Friday, August 31, 2012

Work Hard for the Money

The most recent report on the job situation is well not surprising to anyone who actually follows job creation as its been called. Jobs are being created alright - McJobs for McWages. Meaning mostly service end jobs for service wages - those minimum or just slightly above.

When the political parties speak of the Middle Class I have no idea who those 10 people are? That is eroding into a two tier economy. The poor are derided, ignored or blamed and the rich are excused or apologized to. Either way this is one formula that is not adding up well for anyone.

The article below discusses the recent jobs and their affects on the economy - in this case both macro and micro. And I am certain that the blame seeking, point finger making, Horatio Galt's will find some personal excuse, explanation or reasoning behind why a woman once making 75K a year is now cobbling together an income. Or they will simply say this is another manipulation by the "liberal media aka the New York Times." With the declining number of daily papers in this country that monopoly much like that excuse seems to be waning. Ask Sam Zell about that.

This is our new economy. Two tiers, two kinds of people, those without and those with. And we have to live with it or without it in this case. Is this our version of sustainable America or do we need to RE-Build it?

Majority of New Jobs Pay Low Wages, Study Finds

Published: August 30, 2012

The disappearance of midwage, midskill jobs is part of a longer-term trend that some refer to as a hollowing out of the work force, though it has probably been accelerated by government layoffs.

“The overarching message here is we don’t just have a jobs deficit; we have a ‘good jobs’ deficit,” said Annette Bernhardt, the report’s author and a policy co-director at the National Employment Law Project, a liberal research and advocacy group.

The report looked at 366 occupations tracked by the Labor Department and clumped them into three equal groups by wage, with each representing a third of American employment in 2008. The middle third — occupations in fields like construction, manufacturing and information, with median hourly wages of $13.84 to $21.13 — accounted for 60 percent of job losses from the beginning of 2008 to early 2010.

The job market has turned around since then, but those fields have represented only 22 percent of total job growth. Higher-wage occupations — those with a median wage of $21.14 to $54.55 — represented 19 percent of job losses when employment was falling, and 20 percent of job gains when employment began growing again.

Lower-wage occupations, with median hourly wages of $7.69 to $13.83, accounted for 21 percent of job losses during the retraction. Since employment started expanding, they have accounted for 58 percent of all job growth.

The occupations with the fastest growth were retail sales (at a median wage of $10.97 an hour) and food preparation workers ($9.04 an hour). Each category has grown by more than 300,000 workers since June 2009.

Some of these new, lower-paying jobs are being taken by people just entering the labor force, like recent high school and college graduates. Many, though, are being filled by older workers who lost more lucrative jobs in the recession and were forced to take something to scrape by.

“I think I’ve been very resilient and resistant and optimistic, up until very recently,” said Ellen Pinney, 56, who was dismissed from a $75,000-a-year job in which she managed procurement and supply for an electronics company in March 2008.

Since then, she has cobbled together a series of temporary jobs in retail and home health care and worked as a part-time receptionist for a beauty salon. She is now working as an unpaid intern for a construction company, putting together bids and business plans for green energy projects, and has moved in with her 86-year-old father in Forked River, N.J.

“I really can’t bear it anymore,” she said, noting that her applications to places like PetSmart and Target had gone unanswered. “From every standpoint — my independence, my sense of purposefulness, my self-esteem, my life planning — this is just not what I was planning.”

As Ms. Pinney’s experience shows, low-wage jobs have not been growing especially quickly in this recovery; they account for such a big share of job growth mostly because midwage job growth has been so slow.

Over the last few decades, the number of midwage, midskill jobs has stagnated or declined as employers chose to automate routine tasks or to move them offshore.

Job growth has been concentrated in positions that tend to fall into two categories: manual work that must be done in person, like styling hair or serving food, which usually pays relatively little; and more creative, design-oriented work like engineering or surgery, which often pays quite well.

Since 2001, employment has grown 8.7 percent in lower-wage occupations and 6.6 percent in high-wage ones. Over that period, midwage occupation employment has fallen by 7.3 percent.

This “polarization” of skills and wages has been documented meticulously by David H. Autor, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A recent study found that this polarization accelerated in the last three recessions, particularly the last one, as financial pressures forced companies to reorganize more quickly.

“This is not just a nice, smooth process,” said Henry E. Siu, an economics professor at the University of British Columbia, who helped write the recent study about polarization and the business cycle. “A lot of these jobs were suddenly wiped out during recession and are not coming back.”

On top of private sector revamps, state and local governments have been shedding workers in recent years. Those jobs lost in the public sector have been primarily in mid and higher-wage positions, according to Ms. Bernhardt’s analysis.

“Whenever you look at data like these, there is this tendency to get overwhelmed, that there are these inevitable, big macro forces causing this polarization and we can’t do anything about them. In fact, we can,” Ms. Bernhardt said. She called for more funds for states to stem losses in the public sector and federal infrastructure projects to employ idled construction workers. Both proposals have faced resistance from Republicans in Congress.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Shop Til You Drop

Well we have dropped. The U.S. Economy has long been sustained by a shopping zeal that few other countries emulate. And now the bill has come due. From our inflated Education costs, Healthcare to Housing we have an overwhelming desire to buy what we think we need and even what we don't because retail therapy is easier, still cheaper and faster than actually finding and solving what ails us. This also is a lot to due with denial about the truth about our own economic situations. I had to laugh when reading transcripts of Anne Romney's speech at the RNC saying "women know what Doctor to call in the middle of the night" Clearly I have to get that Doctor's number. I wonder if it will put me in financial arrears like the rest of Medicine seems to do for the well the rest of us. And do Doctor's still make house calls?

Of course she was wearing a $2,000 dollar Designer dress while espousing the role of a hard working wife of a hard working man. Again that is some work. And yet much is made of Michelle Obama's wardrobe. She is the First Lady and I do think that job is hard as to the man she is married to. I feel that way regardless of party or politics. Certain jobs require certain standards and that includes clothing. But we have clearly confused what that means to the "everyman" who can't afford a $2,000 dress or its copy at Target for $20.

The same could be said for electronics/technology. The lines outside of an Apple store on release day for the latest greatest I-fill-in-the-blank are often covered on the evening news yet rarely followed by stories on how said products are made.

I found this article in today's New York Times about fashion and the price paid for goods less about quality and more about consumption. Target I believe truly initialized this fad of "designer" duds at Target prices. But what is often neglected is that the only thing designer about them is the label. Unlike the namesake's department store quality merchandise, these items are made cheaply, poorly and with a short lifespan. The surplus of discarded clothes is so severe that many countries can no longer process the waste. This is not sustainable in any sense of the word.

Fashion’s Cost, Hidden and Not So
Published: August 29, 2012

“Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.” By Elizabeth L. Cline. 256 pages. Portfolio. $25.95.

“You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You.” By Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner. 272 pages. Da Capo Lifelong Books. $16.

“How to Look Expensive: A Beauty Editor’s Secrets to Getting Gorgeous Without Breaking the Bank.” By Andrea Pomerantz Lustig. 224 pages. Gotham Books. $22.50.

YOU may have seen the famous 1970s Coca-Cola ad in which smiling young people of many nations gathered to sing about “perfect harmony.” But have you ever seen the famous 1970s ad for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, in which American men and women of many races sang in unison, asking fellow citizens to “look for the Union label” when they bought their clothes?

That union label, they tunefully explained, meant, “We’re able to make it in the U.S.A.” That’s not a refrain you will hear anymore, nor will you find the union’s label in H&M, Walmart, Uniqlo or any of the chains where Americans buy clothing at rock-bottom prices these days.

Instead, you’ll find labels that say “Made in Bangladesh” or “Made in China” on garments that can be bought for the price of a Coke and a sandwich, and whose manufacture does not guarantee a worker a living wage “in the U.S.A.,” or anywhere else.

In “Overdressed,” her book on the trillion-dollar global clothing industry, Elizabeth L. Cline explains that “in the late 1970s, three-fourths of our clothes were still made in the United States.” Today, that number has dropped to 2 percent. As consumers have become “focused on quantity over quality and trends over innovative design,” she writes, Americans have come to see clothing as a “discretionary” purchase, a trend assisted by round-the-clock online bargain-hunting.

Where’s the harm in the 24/7 new-clothes-buying cycle? Ms. Cline argues that besides perpetuating labor woes, the disposable clothing “free-for-all” has brought us “the empty uniformity of cheapness.”

