder if any would or could take the time to coax out the potential in a single, shy student.

If we want to understand how much teachers are worth, we should remember how much we were formed by our own schooldays. Good teaching helps make productive and fully realized adults — a result that won’t show up in each semester’s test scores and statistics.

That’s easy to forget, as budget battles rage and teacher performance is viewed through the cold metrics of the balance sheet. While the love of literature and confidence I gained from Ms. Leibfried’s class shaped my career and my life, after only four short years at Hibbing High School, she was laid off because of budget cuts, and never taught again.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lego Architecture

I recently toured the AIA Homes and I am not one to decry Architecture as I feel that my opinion is one based on personal tastes and preferences, and that the work is not a total reflection of that Architect/Designers skills solely, but one of meeting the Client's expectations, budget and restrictions by land, codes and other extraneous factors.

And that is also the reason why I don't blog solely on what is the latest and greatest Green Build project as forwarded to my by varying organizations, PR agents or marketers trumping their latest project. Just because a building is designated "green" is insufficient enough for me to trump its merits on that alone - frankly there are many blogs that do that. I prefer to leave this blog flexible enough to contain a multitude of issues that encompass the big umbrella of Sustainability.

And for readers this is defined as diverse of subjects from Politics to my experiences in studying Energy Management. But I have never wanted to do more than share my thoughts and reflections from one who tries to find a balanced (although certainly liberal) perspective.

But after this years tour I felt compelled to write about this experience because I am officially burned out on what is defining urban Architecture and often green build - the Lego Build. This is exemplified by the box on box structure and style that seems to represent what is likely the first place most Architects begin - the Lego.

Giving the award for most useful was the Coleman Triplex a very European design that manages to integrate the land beside it, provide additional housing units and still feel open without the confines the boxes often take.

However, my personal favorite was a 60s home in the Magnolia neighborhood, re-fashioned to meet the needs of the disabled homeowner. Bright, airy and completely useful for anyone I had no idea it was a home for a resident in a wheelchair until I met her. The home's colors, lightness and openness was user friendly to any one's needs. I wish more homes took into account that building towers of Lego's which to walk up and down to access most living spaces. The irony is that many of these homes had children as residents and I cannot imagine the small squares of space were conducive to easy access.

I appreciate modern interesting design and Pb Elemental managed to accomplish that with an unusual home built on an odd infill lot. While it was obvious a custom home and designed to meet the needs of the owners it had an interesting layout that allowed the amazing views to dominate.

The other beautiful homes in Bellevue and Mercer Island stood out but they were those homes that were beyond the reach of ordinary salaries and incomes. And that is the point of an Architects tour highlighting the glamorous.

And perhaps that is why I rarely comment on Architecture as I am more concerned with the need for affordable and adaptable homes. Ones that suit both the changing needs of its owner to those that fit within the neighborhood. The idea that modern Architecture understand both the need for integration and modernization. But seeing a box tower next to small home or cottage seems disconnected and not very "green" to me. Taking something simple making it sustainable means it is timeless.

The American Dream Deferred.

If we are truly to sustain our life, our Country, our Planet I have to ask how will it be possible with a Country whose Government seems intent on doing anything but sustaining its own existence.

I cannot imagine we as a Country can maintain at this pace without considering what the long term affects of wage declines, poor to inadequate health care, zero to few regulations on industry, war(s), the decline of Education and the overall futility by many to really see that this forest is losing its trees at Amazonian rates and what it will mean to America in the future.

I reprint this article from which sums up the new American Dream or as I think of it one deferred.

The New American Dream

Tuesday 29 March 2011

by: William Rivers Pitt, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

If you are wealthy, you are living in the Golden Age of your American Dream, and it's a damned fine time to be alive. The two major political parties are working hammer and tong to bless you and keep you. The laws are being re-written - often by fiat, and in defiance of court orders - to strengthen the walls separating you and your wealth from the motley masses. Your stock portfolio, mostly made by and for oil and war, continues to swell. Your banks and Wall Street shops destroyed the economy for everyone except you, and not only did they get away with it, they were handed a vast dollop of taxpayer cash as a bonus prize.

The little people probably crack you up when you bother to think about them. Their version of the American Dream is a ragged blanket too short to cover them, but they still buy into it, and that's the secret of your strength in the end. So many of them walk into the voting booths and solemnly vote against their own best interests, and for yours, because the American Dream makes them think they, too, will be rich someday. They won't - you've made sure of that - but so long as they keep believing it, your money will continue to roll in.

The Citizens United Supreme Court decision swept away the last tattered shreds of the façade of fairness in politics and electioneering, and now you own the whole store. You can use your vast financial resources to lie on a national level now, lie with your bare face hanging out, because it works. You're not the bad guy in America. Teachers, cops, firefighters, union members and public-sector employees are the bad guys, the reason for all our economic woes. NPR and Planned Parenthood are the bad guys. You did that, and when governors like Scott Walker rampage through worker's rights on your dime, you chuckle into your sleeve and enjoy your interest rate.

We're firing teachers and missiles simultaneously, to poach a line from Jon Stewart, and the inherent disconnect fails to sink in among those serving as dray horses for your greed and ambition. They're in the traces, bellowing about what you want them to focus on thanks to your total control of the "mainstream" news media, and they plow your fields with the power of their incoherent, misdirected rage.

They pay their taxes. Isn't that a hoot? They pay their taxes dutifully and annually, and that money gets shunted right to you and your friends, thanks to the politicians who love you and the laws that favor you, not to mention the wars that sustain you. They pay their taxes when they should just pay you, right? Talk about getting rid of government waste. They should just pay you directly and cut out the middle man, because it all goes to the same place in the end. You.

You are General Electric, and you paid no taxes in 2010. You made $14.2 billion in worldwide profits, $5.1 billion of which was made in America, and you're tax burden amounted to a big fat zero. In fact, you claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion, thanks to your anti-tax lobbying efforts in Washington and your use of offshore tax havens that protect and defend your profit margin.

You are ExxonMobil, and you paid no taxes in 2009. In fact, you got a $156 million return.

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You are Bank of America, and despite receiving a massive chunk of the taxpayer-funded bailout, despite recording a profit of $4.4 billion, you paid no taxes and received a $1.9 billion rebate.

You are Chevron, and you made $10 billion in 2009. You paid no taxes, and got a $19 million refund.

You are Citigroup, and you paid no taxes despite earning more than $4 billion, and despite getting a sizeable chunk of the taxpayer-funded bailout.

Your favorite part of it all?

The part that makes you laugh out loud?

It's when you hear the politicians you own talk about "shared sacrifices" and "fiscal responsibility." Man, that's a hoot. You watch them rave and froth on Capitol Hill about shutting down the government because the country doesn't have enough money to fund "entitlement programs" the little people have been paying into for decades. The very term - "entitlement" - cracks you up; how is it an entitlement if people paid for it? Nobody asks that question, of course. Nobody asks about cutting the bloated defense budget. Nobody asks where the billions diverted to Iraq and Afghanistan actually went, or where the money for Libya is going. For damned sure, nobody demands that you pony up and pay your fair share. You made sure of that, and the show goes on.

The United States of America has undergone a powerful transformation over the course of a single generation, and you are right up there in the catbird seat, watching it all unfold. For you, the New American Dream is "I got mine, kiss my ass, work and die (if you can find work, sucker), and pay me." For everyone else, the New American Dream is about simple survival, about running as fast as they can while going inexorably backwards.

Maybe you can even see the cancer eating away at the country that has treated you so royally, but you don't really care. You are safe and comfortable behind your gilded walls.

