Thursday, May 31, 2012

Fly into the Coop

In line with many posts of late the survival of Small Business is going to have to become a co-operative not competitive one. Without each other and our expertise we are relying upon what Blanche DuBois used to say "the kindness of strangers." And when upon occassion that works out it also has immense risks of its own that cannot be overlooked.

As you can see from the article below many Small Business owners are like me - in need of others like me to work with and gain support from. I have on many ocassions bartered/exchanged my skill set with others when I needed specific assistance but I would love to find myself in simply more than a "networking gathering" that is more akin to a speed dating event and more a geuniune opportunity to grown and expand.

Be that a reflection of the business or industry I am involved in, the economy or even the region I live in there is clearly a need for connection vs competition.

From Remodeling Online..

In survey conducted by The UPS Store franchise network for National Small Business Week, the majority of small business owners indicated a strong desire to work with other small business owners, primarily because their peers are most able to understand their needs and concerns.

Approximately 75 percent of small business leaders said they understood the importance of receiving support from other small business owners. However, only half of respondents (53 percent) indicated that they work with other small business leaders, revealing a significant gap of support in the small business community.

The study also showed that even though 46 percent of small business owners would like to receive support from a local business owner, just one in four entrepreneurs receive any kind of support from a business partner -- local or otherwise.

The UPS Store survey results underscore the need for small businesses to be proactive about creating strategic partnerships. In many cases, strategic partners can be found in small business owners outside of the industry. The owners of companies that sell complementary products or services are particularly promising for strategic alliances.

It’s also important for small business owners to understand that strategic partnerships and alliances can be as formal or informal as they want them to be. Sometimes the nature of the relationship calls for long-term legal agreements; in other instances, the relationship can exist on an informal basis.

But regardless of whether the partnership is formal or informal, the key is that both parties benefit from the arrangement, and that both partners share the risks and rewards.

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Dewey Cheat em and How

That old joke that applies to Lawyers is rather pertinent and ironic these days given the current avalanche of Lawyers or want to be ones flooding the market and the venerable white shoe firm of Dewey & LeBoeuf filing for bankruptcy on Monday it sends a message that not all is what it appears to be when it comes to the legal profession.

Law, like Medicine, is a business. When you have, however, those not fully trained in actually running a business trying to run a business you have the insane running the insane asylum. It doesn't mean that Doctors and Lawyers can't be Indian Chiefs but it is sort of odd that you spend most of your educational and professional life studying one field and expected to master it while also being a jack of all trades. And you know what they say about that.

I see a great deal of similarity of Dewey's failings to the fictional show of Mad Men. There the stars of the company are the Ad Men, the creators behind the campaigns, the rainmakers, the one's who finalize the deal. While the office and business managers have less glamorous and thereby less interesting jobs. And what began as Sterling Cooper is now a third company with more names on the door but its still the same only more challenging as they aren't what they used to be. Running a business is a lot different than doing a business. And just because you can doesn't mean you should.

Its why good Lawyers/Partners have those whose jobs is to manage and the same with medicine. But in reality most are single shingle individuals with a small staff or none even to navigate the myriad of extrinsic businesses who do have just that a myriad of layers in which to compete, negotiate and manipulate. It becomes exhausting regardless of the business and its why many new businesses fail in the first year.

I try to work with single shingle professionals over larger companies simply because often rates and fees are tied to overhead. Its also how I market my business. But in today's market that is becoming de rigueur and often hard to determine who is someone with just a low overhead and competent or simply on survival mode and in over their head.

I have frequently said that regardless of size a business is a reflection of its Management, their philosophy and ambition. Regardless if a business is publically vs privately held there is a constant drumbeat from those who want more, less or just to keep it the same.

We are judged by the company we keep. Perhaps we need to think about what that means in the bigger picture.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Check please!

At the end of a meal you get the check or bill for the food and beverages you consumed. You are often added a 20% gratuity for services rendered or are expected to as an acknowledgement of service. What if we did that in Education. You pay as you complete a portion of the Education and at the end simply add on percentage, a tith or gratuity to the University upon completion of your degree and have that tied to your earnings or income upon that completion? It makes more sense than what is happening right now - the check is served at the beginning and you pay even if you didn't finish the meal or even like what was on the menu.

Today's youth and increasingly the older returning to school are finding a debt unbecoming. They simply cannot pay back their loans and increasingly are dropping out before even completing the programs due to the unreal debt being saddled upon them. At the present time Colleges and Universities, both public and private, are under no obligation to disclose the graduation rates, jobs gained for degrees nor in actuality handle any of the lending matters directly to the students. As a result the system is damaged it is not sustainable.

This is from the New York Times today....

Heavy Debt, but No Degree
Published: May 29, 2012

In the weak economy, people who graduate from name-brand colleges are struggling to repay the heavy debt they often rack up getting through school. But college debt is an even bigger problem for the growing numbers of borrowers who drop out without degrees.

A study published earlier this year by Education Sector, a research group based in Washington, shows that the borrowers who drop out are more than four times more likely than those who graduate to default on their college loans because they are more likely to be unemployed and earn less when they get a job. The study, based on Department of Education data, compares student borrowers who entered college in 1995 with those who entered in 2003 to see how each group fared six years later. Students who were not enrolled and did not earn degrees after six years were classified as dropouts.

The study found that the percentage of students who borrowed for college increased from 47 percent in the first group to 53 percent in second. At the same time, the proportion of borrowers who dropped out rose to nearly 30 percent for the 2003 enrollees, compared with 23 percent for the 1995 enrollees.

The dropout rates rose across all kinds of colleges. But the most striking increases were found in for-profit four-year institutions, where a staggering 54 percent of those who had borrowed to pursue a bachelor’s degree had dropped out.

The study showed that 16.8 percent of dropouts defaulted on their loans compared with 3.7 percent of those who graduated. Dropouts from for-profit colleges also had higher unemployment rates, which may be a result of for-profits recruiting low-income students who are often poorly qualified for college but eligible for federal financial aid.

The federal government, which will soon begin evaluating for-profit schools based on the debt and loan-repayment rates of their graduates, clearly needs to do more. Beyond that, colleges and universities must put in place retention programs that keep more students on track to graduate. Part of the problem, as the study notes, is that students may be dropping out because they have to work too much to meet rising college costs. If those costs continue to spiral upward, there will be more people who lack the degrees needed in the new economy but who are, nonetheless, saddled with crippling debt.

Colleges have long been absolved of the idea that providing said information is not part of the educational experience and of course leave that to 18 year olds and families who apparently are to buy a degree as one buys a car. How that works exactly is not specific but as in health care apparently Hospitals under HCR will be required to list charges for services other than specialist services (outside specialists who ironically make up most of the "staff") upon Admission. That seems workable unless you are being wheeled in on a gurney and I am not sure how that will work out but hey let's work out details later.

Tuition increases is how Colleges manage their budgets but with the balance of student debt topping $1 trillion and an increasing number of borrowers struggling to pay — some administrators acknowledge that they cannot keep putting the financial onus on students and their families. “We know the model is not sustainable,” said Lawrence T. Lesick, vice president for enrollment management at Ohio Northern University. “Schools are going to have to show the value proposition. Those that don’t aren’t going to be around.”

At one point there was an actual investigation and issue surrounding the consistent rise in the cost of Education which like Medicine is rising faster than inflation. A recent article in Harper's by Thomas Frank, Price of Admission, discusses how at one point the Ivy League was investigated by the Bush I Administration for price fixing. The Ivy League schools and MIT met several times year where they discussed everything from tuition, salaries, benefits or what was termed by the then Attorney General as "collegiate cartel" or simply put "price fixing." At the time the Ivy League was about $16K in tuition, today that price is $41 and add room/board it is $54K. That is not affordable to anyone but the most wealthy or well connected. Maybe it was a good idea that Mark Zuckerberg dropped out.

At the time the Ivy League settled the suit and MIT later made some changes but that agreement expired in 2001. Since that time the reality is that where the Ivy League goes so goes the the rest of Education as it too is a competitive business. When you make Education like Health a business that is profit generator you are turning people into profits. Before the economic crisis, some critics argue, both public and private colleges participated in a costly “arms race” to provide better amenities to lure the best students and faculty: new dormitories with one student to a room, frequent sabbaticals for professors, upscale cafeteria food, expanded counseling services and gymnasiums that rival the fanciest health clubs in Manhattan. So in other words you are getting the bill before service is rendered.

