The Lily-Pad Strategy

Reprinted from TomDispatch.com (July 15, 2012)

How the Pentagon Is Quietly Transforming Its Overseas Base Empire and Creating a Dangerous New Way of War

By David Vine

The first thing I saw last month when I walked into the belly of the dark grey C-17 Air Force cargo plane was a void — something missing. A missing left arm, to be exact, severed at the shoulder, temporarily patched and held together.  Thick, pale flesh, flecked with bright red at the edges. It looked like meat sliced open. The face and what remained of the rest of the man were obscured by blankets, an American flag quilt, and a jumble of tubes and tape, wires, drip bags, and medical monitors.

That man and two other critically wounded soldiers — one with two stumps where legs had been, the other missing a leg below the thigh — were intubated, unconscious, and lying on stretchers hooked to the walls of the plane that had just landed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. A tattoo on the soldier’s remaining arm read, “DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR.”

I asked a member of the Air Force medical team about the casualties they see like these. Many, as with this flight, were coming from Afghanistan, he told me. “A lot from the Horn of Africa,” he added. “You don’t really hear about that in the media.”

“Where in Africa?” I asked.  He said he didn’t know exactly, but generally from the Horn, often with critical injuries. “A lot out of Djibouti,” he added, referring to Camp Lemonnier, the main U.S. military base in Africa, but from “elsewhere” in the region, too.

Since the “Black Hawk Down” deaths in Somalia almost 20 years ago, we’ve heard little, if anything, about American military casualties in Africa (other than a strange report last week about three special operations commandos killed, along with three women identified by U.S. military sources as “Moroccan prostitutes,” in a mysterious car accident in Mali). The growing number of patients arriving at Ramstein from Africa pulls back a curtain on a significant transformation in twenty-first-century U.S. military strategy.

These casualties are likely to be the vanguard of growing numbers of wounded troops coming from places far removed from Afghanistan or Iraq. They reflect the increased use of relatively small bases like Camp Lemonnier, which military planners see as a model for future U.S. bases “scattered,” as one academic explains, “across regions in which the United States has previously not maintained a military presence.”

Disappearing are the days when Ramstein was the signature U.S. base, an American-town-sized behemoth filled with thousands or tens of thousands of Americans, PXs, Pizza Huts, and other amenities of home. But don’t for a second think that the Pentagon is packing up, downsizing its global mission, and heading home. In fact, based on developments in recent years, the opposite may be true. While the collection of Cold War-era giant bases around the world is shrinking, the global infrastructure of bases overseas has exploded in size and scope.

Unknown to most Americans, Washington’s garrisoning of the planet is on the rise, thanks to a new generation of bases the military calls “lily pads” (as in a frog jumping across a pond toward its prey). These are small, secretive, inaccessible facilities with limited numbers of troops, spartan amenities, and prepositioned weaponry and supplies.

Around the world, from Djibouti to the jungles of Honduras, the deserts of Mauritania to Australia’s tiny Cocos Islands, the Pentagon has been pursuing as many lily pads as it can, in as many countries as it can, as fast as it can. Although statistics are hard to assemble, given the often-secretive nature of such bases, the Pentagon has probably built upwards of 50 lily pads and other small bases since around 2000, while exploring the construction of dozens more.

As Mark Gillem, author of America Town: Building the Outposts of Empire,explains, “avoidance” of local populations, publicity, and potential opposition is the new aim. “To project its power,” he says, the United States wants “secluded and self-contained outposts strategically located” around the world. According to some of the strategy’s strongest proponents at the American Enterprise Institute, the goal should be “to create a worldwide network of frontier forts,” with the U.S. military “the ‘global cavalry’ of the twenty-first century.”

Such lily-pad bases have become a critical part of an evolving Washington military strategy aimed at maintaining U.S. global dominance by doing far more with less in an increasingly competitive, ever more multi-polar world. Central as it’s becoming to the long-term U.S. stance, this global-basing reset policy has, remarkably enough, received almost no public attention, nor significant Congressional oversight. Meanwhile, as the arrival of the first casualties from Africa shows, the U.S. military is getting involved in new areas of the world and new conflicts, with potentially disastrous consequences.

