Afghanistan: Memo to the White House

Here is what I would like to see:

1) Only 1000 advisers in the field

2) All other U.S. soldiers based at Bagram Air Base (BAB)

3) Unmanned drones and air-strikes flown from BAB and offshore in the Arabian Sea

That is it. Nothing else. The Afghanistan government is just using the U.S. as an ATM cash dispenser. Like a crack addict, they want our money, and they laugh at us behind closed doors.

Take that $35 billion it would take to add 35k troops (estimated to be $1 million per-soldier per-year) and give loans, tax credits, and grants to small businesses instead.

Reduce, not expand our presence in Afghanistan.

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Financial War Crimes

There has been a lot of talk lately about how wars in the future will be done through technology and financial manipulation. The way to really hurt a country like the United States will be to attack the electric grid through the Internet or hack into a major bank and alter the data long enough to cause massive destruction. There has also been talk that maybe the attack will come in a "legal" way by a major foreign central bank taking advantage of America's ever larger budget deficit. What if China converted all the U.S. Bonds they are holding into crude oil tomorrow? It wouldn't be pretty.

Bullets don't have to fly to hurt another country.

Warren Buffett was on The Charlie Rose show on Friday (2009-11-13) and said that he 'regretted that people that perpetrated the recent financial disaster weren't made to feel more pain than the U. S. Government imposed.' The executives and directors and even bond holders of places like AIG, CitiGroup, Merrill Lynch & Bank of America, etc., should have received a lot more pain than they did.

Sheila Bair, head of the FDIC, said the same thing on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer on the same night. I have heard the same regret by other politicians and economist recently.

These experts regret that Henry Paulson, Timothy Geithner, and Ben Bernanke didn't make them lose more of the gains they had received over the prior half-dozen years.

Who says we have to live with regret? Who says we can't now go back and let them feel some pain?

If we can prosecute war crimes years, or even decades, after they are committed, then why can't we do the same for financial crimes? If the Mossad can pursue Nazi's for years after the end of World War II and the Holocaust, then I say we can go back and go after the these "bright" individuals that did reckless things and nearly drove us to destruction. What these guys did was a financial war crime.

I say that Congress form a financial version of the Mossad and we take back any money these guys made over the last five to ten years. I say we go back to guys like:
...And take away all their money. We can leave them with $100,000 a year for the rest of their lives, but the rest belongs to either the taxpayers or the small shareholders.

Of course maybe all this talk is just that, 'talk.' And people like Bair and Buffett can say one thing knowing full-well that there is not enough anger in the people or political willpower in the District of Columbia to actually step up and do anything about it. We can say we wish it would have been different without actually inflecting any pain on these campaign contributors and lobby backers.

Things would surely be different if these fat cats weren't allowed to give these contribution and fund these PACs and lobbyist.

But, if what people like Buffett and Bair really say is true, then I see no reason that we can't go back now and inflict that pain to those managers, directors, and bondholders now. Go back and get these people that perpetuated these financial war crimes against the voters, taxpayers, and the little guy. We need a financial Simon Wiesenthal to come to our rescue.

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Pickens Plan Part D?

It is well know that T. Boone Pickens wants the good-ole'-boys in Washington to mandate that all transportation vehicles be converted to Natural gas (NG) through the use of compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG).

I kind of agree with him, but on a modified scale. I first want all government fleets to convert to either NG or NG/electric hybrids (the latter for local vehicles with a driving area of 40-miles or less), then get extremely large fleets like UPS and FedEx to switch second. It is easier to install the fueling station infrastructures (mainly due to red-tape safety concerns) at a government or corporate yard than it is to set up public fueling stations. So, lets do one thing at a time instead of trying to make the entire country switch all at once.

I have the same ideas in mind that Mr. Pickens does save one, I wont make billions off of the conversion that he would should his plan be adopted. But the other ideas, 1) less dependence on foreign oil, 2) less reason to kill ourselves in the Middle-East, 3) better for the planet, 4) more jobs at home, 5) better price stability for oil. I think we can agree on those.

But, getting the D. of C. to do what I want is like me trying to roll a pea up Mount Vesuvius with my nose. (I stole that from the British TV program As Time Goes By.)

For every $1.00 that guys like T. Boone Pickens, J. Larry Nichols, Aubrey McClendon, Clay Bennett, and David P. O'Brien, etc., can spend in Washington the guys from the Middle-East can spend $100.00. So the "Pickens Lobby" is at a severe disadvantage. When it comes to a fight between a company like Chesapeake and a company like ExxonMobil, well guess what, it is not really a fight. And then there is the men from Saud, they can out do the Devon's of the world without breaking a sweat.

