Archive | October, 2012

In U.S. building industry, is it too easy to be green?

29 Oct

The Palazzo Hotel and Casino boasts many features of Las Vegas excess — an indoor waterfall, a smoke-filled gaming area, seven decorative fountains, and guest suites with three TVs and power-controlled curtains.

Yet the 50-story complex achieved an unlikely and lucrative milestone after opening in 2008. A powerful private organization declared it an environmentally friendly “green” building, the world’s largest at the time.

The designation won its owner, Las Vegas Sands Corp., a $27 million tax break over 10 years because a Nevada law puts the private interest group — not the government — in charge of deciding which buildings are green enough for a taxpayer subsidy.

via In U.S. building industry, is it too easy to be green?.

40 Days and Nights of Techno Hubris: Titanic

29 Oct

It’s 7:30 in the AM this Monday in late October, just before All Hallows Eve, and my thoughts turn to Titanic, not the ship, but a folk poem about that ship. It’s a poem about water, lots of it, and that’s one reason it comes to mind.

I’ve published it here before, back in May of 2010, but it’s time to bump it up to the top of the list, along with a new introduction. Why?

Here’s why.

Lafayette by the Bay

I live in the Lafayette neighborhood of Jersey City, NJ, less than a half-mile from the Hudson Rive and the New York Bay. Sometime in the next 24 hours there’s going to be a storm surge in that bay and part of Jersey City is going to be flooded. Probably not my part, but, in those immortal words of Thomas Fats Waller, “one never knows, do one?”

Whatever flooding there is, and there WILL be some, will be driven by hurricane Sandy. Last year it was Irene. Irene wasn’t as bad as predicted, at least not in my neighborhood–though Communipaw Avenue had 3 or 4 inches of water near Garfield, just a few blocks from me. But it was bad enough, and inflicted considerable damage inland in small towns and hamlets that were wrecked by raging rivers.

I want to blame this one on anthropogenic climate chaos, aka global warming. But that’s tricky. There were hurricaines, and nasty one, long before us industrious industrial humans started messing with the climate. Not knowingly, not intentionally mind you, no more so that those ancient humans desiccated North Africa until it became the Sahara Dessert. Be messing with the environment we did, not doubt about it.

The thing, we can’t blame any specific weather even on global warming, because all of the weather, all the time, 24/7/365 (366 in leap years) is affected. It’s the general tempo and temperature that’s affected, not specific events.

There are, of course, those who imagine techno-fixes for this mess. Let’s pump some sulpher into the atmosphere, they say, it’ll blot out the sun just enough to set things right. Any maybe we should all hold on to our lucky rabbit’s foot while doing it, ’cause we’re going to need all the luck we can get.

No, I fear that putting our faith in techno-fixes is just going to make things worse. We’re not that powerful, not that knowledgeable. So let’s be wise. Let’s listen to the poets of Titanic, which is, among other things, about techno hubris. And water, lots of water.

What’s Titanic?

Toasts

Titanic is a toast, a form of boasting narrative in the African-American oral tradition that is a precursor to rap and hip-hop. If you go to this YouTube video you can hear Rudy Ray Moore recite a version from Dolomite. Continue reading

Billionaires Going Rogue – NYTimes.com

29 Oct

This is a fascinating article on the role of extraordinarily rich men in the political process, a role enabled by the disastrous Citizen’s United decision.

Unleashed by Citizens United, a handful of renegade billionaires made life miserable for Mitt Romney, the establishment candidate. More importantly, it only took four men — Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas and Macao casino mogul; Harold Simmons, a Dallas-based leveraged buyout specialist; Foster Friess, a conservative Christian and  successful investor; and William Dore, a Louisiana energy company C.E.O. – to stun traditional party power brokers during the first four months of 2012.

The millions of dollars these men put into the super PACs associated with two clearly marginal candidates, Newt Gingrich and the former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, turned the primary process into an open contest, giving full voice to the more extreme wings dominated by the Tea Party and the evangelical right.

The newly empowered billionaires are positioned to challenge the Republican Party at its point of greatest vulnerability, during the primaries. The three major party organizations — the Republican National, Congressional and Senatorial Committees – cannot, except in unusual circumstances, intervene in primaries. Those are to be decided by voters, not the party.

Some may think that this weakening of the traditional parties is a good thing. We at Truth  and Traditions have no love for the Republicrats. Nor do we have any love for narrow-minded billionaires.

Predictions are notoriously dangerous, given the multitude of possible outcomes. If the parties are eviscerated, the political system could adjust itself and regain vitality. But I doubt it. For all their flaws, strong political parties are important to a healthy political system. The displacement of the parties by super rich men determined to flex their financial muscles is another giant step away from democracy.

via Billionaires Going Rogue – NYTimes.com.

Bulletin: KidZ Dig Worms

28 Oct

First, the Big Dig. Last year on Oct. 22 hundreds of citizens of Jersey City fanned out across the city and planted 10s of 1000s flowers. We did it again this year on Oct. 27. One thing I was reminded of on both occasions is that children really dig worms. Here’s last year:

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And this year:

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Here’s a Memo From the Boss – Vote This Way – NYTimes.com

27 Oct

Imagine getting a letter from the boss, telling you how to vote.

Until 2010, federal law barred companies from using corporate money to endorse and campaign for political candidates — and that included urging employees to support specific politicians.

But the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has freed companies from those restrictions, and now several major companies, including Georgia-Pacific and Cintas, have sent letters or information packets to their employees suggesting — and sometimes explicitly recommending — how they should vote this fall.

via Here’s a Memo From the Boss – Vote This Way – NYTimes.com.