Transforming the Base Empire

You might think that the U.S. military is in the process of shrinking, rather than expanding, its little noticed but enormous collection of bases abroad. After all, it was forced to close the full panoply of 505 bases, mega to micro, that it built in Iraq, and it’s now beginning the process of drawing down forces in Afghanistan. In Europe, the Pentagon is continuing to close its massive bases in Germany and will soon remove two combat brigades from that country. Global troop numbers are set to shrink by around 100,000.

Yet Washington still easily maintains the largest collection of foreign bases in world history: more than 1,000 military installations outside the 50 states and Washington, DC. They include everything from decades-old bases in Germany and Japan to brand-new drone bases in Ethiopia and the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean and even resorts for military vacationers in Italy and South Korea.

In Afghanistan, the U.S.-led international force still occupies more than 450 bases. In total, the U.S. military has some form of troop presence in approximately 150 foreign countries, not to mention 11 aircraft carrier task forces — essentially floating bases — and a significant, and growing, military presence in space. The United States currently spends an estimated $250 billion annually maintaining bases and troops overseas.

Some bases, like Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, date to the late nineteenth century. Most were built or occupied during or just after World War II on every continent, including Antarctica. Although the U.S. military vacated around 60% of its foreign bases following the Soviet Union’s collapse, the Cold War base infrastructure remained relatively intact, with 60,000 American troops remaining in Germany alone, despite the absence of a superpower adversary.

However, in the early months of 2001, even before the attacks of 9/11, the Bush administration launched a major global realignment of bases and troops that’s continuing today with Obama’s “Asia pivot.” Bush’s original plan was to close more than one-third of the nation’s overseas bases and shift troops east and south, closer to predicted conflict zones in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The Pentagon began to focus on creating smaller and more flexible “forward operating bases” and even smaller “cooperative security locations” or “lily pads.” Major troop concentrations were to be restricted to a reduced number of “main operating bases” (MOBs) — like Ramstein, Guam in the Pacific, and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean — which were to be expanded.

Despite the rhetoric of consolidation and closure that went with this plan, in the post-9/11 era the Pentagon has actually been expanding its base infrastructure dramatically, including dozens of major bases in every Persian Gulf country save Iran, and in several Central Asian countries critical to the war in Afghanistan.

Hitting the Base Reset Button

Obama’s recently announced “Asia pivot” signals that East Asia will be at the center of the explosion of lily-pad bases and related developments. Already in Australia, U.S. marines are settling into a shared base in Darwin. Elsewhere, the Pentagon is pursuing plans for a drone and surveillance base in Australia’s Cocos Islands and deployments to Brisbane and Perth. In Thailand, the Pentagon has negotiated rights for new Navy port visits and a “disaster-relief hub” at U-Tapao.

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In the Philippines, whose government evicted the U.S. from the massive Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base in the early 1990s, as many as 600 special forces troops have quietly been operating in the country’s south since January 2002. Last month, the two governments reached an agreement on the future U.S. use of Clark and Subic, as well as other repair and supply hubs from the Vietnam War era. In a sign of changing times, U.S. officials even signed a 2011 defense agreement with former enemy Vietnam and have begun negotiations over the Navy’s increased use of Vietnamese ports.

Elsewhere in Asia, the Pentagon has rebuilt a runway on tiny Tinian island near Guam, and it’s considering future bases in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei, while pushing stronger military ties with India. Every year in the region, the military conducts around 170 military exercises and 250 port visits. On South Korea’s Jeju island, the Korean military is building a base that will be part of the U.S. missile defense system and to which U.S. forces will have regular access.

“We just can’t be in one place to do what we’ve got to do,” Pacific Command commander Admiral Samuel Locklear III has said. For military planners, “what we’ve got to do” is clearly defined as isolating and (in the terminology of the Cold War) “containing” the new power in the region, China. This evidently means “peppering” new bases throughout the region, adding to the more than 200 U.S. bases that have encircled China for decades in Japan, South Korea, Guam, and Hawaii.