To demonstrate how the current fashion industry operates, Ms. Cline sent e-mails overseas, asking companies how much they would charge to mass-produce a handful of garments she described (pulled from her own hangers in Brooklyn). In Hong Kong, Dhaka and Santo Domingo, she met with garment workers, observing at first hand the hardships they put up with to secure United States contracts. Later, taking a skirt to New York City’s struggling garment district, she learned that it would cost six times as much to make here, and would retail for twice the price a bargain-hunter would tolerate. When only a sliver of the population knows the difference between badly made and well-made clothing, and when those who splash out on designer dresses often care more about brands than seams, she writes, “It’s not that we can’t pay more money for fashion; we just don’t see any reason to.”

JENNIFER BAUMGARTNER, a psychologist and wardrobe consultant based in Potomac, Md., blames the nationwide shopping spree for an epidemic of wardrobe maladies. In her insightful book “You Are What You Wear,” she analyzes nine “symptomatic” closets she’s encountered in her work.

She describes the poignant “Time Travel” closet of the mom in her mid-40s, whose hangers and drawers overflow with rhinestone-studded candy-colored terry jumpsuits, plastic flip-flops and neon jelly bracelets, because she shops like her teenage daughter. (There’s a reason it’s called “Forever 21,” not “Forever 47.”)

She exposes the “Cover’s Blown” closet of a woman who has assembled an overly revealing wardrobe, believing her eye-catching outfits will win her admiration at the office and at nightclubs. Instead, her outfits get her ogled ... and shunned. Dr. Baumgartner gives her a nudge toward wardrobe choices that will garner the right kind of attention.

The most common closet crime is probably the “Shop Til You Drop” compulsion, in which coupon-crazed shoppers buy — or charge — more clothing than they can wear or afford, lured by deals that seem too good to pass up. Dr. Baumgartner diagnoses one such fashion felon with “sale insanity.”

THAT said, is it so crazy to succumb to the temptation to buy faddish clothing for low prices, at a cultural moment when even celebrities brag of mixing Target with Tory Burch? The beauty editor Andrea Pomerantz Lustig believes that the best way to look like a million bucks when your outfit costs less than your lunch is to take pains with your hair, makeup and skin care, using tips she has compiled over a lifetime.

In her book “How to Look Expensive” (by which she means “classy,” that embarrassingly earnest word describing the universally sought-after aura), she reveals the power tools in her arsenal, and provides affordable and D.I.Y. alternatives for her cosmetic weaponry.

Dividing the effect women generally seek into four categories (the classic Park Avenue look, Bohemian glamour, European sophistication and Hollywood hipness), she provides strategies and product recommendations for achieving the skin, hair, brow, teeth and nails that each look requires.

She advocates a “mix it up” approach. You don’t have to stick to Chanel and Fekkai; L’OrĂ©al and John Frieda can do the trick. “Like fashion, where you may shop at a discount store,” Ms. Lustig writes, “you can go high-end, low-end and everywhere in between with your skin-care products — and wear them all at the same time.”

In the absence of firm fashion rules, each woman must police her own beauty borders.

Build with Design

Finding innovative ways to upcycle and recycle products is essential to both build and design. This honeycomb vase by Tomas Libertiny’s may be the most unique but for those vested in something less ethereal; Finding new products and imaginative ideas are always something I like to pass along and two really outstanding ones came today in my newspaper.

From the New York Times Homes section I was drawn to two items that they labeled under their banner "The Classic's Circa 2050" As in all designations however the debate centers on what defines "classic" when it comes to making something an icon of design. As I wrote about in Kitchen Wear we agree that the little black dress is a must have in any wardrobe for women and a classic white fitted shirt the equivalent for men. But in home design the iconic stature is less about a must and more about longevity.

And as in fashion, home design falls into fads and fashions. Well so does build. Let's face it it what makes our economy charged - the ability to trend and flow with that. The last few years we have found out that may be less true but we still have to live somewhere and where you live is less important on how you do so. And to follow design trends you sacrifice often the elements of what defines sustainability for design. Eco friendly often connotates something utilitarian and functional but not pretty. But as I have also shown that beauty is not just in the eye of the beholder when it comes to today's eco lines. And with my focus on affordable the two that caught this beholder's eye are these:

Until Dawn Curtain

Around 2000, after several years of sleek white modernism and abstract blobs, ornament reappeared. Tord Boontje’s Until Dawn curtain, incised with unabashedly lyrical woodland imagery, is made of Tyvek, the material used in Express Mail envelopes.

At $124, the curtain is affordable enough to worm its way into the public’s heart. And to date, 50,000 units have been sold, said a representative of Artecnica, the manufacturer. Mr. Boontje’s equally poetic Garland (2002), a ribbon of metal flowers that wraps around a naked light bulb, has been 10 times as successful. But with the disappearance of incandescent bulbs, Garland’s utility is fading fast. Until Dawn will be forever useful.

111 Navy Chair

Made from 111 recycled plastic Coke bottles, the 111 Navy Chair® (1944/2009) is the result of a special collaboration between Emeco and Coca-Cola. It took four years of research, design and materials testing to create this chair, which is a plastic version of the iconic 1006 Navy® Chair. Designed to have the attributes of the original aluminum version – strength, durability and comfort – the 111 Navy Chair expands the collection by offering color and a bit of pop (no pun intended). The Navy Chair design constitutes the proprietary Trade Dress of Emeco. Made in U.S.A..

The production of this chair is expected to keep three million plastic Coke bottles out of landfills each year.

Red, white and flint are suitable for outdoor use.

One of the few plastic chairs to be built with leg stretchers, the 111 Navy will stand up to frequent use.

And this one which is strictly indulgent for personal reasons:

The One Laptop per Child
project to distribute affordable computers, which began mid-decade, reflected a renewed concern for social issues after 2000, said Paola Antonelli.

There are many other beautifully designed products which your can peruse at your leisure on the link but I did not include them as despite their aesthetic and eco-sensibility they were also exceedingly expensive. And I must still hold true to my values that green for all means less green needs to be spent. But I applaud the beauty in the idea that art is functional in many more ways than for the eye of the beholder alone.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bite This!

Well you may not given the fact that like Medical care Dental care is out of reach for many Americans. Even those with Insurance as the type and kind of coverage is so limited and inaccessible its unaffordable.

Just a perusal of the average Dental costs across country shows a wide discrepancy for the most basic of care. Teeth extractions can run from $100 to $300 dollars. Why? Well just like Doctors, Dentists have overhead and that maintenance on Mercedes isn't cheap. Yet ask the Dental Assistant or Hygienist what he/she (as its mostly if not all women this might explain it) what they earn. Its quite a discrepancy there as well. Looking at the Department of Labor stats for that field seem...., well again ask your Hygienist.

In Washington State we have the highest paid Dentists in the country. Is our care that great? I mean really? Why? Cost of living? Cost of Education? Well we have only one major Dental school- the University of Washington and if their Dental students are any like the recent Medical students I encountered from my experience at Harborview then I am going to start to learn to do my own fillings. I have frequently jested with my Dentist that I am going to start a Dental truck much akin to the food trucks one sees that provides basic dental care and call it Pirate Dentist. There might actually be something in that.

The Affordable Care Act did nothing to address the cost of Dentistry or even Vision care, two essential components in overall health. And as one looks in the below article, many ER visits are attributed to Dental related issues. And that is the big kahuna for the ACA this supposed acceleration and unnecessary ER visits by the "uninsured" that contribute to the rising cost of medicine. Been there. Done disproving that. Just like Medicine, take a number wait and like fast food you are done in 15 minutes. Onto the next.

This is how we "built it". Its collapsing. Time to Rebuild it I think.

Sharp Cuts in Dental Coverage for Adults on Medicaid

Published: August 28, 2012

BOSTON — Banned from tightening Medicaid eligibility in recent years, many states have instead slashed optional benefits for millions of poor adults in the program. Teeth have suffered disproportionately.

Republican- and Democratic-controlled states alike have reduced or largely eliminated dental coverage for adults on Medicaid, the shared state and federal health insurance program for poor people. The situation is not likely to improve under President Obama’s health care overhaul: it requires dental coverage for children only.

Illinois became the latest state to drastically cut dental benefits last month, when Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, cut $1.6 billion out of its $15 billion Medicaid budget, reducing adult dental coverage to emergency tooth extractions. The state, whose Medicaid program was considered among the most generous, also cut vision benefits, eliminated chiropractic and podiatry coverage and started requiring co-payments for drugs.

In about half the states, Medicaid now covers dental care only for pain relief and emergencies, according to a recent report by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, a national health research group. Other states cover preventive exams and cleanings but not restorative services, like fillings and root canals.

The federal health care law generally prohibits states from tightening eligibility for Medicaid before 2014, when a vast expansion of the program to cover people with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line is supposed to take effect. But states are still allowed to cut optional benefits, like vision, dental and drug coverage. Whether to seek broader cuts is part of a contentious debate between Mr. Obama and Mitt Romney over the future of Medicaid and Medicare, the government health care program for older Americans.

