Saturday, June 30, 2012

Spare the Air

I just found this article and thought I would pass it along. Interesting read about the quality of air actually affecting well the quality of your life as in health.

Is it surprising to think that dirty air would cause health problems? Dirty water does so what other element in nature do we need to survive? This is why I rarely discuss climate change but instead bring it down a notch to simply clean air and water. Everyone regardless of politics needs and wants both. And since we all agree that they are essential quality of life elements we can agree that we must sustain them. And really it falls down to guess what - regulation and enforcement. Sorry then it gets political. Unless you want to buy water purifiers and hazmat suits?

Getting real about what dirty air and water does just to life right now right here is the first step in moving towards the bigger picture. I always say life parallels that of childhood and these are baby steps. Which for some is a good thing and for all its a great thing.

Air Pollution Linked to Heart and Brain Risks


It may be time to start paying more attention to those local air pollution alerts.

That is the message of three new studies this week that found, collectively, that people exposed to higher levels of air pollution have a greater risk of stroke, heart attacks and cognitive deterioration.

The impact of pollution on the heart and brain was seen over both the short and the long term. One nationwide study that followed nearly 20,000 women over a decade found that breathing in levels of polluted air like those commonly found in most parts of the country greatly accelerates declines in measures of memory and attention span. Another study in Boston found that on days when concentrations of traffic pollutants went up, so did the risk of stroke. The odds climbed by more than 30 percent even on days classified by the federal air quality index as “moderate” pollution days, which is intended to correspond to a minimal danger to health.

“At levels that the Environmental Protection Agency says are safe, we’re seeing real health effects,” said Gregory A. Wellenius, an associate professor of epidemiology at Brown University and lead author of the study linking pollution to stroke. “We saw these effects within 12 to 14 hours of when pollution levels went up.”

Studying the links between pollution and health is difficult, since so many factors are involved and it is difficult to establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship. But a link between pollutants in the air and declines in cardiovascular health has been suspected since at least the 1990s, when epidemiological research suggested that breathing in tainted air drives up rates of heart disease. The possible short-term effects of pollution remained particularly unclear, with some studies showing no immediate short-term risk. And little was known about the impact of inhaling emissions and air particles on brain function and dementia.

Dr. Wellenius and his colleagues tried to better clarify the short-term impact of air pollution by studying 1,705 stroke victims admitted to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston from 1999 to 2008, examining medical records to obtain the precise time a stroke actually occurred. They then cross-checked with the Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality index, which rates pollution levels in six general categories, beginning with “good,” then “moderate” and, at the very worst, “hazardous.” Some earlier studies have looked at daily air pollution levels and the number of hospitalizations for ischemic stroke or heart attacks on the same day, but that practice can be deceiving, since people sometimes wait hours or even days before going to a hospital after a stroke. “We were better able to estimate the patients’ air pollution exposure at the time of their stroke,” Dr. Wellenius said.

After controlling for age, hypertension and a slew of other risk factors for stroke, the researchers found a 34 percent higher risk at times when pollution levels climbed from “good” to “moderate.” (In the Boston area, where the study was conducted, pollution levels rarely climb very high, Dr. Wellenius said.) The effect was particularly strong when the researchers looked at levels of so-called black carbon and nitrogen dioxide, two markers of pollution from traffic.

Reducing air pollution levels by just 20 percent, an “achievable” goal, Dr. Wellenius said, “would have prevented about 6,000 of the 184,000 hospitalizations for stroke in the Northeast region” in 2007 alone, he said. The results were published this week in The Archives of Internal Medicine.

In a separate report published Tuesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association, scientists at the University Paris Descartes in France helped bolster the link between short-term exposure to air pollution and cardiovascular disease. They found that a variety of common pollutants — carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and others — raised a person’s immediate risk of having a heart attack.

Breathing in pollutants may cause harm in a number of ways, the researchers noted. They may cause inflammation linked to heart disease, increase the heart rate and thicken the blood, which can cause blood clots and accelerate atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.

The smallest particles of pollution, those finer than 2.5 microns in diameter — or about one-thirtieth the width of a human hair — are particularly effective at infiltrating the body, the researchers noted. There is some evidence that they can even penetrate the brain through the nasal passages, said Jennifer Weuve, the lead author of a third study, also published in The Archives of Internal Medicine, linking pollution to cognitive decline.

Dr. Weuve’s research followed 19,409 women in the United States between the ages of 70 and 81 for about a decade, looking at changes in cognition every two years. Declines in memory and executive function, including the ability to plan and make or carry out a strategy, are normal as people get older. But the study showed that women with higher levels of long-term exposure to air pollution had “significantly” faster declines in cognition than those with less exposure to pollutants.

“Cognitively speaking, this higher exposure is as if you had aged an extra two years,” said Dr. Weuve, an assistant professor at the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. That might not sound like much, she added, but if there were a treatment “that could just delay the onset of dementia by two years, that would spare the population millions of cases of disease over the next 40 years.”

Friday, June 29, 2012

Go Green or Go Bust

Another solar factory is shutting its doors. Another promise of green alternative energy American made and funded by the DOE loan program goes bust. Why? Well of course the competition from China.

There is nothing wrong with our Government funding and loaning money to any industry to build and develop said industry. Frankly I would prefer them over say JP Morgan Chase. But just as Chase analyzes and monitors the ratios of success and failure of any loan prior to granting, I wonder why the Government doesn't do the same? They have all the information available but its as if they were also run by the same banks.. gee wait JP Morgan and its 2-8 Billion dollar loss is kinda the same right? Exactly. Those the criticize the Government needs to take a look a those too big to fail banks...who bailed them out?

What I believe was and is the problem was the rush to build an industry without due diligence and adequate analysis. And the fact that like Solyndra, Abound was loaded with well connected, well to do investors looking for payback over long term growth. I have attached a Bloomberg news article to show that not all the sunshine was bright from the get go and again shows that regardless of who is borrowing from whom its all who you know and are connected to. Abound is just Solyndra frankly and who pays well all of us. Everyone is simply too big to fail and by big I mean their checkbook.

Abound Investors Have Links to Republicans, Democrats
By Christopher Martin and Jim Snyder - Jun 29, 2012

Abound Solar Inc., a failed U.S. solar manufacturer that borrowed $70 million guaranteed by the Obama administration, received financial support from investors with connections to both Democrats and Republicans.

Pat Stryker, the billionaire heiress of a medical devices company, founded Bohemian Cos., one of six groups that invested $300 million into Abound. She is also a cash bundler for President Barack Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The Loveland, Colorado-based company plans to file for bankruptcy next week.

The solar company is also backed by Invus Public Equities Advisors LLC, which was co-founded by Raymond Debbane, who has donated to Republican candidates including Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican who led an investigation of the U.S. Energy Department loan guarantee program.

Abound’s failure renews Republican criticism of the program, which became a political lightning rod after the August failure of Solyndra LLC, a solar manufacturer that received a $535 million loan guarantee and was backed by Obama fund-raiser George Kaiser.

“Neither party’s hands are clean in this one,” said Paul Chesser, an associate fellow at the National Legal & Policy Center based in Falls Church, Virginia. “Solyndra will be hard to top because they got $535 million versus the $70 million Abound got.”

Abound, formerly known as AVA Solar, received praise from Republicans in Congress expecting jobs in their states, and won part of a $60 million grant that provided early funding under George W. Bush’s Energy Department.
Opening Doors

“These are the kinds of people who can open doors and get a little more access,” Bill Allison, editorial director at the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based group that promotes transparency in government, said in an interview. ’’We’re seeing it with Abound just like we saw it with Solyndra.’’

Republican members of the Indiana delegation, including Senator Richard Lugar and Representative Dan Burton, wrote Energy Secretary Steven Chu an Oct. 30, 2009, letter indicating their “strong support and encouragement” for the solar company’s loan application.

Abound had planned to build a manufacturing facility in Tipton County, Indiana, at a closed automotive plant.

“Abound Solar plans to create almost a thousand full-time jobs that the company and state officials estimate will generate several hundred million dollars in revenue, in addition to increased levels of economic activity in the region,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter, which was also signed by then- Senator Evan Bayh and Representative Pete Visclosky, both Democrats, among others.
Suspending Operations

Another Abound investor, DCM Venture Capital, has two Republican donors on its payroll -- Bob Hawk, who hosted a fund raiser for Senator John McCain, and Dixon Doll, who contributed to Representative Paul Ryan’s Prosperity political action committee.

The solar company borrowed $70 million against its $400 million Energy Department guarantee to complete a factory in Colorado. It announced yesterday that it’s suspending operations, as House Republicans aim to close an investigation into the government’s support for Solyndra.

