PUBLIC ADVOCACY: The good life & thoughts from Detroit

1. NYTIMES 4/29/13 Twitter Speaks, Markets Listen, and fears rise. Last Tues a hoax was perpetrated via Twitter claiming something dreadful had happened to the President and The White House. This news was relayed thru Twitter, through Bloomberg News to the flash traders , whose computers track key words and react; the stock market lost 150 points erasing 136 Billion in market share in seconds. Flash traders account for 65% of the US market. The nature of electronic trading exacerbated the problem. Your choice, do they create a large risk?

2. I was in Detroit last weekend for a Glass Exposition @ Habitat Galleries and enjoyed reading The Detroit Free Press. The Business section, featured an article, ” Fast furlough cash being offered at credit unions” . In anticipation of the Communities cash needs, the credit unions are offering ” furlough” loans at 5% interest. The sequester cuts will impact our Country during June or July and impact the GDP negatively by 0.5%. Further reducing discretionary spending is creating a hardship for those already living paycheck to paycheck. Consider consolidating debt under this program. We have a choice.

3. Detroit Free Press , News and Views, The editorial page encourages it’s readers to Tell us what you think. What should be the priority of the next state budget ? While a 2 nd columnist, encourages family values, ” make an island out of them”, stay with all of us! Great concept, also encouraged at The Henry Ford Museum, where individuality is showcased along with innovative programs for families and their kids. Visit Detroit and feel at home. Who says you can’t go home again? We have choices.

4.LOL WHAT’S NEW? NY TIMES BUSINESS SECTION: 4/29-30/13: No words, no gestures, just your brain at the control pad. MIT is reporting on the technology, often called the brain computer interface which was originally conceived by scientists to enable people with paralysis and other disabilities to interact with computers or control robotic arms, all by simply thinking about such actions. Before long these technologies could be incorporated into consumer technologies, too! The future is here.

While other Country’s and cities are continuing to encourage start- ups. Berlin is luring the 20-30 yrs olds by offering inexpensive rents and a ” cool” environment, providing bistros, coffee shops, art galleries . At first they were copying America’s business model, no more, they are luring the younger generation from 35 countries. They are serious about innovation. We have a choice.

PUBLIC ADVOCACY: Financial Reform & NYC

1. NY TIMES 4/22/13 Restyled as REAL ESTATE TRUSTS, varied businesses avoid taxes. The IRS is granting special exemptions from Federal Taxes, to corporations not registered as real estate trusts. The Corrections Corporation which is making the switch to a trust will save $70Million in taxes; Gaming Casinos and Spas will also save money as a REIT. A bonanza for a few, while the middle class is burdened with more then it’s fair share. ( Personally, I’m delighted that the Times is continuing it’s investigative reporting. Good job.). We have choices?

2. NY NEWS Channel #1 According to a spokesperson from the NYU SCHOOL OF REAL ESTATE there are plans under way to upgrade the city’s infrastructure. Plans should be available next month for Public Review. With the scheduled boom in East Midtown building, according to Robert A.M. Stern, the architect, infrastructure should precede the ” building boom” to facilitate the movement of people to places and preserve the district as it evolves. Building on what we have is a choice. Planning for the evolution of the City is a choice. With the advent of future super storms, planning our Cityscape becomes a Community Choice.

3. 6:30 PM CHANNEL 13 Nightly Business Review there was a discussion on the collection of sales tax on all e- commerce business, proposed by Congress and agreed to by Amazon and Walmart. My gut tells me no way, not now, it’s another burden on middle class shoppers? But it is a win win for Walmart, they collect the tax but don’t have to remit the tax to the government. Good deal for them, extra revenue and a further burden on the struggling middle class. Choices for all!

4. LOL. NY TIMES 4/24/13. SEC gets plea : Force companies to air donations; focus on Political Aid! “Business groups ready to campaign against disclosure rule. The US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and The Business Roundtable are urging Fortune 200 Companies to push back against disclosing their political contributions to shareholders.” This may or may not become an SEC RULING, but it raises a very important question: How much information should be disclosed to shareholders investing in a corporation? In my opinion, the more information available, the more informed the investor! Transparency is a choice. Every corporation should be required to disclose their discretionary spending: grants, loans, donations: anything that ultimately effects the Corporate bottom line, thus impacting the shareholder investment.