Pay More Get More

I found this entry in the Green Blogs of the NY Times. But I did laugh the research team was from Harvard and Yale. I wondered who they surveyed? As that is the MILLION dollar question. Research and surveys are as good as those who conduct them and those they conduct them to. I can always tell by the way questions are worded and phrased who the intended audience is and the prospective result they are seeking. Yet we need research and we need unbiased and non sponsored ones done to better gauge the "climate"

Willing to Pay (a Little) More for Clean Energy
Green: Living

The perception that the American public is adamantly opposed to higher energy costs is at the root of most political opposition to policies favoring the adoption of renewable energy. But a new study of public opinion finds that people are in fact willing to pay to move to cleaner energy.

That willingness is fairly modest, to be sure. Analyzing a survey they conducted in 2011, researchers at Harvard and Yale found that the average United States citizen was willing to pay $162 a year more to support a national policy requiring 80 percent “clean” energy by 2035. Nationwide, that would represent a 13 percent increase in electric bills.

The willingness to pay was higher among Democrats than Republicans. More interesting, however, was that support dropped off when the definition of clean energy was expanded to include natural gas or nuclear power. Japan’s nuclear disaster at the Fukushima plant and the controversy over the natural gas drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing seem to have had an effect on public attitudes. If we are going to bother with it at all, the public seems to feel, we might as well go deep green.

The researchers — Joseph E. Aldy, Matthew J. Kotchen and Anthony A. Leiserowitz — ran a what-if exercise and found the current level of public support insufficient to overcome entrenched opposition in Congress.

Majority rule does not really apply there, of course: getting anything controversial through the Senate, for example, requires 60 votes to break filibusters. With some number-crunching and assumptions about how preferences back home would influence the votes of lawmakers, the researchers found that the annual added cost per household of a clean energy policy would have to drop below $59 a year to pass the current Senate and below $48 a year to pass the current House.

Still, more than half of the states have adopted renewable energy policies of their own, some of them rather ambitious. Political support for continuing them will be tested in coming years as the green energy requirements imposed on utilities increase.

The survey suggests lawmakers in many states may find the public willing to bear the burden of higher electric bills if the goals seem achievable.

The new study, published online on Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change, is available only to subscribers, but a summary is below:

Willingness to pay and political support for a US national clean energy standard

Journal name:
Nature Climate Change
Year published:

In 2010 and 2011, Republicans and Democrats proposed mandating clean power generation in the electricity sector1, 2, 3. To evaluate public support for a national clean energy standard (NCES), we conducted a nationally representative survey that included randomized treatments on the sources of eligible power generation and programme costs. We find that the average US citizen is willing to pay US$162 per year in higher electricity bills (95% confidence interval: US$128–260), representing a 13% increase4, in support of a NCES that requires 80% clean energy by 2035. Support for a NCES is lower among non-whites, older individuals and Republicans. We also employ our statistical model, along with census data for each state and Congressional district5, to simulate voting behaviour on a NCES by Members of Congress assuming they vote consistently with the preferences of their median voter. We estimate that Senate passage of a NCES would require an average household cost below US$59 per year, and House passage would require costs below US$48 per year. The results imply that an ‘80% by 2035’ NCES could pass both chambers of Congress if it increases electricity rates less than 5% on average.

Viva Las Vegas

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If you gamble, if you don't. If you love food, if you don't. If you love world class shopping or if you don't. If you love top notch entertainment and well who doesn't? Then Las Vegas is the place for you. There is always some thing there is SOME THINGS for everyone there.

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Walk This Way

As an individual without a car, I rely on foot and public transport solely as my means of getting around the city. I am fortunate to live in a fairly walkable community and one near a major transit hub offering numerous options to get around town. The time to commute has drastically affected my options work wise but so has the resulting traumatic brain injury sustained from my car accident. So regardless, I am fine without a car and will unlikely ever resume driving again for numerous reasons. So putting preaching green into practice was not as much as effort for me having grown up with a parent who did not drive and a family who did not act a chauffeur for me as a kid.

But it does change how you view doing things and what to do, when to do it, etc. Walkable communities are essential for numerous reasons. And with the escalating costs associated with owning a vehicle in addition to the environmental ones it becomes a part of a making a community and city to meet that demand. Ironic that public transportation is also suffering from the economy, while ridership is up, budgets are down and public transportation is a part the cuts we are seeing. Ironic it must mean like all other services that are public, transport is making for a spoiled, entitled populace. Isn't that the Randian way? If you cannot self rely then don't rely at all on anyone. Well I just read about the Director John Waters hitchhiking adventure, I guess its an option.

So creating Walkable Communities sounds reasonable, necessary and more importantly - AFFORDABLE or not. As you can see from the attached article those communities with high densbility and walkability are also rising in property values. And we all know what that means - those who need accesbility will be pushed further away as income and costs are disproportionate in this economy.

To make "walkable communities" there needs to be a commitment to making them affordable and accessible to a wide variety of residents who do rely on foot or public transportation - the young, the elderly and persons of color. Diversity is the key to sustainability otherwise all we have are the suburbs in the city. I am not sure that is something we aspire to or need. But curious to see if your community is a walkable one? Check out your "walk score." Below is an article about walkable communities - can you literally and figuratively afford to live in one?

Now Coveted: A Walkable, Convenient Place

Published: May 25, 2012

Until the 1990s, exclusive suburban homes that were accessible only by car cost more, per square foot, than other kinds of American housing. Now, however, these suburbs have become overbuilt, and housing values have fallen. Today, the most valuable real estate lies in walkable urban locations. Many of these now pricey places were slums just 30 years ago.

Mariela Alfonzo and I just released a Brookings Institution study that measures values of commercial and residential real estate in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, which includes the surrounding suburbs in Virginia and Maryland. Our research shows that real estate values increase as neighborhoods became more walkable, where everyday needs, including working, can be met by walking, transit or biking. There is a five-step “ladder” of walkability, from least to most walkable. On average, each step up the walkability ladder adds $9 per square foot to annual office rents, $7 per square foot to retail rents, more than $300 per month to apartment rents and nearly $82 per square foot to home values.

As a neighborhood moves up each step of the five-step walkability ladder, the average household income of those who live there increases some $10,000. People who live in more walkable places tend to earn more, but they also tend to pay a higher percentage of their income for housing.

Although we have not studied all urban areas to the same degree, these findings appear to apply to much of the rest of the country. In metropolitan Seattle in 1996, the suburban Redmond area, home to Microsoft, had the same price per square foot as Capitol Hill, a walkable area adjacent to downtown, based on data from Zillow. Today, Capitol Hill is valued nearly 50 percent above Redmond.

In Columbus, Ohio, the highest housing values recorded by Zillow in 1996 were in the suburb of Worthington, where prices were 135 percent higher than in the struggling neighborhood of Short North, adjacent to the city’s center. Today, Short North housing values are 30 percent higher than those of Worthington, and downtown Columbus has the highest housing values in that metropolitan area.

In the Denver area, Highlands Ranch, an upscale, master-planned community 20 miles south of downtown, had housing in 1996 that cost on average 21 percent more than housing in Highlands, a troubled neighborhood adjacent to downtown Denver. Today, Highlands has a 67 percent price premium over Highlands Ranch.

People are clearly willing to pay more for homes that allow them to walk rather than drive. Biking is part of the picture, too. Biking and walking are part of a “complete streets” strategy that public rights of way should be for all of society — not just cars.

The rise in bike-sharing systems in Minneapolis, metropolitan Washington, and soon New York City makes it possible to imagine a future in which a third of a city’s population gets around primarily by bicycle. The popular Web site Walk Score has just added Bike Score to let people know which neighborhoods are most bikable.

Demand for walkable urban space extends beyond city centers to suburbs; in metropolitan Washington, more than half of the walkable places are in the suburbs, like Reston Town Center, 22 miles from downtown Washington; Ballston, in Arlington County; and Silver Spring, in suburban Maryland. Residents can easily get to grocery stores, cafes, libraries and work by rail transit, biking and walking.

Why is there an urbanization of the suburbs? Some baby boomers want to sell their large suburban houses and move to a walkable urban place but stay close to friends and family. Young families want the advantages of walkable urban life but also high-quality suburban schools. This trend is about both the revitalization of center cities and the urbanization of the suburbs.

To address the affordability challenge, a sensible strategy would include changes like zoning that allows homes with units in the back or over the garage. But the long-term solution is encouraging the building of more walkable places, which will reduce the price premiums by creating more supply.

(Disclosure: I am the president of Locus, a coalition of real estate developers and investors, and a project of Smart Growth America, which supports walkable neighborhoods and transit-oriented development.)

Different infrastructure needs to be built, including rail transit and paths for walking and biking. Some research has shown that walkable urban infrastructure is substantially cheaper on a usable square foot basis than spread-out drivable suburban infrastructure; the infrastructure is used much more extensively in a small area, resulting in much lower costs per usable square foot.

