After dropping another 1.9 percent in the first quarter of this year, housing prices have now experienced a 33-percent decline since the housing crisis began in 2006, according to the latest Case-Shiller data. “This housing crash has been larger and faster than the one during the Great Depression,” writes senior economist Paul Dales. The sharp plunge in prices did slow towards the end of the quarter, but is predicted to continue with 4.5 million households either three payments late or in foreclosure proceedings.
– Sarah Bufkin
A charming tale of eco-utopia from TreeHugger:
According to a report from The Patriot-News, cutting the grass around Wilson Middle School’s field of solar panels used to take workers 6 hours a week — and throughout the year, the cost of lawn maintenance really added up. But now, thanks to the appetite of a herd of 30 or so sheep, they’ve cut that figure down to virtually nothing.
Or is this just another sordid tale of union-busting? Alternatively, do we need to worry that a decade from now, school districts are going to be groaning under the cost of veterinary bills and sheep pensions? Will the sheep some day be threatened with replacement by goats or llamas only to form unions of their own to object to these efficiencies?
Our guest blogger is Tom Kenworthy, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Even with a huge Exhibit A staring them in the face in the form of the 440,000-acre Wallow fire in Arizona, Senate Republicans on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee couldn?t be drawn into a discussion of the realities of climate change today.
Committee chairman Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) gave them an opening at the outset of the hearing on federal wildland fire policy. He drew the link between climate change and the four Arizona fires now burning that have in total burned some 663,000 acres ? more than 1,000 square miles. With climate change, Bingaman correctly noted, ?droughts will be more frequent in the Southwest and they will last longer than they have in the past.?
But committee Republicans Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), James Risch (R-ID) and Dean Heller (R-NV) preferred to talk about the federal government?s aging fleet of air tankers, this year?s heavy snowpack in the northern Rockies, the threat of an endangered species listing of the sage grouse and those (overblown) environmental lawsuits against forest thinning projects. Actually looking into a key driver of the last decade?s huge increase in big western wildfires? A non-starter.
That left it to Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) to draw out U.S. Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell, who unequivocally said his agency?s scientists see climate change at work in the desert southwest: more drought, quicker snowmelt, longer wildfire seasons. ?I?ve been on a lot of large fires in my career,? said Tidwell, who flew over the Wallow fire last weekend. ?It definitely topped anything I?ve seen before.? Franken noted that his colleagues should recognize that these fires are “the cost of climate change”:
A lot of what we are talking about today is the cost of climate change. And sometimes when we talk about energy and we talk about the amount of carbon dioxide that goes into our atmosphere, and we talk about cost, I think that it would be really good for members to take into account this kind of cost. This is a real cost. We’re talking about real dollars here. A lot of the focus of this hearing today has been the cost of this. And I think that it would be well and good for members to understand that this is related to climate change, and how important it is for us to address this and to take national action to reduce our carbon emissions.
The Wallow Fire is now expected to become the largest fire in Arizona history, bigger even than the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski fire that burned about 470,000 acres.
For years now, models and studies have predicted that climate change would bring more and larger fires. As Climate Progress? Joe Romm pointed out recently:
Back in 2004, researchers at the U.S. Forest Services Pacific Wildland Fire Lab looked at past fires in the West to create a statistical model of how future climate change may affect wildfires. Their paper, ?Climatic Change, Wildfire, and Conservation,? published in Conservation Biology, found that by century?s end, states like Montana, New Mexico, Washington, Utah, and Wyoming could see burn areas increase five times.
Here?s a figure from a presentation made by the President?s science adviser Dr. John Holdren in Oslo last year:
For completeness?s sake — and because I remain optimistic that someday the media will routinely make the connection between increased forest fires and global warming — let me note that back in 2006 Science magazine published a major article analyzing whether the recent soaring wildfire trend was due to a change in forest management practices or to climate change. The study, led by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, concluded climate change is increasing wildfires:
Robust statistical associations between wildfire and hydroclimate in western forests indicate that increased wildfire activity over recent decades reflects sub-regional responses to changes in climate. Historical wildfire observations exhibit an abrupt transition in the mid-1980s from a regime of infrequent large wildfires of short (average of 1 week) duration to one with much more frequent and longer burning (5 weeks) fires. This transition was marked by a shift toward unusually warm springs, longer summer dry seasons, drier vegetation (which provoked more and longer burning large wildfires), and longer fire seasons. Reduced winter precipitation and an early spring snowmelt played a role in this shift.