Abound said its thin-film panels couldn’t compete against Chinese products, the same reason cited by Solyndra. It plans to file for bankruptcy in Wilmington, Delaware, next week and will fire about 125 employees, according to a statement yesterday.

Cliff Stearns, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight panel that has held hearings related to Solyndra’s guarantee, said yesterday he didn’t think Abound’s closure warranted its own investigation.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Clean Garbage

Everything old is new again and that includes cloth diapers. A stable of the American home was replaced with plastic to make change more convenient and disposable. Saving working moms time and well less clean up. I mean who really wants to clean shit right? Right. Well it turned out that those diapers are a hot mess of shit frankly and by simply cleaning diapers or even sending them out to be cleaned - which one can and could do - we threw out the bathwater sans the baby.

I never understood that but then again I am not a mother. My mother worked and we had a cleaner come, a nanny and a granny all there to make sure my needs were met. The good old days when you could afford help and it was there to that. Today's working mother needs a much greater income to afford well diaper service but don't tell Sheryl Sandberg that.

And during a recent discussion with a plane seat mate regarding recycling he could not understand the costs associated with it. I said it would be cheaper if people would actually do it correctly... changing behavior is a lot more green than buying something green. As you can see in the below article that is very true. I particular note that most of the subjects live in such green cities as mine and Portland. Well there is dark green underside to all this greeness. Trust me I see it every week during trash collection.

We go to bi monthly next month remind me to get nose plugs. Much like the maligned plastic bags that recently became illegal here I don't expect change is going to come anytime soon.

Cities Get So Close to Recycling Ideal, They Can Smell It

Published: June 27, 2012

PORTLAND, Ore. — Stephanie and Matt Murphy plan on using cloth diapers instead of disposable ones once their first baby arrives next month. They want to be good environmental citizens and reduce what they send to landfills, but there is another incentive, too.

“It’ll be nice not to have it sitting out there in the trash,” Ms. Murphy said. “That’s the main reason we’re doing it: to improve the odor of Portland.”

Just when their infant girl is due to arrive, Portland will be experiencing its first summer of biweekly garbage pickup. The change to every other week, introduced in cool weather last fall along with a weekly collection for food scraps, has reduced the amount of garbage that this progressive city is shipping to landfills by 44 percent.

The experience has not been entirely smooth. Since the garbage pickups were spaced out, the city’s main recycling company has complained that more garbage — disposable diapers included — is showing up in recycling bins. Residents complain about strong smells from garbage that has stewed for two weeks in the driveway.

Yet while some grumble, many say the inconveniences, and occasional startling whiff, are prices they are willing to pay to live on the leading edge of recycling.

“It was fuller and stinkier, but for the overall sake of the mission, we were willing to deal,” Penelope Miller, a resident with a 2-year-old daughter, said of her trash can.

Pioneers like Portland, Seattle and San Francisco have become so good at waste diversion that it is becoming harder to get much better. San Francisco reuses a whopping 78 percent of what enters its waste stream, compared with the national average of 34 percent.

As some press toward a goal of “zero waste,” the challenge is asking residents to conquer what officials call “the ick factor” of organic waste, endure fewer garbage pickups, become more sophisticated sorters and live without things like plastic grocery bags and polystyrene containers for their takeout food.

At the same time, the cities are exploring novel solutions for recycling challenging materials that take up relatively far more space at the dump than they did before recycling took hold. Those targets include construction debris from small haulers, complex plastics, polystyrene foam and the smelliest of the smelly: cat litter, dog poop and diapers.

“We have the infrastructure in place that could theoretically take us to 85 percent,” said David Assmann, the deputy director of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment. “The challenge is going to be that last 15 percent. We don’t have a blueprint yet that says exactly how we’re going to get to zero.”

The march to this moment has taken more than three decades. It began with newspaper and cardboard recycling in the 1970s; expanded to glass, aluminum, plastics and other materials; and is now conquering the last relatively easy-to-divert target: food scraps and yard debris that can be turned into compost. In some cases, the compost it creates is sold or given right back to the residents who threw it out.

The West Coast became a leader in part because it has easier access to markets in Asia that buy recyclable materials like paper and plastic. It also has significantly higher landfill costs than many other regions.

The leading cities have long traditions of environmental progressivism and are relatively small, with 800,000 or fewer residents apiece. Portland and Seattle in particular have many single-family houses, where the most responsible recycling takes place.

This summer, Seattle is opening a mammoth new transfer station in an industrial area south of downtown. With a far larger floor area, it will be able to sort waste more thoroughly, including construction debris.

The building puts a bright face on what some people might otherwise deem a dirty industrial endeavor. Old street signs decorate its entrance, a former drawbridge is a sculpture out front, the landscaping is irrigated with captured rainwater, and waste is misted to keep odors down. Windows allow abundant natural light.

“People who have had a hard time finding their transfer station aren’t going to have a hard time now,” said Juwan Williams, a scale attendant for 18 years at the gritty old South Transfer Station. “You can see this place from space.”

Seattle requires composting as well as recycling. Dick’s Drive-In, a beloved local burger chain that has been around since 1954, provides multiple bins with photographs clarifying for customers which piece of waste goes where.

“A shake is all three,” said Eli Hays, who works at the restaurant’s Wallingford neighborhood location. “The lid is recyclable, the straw is garbage, and the cup is compostable.”

Not everyone supports the mandates.

Chris Baldwin, a Dick’s regular, said he had “issues with being told I have to recycle.” Turning to three colleagues who had joined him for a late lunch spread across the bed of a pickup truck, he said, “We wait until Seattle police go by, and we throw it all in the garbage.”

Next month, Seattle will begin a pilot program for biweekly garbage pickup. By 2018, it wants to provide some neighborhoods with a fourth curbside bin for diapers and pet waste. The feces would be placed in anaerobic digesters to produce power.

“It doesn’t look any weirder now than collecting food waste looked weird to us 12 years ago,” said Tim Croll, the head of the solid waste division of Seattle Public Utilities.

Still, there are aggravations for trash handlers.

In Portland, the move to collecting food scraps added to a problem with sea gulls at one of the city’s main transfer stations. In January, a falconer was hired to patrol the site with three falcons to deter the gulls.

“When we started, there were about 400 birds,” said the falconer, Kort Clayton. “Today, the average is less than a few each day.”

Mr. Clayton noted that the gulls had easy pickings in the piles of food scraps but flocked to the garbage as well — evidence that some residents and businesses are not separating their waste. “There’s still food in the garbage,” he said.

And the week after Portland switched to biweekly garbage collection on Oct. 31, Far West Fibers, which handles more than 70 percent of the city’s recyclables sorting, saw a 50 percent increase in the amount of garbage in the weekly recycling loads, said the company’s president, Keith Ristau.

While dirty diapers make up only a small amount of the contamination, he said, “that doesn’t make it any less disgusting” for workers at the recycling plant.

“They have to stop the line and pull the diaper off,” Mr. Ristau said. “You can’t really grab it when it’s going 150 feet a minute on the conveyor belt.”

For Joe Gatto, a driver for Portland Disposal and Recycling for the past 13 years, the new nemesis on his biweekly garbage route is the steep rise in cat litter.

“It smells really bad,” he said. “And you get the added negative that it’s really heavy.”

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I'm Bored

Yes here we go again more posts on Corporate Governance or the lack thereof. I really do believe that with the current political climate where the idea that regulations are bad for business and not Government's job well and given what has happened with failure by both, unless you have a better solution I suggest you bear with me as I rant about why the rooster should not be minding the hen house. (We love our colloquialisms in this country as much we love our unicorns)

As I write about the role of a Board of Directors I do on the heel of this notice...

Sandberg Joins Facebook’s Board

Facebook said on Monday that its chief operating officer, Sheryl K. Sandberg, had joined the social network’s board, becoming the first woman to serve as a director for the company.

The elevation of Ms. Sandberg, who joined Facebook in 2008, is an acknowledgment of the crucial role she plays at the company. Lured away from Google, she became one of Facebook’s most public figures, making regular appearances at events like the World Economic Forum and the annual Allen & Company media conference in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Such is Ms. Sandberg’s stature that her profile is second only to that of Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive. And she has served as one of the company’s links to the corporate world, playing a large role in taking Facebook public and working with business partners.

“Facebook is working every day to make the world more open and connected,” Ms. Sandberg said in a statement. “It’s a mission that I’m deeply passionate about, and I feel fortunate to be part of a company that is having such a profound impact in the world.”

She has long been regarded as a star in the corporate firmament. At Google, she was a high-ranking executive with prominent roles in sales and operations. And before that, she served as the chief of staff for Lawrence H. Summers at the Treasury Department.