The dental benefits issue came to the forefront recently here in Massachusetts, a state known for generous Medicaid benefits. Under budgetary pressures, the state stopped paying private Medicaid providers for fillings, root canals, crowns and dentures in July 2010. But it recently decided to restore part of that coverage. Starting in January, Massachusetts Medicaid will pay for fillings — but only for those in the front of the mouth. The reasoning was that healthy front teeth were more important for getting and keeping jobs.

“A lot of folks are out of work,” said Courtney Chelo, coordinator of an oral health task force at Health Care For All, an advocacy group in Boston. “If you have a gap in the front of your mouth because you had a tooth extracted, it’s much more difficult to get a job.”

Dr. Michael Wasserman, the president-elect of the Massachusetts Dental Society, said that he was disappointed Massachusetts did not restore full coverage but that even a partial restoration was extraordinary in these fiscal times. Medicaid patients make up about 20 percent of his practice in Pittsfield, he said. “Of course we would have also liked to see the back teeth covered,” he said. “It’s nice to smile; it’s nice to chew. But we have to take what we can get at this point.”

Many adults on Medicaid have turned to community health centers. In Massachusetts, such clinics received 22,000 new dental patients statewide — 760 per site, on average — in the first six months after coverage was dropped.

At the Lynn Community Health Center outside Boston, demand has not stopped growing. The center added six dental chairs this year, bringing the total to 12, and hired more hygienists and dentists. Still, “the waiting room is packed,” said Lori Abrams Berry, the executive director.

Even in states where Medicaid enrollees can still get regular dental care, finding dentists who accept Medicaid can be next to impossible. That is partly because reimbursements, which were low to begin with, have also been cut. Dentists, many of whom do not take even private insurance, can get much higher payments from non-Medicaid customers.

At the same time, there are shortages of dentists in many poor and rural communities, according to the Pew Center on the States. In a report this year, Pew estimated that preventable dental problems were the primary diagnosis in 830,590 emergency room visits in 2009 — up 16 percent from 2006.

“It’s penny-wise and pound-foolish,” said Shelly Gehshan, the director of the Pew Children’s Dental Campaign. “Rather than an $80 extraction or a $300 filling, states are spending much more on emergency room visits that can’t fix the problem.”

Citing safety concerns, dental associations have fought efforts to allow dental therapists — midlevel providers with more training than hygienists but less than dentists — to do common procedures like filling cavities and pulling teeth. Currently, only Alaska and Minnesota allow dental therapists.

But Ms. Gehshan said other states would embrace the idea, partly because more than five million children will become eligible for dental coverage under the federal law. There are not enough dentists for them, she said, adding that research has found dental therapists to be “safe and effective.”

“There needs to be more rungs in the ladder,” Ms. Gehshan said. “The associations have taken a fearful defensive posture, but this can really be a win-win situation for dentists.”

Although the law does not address dental coverage for adults, it provides $11 billion to expand community clinics and build new ones. Many clinics, like the one in Lynn, are using the money to expand dental services as well as primary care. Of the 55,000 new square feet at the Lynn clinic — financed with $18.6 million in stimulus and Affordable Care Act money as well as private donations — 6,500 are reserved for dentistry, Ms. Berry said.

“I regret that I didn’t build more dental chairs,” she added. “It never seems to be enough.”

Got Gas?

I no longer own a vehicle. I don't miss it. I simply think that the money spent on the car is better spent on things that matter - my health, my planet, my wallet. The money on insurance, upkeep and gas was difficult to budget. When you have the entire country going "we must tighten our belts" but doing nothing to ensure that costs that have widespread distribution as in Energy and Food are not stable, you actually need those to stay alive. Taxes are dependent upon income. When you have none you pay none. When you have a lot you pay little. The parity and fairness is quite apparent. Those with significant income can and have better cars they can afford but oddly pay the same or less than the majority to use the same roads, drink the same water (well maybe not Evian is French), use the same energy resources yet pay the exact same costs. Makes total sense.

When the Pizza comes do you say I will only eat a piece and here is my share of the cost as it pertains to the overall? Honestly this mantra is becoming not only tedious its absurd. When I have money I will happily share more. I have it to do so. It means a better quality of overall life. Clean air, clean roads, clean water means better life. This is not advanced math. Its amusing that there is this constant emphasis on micro economics to macro economics but in certain situations its true. its called a trade off. Look to the larger community in which you live. When you rely on public transportation you see its immense benefits but also its immense problems. But when you don't rely or use the services that "everyone" does, such as public transport, education, health care, you are sure that those who do are less and therefore deserve less. I notice when they say reform it all applies to the things that the rich don't use or need such as public schools, public hospitals, libraries, etc but its interesting to see at these varying conventions the bellowing, high fiving affirmations when speeches are made denigrating others to make a point. This is what debate is in our country. It resolves nothing and progress is zero to make the planet and America a better place for everyone.

And that brings me to the new Gas efficiency standards unveiled yesterday. Like many things regarding climate, energy, wages, health its late but not too late. The simple fact is that its a dual win win - both to the planet and to the consumer. Its rare to see this in our win-you lose dichotomy.

I ask everyone if you could give up your car one week. Rely on public transport or the best energy source - legs to see how it works. Sure on the rare case a cab or even a shared auto might work but on average rely on your trolleys, buses, subways, jitney's, etc and see what that means overall for both you and your planet. Your wallet will also be much heavier by week end. Money well saved.

U.S. Sets Higher Fuel Efficiency Standards
Published: August 28, 2012

DETROIT — The Obama administration issued on Tuesday the final version of new rules that require automakers to nearly double the average fuel economy of new cars and trucks by 2025.

The standards — which mandate an average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon for the 2025 model year — will increase the pressure on auto manufacturers to step up development of electrified vehicles as well as sharply improve the mileage of their mass-market models through techniques like more efficient engines and lighter car bodies.

Current rules for the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, program mandate an average of about 29 miles per gallon, with gradual increases to 35.5 m.p.g. by 2016.

The new rules represent a victory for environmentalists and advocates of fuel conservation, but were attacked by opponents, including the Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, as too costly for consumers.

While the regulations have been in development for more than a year, the White House’s decision to make them final on the first full day of the Republican National Convention seemed intended to highlight one of President Obama’s proudest accomplishments at a time when Mr. Romney has laid out a different energy and environmental agenda.

The administration called the new rules “historic,” and estimated that Americans would reduce their oil consumption by 12 billion barrels over the course of the program. “These fuel standards represent the single most important step we’ve ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” Mr. Obama said in a statement.

But the Romney campaign has criticized the new rules as “extreme” and said the standards would limit the choices when consumers shop for a new car. “The president tells voters that his regulations will save them thousands of dollars at the pump, but always forgets to mention that the savings will be wiped out by having to pay thousands of dollars more upfront for unproven technology that they may not even want,” said Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for the Romney campaign.

The transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, said the standards would save Americans $1.7 trillion in fuel costs, resulting in an average savings of more than $8,000 a vehicle by 2025.

The fuel savings, he said, would easily exceed the estimated $2,000 to $3,000 that the more efficient vehicles would cost consumers to buy.

“You put better technology in the car and the price is going to go up,” Mr. LaHood said in a conference call with reporters. “But it goes up a fraction of what you save on gas.”

The administration also said the rules would cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2025, eliminating six billion tons over the course of the program.

Proponents of the rules contend that they could also generate hundreds of thousands of jobs by increasing the demand for new technologies.

“Our nation will be more secure, our environment will be cleaner, and consumers will have more money in their pockets as a result of the new rule,” said Phyllis Cuttino, director of the Pew Clean Energy Program, an environmental organization based in Washington.

Thirteen major automakers, including General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, endorsed the new standards during lengthy negotiations last year.

The companies fought for and won inclusion of a critical midprogram review period in the final rule. The review, to be conducted at the end of the decade, is meant to assess the progress made toward achieving the 54.5 m.p.g. goal. The standard could then be altered if the manufacturers are struggling to meet the new guidelines.

One industry trade group, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said a “rigorous midterm review” was necessary to determine how consumers reacted to new models that had better mileage but might be more expensive.

“Compliance with higher fuel-economy standards is based on sales, not what we put on the showroom floor,” the alliance said in a statement.

Auto dealers also expressed concern that higher prices for new cars might exclude some consumers from the market. “This increase shuts almost seven million people out of the new car market entirely,” said Bill Underriner, chairman of the National Auto Dealers Association.

Auto companies are expected to take different approaches to meeting the more stringent guidelines.