And Asia is just the beginning. In Africa, the Pentagon has quietly created “about a dozen air bases” for drones and surveillance since 2007. In addition to Camp Lemonnier, we know that the military has created or will soon create installations in Burkina Faso, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritania, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Seychelles, South Sudan, and Uganda. The Pentagon has also investigated building bases in Algeria, Gabon, Ghana, Mali, and Nigeria, among other places.

Next year, a brigade-sized force of 3,000 troops, and “likely more,” will arrive for exercises and training missions across the continent. In the nearby Persian Gulf, the Navy is developing an “afloat forward-staging base,” or “mothership,” to serve as a sea-borne “lily pad” for helicopters and patrol craft, and has been involved in a massive build-up of forces in the region.

In Latin America, following the military’s eviction from Panama in 1999 and Ecuador in 2009, the Pentagon has created or upgraded new bases in Aruba and Curaçao, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, and Peru.  Elsewhere, the Pentagon has funded the creation of military and police bases capable of hosting U.S. forces in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica, and even Ecuador. In 2008, the Navy reactivated its Fourth Fleet, inactive since 1950, to patrol the region. The military may want a base in Brazil and unsuccessfully tried to create bases, ostensibly for humanitarian and emergency relief, in Paraguay and Argentina.

Finally, in Europe, after arriving in the Balkans during 1990’s interventions, U.S. bases have moved eastward into some of the former Eastern Bloc states of the Soviet empire. The Pentagon is now developing installations capable of supporting rotating, brigade-sized deployments in Romania and Bulgaria, and a missile defense base and aviation facilities in Poland. Previously, the Bush administration maintained two CIA black sites (secret prisons) in Lithuania and another in Poland. Citizens of the Czech Republic rejected a planned radar base for the Pentagon’s still unproven missile defense system, and now Romania will host ground-based missiles.

A New American Way of War

A lily pad on one of the Gulf of Guinea islands of S­ão Tomé and Príncipe, off the oil-rich west coast of Africa, helps explain what’s going on. A U.S. official has described the base as “another Diego Garcia,” referring to the Indian Ocean basethat’s helped ensure decades of U.S. domination over Middle Eastern energy supplies. Without the freedom to create new large bases in Africa, the Pentagon is using S­ão Tomé and a growing collection of other lily pads on the continent in an attempt to control another crucial oil-rich region.

Far beyond West Africa, the nineteenth century “Great Game” competition for Central Asia has returned with a passion — and this time gone global.  It’s spreading to resource-rich lands in Africa, Asia, and South America, as the United States, China, Russia, and members of the European Union find themselves locked in an increasingly intense competition for economic and geopolitical supremacy.

While Beijing, in particular, has pursued this competition in a largely economic fashion, dotting the globe with strategic investments, Washington has focused relentlessly on military might as its global trump card, dotting the planet with new bases and other forms of military power. “Forget full-scale invasions and large-footprint occupations on the Eurasian mainland,” Nick Turse has written of this new twenty-first century military strategy. “Instead, think: special operations forces… proxy armies… the militarization of spying and intelligence… drone aircraft… cyber-attacks, and joint Pentagon operations with increasingly militarized ‘civilian’ government agencies.”

Add to this unparalleled long-range air and naval power; arms sales besting any nation on Earth; humanitarian and disaster relief missions that clearly serve military intelligence, patrol, and “hearts and minds” functions; the rotational deployment of regular U.S. forces globally; port visits and an expanding array of joint military exercises and training missions that give the U.S. military de facto “presence” worldwide and help turn foreign militaries into proxy forces.

And lots and lots of lily-pad bases.

Military planners see a future of endless small-scale interventions in which a large, geographically dispersed collection of bases will always be primed for instant operational access. With bases in as many places as possible, military planners want to be able to turn to another conveniently close country if the United States is ever prevented from using a base, as it was by Turkey prior to the invasion of Iraq. In other words, Pentagon officials dream of nearly limitless flexibility, the ability to react with remarkable rapidity to developments anywhere on Earth, and thus, something approaching total military control over the planet.

