Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis

Rolling Stone (via Reader Supported News) points us to an op-ed in Armed Forces Journal  by Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis and the pdf at Rolling Stone.

Earlier this week, the New York Times’ Scott Shane published a bombshell piece about Lt. Colonel Daniel Davis, a 17-year Army veteran recently returned from a second tour in Afghanistan. According to the Times, the 48-year-old Davis had written an 84-page unclassified report, as well as a classified report, offering his assessment of the decade-long war. That assessment is essentially that the war has been a disaster and the military’s top brass has not leveled with the American public about just how badly it’s been going.

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CGI 2011 – Developing Green Technology

Van Jones of Rebuild the Dream introduces the two presenters by noting that we are in the “post-Whale oil” strategy for liquid fuels; using algae and biomass technologies. Jonathan Wolfson, CEO of Solazyme, Inc. opens by thanking his investors and then stating,  “We make oil.”  He declares that oil is not going away, and is not going to be replaced; the choice is what type of oil we are going to use of the three types: petroleum, plant, and animal.

It’s fairly easy to figure out where he is heading.  As Van Jones noted, we tried animal, and we’re using petroleum now.  Peak oil is past or, at best, demand for petroleum is going to outstrip supply even if we find and refine more and more of it.

Wolfson notes that the developed world uses oil for everything, with a concomitant increase in price as demand rises and the world becomes more developed.  He dismisses the inorganic alternatives without even bothering with environmental concerns: natural gas, fracking, and coal liquefaction are all non-renewable, and therefore doomed as an alternative.  Working on renewable oil: biomass conversion, plant sugars, photosynthesis and microalgae to convert sugar to oil.  Does not require changes in current processing system; renewable oil is fungible with the dinosaur-based creation.  Have created a hearty-healthy oil that is similar to olive oil in other ways; have an alliance with a French company.

Solazyme told potential private-sector partners that their technology could produce $1.50/gallon oil. Response was always: don’t talk about costs until you can show us you can scale. So made a deal with the U.S. Navy, and are delivering “the promise of advanced biofuel.”

Following Wolfson is his major investor, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy Thomas Hicks. Hicks is well-versed in the Total Cost of Ownership:  “The Navy simply relies too much on fossil fuels…degrades our national security…and ultimately endangers our planet.” We have young men and women in Afghanistan protecting fuel convoys that begin in Pakistan. Multiple convoys per day; for every 50 fuel convoys, we have one Marine who is killed or wounded. “That is too high a price to pay for fuel.”

Hicks is leveraging the Marine Corps is reducing that dependence, through demonstration in Quantico. Took the winning technologies and moved them into combat zone in May—and then in September into Afghanistan. Solar tents, solar blankets, LED lights—resulted in a 30-90% reduction in fuel use.  Patrols able to travel three weeks, not two days, without a Battery Resupply. Now equipping all units in Afghanistan, with a payoff timeframe of six months.  Still looking for more, but it’s a great start.

Admits ongoing operations in “Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.” Additional cost for fuel last year ($38/barrel increase) was about $1B ($1,000,000,000)—which comes out of the extant fuel  budget, not as an additional appropriation.  (In this manner, the U.S. Navy is like a family.) The price volatility of the fuel has a direct impact on ability to engage in efforts, including support.

So the Navy has started an effort to move to 50/50 use of renewable/biomass fuel and oils at a price comparable to that of petroleum.  If they can do it, why cannot—has not—private enterprise??

The Navy intends to lead an energy revolution; they have a $1B RFI out, closing at the end of the month, in their continuing attempt to find alternative fuels. “Together we can build a new energy future, a new energy economy.”  Again, why do I have to hear this from the Navy, when everyone tells us that the private sector is the leader?

Hicks and Wolfson agree that have a climate that is built for technological innovation. Hicks notes, again, that it worries him that the Navy, not the private sector, is out in front on alternative energy exploration. Speaker from the floor notes that there has been a paradigm shift since a single person took out the power grid in CA and AZ.  Energy efficiency retrofitting will put people back to work (as it does in NYC). Will launch a career some time in 2012—not on Earth Day, but on a day—with 50/50 blended fuel all through, including the backup generator. By far the largest purchase, excluding ethanol., in history, per Mr. Wolfson.

Are you certain the extant energy company leaders—and, yes, I am including Jim Rogers of Duke Energy, who has been talking this game for at least twenty years—are really “job creators”?

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A tax thought…A Modest Tax Proposal

by Tom aka Rusty Rustbelt

A Modest Tax Proposal

The GOP is all breathless about deficits, but this is the same GOP of Dubya Bush that fought a war in Iraq (unnecessary) and Afghanistan (overextended) funded entirely by debt.