Some, like the Japanese automaker Nissan, are counting on consumers gravitating to all-electric models like its Leaf. Others, like Chrysler, will focus their efforts on improving engines and transmissions on traditional gasoline-powered cars.

Ford is offering its new Focus compact car with a variety of power sources, ranging from an electric version to a regular gas engine.

Still, American consumers have so far been slow to buy electric cars, despite gas prices that are near $4 a gallon. General Motors is planning to shut down production temporarily of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid to reduce a backlog of unsold inventory.

For the most part, automakers will have to accelerate their efforts to improve mileage by reducing the weight of vehicles, using more aerodynamic designs and decreasing engine size without sacrificing power.

“The vast majority of vehicles will be more efficient without using electric or hybrid powertrains,” said Daniel F. Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, a Washington-based environmental advocacy group. “These cars won’t look any different than today unless you check under the hood.”

Even if the 54.5 m.p.g. goal is reached, most cars and trucks will get lower mileage in real-life driving. Credits for air-conditioning units in vehicles will reduce the average mileage to about 49 m.p.g., and actual driving conditions could reduce it further.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

More is Not Better

Yes I am obsessing on the issue regarding Medical care in this country but its truly one of the most distressing unsustainable issue facing whoever is elected in both Congress and Presidency. The Affordable Health Care Act aka "Obamacare" has shown to be a divisive if not actually confusing issue. Can't live with it, can't live without it frankly.

The rising cost of Medicine coupled with an aging population - nearing 10K a year in total people reaching 65 and being able to access Medicare - is what much of the hoopla is about. With that comes increase costs and reduced profits for those in both the Insurance and Medical fields. As one opts out of one there needs to be another to take it place to offset costs and maintain profit its that simple.

Not a fan of the ACA as I find it lacking in necessary components regarding the unchecked and unregulated aspects of Medicine, I see this as another "kick the can down the road" issue. In other words not sustainable.

Today in the New York Times there are always many articles discussing why Medicine is so overpriced. Today's is the over treatment aspect. Over tested, over done and over medicated seems to be the mantra of the profession these days. Their excuse or reasoning is either better patient care or fear of malpractice. I lean to the latter as the evidence of the former is in our rating as #37 in actual medical care overall. So more is not better in this case.

Both articles discuss the ramifications of what it means to have too much care and in ways not enough. I do think our fear of authority figures as designated by the numbers of degrees earned or letters after their name somehow justifies what occurs when ordinary people are put in extraordinary situations. How many times have I heard someone say "you are not a Doctor/Lawyer" in a demeaning fashion? Well I take that as compliment. And while I am making sweeping generalizations that may well not reflect all of those in those professions, frankly I meet few who do break that stereotype in my head. Sorry but my experience has led me to conclude otherwise and I wish that was not the case for many but in the articles below you will see a similar story.

No one is infallible. NO ONE. Haven't we learned that yet? We all make mistakes but it appears that again the degrees and salaried earned are somehow excusing people from admitting that and simply acknowledging and apologizing when mistakes are made. It fact it appears that it seems they become more incalcitrant and obstinate to defend their reputation than to seek resolution. And the results speak for themselves. Litigation and arbitration and in turn more legislation and obfuscation of the truth. Transparency, honesty and absolution should be all part of our lives for the good health of it.

Overtreatment Is Taking a Harmful Toll

The rising costs of the U.S. health care system.

When it comes to medical care, many patients and doctors believe more is better.

A closer look at big issues facing the country in the 2012 Election.

Economy, Planet, Security, World and Health.

But an epidemic of overtreatment — too many scans, too many blood tests, too many procedures — is costing the nation’s health care system at least $210 billion a year, according to the Institute of Medicine, and taking a human toll in pain, emotional suffering, severe complications and even death.

“What people are not realizing is that sometimes the test poses harm,” said Shannon Brownlee, acting director of the health policy program at the New America Foundation and the author of “Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer.”

“Sometimes the test leads you down a path, a therapeutic cascade, where you start to tumble downstream to more and more testing, and more and more invasive testing, and possibly even treatment for things that should be left well enough alone.”
REFUSAL Kathryn Gullo and her partner declined more tests for their daughter, Grace.Michal Czerwonka for The New York Times REFUSAL Kathryn Gullo and her partner declined more tests for their daughter, Grace.
NEEDLESS Kara Riehman in Atlanta. After calling her doctor, she had a CT scan and an M.R.I. for a black eye.VIrginie Drujon-Kippelen for The New York Times NEEDLESS Kara Riehman in Atlanta. After calling her doctor, she had a CT scan and an M.R.I. for a black eye.

Have you experienced too much medicine? As part of The New York Times’s online series The Agenda, I asked readers to share their stories. More than 1,000 responded, with examples big and small.

Some complained that when they switch doctors they are required to undergo duplicate blood work, scans or other tests that their previous doctor had only recently ordered. Others told of being caught in a unending maze of testing and specialists who seem to forget the patient’s original complaint. I heard from doctors and nurses, too — health professionals frustrated by a system that encourages these excesses.

Terrence Power of Breckenridge, Colo., said that after his wife, Diane, learned she had Wegener’s disease, an uncommon autoimmune disorder, the couple found it difficult to refuse testing recommended by a trusted doctor. The doctor insisted on office visits every three weeks, even when she was feeling well. He frequently ordered blood tests and X-rays, and repeatedly referred her to specialists for even minor complaints. Even when tests came back negative, more were ordered, and she was hospitalized as a precaution when she developed a cold. During one six-month period, she had 25 doctor visits. The couple was spending about $30,000 a year out of pocket for her care.

“He was convincing enough that we felt we needed to have it done,” said Ms. Power, 60, who recalls being sedated before an endoscopy procedure, one of the last tests she allowed her doctor to perform. “When they were getting ready to knock me out I was thinking, ‘Why am I doing this?’ But we felt like the doctor knew what to do and we trusted him.”

After several years of physical suffering and near financial ruin from the medical costs, the couple began questioning the treatment after consulting with other patients in online support groups. Mr. Power spoke with his own primary care doctor, who advised him to find a new specialist to oversee Ms. Power’s care. “It’s a really hard thing to determine when they’ve crossed the line,” Mr. Power said. “You think she’s getting the best care in the world, but after a while you start to wonder, what is the objective? He seemed caring, but he didn’t really consider my wife’s time and the suffering she was going through having all these tests done.”

Under the new doctor’s care, the regular testing stopped and Ms. Power was finally able to achieve remission. Now she sees the doctor only four or five times a year.

Sometimes the toll of too much medicine is brief, but emotional. Kara Riehman, 43, of Atlanta was vacationing in California when she lost a struggle with an ironing board in her hotel room and ended up with a black eye.

As the bruising peaked around 10 days, she called her doctor to make sure everything looked normal. But instead of seeing her, the doctor, through a conversation with the nurse, ordered a CT scan. She had no symptoms other than a bruised eye, but the doctor never spoke with her or examined her. The scan came back with an ambiguous finding, and the nurse told her it could be a tumor. She was then given an M.R.I. and for two weeks while she waited for the results, she worried she had brain cancer. The nurse called to tell her the M.R.I. was fine.

“It was really terrible,” she said. “It was only two weeks, but there is a lot of cancer in my family. I never actually talked to my doctor through this whole thing.”

The total cost to her insurance company was about $7,000. “It did change how I think about interacting with the medical system,” Ms. Riehman said. “It made me much more of a questioning consumer.”

Jim Donohue, a Brooklyn bank examiner, had to intervene on behalf of his father, now 79, who had a stroke in March 2007. Doctors in Florida put him on several medications, including two antidepressants, and soon after the man began hallucinating and showing signs of dementia. Mr. Donohue began researching the drugs, and learned they were associated with cognitive problems. He persuaded his father’s doctors to change the medication, and his father quickly improved. He has since recovered, and has been living on his own for four years.

“All the medical professionals seeing him along the way, the hospital, two nursing homes and nobody thought of this,” said Mr. Donohue, who said his father never should have been given a diagnosis of depression in the first place. “I don’t know if we have too many specialists and every one is trying to practice their specialty, but it should not have happened.”

When Kathryn Gullo, a teacher in the Los Angeles area, gave birth to twins just 25 weeks into the pregnancy, she was thrust into the intense medical care of the neonatal ward that saved her children’s lives. But when her daughter, Grace, was 3 months old she was transferred to a different hospital, where the doctors insisted on subjecting her to a battery of tests for symptoms that other doctors had dismissed as normal for her condition. “We felt like we were being bullied,” Ms. Gullo said. “I had enough faith in her previous doctors that it was then easy to say no.”

