Turns out Washington is bailing out more than just Wall Street. Federal help is also coming to the streets and cul de sacs of Western suburbia, from Phoenix to Las Vegas. Arizona, California and Nevada will all get big chunks of cash (from $72 million to $530 million) from the U.S. Department of Housing's Neighborhood Stabilization Funding to buy, repair and sell foreclosed-upon homes. The idea is to bring life back to neighborhoods that virtually have been abandoned thanks to a rash of foreclosures.
Says the Arizona Republic:
The federal money will go toward the purchase of thousands of Valley foreclosure homes, which means more work for real-estate agents, appraisers, title agents and lenders. Many people who have struggled to get financing or down-payment money to buy a house will get help. The funds also will mean more jobs for contractors hired to fix up foreclosure homes.
Homeowners in neighborhoods hurt by too many foreclosures should see their home values stabilize and even increase as the money is spent on houses nearby.
That's good news for the greater Phoenix area, which has experienced some 35,000 foreclosures this year alone, and was one of the places hit hardest during the early phases of the economic crash.
Still, you've got to wonder if this is really such a good idea. After all, part of the problem in the first place was that it was too easy to borrow money to buy overpriced homes. When the housing bubble finally burst (after being artificially inflated for years), it brought things down to earth: Home values dropped to realistic levels (levels that people could afford based on their income, not on overeager and promiscuous lenders), and houses that should have never been built in the first place emptied out.
And, since values have dropped to realistic levels, real people are starting to buy those houses now, without the feds butting in. So reports the Christian Science Monitor today:
The housing market in California's Central Valley – and in other sharply deflated markets in parts of California, Nevada, Florida, and Arizona – is showing signs of new life.
Prices have fallen so far that people of average salaries can afford to own homes again. Buyers are out in force.
So, average folks can finally afford to own houses, an indication that perhaps the big bubble burst was merely a massive correction, and not necessarily a catastrophe. If so, shouldn't we allow that correction to continue on it's natural course? Government interference -- heck, I'd even advocate socialism -- is necessary in certain instances. In this case, however, it seems to just be blowing up the same old bubble that got us into trouble in the first place.
Since it was pioneered by the likes of Daniel Kemmis (Community and the Politics of Place, 1990) “collaboration” on western natural resource issues has been a regular feature of western rural life. From the high profile Quincy Library Group to efforts that focus without publicity on a single small watershed or grazing allotment, collaborative approaches have become commonplace if not the default approach to management of western public resources.
Now the Obama Administration is being urged to embrace collaborative approaches to restoring public forests. In an essay for Writers on the Range, Trout Unlimited’s CEO Chris Wood didn’t use the word collaboration; he didn’t have to. Wood’s call for the Obama Administration’s Forest Service to “engage communities in restoration” is understood by most westerners to mean the same thing.
So, will we see another avalanche of collaborative groups springing up in the West after January 20th? Will the Obama Administration mirror the Clinton Era when Chris Wood was the top aide to Forest Service chief Mike Dombeck and collaboration was the default approach for controversial Forest Service projects? And if the Forest Service does move system-wide to “engage communities in (forest) restoration” will we once again see the sort of high profile conflicts that groups like the Quincy Library Group engendered?
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Transparency International's 2008 bribery index was released recently. Among other things, the index measures how likely companies in each sector are to bribe public officials. The winners this year:
- Public works contracts & construction
- Real estate & property development
- Oil & gas
- Heavy manufacturing
As for the state capture category, or "the frequency that sectors attempt to exert influence on government legislation, laws and decision-making through private payments to public officials," the results are similar:
- Public works contracts & construction
- Oil & gas
- Real estate & property development
- Heavy manufacturing
Does anyone else feel like this whole economic crash has somehow tweaked our very perception of time? Just a few months ago, High Country News was writing stories about the unprecedented pace and size of the natural gas boom. In order to provide historical context, the stories often mentioned Black Sunday, the dark day in 1982 when Colorado's brand new oil shale boom went belly up and thousands lost their jobs in Western Colorado. Those who were alarmed by the pace of the boom also warned that we were headed for a repeat of Black Sunday.
And they probably believed that. Still, I think most folks saw the bust as something that would happen years in the future, not months. But check out the news today, and there's that Black Sunday word again. And some say it's happening right now.