It’s important that developers and their investors learn how to build places that integrate many different uses within walking distance. Building walkable urban places is more complex and riskier than following decades-long patterns of suburban construction. But the market gets what it wants, and the market signals are flashing pretty brightly: build more walkable, and bikable, places.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Board Wash

In line with my last entry American Pie I wanted to bring up the idea of what defines a "public company." A public company is one governed by a Board of Directors, Shareholders and of course the Regulatory bodies aka the Government that requires a certain set of rules and some transparency in defining that business.

The idea is that Board of Directors and Shareholders are the ultimate in making sure the Company retains its focus, its purpose and its legality and longevity in doing business. Its secondary affect is the overall governance of the Company by assuring that Executives are selected and compensated accordingly and appropriately. Well let's look at some recent and most interesting developments regarding Boards and their failure or lack of involvement in said business. In a 2010 article in the Daily Beast discusses the issue with the authors of Money for Nothing: How the Failure of Corporate Boards Is Ruining American Business and Costing Us Trillions, by John Gillespie and David Zweig. .

One could point to such clear failures such as Enron or WorldCon or Global Crossing. But certainly Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers which are more recent come to mind. I recall reading a book several years ago called Disney Wars about the board's ultimate showdown of how the Disney Corp was being run or in that case badly run. They succeeded but in many cases Boards are simply the members of the inner circle. Which is what the authors discuss and which I have had many a debate over. We could even debate the idea of a public company when in fact few shares are actually owned or distributed to the public at large.

As in the case of the recent Facebook debacle, one individual stands out, James W. Breyer, a partner at Accel Partners, the venture capital firm. He serves on the boards of five public companies, and four of them are experiencing high-profile problems. I reprint the article below from today's New York Times discussing the clear conflicts and lack of engagement of what it means to be a Board member of a public company. And there are many many more examples of Boards egregious decisions regarding the hiring, firing and corporate decision making in the last decade. How about the CEO of Yahoo, Scott Thompson, whose questionable resume actually came about via an activist shareholder, Daniel Loeb who was also trying to become a board member. Regardless of the reasoning behind the mission the message was clear. Board of Directors are there to look after the long range business of well business. But for many being a member of a Board is simply a duty that is largely it appears ceremonial but profitable regardless.

I am writing about these economic issues as I have said to illustrate the idea of what was once an America built on ideas, on people and the belief that together we can Build America is seemingly gone. Replaced with the narcissism and power of the individual and that somewhere along the way we have now an eye for eye and everyone for himself. Its not a way to sustain a Country or its people. There is nothing wrong with how we Built America its that we lost it and we need to rebuild it.

A Director With Irons in So Many Fires

Published: May 26, 2012

Then Facebook went public and its stock fell flat. Now, with Facebook’s share price down 16 percent since the initial offering on May 17, and the lawsuits starting to fly, a seat on the board might feel like an affliction. Among the early accusations — which the company has denied — is that Facebook misled investors about its prospects.

Facebook’s board may well survive the legal onslaught. But for one of its directors, boardroom woes are multiplying fast. That director is James W. Breyer, a partner at Accel Partners, the venture capital firm. He serves on the boards of five public companies, and four of them are experiencing high-profile problems.

Among those companies are Dell, the embattled computer maker; the News Corporation, which is battling its phone-hacking scandal; and Wal-Mart Stores, which is under scrutiny after accusations of bribery in Mexico. He also is on the board of BrightCove, a company that provides video-hosting services, and that went public last February.

So this Mr. Breyer is a busy man. And we’re not even counting his day job at Accel.

As an investor and venture capitalist, Mr. Breyer is a star. Last fall, Forbes pegged him as a billionaire, and his early investment in Facebook generated $128 million when he sold 3.4 million shares.

But as a director, his star quickly fades. Granted, he joined the board of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation last fall, well after the hacking scandal had emerged. But Mr. Breyer has served on the Wal-Mart board since 2001, a period encompassing the bribery allegations in Mexico and a lackluster performance by the company’s stock. During those years, Wal-Mart’s shares slightly lagged the Standard & Poor’s 500 index and significantly underperformed the S.& P. consumer staples index.

Dell has been a laggard, too, since Mr. Breyer joined its board. Dell’s share price plummeted 15.5 percent last week, after the company missed its profit target and reduced the outlook for coming quarters.

Mr. Breyer did not return phone calls last week seeking comment. .

Multiple board service raises questions both of competence and commitment, governance specialists say.

Even more interesting is the fact that Mr. Breyer seems to prefer serving on boards of companies that are either controlled by founders with large stockholdings or have dual classes of stock, giving one class of shares more voting power than the other. Directors on boards of so-called controlled companies face a tougher time holding management accountable, according to Charles M. Elson, a professor at the University of Delaware and director of its John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance. Facebook, News Corporation and Wal-Mart are all controlled boards, he noted. Dell, meanwhile, is dominated by its founder, Michael S. Dell, who owns 13 percent of the company’s shares, according to its most recent proxy.

“Directors are there to ensure that management acts appropriately,” Mr. Elson said. “But a controlled board makes it harder to carry out your responsibilities as a director because you can be removed by management pretty quickly.”

Some investors at Wal-Mart, where Mr. Breyer is the lead independent director, want him to go. Last week, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System said it would vote its 7.8 million Wal-Mart shares against Mr. Breyer and eight other directors at the company’s annual meeting on June 1. Calpers is calling for a thorough investigation into the bribery allegations in Mexico but said it did not think such an inquiry should be overseen by directors who were on hand during the period the bribery is said to have occurred.

Pensions & Investment Research Consultants, a large European proxy advisory firm, recommended last week that investors oppose Mr. Breyer’s re-election as well. “There are concerns over his aggregate time commitments,” the firm said. Indeed, as a director during the most recent fiscal-year period at Dell, the News Corporation and Wal-Mart, Mr. Breyer would have been asked to participate in more than 30 meetings.

AT Wal-Mart, for example, Mr. Breyer serves on two committees of the board — the technology and commerce committee and strategic planning and finance committee. The technology panel met once last year, while the strategic planning committee met four times.

The entire Wal-Mart board met four times in 2011, according to the company’s proxy filing, and plans to meet five times this year. Mr. Breyer received $261,523 in Wal-Mart stock as compensation for his service last year.

At the News Corporation, Mr. Breyer serves on the corporate governance committee and the compensation committee. That company’s entire board met six times during the fiscal year that ended last June, according its proxy. It’s not clear what Mr. Breyer will be paid for his service, but the director he replaced on the company’s board received $268,000 in cash and stock in 2011.

At Dell, Mr. Breyer is a member of the finance committee and chairman of the leadership development and compensation committee. He received $290,552 in stock and cash last year.

Dell’s full board met a dozen times in fiscal 2011; the finance committee met four times, while the compensation committee met seven times. But Dell’s proxy noted that Mr. Breyer attended only 64 percent of the meetings. Attending fewer than three-quarters of a board’s meetings each year is frowned on by governance experts.

Nevertheless, shareholder efforts to push out Mr. Breyer at Wal-Mart will likely fail, Mr. Elson said. Members of the Walton family would have to vote their shares against him, and that is unlikely.

“There is nothing investors can do” about directors in companies with these structures, Mr. Elson added. “You can be loud about it, but within a controlled situation, you’re stuck with them.”

Facebook is yet another controlled company. Consider its $1 billion purchase of Instagram, a photo-sharing service, a month before its public offering. Board involvement in that acquisition was apparently minimal — a few days before the deal, directors received a brief e-mail about it and did not disapprove.

“Controlled situations often lead to greater accountability-type issues, which is what you’re seeing in these companies,” Mr. Elson said. “Those who don’t feel accountable don’t act accountably. That’s the danger.”

Saturday, May 26, 2012

American Pie

The Facebook IPO dominated the news this week as did the JP Morgan 2-3 billion dollar trading losses. What does that mean for the average American? Well on two counts it shows failed regulatory policies and that being a publicly traded company anymore is not as public as once believed. The once stalwart belief that buy American also meant businesses has been increasingly under debate as we enter an election season drawing attention to Hedge Funds and what they exactly do or more importantly don't do when it comes to buying American businesses.

