Housing court tomorrow

Tomorrow members of my family will face the housing court judge who will decide whether to grant them an extension to pay or to unequivocally move forward with eviction. Considering that the three of them live in a bronx apartment that costs less than $1000/ month and they’ve been there over two decades, this is extremely distressing. You can’t house 3 people for 1k in many places here. It’s unheard of, and it’s only because of rent control that they pay so little. Once they are kicked out, they will have to pay going rates.

Now you might say, why do they need to live in NYC? Can’t they move somewhere cheaper? I don’t see how though, because none of them can drive or afford a car, and 2 of them are disabled so there’s no chance of learning to drive. The only places I can think of that aren’t in the city but allow a person to meet their needs without a car are assisted living facilities or in downtown locations of other cities, but neither can house 3 people for under $1k, as far as I know.

So, where does that leave them? I wish I knew.

Meanwhile, it’s not easy to pay our own rent, and the hot water disappeared again yesterday and isn’t back yet. We pay about $1.1k/month for the privilege of living in an apartment (near the subway at least, albeit the end of the line) that has been burgled twice in 6 years and, lately, loses heat and/or hot water about 10-25 times a year.

And still I know we are lucky in some ways, as there are Americans who have it worse. Americans who live in slums, shacks, trailers, and homeless shelters, who despair at the prospects of a jobless future, who cannot feed their children.

What a luxury it seems to be worried about deficits and taxes.

All this fury over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” is so disgusting

On the anniversary of 9/11, I just need it to be said here that I am really bothered by all of the anti-Islam sentiment that the country has poured out recently.

I work a few blocks from the WTC site.  For 16 months I’ve watched the workers there, and lately I am relieved to see a building that has finally risen stories above ground level.  In my office’s neighborhood I walk by the constant construction site that is Ground Zero.  I’ve spent lunch breaks sitting on the benches at Trinity Church, the site that for so long had its fences covered in letters, pictures, shirts, and flags.  I’ve visited the new World Trade Center memorial and walked past the steel cross that stood on the pile until it was moved to a permanent home along a street next to the site.   More than a few times I’ve directed a lost visitor towards Ground Zero.  I eat at restaurants that were closed for months, that survived only through the loyalty of their customers.  I’ve also noticed the awning to New York Dolls, one of the seedier strip joints in NYC, and seen condo buildings empty and retail spaces that lack tenants.

Almost every day, I see the area of NYC most directly affected by the tragic day of 9/11/2001.

And I couldn’t be happier to have a new community center open in the neighborhood, or more upset to see so many Americans unable to distinguish between a Muslim and a terrorist, between the hallowed Ground Zero site itself and a side street blocks away, between a mosque and a community center, or, most upsetting of all, freedom of religion and freedom to practice whichever society-approved religion you want.

Love the new EPA ruling on greenhouse gas emissions

This past week the EPA formally declared 6 greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, to be pollutants.  This clears the way for needed regulation of their emissions, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

I’m nearly finished reading an excellent book on environmental policy by Steven Cohen, director of the environmental policy program at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, and I’ve got an improved understanding of the political issues involved in trying to fight global warming.  The global nature of the challenge really does present lots of new issues that policy-makers hadn’t dealt with before, but it finally seems that the amount of social learning in our American society has risen to the level we’ll need to begin to seriously tackle this problem.

Republicans are still clinging to the argument that it’s either environment or economy, and not both, but I think Americans are finally beginning to see past that.  With the advances in understanding and technology that we’ve made, particularly in the last two decades, we now see that not only is it not a one-to-one tradeoff between protecting the environment and growing the economy, but that we can use this immense challenge to grow our economy and our jobs.

Furthermore, continuing to ignore the environmental challenges that are rising poses significant threats to private enterprise and the global economy, and that should matter to Republicans too.  The article describes further threats to our infrastructure and public, threats that are large enough to interfere in our industry and impact our economy:

Among the ill effects of rising atmospheric concentrations of the gases, the agency found, were increased drought, more heavy downpours and flooding, more frequent and intense heat waves and wildfires, a steeper rise in sea levels and harm to water resources, agriculture, wildlife and ecosystems.