PUBLIC ADVOCACY: Financial reform/ Economic Concerns/ People

1. NY Times 4/20/13 Part time workers in Full Time wait for a better job. INVISIBLE underemployed workers do not count toward the standard jobless rate of 7.6%. A broader measure which counts the involuntary part timers as well as those who want to work but have stopped looking, stands at 13.8%. Since the ” recovery” started , 4 yrs ago, hiring has been concentrated in low wage service sectors, the Times reports, 1 out of 13 , are employed in the food service industry. The downward spiral in earnings continues with many at the subsistence level resorting to food stamps for survival. Who’s making these choices?

2.FINANCIAL TIMES4/20/13 Block trading failures intensify debate over risk : Block trading by European Bankers is the practice whereby blocks of ” equity” shares are bought at a discount and sold on the open market. It sounds right, but this practice has left Banks ” long and wrong”; unable to unload their shares . Bankers are now taking on too much risk on behalf of their clients, unable to unload their shares at a profit. Mark Tinker of Axa has a larger concern: ” Part of the role of a market maker is to maintain an orderly market and this role is being replaced by Bankers trying to pass off block trades as quickly as possible. The sales side has become disconnected from owners of capital .” We have a choice.

3. FINANCIAL TIMES 4/20/13 Easy money model storing up trouble for sudden swings. The 2 day drop of more the $200 in the price of Gold is making investors question, ” what’s next”. In the current climate of easy money from central banks, investors are right to worry the distortion in asset prices is no golden era. Also weighing on investor minds is the mixed signals coming from the US and global economies. To quote Bob Gelfond of MQS Asset Management, ” our situation is far more precarious today and European financial stress can derail the US and other markets.”

4. LOL FT 4/20/13 Policy makers call for further actions to boost global economy. G-20 Spring meetings scheduled amidst Talks in Washington that have highlighted growing fiscal divergence and a minimal level of coordination. Finance ministers and central bank governors gave warning that ” much more is needed to fulfill our commitment to address the ongoing weakness in the global economy.” Professor Alan Meltzer of Carnegie Mellon, ” asked the Bankers, Why has there been such a weak response to such an EXTROADINARY Stimulus?” No good answers came back. Choices? Ask the “People”.

PUBLIC ADVOCACY: VISION OF THE NEW ECONOMY

1. The New School hosted an all day Conference on THE NEW ECONOMY. 4/13/13. Described in several paragraphs are the visions of several educators and students, espousing a PARALLEL SOCIETY, A COOPERATIVE for the production of GOODS AND SERVICES, RUN BY PEOPLE FOR THE PEOPLE IN THEIR COMMUNITIES. THEIR GOAL IS TO DEVELOP COOPS WITHIN AMERICAN CITIES, CEASING TO RELY ON THE LARGE CORPORATIONS over time. This concept could, conceivably, take 30 years to develop. It’s up to individual Communities to decide if it’s a viable alternative to ” Capitalism”?

2. MONDRAGON , in Spain , IS THE LARGEST EXISTING COOP IN THE WORLD. It employs 83,000 workers and 5000 students. It’s business model, is similar to other business models with the exception of Community participation and social responsibility. This co- op, has grown to the 7 th largest business in Spain. The Mondragon is divided into 4 main areas: Finance, Industry, Retail and Knowledge. They were founded after the Spanish Civil War necessitating a way out of poverty.

Their concept has been exported to other Countries. In America, The United Steel Workers and the Ohio Employee Ownership Center , have proposed to join the co- op model. An education facility and their own employee managed financial institution join with the Community to promote social goals while remaining competitive. For further reference on the coop model, see Econmist Richard Wolff’s latest book, ” Democracy at Work”.

3. Going into the New School Community has led to many insights into innovation to overcome social inequities. I attended a Conference at The Center for Public Scholarship and Food Studies Program. One of the Speakers was Saru Jayaraman, author of Behind The Kitchen Door. Founder of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC UNITED) I learned, to my dismay, about discrimination and sexual harassment that continues to exist in our restaurants. Additionally, we were informed that the new minimum wage does not pertain to any staff who gets tips. Their wage has been frozen at $2.13/ hr for 20 years. Their tips are their wage.