Bringing a company to market meant that it was growing, entering the big boys playing field and a commitment to run the Company and business that met a certain set of rules. By the 80s those "rules" became nefarious means that were choking business and the growth of the Gordon Gekko types evolved. Michael Milkin comes to mind as the most infamous of that era. But the few that are collateral damage in a business or industy are just that and over time the industry just changes its rules and the way it plays the game. Hedge funds and their managers and investors have been strong in the forefront of American Business now for decades. Their purpose or reason is debatable but they are what they are "investors" in a business. Whether that business remains in existence, whole or parts, is all part of that strategy. Many long standing companies that have been purchased by said firms are either shadows of their former selves or simply packaged away. Or sometimes they are saved, the most recent American brand that comes to mind is Oneida. The once stalwart of American tables is now owned by a Hedge fund that feels it offers promise. You can read about it here: Oneida and another that was not so fortunate, Steuben, a once legendary crystal company that adorned world leaders tables, could not make the cut for Corning, was sold and in turned shuttered. As I wrote about the Paul Revere cookware, there the owner bought back the company and has set into motion a company with roots firmly planted in America.

I stress about Building America as more than actual construction as we have a legacy, a history that set us uniquely apart both historically and economically. Our public marketplace, our stock market was the envy of the world and the goal of many companies. Today its a game for the rich to make a profit and the little guy, the Jill/Joe on the street if he/she is lucky may get a piece but don't expect much, the IPO of Facebook confirmed that reality. As I read in the Economist, the criticisms of private equity/hedge funds are Catch 22 ones. For every failure there are successes - Oneida vs Steuben. Its clear that we have trouble both on Main Street and Wall Street.

Sebastian Mallaby has an incisive piece in the Financial Times today arguing that attacking private equity is silly because, what with the publicly traded stock model looking increasingly like a failure due to corporate governance problems and shareholder information barriers, private equity is quite likely the wave of the future if we're looking for a force that can drive performance gains by exerting discipline on management. It's an interesting point, and it has almost nothing to do with Barack Obama's ads criticising Bain Capital. The ads are not making an argument about the relative strengths of the publicly traded shareholder-owned or private-equity models of corporate governance. The ads are a reply to Mr Romney's claims that as a former businessman and investor, he knows how to "create jobs". In his career at Bain, Mr Romney created a lot of jobs, and he destroyed a lot of jobs. Had Mr Romney not existed, the companies in question would have turned to another player in the capital markets for funding, or different investment and strategic decisions would have been made, and roughly the same number of jobs would most likely have been created or destroyed. In all likelihood, Bain Capital, and for that matter the private-equity industry as a whole, did not make any appreciable difference to America's unemployment rate in the 1990s. As Mr Mallaby himself says, private equity's "net impact on employment is a wash." (Some studies suggest this is not true, and that private-equity ownership leads firms to fire more quickly and hire more slowly. Also, some studies suggest that because private-equity takeovers usually involve hiking firms' debt to pay large dividends to the new owners, the firms are left more vulnerable to eventual bankruptcy. But that's another argument.)

It is called private equity and investment for a reason. It benefits those fortunate to be invited to the party. When Americans can no longer share in what makes America great - our businesses - then we are clearly not understanding what it means to Build America. Without the participation and involvement of its citizenry I am not sure what kind of America we are building.

Rival versions of capitalism
The endangered public company
The rise and fall of a great invention, and why it matters

May 19th 2012 | from the print edition

AS THIS newspaper went to press, Facebook was about to become a public company. It will be one of the biggest stock market flotations ever: the social-networking giant expects investors to value it at $100 billion or so. The news raises several questions, from “Is it worth that much?” to “What will it do next?” But the most intriguing question is what Facebook’s flotation tells us about the state of the public company itself.

At first glance, all is well. The public company was invented in the mid-19th century to provide the giants of the industrial age with capital. That Facebook is joining Microsoft and Google on the stock market suggests that public listings are performing the same miracle for the internet age. Not every 19th-century invention has weathered so well.

But look closer and the picture changes (see article). Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s young founder, resisted going public for as long as he could, not least because so many heads of listed companies advised him to. He is taking the plunge only because American law requires any firm with more than a certain number of shareholders to publish quarterly accounts just as if it were listed. Like Google before it, Facebook has structured itself more like a private firm than a public one: Mr Zuckerberg will keep most of the voting rights, for example.

The number of public companies has fallen dramatically over the past decade—by 38% in America since 1997 and 48% in Britain. The number of initial public offerings (IPOs) in America has declined from an average of 311 a year in 1980-2000 to 99 a year in 2001-11. Small companies, those with annual sales of less than $50m before their IPOs—have been hardest hit. In 1980-2000 an average of 165 small companies undertook IPOs in America each year. In 2001-09 that number fell to 30. Facebook will probably give the IPO market a temporary boost—several other companies are queuing up to follow its lead—but they will do little to offset the long-term decline.

Companies are like jets; the elite go private

Mr Zuckerberg will be joining a troubled club. The burden of regulation has grown heavier for public companies since the collapse of Enron in 2001. Corporate chiefs complain that the combination of fussy regulators and demanding money managers makes it impossible to focus on long-term growth. Shareholders are also angry. Their interests seldom seem to be properly aligned at public companies with those of the managers, who often waste squillions on empire-building and sumptuous perks. Shareholders are typically too dispersed to monitor the men on the spot. Attempts to solve the problem by giving managers shares have largely failed.

At the same time, alternative corporate forms are flourishing. Once “going public” was every CEO’s dream; now it is perfectly respectable to “go private”, like Burger King, Boots and countless other famous names. State-run enterprises have recovered from the wreck of communism and now include the world’s biggest mobile-phone company (China Mobile), its most successful port operator (Dubai World), its fastest-growing big airline (Emirates) and its 13 biggest oil companies.

No doubt the sluggish public equity markets have played a role in this. But these alternative corporate forms have addressed some of the structural weaknesses that once held them back. Access to capital? Private-equity firms, helped by tax breaks, and venture capitalists both have cash to spare, and there are private markets such as Second Market (where $1 billion-worth of shares has changed hands since 2008). Limited liability? Partners need no longer be fully liable, and firms can have as many partners as they want. Professional managers? Family firms employ them by the HBS-load and state-owned ones are no longer just sinecures for the well-connected.

Make capitalism popular again

Does all this matter? The increase in the number of corporate forms is a good thing: a varied ecosystem is more robust. But there are reasons to worry about the decline of an organization that has spread prosperity for 150 years.

First, public companies have been central to innovation and job creation. One reason why entrepreneurs work so hard, and why venture capitalists place so many risky bets, is because they hope to make a fortune by going public. IPOs provide young firms with cash to hire new hands and disrupt established markets. The alternative is to sell themselves to established firms—hardly a recipe for creative destruction. Imagine if the fledgling Apple and Google had been bought by IBM.

Second, public companies let in daylight. They have to publish quarterly reports, hold shareholder meetings (which have grown acrimonious of late), deal with analysts and generally conduct themselves in an open manner. By contrast, private companies and family firms operate in a fog of secrecy.

Third, public companies give ordinary people a chance to invest directly in capitalism’s most important wealth-creating machines. The 20th century saw shareholding broadened, as state firms were privatised and mutual funds proliferated. But today popular capitalism is in retreat. Fewer IPOs mean fewer chances for ordinary people to put their money into a future Google. The rise of private equity and the spread of private markets are returning power to a club of privileged investors.

All this argues for a change in thinking—especially among the politicians who have heaped regulations onto Western public companies, blithely assuming that business folk have no choice but to go public in the long run. Many firms now go (or stay) private to avoid red tape. The result is that ever more business is conducted in the dark, with rich insiders playing a more powerful role.

Public companies built the railroads of the 19th century. They filled the world with cars and televisions and computers. They brought transparency to business life and opportunities to small investors. Because public companies sell shares to the unsophisticated, policymakers are right to regulate them more tightly than other forms of corporate organization. But not so tightly that entrepreneurs start to dread the prospect of a public listing. The public company has long been the locomotive of capitalism. Governments should not derail it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Got Green?

After a long winter often comes time to rethink how your roof performed and its approaching roofing season. Much like Wedding season even down to costs and color white nowadays. But I urge residential consumers to hold off on their green roof unless they are willing to make significant expenses and in turn commitment to the bigger picture. However, for urban commercial buildings looking to a green roof can offer many benefits that fit both a bigger and smaller picture - from reduced energy costs to greenhouse gases - the green roof has a viable place in the urban landscape.

Awhile back I had the pleasure of touring Seattle's green roofs and I have put some of the pics up for your perusal. Some were quite ordinary grass structures and others were oasis of gardens. My favorite was an apartment building that used it to offer green space for residents to grow flowers/foods and a place to do more than just simply relax and unwind. My other was the Olive 8 hotel that used theirs to provide food/herbs for their sustainable restaurant downstairs, Urbane. Its a win win on many levels.