Pickens's idea might work better in a country that is an net exporter. Australia would be perfect for this. Take all their vehicles and convert to NG (CNG/LNG). Then, export all of the oil that they were using internally and send it to Europe, China, the U.S., etc. Right now companies like Chevron are spending billions building LNG export terminals like Gorgon in northwestern Australia. But, with the price differential between oil and natural gas at twelve times per BTU (the normal ratio used to be six times), shipping the oil is a much better idea.

The transportation infrastructure in place for oil is very mature, while LNG is new and still under development in many places. So, if you just stopped using oil in isolated places like Australia and New Zealand, and instead shipped the oil out and kept or used the NG locally, there would be more supply for the rest of the world for oil, and more demand for NG locally. Island locations would make the most sense, you get a majority of the vehicles there to run the preferred fuel and you don't have to worry about vehicles that drive across your border needing something different. Not too many people drive to Australia or New Zealand.

The next step would be to get a place like Japan (another island) to convert. Then, if all the top 20 oil companies banded together, they could convert Africa into doing the same. Instead of flaring all of that NG at the wellhead in places like Angola and Nigeria, they could pay for converting the local vehicles there to NG, replace a lot less fueling station infrastructure, and save that locally consumed oil for export to us thirsty countries. These places may only combine for around 10-15% of world-wide oil experts, and even less of consumption, but changing the distribution of as little as 5% of the supply of something like oil can have major ramifications. It brings on more net supply of oil and uses more gross natural gas.

The amount of conversion would also be more achievable. You would have to convert far fewer vehicles in places like Australia, New Zealand, and even Africa, than you would in the United States or Europe. Even if China decided to convert their vehicles, they could shift the use of oil imports to other things, making those products cheaper. It would also be a lot easier to get China to switch if that is what the Chinese government mandated they wanted. Russia could do it to and then sell more of their oil to those aforementioned places.

Even in Alaska it makes more sense. They are flaring all of their NG or using it as an injector in lieu of water, they want to build a pipeline to the lower 48, but at these prices that doesn't make sense. But, if they used the NG there, and shipped the net oil to the lower 48 with the existing infrastructure already in place, it would be a lot easier.

If you got something like this work in a place like Africa, they use the gas and ship out more of the oil, and even at 5% on the margin, well that is just more bribes to go around isn't it?

No, I think Mr. Pickens just might have to modify his plan to another country. Call it 'exporting the idea.' A country that is a net exporter of oil and and island would work best. Or a place like the West Coast of Africa where the total net vehicle count is a small fraction of what it is here. But, any place where the government can react faster would be better (that is a lot of places).

The net result would still be the same:
1) getting gas back to the six times BTU factor it has historically traded at, and then even less
2) use less net oil (lowing the reason to shot over it)
3) greener
4) divert NG transport now coming to North America to where it is drilled (less import supply flooding the U.S. market means more locally drilled supply
5) Pickens makes millions (or is that billions?)

The net effect of this would be like finding a new major field that was previously undiscovered. You use more NG and extend crude oil at the margin.

Just call it the "Pickens Plan Part D."

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Samsung and Rambus???

I am having a very hard time trying to understand why Samsung would want to buy Rambus? I can't seem to wrap my head around this idea.

The only thing that makes sense to me is: somebody was sitting on a big inventory of RMBS (like PRIMECAP Management) and wanted to move some of it.

This makes more sense to me:

ARM Holdings plc (ARMH)

ARMH and RMBS walking down the isle I can get my head around.

Two CDIP shops in two different areas that complement each other and cut their back-offices needs in half.

That I can wrap my little mind around...

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USPS....Time for a new Business Model: The Last Mile

It is time for the USPS to get a new business model.

Over this summer we have heard news reports of how the United States Postal Service is hurting and must cut their budget. They have talked about dropping Saturday mail delivery and laying off personal.

After labor, the cost of energy has really bent the financial postcard for the post office.

For years now I have advocated that they do away with door-to-door (D2D) service in all areas, except for people with disabilities and people over the age of seventy (70). When they came up with cluster boxes they grandfathered in people already receiving D2D service. I thought this was a dumb idea from the first I heard of it. But, as a taxpayer entity they didn't want to layoff anybody who still had a pulse.

In rural areas, like far western Kansas, or southern Utah, the mail is driven miles and miles by the letter carrier. All of that gasoline being used up everyday and all of that foot leather being used in cities to go door to door. I thought that they should only have cluster boxes, and no individual delivery (except where noted above).