Life in the Vats: Have We Forgotten How to Make Things?

26 Oct

If so, we’re dead. Oh sure, as individuals, we’re going to die someday. What I’m talking about is our society, our culture. We can’t live on service and information. We need to make things.

At all levels.

My father spent his working life with the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. When he worked for there it was the second-largest steel company in the country, and perhaps the world. Now it doesn’t even exist.

I more or less know why the American steel industry collapsed—OPEC, high oil prices, foreign cars invading the American market, and so forth. I’m not pretending that didn’t happen or that we can go back to those days. We can’t.

But we’re doing something wrong. It’s not simply that flipping burgers doesn’t pay as well as pouring steel—and it is, after all, a lot less dangerous. Nor does running down the aisles of a giant fulfillment warehouse pay as well as working the assembly-line in an automobile plant, and that gig is, if anything, more physically wearing. The pay is important.

But making things with your hands is more important. Being in the direct and immediate presence of morphing physical stuff—iron ore to iron, sheet metal to an auto body, thread to fabric, fabric to pajamas, logs to pulp, pulp to paper, paper to cut-outs for a home-made Halloween costume, seeds to earth to corn to hot-buttered corn-on-the cob—that’s VERY important. Continue reading

Nearly Absent in the Campaign – Climate Change – NYTimes.com

25 Oct

For all their disputes, President Obama and Mitt Romney agree that the world is warming and that humans are at least partly to blame. It remains wholly unclear what either of them plans to do about it.

Even after a year of record-smashing temperatures, drought and Arctic ice melt, none of the moderators of the four general-election debates asked about climate change, nor did any of the candidates broach the topic.

Throughout the campaign, Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney have seemed most intent on trying to outdo each other as lovers of coal, oil and natural gas — the very fuels most responsible for rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Yes, well, climate change IS 800 pound gorilla in the room, isn’t it? The interesting thing is that, at long last, it really IS the 800 pound gorilla. Enough people are sufficiently convinced  that real attention from the presidential contenders would make it seem like, you know, a REAL issue.

via Nearly Absent in the Campaign – Climate Change – NYTimes.com.

Is Your Boss Going to ‘Mine’ Your Vote? More Corporations Step Up Coercion | The Nation

20 Oct

I remember my father telling me that his company, the now defunct Bethlehem Steel Corporation, pressured him to contribute to the Republican Party. This was back in the 60s. They also discouraged their employees from buying foreign cars, such as Volkswagons, which is perhaps why Dad got one.

In recent weeks, a flurry of news coverage has focused on an undemocratic trend in workplaces around the country: employers telling their workers which politicians they should vote for. CEOs for Murray Energy, Koch Industries, ASG Software and Westgate Resorts have pressured their employees to vote for particular political candidates, like Mitt Romney.

The Nation has found that the phenomenon appears far more wide-ranging that previously known. Businesses throughout Washington State, along with a loose network of hundreds of coal and mining companies, are preparing to urge employees to vote for specific political candidates. Meanwhile, lobbyists in Washington are working furiously to encourage more corporations to adopt these tactics.

One of the lesser-known consequences of the Citizens United decision is how corporations gained the power to explicitly recommend candidates to their rank-and-file workers. Before, corporations were limited to mostly encouraging civic participation. Now, managers can make political appeals for a candidate in the workplace.

via Is Your Boss Going to ‘Mine’ Your Vote? More Corporations Step Up Coercion | The Nation.

Solving Solar’s Biggest Problem Didn’t Take Technology Development – Alexis C. Madrigal – The Atlantic

17 Oct

Lynn Jurich explains in the video above that her company gets money from banks — hundreds of millions of dollars — and then uses that money to finance the installation of solar systems on homes. Homeowners pay on a monthly basis, not up front, at rates that are comparable to or cheaper than the grid (SunRun says).

We still don’t know how much money SunRun makes on each home, but we do know that the company’s model has exploded. Most new solar is now being installed with the leasing model and other companies like SolarCity and Sungevity are trying to horn in on SunRun’s business (even if SunRun remains the largest solar leasing company).

The takeaway from SunRun is simple, though: sometimes the innovations that matter aren’t technical but financial (or even social). Of course, developing more efficient, less expensive solar cells helps, but the technology development alone cannot guarantee successful market deployments.

via Solving Solar’s Biggest Problem Didn’t Take Technology Development – Alexis C. Madrigal – The Atlantic.

Sheila Bair’s new book

17 Oct

An inside look at the financial meltdown, with shocking revelations!

I put this one in the jaw hits floor category, and for more than one reason. (Sheila ran the FDIC during the financial crisis and her book is titled Bull by the Horns: Fighting to Save Main Street from Wall Street and Wall Street from Itself).

The book is remarkably full of information and substantive narrative. Few books pack in so much and I mean this in a very positive way. I learned something on virtually every page, even after having read many of the other crisis books.

Yet her running claim that she had a plan to end the bailouts, or abolish “Too Big To Fail” is absurd. (Though most of these people do.) She should be presenting only the more modest argument that it would have been better to distribute more losses on creditors, which indeed she did advocate. Her narrative overreaches by a long mile.

Second, to a remarkable degree, she sees everyone else in the process as filled with fault and herself as never at fault. She has zero qualms about ceaselessly flinging mud out the rear view mirror, and does so for even the tiniest and pettiest of squabbles, including ones the readers never knew or cared about. Geithner by the way is villain number one but no one else on the scene matches her virtue and common sense and scarcely a page flies by when we are allowed to forget this.

via Sheila Bair’s new book.