The keynote speaker was Dolores Huerta, co founder of The United Farm Workers of America. She noted the long struggle for adequate child care for migrant workers, the growth of large Agri- businesses and the incorporation recently of on site sanitary facilities. She also noted, that Michigan has been in the forefront of providing a stable life for migrant workers from Texas and Florida. Her slogan, Yes we can! Lent hope to millions of people.

4. LOL Private equity cranks up debt to lift dividends. In Europe , private equity is returning dividends by adding debt at the fastest pace seen since the financial crisis. They are using a technique known as dividend recapitalization to return cash to investors.

Public Advocacy: Israel and It’s Neighbors

During the course of several weeks, I’ve listened to people expressing their “feelings” about Israel and what they wish for Israel’s future.  It is their vision for Israel and it has totally changed my perspective of how “modern” Israeli’s see themselves and want to be seen.  I have only met Arab Israeli’s on taxi rides through Tel Aviv in 2011 and in the West Bank during my SWFS mission on 1/20/13.

 

These are my impressions:

 

  • During my earlier trip to Israel with my grandson, I “interviewed a taxi driver”, in Tel Aviv.  He was extremely courteous and mentioned that his family had lived in Jaffa for 5 centuries.  He was thankful to the Israeli’s for their help in educating his family, but would not consider fighting in the Military, even if he could, because he would never pick up arms against another Arab.  He told us he was happy to remain in Israel.
  • This year, I traveled on a mission to Israel with my synagogue.  The trip was very intense, very “political” and life changing.  Since my trip, I’ve met and discussed Israel, it’s people and their dreams many times.  /li>
  • When I read the news this morning, The Economist mentioned that the Fugard play, The Island, played to a packed house in Jenin, my heart sank.  Sadness overwhelmed me, just as it did, when I’ve seen Fugard plays in NY. It was easier to bear the pain, when it referred to South Africa and their struggle and not my “beloved” Israel.  iBut there is another side to this story and I am only recently becoming aware of both sides.  Israel does not wish to be thought of as “racist”.  Neither would I.  I have a heart and feelings for all people.  I believe we are all the same, if we can only concentrate on our” humanness”.
  • Several weeks ago, I was called to a meeting at the SWFS, because a young member of the Knesset was coming to speak with us off the record.  Her name was Merav Michaeli, no older then my daughter, formidable and fierce in her demeanor.   Her words were heart wrenching:  she was looking for equality for women and others.  There was an intensity about her and an urgency, she wanted peace and peace now.  She was well aware of the difficulties, but insistent that Peace was possible.
  • Next I was invited to join Arza World, they were the group who sponsored our mission to Israel.  They too, were looking for Peace and acceptance.  Their Mission was one of  inclusion of Reform Judaism within the larger population of Israel.  Their statement of Purpose, “ARZA links the people and institutions of the Reform Movements in Israel and the United States, who share a love of Israel and a belief in K’lal Yisrael – Jewish peoplehood. Just as Christianity has many shades of belief .  Faith and humanness can not be defined by one group.  The key to surviving together, is accepting our differences as we try to live together.
  • My last experience, was presented @ a meeting of Friends of Technion, on Monday evening. The American Technion Society, invited me to an evening with Eyal Kaplan, Chairman of Expand Investment Partners and the Managing General Partner with Walden Israel.  He’s also the Chairman of the Board of the Technion Alumni Association.  He has a vision for Israel that sounded Utopian. /li>

 

Mr. Kaplan sees Israel as the center of a vast Technological exportable expansion, that is all inclusive.  He is mindful of his neighborhood and sees a shared vision for growth, similar to the EU.

Though Israel has vast Natural gas reserves,The Technion wants to increase their nascent Dept of Energy to 150 Professors.  They want to understand the mining and extraction process.

 

Additionally, they are aware that Engineers, do not make “good managers” and they are trying to put a human face on math and engineering.  They are going into communities and high schools and developing analytical as well as humane traits.