That 2006 study noted global warming — from human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide — will further accelerate all of these trends during this century. Worse still, the increased wildfires will themselves release huge amounts of carbon dioxide, which will serve as a vicious circle, accelerating the very global warming that is helping to cause more wildfires.
A new report finds that health care spending in Massachusetts continues to increase, with private payer costs outpacing national health care spending and spending by Medicare and MassHealth — the state’s Medicaid and CHIP program:
Spending per privately insured member grew 6 percent from 2007 to 2008 and another 10 percent from 2008 to 2009. This rate of growth was substantially higher than the increase in national personal health care expenditures per capita from 2008 to 2009. In 2009, national personal health care spending per capita increased 4.6 percent?a deceleration from 4.9 percent growth in 2008.
Spending by private payers grew faster than spending by public payers. The rate of growth for spending on privately insured people from 2007 to 2008 also outpaced the growth in spending for Massachusetts residents in Medicare (4.8 percent) or MassHealth (2.8 percent) during the same time period (Figure A). The rates of growth for both private and public payers in Massachusetts continued to outpace increases in per capita state gross domestic product and wages.
Rising prices played a significant role in increasing private spending for inpatient and
outpatient hospital services, as well as physician and other professional services. Higher
prices explained virtually all of the increase in private inpatient spending from 2007 to 2009.
Kevin Outterson explains that “the report is best understood as additional evidence of provider market power in Massachusetts” — a problem the state has been grappling with for some time. Insurance companies are paying some hospitals ?significantly more than others for providing similar care,? even though the higher paid hospitals are not producing better outcomes. Disparities in payments were first documented by Attorney General Martha Coakley?s staff last year, “which concluded after an investigation that the highest paid hospitals had more market clout, some because of their brand names, but that they were not necessarily providing better care.”
Last night, Anderson Cooper spoke with Box Turtle Bulletin’s Jim Burroway about the sissy boy experiments and the Kirk Murphy story:
Several constitutional amendments refer to rights that belong to “the people.” The Second Amendment refers to “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms.” The Fourth Amendment provides that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” According to a sharply divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, this choice of words means that undocumented immigrants have no Second Amendment rights and may also not be able to invoke the Fourth Amendment’s shield against illegal searches and arrests:
[T]he Court?s language does provide some guidance as to the meaning of the term ?the people? as it is used in the Second Amendment. The Court held the Second Amendment ?surely elevates above all other interests the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.? Furthermore, the Court noted that ?in all six other provisions of the Constitution that mention ?the people,? the term unambiguously refers to all members of the political community, not an unspecified subset.? [...] Illegal aliens are not ?law-abiding citizens? or ?members of the political community,? and aliens who enter or remain in this country illegally and without authorization are not Americans as that word is commonly understood.
Prior to its decision in Heller, the Supreme Court interpreted the meaning of the phrase ?the people? in the context of the Fourth Amendment and indicated that the same analysis would extend to the text of the Second Amendment…but neither this court nor the Supreme Court has held that the Fourth Amendment extends to a native and citizen of another nation who entered and remained in the United States illegally.
The court’s suggestion that the Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply to undocumented immigrants is obviously wrong. Even if such immigrants don’t count as part of “the people,” the Supreme Court held in Mapp v. Ohio that the Constitution’s guarantee that no “person” may be denied liberty without due process of law includes the right to be free from illegal searches and seizures. And, in light of the Supreme Court’s bizarre conclusion that corporations count as “persons,” it would be quite a stretch to claim that actual human beings who happen to have entered the United States illegally are somehow not persons.
It’s also worth noting that at least one of the Fifth Circuit judges who decided this case is an unusually radical member of an unusually radical court. Judge Emilio Garza, who was briefly floated as a possible George W. Bush nominee to the Supreme Court, is best known for being one of five Fifth Circuit judges who held that a death row defendant whose lawyer slept through much of his trial was not denied his constitutional right to counsel.