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The United States continues its schizophrenic policy toward immigrant labor with President George W. Bush's eleventh-hour changes to the H-2A program, which allows immigrant farmworkers into the country for up to ten months at a time.
The changes will make it less expensive and complicated for agricultural employers, relaxing wage, housing and recruitment requirements.
Bruce Goldstein, director of the Washington, DC-based nonprofit Farmworker Justice, said the administration "is making it easier for employers to bring in massive numbers of workers with fewer regulations and no oversight."
The changes were first proposed last February, and the Department of Labor and Homeland Security received thousands of objections during a 45-day comment period which ended in April. Only one substantive change was made in response to the comments: originally the proposed regs had allowed employers to give workers vouchers rather than provide housing. The new proposal dropped the voucher idea but created a loophole: In an "unforseen emergency," employers can house workers in uninspected housing.
Other changes relax requirements that employers show they can't find domestic workers (they are allowed to merely "attest" with the new regs), and allow employers to drop the H-2A wage of $9.72 per hour to minimum wage.
The regulations have yet to be published, and Farmworker Justice and other organizations are asking the DOL to withdraw them. If that doesn't happen, the organizations will ask Congress to step in to stop the regulations from taking effect in mid-January before President-elect Obama takes office. And if that fails, Farmworker Justice will likely file a lawsuit, says staff attorney Virginia Ruiz.
Some agricultural employers have used prison labor instead of H-2A or undocumented farmworkers, as HCN reported in October.
Heating with wood provides a paradox. The process provides a warm indoor fire, isolating you from the cold outdoors. And yet it makes you more connected to the outdoors.
Let it be noted that I use wood for supplemental heat, more or less. Our century-old house has a gas furnace, and while I'm glad it's there, I want to run it as little as possible.
Start with the wood. Some people cut their own, which puts them outdoors in the woods for many hours. I've never mastered the art of sharpening a chain saw -- or getting one to start reliably, for that matter -- so I get my firewood from a local builder who logs for house timbers, and sells the scraps.
When he delivers, the cordwood is "bucked" -- that is, cut to 16-inch stove length. Then I split it and pile it (many people neatly stack their wood, but neatness is not one of my core values).
Until this winter, I split my wood with a chopping block and an eight-pound maul. Age may or may not bring wisdom, but it does bring enough sore muscles to inspire the purchase of a small, quiet electric-powered hydraulic wood splitter.
It's faster and easier than the maul. But I still spend a lot of time with the wood as I split it, enjoying the chunky heft of piñon and the vanilla aroma of ponderosa, sometimes fretting about all the blue-stained beetle-killed pine. or wondering what kind of wood exudes so much sticky resin that it will capture my glove if I'm not mindful.
Keeping the stove fed in the winter means at least one trip outdoors every day to fill my "woodbarrow" -- the old wheelbarrow I use to haul firewood from the far back yard to the front porch. It's sort of like walking the dog; no matter now cold, snowy or windy it is out there, it's an outdoor chore that must be done.
And even when I'm settled with a good book near a hearty fire on a cold night, presumably oblivious to the world beyond my walls, the outdoors is a constant presence.
The colder it is outside, the more often I have to get up and feed the fire. The stronger the wind outside, the greater the draft inside, and the stove's air intake must be adjusted accordingly. Outdoor wind gusts produce eerie, almost ghostly, indoor sounds from the 30-year-old airtight stove, odd noises that sometimes startle even our two house cats, who are otherwise catatonic as they bask by the warmth.
So, if you want to stay connected with the great outdoors, just stay home by the fire.
A scene I'd like to see:
The CEOs of the Sierra Club and other Big Green groups standing up in Congress and calling for financial help for the autoworkers in GM, Ford and Chrysler.
Haven't seen it, though. And that's a problem in itself.
The silence from environmentalists is one reason why they often struggle politically.
We all know the U.S. auto corporations are begging Congress and the Bush Admin for a couple of dozen billion dollars. It's chump change anymore, compared to the public trillions we're shoveling into mismanaged Wall Street banks, amid the global economic meltdown.