For now, anyway.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Reform Skool

I used to Teach, I now Substitute. I don't miss Teaching and now as a Substitute I am glad I left when I did. As I have said before much of this "reform" regarding Education is less about the students and more about the Unions.

The hysteria about our Education system is not new. Its decades old since the 60s and in those days I always felt that was less to do with the problems in schools as the problems with integration of them.

Now with the sudden interest by wealthy hedge fund managers and elites such as Bill Gates the focus on reform has taken new heights. While all of it of course first centers on Teacher tenure as the impediment of reform (aka those Unions and their silly collective bargaining agreements) the next issue is testing and getting those scores up on Math.

Nothing has actually changed except that our Public Schools are increasingly homes of kids who are of lower socioeconomic status, are bilingual or have special needs all which have tremendous affects on test results.. but let's not worry about that let's get that teacher union out! If that doesn't tell you how clever and manipulative that mantra is - liberals and conservatives alike are sure that is the reason.

Waiting for Superman, a complete piece of garbage that derided Educators and brought Michelle Rhee to "superstardom", came from the Director of the Inconvenient Truth. He felt compelled to do this "documentary" because he drives past three public schools every day while taking his children to private schools.

Bill Gates is another who is also deriding the decline of the American public education system - despite the fact that neither he nor his wife nor their children have ever attended public schools. If either gentleman really felt that Private School teachers are "better" then why not do a simple exchange for a year and see how well the private school teachers do at say the "worst" school in the district or they themselves go through a 5 week Teach for America boot camp and teach themselves for a year?

Well none of that will ever happen. Neither of them also seem to recall that America's success and growth came out from the very Education model that they now decry. But again this is not about Education - this is about money and business.

Little of this reform is about curriculum, expectations for work or long term goals, most of it centers on testing. And testing is money. It was that model which was the focus of the Bush Administration program NCLB (No child left behind). Dianne Ravitch the creator of that model was the greatest advocate and believer that testing demonstrated knowledge and that if a student did not pass said test the failure was that of the Teachers.

Now Dianne Ravitch once a hero in Ed Reform is its greatest critic. I reprint below her most recent article deriding the current "It Girl," Michelle Rhee, and her supposed success in D.C. While I could go on about Michelle Rhee and her tenure as a Teach For America teacher and Superintendent, I will save that for Google where you can read all about the criticisms and praise alike.

There is nothing but money in Education and taking it to the free market is what this is about. Even now with massive budget shortfalls there is money ironically to add more Technology to NYC schools. Yes adding computers not teachers. A generation of students good on surfing, feeding back facts and staring at a screen. Critical thinking and imagination not required.

Shame on Michelle Rhee

by Diane Ravitch

A new report shows student testing irregularities in D.C. under the leadership of star education reform advocate Michelle Rhee. Education expert Diane Ravitch blasts Rhee’s misguided approach. Plus, Dana Goldstein says the report is no surprise.

The corporate education reform movement has had no more visible star than Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. After she left office last fall, she formed a new political organization to raise $1 billion to advocate for the changes she believes in. She has been advising some of the nation's most conservative governors to fight the teachers' unions and rely on standardized tests to fire or reward teachers.

Her credibility was her alleged success in lifting up test scores in the low-performing public schools of the nation's capitol during her nearly four years in charge.

Now, however, that credibility has been directly challenged by revelations of possible widespread test fraud in the D.C. schools while she was in charge. An article in USA Today reveals that more than half the public schools in D.C. were found to have an unusual number of erasures on standardized tests of reading and math.

The school at the center of the investigation is the Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus, which saw spectacular score gains during Rhee's tenure. Rhee held up the school as a model because the percentage of students who reached proficient on D.C. tests soared from 10 percent to 58 percent in a two-year period. The school was her example of what could happen as a result of her policies. In its recruitment advertisements, the District school system identified the school's principal, Wayne Ryan, as one of its "shining stars." Rhee twice showered bonuses on the school's staff, with $10,000 for the principal and $8,000 for each teacher.

A computer analysis of erasures found a dramatic pattern of changing answers from wrong to right at Noyes. In one seventh grade classroom, students averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures on the reading test, as compared to a district-wide average of less than 1. When parents complained that their children's high scores didn't make sense, since they were still struggling to do basic math, they were ignored.

Her celebrity is not built on her success in D.C., however, which now appears to be a chimera.

What will this revelation mean for Rhee's campaign to promote her test-driven reforms? Her theory seemed to be that if she pushed incentives and sanctions hard enough, the scores would rise. Her theory was right, the scores did rise, but they didn't represent genuine learning. She incentivized desperate behavior by principals and teachers trying to save their jobs and meet their targets and comply with their boss' demands.

Rhee's advocates point out that D.C. scores went up on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the federal test. This is true, but the gains under Rhee were no greater than the gains registered under her predecessor Clifford Janey, who did not use Rhee's high-powered tactics, such as firing massive numbers of teachers.

Almost from the day she arrived in her job in D.C., Rhee has been a magnet for publicity and controversy. She has been on the cover of Time and Newsweek, has appeared innumerable times on national television, and was one of the stars of the pro-privatization film Waiting for Superman. She is truly an education celebrity.

Her celebrity is not built on her success in D.C., however, which now appears to be a chimera.

Her celebrity results from the fact that she has emerged as the national spokesman for the effort to subject public education to free-market forces, including competition, decision by data, and consumer choice. All of this sounds very appealing when your goal is to buy a pound of butter or a pair of shoes, but it is not a sensible or wise approach to creating good education. What it produces, predictably, is cheating, teaching to bad tests, institutionalized fraud, dumbing down of tests, and a narrowed curriculum.

This formula, which will be a tragedy for our nation and for an entire generation of children, is now immensely popular in the states and the Congress. Most governors embrace it. The big foundations endorse it. The think tanks of D.C., right-wing and left-wing, support it. Rhee helped to make it fashionable. If she doesn't pause to consider the damage she is doing, shame on her. If our policymakers don't stop to reflect on the damage they are doing to public education and to any concept of a good education, then our nation is in deep trouble.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Women's History Month

We are wrapping up Women's History Month and it is ending on a lions note of death notices for some legendary women of our history.

Elizabeth Taylor died on March 23 at age 79. She never wrote her memoirs as she liked to say she was still living and that she wanted her epitaph to read "SHE LIVED" and I could not agree more. (btw that photo Elizabeth was all of 16)

For me my earliest memory was watching National Velvet, my favorite was Whose Afraid of Virgina Wolf with her late (ex)husband, Richard Burton. Liz and Dick were the Brangelina of their day and frankly without them I doubt there would be any celebrity-hyphen couples.

I just finished Furious Love and recently watched Cleopatra the film that brought us Le Scandale. To me there was no woman more beautiful and more interesting. For years since she was a girl, Elizabeth Taylor, was the number one box office female star of her generation. She was the first woman who earned a Million dollar paycheck (for Cleopatra) and her legendary lives and loves were tabloid fodder for most of her life.

For the younger generation there is no question that she was the fat drunk or nutty broad who befriended Michael Jackson but for many of us she was an Icon. I think from her I learned the ability to not give a shit and to admire someone who was on the forefront of the AIDS movement when many ignored its existence. She was a broad of another era and this era is grateful for it.

Then last week Geraldine Ferraro died. She was 75 and technically Elizabeth Taylor's peer in generation and while she was a very different woman she was no less tough and determined. The first VP Candidate she paved the way for Sarah Palin whose lack of recognition and respect for Ms. Ferraro's historic role is noted in her derision of what feminism really means.