At Facebook, Ms. Sandberg is largely regarded as an efficient operating executive who frees up Mr. Zuckerberg to work on important projects and chart the long-term direction of the company he founded in a Harvard dorm room in 2004.

Her responsibilities include overseeing sales and marketing, business development and corporate policy.

“Sheryl has been my partner in running Facebook and has been central to our growth and success over the years,” Mr. Zuckerberg said in a statement. “Her understanding of our mission and long-term opportunity, and her experience both at Facebook and on public company boards makes her a natural fit for our board.”

Ms. Sandberg is joining a relatively small board for a company whose market value as of Monday stood at $87.8 billion. Others on the Facebook board include the venture capitalists Marc Andreessen, James W. Breyer and Peter A. Thiel; Erskine B. Bowles, the former Clinton administration official; Donald E. Graham, the chairman of the Washington Post Company; and Reed Hastings, the chief executive of Netflix.

She already serves on the board of the Walt Disney Company.

Not to pick on Facebook or Sheryl Sandberg which it seems I am of late with my posts regarding both but this is the most recent example of what I am writing about - the incestuous nature and conflict of interest boards have in relationship to the Company at large. As you can see by the list of the Board members there Facebook is top laden with a conflict of interest. But I digress....

Boards have failed to do their duty. Despite the regulations in place to safeguard against such practices there are more loopholes in that law then in say the tax code.

In the book that I have also mentioned, Money for Nothing, the authors note the failure time and time again of varying crony filled boards failing to do their duty and on the rare occasion when they do the CEO quickly vacates that position or marginalizes any dissenting voices. As illustrated time and time again in the failures of many companies - Enron, WorldCom, Time Warner, Tyco, Kodak, Bank of America, etc, etc, etc.

Honesty a strong board can prevent a crisis and reign in an isolated if not megalomaniac CEO whose arrogance and ineffectiveness (they frequently run together ironically) is destroying the said business. But as you see with the Sandberg appointment while she fills a glaring hole in the roles of women on Boards she is also closely connected to the company and its "boy genius" CEO in ways that can affect decision making. Hey but if anyone thinks Facebook is going to be a Fortune 500 company in the vein that Kodak once was they also believe that a 28 year old boy is a genius businessman with the intellect and experience of men and women twice his age. But in comparison to many of his peers he may well be. What do I know? We seem to equate zeros in our bank balance with IQ points in this country.

If America is to rebuild, restore and regrow in sustainable ways its time to face the truth and dispel false realities for hard truths.

Green: Buy, Make or Do it.

As I participate in other blog sites I share with you my most recent which also provided me with a "Most Inspiring" note of which I am grateful but it is my "job" and I hope one day to actually earn a living doing said job but in the interim am willing to give free advice. So I share this with you from Elocal and their "Question of the Week

What’s More Important: Green Products or Green Behavior?

Is it more important to make sure lights are shut off when not in use or to make sure that you are using LEDs instead of incandescents? Can a quicker shower make a bigger difference than a low flow shower head? Are some appliances more important to update while others are more important to use correctly?

Our green experts have come out in full force to help us make a decision on this polarizing issue.

Most Inspiring
Tanya Stock of Green-Goddess Vida Verde had the most inspiring comment:

When I meet with clients the first question I ask is not “How much are you willing to spend?” Instead its “How much are you willing to CHANGE?” All the green gadgets in the world are not going to do much without the equivalent and appropriate change of behavior to accompany it.

A good example is someone who wanted to reduce their water use. I looked at their overall water distribution method. They committed to replacing all the faucets to low flowing ones, to dual toilets and more importantly better water use in the garden – including adding rain water tanks. These were all reasonable and affordable options that should provide immediate “payback” to both their water usage bills and to the environment. As I do with all clients I left them with an audit sheet to monitor both use and costs. The result – nothing. They were so frustrated by the new equipment and the adjustments they would have needed to make they instead used more water over less. Lesson there: Without needed behavior change the material changes are less important.
You don’t even need to do all that to actually reduce your water usage that can be accomplished singularly with a behavior change. Same with Indoor Air Quality the number two reason I am called into homes. I do think that the intent is there but unless the act is there to accompany the desire its all for moot.

Change is hard but if you are willing to put the effort vs the money you can find your right shade of green without spending a great deal of green.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Green Me Up Scotty!

I get that our building inventory is a hot mess. I wish all schools and hospitals and public facilities were greener, healthier and simply more energy solvent. But hey we got other problems here really.

I read this today in the EDC about a Siemens study that concluded our buildings weren't sustainable. Well in the real world when there were jobs and not fiscal crisis that left Governments awash in debt and near bankruptcy, where Education was both good and available for reasonable costs or free and we had solid infrastructure that encouraged clean green public transport - thereby lessening our overall wear and tear on the environment in many ways I would say green me up Scotty. But I live in the real world and I know what that means.

And one thing it means is never trust too many surveys funded by companies who well pay for said surveys and somehow benefit from them. Take it from the source my mother used to say. Siemens, a German owned company funded said survey and provides the following: Communication systems, power generation technology, industrial and buildings automation, lighting, medical technology, railway vehicles, water treatment systems, home appliances, fire alarms, PLM software;including financing, project engineering and construction.

Gee conflict of interest much? I mean they actually DO what their survey says needs to be done. How convenient. Is Angela Merkyl free I need to talk about the dollar to Euro exchange rate. And of course the USGBC council is all for this as long as the buildings are certified LEED its a win win. And the best part of the survey is the benefits such improvements provide the owners.. no mention of the occupants.

I am all about green healthy facilities. I am in public schools and I can assure you they have many problems some actually due to the actual buildings. But I can think of better ways to spend money and accomplish multiple goals on that front - but sadly my name doesn't end in Gates nor my influence from a "non profit" foundation.

From businesses to non-profits our country is run by those in secondary positions. Not elected but long on influence and on policy it shows when it comes down to deciding what gets done and who gets what in the country.

We need to Build America. We need to do so in ways that truly is right for future generations so that space is not the final frontier.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Green Your Baby

No not in an alien sort of way unless of course its Halloween then by all means...

I just received a nice heads up from an eco friendy mom site that offers great green/eco friendly tips, advice and information on how to keep that baby green. Since I rarely blog on that topic I presume they might be a little more useful. As they say on their site "they do the research so you don't have to" Welcome and enjoy - Ecomom.

Welcome to Suburbia

To show I recognize the struggles families meet in this "new economy" (and to make Lloyd Atler a Canadian thrilled no doubt) I reprint this from MSN. Not only is it about a famuly but its about one living in one of the greenest cities in the United States. What makes it interesting to me is that the husband/father in this story is an unemployed mechanical engineer. Ironic that it is one of the professions many of the job czars on the Job committee of the Obama Administration claims that America is short of and we must recruit from India or China. Really? I got an American dude right there who needs work. Will travel for food as they say.

Another factor contributing to this families problems - medical bills. Please inform Mr. Atler that here in America, even with Insurance, the rising costs of medical care are so significant that over 40% of our bankruptcy's are related to those costs. But living in Canada with your "socialist" medicine takes that off the table. As a woman facing enormous medical bills herself I realize that option is becoming a greater reality than I ever thought. I am sure Mr. Atler will tell me I simply made bad choices. Shoot had I talked to him only sooner.

I don't take any of the economies problems lightly regardless of marital status, job choice, where one lives or any of the extrinsic factors that make America diverse. But the map below shows that its not just the groovy hipster cities its in many cities. The fact is the real problems are finding ways to resolve them. Divide and conquer seems to be the real mantra of today. And who is leading that charge the Oligarchy, the very rich, the 1%. Whatever you call them I call them MBA's and you know what the "A" stands for.

In suburban America, middle class begins to confront poverty

America's middle class struggles as family members lose jobs, run out of savings and sink toward poverty. NBC's Lester Holt reports.

By Izhar Harpaz
Dateline NBC

BOULDER, Colo. – The small communities that dot the picturesque mountain landscape outside Boulder, Colo., conjure up an image from long before the great recession. Here the manicured lawns and expensive cars are a testament to the achievements of a fiercely independent and educated middle class; a 21st century version of suburban bliss. But often these days, the closed doors of well-kept houses hide a decidedly different reality: hushed conversation about food stamps and Medicaid, depleted bank accounts and 401K’s, kitchen shelves stocked with groceries from food pantries.