The family switched hospitals and their daughter, now 5 and living with mild cerebral palsy and some vision and feeding issues, continues to require specialized care. But recently, when doctors suggested an M.R.I. that would require that their daughter be anesthetized, Ms. Gullo and her partner, Katie Ingram, said they asked two key questions: “What new information will this give us?” and “Will it change what we are doing?” After talking to the doctor, they declined the M.R.I.

“Not every mystery has to be solved, and not every problem has to be addressed,” Ms. Gullo said. “That’s hard to get your brain around.”

Many Bone Tests for Some, and Too Few for Others

Though Riva Schwartz, who manages a law office in Garden City, N.Y., has never broken a bone, she began receiving bone-density scans almost 10 years ago, when she turned 50. Eventually she was given a diagnosis of osteoporosis and started treatment. But every bone-building medication she took had side effects.

The bisphosphonate drugs often used to treat bone loss caused a severe flulike reaction that landed her in bed with fever and chills. When Mrs. Schwartz switched to a different drug, which she had to inject herself, she developed painful kidney stones.

Now she is taking a third medication. “I’m glad I’m getting treatment,” said Mrs. Schwartz, 59, “but I’m the first one to say I’m a guinea pig.”

Fractures in old age, and broken hips in particular, are a serious health problem. One in every two women will experience a fracture after the age of 50, and for those who break a hip, the injury can be life-altering, making a woman up to four times as likely to die within a year of the injury as she would be otherwise.

“People don’t understand how serious it is to experience fractures late in life,” said Dr. Ethel Siris, who heads the Toni Stabile Osteoporosis Center at Columbia University Medical Center and who was involved in osteoporosis studies funded by Merck. “When you break a hip at 80, it can be a life-ending experience.”

About 7 percent of postmenopausal women will experience a hip fracture. A broken hip can lead to isolation and depression in addition to increasing the risk of dying, and many elderly people who break a hip will require nursing home care.

But recent reports suggest that too many younger women are being evaluated and treated for bone loss when they should not be.

The standard in bone screening is dual energy X-ray absorptiometry, or DXA, a relatively inexpensive test that measures bone mineral density and is usually covered by insurance. But the consensus among physician groups is that healthy women who are not at any particular risk for osteoporosis should not even be tested until they turn 65.

This year, the American Academy of Family Physicians cited the scans among five tests that are often performed unnecessarily and may lead to overtreatment of patients. Yet 20 percent to 60 percent of family physicians and internists have been performing DXA scans on younger women. Too much screening often leads to too much treatment, doctors say.

“If you do testing earlier on and you identify osteopenia or osteoporosis, then you’re compelled to want to treat these folks,” said Dr. Glen Stream, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

For low-risk patients with modest bone loss, or osteopenia, bisphosphonates like Fosamax and Boniva may do more harm than good, Dr. Stream noted.

In May, the Food and Drug Administration warned that while the drugs can significantly reduce the risk of fracture during the first few years of use, they have little if any benefit after three to five years. At the same time, the risks for rare but serious side effects — including unusual fractures of the femur and bone death of the jaw — may increase.

Indeed, consumers have voted with their feet, abandoning the drugs in droves. The number of dispensed prescriptions for bisphosphonates has plummeted to an estimated 24.7 million this year from 46.8 million in 2007, according to IMS Health, a health care information and services company, even though cheaper generic formulations have become available.

Part of the problem is that once doctors develop certain practice habits, they become ingrained and are hard to change, said Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice and an author of “Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health.”

And postmenopausal women represent “a huge market,” Dr. Welch added. “That’s a big part of the story.”

DXA machines are much more widely available than they once were. Many physicians’ offices were given the expensive scanners at no cost in the late 1990s in exchange for participating in studies of drugs to treat osteoporosis, said Cynthia Pearson, executive director of the National Women’s Health Network. Indeed, one of the requirements for consideration in one major study was that a candidate physician did not already have a DXA machine.

But other experts fear that even as some women are being screened inappropriately, many elderly women at greatest risk for bone problems are being missed — especially Medicare recipients who live in more rural areas.

In any given year, 14 percent of women on Medicare have a bone-density scan. About half did not have a single test during a recent seven-year period, according to a study published in the journal Health Affairs in December 2011. The test rate ”should be much higher,” said Dr. Siris, who was involved in the original research into bisphosphonates. Treatment with the drugs can cut the risk of a fracture by half, she noted.

So how do you protect your bones, and make sure you are being evaluated and treated at the right time?

¶ If you’re near 50, assess your risk using FRAX, a tool developed by the World Health Organization, at, or a National Institutes of Health questionnaire at

¶ If you are under 65, do have a bone-density scan if you have broken a bone from a minor injury, have a parent who broke a hip, are underweight, smoke, drink a lot of alcohol or have taken medications that can weaken bones, like corticosteroids.

¶ Even without any of these risk factors, women should have a bone-density scan by age 65, and men should have one by age 70.

¶ Be sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet (leafy greens, low-fat dairy, canned sardines and salmon are good sources), not through supplements, and do weight-bearing exercise, including weight-lifting and walking, as well as yoga or tai chi, which help develop balance.

¶ Cut down on alcohol, and if you smoke, quit.

¶ Avoid drugs that may weaken bones if you can, including proton-pump inhibitors used to control acid reflux, corticosteroids and some antidepressants.

¶ Prevent fractures by reducing the risk of falls. Get rid of clutter, update your eyeglasses and wear proper shoes.

Medical Debt Club

For those undergoing the never ending fight with Insurance/Medical providers you know the challenges that it causes. For many who are ill adding this brings new meaning to the phrase "adding insult to injury." Depending on whom you are talking to on any given day you will find more responses and ideas that resembles asking a room of Lawyer an opinion.

60% of Bankruptcies in this country are the result of Medical bills. I have written endlessly on the corrupt practices by the Medical profession and their increasing rising costs and varying excuses for why this is so - interestingly they are all patient/consumer related ones never their own misfeasance or incompetence. Fits well within the blame making finger pointing society in which we live. Physician heal thyself - maybe they actually did and it explains why they are still sick.

As for Insurance they are the Chinese wall you have to also overcome. They too reflect a phone bank that reminds me much of the MDA Telethon each Labor day. You are put on hold and transferred enough that eventually if your disease doesn't kill you you will die of old age waiting.

The real issue or problem is that they are for profit industries. Your health and well being is secondary. And yet if you put their billings and charges on the same level the repercussions are serious.

And then I found out about a bill that has been kicking around Congress for over 2 years. The Medical Debt Responsibility Act. A bill that would establish a federal law mandating the complete removal of a medical collection within 45 days of it being paid or settled. All derogatory marks relating to that debt should be permanently removed from the consumer’s credit report.

Regardless of where you sit politically this affects us all. Much is made of "Obamacare" but what that ultimately does is still put us in the hands of insurers. The idea is that will ultimately bring down the costs of medical care. And in the interim what about those with bills to pay now? We have to realize that this is a much more complex issue but in the interim those whose credit is being mutilated by the for profit health industry deserve some healing.

If you are interested in encouraging the Dysfunction Junction I call Congress to return to this bill and actually do something for their constituents. You know the actual real people who vote, go to Open Congress. They have the links and ways you can let your Congresspeople know that the Medical Debt Responsibility Act is a good thing, the right thing and the needed thing to help those really in need.


Not that interesting funny show on Discovery where two nerd scientists test the myths behind some legendary urban legends, myths or theories. No its America's love of the idea of Myths as some way of instilling Patriotism, cooperation, compliance or simply build a history or legacy of what it means to be American.

A myth according to American Folklore: A myth is a traditional, typically ancient story dealing with supernatural beings, ancestors, or heroes that serves as a fundamental type in the worldview of a people. The purpose of myths is to account for the origins of something, explain aspects of the natural world, or delineate the psychology, customs, or ideals of society. A legend is a traditional tale handed down from earlier times and believed to have an historical basis.

So in reality American myths are more folklore. Tall tales to build tall people.

Perhaps the earliest is the "I cannot tell a lie..." cherry tree "myth" of George Washington. Well we have no way of ever verifying its veracity but it makes a great legend and the idea is to also build the concept of honesty in children.

Then we have the Horatio Alger myth. The rags to riches message in books by Horatio Alger, Jr. Alger wrote over 100 books for young working class males, beginning with Ragged Dick, which was published in 1867. His books have been described as rags to riches stories. “By leading exemplary lives, struggling valiantly against poverty and adversity,” Alger’s protagonists gain both wealth and honor, ultimately realizing the American Dream. Sounds very similar to a Libertarian recruitment poster.

Followed by John Galt, the mythical hero of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. He serves as a principled counterpoint to the collectivist social and economic structure depicted in the novel. The depiction portrays a society based on oppressive bureaucratic functionaries and a culture that embraces stifling mediocrity and egalitarianism, which the novel associates with socialistic idealism. Sounds like a recruitment poster for the Republican Party.