Beyond their military utility, the lily pads and other forms of power projection are also political and economic tools used to build and maintain alliances and provide privileged U.S. access to overseas markets, resources, and investment opportunities. Washington is planning to use lily-pad bases and other military projects to bind countries in Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America as closely as possible to the U.S. military — and so to continued U.S. political-economic hegemony. In short, American officials are hoping military might will entrench their influence and keep as many countries as possible within an American orbit at a time when some are asserting their independence ever more forcefully or gravitating toward China and other rising powers.

Those Dangerous Lily Pads

While relying on smaller bases may sound smarter and more cost effective than maintaining huge bases that have often caused anger in places like Okinawa and South Korea, lily pads threaten U.S. and global security in several ways:

First, the “lily pad” language can be misleading, since by design or otherwise, such installations are capable of quickly growing into bloated behemoths.

Second, despite the rhetoric about spreading democracy that still lingers in Washington, building more lily pads actually guarantees collaboration with an increasing number of despotic, corrupt, and murderous regimes.

Third, there is a well-documented pattern of damage that military facilities of various sizes inflict on local communities. Although lily pads seem to promise insulation from local opposition, over time even small bases have often led to anger and protest movements.

Finally, a proliferation of lily pads means the creeping militarization of large swaths of the globe. Like real lily pads — which are actually aquatic weeds — bases have a way of growing and reproducing uncontrollably. Indeed, bases tend to beget bases, creating “base races” with other nations, heightening military tensions, and discouraging diplomatic solutions to conflicts. After all, how would the United States respond if China, Russia, or Iran were to build even a single lily-pad base of its own in Mexico or the Caribbean?

For China and Russia in particular, ever more U.S. bases near their borders threaten to set off new cold wars. Most troublingly, the creation of new bases to protect against an alleged future Chinese military threat may prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy: such bases in Asia are likely to create the threat they are supposedly designed to protect against, making a catastrophic war with China more, not less, likely.

Encouragingly, however, overseas bases have recently begun to generate critical scrutiny across the political spectrum from Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul to Democratic Senator Jon Tester and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. With everyone looking for ways to trim the deficit, closing overseas bases offers easy savings. Indeed, increasingly influential types are recognizing that the country simply can’t afford more than 1,000 bases abroad.

Great Britain, like empires before it, had to close most of its remaining foreign bases in the midst of an economic crisis in the 1960s and 1970s. The United States is undoubtedly headed in that direction sooner or later. The only question is whether the country will give up its bases and downsize its global mission by choice, or if it will follow Britain’s path as a fading power forced to give up its bases from a position of weakness.

Of course, the consequences of not choosing another path extend beyond economics. If the proliferation of lily pads, special operations forces, and drone wars continues, the United States is likely to be drawn into new conflicts and new wars, generating unknown forms of blowback, and untold death and destruction. In that case, we’d better prepare for a lot more incoming flights — from the Horn of Africa to Honduras — carrying not just amputees but caskets.


David Vine is assistant professor of anthropology at American University, in Washington, DC. He is the author of Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia (Princeton University Press, 2009). He has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, andMother Jones, among other places. He is currently completing a book about the more than 1,000 U.S. military bases located outside the United States. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Vine discusses his experiences with the Pentagon’s empire of bases, click here or download it to your iPod here.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook, and check out the latest TD book, Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

Copyright 2012 David Vine

Steroids, Baseball and Climate Change

Here’s a clever 2-minute explanation of why global climate change is the most likely cause of recent record-breaking weather events:

A New Era of Worker Ownership?

Reprinted from Yes! Magazine (July 11, 2012)

All over the country, people—like the workers of Chicago’s New Era Windows—are building worker-owned cooperatives that root jobs in the communities that need them.

by Gar Alperovitz

The workers of the just-formed New Era Windows cooperative in Chicago—the same workers who sat in and forced Serious Energy to back down on a hasty shutdown of their Goose Island plant a few months ago, and famously occupied the same factory for six days in December 2008—are doing more than putting together a bold plan for worker ownership. They are likely to move the entire subject into national attention, thereby spurring others to follow on. Though they have a powerful start, if the past is any guide they will need all the help they can get—financial as well as political.