"It's this dirty little secret,” said Joyce Welch, a stay-at-home mother of three whose husband, a mechanical engineer, lost his job six months ago. “Everybody is supposed to be able to buy the new car, supposed to buy the new house. And what we don't talk about is people who struggle, and they're struggling more and more." The Welch family lives in Superior, a Boulder suburb that was listed by Money Magazine as one of the “Top 20 best places to live in America” in 2011. Neighboring Louisville was ranked number one.

The evidence that times are rough for many suburban middle class families is not merely anecdotal. For Dateline NBC’s upcoming special “America Now: Lost in Suburbia,” airing Sunday, June 24th at 8pm/7c, Boulder County's Department of Housing and Human Services provided the number of Louisville and Superior residents that relied on public safety nets to make ends meet. And while these affluent communities still boast some of the lowest poverty levels in Colorado, the statistics were nonetheless startling: since 2008 the combined number of families on Medicaid more than doubled, as did the number of people utilizing food assistance. Lafayette, another well-to-do suburb in East Boulder County experienced similar increases.

And it isn’t just happening in Boulder County. A 2011 study by the Brookings Institute revealed that for the first time in United States history there were more poor people living in the suburbs than in cities. The research, based on the most recent United States Census data, showed that a record 15.4 million suburban residents lived below the poverty line last year, up 11.5% from the year before, and that “by 2010, suburbs were home to one-third of the nation’s poor population—outranking cities (27.5 percent), small metro areas (20.5 percent), and non-metropolitan communities (18.7 percent)."

The Brookings Institute study examined the percentage change of suburban poor populations between 2000 and 2010 in the 95 largest metro areas in the US. It found that in 16 of them the suburban poor population more than doubled during that time. The Denver metro area which includes some Boulder suburbs saw an increase of 96.4%. And while many of the suburban poor are newly arrived immigrants or transplants from the inner cities, a significant number are formerly middle class families who have fallen victim to the most recent recession.

The need for help may transcend any published statistics. Sarah Nelson, the program director at the Sister Carmen Community Center, a non-profit organization in Lafayette, Colorado, that provides financial assistance to low-income families in East Boulder County, said that Sister Carmen’s share of clients from Louisville and Superior rose from four percent in 2010 to a whopping twenty-two percent by the end of 2011. Many of these formerly middle-class families, Nelson said, have struggled under the radar and have not accessed public assistance programs: "Their resources are drained. They've utilized all of their savings, all of their retirement funds. Their unemployment's run out. They've gotten as much help from family and friends as they possibly can. And we're their last resort.”

Joyce Welch’s financial stress was exacerbated by the medical bills for one of her children, who suffers from a debilitating chromosomal disorder; the out-of-pocket costs of almost $30,000 a year had left the family with no savings. So she saw no choice but to turn to Sister Carmen for assistance. It was, she said, one of the most difficult things she has had to do in her life. “To have to actually vocalize, ‘I can't do the basics. I have to have help.’ That is something that is just hard… I want to be able to do it on my own. I want to be the one to help others, not the one who has to ask for help.” But with her husband’s unemployment check as the family’s only source of income, Joyce has joined the at least three and half million suburbanites who have fallen below the U.S. poverty line since 2007. She did what she felt she had to do for her three children; sign up for Medicaid and Food Stamps. Sister Carmen offered to supplement her food shopping with monthly visits to their food pantry, so that Joyce could shift some money she would have otherwise spent on food to other important bills. Reluctantly, Joyce agreed.

Boulder County’s Department of Housing and Human Services has tried to reach out to struggling formerly middle class families like the Welches before they hit rock bottom. "Safety nets are historically built to try to catch people right before they hit the pavement,” said HHS director Frank Alexander, "if we can get people before they fall we can serve a lot more people in a lot better way and we don't have to just clean up the mess on the street."

According to Alexander, helping a family in need with their mortgage or rent payments may cost the county in excess of $10,000 in temporary “front end” assistance, but if that money prevents homelessness and all its associated economic and social ills it can save the county much more than that. "We know that if a senior who's trying to live independently in the community ends up in a nursing home, that that shifts cost to $75-85,000 a year. We know that if a family's in a home and they get foreclosed upon, it costs us almost $80,000 as a community with that home being foreclosed upon. And the interventions that we can do as a human service system with our community partners are much less costly. The time duration is much more limited. And the outcomes for the families and individuals are much better.”

Boulder County has signed up non-profit organizations like the Sister Carmen Community Center to be conduits for some of its front-end services. With the center’s help Joyce Welch and her family qualified for county rent assistance until August 2012, enough time, Joyce hoped, for her husband to find a job that will get the family back on their financial feet. But for now, she has begrudgingly accepted that she has become a new and different statistic of poverty in America.

“People like me are on food stamps. It’s people who want to go to work and can’t find work and don’t have an alternative,” she said, drawing an invisible square around her face, “I am the face of food stamps in 2012. I'm the face of Medicaid in 2012. I don’t like it, you know, I don't sit there and wanna scream it from the mountaintop. But this is reality. This is my reality. This is the reality for more and more people in America."

Sunday, June 24, 2012

I'd like Fries with That

The cover story of today's New York Times is one of many of late about the Apple Corporation and its hiring and manufacturing practices. Today its about the Apple Stores and the "Geniuses" they employ. Geniuses who make just slightly more than minimum wage and contribute towards $16 billion in earnings. Well they are geniuses.

The article states wisely that in fact most of American industry is service related. The once significant manufacturing contribution towards are GDP is 8%. So yes Welcome to Wal Mart, I would like a double latte thank you.

I have been writing about economics for awhile now as that to me is the largest most significant issue regarding what I feel defines sustainability today. We are expected to do more with less and that means less money, less people but with more education and more debt.

As a I read this article I kept thinking "cult" and laughed as the comparative company Lulumon is mentioned I could not help think I was right. t Lululemon, a Canadian owned retail enterprise is one easily associated with cult as it requires staff to partake in the Landmark classes and at one point had Ayn Rand characters names on their sacks to reflect the Libertarian leanings of its CEO. There is nothing more cult than that I'm afraid. And given the lionizing and idolizing of the dead Steve Jobs who was well a product of the 70s (EST anyone), I am not shocked that Apple would employ similar fanaticism.

What happened to working for a decent wage, enjoying one's work and having opportunity to learn to grow and still be an individual? Is that not possible? Instead of paying a living wage we must rely on group think and messianic thinking to generate and encourage work? How bizarre and frankly unsustainable. Just the turnover costs alone to a company should come into play here. The costs to employ and retrain new workers is 40% of the salary costs so why not use that to remit and retain who is already there? Well in a disposable business as technology is, is it surprising they feel that way about their people?

The article is below and I have highlighted some of the more salient points made. And in full disclosure I am an Apple consumer. I started using Apple when I began teaching. In those days Apple was very pro education and we had Apple Mac's in all classrooms. Times change but I didn't when it came to Apple. I have been a loyal customer despite it all. It makes it hard but frankly I have no idea who is actually different in today's marketplace. We as consumers do nothing collectively and singularly there is little I can do. But I am a minimal user and replace or repair when necessary. I have never advocated a disposable philosophy in regards to technology. But I wonder if all the Apple fanatics could do more from inside than outside? Imagine the possibilities.

Apple’s Retail Army, Long on Loyalty but Short on Pay

Published: June 23, 2012

Last year, during his best three-month stretch, Jordan Golson sold about $750,000 worth of computers and gadgets at the Apple Store in Salem, N.H. It was a performance that might have called for a bottle of Champagne — if that were a luxury Mr. Golson could have afforded.

“I was earning $11.25 an hour,” he said. “Part of me was thinking, ‘This is great. I’m an Apple fan, the store is doing really well.’ But when you look at the amount of money the company is making and then you look at your paycheck, it’s kind of tough.”

America’s love affair with the smartphone has helped create tens of thousands of jobs at places like Best Buy and Verizon Wireless and will this year pump billions into the economy.

Within this world, the Apple Store is the undisputed king, a retail phenomenon renowned for impeccable design, deft service and spectacular revenues. Last year, the company’s 327 global stores took in more money per square foot than any other United States retailer — wireless or otherwise — and almost double that of Tiffany, which was No. 2 on the list, according to the research firm RetailSails.

Worldwide, its stores sold $16 billion in merchandise.

But most of Apple’s employees enjoyed little of that wealth. While consumers tend to think of Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., as the company’s heart and soul, a majority of its workers in the United States are not engineers or executives with hefty salaries and bonuses but rather hourly wage earners selling iPhones and MacBooks.

About 30,000 of the 43,000 Apple employees in this country work in Apple Stores, as members of the service economy, and many of them earn about $25,000 a year. They work inside the world’s fastest growing industry, for the most valuable company, run by one of the country’s most richly compensated chief executives, Tim Cook. Last year, he received stock grants, which vest over a 10-year period, that at today’s share price would be worth more than $570 million.