I remember working on the Mondale Campaign, less for him and more for this woman whose personal history really personified overcoming the odds in many ways. She was a strong and passionate advocate for women's issues and was no less a woman. Today's women take note.

We lost two iconic and ground breaking women this month of our history. And our history could not be without them.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Indoor Gardening

Recently I did a talk on Indoor Air Quality and the issue of house plants being a natural air filters for the home to improve the quality were great as long as you weren't tying to emulate a Greenhouse which does the opposite by raising humidity levels

So finding the right balance and type of plants can be beneficial, particularly if you are an Apartment dweller this is great way of bringing outdoor in - without the need for chemicals, gardening tools and time.

And on that note I received a submission from Masters In Health Care about the benefits of House Plants.

15 Fabulous Health Benefits of House Plants

Just about everyone knows that plants are great for producing oxygen and contributing to a zen feeling in any environment. But did you know that they can clinically reduce stress, fight colds, remove contaminants, and even stop headaches? Read on to find out about the great health benefits associated with house plants.

Plants can help fight colds: Indoor plants have been shown to reduce cold-related illnesses by more than 30%. This is due to their effect of increasing humidity levels and decreasing dust.

Plants can remove airborne contaminants: We breathe the same air again and again, potentially inhaling harmful substances that are trapped inside. Indoor plants can help to remove pollutants including VOCs that cause headaches, nausea, and more.

Plants can stop your headaches: Filling your home with plants can decrease or eliminate headaches. With plants, you’re much less likely to be breathing the kind of stuffy, stale air that contributes to headaches.

Plants can make you happy: House plants can contribute to a feeling of wellbeing, making you calmer and more optimistic. Studies have shown that patients who face a garden view in their hospital rooms often recover more quickly than those facing a wall.

Plants can improve your mental health: Caring for a living thing can help when you’re depressed and lonely, giving you a purpose in life.

Plants can decrease your blood pressure: People with plants in their homes have less stress, and plants have been known to contribute to lower blood pressure.

Plants can reduce carbon dioxide: During photosynthesis, plants draw carbon dioxide from the air. Removing this substance can help prevent drowsiness from elevated levels.

Plants can offer treatment: Some indoor plants, like aloe, can be applied to skin and offer pain relief.

Plants can prevent allergies: Exposing children to allergens such as plants early in life can help them build a tolerance and immunity to the allergen. It works like a custom allergy shot, naturally.

Plants can negate cigarette smoke: If you are a smoker or live with one, a plant may help you remove the airborne chemicals from cigarettes. In particular, the Peace Lily is a good choice for this health benefit.

Plants can make your brain work better: Potted plants and flowers can improve your idea generation, mood, and more.

Plants provide clean air: In addition to filtering chemicals, plants also put out clean air, improving the air quality around them.

Plants can clear congestion: Eucalyptus in particular can help clear phlegm and congestion from your system. In fact, eucalyptus is often found in congestion remedies.

Plants are natural humidifiers: Instead of buying a humidifier machine to soften the air, just bring in a plant or two.

Plants can improve your sleep: Gerbera daisies give off oxygen at night. Filling a vase in your bedroom with these flowers can improve your night’s rest.

Blue Jeans That Fit

Grant Applications for Free Denim Insulation Being Accepted

Last year, Cotton Incorporated and Bonded Logic Inc. teamed up to launch the Cotton. From Blue to Green.® UltraTouch Denim Insulation Grant Program. Grants are still available and the grant application was recently revised to make it easier for projects to apply.

The grant program helps community projects go green by providing grants of R-13, R-19, R-21and R-30 UltraTouch Denim Insulation. Applications are being accepted through Sept. 30, 2011.

Requests for insulation can be made by filling out the grant application on the website. The request must be made directly by an architect, builder or licensed contractor working on the project or a company with one on staff, and meet the eligibility requirements as outlined on the website.

In 2006, Cotton Incorporated and Bonded Logic partnered for the launch of the Cotton. From Blue to Green.® denim drive program. Donated denim is given new life by converting it to UltraTouch Denim Insulation and provided free to communities in need to assist with building efforts, including Habitat for Humanity and Hurricane Katrina rebuild efforts.

Since the program launched, requests are received daily from groups looking to obtain the insulation for their community building project. The grant program is meant to address the needs of these groups and to help build green communities across America.

Bonded Logic Introduces Perforated Batts for UltraTouch Denim Insulation

Installing environmentally friendly insulation just got easier. Bonded Logic, the manufacturer of UltraTouchTM Denim Insulation, recently introduced perforated insulation batts.

A portion of the batts in each package will contain perforations allowing consumers to easily size the batt to the dimensions needed. The perforation pattern was developed to provide the most common “off size” pieces with the least amount of cutting. UltraTouch Denim Insulation is available in R-13, R-19, R-21 and R-30.

The perforations enhance the consumer’s experience and have no impact on the nature or performance of the product.

Video available here:

"We talked to installers and the one thing we heard was they wanted a product that was easy to cut," said Sean Desmond, Sales/Marketing Manager for Bonded Logic. "UltraTouch is a substantial product, giving it great thermal and acoustical performance. By adding perforations, we make it easy for anyone who wants to use an eco-friendly product to size and install it.".

The denim insulation is sourced entirely of post-consumer blue jeans and is widely available throughout the United States. For more information or to find a distributor in your area, visit

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Union Busting Out All Over

As a proud child of Union Workers and one who has been a Union member (of one group or another) most of their working life I have a perspective that has seen both the good and the bad to Union membership.

Right now in the effort to continue the annihilation of a two party Democracy (it too with its own sets of problems both good and bad) the last target of Republican ire is Unions. Using class warfare as the final weapon in union busting, the GOP has decided that any Union worker has been living life large on the taxpayer dime.

Unions are the largest source of fundraising for the Democratic party. Labor once the bastion of the Middle/Working Class has been slowly eroding with wages and benefits the last 30 years as more manufacturing has been moving overseas as well as the careful use of propaganda and legislation to make union membership a challenge; as a result, union membership overall has been declining. The use of Collective Bargaining however has a long history and legacy in this country for creating the 40 hour work week, elevating wages, occupational safety and health regulations and overall building our national economy.

For those not part of a Union contract they have been less fortunate in "negotiating" annual salary increases, benefit and pension packages being more a victim to the free market economy than a partner. But now with layoffs and increased frustration by those under/unemployed there is this grass must be greener for those with better job security and certainly that is "not fair." Of course in greener times that "fairness" was never applied to the immense concentration of wealth by the top 1% and the belief that somehow that would trickle down to those willing to comply to their truths and bend to their beliefs.

Well it never happened and never will but there is still an anger and resentment of those who have not over those who have and sadly its misdirected to those of the same class and status. It was a clever ploy that perhaps at this point might be backfiring. Almost everyone has some family member who has or is part of a Union and the assault on Teachers was fine when it was about Student success. Despite the fact that there is little real correlation and substantive proof that there are all these rogue tenured teachers doing little to actually help student achievement, the mythology and propaganda by both liberal and conservative alike, managed to convince the public that somehow Unions were the real impediment to Education reform. And it was working despite the fact that the most successful reforms regarding student improvement was when it was left to Educators with Union involvement. Its really not the teachers you see who are the bogeymen here its the Union and that is again what this about Union membership and all that it entails

But that aside, the real attack on Educators turned the tide in Wisconsin. The right portrayed them and other Municipal workers as living large and draining the state so severely that the Governor was forced to stop Collective Bargaining entirely. Once it was revealed that for Walker this was a moment to channel his hero Reagan to bust a Union it led to 14 Legislators crossing state lines to hide out, national coverage and massive protests that exposed the real intent of Walker and other GOP Governors to bust Unions throughout the Country.