And we have Abraham Lincoln the President who freed the slaves and was for equality. Not quite true and nor was he even a Democrat, the party synonymous with this concept. Lincoln was against owning individuals as a commodity for Religious reasons. Lincoln states his ethical opposition to slavery, but he did not think he had the constitutional power to abolish it everywhere initially, and that emancipation became necessary for the preservation of the Union. As for equality he thought it would never happen in his lifetime. Well it was cut short so there was truth in that statement.

We love our "folklore" its inspiring, its hedonistic, we can use it to build political parties or bring change or well simply bring compliance. I find it interesting that many are literally stories from fiction tales not just tall tales.

Now as we enter the season of our malcontent - the election one - we will hear a lot of myth-busting. It won't be as entertaining as the boys on Discovery but it will fuel many hours on the cable news and talk radio circuits. Little change will result and everyone will go home fully fueled to continue to not actually do a little myth-busting on their own.

I share with you this from the New York Times about said busting of myths. Irony is that this very editorial was surrounded by the very thing it talks about. From Bill Keller to Paul Krugman we have a paper to get out so get busting. We are just busting out all over.

The Top Three Myths About Myths
Published: August 26, 2012

MYTHS used to be about ancient Greeks. They taught us about greed (King Midas and gold) or hubris (Icarus flying too close to the sun). But when authors write about myths today, they mean something more prosaic: a misconception, a statement that almost everyone thinks is true but really isn’t.

As we approach Election Day, the number of such myths appears to be skyrocketing. Myth-busting articles from the past month include “Five Myths About Obama’s Stimulus,” “Five Myths About the U.S.-Iran Conflict,” “Top Three Myths About Medicare,” “Top Six Myths About Medicare” and, not to be outdone, “Ten Medicare Myths.” We all love to see supposed myths debunked, but these opinion articles and blog posts are not as straightforward as they seem. It’s important that readers know how to interpret them. In that spirit, I offer the Top Three Myths About Myths.

Myths are reasonable statements that just happen to be untrue. Myth-busting authors often contrive statements that seem reasonable but on further reflection are so one-sided that they are clearly false. Consider the first entry in “Five Myths About Political Conventions”: “Nothing substantive comes out of the conventions.” The author disputes this by arguing that conventions let the parties shape their images and platforms. But this is no myth. We already know that try as they might, even today’s Democrats and Republicans cannot fail to produce something of substance in four days of meetings.

Busting a myth is the end of the story. Even when a myth is shown to be untrue, it doesn’t stop us from being worried about the issue it addresses. Take one recent post about the “misconception” that this presidential campaign is dirtier than those that preceded it: “the charges exchanged in this election are nastier than any in history!!!” Although the writer goes back only to 2004, one might favorably compare this election to that of 1884, when supporters of James G. Blaine taunted Grover Cleveland, who was said to have fathered a child outside of marriage, with the chant, “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?” (Cleveland’s supporters added, “Gone to the White House, ha ha ha.”) Without doubt, then, this statement is false. But that doesn’t stop us from being troubled by the level of nastiness in today’s “super PACs” attack ads.

Myth-busting authors provide unbiased information. The format can give the impression that the author is merely replacing mistaken beliefs with impartial, politically neutral information. But most writers use myth-busting as a way to argue one side of an issue. In “Top Six Myths About Medicare,” Mark Miller, a Reuters columnist, assembles mostly conservative complaints about Medicare and argues from a liberal perspective that each is false. And the same can be done from the opposing side.

There’s nothing wrong with making a political argument — that’s what commentators do. Myth-busting, however, encourages readers to think that the author is simply providing a public service. Call that the myth of myth-busting.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Are You Living Wages?

I called this blog entry that as frankly living is about all one is doing on current wages for most. Living in the broader sense of the term is how one defines it. For many is subsistence. Barely making ends meet - too poor to do more, too rich to get any help from safety nets. In America we don't have clear definition of what is poor or middle class but we do know what rich is and even they argue about that. In other words we are clueless about what we earn in comparison to others and what it means to live.

I have always been a fan of Bill Moyer's and today his show was about the Minimum Wage or what its like to live on today's wages in today's economy. Again, the Horatio Alger/John Galt's like to think they are the rule not the exception and are sure that left out of meddling Governmental laws and regulations, such as a "minimum wage" there would be no need for such. Well its called the minimum for a reason and its causing people to minimally get by. Ironically these same types are advocates of better State governance and yet many States and Cities have realized the inadequacies of that wage structure and overruled it with higher wages. So hey just move then if the State you live in pays nothing for wages right? Its that easy. Just get up and move. Really? I guess no one has moved before. Do you just throw your stuff like the Joad family in a truck and head west? We love our stories and myth making just like Greeks do. And you see the state they are in.

As I have frequently written about the mythical Unicorn dictates that seem to think simple colloquialisms and adages actually have meaning and relevance - Up By Your Bootstraps, Tighten Your Belt, Live Well and Prosper (oh wait that is from Star Trek but close enough) but you know the rest. All of them some type of proverb or morality tale that seems to harken back to Pilgrim days or some other time that evokes again a personal failure not a societal one when it comes to the issues you face in today's ever increasingly divisive society.

What is a Living Wage?
August 24, 2012
by Theresa Riley

Just last month, the federal minimum wage — currently at $7.25 an hour — celebrated its three-year anniversary. At that rate, a security guard, retail store clerk or nanny working full-time for minimum wage makes just $15,080 a year. That’s barely above the poverty line for a single person ($11,344) and far below it for a family of four ($22,314).

In this week’s episode, Sister Simone Campbell talks about our poverty crisis and her belief that we need to replace minimum wages with “living wages.” Sister Simone is not alone in advocating for the living wage concept. Economist Robert Pollin wrote his book, The Living Wage: Building a Fair Economy, in 2000. It chronicled the living wage campaigns that swept the country in the 1990s. At the time journalist Robert Kuttner, co-editor of The American Prospect , noted in a back-of-the-book blurb that “The living wage campaign is the most interesting (and under-reported) grassroots enterprise to emerge since the civil rights movement.”

We called Pollin to find out more about the concept and why it is important not to sacrifice the welfare of workers in tough economic times.

Theresa Riley: What is a living wage?

Professor Robert Pollin
Robert Pollin: Conceptually the idea of a living wage emerges out of social movements and thinking about what it takes for people to live a minimally decent life. There’s a great book by Lawrence Glickman – it’s called A Living Wage: American Workers and the Making of a Consumer Society – and he defines it as “a wage level that offers workers the ability to support families, to maintain self-respect, and to have both the means and the leisure to participate in the civic life of the nation.”

And if you’ve ever heard of Amartya Sen, an economist — he’s probably the most eminent living economist. And what made him eminent was he tried to focus on what we really mean when we talk about welfare and the well-being of people. Amartya Sen’s definition of what constituted welfare is almost identical to what Glickman defines as a living wage: the emphasis on self-respect, supporting your family, and being able to participate without shame in your community, that was really the point that Sen got to.

Theresa Riley: How is it typically calculated? I believe it’s different in different areas of the country, right?

Pollin: If we’re talking about what it takes to live at a minimally decent level to support a family and to participate in the community, it depends on the cost of living in any given community. (And, if we really want to get specific it depends on how many people you’re supporting, how many people are in a family, as well as the cost of living.) I’ve done research on that exact question and the biggest variable is the cost of housing in a community.

Let’s take for example Boston and Omaha, Nebraska. There’s going to be a very large disparity in the cost of housing, and so that would have to be reflected in the cost of a living wage. So there isn’t a single number, but I would say in today’s economy a decent number would be somewhere between 10 and 20 dollars an hour. If we have to pick one number as a minimally decent minimum wage, my colleague Jeannette Wicks-Lim came up with the number $12.40 an hour.

There is a point at which, if you raise the minimum wage enough, it will create problems in terms of employment. Businesses will start to think about whether to hire somebody, or start to think about laying off people.

Riley: How many cities have living wage ordinances?

Pollin: Many municipalities, over 140, have some kind of living wage measure. The fact is that states have taken some action to establish a higher standard, not as high as living wage standards in municipalities, but the coverage is much broader. Right now, 18 states plus the District of Columbia have minimum wage rates above the federal minimum, and the range is in between $7.40 an hour in Rhode Island to $9.04 in the state of Washington. The total number of people who are covered by minimum wages above the federal minimum is 134 million — that’s 43 percent of the population.

Riley: And for the municipality ordinances, is there a standard way of calculating based on all the factors that you mentioned earlier?