So, the following proposal.

A 3% surtax on taxable incomes over $75,000 until the cost of both wars is paid.

This level of tax should not slow the economy, and we should face up to the responsibilities of having troops in the field.

Your thoughts?

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In Bed With the U.S. Army

Ann Jones: In Bed With the U.S. Army

TomDispatch regular Ann Jones approaches Afghanistan and the American war effort from quite a different perspective. She’s proven a rarity in the way she’s reported back to us in these years. She arrived in Kabul in 2002, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, to work with Afghan women on their problems. Unlike almost any other American who wrote about the experience, she embedded herself in an Afghan world.

Ann Jones points to many of the problems with COIN and the last nine years in her narrative in this article…worth a read and some thinking.

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Nation at war

We actually appeared to have forgotten we are a nation “at war” if news reporting is any indication from a personal search, except for the DC centered coverage of Gen. McChrystal. Notice it was a music magazine that got the scoop, more power to them, not mainstream media.

Here are some thoughts from Tomdispatch to remind us of the dark side of our history in the Middle East. Follow the link for more.

Doesn’t it seem, sometimes, that American history, the “people’s history,” is actually made by about 17 giant government and corporate entities, all hopelessly intertwined — and worse yet, that they never go away? On Tuesday, TomDispatch posted Stephen Kinzer’s piece, “BP in the Gulf — The Persian Gulf.” It was a reminder that, more than half a century ago (when it was called the Anglo-Persian Oil Company), the giant oil corporation now despoiling the Gulf of Mexico had, in quite a different way, despoiled Iranian democracy to maintain its hold on that country’s oil. It did so in conjunction with the Central Intelligence Agency, which, in 1953, overthrew a democratic Iranian government eager to nationalize that oil.

Well, neither of them has gone away. That’s obvious enough. Last week, the CIA popped up again, this time in conjunction with another of its favorite corporations, the infamous rent-a-gun company formerly known as Blackwater, now Xe Services. The Agency has given that for-profit warrior outfit a new $100 million contract to guard its various outposts in Afghanistan “and elsewhere”…

Worse yet, the CIA wasn’t alone, as the State Department just agreed to shell out $120,123,293 in taxpayer dough to a unit of Xe to pay for guarding some of its facilities in Afghanistan. (The awarding of this contract, reports CBS News which broke the story, comes barely “four months after the government of Iraq ordered hundreds of Blackwater-linked security guards to leave the country within seven days or face possible arrest.”)

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Untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan

The NYT reports a new status for Afghanistan’s future if accurate:

The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and Blackberries.

Update: hat tip Naked Capitalism for the fact that this ‘find’ was reported in February here.

Update 2: Andrew Grantham reports copper mining to include a railway to China in 2008. And one Bloomberg update on rail progress to ‘extract’ copper to markets if the resource is to be more than just potential.

Update 3: There are at present no railroads to China, although one was commissioned 2008. And the dream of a route for both trade from Afghanistan and a route for Central Asian oil/gas to a city like Gwadar (see rdan in 2007) in the south through Balochistan has gone nowhere.

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The NY Times Jumps the Shark — Again

UPDATE: Tristero piles on the details that I assumed. And Bloix in comments there makes it clear that the diagram which has the Generals’s panties in twists is relatively straightforward compared to a car’s electrical system (as anyone who has used Erwin or Visio or even Powerpoint to build data flow diagrams can tell you).

Why does Elizabeth Bulmiller have a job? Because she writes nonsense quoting Important Sources:

The slide has since bounced around the Internet as an example of a military tool that has spun out of control. Like an insurgency, PowerPoint has crept into the daily lives of military commanders and reached the level of near obsession. The amount of time expended on PowerPoint, the Microsoft presentation program of computer-generated charts, graphs and bullet points, has made it a running joke in the Pentagon and in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina.

Now, some of my best friends live in North Carolina, so I won’t say Gen. Mattis got cause and effect backwards. But if you really believe that the article’s attached graphic is either a bad representation of the situation in Afghanistan or an impediment to understanding, then you shouldn’t be in a position to command hundreds, if not thousands, of military personnel.

In short, you probably thought it was a good idea to invade in the first place because everything would be perfect and you would be greeted with flowers, not putting them on 5,000+ American graves to date.

Because you didn’t understand that countries are both made up of living organisms and that they, in turn, act as if they are living organisms, with interactions that change depending on the conditions, facilities, and income flows (or, as the graphic says, “narcotics”).