And though Apple is unparalleled as a retailer, when it comes to its lowliest workers, the company is a reflection of the technology industry as a whole.

The Internet and advances in computing have created untold millionaires, but most of the jobs created by technology giants are service sector positions — sales employees and customer service representatives, repairmen and delivery drivers — that offer little of Silicon Valley’s riches or glamour.

Much of the debate about American unemployment has focused on why companies have moved factories overseas, but only 8 percent of the American work force is in manufacturing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job growth has for decades been led by service-related work, and any recovery with real legs, labor experts say, will be powered and sustained by this segment of the economy.

And as the service sector has grown, the definition of a career has been reframed for millions of American workers.

“In the service sector, companies provide a little bit of training and hope their employees leave after a few years,” says Arne L. Kalleberg, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina. “Especially now, given the number of college kids willing to work for low wages.”

By the standards of retailing, Apple offers above average pay — well above the minimum wage of $7.25 and better than the Gap, though slightly less than Lululemon, the yoga and athletic apparel chain, where sales staff earn about $12 an hour. The company also offers very good benefits for a retailer, including health care, 401(k) contributions and the chance to buy company stock, as well as Apple products, at a discount.

But Apple is not selling polo shirts or yoga pants. Divide revenue by total number of employees and you find that last year, each Apple store employee — that includes non-sales staff like technicians and people stocking shelves — brought in $473,000.

“These are sales rates for a consulting company,” said Horace Dediu, an analyst who blogged about the calculation on the site Asymco. Electronics and appliance stores typically post $206,000 in revenue per employee, according to the latest figures from the National Retail Federation.

Even Apple, it seems, has recently decided it needs to pay its workers more. Last week, four months after The New York Times first began inquiring about the wages of its store employees, the company started to inform some staff members that they would receive substantial raises. An Apple spokesman confirmed the raises but would not discuss their size, timing or impetus, nor who would earn them.

But Cory Moll, a salesman in the San Francisco flagship store and a vocal labor activist, said that on Tuesday he was given a raise of $2.82 an hour, to $17.31, an increase of 19.5 percent and a big jump compared with the 49-cent raise he was given last year.

“My manager called me into his office and said, ‘Apple wants to show that it cares about its workers, and show that it knows how much value you add to the company, by offering a bigger raise than in previous years,’ ” Mr. Moll recalled.

Though a significant increase, Mr. Moll’s new salary of about $36,000 puts him on the low side of the wage scale at the other large sellers of Apple products, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, both of which offer commissions to sales staff at their stores.

In other areas, Apple has been a leader. Stores in a variety of fields have adopted the company’s retail techniques, like the use of roving credit-card swipers to minimize checkout lines, as well as the petting-zoo layout that encourages customers to test-drive products.

But Apple’s success, it turns out, rests on a set of intangibles; foremost among them is a built-in fan base that ensures a steady supply of eager applicants and an employee culture that tries to turn every job into an exalted mission.

This is why Apple can do something unique in the annals of retailing: pay a modest hourly wage, and no commission, to employees who typically have college degrees and who at the highest performing levels can move as much as $3 million in goods a year.

“When you’re working for Apple you feel like you’re working for this greater good,” says a former salesman who asked for anonymity because he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. “That’s why they don’t have a revolution on their hands.”

These true believers skew young, as anyone who has ever set foot in an Apple Store knows. And the relative youth of this work force helps explain why people are likely to judge the company by a different set of standards when it comes to wages, says Paul Osterman, a professor at M.I.T.’s Sloan School of Management.

“It’s interesting to ask why we find it offensive that Wal-Mart pays a single mother $9 an hour, but we don’t find it offensive that Apple pays a young man $12 an hour,” Mr. Osterman said. “For each company, the logic is the same — there is a line of people eager to take the job. In effect, we’re saying that our value judgments depend on the circumstances of the employee, not just supply and demand of the labor market.”

Twenty-two-year-olds also tend to be more tolerant of the Apple Store’s noise and bustle, yet these days some former employees describe a work environment that was too hectic and stressful, thanks in large part to the runaway popularity of the iPhone and iPad.

Managers often tell new workers that they hope to get six years of service, former employees say. “That was what we heard all the time,” says Shane Garcia, a former Apple Store manager in Chicago. “Six years.” But the average tenure is two and a half years, says a person familiar with the company’s retention numbers, and as foot traffic has increased, turnover rates in many stores have increased, too. Internal surveys at stores have also found surprising dissatisfaction levels, particularly among technicians, or “geniuses” in Apple’s parlance, who work at what is called the Genius Bar. Apple declined requests for interviews for this article. Instead, the company issued a statement:

“Thousands of incredibly talented professionals work behind the Genius Bar and deliver the best customer service in the world. The annual retention rate for Geniuses is almost 90%, which is unheard-of in the retail industry, and shows how passionate they are about their customers and their careers at Apple.”

That 90 percent figure sounds accurate to Mr. Garcia, who quit last July after four years with the company, overwhelmed by the work and unable to mollify employees and customers alike. Plenty of technicians do, in fact, like their jobs, which vary around the country, and which pay in the range of $40,000 a year in the Chicago area. Many technicians, though, wanted to leave but were unable to find equivalent work, according to Mr. Garcia and other former managers, in part because of the weak economy.

The problem for Apple Store employees, they said, wasn’t just the pace. It was the lack of upward mobility. There are only a handful of different jobs at Apple Stores and the most prestigious are invariably sought after by dozens of candidates. And a leap to the company headquarters is highly unusual.

Apple prohibits its staff from talking to the media, but several former employees who spoke for this article said they had fond memories of their jobs, and regarded them as ideal for people in their early 20s who aren’t ready for a full-on dive into the white-collar world.

And “Apple” can be a strong credential to have on a résumé, these people said. Technicians often move on to higher-paying jobs in information technology, they said, and sales staff have a leg up on the competition if they stay in retailing because “people know how grueling the job is,” as one former manager put it.

But other former employees have struggled to find work, or have moved into lateral jobs at other companies. And even those who used Apple as a launching pad described a gradual evolution, from team player to skeptic, as they discovered that there was a gap between what the job appeared to be (kind of hip) and what it was (frenetic and in many cases a dead end).

Kelly Jackson, who was a technician at an Apple Store in Chicago, was thrilled when she was hired two years ago. But she said she was even happier when she quit a year later, having found the work too relentless and the satisfactions too elusive.

“When somebody left, you’d be really excited for them,” says Ms. Jackson, who now works at Groupon. “It was sort of like, ‘Congratulations. You’ve done what everyone here wants to do.’ ”

Recruiting the Devoted

Skeptics outnumbered believers when Steven P. Jobs, then Apple’s chief, pitched the Apple Store concept to his board in 2000. Ultimately, approval was given for just four stores.

Mr. Jobs hired a Target executive named Ron Johnson to help design and oversee the stores. He in turn hired eight people, one of whom was Denyelle Bruno, then an executive at Macy’s West. When she was first approached, she said, she was told next to nothing about the work.

That did not daunt Ms. Bruno, now an executive at Peet’s Coffee.

“I had grown up using Macs, and if it involved Apple and I could be involved,” she said, “it made me feel important.”

Ms. Bruno was one of the first hard-core Apple fans hired for the nascent chain. Many others would follow, and part of her job was to help recruit them. Initially, that involved walking into stores, including those operated by Sprint and AT&T, and scouting out promising employees.

Such solicitations were unnecessary after the first two stores opened, on May 19, 2001, in McLean, Va., and Glendale, Calif. Soon, so many people wanted to work at the stores that Mr. Johnson would compare applicants-to-openings ratios and boast that it was harder to land a job at an Apple Store than to get into Stanford, his alma mater.

Those applicants have for years submitted résumés through the company’s site. The time-intensive part, former managers say, is finding the right people amid the pile, and the candidates of choice are affable and self-directed rather than tech-savvy. (The latter can be taught, is the theory, while the former is innate.) The vetting has not changed much. It often starts with an invitation to a seminar, held in a conference room at a hotel.

The culling begins before the seminar starts.

“They turn away people who are three minutes late,” says Graham Marley, who attended his seminar in a hotel in Dedham, Mass., in 2009. “My dream my whole life was to work for Apple and suddenly, you can,” he said. “You’ve always been an evangelist for Apple and now you can get paid for it.”

One manager said it was common for people offered jobs to burst into tears. But if the newly hired arrive as devotees, Apple’s training course, which can range from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the job and locale, turns them into disciples.