Pollin: I would say it’s kind of scattershot. When the living wage movement started in the mid-to-late 1990s, it wasn’t like there was any really systematic effort in determining what constituted a living wage in different communities. One of the interesting things in all the work that I did was just getting communities to talk about stuff like that. They hadn’t really thought about it.

I think the closest thing would be to say what is the poverty line for a family size and then maybe we should set the living wage at a level that puts people above the poverty line for at least a family of three, something like that. Now, the problem in doing that is that the poverty line itself is very low and really has not ever been refined since the time it was first established in the mid-1960s. Another simple complication is — what if you don’t have a family of three? What if you’re just working for yourself, what if you’re a teenager, and so what does the living wage mean for such a person? Should it be set in the same way? So these are the issues that unfortunately are unavoidable in trying to set this up.

Riley: In your new book, Back to Full Employment, you offer short- and long-term solutions for getting to four percent unemployment. Would a living wage fit into those recommendations, and what are the pros and cons of a higher minimum wage in this economy?

Pollin: When we talk about full employment, it has to be full employment at decent wages. Because the easiest thing to do is to get to full employment at terrible wages. That’s the approach where you eliminate the welfare state altogether and you tell people you’re on your own; people are desperate, and you can bargain down wages. So you can have a full employment economy at destitution level wages. I would consider a decent minimum wage around $12. It’s something we could establish without creating a lot of negative effects on job opportunities.s for many reasons. His calm demeanor, his faith as in Religion and his direct honesty about the society in which we live.

Kitchen Wear

Kitchen Appliances are the major elements in the kitchen. Without them its not functioning so they are the foundation to any garment and can be the showcase to what the kitchen is saying not just doing.

I was looking at the new Whirlpool line of Appliance design called White Ice and the fashion analogy was not lost on them -

Signifying a shift in the culture of home appliances, Whirlpool brand introduces the Ice Collection. Defined by silver accents, elegant lines, sleek handles and streamlined controls, the collection is a break from the uniform whites, blacks and the ever-popular stainless steel. In other words, white is the new stainless.

From the little black dress to a crisp white tee, simplicity never goes out of style. And who doesn't want their home life to be a little more like that?

In line with that design are other companies looking less modern more retro in bringing the meaning of kitchen, cooking and design with sustainability still in the forefront. In addition to the modern White Ice, there are several other alternative finishes available on premium appliances. Smeg, an Italian company, builds retro-looking fridges that could easily be mistaken for your grandmother’s Norge.The company has a strong Green policy. From their website they state: Smeg HQ has become the symbol of this green approach.The company's commitment to the environment consists of a particular focus on the ecological aspects of designing and manufacturing domestic appliances. The idea is to ensure maximum performance while keeping energy consumption to a minimum.

But the designs are to the maximum from cooktops to oven to the retro fridge of years ago SMEG brings Italian flair to very American sensibilities. Now if they would just bring the pasta it would be even better.

For those a touch more English. There is AGA. AGA, a British manufacturer,has a long history behind its products and they produce an very modern spin on a retro looking oven or "cooker" as its called. They are known for the hard vitreous enamel surfaces in a variety of different colors on their ovens and dishwashers.

There is the company Big Chill that may be familiar to viewers of Rachel Ray. Founded in Boulder, Colorado back in 2001 by Orion Creamer and his uncle, Thom Vernon, Big Chill grew out of a vision to take an outdated gem from the 50’s and bring it back to life.

For those really looking to push the envelope and go full couture in the kitchen a company called Coolors offering personalized to customized airbrushing to make those appliances and kitchen "pop" as they say in Project Runway, so why not at home.

There are ways to add color in the kitchen and truly as any cook knows a little splash goes a long way. Kohler now offers it traditional farmer's sink in a multitude of colors. Even Samsung has produced a line of washer/dryers in shades other than gray. And Whirlpool’s own Amana division also introduced a series of colorful refrigerators in 2009, including an exterior called Green Tea which features a floral motif.

As more people are finding home is where the heart and increasingly the wallet is. Having a home that you enjoy staying in and working in can make the difference. Finding simple ways to make your home brighter can be one such way. Maybe its time to get out of the cold and into the warm.

Friday, August 24, 2012

We are all Sponge Bob

I use that analogy to show how the American people are being squeezed like a sponge when it comes to working more, longer and for less. Eventually even the sponge runs dry at some point. Are we at that point? Even China and other Asian countries are feeling the squeeze you can only do so much with so little. People are drained. They are exhausted and they are more importantly wrung out dry. Exhaustion does that and with it goes innovation, enthusiasm, collaboration and passion. All factors part of what makes an Entrepreneurial country and growing economy.

There is much made of the Global Economy. I suggest while not being able to travel to any of the globe thanks to lack of funds, a quick peruse of a Global journal or newspaper to see how well the other countries are faring in this this Global Economy. Its not much better over there or over here.

So while much is being made about issues that seemingly have no relevance or pertinence to the real issues at hand - getting Americans working and at jobs and wages that not only support them and their family but this - global economy of which we hear so much about.

To Build America means to sustain America. Water keeps a sponge sustained and pliable. We are in more than a severe drought it appears.

Big Income Losses for Those Near Retirement

Americans nearing retirement age have suffered disproportionately after the financial crisis: along with the declining value of their homes, which were intended to cushion their final years, their incomes have fallen sharply.

The typical household income for people age 55 to 64 years old is almost 10 percent less in today’s dollars than it was when the recovery officially began three years ago, according to a new report from Sentier Research, a data analysis company that specializes in demographic and income data.

Across the country, in almost every demographic, Americans earn less today than they did in June 2009, when the recovery technically started. As of June, the median household income for all Americans was $50,964, or 4.8 percent lower than its level three years earlier, when the inflation-adjusted median income was $53,508.

The decline looks even worse when comparing today’s incomes to those when the recession began in December 2007. Then, the median household income was $54,916, meaning that incomes have fallen 7.2 percent since the economy last peaked.

Income drops vary significantly by age, though. Households led by people between the ages of 55 and 64 have taken the biggest hit; their household incomes have fallen to $55,748 from $61,716 over the last three years, a decline of 9.7 percent.

Sustained unemployment among older workers may be at least partly to blame for this decline. Unemployment rates for that age group are relatively low, but once older workers lose their jobs, they have an unusually hard time finding re-employment. And even when they do find new work, they usually take a pay cut.

“I was laid off in ’08, and I never really managed to get back into the job market,” said Jan Thomas, 62, who lives in Sarasota, Fla. She decided to apply for Social Security early, even though that means her benefits are lower than they would be if she had waited until 66. “I’ve pretty much gone through my savings at this point. You know, taking money out of one account, then the other. Then it all just kind of went poof.”

Younger Americans have also felt income declines in the three years since the recovery began. The inflation-adjusted median household income for those 25 to 34 fell 8.9 percent, while that for people under age 25 fell 6.1 percent.

Incomes for the oldest Americans, on the other hand, have risen steadily since the recovery began. Among those 65 to 74, the inflation-adjusted median household income rose 6.5 percent (to $42,113 from $39,548), and among those age 75 and older, the increase was 2.8 percent (to $26,991 from $26,244).

It’s not clear why incomes rose for older people when as they fell for everyone else.

This may be because older Americans are working longer, taking in more income at more advanced ages. Perhaps they are working longer partly to compensate for the decline in the value of their homes. Rising employment rates among older people predate the housing bust, however.

The share of people over 65 who have jobs has been rising since the early 1990s; in 2011, 16.7 of people over 65 worked, compared with 11.1 percent two decades earlier.

The chart below — which is based on a different Census Bureau survey that goes through 2010 only, unfortunately — shows that almost all age groups have actually seen their income rise over most of the last 50 years, although incomes for non-seniors have been much more volatile. (Remember, though, that during recessions older people have at least some steady income from Social Security.)

Income losses since the recovery began also varied depending on educational attainment, Sentier Research found.

People with the least education and people with the most education had smaller income losses, supporting the idea that the job market in the United States is “hollowing out,” as the M.I.T. economist David Autor has proposed, meaning that high-skilled and low-skilled jobs are growing while midskilled jobs are thinning out.

The median household income of high school dropouts has fallen 5.3 percent (to $24,495 from $25,860), while that for college graduates has fallen 5.9 percent (to $83,378 from $88,570).

Meanwhile, incomes for those with a midlevel education — a high school diploma, some college but no degree, or an associate’s degree — slid much further.

As you can see in the chart above, the biggest percentage decline was for people who took some college courses but never got a degree. Their median income has fallen 9.3 percent over the course of the recovery so far, to $46,200 from $50,948. That must especially sting, given that these income losses are probably accompanied by student loan debt.