As our nation’s scientists and policy-makers lead the way in finding solutions to the problem, our workers, including unskilled, skilled, and knowledge-based, will have plenty of work to do.  And that is work that has to be done here and cannot be outsourced.  It involves working in our buildings, in our parks, and on our infrastructure.  It represents what can become a significant source of economic growth for the country and its communities, and it is the best way forward that I can see.

I am so glad that America is finally joining the rest of the industrialized world in a quest to tackle the 21st century challenge of global climate change.  And, as ever, I am proud to have Obama as our leader.

Saturday Readings & Viewings

I spent some time reading various articles on the internet today, and thought I’d share the interesting ones with my readers.

    Voting for Obama on the WFP Line

    Voting for Obama on the WFP Line

  • Lifestyles of the Rich and Infamous – Those AIG executives receiving bonuses whose names were leaked are receiving visitors – some organized by the CT Working Families Party.  Speaking of WFP – I am an e-active member of the NY Working Families Party – I even voted for Obama in the WFP column, as did nearly 160,000 other New Yorkers.
  • Fashion designers are having a tough time figuring out what fashions to push during these tough economic times. Some have tried looks reminiscent of the Great Depression, but that didn’t turn out too well.
  • Obama on Jay Leno

    Obama on Jay Leno

  • After a nice walk and lunch with Husband, I was given homework to watch Obama on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.  So I accessed it on the web – the full interview is available on nbc.com.  I loved what he had to say about “commen sense regulations” and making sure the the average consumer and the average taxpayer aren’t taken advantage of.  I especially loved what he said about the pseudo-growth in the financial sector, and the real steady growth we need instead:

    And what we need is steady growth; we need young people, instead of — a smart kid coming out of school, instead of wanting to be an investment banker, we need them to decide they want to be an engineer, they want to be a scientist, they want to be a doctor or a teacher.

    And if we’re rewarding those kinds of things that actually contribute to making things and making people’s lives better, that’s going to put our economy on solid footing. We won’t have this kind of bubble-and-bust economy that we’ve gotten so caught up in for the last several years.

    That spoke to me so strongly, as a recent graduate with an excellent NYC-based degree in chemical engineering, I believe I could have easily gone straight into the financial sector and made 6 figures right out of school. I know a number of people who did. I chose, instead, to be a research scientist, and more recently to move to environmental engineering. I did this because I care about a lot more than just money, but I often felt alone in my decisions. I believe we need a system that rewards the agents who do positive things for society, not just the people who can push around numbers all day on Wall Street. Apparently Obama believes this too, and it makes me feel so optimistic and confident in our country’s current leadership.

  • On Thursday First Lady Obama celebrated Women’s History Month by bringing together inspiring women leaders and sending them out to disadvantaged schools to share their stories.  The First Lady herself visited Anacostia:
    Michelle Obama hopes to inspire in celebration of Womens History Month

    Michelle Obama hopes to inspire in celebration of Women's History Month

    At Anacostia High School, the site of a violent melee in November that sent several young people to the hospital with stab wounds, Mrs. Obama gave hugs, slapped knees and sat down in a semi-circle with 13 students, who were all juniors and seniors. (All but three were girls.)

    And when one girl asked, “How you get where you are now?” the first lady told her story.

    “There’s no magic to being here,’’ Mrs. Obama said. “What I want you to know is that my parents were working class people.”

  • Eco-Button sends your computer to sleep

    Eco-Button

  • Buying Green: 9 Environmentally Inventive Products.  I think I’d like an eco-button to put my computer to sleep easily and awake it quickly.
  • The House approved a 90% tax on bonuses for bailed out firms.  This is an interesting way of getting the money back and restricted executive pay and bonuses, but I’m glad they found a way to do so.

    Its backers said the companies had forced Congress to act by inexplicably handing out generous rewards to employees after tapping taxpayer funds to survive an economic calamity brought on by irresponsible and risky executive decisions.

  • Battlestar Galactica

    Battlestar Galactica

  • Finally, I’m really looking forward to watching the final episode of Battlestar Galactica later today.  Husband and I watch all of our tv using the internet, so our viewing party will be tonight instead of last night.
  • You can’t live on $500k in this town? Bull.

    I just read this article in the NY Times, on the effect that a plan by Obama to cap top executive pay at $500k for banks accepting bailout money will have on these executive’s lifestyles.