And I have met plenty people who are thoroughly convinced that Unions are the enemy to the Country, to the workplace and to recovery. When prodded they know really little about facts or even Economics or how State pensions work and are funded. (And on that note perhaps Teachers should take some accountability for people's unwillingness to learn or even engage in fact seeking.)

The history of Unions and even Social Security has its foundations ironically in Wisconsin with the then Governor and Republican, Robert La Follette. It was at the University of Wisconsin the Social Security program was designed and its also in Wisconsin another who cited Unions as the threat to American security, Joseph McCarthy, came of age. And it was only when another Republican finally asked the question: "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"

This has what its become a sense of decency. To support your fellow working man/woman and realize that yes life isn't fair but it is not the Unions who made that happen its their erosion.

I reprint below a essay from regarding what it means to really be a part of our history and Unions. Look for the Union label was once a sense of pride and not scorn. It still should be.

Attacks on Public-Employee Unions Undermine the Middle Class

Monday 21 March 2011

by: Dmitri Iglitzin and Carson Glickman-Flora, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

Attacks on Public-Employee Unions Undermine the Middle Class
Tens of thousands of people gather in support of union employees in Madison, Wisconsin, on March 12, 2011. (Photo: Narayan Mahon / The New York Times)

It's not like we didn't see it coming.

At the very start of this year, January 2, The New York Times warned us of the coming battle with a front-page story, "Public Workers Facing Outrage in Budget Crisis." The Economist, in its January 8 issue, gave us, "The battle ahead: confronting the public-sector unions." And the January Time Magazine, "Public Employees Become Public Enemy No. 1."

So, nobody should have been surprised when public employees became enemy No. 1 in Wisconsin, whose governor and Republican-dominated Legislature are pressing a bill that would eviscerate most of the unions representing that state's employees.
Oklahoma, Tennessee and Ohio are likewise all considering legislation to ban various types of collective bargaining, and in Indiana, almost every Democratic member of the state's House of Representative recently boycotted a legislative session to stop a bill that would weaken collective bargaining.

What has not been clearly noted, however, despite the thousands of barrels of ink that have been spilled about this topic, is the underlying motive behind these attacks. Why, exactly, has the governor of the Badger State made destroying public-sector unions his No. 1 goal? Why are similar efforts being made in numerous other states? Why target public-sector workers and their unions? What put this on the top of the hard right's agenda? Especially because, as The New York Times noted, "A raft of recent studies found that public salaries, even with benefits included, are equivalent to or lag slightly behind those of private sector workers with a similar education."

Some of the reasons are mundane. Class envy is there, for sure. Public employees are, on average, better educated and better compensated than other workers; thus, resentment by the latter can always be ginned up against the former. Tea Party-ish dislike of government in all of its forms, however irrational, can always be transmuted, by those with a motive to do so, into a passionate hostility against the government's agents and representatives, its employees.

But there is something more sophisticated at work here than merely the efforts of talk-show hosts, demagogues and right-wing politicians to stir up or even just reflect, an angry, agitated and hostile populace. That is, there is a plan at work here - let's call it, "the Plan" - and that plan is designed to accomplish the following goals:

1. Defund the Democrats. This is perhaps the most transparent of the goals of the Plan, because Republicans have not been shy about pointing out how, in various states, labor union contributions of both time and money have supplied Democrats with critical support at election time. The actual numbers can be debated and most of the Republican claims of labor union dominance of the Democratic Party are overblown. The failure of Congress, even when Democrats controlled both the White House and both houses of Congress from 2008-2010, to enact any substantive federal labor law reform, is stark evidence of that. But labor generally comes back to the Democrats and Republicans, and other right-wingers recognize that disabling labor unions now will advance their legislative agenda in the long run.

2. Delegitimize Government. Once public-sector unions are destroyed or damaged and the wages and benefits of public employees are slashed, the ability of government to attract and retain qualified, dedicated employees - whether teachers, bus drivers, fire fighters or police - will deteriorate. The more that happens, the greater the pressure to turn over these and all other "public" services to for-profit private companies, a trend that is already in full swing.

3. Redefining the Middle Class Downward. Above all else, the attack on public employees and their unions is an effort to eliminate the one substratum of working people who still, to a large extent, maintain a truly "middle-class" existence, a life where the rent or mortgage payments may be paid, health coverage is maintained and retirement savings socked away in defined benefit pension plans, where it will actually still be available upon retirement.

It is this last motive about which the proponents of the Plan speak the least, but which is perhaps the most important. As long as some workers, those in the public sector, are still being paid decent salaries and benefits, there is an implicit message to all workers, including those in the private sector, that this type of compensation might be something which an adult worker could reasonably expect to attain. If the goal of a middle-class income for public employees can be painted as a mere utopian fantasy, workers in the private sector will lose that dream as well. In the end, it is this downward pressure on our standard of living that should have all of us concerned, and which should inspire all of us to stand next to public employees as they cling to the middle-class dream.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Need a Boost?

I saw this on Twitter the other day from Dwell Magazine.

Boost Boxes

These days, it seems like everyone is busy saving the world. Using recycled, sustainably sourced materials is de rigeur for designers and manufacturers as consumers are becoming savvier about the importance of product pedigree. There’s a disconnect, however, between the standards we hold our purchases to and the ones to which we keep ourselves accountable (hands up if you’ve switched out every incandescent in your house for an LED). Common sense seems to be superseded by, at best, confusion over where to begin and what to buy and, at worst, apathy.

Boost Home, a new company out of Berkeley, California, hopes to take the what-goes-where-and-why out of making your space more efficient and all-around Earth-friendly. Each of their nine Boost Boxes targets a different area of your home, offering easy-to-understand DIY installation guides along with a comprehensive selection of tools and tricks that you might never expect, like fresh toilet flappers for the bathroom, eco-dimmers for your mood lighting, and water wick meters for your garden.

The Whole Bathroom Boost Box.

You can track your progress not just in the resources spared but also the amount of money saved. The Whole Bathroom kit, for example, can keep an extra $500 and 25,000 gallons of water from going down the drain every year. An entire set can be installed in an afternoon, so there’s just no excuse not to take control of your consumption.

The Garden Water Boost Box.

Change is Gonna Do Ya Good

I am beginning to realize the current GOP assault on Education must have something directly parallel to the failures of teachers to teach basic cause and effect or that some kids during that Physics lessons were busy with their Young Republican meetings or what have you.

But the current crisis (and it is a crisis at this point) regarding Energy can be exemplified by Japan and their nuclear meltdown, our gas prices escalating and the upcoming anniversary of the BP Oil Spill. If these three things don't get you talking about Energy and our future regarding a solid plan of action well then I guess you were out to lunch during that lesson as well.

I am printing what I think is an outstanding column in The American Prospect with regards to what I believe is the best plan of action and its time to realize that change is gonna do ya good.

On Energy, GOP Doesn't Know What the Problem Is

The logical flaw at the heart of Republicans' proposals to solve the energy crisis

Ben Adler | March 17, 2011 | web only
The American Prospect

On Energy, GOP Doesn't Know What the Problem Is

Capitalizing on instability in the Middle East, last week House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blamed high gas prices -- which have shot up in response to fears of prolonged disruptions in the supply of crude oil -- on President Barack Obama's supposed reluctance to "drill, baby, drill."

"Americans looking at the price of gas at the pump these days are justifiably upset," McConnell said. "What they may not realize is that some in the administration are actively working to prevent us from increasing our own oil production here at home."