Black Americans appear to have suffered the most, according to the Sentier report.
The real median annual household income for blacks fell 11.1 percent from June 2009 to June 2012, landing at $32,498 from $36,567. That compares with 5.2 percent for whites, 3.6 percent for other race combinations (including Asians) and 4.1 percent for Hispanics — all of whom started with higher incomes than blacks.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Green This Up

I write for a site dedicated to finding ways to make homes more energy efficient and "green" friendly.

I frequently respond to their question of the week and last week they posed the following question: How Valuable are Individual vs. Whole Home Green Upgrades?
Are whole home certifications the only real way to increase the resale value of your home with green products? Are some certification programs more respected or widespread than others? Are whole home retrofits expensive? What problems might homeowners run into if they try such upgrades? Are there tax incentives or rebates specifically for whole home green upgrades?

And they graciously awarded me with "Most Inspiring"

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

“Green has now become the most overused word in the Home Building environment and I avoid it, much like certifications.

The costs vary depending on the type of certification one elects to pursue – LEED, Green Advantage, Build Green and so on. Each has their own set of requirements and subsequent levels of rating, etc. Many are similar and redundant so whether one is “better” than another is debatable.

I say if it’s what you want to do and if you have the money to do it, then go for it. Otherwise spend your money on what matters. And what matters is making sure a home is energy efficient, manageable and affordable. A home’s energy efficiency is easily measured and can be upgraded for an affordable price. No one wants to buy a home to find out all those “green” features have high and frequent maintenance costs.”

See the rest of Tanya’s comment here.

Tanya’s comment is inspiring because she breaks down the intimidation of whole home certifications. Upgrade as you see fit and in the areas where solid research shows it’s most important.

I have put the link up for not only my comments but for those other professionals who have similar viewpoints when it comes to "certifications." Money spent on bells and whistles are fine if that is what you want and can afford. I am not alone in my view regarding those ubiquitous stars, certs and levels apparently. And that is not a bad thing.

Pipe Up!

Designing a building structure is more than design it must include mechanics as well. They are essential to operating and maintaining any building. The design must include all operational structures as ways to ensure efficiency of all kinds and at all levels. The more complex a building, the more complex the piping design. And making sure that all the systems are working in tandem will ensure the building's operational needs and code needs as well.

Today I learned about a new software that aids in such a manner. Piping design software or PROCAD which does three things: Reduces IT Complexity & Cost; Enables an accelerated Design and thereby reduces risk of errors; provides a scalable and secure database-powered software platform.

Much is made of 3D modeling software when it comes to energy efficiency and overall design when in use on a project. Without it the benchmarks or prescriptive points needed to attain certain certifications or even pipes usage levels becomes a guesstimate game. With this type of software PROCAD has worked closely with resource and engineering companies for the past two decades to improve the effectiveness of its software applications. By providing software that is both functional and useable.

PROCAD can enable a faster design process and in turn reduce errors with intelligent rule-based functionality. It’s easier than ever for designs to stay compliant with engineering specifications and within budget. Those are key for any designer, builder, project manager and most important the developer when moving through a project's phase of completion. If there is one thing in building its never having enough information upfront to make sure the project gets off its foundation on time and on budget.

If you are interested in learning more about PROCAD and what it can do for your project they offer many means from webcasts to demos to enable the end user ways in which to find the best solution for their project.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Medical "Care"?

As the adage "if its not broken don't fix it" Well the Medical system in this country is broken. And if we leave it to them to do such well the other adage is "physician heal thyself" and if you have seen a Doctor lately you would know that might be a risk just in and of itself.

Medication has been a tool of the pharmaceutical trades and insurance ones for quite some time. Both of profit and both interested in their own outcomes and not yours. Doctors to make a living that places them in the 1% while also having to pay enormous Education bills have long abandoned the Hippocratic Oath. Medicine is a 9-5 profession, illness however is not.

As a result many people find themselves out of luck, without care even with insurance as they cannot access caregivers available and affordable. The 15 minute assessment tool is the guide now for Doctor-Patient relationships. I wonder what kind if any one gets or has in 15 minutes? But I digress.

I have long said Medicine need a centralized regulatory body. They need a universal standard of care and insurance in which to find which treatments and expectations of care are regardless of the situation and circumstances the patient presents themselves. But we have a one size fits all when it comes to Medicine now a days. If you are of a certain gender, age, lifestyle choice (I would still love to know what that means) or whatever category you fall into that relates to the "code". The code being what the Doctor puts to recover costs on your form. You are just a number in more ways than one in today's modern medicine.

The editorial below discusses the problems medicine faces as it has to face the hard truths about itself - that it does more harm than good and at outrageous prices. We need to start to realize that as we dissemble a centralized gate and record keeper such as Medicare, we will lose any type of information that is useful in providing quality of care for all. We are all equal under the law but when it comes to medicine that much is not true.

Testing What We Think We Know
Published: August 19, 2012

BY 1990, many doctors were recommending hormone replacement therapy to healthy middle-aged women and P.S.A. screening for prostate cancer to older men. Both interventions had become standard medical practice.

But in 2002, a randomized trial showed that preventive hormone replacement caused more problems (more heart disease and breast cancer) than it solved (fewer hip fractures and colon cancer). Then, in 2009, trials showed that P.S.A. screening led to many unnecessary surgeries and had a dubious effect on prostate cancer deaths.

How would you have felt — after over a decade of following your doctor’s advice — to learn that high-quality randomized trials of these standard practices had only just been completed? And that they showed that both did more harm than good? Justifiably furious, I’d say. Because these practices affected millions of Americans, they are locked in a tight competition for the greatest medical error on record.

The problem goes far beyond these two. The truth is that for a large part of medical practice, we don’t know what works. But we pay for it anyway. Our annual per capita health care expenditure is now over $8,000. Many countries pay half that — and enjoy similar, often better, outcomes. Isn’t it time to learn which practices, in fact, improve our health, and which ones don’t?

To find out, we need more medical research. But not just any kind of medical research. Medical research is dominated by research on the new: new tests, new treatments, new disorders and new fads. But above all, it’s about new markets.

We don’t need to find more things to spend money on; we need to figure out what’s being done now that is not working. That’s why we have to start directing more money toward evaluating standard practices — all the tests and treatments that doctors are already providing.

There are many places to start. Mammograms are increasingly finding a microscopic abnormality called D.C.I.S., or ductal carcinoma in situ. Currently we treat it as if it were invasive breast cancer, with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Some doctors think this is necessary, others don’t. The question is relevant to more than 60,000 women each year. Don’t you think we should know the answer?

Or how about this one: How should we screen for colon cancer? The standard approach, fecal occult blood testing, is simple and cheap. But more and more Americans are opting for colonoscopy — over four million per year in Medicare alone. It’s neither simple nor cheap. In terms of the technology and personnel involved, it’s more like going to the operating room. (I know, I’ve had one.) Which is better? We don’t know.

Let me be clear, answering questions like these is not easy. The Veterans Affairs Cooperative Studies Program is in fact preparing to take on the colonoscopy versus fecal occult blood testing question. The trial, which will involve up to 50,000 patients, will last a decade and surely cost millions of dollars.

Research like this takes more than grant money. For starters, it takes a research infrastructure that monitors what standard practice is — data on what’s actually happening across the country. Because of Medicare, we have a clear view for patients age 65 and older, but it’s a lot cloudier for those under 65. Basic questions like how common annual physical exams are and what testing is part of them are unanswerable.

It also takes a research culture that promotes a healthy skepticism toward standard medical practice. That requires physician researchers who know what standard practice is, have the imagination to question it and the skills to study it. These doctors need training that’s not yet part of any medical school curriculum; they need mentoring of senior researchers; and they need some assurance that investigating accepted treatments can be a viable option, instead of career suicide.

We have to move quickly. The administrative demands of clinical care, on one side, and the competition for research funding on the other, make it increasingly difficult for researchers to see patients. They become isolated from standard practice, and their ability to study it diminishes. Clinicians who are well positioned to study these issues are increasingly directed toward enhancing productivity — questions about how can we do this better, faster or more consistently — instead of questions about whether the practices are warranted in the first place.

Here’s a simple idea to turn this around: devote 1 percent of health care expenditures to evaluating what the other 99 percent is buying. Distribute the research dollars to match the clinical dollars. Figure out what works and what doesn’t. The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (created as part of the Affordable Care Act to study the comparative effectiveness of different treatments) is supposed to tackle questions of direct relevance to patients and could take on this role, but its budget — less than 0.03 percent of total spending — is far from sufficient.

A call for more medical research might sound like pablum. Worse, coming from a medical researcher, it might sound like self-interest (cut me some slack, that’s another one of our standard practices). But I don’t need the money. The system does. Or if you prefer, we can continue to argue about who pays for what — without knowing what’s worth paying for.