    And I just had to write a post, because nothing pisses me off more than some of this crap. The author nears the article’s conclusion with this:

    The total costs here, which do not include a lot of things, like kennels for the dog when the family is away, summer camp, spas and other grooming for the human members of the family, donations to charity, and frozen hot chocolates at Serendipity, are $790,750, which would require about a $1.6-million salary to compensate for taxes. Give or take a few score thousand of dollars.

    I read a NY Times magazine article during the election season on Obamanomics, and found that I really felt good about his economic policies, ideals, and views.  His positions are probably the closer to my own than those of any other politician, and certainly any president or even major presidential candidate, ever.  One of the things in the article that stood out to me was the tenet that society functions the best, driving production and increasing economic success, when the top executives of a company make about 25x more than the bottom employees.  So if the lowest employees at the bank make $40,000 a year, then the top employees should make about $1 million.  In that case, the $1.6 million/year that the article is claiming is needed to lead the common lifestyle of a bank executive is roughly 50% more expensive than it should be for all of the employees and the company to perform their best.

    The article goes on to explain the need to fit in with other bank executives:

    Does this money buy a chief executive stockholders might prize, a well-to-do man with a certain sureness of stride, something that might be lost if the executive were crowding onto the PATH train every morning at Journal Square, his newspaper splayed against the back of a stranger’s head?

    The man would certainly not feel like himself on that train, said Candace Bushnell, the author of “Sex and the City” and other books chronicling New York social mores.

    “People inherently understand that if they are going to get ahead in whatever corporate culture they are involved in, they need to take on the appurtenances of what defines that culture,” she said. “So if you are in a culture where spending a lot of money is a sign of success, it’s like the same thing that goes back to high school peer pressure. It’s about fitting in.”

    My response? Ok, but the point is, your bank failed and is looking for a government bailout.  You need to suck it up.  Top executives are supposed to earn the pay that they receive, and banks that need bailouts, regardless of how common that may be, failed in their jobs.  So what’s the harm in instating laws to encourage them to work towards success in order to earn the money they make?  That’s what capitalism is supposed to be about.  When they’re able to give themselves huge salaries regardless of whether they lead their companies towards success or complete failure, capitalism isn’t working the way it was meant to, and I’m pretty sure that’s not the capitalism that people like my father hold so dear.

    Even if they’re rare, there are a number of chief executives who lead successful companies without living such extravagant lifestyles.  As far as I know, Warren Buffett, one of the most successful men in the world, is one of them.  Obama’s plan would be hoping to help change the culture of the self-absorbed members, not trying to sink companies in need of a bailout by sinking the self-esteem of their chief executives.  Maybe when they lead their companies to overwhelming success through good decisions and leadership, they can start making over $1 million again.

    These people can’t live on $500k in this town?  I live on $50k in this town.  Maybe I should be teaching them a few things.

    If the economy implodes

    Today I read about the House’s rejection of the bailout package and the resulting stock market drop, as well as what I thought was a great e-mail on the bailout from Dan Cantor and the Working Families Party (Wikipedia).

    My next thought, which almost made me cringe with guilt, was “Good. I hope the whole system implodes, and we have to build anew.  And as we build our economy up again, we can reshape it to reward behavior that measurably improves society.”

    Essentially, I think we should rebuild fiscal policy to focus on the double bottom line, which describes when not only fiscal profit but also positive social impact are maximized.   Or, we could go a step further, and measure a triple bottom line.  That’s a term used to describe “an expanded spectrum of values and criteria for measuring organizational (and societal) success: economic, environmental, and social.”  Does it sound radical?  Not to the world community, as the UN ratified this approach in early 2007.

    After thinking this, I decided to do some more research on the situation.  Being signed up for many progressive lists, I had received a few invites to some bailout protests and activities.  But I wasn’t sure if I was against it. I thought back to the stock market crash of 1929 that led to the Great Depression, and wanted to review more of the details of what had happened.  I was worried enough that I didn’t want to write it off as something that will only affect Wall Street without learning some more.  Being lucky enough to live in the time that I do, this information was easy and quick to obtain.  So I was able to spend a few minutes doing some research to help me make up my own mind about what I think should be done.

    I won’t be shocked if we really do have a depression. But I also think it can be averted…

    What do you think?