If you don’t understand that, then you don’t understand nation-building, and have no excuse to claim that is what you are doing.

It’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools, and an even poorer reporter who takes those claims at face-value and presents them in “the paper of record.”

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Can the U.S. Government do anything right ?

Robert Waldmann

I hate to type that headline given the health care reform debate, but I am alarmed by Karen DeYoung’s article in the Washington Post about new efforts to get Afghans to stop producing opium — all new this time with carrots.

The problem is that the price of wheat is too low.

The average Helmand farmer cultivates less than an acre of land, with about half an acre planted in poppy yielding a gross income of about $2,000. After paying 45 percent of that in production costs, and 10 percent in local taxes, he nets about $900, more than twice what he would earn from wheat at current, albeit rising, prices.

OK if there is one thing the US government can do it is drive up the price of wheat to subsidize wheat farmers. So what’s happening ? Check after the jump.

First, the program is funded at $300 million out of the total Afghan effort of
$65 billion. Odd proportion there.

Still that’s a lot of money given that Afghan farmers don’t make much growing opium

More than 365,000 Afghan farm households earned about $730 million from poppy last year

Hmmm and they grow opium because they would make half as much growing wheat so buying wheat forward at twice the world price would mean paying 730 million for about 365 million in wheat costing oh about 365 million so what the hell is the problem ? Now obviously this will also involve buying wheat from people who currently grow wheat (smaller crop than opium by value so even if no targeting is possible this will less than double the cost so it is still chicken feed compared to the cost of the war). I guess the people smuggling opium out of Afghanistan will maybe smuggle wheat on the way back, but, you know, at twice the world price a kilo of wheat is still not worth much.

My proposal is to buy wheat forward at a high enough price that farmers will be busy growing it and not have time for opium.

The problem is that that would be welfare and not for US farmers. So we must have no “subsidies” and instead sell fertilizer for one tenth of its market price (good think poppies just hate fertilizer) plus low interest loans which do no good at all to opium farmers (except that they do). The program is complicated (sounds like it was designed by Ira Magaziner) the key point is that it is based on vouchers. Huh?

“The way [the assistance] is offered is important,” said the senior U.S. military official, one of several who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the program on the record. “We are not providing subsidies . . . we are not just handing out cash.” Farmers will have a “stake” in the program, he said, buying vouchers for seeds and fertilizers for about 10 percent of their value. Cash will be distributed only as credit or for work performed, the official added.

Unsurprisingly

The timeline is daunting. A planned “civilian surge” of hundreds of U.S. aid officials and agriculture experts has been slow to arrive. A micro-finance loan program is in the planning stages, and although $300 million in aid has been set aside for “rapid response” initiatives, including voucher programs for seeds and fertilizer, distribution has been sluggish. Mohammad Gulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand, whom U.S. officials have praised for encouraging local communities to turn away from poppy, held the first of eight scheduled outreach meetings only last week.

US policy is damaged by the strangely different rules for military operations and for aid. Killing people is urgent and collateral damage is acceptable, but giving money to people uh oohhhh we have to worry about creating dependency (which is, you know, the whole point of the operation).

in conclusion

Wages in Helmand for lancing, $15 a day, are the highest in the country.

“What we’re looking for is a way to compete with that,” the senior military official said of the opium economy. “This is not easy. . . . There is no silver bullet.”

The US government can’t afford to compete with people who pay $15 a day?!?

I’d say a less pathetically low amount of silver is the silver bullet.

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Another Honest Republican

Lawrence Wilkerson tells the truth and shames the Devil:

Many detainees locked up at Guantanamo were innocent men swept up by U.S. forces unable to distinguish enemies from noncombatants, a former Bush administration official said Thursday. “There are still innocent people there,” Lawrence B. Wilkerson, a Republican who was chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, told The Associated Press. “Some have been there six or seven years.”

Wilkerson, who first made the assertions in an Internet posting on Tuesday, told the AP he learned from briefings and by communicating with military commanders that the U.S. soon realized many Guantanamo detainees were innocent but nevertheless held them in hopes they could provide information for a “mosaic” of intelligence.

“It did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance,” Wilkerson wrote in the blog. He said intelligence analysts hoped to gather “sufficient information about a village, a region, or a group of individuals, that dots could be connected and terrorists or their plots could be identified.”

Nice to know there was a reason. Read the whole thing, especially

In his posting for The Washington Note blog, Wilkerson wrote that “U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released.”

I believe that counts as malice aforethought. Can we please take back The Ancestral Party now?

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