I was one of the architects of an attempt to establish a worker-owned steel mill in Youngstown, Ohio in the late 1970s—a plan that began with powerful intentions, the financial support of the Carter administration, and the backing of religious and political leaders in the state of Ohio and nationally. The plan was on track, including a promised $100 million in loan guarantees from the Carter Administration—until, somehow, those opposed to the plan sidetracked the effort. The promised money conveniently disappeared just after the 1978 elections had passed.

The Chicago workers have a much, much greater chance of success. They have the skills they need to run a manufacturing business. They have a good market (an energy-efficient window is a good friend in a Chicago winter, after all), and heavy, fragile, made-to-order windows are much less vulnerable to global competition than other products. And, thanks to their inspiring struggle to keep their jobs, they can count on a significant amount of public support.

They also have the backing of the United Electrical workers (UE), an independent and fiercely democratic union; and the support of the Working World, a nonprofit that has helped make hundreds of loans to Argentina’s thriving network of “recuperated” worker-owned businesses.

Above all, their own track record of bold and brave action to defend their jobs is promising in itself, and stirring in terms of public response: Many more people are rooting for this company than your average small manufacturing startup.

The workers are taking this very seriously—after all, it’s their livelihoods on the line. For the past few months, they have been engaged in intensive trainings in cooperative management, building the skills they’ll need to not just make windows but market their product and secure and fulfill contracts. They’ve been scraping together a thousand dollars each to buy into the newly formed cooperative. And they’ve been exploring city programs—like a Midway airport noise insulation project and a city-wide energy retrofit effort that could generate significant contracts.

Still, this is a tough business. If there is one lesson from the early days of worker ownership attempts, it is that building a powerful local and national support group of public figures, nonprofit organizations, national labor and religious leaders, and others can be of great and unexpected importance. It can help keep the story alive at critical times, and also help create and sustain a market. (Churches, for instance, buy a lot of windows, as do many other nonprofit organizations.)

As the workers in Chicago deal with the myriad of tasks involved in raising money, negotiating with their former employer, Serious Energy, to purchase the factory’s equipment, and restarting production (not to mention learning how to democratically manage their own workplace!), building local and national alliances to support their work is a critical task that can be taken on by allies.

What’s happening in Chicago is part of a very important national trend: Many parts of the country are looking toward worker ownership as a way to root jobs in the communities that need them. In Cleveland, for instance, a community foundation, with the support of local universities and hospitals, is helping create a network of interlinked green worker cooperatives as part of an economic development strategy designed to help lift devastated neighborhoods out of poverty. With an industrial scale laundry and a solar installation and weatherization firm already operational, and a 3.5-acre urban greenhouse scheduled to launch in a few months, the Cleveland model is one that many other cities—including Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C.—are actively exploring today. Crucially, the model developed in Cleveland looks beyond the individual worker-owned company to understand how a community can support the businesses and workers that in turn support it: In this case, the purchasing power of the city’s largest so-called “anchor institutions” is mobilized to develop worker-owned jobs in the very neighborhoods these institutions call home.

Moreover, there is now a quiet trend in the union movement—away from disinterest in new forms of ownership and towards positive assistance. The United Steelworkers, working jointly with Mondragón (the 80,000-member complex of cooperatives in the Basque country), have taken the lead in proposing and developing “union coops” that will combine worker ownership and the collective bargaining process. The Service Employees union (SEIU) has taken some interesting steps here as well, with a worker-owned and unionized laundry slated to launch in Pittsburgh this year, and a groundbreaking partnership with New York City’s Cooperative Home Care Associates, the largest worker cooperative in the United States. Also notable is a growing sophistication among unions regarding a far more common form of U.S. worker ownership, the ESOP, or Employee Stock Ownership Plan (which involves 10 million workers): Unions like the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) are taking a strong role in making sure workers’ interests are protected as companies convert to worker ownership.

The Chicago workers’ effort is important, not only on its own terms but as a beacon of hope and an opportunity for many others to learn about a building an economy that perhaps will one day take us past ownership by the 1 percent to a very different democratic model. It’s time for others—individuals, groups, activists, churches, non-profit organizations—to do what we can to help make sure they succeed.