For the past 100 years the USPS has continually closed and consolidated rural post offices all over the land. For the most part, the only new post offices have been in large cities, usually fast growing ones, like Phoenix, Las Vegas, etc. (there have been selected re-adjustments, but this has been minor).

I now believe that they must go a lot farther, a leap frog skipping to something even more drastic. With this downturn running DHL out of the country, and the Post Offices press looking for cost-cutting moves, it is time for an entire new business model.

So, here it is, not only should they get rid of all D2D (e.w.n.a), they should now get rid of all cluster boxes.


Yes, they should change to opening up more post offices instead, and get rid of 80% of their small delivery vehicles and about half of the letter carriers (LC). (That idea ought to piss off somebody.)

They should instead open micro and mini post offices branches about two miles apart. Take half of those old LCs and have them man these new branches.

So, the average urban person only has to travel two-miles at the most to retrieve their mail. Right now, if I miss a registered or signature required piece of mail, I have to drive over eight miles to pick it up. All the while I have a closer post office not in my zip code.

When the cluster boxes came out I thought they where a good answer, and if fuel prices where low, they might still be. But with all of the incidences of crime on individual mailboxes and now increasingly on cluster boxes, we should just scrap them. I had originally thought that consolidating smaller cluster boxes into larger ones (take the three on my short block and put them all at the entrance to the street) might work. But, that would probably only increase crime because nobody would want the ugly things in front of their house, so they would have to move it to a larger artery and try to place them spot that didn't blight the view.

Nope, now just get rid of them altogether. Really big ones, like a CB that has 100 boxes at a large apartment building I will concede can stay. The LC that delivers the mail to the disabled and people over 70 can just service these super-clusters at the same time.

The rest of us who can still do it, can just pick up our mail when we get our groceries.

The "Last Mile" will thus be shifted from the LCs (for the most part) and the USPS to the customer. This brings the USPS business model more inline with United Parcel Service (UPS) and Federal Express (FedEx).

Anybody who wants to pay extra can get his mail delivered right to his door. Just like FedEx and UPS do now. Try getting those two to bring you a piece of mail to your door for less than fifty cents. (Maybe the USPS can have a service where the collect your mail in a box for a week and then drop off that one box on Saturday with a week's worth of mail in it?)

The USPS has never had the best business model anyway, and this current economic downturn only makes it more apparent. It is time that they bite the bullet and at least make it a break-even entity. They can wait until the economy turns up before laying off about 40% of their personal (because tax payers pay for it one way or another), but then they need to get on with it.

The advantages of this Last Mile model are:

1) less crime, external postal theft at mailboxes, and internal theft and neglect. While most postal crime is external, there is also internal theft, or more often, just plain neglect. The old episode from Seinfeld where Newman just hid some mail in a closet because he didn't feel like delivering it. It does happen. The Last Mile model would eliminate about 80% of both internal and external crime and neglect.

2) less trash flying about and better use of the trash that isn't blowing down the street (they can put recycling bins right in the post offices for people to put their junk mail in as the get it, instead of driving all those millions of pounds of junk mail that last mile and back out again in the form of trash. How much fuel is used to bring in all of that paper, billions of tons, and then move it back out again in a waste management truck? If people could recycle it immediately at the point they pick up the mail [and the USPS should promote this effort] instead of dragging it home and then back out again X amount of days later. The net effect is "the planet better.")

3) Billions of gallons in saved fuel. The USPS will use billions of our taxpayer dollars to convert the LC fleet to electric vehicles over the next 10 or so years. But what if they just eliminated 80% of those vehicles instead? Not only would that also save billions of gallons of fuel it would save use millions of used batteries to dispose of.

This Last Mile model will bring back some of the rural, urban, and suburban, post offices that have been closed over the years. Half the LCs will move from their vehicles to these micro-branches.

I know this hurts. Lots of people will not be needed and their jobs eliminated. But, we are all (those of use who pay taxes) shareholders in this current business. If this where UPS or FedEx we could submit a shareholder proposal at the next annual meeting.

It is clear that the USPS's current business model does not work. They are losing money now and have been for sometime. Our shareholder money. This Last Mile business model would at least give them the opportunity to break-even.

It is not like 90% of people don't go out anyway. They are already getting in their cars and driving to the store. They can just pick up their mail then.

If you want your mail so bad, you'll go that last mile.

PS: Don't tell the post office that this was my idea.