Green roofs are not just gardens, there are white roofs that are also offered as alternatives but this requires a little science before undertaking that option. Here in the Northwest the rain and coolness factor puts a series of other roadblocks in the way to make this a viable plan and as the article states they are not as cost saving as believed. So before getting out the white paint do your homework. And that adage applies in any situation. Long term maintenance costs and upkeep have to be considered before any major renovation should occur. Things on paper sometimes work and sometimes they should also stay on paper. As I have long stated the concept of "simple payback period" is essential when you are looking at the big picture and costs are evaluated but again if that is not an issue than go down the "just do it" road with that as your guide. However you do it you must be willing to commit to it and not be afraid to use all opportunities as learning ones.

Green Roofs in Big Cities Bring Relief From Above


It’s spring — time to plant your roof. Roofs, like coffee, used to be black tar. Now both have gone gourmet: for roofs, the choices are white, green, blue and solar-panel black.
A co-op in Manhattan with a roof garden.Chester Higgins Jr./The New York TimesA co-op in Manhattan with a roof garden.

All are green in one sense. In different ways, each helps to solve serious environmental problems. One issue is air pollution, which needs no introduction.The second is the urban heat island. Because cities have lots of dark surfaces that absorb heat and relatively little green cover, they tend to be hotter than surrounding areas — the average summer temperature in New York City is more than 7 degrees hotter than in the Westchester suburbs. This leads to heavy air-conditioning use — not good — and makes city dwellers miserable. For a few people every year, the heat is more than a discomfort — it’s fatal.

The other problem is storm water runoff. In New York, as in about a fifth of American cities, there is only one sewer system to conduct both rainwater and wastewater. About every other rainfall in New York, sewers flood and back up, discharging their mix of rainwater and wastewater into the city’s waterways. It doesn’t take much to overload New York’s sewers — it can take only 20 minutes of rainfall to start water from toilets flowing into Brooklyn’s waterways. The water does more than flood streets. It makes us sick — cases of diarrhea spike when sewers overflow. When sewers back up, polluted water runs into our lakes and oceans, closing beaches.

How can a new roof help?

At 1:45 in the afternoon on August 9, 2001, the temperature in Chicago was in the 90s. Eleven stories up, on the roof of City Hall, the surface temperature of the black tar measured 169 degrees. But Mayor Daley, environmental innovator — yes, that Mayor Daley — had done something interesting. The year before, a section of the City Hall roof had been painted white. The surface temperature there was between 126 and 130 degrees. And much of the roof of the building, and the adjacent Cook County building, had become a garden — 20,000 plants in 150 varieties, chosen for their abilities to thrive without irrigation and stand up to Chicago’s notorious wind. The surface temperature of the green roof varied between 91 and 119 degrees.

So the difference between a black tar roof and a green roof was at minimum 50 degrees. And the green roof was able to retain 75 percent of a one-inch rainfall. The two tasks go hand in hand — green roofs cool by capturing moisture and evaporating it.

Putting living vegetation on the roof is not a new idea. For thousands of years people have made sod roofs to protect and insulate their houses, keeping them cooler in summer and warmer in winter. The modern movement for green roofs began in the last 50 years in Europe. Germany, where about 10 percent of roofs are green, is the leader; some parts of Germany require green roofs on all new buildings.

Greening a roof is not simple or cheap. Over a black roof — flat is easiest but sloped can work — goes insulation, then a waterproof membrane, then a barrier to keep roots from poking holes in the membrane. On top of that there is a drainage layer, such as gravel or clay, then a mat to prevent erosion. Next is a lightweight soil (Chicago City Hall uses a blend of mulch, compost and spongy stuff) and finally, plants.

An extensive roof — less than 6 inches of soil planted with hardy cover such as sedum — can cost $15 per square foot. An intensive roof — essentially a garden, with deeper soil and plants that require watering and weeding — can double that. But because the vegetation is thicker, it will do a better job of cooling a building and collecting rainwater. Plants reduce sewer discharge in two ways. They retain rainfall, and what does run off is delayed until after the waters have peaked.

A Columbia University study of three test roofs built by Con Edison in Queens found that the green roof — an extensive roof, planted with sedum — cut the rate of heat gained through the roof in summer by 84 percent, and the rate of heat lost through the roof in winter by 34 percent.

Another Columbia study (same researchers, same Con Ed test sites) found that green roofs are a very cost-effective way to reduce storm water runoff. If New York has one billion square feet of possibly greenable roof, planting it all could retain 10 to 15 billion gallons of annual rainfall — which would cut a substantial amount of sewage overflow. “If you add in all the other green infrastructure, such as street trees, permeable pavement and ground collection pits, it might be possible to eliminate the combined sewage overflow without building specialized water detention tanks, which are hugely expensive,” said Stuart Gaffin, a research scientist at Columbia’s Center for Climate Systems Research, who co-authored both studies with colleagues from City College of New York.

Green roofs have other advantages.They scrub the air: one square meter can absorb all the emissions from a car being driven 12,000 miles a year, said Amy Norquist, chief executive of Greensulate, which installs green roofs.And green roofs can provide the plants that animals, birds and bees need where parks are far apart.

White roofs are cheap and don’t require any engineering — just a layer of special paint. New York City is trying to coat a million square feet of roof a year. Building owners can do the work themselves, or they can engage CoolRoofs, a city initiative that promotes white roofs and organizes hundreds of volunteer painters. Since 2010, about 3,000 volunteers have coated 288 buildings.

But less investment buys less return. White roofs don’t catch rainwater, help biodiversity or clean the air. Gaffin’s group found that the white portion of the Con Ed roof averaged 43 degrees cooler than black at noon on summer days. That’s something, but it’s a smaller cooling effect than green roofs offer. Green roofs improve each year as vegetation becomes denser and taller.But after a few months, a white roof tends to look like city snow — covered with soot. As a white roof dirties, it loses a lot of its cooling ability.

The newest roof variation is a blue roof.It’s a roof covered by a waterproof membrane and gravel, with controlled-flow drains, and costs about $5 a square foot. Blue roofs don’t cool anything — they help only with storm water control by releasing water more gradually. Despite the price, a blue roof is a hard sell — not everyone is comfortable with the idea of a pond on the roof.

The fourth roof option doesn’t save energy — it creates it. New Jersey has installed 500 megawatts of solar power — enough to run half a million homes. California has installed double that. New York City? So far, just 6.5 megawatts.

How have New Jersey and California done it? Private vendors install and maintain the solar panels, and are paid in future energy savings. Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, argues that New York should use this system to put solar panels on the roof of every public school. Stringer’s report says putting solar roofs on all available public schools would eliminate as much carbon emissions as planting 400,000 trees — eight times the number in Manhattan now.

Public schools have become a testing ground for the new roofs. At the Robert Simon complex in the East Village, which houses three schools (my children attend two of those schools), work is beginning this summer on a farm. A committee at the Earth School was looking for green ideas that would go beyond recycling and create a curriculum. Abbe Futterman, the science teacher, was already growing vegetables and fruit in sawed-off pickle barrels right outside her classroom window, using the garden to teach plant science and nutrition. The kids tend it, and use the produce to cook food from around the world.

The Fifth Street Farm will be a much larger vegetable and fruit garden in planters raised above the roof on steel girders — not a classic green roof.The money has come from various government offices — those of Stringer, State Senator Daniel Squadron and City Council member Rosie Mendez. Douglas Fountain, the architect who is implementing construction (and a parent of a Tompkins Square Middle School student) said that it was designed to be easily replicable by other schools.

Is a green roof a good investment for a building owner? Perhaps, but the biggest reason might not be reduced energy costs — lots of factors affect a building’s energy use. More savings come from the fact that temperature swings make a black tar roof expand and contract. The smaller the spread, the longer the roof life.Roanoke, Va., for example, just installed a green roof on its municipal building, at a cost of $123,000, adding anywhere from 20 to 60 years to the life of the current roof membrane. “I personally believe a green roof is the last roof you’ll have to put on,” said Gaffin.

But any changes to a black tar roof are undoubtedly good investments for cities — indeed, interest in green roofs is soaring largely because of the sewage problem and the costs of trying to solve it the old way. New York City decided it was more cost effective to build green infrastructure, including green roofs, than to construct more sewer pipes or storage tanks, and it is spending $1.5 billion over the next 20 years on green projects that will reduce rainfall runoff. The goal is to cut sewer outflows by 40 percent by 2030.

“The good news is that this is a ‘no harm’ intervention,” said Carter Strickland, the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection. “People want it; there’s a lot of other benefits. If at the end of the day it doesn’t do the full job, whatever you have to build on top will be much smaller and less expensive.”

To encourage building owners to install green roofs, New York City has a pilot program that will end next year offering a $4.50-per-square-foot tax abatement for green roofs that cover more than half a rooftop. (There are also tax abatements for solar-panel roofs.)