Update: Since this article was first published on CommonDreams, events have demonstrated just how important broader community support is to efforts like that at New Era.  Serious Energy was on track to liquidate the plant’s assets instead of following through on its pledge to help the workers save their jobs, until a combination of online and offline activism—including a march on Serious Energy investors Mesirow Financial in Chicago—brought the company back to the negotiating table. Ongoing support is likely to be needed as the workers at New Era continue their fight for a cooperative workplace.


Gar Alperovitz is the Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political-Economy at the University of Maryland and co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative. He is author, most recently, of America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming Our Wealth, Our Liberty and Our Democracy and, with Lew Daly, of Unjust Deserts: How the Rich Are Taking Our Common Inheritance. He is working on a new book on systemic institutional change.

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California Gold Rush? Righting Underwater Mortgages

Reprinted from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), July 16, 2012

By Dean Baker

Ever since the housing bubble collapsed, the Federal government has refused to take major initiatives to help underwater homeowners. As a result, we are likely to see close to 1 million foreclosures both this year and next, with the numbers only gradually slipping back to normal levels by the end of the decade.

The inaction cannot be attributed to a lack of opportunity. At the time the TARP bailout was being debated in the fall of 2008 many progressive members of Congress wanted to have a provision that would at least temporarily alter bankruptcy law to allow judges to rewrite the terms of a mortgage.

Under current law, home mortgages are treated differently than any other type of debt. Bankruptcy judges are prohibited from altering the terms of a mortgage in anyway. If a homeowner cannot meet the terms of the mortgage, they lose the house. Congress could have allowed bankruptcy judges to rewrite mortgages that were written during the housing bubble frenzy, but it backed away from this opportunity.

Similarly, Congress could have temporarily changed the rules on foreclosure to allow foreclosed homeowners to stay in their homes for a substantial period of time (e.g. five years) as renters paying the market rent. This would have assured underwater homeowners substantial housing security.

Either of these measures would have radically altered the relationship between investors and homeowners. They would have given homeowners a serious weapon that they could use to threaten lenders and hopefully persuade them to agree to modify underwater mortgages. However since Congress did not take any action to shore up the position of homeowners, we are still sitting here with more than 11 million homeowners underwater five years after house prices began their plunge.

This failure at the national level provides the backdrop for a plan by a group of investors, Mortgage Resolution Partners (MRP), to try to get through some of the morass in the housing market. MRP has been working with public officials in San Bernardino, California, to arrange to use the government’s power of eminent domain to condemn underwater mortgages.

As background, San Bernardino is ground zero in the housing bubble. Prices doubled or even tripled in the bubble years. They then plunged when the bubble burst, with prices now often less than half of their 2006 peaks. Half of the mortgages in the county are underwater.

This collapse has not only destroyed the life savings of hundreds of thousands of homeowners, it also has wrecked the economy of the region.  In this context, the prospect of using the power to condemn property to bring many underwater homeowners back above water must sound very appealing.

MRP’s plan is to have the county condemn underwater mortgages in private mortgage pools. The logic is that these underwater mortgages are causing serious harm to the community. When people are seriously underwater in their homes they are likely to lack both the means and the incentive to properly maintain their home. Of course the monthly payment on a mortgage that might exceed the current value of a home by 50 percent or more (and carry a high interest rate) is a huge drain on the purchasing power of homeowners.

The case for focusing on mortgages in private mortgage pools is that it is generally quite difficult to sell these mortgages out of the pool. This means that even if in principle it might be advantageous for both the investors and the homeowners to have pools sell underwater mortgages to third parties like MRP who would rewrite the terms, the rules of the mortgage pools makes it unlikely that the mortgage will be sold.

This is exactly the sort of situation where public action like condemnation is appropriate. The public action allows for a solution that can benefit all the parties but is obstructed by bureaucratic rules that were written to cover a different set of circumstances. (It is important to remember that investors can contest in court the compensation they are provided for condemned mortgages to ensure that they get fair market value.)

It is difficult to see a good argument against this approach. Some have claimed that this sort of tactic will cause lenders to be more reluctant to lend in the future. If the point is that lenders may have second thoughts the next time house prices go into a bubble, then we should certainly hope that condemnation will have this effect.