Aside from the factual inaccuracies -- domestic oil production rose to its highest level since 2003 last year -- at the heart of Republicans' long-standing approach to energy and transportation issues is a basic logical flaw: Republicans assume we can resolve shortages -- and continue to rely on automobiles to the degree that we do -- by increasing supply.

In Republican fantasyland, opening up enough deep-sea oil wells can quickly flood our domestic oil market and keep prices low. But with only 2 percent of the world's oil reserves, there's no way we can drill our way to low gas prices; loosening restrictions on oil drilling -- a process that takes years to bear fruit -- will not significantly affect the overall price of oil. Oil is a global, fungible commodity, and so the price is set by global supply and global demand. Your car runs just fine on oil drilled in Siberia, and a car in Beijing runs fine on oil drilled in Alaska. And we're not the only ones with increasing energy needs. With rising demand for gasoline in Asia, no amount of U.S. drilling will significantly lower the prices Americans pay at the pump. "Only Saudi Arabia has enough oil to pick up the slack from Libya," says Bracken Hendricks, an energy expert at the Center for American Progress.

Of course, what we have is a demand-side problem that can only be solved by reducing the amount of oil we use, which will in turn ensure that our wallets and national economy are less affected by price spikes. We currently consume 25 percent of the world's oil, in part because we drive more and use less efficient cars than our developed counterparts in Western Europe. As the Department of Energy noted in a 2005 report: "In the United States, in contrast to other regions of the world, about 2/3 of all oil use is for transportation. ... Gasoline, in turn, accounts for about 2/3 of the total oil used for transportation in the United States."

To reduce our oil consumption, we need to improve the efficiency of our cars -- a goal Obama has already taken steps toward by raising fuel-efficiency standards. Just as important, however, is giving people ways to get around without a car. If Republicans really want to help Americans save money on gasoline, they should support efforts to develop public transportation. But alas, the same mentality that pervades the right wing when it comes to energy applies to mass transit, too.

Road space, like oil in the ground, cannot be infinitely increased in places where we've already built homes and businesses -- to relieve congestion, you can't just build more roads. The price we pay for growing demand for road space is hard to see because we don't pay it at the pump. But we are indeed paying, with time wasted in aggravating traffic, 40,000 annual deaths in auto accidents, and all the lost productivity that results. In the same way that reducing demand for oil is the only way to bring down its price, the only way to alleviate congested airports and highways is to reduce demand. Yet, as we've seen over the last few weeks, when progressives try to get people out of their cars by building bicycle lanes or high-speed rail lines -- solving two problems at once -- they face incredulity from conservatives.

Airplanes, like cars, use a lot of gasoline. The only prospect for reducing air and car travel between American cities is rail. At the local level, where most car trips are made, you can invest in mass transit -- street cars, light rail, buses -- and expand opportunities to walk and bicycle by building safe sidewalks and bike lanes. But Republican governors in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Florida recently rejected billions of dollars in federal funds for high-speed rail construction, and national GOP darling Gov. Chris Christie in New Jersey canceled plans for a much needed rail tunnel across the Hudson River. Meanwhile, conservative and libertarian pundits and think tankers have been berating rail advocates for the "ridiculous" idea that Americans might be willing to use trains, a form of travel that was widely used in the U.S. before World War II and is widely used today in Europe and Asia. Conservatives correctly note that if you arrive in, say, Orlando by train but need a car to get anywhere from the station, you will still elect to drive. Fair enough, but that proves not that we shouldn't invest in high-speed inter-city rail but rather that we must pair it with improved mass transit within cities.

A more local manifestation of the reactionary worldview can be found in the opposition to New York City's expansion of bicycle lanes. Being New York, the right wing is represented by the center-left (Sen. Chuck Schumer's wife Iris Weinshall, Rep. Anthony Weiner, and The New Yorker's John Cassidy). While professing a commitment to reducing auto-dependence, they complained in The New York Times and The New Yorker that a new bike lane along Brooklyn's Prospect Park West takes space away from cars for driving and parking. That, of course, is the point. We cannot expand New York City's roads, but we can reorient them to facilitate other means of transportation. By doing so, we will reduce demand and in turn, reduce traffic -- or at least constrain its growth.

"If you build it they will come -- in transportation that applies to every way people get around," says Noah Budnik, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives. "If you build better transit, trains, better streets for biking and walking, people will get around those ways." Indeed, the Prospect Park West bike lane dramatically increased the number of cyclists in just a few months.

But while the spats over local and state action on high-speed rail and bike lanes have generated plenty of media chatter, their effect on auto dependence and carbon emissions is extremely limited. What we need is a big solution in the overdue reauthorization of the Surface Transit law, which governs the disbursement of federal funds for highways and mass transit. In February, the Obama administration released a forward-looking proposal that would increase investments in transit and counter suburban sprawl. The administration wants to spend $556 billion on transportation infrastructure over the next six years, [roughly twice the size of the last reauthorization. The administration now awaits congressional action. This is a prime opportunity for Republicans in Congress, their conservative cheerleaders, and New York's bike-lane antagonists to put their money where their mouth is. Either they can save Americans money and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by investing in mass transit, or they can continue to watch gas prices rise and to bicker about how to increase supply at the margins.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Reading is Green Too

As an advocate for learning and learning how to be green you can never start too early or ever be too late.

From my friends at they sent along a reading list of 30 great books that teach kids the value of being green.

30 Great Books That Teach Children to Be Green

It’s never to early to teach kids to be green. From the moment they are born, kids impact the world, and the sooner they learn to be conscientious of the environment, the better. Learning about protecting the world can be fun, and these books make becoming eco-friendly a fun experience for kids.

50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth: Check out this book that tells kids the many ways they can contribute to saving the Earth.

The Giving Tree: Shel Silverstein’s book teaches kids about the relationship between kids and the forest.

My Bag and Me!: My Bag and Me! can teach your child to be eco-friendly by using reusable bags.

A Drop Around the World: Kids can follow a drop of water around the world in this book.

The Great Kapok Tree: In The Great Kapok Tree, a man changes his mind about chopping down a large tree in the Amazon when he hears the pleas of the animals.

George Saves the World by Lunchtime: George saves the world with simple everyday actions in this book.

The Tree in the Ancient Forest: In this book, Carol Reed-Jones writes about the web of plants and animals in the world.

Earth-Friendly Crafts for Kids: Here you’ll find 50 awesome recycled crafts projects.
The Forever Forest: Kids save a tropical treasure in The Forever Forest.

Charlotte’s Web: Charlotte’s Web teaches animal appreciation, life cycles, and ecosystems.

Green Wise Kids: Jean Clausen’s book teaches kids about doing simple things to improve the environment, sharing age appropriate activities.

The Empty Lot: This book’s hero sells off an empty lot, but after consideration, learns about all of the natural elements that make the lot more valuable than he thought.

My Favorite Tree: Kids can choose their favorite North American tree in My Favorite Tree.
One Well: One Well tells the story of water on Earth.

The Lorax: The Lorax offers kids an ecological warning about the disregard for the Earth’s environment.

We Are Extremely Very Good Recyclers: These kids recycle their toys instead of throwing them away, and they even get their classmates involved.

Herb the Vegetarian Dragon: In this book, kids will read about eating vegetarian through Herb, the vegetarian dragon.

Oil Spill!: Kids can learn about the ecological damage of oil spills in this book.

Earth Book for Kids: Earth Book for Kids has activities to help heal the environment.