Amy Norquist of Greensulate said this was less attractive than it sounded.“What you have to do to get that is quite onerous,” she said. “You need permits, filing fees, people have to sign off — it ends up being a lot of money.”

Strickland said that permits were required for a good reason. “It requires you to do a structural analysis of the roof,” he said. “You’re going to need that permit whether you build it with a tax abatement or alone.”

New York City was not one of the first American cities to promote green roofs. “But the city is doing quite well,” said Gaffin. “The green infrastructure plan is very ambitious.” The problem is that the little-by-little approach won’t produce real environmental benefits until they reach a critical mass, and that could take a long time. “We get biodiversity benefits from small scale greening, and individual building owners will get an energy benefit,” said Gaffin. “ But to make a difference to the city’s climate or hydrology we’d have to get up to 30, 40 or 50 percent coverage. What we have now is a drop in the bucket.”Join Fixes on Facebook and follow updates on

Monday, May 21, 2012

Pink Collar Jobs

I read an interesting article in the NY Times today about the proliferation of men into predominantly female oriented careers - aka Pink Jobs.

I have been both in Education and Construction so having seen both sides of the fence, I do value the diversity gender provides to the workplace. I am for one exhausted over that idiotic concept of "man's work" etc. However, I wonder like Teach For America, the idea of something is appealing for the interim until "something better comes along"

In Education, in Medicine we really don't need people who are there simply passing time while they wait for a better job. Frankly both fields are so chatoic and badly managed on many levels the need for stable, secure and committed professionals is demanded. And sadly in many of the front line professions of both they are seriously underpaid and underespected, so I wonder how many individuals of either gender will remain to make a true contribution and in turn improvement in the efficiency, productivity and results?

I reprint the article below and note some of the more interesting caveats regarding men's roles and I welcome more men in all fields. We should no longer distinguish careers as gender based but in reality its about income. Women's "jobs" are simply renumerated at lower rates and hence the idea that while paid less the personal rewards are to compensate. Really is that going to cut it in the new economy?

More Men Enter Fields Dominated by Women


HOUSTON — Wearing brick-red scrubs and chatting in Spanish, Miguel Alquicira settled a tiny girl into an adult-size dental chair and soothed her through a set of X-rays. Then he ushered the dentist, a woman, into the room and stayed on to serve as interpreter.

A male dental assistant, Mr. Alquicira is in the minority. But he is also part of a distinctive, if little noticed, shift in workplace gender patterns. Over the last decade, men have begun flocking to fields long the province of women.

Mr. Alquicira, 21, graduated from high school in a desolate job market, one in which the traditional opportunities, like construction and manufacturing, for young men without a college degree had dried up. After career counselors told him that medical fields were growing, he borrowed money for an eight-month training course. Since then, he has had no trouble finding jobs that pay $12 or $13 an hour.

He gave little thought to the fact that more than 90 percent of dental assistants and hygienists are women. But then, young men like Mr. Alquicira have come of age in a world of inverted expectations, where women far outpace men in earning degrees and tend to hold jobs that have turned out to be, by and large, more stable, more difficult to outsource, and more likely to grow.

“The way I look at it,” Mr. Alquicira explained, without a hint of awareness that he was turning the tables on a time-honored feminist creed, “is that anything, basically, that a woman can do, a guy can do.”

After years of economic pain, Americans remain an optimistic lot, though they define the American dream not in terms of mansions and luxury cars but as something more basic — a home, a college degree, financial security and enough left over for a few extras like dining out, according to a study by the Pew Center on the States’ Economic Mobility Project. That financial security usually requires a steady full-time job with benefits, something that has become harder to find, particularly for men and for those without a college degree. While women continue to make inroads into prestigious, high-wage professions dominated by men, more men are reaching for the dream in female-dominated occupations that their fathers might never have considered.

The trend began well before the crash, and appears to be driven by a variety of factors, including financial concerns, quality-of-life issues and a gradual erosion of gender stereotypes. An analysis of census data by The New York Times shows that from 2000 to 2010, occupations that are more than 70 percent female accounted for almost a third of all job growth for men, double the share of the previous decade.

That does not mean that men are displacing women — those same occupations accounted for almost two-thirds of women’s job growth. But in Texas, for example, the number of men who are registered nurses nearly doubled in that time period, rising from just over 9 percent of nurses to almost 12 percent. Men make up 23 percent of Texas public schoolteachers, but almost 28 percent of first-year teachers.

The shift includes low-wage jobs as well. Nationally, two-thirds more men were bank tellers, almost twice as many were receptionists and two-thirds more were waiting tables in 2010 than a decade earlier.

Even more striking is the type of men who are making the shift. From 1970 to 1990, according to a study by Mary Gatta, the senior scholar at Wider Opportunities for Women, and Patricia A. Roos, a sociologist at Rutgers, men who took so-called pink-collar jobs tended to be foreign-born non-English speakers with low education levels — men who, in other words, had few choices.

Now, though, the trend has spread among men of nearly all races and ages, more than a third of whom have a college degree. In fact, the shift is most pronounced among young, white, college-educated men like Charles Reed, a sixth-grade math teacher at Patrick Henry Middle School in Houston.

Mr. Reed, 25, intended to go to law school after a two-year stint with Teach for America, but he fell in love with the job. Though he says the recession had little to do with his career choice, he believes the tough times that have limited the prospects for new law school graduates have also helped make his father, a lawyer, more accepting.

Still, Mr. Reed said of his father, “In his mind, I’m just biding time until I decide to jump into a better profession.”

To the extent that the shift to “women’s work” has been accelerated by recession, the change may reverse when the economy recovers. “Are boys today saying, ‘I want to grow up and be a nurse?’ ” asked Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress. “Or are they saying, ‘I want a job that’s stable and recession proof?’ ”

In interviews, however, about two dozen men played down the economic considerations, saying that the stigma associated with choosing such jobs had faded, and that the jobs were appealing not just because they offered stable employment, but because they were more satisfying.

“I.T. is just killing viruses and clearing paper jams all day,” said Scott Kearney, 43, who tried information technology and other fields before becoming a nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston.

Daniel Wilden, a 26-year-old Army veteran and nursing student at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, said he had gained respect for nursing when he saw a female medic use a Leatherman tool to save the life of his comrade. “She was a beast,” he said admiringly.

More than a few men said their new jobs had turned out to be far harder than they imagined.

But these men can expect success. Men earn more than women even in female-dominated jobs. And white men in particular who enter those fields easily move up to supervisory positions, a phenomenon known as the glass escalator — as opposed to the glass ceiling that women encounter in male-dominated professions, said Adia Harvey Wingfield, a sociologist at Georgia State University. More men in an occupation can also raise wages for everyone, though as yet men’s share of these jobs has not grown enough to have an overall effect on pay.

“Simply because higher-educated men are entering these jobs does not mean that it will result in equality in our workplaces,” said Ms. Gatta of Wider Opportunities for Women.

Still, economists have long tried to figure out how to encourage more integration in the work force. Now, it seems to be happening of its own accord.

“I hated my job every single day of my life,” said John Cook, 55, who got a modest inheritance that allowed him to leave the company where he earned $150,000 a year as a database consultant and enter nursing school.

His starting salary will be about a third what he once earned, but database consulting does not typically earn hugs like the one Mr. Cook recently received from a girl after he took care of her premature baby sister. “It’s like, people get paid for doing this kind of stuff?” Mr. Cook said, choking up as he recounted the episode.

Several men cited the same reasons for seeking out pink-collar work that have drawn women to such careers: less stress and more time at home. At John G. Osborne Elementary, Adrian Ortiz, 42, joked that he was one of the few Mexicans who made more in his native country, where he was a hard-working lawyer, than he did in the United States as a kindergarten teacher in a bilingual classroom. “Now,” he said, “my priorities are family, 100 percent.”

Betsey Stevenson, a labor economist at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, said she was not surprised that changing gender roles at home, where studies show men are shouldering more of the domestic burden and spending more time parenting, are now showing up in career choices.

“We tend to study these patterns of what’s going on in the family and what’s going on in the workplace as separate, but they’re very much intertwined,” she said. “So as attitudes in the family change, attitudes toward the workplace have changed.”

In a classroom at Houston Community College, Dexter Rodriguez, 35, said his job in tech support had not been threatened by the tough economy. Nonetheless, he said, his family downsized the house, traded the new cars for used ones and began to live off savings, all so Mr. Rodriguez could train for a career he regarded as more exciting.

“I put myself into the recession,” he said, “because I wanted to go to nursing school."

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Mind the Gap

As part of my rehab to restore my cognitive processing after my car accident I watch TED talks. They inspire, they amuse and they invigorate me. All positive cognitive processes that are good for an "injured" brain or not.