Others have been critical because MRP is a private company that is doing this to make a profit. I’ve met with several of the top people at MRP, they certainly don’t hide the fact that they expect to make money on this deal. But that hardly seems a reason for nixing the plan. There are very few instances where there has been a public condemnation in which private firms didn’t stand to profit in some way.

MRP’s plan is not going to rescue the country’s underwater homeowners. At best it will directly help the limited segment of this group whose mortgages are in private label securities. However it may serve as an example of the benefits of principal write-downs and perhaps prod Fannie and Freddie, as well as the banks, to be more willing to go this route.


Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. He also has a blog, “Beat the Press,” where he discusses the media’s coverage of economic issues.

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Other Resources (Added by Sierra Voices)

Professor Steve Keen Explains the Need for a “Jubilee” (Debit Forgiveness) Part 1



Professor Steve Keen Explains the Need for a “Jubilee” (Debit Forgiveness) Part 2

CALFIRE Weekly Situation Report for July 16, 2012

Should You Worry About Ozone Levels Today in Nevada County?

July is generally the  peak month in the April through October “ozone season” in Nevada County.  And sure enough, yesterday we had a warning of dangerous ground-level ozone measurements, no doubt aggravated by the Robbers Fire near Colfax, which is still ongoing.

I was especially frustrated by that alert, because I am now well into our summer regimen of opening most of our house windows early in morning to let in cool air, shutting them during the peak hot hours of the day, then opening them again in the evening for a period of “fresh” air before bedtime (we usually leave our bedroom windows open all night in summer months). But last night, not only did I not open the windows in the evening, I also left them closed all night, because I had mistakenly thought that ozone levels peak at about 4 AM.

Well, I wish I had looked at the STAINC website before going to bed! “STAINC” stands for “Save The Air in Nevada County, and the website is a very useful repository of both up-to-the-hour ozone monitoring data as well as tutorials on the science of ozone pollution.

In fact, ozone concentration peaked yesterday at about 10 PM, then fell continuously all night to well into the “good” zone by 4 AM.

Especially useful is the following video tutorial by Dr. Jeff Kane:

Global Warming Deniers Want Freedom to “Dump Sewage on Their Neighbors’ Lawns”

Economist Dean Baker uses a clever metaphor to explain the position of global warming deniers (who oppose the settled science of global climate change):

Restrictions on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are intended to limit global warming have nothing to do with restricting the market. These restrictions are about enforcing the rule of law and preventing some people from harming others with their actions.

In this way, restrictions on GHG are similar to the laws that prohibit me from dumping my sewage on my neighbor’s lawn. The opponents of these restrictions don’t give a damn about free markets. Opponents of restrictions on GHG emissions are arguing for the right to dump sewage on their neighbors’ lawn. Their argument is that the United States is a big powerful country so we can do whatever we want to the rest of the world and no one can stop us.

That may or may not prove true in the decades ahead as China surpasses the United States as an economic power and other countries continue to gain on us. But no one should mistake the position that we are strong enough to do whatever we want in the world, without regard to the consequences, for a principled commitment to a free market. The global warming deniers are committed to free dumping, not free markets.

See full article here: “The D.C. Blackouts and Global Warming

Is America The Greatest Country In The World?

Here’s an interesting (Aaron Sorkin-written) scene from the new HBO series, The Newsroom.

This little snippet is having its  viral moment on the Internet (viewed 591,762 times since it was posted on YouTube on June 24th).

Sorkin has done his homework well, and in this scene he gives his response to the mania of American exceptionalism.

Infographic | The LIBOR $candal Explained – The Largest Banking Scandal In History

We’re Already Topping Dust Bowl Temperatures — Imagine What’ll Happen If We Fail To Stop 10°F Warming

By Joe Romm on Jul 8, 2012 at 12:30 pm (Reprinted from Climate Progress)

This heat wave has broken thousands  of temperature records. Climate Central reported Saturday, “In many cases, records that had stood since the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s have been equaled or exceeded, and this event is likely to go down in history as one of America’s worst.”