Wonderful Nature, Wonderful You: Wonderful Nature, Wonderful You tells the lessons of nature and the animal kingdom.

What’s It Like Living Green?: Kids teach kids how to live green in this book.

The Adventures of a Plastic Bottle: This plastic bottle helps kids learn about recycling from a new perspective.

Recycled Crafts Box: Kids can make crafts out of recycled materials using this book.

The City of Ember: In The City of Ember, the heroes of the book live in a world run on hydro power.

Giggles the Green Bean: Giggles the Green Bean learns environmentally friendly lessons and transforms his stinky town to green in this book.

The Curious Garden: The Curious Garden tells a story of a little boy who becomes a city gardener in an urban, factory town.

Dear Children of the Earth: Mother Earth writes to children to get their help in this book.

World Beneath Our Feet: Kids can read about the world that exists in the soil in World Beneath Our Feet.

The Berenstain Bears Don’t Pollute (Anymore): This family of bears learns about why we need to mend our polluting and wasteful ways.

Why Are the Ice Caps Melting?: Kids can read about the dangers of global warming in Why Are the Ice Caps Melting

The 2nd Greatest Crisis

I am of firm belief that the second largest crisis in this country next to the Economic meltdown is the meltdown of our Infrastructure.

With constant tax cutting and the economic collapse in full swing to further deteriorate local Governments and municipalities it leaves to wonder who will fix the completely and utterly broken Infrastructure.

I have blogged in the past that since the free market economy is so keen to take it over and do all things Governments do this might be one that is win win. Frankly selling our infrastructure (as in municipal bonds and odd funding packages which is happening) to foreign nationals is not something I think useful, I do think cooperating with the Government to accomplish this might be more so.

Naturally it will go nowhere as nothing positive in our political climate does and this one is from a Democrat so that pretty much is the death knell but the idea of an Infrastructure bank is one I support and so should anyone who lives, drives or works in America.

Group Wants New Bank to Finance Infrastructure
Published: March 15, 2011
NY Times

The proposal — sponsored by Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas — would establish an independent bank to provide loans and loan guarantees for projects of regional or national significance. The idea is to attract more infrastructure investment from the private sector: by creating an infrastructure bank with $10 billion now, they say, they could spur up to $640 billion worth of infrastructure spending over the next decade.

“We have a choice,” Mr. Kerry said at a news conference in Washington. “We can either build, and compete, and create jobs for our people, or we can fold up, and let everybody else win. I don’t think that’s America. I don’t believe anybody wants to do that.”

To underscore the need for better infrastructure, two frequent rivals were on hand at the news conference: Richard Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and Thomas J. Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the main business lobby. With a nod to the strange-bedfellows experience of having a labor leader as an ally, Mr. Donohue said, “He and I are going to take our show on the road as the new ‘Odd Couple.’ ”

But the proposal may not have clear sailing. While Senators Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, and Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat, will undoubtedly support the measure, Senate officials said the outlook for such a program is dim, given the current fiscal constraints. And Congress, like state governments, has been hesitant to cede control of choosing which projects to finance, even as their spending priorities have often been questioned.

President Obama has called for establishing an infrastructure bank since his 2010 campaign. His budget calls for establishing one — and gives it the catchier name I-Bank — that would work somewhat differently: it would create a $30 billion bank that would invest in transportation projects alone, and that would provide grants as well as loans.

With an expanded reach that includes water and energy projects, the bank being proposed in the Senate would be able to spur investment from more types of private funds, and back projects in a wider swath of the nation, said Michael B. Likosky, the author of “Obama’s Bank: Financing a Durable New Deal.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Green Schools

It is ironic that I work in the schools and rarely blog about the growth of Green Build Green Schools in the area.

In the last couple of years there has bee a real push to build green as they are intended to use less resources and be a cleaner environment which is benefit to both the tax payers supporting the school as those who attend or work within it.

The most exciting of course are the well to do private schools with endless means of fundraising and access to the most innovative and exciting design plans and a school that wants to incorporate that within its curriculum.

The Bertschi School in Seattle is one such school. A couple of years ago I toured the new wing that had attained LEED Gold for its Gym Annex. Since then they are now pushing the envelope with a Science wing that will be the first in the area to be a Living Building.

The intent as they state on their website was to incorporate the Living Building philosophy into their Science curriculum

The Living Building Science Wing allows us to expand upon current components of the science curriculum, such as rainwater harvesting and solar energy. In addition, students will learn about passive ventilation, net-zero water and net-zero energy consumption, concepts that will push their thinking and understanding decades into the future. For our students, this building truly brings learning to life, offering an unparalleled educational experience.

None of this comes cheap and largely due to the donation of the Restorative Design Collective, a group of Seattle-area design professionals on the leading edge of the sustainable building movement, asked Bertschi School to join them as partners in creating what could be the first Living Building in the state of Washington. As part of this collaboration, all design services, from the initial concept phase through construction documents, were provided pro bono – at no cost; costs estimated to be in the $500K range. (Construction costs/estimates were not provided)

So as you can see this does not come cheap. In Seattle we have two schools constructed with a Green/Sustainable end in mind, South Shore K-8 and Chief Sealth/Denny International High/Middle School. South Shore had some problems last year with off gassing glues in the carpet and at this time Chief Sealth is meeting its first year of occupation with no problems noted.

The east side has had also a growth in green schools with Finn Hill Junior High in Kirkland. Finn Hill Junior High sits at the vanguard of a green schools building boom driven by federal stimulus spending, local school bonds and education leaders looking to slash energy costs.

As the recession-racked construction industry continues to suffer the burst of the housing bubble, green school projects offer a bright spot for builders and designers. Data research company McGraw-Hill Construction estimates that such projects totaled $16 billion last year – up from $9 billion in 2008. That’s more than a third of all school construction activity.

Finn Hill benefited from the design firms Mahlum first foray into green schools with Benjamin Franklin Elementary. And unlike many in the green building trade that hide the errors or tend to gloss them over they made it transparent and part of the learning process to prevent others (including themselves) from making the same mistakes.

Given the numbers, the collapse in the building trades I cannot imagine everyone and their brother not wanting a part of this billion dollar business. And maybe that is why I have avoided writing about Green Building in schools. Right now that is what I am seeing a lot of people taking the money from the billions in Education to make their business thrive but little about making Education do the same.

Not all students in schools in the United States can benefit from the hands on curriculum and small classes that a private school can offer - green or otherwise. So that is the real quandary how to bring that to the masses. Right now we seem to be focusing on many problems with Education and many solutions none of them, however, with ultimate student successes in mind.

Why Ikea Rules

Ikea still sits among many sustainable advocates as the leader in green. Okay if you consider mass production, poorly made items that fall apart after a shortened lifespan green then by all means go for it!

I had written and reprinted an earlier article on IKEA in the past from the Economist and a current article by the same does little to change my opinion on their items or their business practices.

Not a fan, I know, but I have to say there are so many ways to incorporate modern clean design affordably without IKEA.

The secret of IKEA's success
Lean operations, shrewd tax planning and tight control

THE paragraphs below are arranged randomly; you will have to assemble the finished article yourself.

Just kidding. But if you shop at IKEA, you are no doubt familiar with the hassle and frustration of assembling its flat-pack furniture at home. Millions of customers endure it, for two reasons: IKEA’s products are stylish and they are very, very cheap.

“We hate waste,” says Mikael Ohlsson, who took over as chief executive of IKEA Group in September 2009. He points proudly at a bright-red “Ektorp” sofa. Last year his designers found a way to pack the popular three-seater more compactly, doubling the amount of sofa they could cram into a given space. That shaved €100 ($135) from the price tag—and significantly reduced the carbon-dioxide emissions from transporting it.