Training commences with what is known as a “warm welcome.” As new employees enter the room, Apple managers and trainers give them a standing ovation. The clapping often bewilders the trainees, at least at first, but when the applause goes on for several lengthy minutes they eventually join in.

“My hands would sting from all the clapping,” says Michael Dow, who trained Apple employees for years in Providence, R.I.

There is more role-playing at Core training, as it’s known, this time with pointers on the elaborate etiquette of interacting with customers. One rule: ask for permission before touching anyone’s iPhone.

“And we told trainees that the first thing they needed to do was acknowledge the problem, though don’t promise you can fix the problem,” said Shane Garcia, the one-time Chicago manager. “If you can, let them know that you have felt some of the emotions they are feeling. But you have to be careful because you don’t want to lie about that.”

The phrase that trainees hear time and again, which echoes once they arrive at the stores, is “enriching people’s lives.” The idea is to instill in employees the notion that they are doing something far grander than just selling or fixing products. If there is a secret to Apple’s sauce, this is it: the company ennobles employees. It understands that a lot of people will forgo money if they have a sense of higher purpose.

That empowerment is important because aspiring sales employees would clearly be better off working at one of the country’s other big sellers of Apple products, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, if they were searching for a hefty paycheck. Both offer sales commissions.

“It’s not at all common but there are sales agents at Verizon who earn six figures,” says Jonathan Jarboe, who managed Verizon Wireless stores in Oklahoma until last summer. Several former Verizon Wireless managers said that annual pay ran from $35,000 up to $100,000 in rare cases, with the sweet spot in the $50,000 to $60,000 range.

At Apple, the decision not to offer commissions was made, Ms. Bruno said, before a store had opened. The idea was that such incentives would work against the company’s primary goals — finding customers the right products, rather than the most expensive ones, and establishing long-term rapport with the brand. Commissions, it was also thought, would foster employee competition, which would undermine camaraderie.

Tellingly, Apple doesn’t use the word “sales” to describe members of its sales team. They’re called “specialists.”

By minimizing the profit motive among employees, Apple does more than just filter out people interested primarily in money. It also reduces the number of middle-aged and older people on the payroll
, said former managers. This isn’t about age discrimination, they said, so much as self-selection. Generally, an Apple employee is someone who can afford to live cheaply, is not bothered by the nonstop commotion of an Apple Store and is comfortable with technology.

People who fit that bill tend to be in their early or mid-20s, the former managers said. They typically don’t have children and many don’t have spouses, which means they are relatively inexpensive to cover with health insurance.

There is no shortage of college graduates eager to dedicate themselves to Apple’s vision, on Apple’s terms. That includes people like Asher Perlman, another former technician from a store in Chicago, who joined Apple three years ago, when he was 22.

“I’m happy with my time at Apple and where it landed me,” says Mr. Perlman, who now works in information technology. “I wouldn’t recommend it for my 35-year-old friend with a kid, but it works for someone who is 22 years old and doesn’t want to enter the business world yet.”

When Work Piles Up

The iPhone, which arrived in 2007, brought unprecedented crowds to Apple Stores. The company tried to hang on to its culture, but naturally it changed, and in many ways, say some former employees, for the worse.

Arthur Zarate, who joined Apple in 2004 and later worked as a technician at the store in Mission Viejo, Calif., says his training left him with a sense of ownership and pride. For a while, he loved the job, in large part because it delivered the simple and gratifying sense that he was helping people. There were time constraints on technicians — 20 minutes per customer — but because the store was rarely swamped, he usually had more time than that.

“My customers knew me by name,” he said. “That was a big deal.”

He had already begun to sour on the job when in 2007, he said, his store began an attendance system whereby employees accumulated a point for every day they did not come to work; anyone with four points in a 90-day period was at risk of termination.

“It was a perfectly good idea, but the thing that was terrible is that it didn’t matter why you couldn’t come to work,” Mr. Zarate said. “Even if you had a doctor document some medical condition, if you didn’t come to work, you got a point.”

Mr. Zarate, a former heavy smoker, said he was once out for two and a half weeks with severe bronchitis and was on the verge of dismissal when he e-mailed Ron Johnson, then the retail chief, who intervened on his behalf.

“I just wrote and said, ‘This isn’t fair. They don’t look at why you were out,’ ” he recalls. “And he saved my job.”

To meet the growing demand for the technicians, several former employees said their stores imposed new rules limiting on-the-spot repairs to 15 minutes for a computer-related problem, and 10 minutes for Apple’s assortment of devices. If a solution took longer to find, which it frequently did, a pileup ensued and a scrum of customers would hover. It wasn’t unusual for a genius to help three customers at once.

Because of the constant backlog, technicians often worked nonstop through their shift, instead of taking two allotted 15-minute breaks. In 2009, Matthew Bainer, a lawyer, filed a class action alleging that Apple was breaking California labor laws.

“State law mandates two 10-minute breaks a day,” Mr. Bainer said. “But geniuses had these lengthy queues of customers that made it all but impossible for them to stop even for a few minutes.”

The lawsuit was denied class certification in June of last year. Mr. Bainer pursued the matter in separate lawsuits and achieved what he described as “very favorable settlements” for 10 plaintiffs.

Not long after the class-action lawsuit was filed, a technician named Kevin Timmer who worked at the Woodland Mall store in Grand Rapids, Mich., noticed an added step when he logged onto a computer to punch out of work.

“This window popped up and it said something like, ‘By clicking this box I acknowledge that I received all my breaks,’ ” Mr. Timmer recalled. “The rumor was that was because some guy in California had sued.”

Mr. Timmer said he and other technicians in the store clicked the box even when they didn’t take any breaks. It wasn’t because management insisted they stick around. It was that any down time would slam already overburdened colleagues with even more work.

“We were all in the trenches together,” he said. “Nobody wanted to leave.”

With time limits, several former employees said, came another change at their stores. Technicians had always been able to spend a few hours of their shift in the repair room, providing a little away-from-customers time. In many stores, that ended. Walk-in demand for tech help was so great that when the bar was open, management at these stores decreed, it was to be staffed by any technician in the building. Repairs that could not be done at the bar would wait. As a result, the late shift in the repair room at these stores ended not at 10 p.m., but at midnight.

The pressure didn’t faze everyone. Multitasking, for instance, did not bother Asher Perlman.

“I’m a low stress kind of person to begin with and I didn’t find it unmanageable,” he said. “I know others did.”

As the crowds grew, the company’s “thank you” gestures started to seem a little tin-eared. Jordan Golson, who now blogs at MacRumors, a site that keeps tabs on all things Apple, said that for Christmas 2010, he and others at the store were given a fleece blanket and an insulated coffee thermos.

Mr. Zarate fared no better at one quarterly meeting for employees. Mr. Johnson made a videotaped appearance and referred to a wonderful surprise that managers were about to spring on everyone in the room. Free iPads for everyone was the expectation.“Then the lights went down, and we had a party in the store, with games and dancing,” Mr. Zarate said. “And we all got two tacos from a taco truck. That was our surprise. Two tacos.”

Rising to the Top

Like many who spoke for this article, Shane Garcia, the former Chicago manager, talked about Apple with a bittersweet mix of admiration and sadness. When he joined the company in 2007, he considered it a place, as he said, that “wanted you to be the best you could be in life, not just in sales.”

Three years later, his work life seemed tense and thankless. He had little expectation that upper management would praise or even notice his efforts.

Sales employees, Mr. Garcia and others noted, deal with stresses all their own. Though commissions are not offered, many managers keep close tabs on sales of warranties, known as Apple Care, and One to One, which is personal tutoring for a fee. Employees often had goals for “attachments” as these add-ons are called — 40 percent of certain products should include One to One, and 65 percent should include Apple Care.

For a sales employee who wanted to climb Apple’s in-store ladder — to technician or manager, for instance — those numbers were important. And in terms of keeping employees invested and striving, so were the rungs on that ladder, something that is true across retailing.

“There was always something being dangled in terms of different positions,” says Danielle Draper, a former manager at a store in Hingham, Mass. “‘You’ll need to do this if you want to become a creative,’ that kind of thing. There was never perfection. You could always tell someone they needed to work on something.”

At some point, employees either realize they won’t rise, or rise as high as they can.

“The disillusionment settles in not because of pay,” says Graham Marley, the former part-time salesman, “though pay is part of it. What happens is you realize that they want you to spend years there, but there is no actual career path.”

An exception is the job of manager, and Apple is often diligent about elevating from within its ranks of high achievers. Though not always. After the great influx that started with the iPhone, the company started plucking managers from stores like the Gap and Banana Republic. From employees who were around in the pre-2007 era, you can hear occasional laments about the gradual “Gapification of Apple.”