I found this article today from the Raw Story and thankfully the talk was published as it discusses many of the issues I am engaged with. Income Inequality and the decline of the American standard of living and working is something anyone with true sustainable cred would be concerned with. Its real, its tangible it is about the long range.

I reprint the article and the talk below. The points are there for you to discuss, debate, or dismay over. This is not about politics this is realitics.

TED Talks refuses to publish income inequality speech
By Stephen C. Webster

TED Talks, a group that promotes some of the world’s greatest thinkers in a traveling presentation series, recently refused to publish a “controversial” examination of income inequality in societies, even though the group featured a relatively similar speech several months before the “Occupy Wall Street” protests flared up in 2011.

TED Talks curator Chris Anderson said a talk given in March by multimillionaire Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer was “one of the most politically controversial talks we’ve ever run,” according to emails obtained by National Journal reporter Jim Tankersley.

In the speech — which included a series of slides — Hanauer explained where the true wealth of market societies lies, saying that he’s confident rich people do not create jobs, and neither do businesses.

“Rather they are a consequence of an ecosystemic feedback loop animated by middle-class consumers, and when they thrive, businesses grow and hire, and owners profit,” he said, according to a transcript of the speech published by National Journal. “That’s why taxing the rich to pay for investments that benefit all is a great deal for both the middle class and the rich.”

Hanauer went on to explain that this feedback loop between capitalists like him and middle class consumers is what’s truly creating jobs, and that growth happens only when tax policies are designed to aid the consumer by taking more from the ultra-rich — and that it all, ultimately, benefits both classes.

“That’s why our current policies are so upside down,” he said. “When you have a tax system in which most of the exemptions and the lowest rates benefit the richest, all in the name of job creation, all that happens is that the rich get richer,” he said.

“Since 1980 the share of income for the richest Americans has more than tripled while effective tax rates have declined by close to 50 percent.

“If it were true that lower tax rates and more wealth for the wealthy would lead to more job creation, then today we would be drowning in jobs. And yet unemployment and under-employment is at record highs.”

While it’s certainly not the first time TED Talks has declined to publish a speech on its website — it only publishes one per day — Hanauer told National Journal that he was surprised by the decision against his talk because another TED staffer had responded enthusiastically.

“‘I want to put this talk out into the world!’ one of them wrote him in an e-mail in late April,” Tankersley notes in the report. Despite that apparent excitement, Anderson decided against publishing it in early May.

“We do not comment publicly on reasons to release or not release [a] talk,” he told National Journal in an email. “It’s unfair on the speakers concerned. But we have a general policy to avoid talks that are overtly partisan, and to avoid talks that have received mediocre audience ratings.”

The group has, however, featured talks by former Vice President Al Gore and NASA climate scientist James Hansen, speaking about climate change, and Melinda Gates giving a talk on the importance of birth control — so it’s clearly not the firs time a TED talk waded into partisan political waters.

But perhaps most interesting: TED Talks published a speech last October — originally given in July, well before the “Occupy Wall Street” protests spread nationwide — on “How economic inequality harms societies.” The talk was given by author and epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson, who’s published a book that examines the most corrosive effects of how growing wealth gaps corrode societies.

His presentation includes a chart showing how rates of mental illness increase in tandem with a society’s wealth gap. So too do high school dropout rates, he observed. “If Americans want to live the American dream, they should go to Denmark,” Wilkinson said, to laughs and applause from the audience.

Apparently even that wasn’t too “controversial” for TED — but that, again, was before “Occupy Wall Street” happened. Oddly, they followed up his July speech with a Q&A interview months later, in which he directly addressed the “Occupy Wall Street” protests and noted that the same sentiment is shared by lower-income people in Britain.

“You gave this talk in July — at a time when people were already talking about this meme of the 1% versus the 99% — but now it’s front-page news in a really interesting way because of these protests,” the TED interviewer said.

“Yes, inequality has come back on the agenda and its prominence is rapidly increasing,” Wilkinson replied. “There were signs a couple of years ago of growing interest, and I think the interest in our work is largely a reflection of that. You’re probably not aware of how our book has taken off in this country; It’s probably sold about four times the numbers of copies in Britain (despite the much smaller population) as in the United States, and it’s been on the best-seller list several times.”

He added that in Britain, some people are setting up “Fairness Commissions” in their own communities to help reduce inequality on a local level, and that while many people disagree with the idea of forming encampments and “occupying” a space, there is “a lot of good will towards the purpose of it.”

“I think people are realizing the way top incomes have taken off over the past 20 years or so is unacceptable,” Wilkinson told TED.

It’s unclear why Wilkinson’s talk and interview were published while Hanauer’s talk was rejected for being “controversial.” TED’s media relations group did not respond to a request for comment.

Update: TED posts income inequality talk following media outcry

Under pressure from websites like National Journal and The Raw Story, TED Talks published Hanauer’s allegedly “controversial” speech on Thursday, and TED curator Nick Anderson explained in a blog post that his initial refusal to release it was not an act of censorship.

“For the record, pretty much everyone at TED, including me, worries a great deal about the issue of rising inequality,” he wrote. “We’ve carried talks on it in the past, like this one from Richard Wilkinson. We’d carry more in the future if someone can find a way of framing the issue that is convincing and avoids being needlessly partisan in tone.”

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Buy Your Shade of Green

Maybe I am just a cynic and see shadows in corners that don't exist but this mornings Style section of the New York Times set my blood to boil. There was a profile of Graham Hill the founder of Treehugger who has a new product/project to sell. While I am sure or at least want to believe that Mr. Hill's green epiphany was legit and that sale of Treehugger to Discovery was prompted about the message not the dollar, I have my doubts. This new venture strikes me as equally suspect but perhaps this is the Facebook effect, where I see a young male selling out for great personal wealth while professing to be "different." The only thing different is the size of the homes in these cases. Mr. Zuckerberg of Facebook has bought a larger more mainstream home while Mr. Hill is espousing smaller is better. Its all the same or different when you fly first class.

I reprint the profile below. And while I am all about downsizing and certainly that movement has been around for decades, The Not So Big House book series by Sarah Susanka has been a proponent of that for years, so its nothing new but it is to the Millenials or Gen Y as in Why Bother. A generation saddled with trillions in student loan debt, few job options available, so eschewing "things" might be something worth examining or in this case "buying." And nothing says buy more than the founder of Zappos (another company sold to Amazon for millions) and Nick Denton the founder of the websites that simply add snark to largely copied material as Huffington Post and I am doing right now! Hey if you can't beat them join them.

Selling the Pared-Down Life

The Founder of TreeHugger and His Apartment of the Future
By Trevor Tondro for The New York Times

IT may be that the house of the future is an apartment — at 420 square feet, a very small apartment — in a century-old tenement building on Sullivan Street. Shiny and white, it has movable walls that allow it to morph from one room into six, as well as expandable furniture and filtered, or “country,” air, as the owner, Graham Hill, put it recently while showing off the apartment’s convertible tricks like a modern-day Bernadette Castro, dressed neatly in a black merino wool polo shirt, black pants and black Vans.

This laboratory, as Mr. Hill calls it, for small-space, sustainable and — it must be stressed — high-end living is the first tangible product from his fledgling company, LifeEdited. It comes with an awkward manifesto that nonetheless manages to gather an armful of social and economic trends and philosophies, including happiness research, the booming field of collaborative consumption (which uses new technology to share resources like cars, toys and books, on the Zipcar model) and data on the proven efficiencies of cities.

This is a medley of new-old systems that will be familiar to habitu├ęs of recent TED conferences, where Mr. Hill has been a featured speaker, and to frequenters of the self-help section of bookstores and even old-school urbanists and Buckminster Fuller fans.

“Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy,” as the manifesto reads, is both a mouthful and a paradox for an enterprise that hopes to be in the business of selling, well, lots of stuff, in much the same way the come-ons of the latest miracle diet promise weight loss if you gorge on all your favorite foods.

Yet Mr. Hill, the 41-year-old founder of TreeHugger, a Web site that made environmentalism attractive and aspirational by promoting a global, modern vision of sustainable design (think architectural chicken coops, green roofs and “ethical” condoms), has shown that he can profit from his own very sincere idealism and good taste. After all, he sold the site in 2007 to Discovery Communications, the company that owns the Discovery Channel, for $10 million.

Mr. Hill, who is Canadian, is trained as an architect and a product designer. TreeHugger, which went live in 2004, was his second Internet venture. His first, a Web design company, was sold in 1998 for $10 million as well, clearly his lucky number.

“Graham is a rare breed, a pragmatic idealist,” said his friend Nick Denton, founder of Gawker media. It was Mr. Denton who offered up Gawker’s blogging platform as a template for organizing TreeHugger in its infancy. In return, Mr. Hill gave him a piece of the business.