While Garza’s view was ultimately deemed too radical by a majority of his colleagues, such restraint is rare in the Fifth Circuit. Last year, the Fifth Circuit sanctioned a former high school cheerleader because she brought a lawsuit claiming that she shouldn?t be required to cheer for her alleged rapist. More recently, the House GOP attempted to shift several key oil drilling cases to the Fifth Circuit after the court’s judges made it clear that they would give the oil industry favorable treatment.
Two Fifth Circuit judges, Jerry Smith and Eugene Davis, even ruled in favor of the oil industry in a major drilling moratorium case despite the fact that they both attended expense-paid ?junkets for judges? sponsored by an oil-industry funded organization. A third Fifth Circuit judge, Edith Clement, serves on the board of this organization, despite an opinion from the federal judiciary?s ethics committee saying that Clement violates her ethical obligations by remaining on this board.
Pakistan?s intelligence service arrested five CIA informants, including the owner of a safe house rented to the CIA near Osama bin Laden?s compound. A Western official in Pakistan confirmed that five Pakistani informants who helped the CIA gather information before the May 2nd raid on bin Laden?s compound were arrested. The New York Times reports that detained informants included a Pakistani army major who copied the license plates of cars visiting bin Laden?s compound. CIA director Leon Panetta reportedly raised the issue of the arrested informants when he visited Islamabad last week.
Welcome to Clean Start, ThinkProgress Green?s morning round-up of the latest in climate and clean energy. Here is what we?re reading. What are you?
The massive fire in Arizona is now the largest in the state’s history. “The monster fire has some people wondering?does climate change mean there will be more fir
es like this in the future?” [TNR; NY Times]
Reps. Barney Frank introduced an amendment that would double funding to the CFTC in the face of drastic cuts proposed by the GOP agriculture spending bill. According to the Hill, Democrats spent some of the day Tuesday arguing that the cuts to the CFTC “would only make it harder for the agency to prevent commodity price spikes caused by speculation.” [The Hill]
Today the Senate EPW Committee convenes a hearing on “The Clean Air Act and Public Health.” CAP’s Christina C. DiPasquale, Valeri Vasquez write that, “One of the witnesses will be Cathy S. Woollums, Senior Vice President of MidAmerican Energy. She will reiterate recent statements by other big polluting utilities ? including American Electric Power ? and threaten rate hikes and job loses if the proposed power plant health safeguards become final.” [CP]
“New regulations on mercury, arsenic and other toxic air pollution from power plants proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in March would not provide a drag on the current economic recovery and would in fact have a slightly positive impact on job growth in coming years.” [EPI]
The Hill’s E2 blog reports on the ongoing battle in the Senate over ethanol subsidies. “The Senate on Tuesday rejected Sen. Tom Coburn?s (R-Okla.) amendment that would almost immediately end a major ethanol tax break,” but more votes on subsidies are expected soon. [E2]
New Jersey Democrats introduce resolution to stop Christie from pulling out of RGGI. Assemblymembers “introduced a resolution that would protect funding sources for clean energy and support New Jersey’s membership in RGGI, a 10-state carbon emissions cap and trade program to reduce greenhouse gasses in the region 10 percent by 2018.” [NJ Herald]
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An increasingly fractious maritime confrontation is developing in the South China Sea, with enormous implications for international companies interested in developing East Asia’s offshore hydrocarbon resources. Far from the radars of city of London and Wall Street investors, the clash has seen Vietnam emerge as spear carrier for its fellow ASEAN members on the dispute.
Offshore drilling is the most capital-intensive form of exploiting hydrocarbons, but its expense and scarcity has also allowed technically advanced Western companies to drive hard bargains with third world countries over their offshore waters, as they don’t have indigenous advanced technical resources nor finances to exploit their maritime wealth.
Accordingly, most countries attempt to procure the best bilateral deals with foreign companies to get . . . → Read More: David and Goliath: Vietnam Confronts China Over South China Sea Energy Riches
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