In recent years, the level of unhappiness at some stores was captured by an employee satisfaction survey known in the company as NetPromoter for Our People. It’s a variation of a questionnaire that Apple has long given to customers, and the key question asks employees to rate, on a scale of one to 10, “How likely are you to recommend working at your Apple Retail Store to an interested friend or family member?” Anyone who offers a nine or 10 is considered a “promoter.” Anyone who offers a seven or below is considered a “detractor.”

Kevin Timmer said the internal survey results last year at the Grand Rapids store were loaded with fives and sixes.

“We discussed it in a monthly meeting and our manager had tears in her eyes,” Mr. Timmer recalled. “She said something about how humbling these results were, that they want to fix any problems, that her door is always open, and so on.”

Similar figures were found in Chicago.

“By then,” Mr. Garcia said, “it wasn’t a surprise to upper management because it was clear that many geniuses wanted to leave. There was a ceiling. It wasn’t a glass ceiling because everyone could see it.”

Mr. Garcia would eventually quit Apple, and walk away from a job that paid a little more than $40,000 a year, when stress-related health issues sidelined him long enough to put his job at risk. He had no doubts that the company would easily find a replacement.

“There was never a shortage of résumés,” he said. “People will always want to work for Apple.”

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Greek Mythology

As I watch the debate over in Europe over Greece and the overall affect of defaulting and fiscally erupting countries over the Euro - a good idea of paper a bad idea on planning - I think about what mythology and the history it has in defining a country. And we here in the US are no exception.

I frequently call the emphasis on many American myths the Unicorn. We have many unicorns in our popular culture. My favorite is the "Independent Voter" this person who actually studies the issues, the candidates and then from that analyzes and decides on whom to vote based on that research. RIGHT.

The next unicorn is the Horatio Alger one. This is the story that you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps to become anything in this country. My favorite example is the character in Steve Martin's film, The Jerk. "I was born a poor black child..." well you figure out the rest. If any myth this is one that really needs to be put down for good.

Another unicorn is the idea that "women can have it all" Really? Because men can't. You can't have it all. Well unless having it all means well I have a good job, great spouse and kids, a sufficient income to cover it all, my life is perfect and well.... My mother used to say "the perfect person is dead." She was right its a great deal of stress to be perfect.

The problem with health care in this country is Insurance. Well to be honest they are part of the problem but its a much bigger problem than that. Medical Costs rise faster than inflation every year and the idea that Insurance is this blank check or reason for it is mistaken. The Medical profession is no different than any profession run for profit. Its about the bottom line. And the irony is that the bottom line is your health. Betting on the health of a person to make a profit seems wrong... Head to Vegas and place this bet "I'll take 50 on Steve and that he dies in a year." You get the picture and its not pretty.

Unions are wrong and they are the problem. Well they aren't the solution either. As heavily bureaucratic and laden with corruption, confusion and poor communication they are no different than any organization that they were designed to protect you from. They are in fact very similar and that is the problem.

The "tighten our belt" micro economics to solve macro economics is another. What a family does to reign in spending is not something a Government can do. They are two different application of economics. But thinking that cutting back on evenings out is the same as trying to resolve major budgets in Municipalities, States and Countries is akin to one dinner out to many is absurd.

The wide open spaces. Wow we Americans love that one. Ironic now as our urban cities are growing at a faster pace than the suburbs and in turn changing in their own demographics and dynamics as a result. Cities like Detroit once the 4th largest city is now the 14th, with the greatest migratory pattern of minorities to the South, while other cities once diverse becoming increasingly less so. The long range affects of those are yet to be seen but we still cling to the myth of the pilgrim or the cowboy.

The Constitution... we hold that dear as if it was a document written by infallible people who were also soothsayers, fortune tellers and iconic figures who knew it all. Really? They were men. White men. Some slave holders some not. Some educated, some not. They were not perfect, they were not dead. And this over 200 year old document was the foundation in which we built a democracy and when it suits us its used and when its not we ignore it. Frankly anything that old needs a good cleaning and modernization. Times change people change.

All countries have a mythology its a way to corral the sheep, a way to build history and a way to mislead and obfuscate the truth. Truth telling is not something we do well. The Greeks are just figuring it out. The rest of Europe is not far behind. This is not politics this is people. If we are to sustain as people we must start to realize that we are a collective of people. We are not a singular unit, we are not alone, we have obligations to the greater good and the bigger whole. Somewhere along the way we rely instead on silly myths, stories and legends to defend our thinking and our way of being. Its not working. That is why they are called myths.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Tiger Mother Cat Fight

When I read about high powered women and their debate over the adage "women can have it all" I guess I fall back on what all means. From the Tiger Mother to the Female CEO there is a great debate on what it means to be a woman of the 21st Century. And much like our constant debate on race, feminism has found itself also under frequent discussion. This being the year of the woman and all I find it ironic that its the same shit over again. Nothing changes while everything remains the same.

I was appalled at the absurd book about the "Tiger Mother" that connotated not only sexist imagery but racist ones. I recall the Suzy Wong, Tokyo Rose and Dragon Lady stereotypes of my youth so I was quite shocked when I a book that seemed to well actually perpetuate and embrace it. Sad really. We've come a long baby.. or not.

I have written many times on the euphemisms which are used to refer to women and I am not repeating it again. I have written about the new modern feminist Sheryl Sandberg as well. Again not worth repeating. But then today I read this is the New York Times about the war well on women by women. Shocking no. Sad yes. I have reprinted the article below and the link to the Atlantic article as well.

I have said this many times. When you divide you conquer. This is a division among women that cannot be ignored. And one wonders why? You can't have a war without an army and without a joined army united its a fairly one sided one.

Elite Women Put a New Spin on an Old Debate
Published: June 21, 2012 489 Comments

If a woman has a sterling résumé, a supportive husband who speaks fluent car pool and a nurturing boss who just happens to be one of the most powerful women in the world herself, who or what is to blame if Ms. Supposed-to-Have-It-All still cannot balance work and family?

An article by Anne-Marie Slaughter, center, who left a job at the State Department, revived an old debate over combining work and family.

A magazine article by a former Obama administration official has blown up into an instant debate about a new conundrum of female success: women have greater status than ever before in human history, even outpacing men in education, yet the lineup at the top of most fields is still stubbornly male. Is that new gender gap caused by women who give up too easily, unsympathetic employers or just nature itself?

The article in The Atlantic, by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton professor who recently left a job at the State Department, added to a renewed feminist conversation that is bringing fresh twists to bear on longstanding concerns about status, opportunity and family. Unlike earlier iterations, it is being led not by agitators who are out of power, but by elite women at the top of their fields, like the comedian Tina Fey, the Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg and now Ms. Slaughter. In contrast to some earlier barrier-breakers from Gloria Steinem to Condoleezza Rice, these women have children, along with husbands who do as much child-rearing as they do, or more.

The conversation came to life in part because of a compelling face-off of issues and personalities: Ms. Slaughter, who urged workplaces to change and women to stop blaming themselves, took on Ms. Sandberg, who has somewhat unintentionally come to epitomize the higher-harder-faster school of female achievement.

Starting a year and a half ago, Ms. Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, injected new energy into the often circular work-or-home debate with videotaped talks that became Internet sensations. After bemoaning the lack of women in top business positions, she instructed them to change their lot themselves by following three rules: require your partner to do half the work at home, don’t underestimate your own abilities, and don’t cut back on ambition out of fear that you won’t be able to balance work and children.

The talks transformed Ms. Sandberg from little-known executive to the new face of female achievement, earning her untold letters and speaking invitations, along with micro-inspection of her life for clues to career success. She hired a sociologist, Marianne Cooper, to help her get the research and data right. When Ms. Sandberg confessed in a recent interview that, contrary to her work-hound reputation, she leaves work at 5:30 p.m. to eat dinner with her children, and returns to a computer later, she earned yet another round of attention, and her words were taken as the working-mom equivalent of a papal ruling.

But her advice also spurred quiet skepticism: by putting even more pressure on women to succeed, was she, even unintentionally, blaming the victim if they did not?

Enter Ms. Slaughter’s article, posted Wednesday night, in which she described a life that looked like a feminist diorama from the outside (a mother and top policy adviser for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton) but was accompanied by domestic meltdown (workweeks spent in a different state than her family, a rebellious teenage son to whom she had little time to attend). As she questioned whether her job in Washington was doable and at what cost, she began hearing from younger women who complained about advice like Ms. Sandberg’s.

“Women of my generation have clung to the feminist credo we were raised with ... because we are determined not to drop the flag for the next generation,” Ms. Slaughter wrote. “But when many members of the younger generation have stopped listening, on the grounds that glibly repeating ‘you can have it all’ is simply airbrushing reality, it is time to talk.”