“He’s shied away from tokenism and from empty idealism,” Mr. Denton added. “I think it’s kind of cool for Graham to come up with a sustainable way of living in cities instead of showing million-dollar solar panels on houses in the Napa Valley, which is not the way most people live.”

“It’s always been about bobos in paradise, hasn’t it?” he continued, referring to the TreeHugger demographic, now primed to be customers for LifeEdited. “Those wealthy urban types yearning to get in touch with themselves and the planet, and who are actually rather more effective than their hippie ancestors. I always liked the name TreeHugger, which was like taking a word like ‘queer’ that’s been used as an insult and reclaiming it. It’s postmodern-ironic, but not so ironic as to be devoid of principle.”

Sort of like Mr. Hill, whom Mr. Denton described as “this Maui-New York surfing-TED person spewing carbon into the environment, even though he pays for it,” referring to the way Mr. Hill mitigates the impact of his constant air travel by buying carbon offsets. “I always joke that my footprint is lighter than his, because the only place I travel is from my apartment to my office.”

Indeed, the kite-surfing, skateboarding Mr. Hill has been mostly camping for the last decade, running his business out of a series of hotel rooms and small apartments in cities like Buenos Aires, Bangkok and Barcelona, Spain, to name just a few, as well as from a trailer on the Baja, a garage in Maui and even a bunk on Plastiki, the boat-mission made from 12,500 plastic bottles and captained by David de Rothschild, the banking-heir environmentalist.

It was these experiences, Mr. Hill will tell you, which required culling his stuff to fit into one small rolling suitcase, that made him seize on the notion of “small” as a business plan.

“Small is sexy,” he says in his six-minute TED talk. A YouTube hit, with 1.3 million views as of this week, it also includes these aphorisms: “Transfer ownership to access,” “Own as little as possible so you don’t have to store too much” and “Editing is the skill of this century: editing space, media consumption, friends.”

Mr. Hill is certainly not the first to trumpet the benefits of a pared-down life. There’s a straight line from Buckminster Fuller to Sarah Susanka, the architect and author of “The Not So Big House,” published in 1998 at the height of the country’s McMansion expansion, and to the Tiny House folks, the D.I.Y. builders of microhouses.

There are the clutter people and the simplicity people and authors like Dave Bruno, who wrote a book about editing his possessions down to 100 things. Barbara Flanagan, an architect, product designer and writer, did Mr. Bruno two better, with her 2008 book, “Flanagan’s Smart Home: The 98 Essentials for Starting Out, Starting Over, Scaling Back.”

Still, “one of the things the TEDsters embrace is not that the idea needs to be new, but the idea needs to be heard,” said Katrina Heron, a former editor in chief of Wired magazine who is now an editor at large at Newsweek and The Daily Beast, describing the hyper-voluble idea mavens who flock to the TED conference and others.

It’s easy to make fun of those who would conflate consumption with environmentalism, but this is the poignant place we find ourselves as a capitalist country in the 21st century.

In 2009 and 2010, Mr. Hill bought two apartments in a tenement building on Sullivan Street: a 420-square-foot cube for $287,000 and a 350-square-foot cube for $280,000. He camped in the smaller one, and held a competition to design the larger space, with a brief that included the need to seat 12 at a dinner table and have guests sleep over, among other efficiencies.

There were more than 300 entries, and Catalin Sandu, a Romanian architecture student now employed by Mr. Hill, won for his transformer-style apartment, in a crowd-sourced selection process promoted by the TreeHugger site.

Friday was Mr. Hill’s first night in his new apartment, and he slept well, having arrived on the red-eye after a weekend of boar hunting in Texas followed by four days in Las Vegas, where he was pitching an investment in LifeEdited to Tony Hsieh, the billionaire chief executive of Zappos, the online shoe company. It was his second visit there: he and Mr. Hsieh met at this year’s TED conference, and Mr. Hsieh drove him back to Las Vegas on his Happiness bus.

Mr. Hsieh runs his business like a summer camp with its own songs and bonding rituals that are either horrifying or invigorating, depending on your personality. He is the author of a motivational book, “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose,” and is much taken with the work of the Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, whose writings promote cities as incubators of creativity and profit and who proposes an ideal density-to-productivity ratio of 100 people per acre.

(Mr. Hsieh looks for books with any variation of the word “happy” in their titles, he said, and Mr. Glaeser’s best seller, “Triumph of the City,” has the subhead “How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier.”)

Armed with these ideas, as well as a passion for a Las Vegas bar called the Downtown Cocktail Room, Mr. Hsieh is investing $350 million in the area surrounding the bar to build a corporate campus for Zappos, as well as mixed-use developments that will incorporate a LifeEdited apartment building created by Mr. Hill and his new team, which includes Mr. Sandu and Guerin Glass, an architecture firm in Manhattan.

This is where LifeEdited gets really interesting: Mr. Hill’s group has proposed apartment buildings designed around large, open courtyards with units ranging from 300 to 600 square feet. It is quite something to promote studio-apartment living in a state that has so much housing stock available at such a steep discount. (Nevada still leads the country in foreclosures.) Later this month, Mr. Hsieh will try it out for himself, when he comes to New York to stay in the LifeEdited apartment.

“It sounds great in a TED talk,” Mr. Hsieh said. “But it’s one of those things you just have to see.”

Mr. Hill, whose possessions run to athletic gear and vitamins, has domesticated the apartment with objects belonging to his girlfriend, Kumara Sawyers, a massage therapist and yoga instructor. He chose a globe, an antique camera, an antler and a potted plant, along with a few books like Mr. Glaeser’s. There were also products bought to illustrate LifeEdited principles, like a heavy fork that was supposed to do double duty as a knife (“a knork,” Mr. Hill said) but didn’t work very well.

In the closets, there is a tiny wardrobe of merino wool, which Mr. Hill said needs less washing than other fabrics. The showstoppers were the Murphy bed and the expandable dining table, designed by Resource Furniture, a Manhattan maker of convertible furniture that is now a LifeEdited sponsor. The movable wall was pretty neat, too.

But Mr. Hill fretted over what he saw as the fussiness of the white surfaces.

“LifeEdited is about having less to worry about, and I’m already worried about a couple of things,” he said. “We need to make things that are cheaper and tougher, with more patina, that can handle wear and tear. That moving wall is too expensive.” (Its hardware cost about $4,850, and was produced by a maker of library stacks.)

“How can we build a cost-efficient wall that’s safe and works well?” he continued. “It’s all too expensive, but it’s also a lab. I’m used to that with TreeHugger. We had expensive stuff at the beginning. There’s a role, and a good role I think, to be played by early adopters and people with money. Which helps get things out there, and gets the volume up so prices can come down.”

All in, the renovation of the apartment cost about $365,000, $50,000 of which went toward the accelerated deadline Mr. Hill gave his builders. Since a goal is to offer LifeEdited apartments that save people “significant money,” Mr. Hill suggested this calculus as a way of taking the sting out of the Sullivan Street price tag. He added up the square footage of the “rooms” created by the apartment — kitchen, bathroom, living room, dining room, office, master bedroom and guest bedroom — to 1,100 square feet.

“Looked at this way,” he wrote in an e-mail, “you’re getting the functionality of an apartment almost triple the size. Granted, you can only use one space at a time and this requires a transformation but still ...”

SULLIVAN STREET is a special ecosystem, a micro-neighborhood of century-old brick tenement buildings and hipsterish cafes like Local, which serves farm-to-table sandwiches and has built a mini-park in a parking space out front. The “remarkably well-preserved examples of turn-of-the-century Italian immigrant life in New York City,” as Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said recently, are the reason he is working to get the area, south of Washington Square Park and known as the South Village, designated a historic district.

And the building on Sullivan Street, where Mr. Hill is working out his ecotopia and brand laboratory, “is not your standard tenement,” Mr. Berman said. “It is a very interesting place, a model tenement built in 1911 by a fraternal organization of Italian immigrants for the explicit purpose of creating housing that was more humane, cleaner, airier and brighter than the surrounding tenements, which were built to cram as many people as possible in there as the law would allow.”

There are ironies here, of course, not the least of which is the idea of turning working-class housing into luxury apartments for moneyed, childless global nomads like Mr. Hill. On Saturday, one of Mr. Hill’s neighbors, Angela D’Arcangelo, stopped by to inspect the finished construction. She said she was turning 102 in June and that she had lived in the building since she was 6. She peered through the door. “Very nice,” she said finally.

Could Mr. Hill imagine living here as long as Ms. D’Arcangelo had?

He looked horrified. “I don’t think in decades,” he said.