If the auto corporations don't get help, one or more will declare bankruptcy. Their industry will shrink more than it would outside bankruptcy. There are reasons to ignore their pleas for help. Like the ailing banks, they've had bad leadership. Their fat-cat top executives resisted regulations on tailpipe emissions and fuel efficiency. They stalled or killed projects to develop electric cars. They spent their advertising budgets on pushing stupid products -- macho gas-hog pickups and SUVs -- and lobbied to get tax breaks for customers who bought them.
There are also millions of reasons to help the auto corporations, under requirements that they reform their operations. Those reasons are people -- unionized workers in the auto corporations and other workers in related companies.Read More ...
HCN has been writing a lot lately about how the new mining boom is already going bust. Today, it got worse: global mining giant Rio Tinto announced it is laying off 14,000 employees, sending a clear message that the mining surge that was booming just a year ago has gone belly up. It's the biggest mining-related layoff yet, but not by any means the first. Mines are aching from the platinum and palladium diggers up in Montana, down to Colorado's and Utah's just resurrected uranium mines.
Rio Tinto's pain ripples. Though the company is based in Australia and England, its tentacles reach deeply into much of the West. It's involved in or owns projects ranging from Kennecott copper in Utah, to a boron mine in California, to Resolution copper in Arizona, to Sweetwater uranium operations up in Wyoming.
The mining bust is a huge double whammy for southern Arizona. First there was the housing downturn, which went extra deep into the suburbs of Phoenix; now this. Even big boxes are suffering down there, and shutting down, which is gouging municipal budgets that are highly dependent on sales taxes. For a while, copper's resurgence promised to replace a few of the job losses in the construction sector. No more.
And now this: Warm places are getting hit harder by the economic crisis than are others.
In a letter published in the November 24th edition, Jessica Hall urged HCN to “take a deeper look at water issues in California.” Around the same time there were several significant developments in the world of California water. And while GOAT is not the proper forum for a “deep” analysis, we can make readers aware of those developments and point you toward sources where you can find more information.
The California legislative analyst released a report on California’s Water Supply in late October which some hope will help shake up the world of California water. The Analyst called for “fundamental changes” in California’s water rights system. Part of that reform would be state groundwater regulation and a state-run well permitting system. According to the Analyst, California is one of only two states in the West that don’t have state-run groundwater permitting. The other state is Texas which some of us consider a southern state.
The lack of groundwater regulation has allowed irrigation and other interests to exploit groundwater at will. But when a few years ago an entrepreneur announced plans to drill a well and export groundwater to Nevada counties began to step into the void, passing groundwater ordinances. But county regulation has created a chaotic situation and most Northern California counties have yet to put any system in place to regulate groundwater. As a result landowners have been able to drill unregulated wells which appear to be tapping underground streams interconnected with surface flow. This has sometimes had a dramatic effect. In the Shasta River Valley, for example, Big Springs – a volcanic spring thought to originate on Mt. Shasta, - used to flow about 120 cubic feet per second.(cfs) year around. Then the landowner where the massive spring emerges drilled two irrigation wells not far from where the Springs emerge. Big Springs now flows at 20 cfs.
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Jim Eischeid’s letter to HCN in the November 24th edition pointed out the irony that “the large majority of those ranchers get sweet subsidized deals on the use of the public lands for grazing, and yet they vilify the efforts to restore the wolf on those very same lands.” Eischeid then goes to the heart of the reason why public land grazing is environmentally destructive. It is the failure of ranchers to maintain the tradition of riding the range and moving the herd that results in these cattle hanging out in riparian areas where they munch willows and aspen as well as grass, deposit their waste directly into the streams and trample stream banks.
This is also true of Northern California where I live. In the old days, ranch teenagers spent months in the mountains each summer moving the herds and protecting them from predators. Often they were alone in the wilderness for weeks on end. These real cowboys developed a deep bond with the wild lands – the very bond which livestock organizations still talk about but which is increasingly rare in ranching communities. If the government agencies required range riding and other active management practices necessary for grazing to be done in an environmentally responsible manner we would not need to buy out grazing permits because many ranchers would abandon their permits as not “penciling out” – i.e. not worth the cost of management. Undoubtedly those ranch families which really cherish the Old West lifestyle would once again begin riding the range – or having the teenagers in the family take on the job. Perhaps this would result in a new generation of ranchers who value wild lands and wild critters like those old timers who have now mostly passed on.
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