Thrift is the core of IKEA’s corporate culture. Mr Ohlsson traces it back to the company’s origins in Smaland, a poor region in southern Sweden whose inhabitants, he says, are “stubborn, cost-conscious and ingenious at making a living with very little”. Ever since Ingvar Kamprad founded IKEA in 1943, the company has tried to allow “people with limited means to furnish their houses like rich people”.

IKEA presents itself as a green company with a social mission. Mr Ohlsson boasts of its charitable work and its aim to use only renewable energy. He says he wants his “co-workers” to be happy, honest and inclined to think for themselves. He is proud that 40% of the company’s 200 top managers are women.

Business is good (see chart). In the fiscal year 2010, IKEA’s sales grew by 7.7% to €23.1 billion and net profit increased by 6.1% to €2.7 billion. Conforama, Habitat and other rivals do not come close. IKEA’s strong brand and low prices helped it to weather the downturn, even though 80% of its sales are in crisis-hit Europe. In 2010 its sales rose by 8.2% in Spain and 11.3% in Italy. The firm is doing well in Bulgaria and Romania and planning to expand further in central and eastern Europe.

Thrifty Germans are IKEA’s best customers, accounting for 15% of sales. It has become part of German culture: in 2009 a Hamburg theatre staged an opera about it, “Wunder von Schweden” (“Miracle from Sweden”), a biography of the “furniture messiah” set to Swedish folk tunes.

Yet behind IKEA’s clean image is a firm that is very Swedish, secretive by instinct and, some say, rigidly hierarchical. All six members of the supervisory board are Swedish. (Mr Kamprad, at 84, is a senior adviser.) Over the years the company has been accused of using child labour in Asia and of buying feathers plucked from live geese. Journalists revealed that Mr Kamprad had backed a Swedish fascist group in his youth; he apologised in an open letter.

More recently, IKEA has had problems in Russia, where it has 12 stores. Having campaigned against corruption and even frozen its investments there for a while to protest against poor governance, last year IKEA was itself involved in a scandal. It had to sack two senior executives in Russia for allegedly turning a blind eye to bribes paid by a subcontractor to secure electricity supplies for its St Petersburg outlets.

When damaging news breaks, IKEA has an admirable habit of coming clean. But the firm’s ownership structure is opaque. Critics grumble that its set-up minimises tax and disclosure, handsomely rewards the Kamprad family and makes IKEA immune to a takeover. The parent for IKEA Group, which controls 284 stores in 26 countries, is Ingka Holding, a private Dutch-registered company. Ingka Holding, in turn, belongs entirely to Stichting Ingka Foundation, a Dutch-registered, tax-exempt, non-profit-making entity, which was given Mr Kamprad’s IKEA shares in 1982. A five-person executive committee, chaired by Mr Kamprad, runs the foundation.

The IKEA trademark and concept is owned by Inter IKEA Systems, another private Dutch company. Its parent company is Inter IKEA Holding, registered in Luxembourg. For years the owners of Inter IKEA Holding remained hidden from view and IKEA refused to identify them.

In January a Swedish documentary revealed that Interogo, a Liechtenstein foundation controlled by the Kamprad family, owns Inter IKEA Holding, which earns its money from the franchise agreements Inter IKEA Systems has with each IKEA store. These are lucrative: IKEA says that all franchisees pay 3% of sales as a royalty. The IKEA Group is the biggest franchisee; other franchisees run the remaining 35 stores, mainly in the Middle East and Asia. One store in the Netherlands is run directly by Inter IKEA Systems.

After the airing of the polemical documentary on Swedish TV, Mr Kamprad retorted that “tax efficiency” was a natural part of the company’s low-cost culture. Yet such diligent efforts to reduce the firm’s tax burden sit uncomfortably with IKEA’s socially conscious image. Mr Ohlsson is trying to defuse criticism of IKEA’s opacity by providing more information on its finances. Last year the firm published detailed figures on sales, profits, assets and liabilities for the first time ever.

Mr Ohlsson argues that IKEA is more competitive as a privately owned company. Instead of sweating to meet the quarterly targets the stockmarket demands, it can concentrate on long-term growth. Mr Ohlsson plans to double the pace of store openings in China, where IKEA already has 11 outlets. Undeterred by the firm’s headaches in Russia, he plans to open perhaps three more stores in the Moscow area in the next few years. Mr Ohlsson hopes to move into India when the retail market opens up there. He even sees room for expansion in Britain. An Englishman’s home is his castle, and castles need furniture.

Pepsi or Coke?

I don't drink any soda - well okay I love a ginger ale and bourbon but I haven't had a soft drink in decades.

However the love of plastic bottles from water to soda are massive problems in our landfills and now Pepsi is moving forward on their 100% recyclable bottle made from switch grass, pine bark, corn husks and other materials. Ultimately, Pepsi plans to also use orange peels, oat hulls, potato scraps and other leftovers from its food business.

And with this improvement of cradle-to-cradle bottling I applaud even though I don't drink the stuff it can only mean more will follow and that is a good thing.

By Jeremiah McWilliams

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, cola wars rivals for a century, are now locked in a bottle battle.

Two years after Coca-Cola Co. unveiled a bottle made partly from plant materials, PepsiCo says it is introducing a better one. The Purchase, N.Y. company says it has developed the world's first plastic bottle made entirely from plant-based, fully renewable resources, cutting the use of petroleum. Coke's PlantBottle is made of up to 30 percent plant sugars.

The Pepsi bottle is made from materials including switch grass, pine bark and corn husks. PepsiCo plans to begin making the bottles in a pilot program next year and roll it out nationally later. It did not say which brands will get the bottle first.

PepsiCo hopes to make future versions of the bottle with orange peels, potato peels, oat hulls and other agricultural byproducts from its foods business. The company says the bottle looks and feels like existing beverage containers.

Beverage companies are trying to design bottles to counter environmental concerns. The bottled water industry is using lighter plastics, dropping the average weight of the 16.9 ounce "single serve" bottle by a third over the past eight years, according to the International Bottled Water Association.

Meanwhile, Coca-Cola's PlantBottle is available in nine countries and is expected to reach more than a dozen other markets this year. More than 2.5 billion PlantBottles have reached the marketplace, a number Coca-Cola says equates to saving about 3 million gallons of gasoline.

The technology will also appear in Heinz bottles, under a partnership with the ketchup-maker, and possibly in bottles for Honest Tea, a Maryland company Coca-Cola just acquired. The PlantBottle is made partly with natural sugars found in sugarcane ethanol from Brazil. Odwalla, a Coca-Cola juice brand, plans to switch to the PlantBottle within the next few weeks.

Coca-Cola chief executive Muhtar Kent said recently the company's goal is to use PlantBottle packaging for all of its plastic bottles.

Monday, March 14, 2011

What Can You Do?

I just had a conversation with someone who said "what can I do?" with regards to feeling both frustrated and incapable of actually doing something other than donating to the conventional charities and organizations that frequently dominate the news media.

If you are looking for something connected to the reality of life and to the trades which I am a part I advocate Architecture for Humanity.

If you do not know who they are and what they do go to their website. They are to buidling what Doctors without Borders are to medicine.

What they do:

Architecture for Humanity brings people who care about sustainable development together. We provide a range of design and construction administration services to partners and clients through a global network of design, development and construction professionals with local expertise and knowledge.

I was greatly inspired by Cameron Sinclair and one doesn't need to hear him speak to realize that doing good work can be simple and it still be good.