 

Their problems are similar to those experienced in the USA.  Like us they are struggling with new technologies.  They realize they have inequities in their system and wish to correct them.  Based upon my knowledge of Technion, I believe them to be sincere. 

 

Israel, as a Democracy, understands it’s time to move forward.  They would take the leap toward Peace with willing Partners. I’ve tried to understand the Israeli narrative, it’s the only one I know. We all have choices. Time to stop the old dance. Listen to the other narratives and work toward Peace?

PUBLIC ADVOCACY: Advocate for the good life

1. Bill Moyers Sunday night PBS : Inequality in America; As the rate of lay offs decreased so did the rate of hiring workers. Corporations are awash in $1.7 Trillion in cash. 40% of all Corporations are registered as Off Shore tax havens, not including 4000 Americans personally sheltering their assets. For $1000.00 and 3 days in the Virgin Islands, anyone can set up an off shore account, Where is the choice for the middle class?

2. NY TIMES 4/15/13 As Wall Street soars in tough era, company size is a big factor: Pumping up the stock market continues while Main Street folks will experience a decrease in revenue as growth slows in the coming months. It has been re confirmed by the data, this is a bifurcated economy. Corporate profits are at record highs, while small businesses are dead in the water. Time for choices?

3. THE FINANCIAL TIMES4/15/13 Israel ‘s opportunity for a new economy/ Political upheaval gives a chance for radical reform. Overall economic performance does not match the country’s high tech credentials. Twenty families control the wealth of the country. They dominate access to credit and have turned the domestic economy into an un level playing field. ( Sound familiar? The US has the Forbes 400.). Prime Minister Netanyahu and The Bank of Israel have been thwarted.

Capitalism has two faces. One face is competition aimed at bringing new and better products and services to market. The second consists of rigging markets to seize wealth generated by others. The challenge is to tackle the privileges of crony capitalism. The FT recommends breaking up the oligopolies in the interests of the Country to give the electorate what it wants. There are choices.

4. FT 4/15/13 LOL Larry Summers comments on our stalemate in Congress: His conclusion: For America, political gridlock is not the problem, IT IS A PROBLEM OF VISION! Time for choice, now?

Public Advocacy: All being Equal: Science and Finance truths

1. NY TIMES 4/5/13. In sign of Global Warming, 1600 years of ice in Peru’s Andes melted in 25 years. This is significant because, the retreat of the ice cap in Quelccaya, may pose a threat to water resources in the area. It is predicted that large cities like Lima and La Paz may suffer in the long term . Recently, PLANTS dating back 6000 years are blooming as the ice cap melts. Something is happening and the long term effects on water availability are in jeopardy.

2.NY TIMES 2/10/13 Ex regulators find home with a powerful firm: A well connected consultant group finds scrutiny. The Promontory Financial Group is drawing the attention of The Senate Banking Committee, under the leadership of Senator Sherrod Brown. IT has been stated, that this consulting group is filled with so many former bureaucrats and political insiders that it has become known as Wall Street’s shadow regulator. The Senate Banking Committee, meeting Thursday, intends to examine whether regulators inappropriately ” out source” oversight to consultants like Promontory, which are paid billions by the Banks.

3. NY TIMES 4/10/13 Nobel Laureates urge no cuts to budgets for Research. More then 50 Nobel Laureates are urging Congress to spare the scientific community from further looming budget cuts contained in the sequester. During 2009-2012 the federal budget financing research and development dropped 18% ( $172.5 billion to $140.6 billion), as noted By the American Association for the Advancement of Science. A further 6% decrease is anticipated with sequester, thereby potentially impacting the future of ” scientific innovation and our economic viability.” Without the ideas of the younger generation, how do we continue to ” fuel” the breakthroughs of tomorrow? We have a choice.

4. NY TIMES 4/10/13. The good news: For the first time , since 1996, new guidelines for teaching science in our schools has been proposed. These sweeping standards will have an impact on analytical thinking. Though the guidelines are not mandatory , 26 states are considering adapting them. The ” new” scientific guidelines would be implemented as early as middle school, offering a case study approach to science , using climate change as a teachable program model.( One of many. ) These guidelines were partly financed by Carnegie Corporation, Noyce Foundation , Cisco and DuPont.