In general, we expect the greatest number of temperature records to be set during a widespread drought. I explained why that is that the case in my Nature article last year on “The next dust bowl” (full text here):

Warming causes greater evaporation and, once the ground is dry, the Sun’s energy goes into baking the soil, leading to a further increase in air temperature. That is why, for instance, so many temperature records were set for the United States in the 1930s Dust Bowl; and why, in 2011, drought-stricken Texas saw the hottest summer ever recorded for a US state.

Why is this bad news? Because the Earth has warmed only a bit more than 1°F since the catastrophic Dust Bowl — and we are poised to warm an astounding 9-11°F this century if we stay anywhere near our current greenhouse gas emissions path.

Much as our current monster heat wave has been made worse by human activity (man-made global warming) so too was the Dust Bowl — but in that case it was bad agricultural practices. As NOAA’s  discussion of “The Dust Bowl Drought” explains:

The drought came in three waves, 1934, 1936, and 1939-40, but some regions of the High Plains experienced drought conditions for as many as eight years. The “dust bowl” effect was caused by sustained drought conditions compounded by years of land management practices that left topsoil susceptible to the forces of the wind.

For discussion of some of those land management practices, see here.

Unfortunately, while we have improved much of our land management since then, we have chosen to ignore decades of warning by climate scientists that unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gases would cause ever-worsening droughts. A 1990 Journal of Geophysical Research study, “Potential evapotranspiration and the likelihood of future drought,” projected that severe to extreme drought in the United States, then occurring every 20 years or so, could become an every-other-year phenomenon by mid-century.

Aiguo Dai of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in his 2010 study, “Drought under global warming: a review,” had a similar conclusion. I will blog shortly on his updated findings, but here is a rough representation of where his analysis projects the PDSI [Palmer Drought Severity Index] will be soon after mid-century, again, if we don’t dramatically reverse greenhouse gas emissions trends:

The PDSI in a moderate emissions scenario soon after mid-century. In the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl, the PDSI apparently spiked very briefly to -6, but otherwise rarely exceeded -3 for the decade (see here).

Dai found that:

By the end of the century, many populated areas, including parts of the United States and much of the Mediterranean and Africa, could face readings in the range of -4 to -10. Such decadal averages would be almost unprecedented.

Whereas in the 1930s, you could certainly make a case that people didn’t know just how destructive their land management practices were. But we have been warned again and again that we face ever-worsening warming and drought conditions. Here are a few more studies:

The serious hydrological changes and impacts known to have occurred in both historic and prehistoric times over North America reflect large-scale changes in the climate system that can develop in a matter of years and, in the case of the more severe past megadroughts, persist for decades. Such hydrological changes fit the definition of abrupt change because they occur faster than the time scales needed for human and natural systems to adapt, leading to substantial disruptions in those systems. In the Southwest, for example, the models project a permanent drying by the mid-21st century that reaches the level of aridity seen in historical droughts, and a quarter of the projections may reach this level of aridity much earlier.

… the climate change that is taking place because of increases in carbon dioxide concentration is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop….   Among illustrative irreversible impacts that should be expected if atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations increase from current levels near 385 parts per million by volume (ppmv) to a peak of 450-600 ppmv over the coming century are irreversible dry-season rainfall reductions in several regions comparable to those of the “dust bowl” era

The ‘debate’ about the future of drought in the United States under business-as-usual emissions, such as it is, is how far into the northern US Great Plains and Midwest Dust Bowl conditions will extend — and that’s without even considering the impact of the increasingly early loss of the winter snowpack, which most of these studies don’t even model.

Are we really so blinkered that we we are going to take the risk of ruining the breadbasket of the world just as we are adding another 2 billion people to the planet?


JOE ROMM is a Fellow at American Progress and is the editor of Climate Progress, which New York Times columnist Tom Friedman called “the indispensable blog” and Time magazine named one of the 25 “Best Blogs of 2010.” In 2009, Rolling Stone put Romm #88 on its list of 100 “people who are reinventing America.” Time named him a “Hero of the Environment″ and “The Web’s most influential climate-change blogger.” Romm was acting assistant secretary of energy for energy efficiency and renewable energy in 1997, where he oversaw $1 billion in R&D, demonstration, and deployment of low-carbon technology. He is a Senior Fellow at American Progress and holds a Ph.D. in physics from MIT.

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