Can Japan Happen Here

The answer is it already has in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina. We were ill prepared from Emergency Evacuation procedures to massive infrastructure failures. Add to that antiquated housing structures and the most significant affects to the damage in poor neighborhoods it was a disaster of def con five.

But here we are 6 years later and while some improvements have been made I really wonder if another disaster occurred today what would result?

Japan's Tsunami also reminded me of the Tsunami that hit in 2004 in Thailand which I think we have all forgotten and dismissed as one seemingly after another disaster from Earthquakes to floods manage to overshadow the global arena. And Japan will as well.

The quake was one aspect and frankly lives were saved because of the strict building codes that required a stringent adherence to newer earthquake codes after the Kobe quake and as a result more lives were saved then lost in this disaster.

But the most essential questions is that while the water damage was significant and indicative that once again seawall failure is noted the real issue is the Nuclear plants they were designed to protect. That failure was double edged and in turn doubly dangerous. We have yet to see how significant that nuclear fallout will be as we move ahead in the next years and as nuclear power has been on the approved list of alternative Energy plans for the United States this puts us on a new wake up call

I remember Three Mile Island, I remember Chernobyl and I know that Nuclear Energy is the most dangerous of all the sources of power that seems to be on the plan for breaking our fossil fuel addiction. Well frankly I would rather light my home with a candle than have it powered by a nuclear plant. We really have no Energy Plan and Obama has dissolved that group within his current Administration - although it has been one that was largely ineffectual and divisive so perhaps this is for the best - we have no real focus on what we are doing in this country regarding alternative means of Energy.

We have short memories and we seem to resent Government until we need it. And we don't live in a world where Government can be on demand only when we need it. As we will never be sure when that need will be at its most greatest.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

You Light Up My Life

Well in the new age of austerity we are apparently going back to the Dark Ages when it comes to moving forward with the new lighting standards that were passed in 2007 under President Bush.

And in that vein the partisan politics aside it appears that requiring a change in technology as simple as a light bulb is now part of the Tea Party Movement.

The irony is that Edison would not be pleased. Until the Government came up with the standards behind the light bulb among other manufactured goods, there were confusing options, inconsistencies and a lack of innovation driving growth.

With establishing such a precedence the Government began to put the U.S. on track towards growth and led to our becoming the manufacturing giant of the world.

Yet in Tea Party Paradise this kind of intervention is another means of controlling our individual rights and choices. Both Michelle Bachmann and Rand Paul, darlings of the Tea Party, set have been busy decrying this hideous stifling law. Glad to know that jobs are a priority and stifling individual rights do not include Women's reproductive rights - but hey whatever!

This hysteria is just another challenge to Obama and his green philosophies and a distraction from the current GOP's plan to go back to deregulating as many industries as possible regardless of the long term affects economically or environmentally.

Give Up Familiar Light Bulb? Not Without Fight, Some Say
Published: March 11, 2011

WASHINGTON — American protests against the encroachment of government have been spurred by many causes — tea, of course, and guns, frequently. The latest catalyst: light bulbs.
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Charlie Archambault for The New York Times

A 2007 bill, passed overwhelmingly by both houses of Congress and signed into law by George W. Bush, will make the familiar incandescent bulb subject to strict efficiency standards next year.

The effect will be to make current 100-watt bulbs obsolete — and that has sent conservative lawmakers, libertarians, some environmental activists and owners of Easy-Bake Ovens into a frenzy of activity to get the law repealed or, at least, to stockpile the bulbs before they disappear from store shelves.

“I do care about my carbon footprint, not to mention my light bill,” said Dana Carpender, a cookbook author in Bloomington, Ind. “But unless something dramatic happens to bring down the cost of alternatives, I will be stashing away a pile of incandescents.”

The law does not outlaw incandescent bulbs or dictate that consumers must use the spiral-shaped compact fluorescent lights that have become increasingly popular in recent years. Rather, it sets standards for the amount of light emitted per watt of power used. Current 100-watt bulbs must become 25 percent more efficient, and makers are designing new bulbs.

To Representative Joe Barton, the Texas Republican who has sponsored a bill to reverse the new guidelines, that nevertheless means Congress is dictating what types of light Americans can use in their homes.

“From the health insurance you’re allowed to have, to the car you can drive, to the light bulbs you can buy, Washington is making too many decisions that are better left to you and your family,” Mr. Barton said when he introduced his bill in January.

Opponents of the regulations say the fluorescent bulbs are too expensive, flicker annoyingly and are health hazards because they contain mercury.

While they are not unanimous on the issue, some environmental activists counter that by saying the mercury in a single fluorescent bulb is less than what some power plants throw into the atmosphere while generating the electricity it takes to light one incandescent bulb.

Makers of appliances and light bulbs, meanwhile, support the federal standards because they do not want to have to make scores of products to meet individual state regulations.

But to many Americans, the 100-watt bulb has become a cause célèbre.

Tea Party campaigners have adopted it; Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who introduced a bill to repeal the light bulb law in 2008 and again this year, talked about the issue in her response to the president’s State of the Union message in January. And this week, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said not only did he resent the light bulb standards but he also blamed the government for poorly working toilets in his house because of the regulations on how much water they should use.

The light bulb regulations already have affected the American economy. Last fall, General Electric closed its last major United States plant producing the old-style incandescent bulbs, in Winchester, Va.

Nearly all compact fluorescent bulbs are made in Asia, although some United States manufacturers are retooling former factories to make other energy-efficient bulbs.

Several companies in the United States are working on light-emitting diode, or LED, bulbs, and on energy-efficient halogen incandescent bulbs, which use a halogen element enclosed in a traditional glass bulb.

The Energy Department says the energy savings are significant. Kathleen Hogan, deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency at the department, told a Senate committee this week that by meeting the new lighting standards, consumers could save nearly $6 billion in 2015.

A household that upgrades 15 current incandescent bulbs could save about $50 a year, Ms. Hogan said, even after accounting for the higher cost of the fluorescent bulbs, which average above $1 each, versus about 35 cents for incandescent.

Halogen incandescent bulbs now cost about $1.50 each, and LED bulbs, which have only begun to be introduced, can cost $20 or more each, though they can last 10 years or more. Three-way bulbs, appliance bulbs and a few other specialty products are excluded from the new standards.

All of which serves to convince some people that the government should not dictate light bulb standards.

Amy Ridenour, president of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative group, said she already had about 100 old-style incandescent light bulbs stored in her basement in Laurel, Md., and she hoped to have several hundred by the time the new standards go into effect on Jan. 1.

Ms. Ridenour said that she opposed the government interference, but that her hoarding was primarily driven by concerns about the mercury in the compact fluorescent bulbs. Her middle child, a 10-year-old son, is autistic, Ms. Ridenour said. “He’s knocked over quite a few lamps,” she said, and broken plenty of light bulbs in the process.

The Environmental Protection Agency issues detailed instructions on how to clean up a broken fluorescent bulb because of the potential for spilling mercury. Each bulb contains about four milligrams of mercury, compared with 500 milligrams in old-style glass thermometers.

Nevertheless, the E.P.A. recommends recycling used fluorescent bulbs rather than disposing of them in household garbage.

Unknown, so far, is the economic impact of the retooling of the Easy-Bake Oven, the source of an unimaginable number of forced smiles summoned by parents after tasting a child’s cookies and cakes. The oven, a member of the National Toy Hall of Fame, uses a 100-watt bulb as its heat source, so Hasbro must give it a makeover. This fall, it will introduce the new Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven, which will use a different, so far undisclosed, heating element.