“Although couched in terms of encouragement, Sandberg’s exhortation contains more than a note of reproach,” Ms. Slaughter continued, an insinuation of “ ‘What’s the matter with you?’ ”

Instead, Ms. Slaughter said, the workplace needs to adapt, and women who opt out have no need to apologize.

In an interview, Ms. Slaughter added that she was motivated to write in part by her concern about the number of women serving in high posts under President Obama — and now that the first round of female appointees is leaving, she said, they are mostly being replaced by men. “I don’t think there is sufficient appreciation across the administration as a whole of the different circumstances facing women and men,” she said.

Unlike in earlier eras, when Germaine Greer would publish one book and then Betty Friedan would weigh in months later, a new crop of feminist bloggers and writers now respond instantaneously. The women they were writing about followed along in real time on Thursday as well, reading the debate as they were living it, inhaling Ms. Slaughter’s article and the responses as they stole a few minutes from work or raced off to pick up their children. By Thursday afternoon, Ms. Slaughter’s confession-slash-manifesto was breaking readership records for The Atlantic’s Web site, according to a magazine representative.

Many responded with enthusiasm for Ms. Slaughter’s recommendations (more latitude to work at home, career breaks, matching work schedules to school schedules, even freezing eggs). Some defended Ms. Sandberg or expressed solidarity with their husbands, who they said feel just as much work-life agita as they do. More than a few said they were irritated by what they called outdated language (“having it all”) and a clichéd cover illustration (Baby, check. Briefcase, check).

“Irresponsibly conflating liberation with satisfaction, the ‘have it all’ formulation sets an impossible bar for female success and then ensures that when women fail to clear it, it’s feminism — as opposed to persistent gender inequity — that’s to blame,” Rebecca Traister wrote in an article on

For her part, Ms. Sandberg remained silent, declining a request to address the Atlantic article. But Ms. Slaughter said in an interview that the Silicon Valley executive was one of the many readers who e-mailed her as soon as the article came out. Her message: they had to talk more about this, and soon.

One Plus One Equals Zero

As a big fan of Net Zero as it actually requires measurements to assess success I am posting a recent article written by Ashley Halligan of Software Advice on the subject.

She makes good points worth noting and well worth doing as we examine what it means to really build green.

If you are interested in Ashley's take on the Net Zero quest you can read her article here: Breaking Down Net Zero Building: Reality or Wishful Thinking?

For more questions or thoughts feel free to email

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I Want To Go Too!

Some amazing conferences are scheduled for the months ahead. I frankly am a Nerd and absolutely love going to conferences, etc for the chance to build my knowledge. As an appalling networker I have zero skills in that area, but as perpetual student and teacher they are always a win-win for me.

First up is the EEBA Conference. Info below. This one is great because it has a wide variety of subjects for any number of trades or professions in which to become engaged and involved. No prior advanced degrees required.But credits are given. Attendees will receive continuing education credits and have access to top thought leaders in the industry including John Tooley, pioneer in building science applications and Sam Rahskin, Chief Architect at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Program.

The 30th Annual Excellence in Building Conference & Expo
September 25-27, 2012

WHAT: 30th Annual Excellence in Building Conference & Expo

The Energy & Environmental Building Alliance proudly presents a year’s worth of value in just 3 days! The Excellence in Building Conference & Expo offers countless resources, educational seminars, expert presenters and hands-on tours to help builders tap into profit-building possibilities.

From a deeper understanding of the green building marketplace and what’s new in building science best practices and techniques, to the latest news on innovations and opportunities, participants will find the nation's leading experts, solutions and best practices at the Excellence in Building Conference.

Participants will also enjoy more than 55 educational sessions covering every facet of building science including insight from the industry’s leading thinkers and doers. The exhibit hall floor will feature what’s next in home performance products and services.

EEBA’s Excellence in Building Conference is where green building leaders and newcomers alike come to make contacts, do business and develop solutions in the brave new world of building science.

Collaboration, conversation, connection and celebration are why, year after year, EEBA is at the center of the best in building science and product integration.

WHERE: Fairmont Princess
7575 East Princess Drive
Scottsdale, AZ 85255

WHEN: September 25-27, 2012

WHY: Cost-efficient, convenient and geared for productivity and application, EEBA lets participants easily get what they came for: all the hands-on building science knowledge, innovation ideas, critical information and unique resources available from the best of the best in the industry.



This is followed by what I would call a paradise for Energy geeks. But the list of confirmed speakers from Colin Powell to Ted Koppel (that is for news geeks which I also am) are beyond interesting.

35th World Energy Engineering Congress
Conference & Expo / Atlanta, GA
October 31 - November 2, 2012
(Expo: Oct. 31 & Nov. 1)

In commemorating The Association of Energy Engineers' 35th Anniversary, AEE will be presenting the biggest and best World Energy Engineering Congress (WEEC) ever. Imagine a training program featuring 14 concurrent conference tracks, 56 sessions with over 250 energy experts, the largest exhibition of innovative new energy products and services, 13 intensive training and certification workshops, free tours and much more.

Attendees will have numerous opportunities to network with the expected 4,000 energy experts from all 50 states and around the world.

Attendees can save $200 on the regular $895 member/$995 non member conference rate by entering the coupon code WEECEmail1 at checkout. (deadline is October 17, 2012).

If I could attend both I would. Frankly its only costs that are preventing me and not a willingness as both are amazing opportunities. But my accident left me with immense medical bills so I have to pick and choose wisely. But go for me and tell me all about it. I am sure both will be amazing on many levels.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Green Manager

Welcome my guest blogger, Joe Schembri,from University Alliance. He asked if he could submit this article about Project Management and how to do so in a more eco-friendly fashion.

Enjoy and employ...

Environmental Considerations for Project Management

Many companies have developed effective green practices, but there are still numerous levels of environmental commitment untouched by many within an organization. A project manager is in the unique position of bringing people from various teams, divisions or businesses together during the duration of a project. This creates the opportunity for an eco-savvy project manager to implement eco-friendly practices within the project. If managed properly, this could subsequently become a permanent practice of the business or businesses involved. Clearly, the project budget and timeline need to be the top priority, but when possible, a project manager can foster green work initiatives.

The Project Charter
When drafting the project charter, research the sustainability and environmental policies of the company. The project objectives can then be written with consideration for these policies. If the company does not have an official stance, the objectives can include eco-friendly means of attaining ends, as long as they do not place a hefty strain on the budget.
Fortunately, many green practices such as reducing gas emissions also reduce costs. When a company does not have a strong environmental stance, cost-saving initiatives and competitive streamlining can become the stated priority while the project manager quietly remains green at heart.

Environmental Impact
When and where this is appropriate, the project's effects on the environment can be clearly stated. Many projects will have both positive and negative effects on the environment, which may have an impact on the company's reputation. As a project manager, you can focus on designing a project that will gain the best reaction from the local community – including no reaction, no complaints. Often, eco-friendly measures can help a company to secure support from the local community.

Monitoring the Project
As the project moves forward, maintain your environmental mindset. If new funds need to be added to the budget at a certain point, you may have an opportunity to cut costs and go green in order to balance out the loss. You may also discover small, eco-friendly ways of saving money as the project is moving along. These cost-saving ideas can assist you in managing the budget numbers while having a positive impact on both the project and the environment.

Identifying Risks
One of the most essential traits of a good project manager is the capacity to identify risks and plan with flexibility. Some risks could end up having a negative effect on the environment, such as the necessity to make longer commutes or realizing the need to replace materials which may be created in unsustainable ways. When these risks are identified and understood, more measures can be taken to help prevent them. In many cases, such challenges would have caused significant increases in spending, so take the budget into consideration when planning for risk factors.

The Project Summary
Once the project is complete, you can use the project summary to state any environmental lessons you or your team members learned during the project. If a company is open to environmental awareness, these ideas may be discussed clearly and openly. If a company is less disposed toward green practices, you might state the impact quite briefly, highlighting cost-saving methods. Either way, make every attempt to align the project, to some extent, with environmentally conscious thinking.

The Green Project Manager
Overall, you need to place your role as a project manager first for the sake of managing a successful project. This is what you're hired for and what people expect. On the other hand, you're also a human being with your own worldview that can subtly impact the way you facilitate projects. When companies are not eco-friendly, baby steps and cost-saving are often most effective. When a company has environmental policies in place, you may have "the green light." Regardless, you can have a great influence on your clients and the environment as a green-minded project manager.

Joe Schembri provided this post from University Alliance. He writes about various project management topics including ways for professionals to prepare for the PMP certification exam.