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Natural Gas for Fleets

I want a campaign to lobby to have all federal vehicles, all state vehicles, and very large counties and cities in the Western U.S. to convert to either electric or NG. Now, small cars that run around in cities (like the guy who is the head of the parks & recreation or animal control division) can use electric. But, people who work for the Forrest Service, or Bureau of Land Management, or Health and Human Services that travel to small towns all over the place, electric is not practical. But NG could be. So, if we could get these major fleets, like the Texas Railroad Commission, or vehicles in the California Department of Transportation, or the FBI, U.S. Border Patrol, etc., to convert to NG that is the answer.

I don't want to focus on anything else. Just sell the idea that we have a 50 year plan, and Phase One is the aforementioned, then, 25 years from now, we move those fleets to either electric or hydrogen, or what ever. But, we need to start somewhere, and start now.

Getting private individuals and fleets to use NG or hydrogen is just not that practical (right now). There is no infrastructure for them to fill up the tanks. But, having NG fueling station at the yards that house these government fleets, and at government offices and compounds, would be a realistic accomplishment. If these major government fleets take up 5% of the vehicles on the road everyday, that would be 5% we could move from oil to NG. This helps lower demand for oil, raise demand for NG, and lowers carbon emissions.

But, nobody wants to listen to my idea. I don't want NG to be used for electrical power generation, I want nuclear, wind, solar, geothermal for that. I want NG to be in these big government fleets. After you get all these government fleets on NG, you could start looking for large private fleets, but you have to start somewhere, and I think this is the place to start.

Phase II could be non-government fleets.

But, lets start where it could be easier to a) start, and more importantly b) finish.

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Idea For Stranded Car Dealers and Some Plant Workers

Back in May, when the news of Chrysler and GM severing ties with some of their franchise dealers was splashing all over the news, I came up with an idea that just might help some of those dealers and one of the manufacturing plants that was to be shuttered.

I emailed my local-national politicians (Tom Udall, Jeff Bingaman, and Martin Heinrich) and the White House (both Barack and Joe), telling them; 'I had an idea, please contact me.' Well, an email never came nor did a phone ever ring. They say on the news that they want to help, but I wonder?

Here is my idea:
  1. We have dealerships without a home out there (AND! employees, voters, campaign contributions, and tax receipts)
  2. We want higher fuel mile-per-gallon standards in place (good for more votes!)
  3. We have plants and parts suppliers shutting their doors (more employees, votes, campaign contributions, and tax receipts)
Suggestion: Give them a new product to build and sell.

In Australia the Peugeot 308 HDi (Hybrid Diesel) set a world record for fuel economy by getting 75 MPG on the highway in a trip around the continent. (Go Google "Peugeot 308 HDi world record").

Peugeot has not sold cars in this country since the first oil shock in the 1970s.

  1. Take one plant that has been shut
  2. Take the dealers that have been cut loose
  3. Take $5-to-$10 billion of that damn stimulus money
AND, roll them all together to create:

Need any more help, my opinion, like my ass, is full of it. At least I came up with something.

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BOOK REVIEW & REPORT: Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends

The book:

Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends: Two WWII Paratroopers from the Original Band of Brothers Tell Their Story

By: William "Wild Bill" Guarnere and Edward "Babe" Heffron with Robyn Post.

New York, New York: Berkley Caliber. - 2007. - ISBN 9780425217283

I have read:

Band of Brothers: Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest by Stephen E. Ambrose

Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters by Richard Winters with Cole C. Kingseed.

Biggest Brother: The Life of Major Dick Winters, The Man Who Led the Band of Brothers by Larry Alexander

But, Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends is by far my favorite.

This book tells the story of two average guys from South Philadelphia (who didn’t know each other until the met in England in July 1944) who struggle from basic training, to jump school, to England, to France, Holland, Belgium, and then either rehab (Guarnere) or Germany and Austria (Heffron). These are simple guys, not Ivy League men of privilege, who had hard scrabble upbringings and just try to make it back to South Philly alive.

Heffron was a replacement after Normandy, and while the original veterans tried to ignore the replacements, their homes in South Philly and the experiences they shared in Holland and Belgium would bind these two men together forever.

Most books about World War II for the mass consumer are written from the top down. They are written from Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, George C. Marshall, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Bernard L. Montgomery, etc. point-of-view and do not deal with the man-on-the-line because they are looking at the ‘big picture’ and don’t have time to get that deep.

There were some personal diary accounts written, like With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, by Eugene B. Sledge (which I have also read and highly recommend), but until the success of Band of Brothers the dwelled in side-street obscurity instead of main-street spotlight.

The first Ambose book that I read was The Victors, which lead me to Citizen Soldier. Amborse, like many historians started at the top with his books on Eisenhower and then his book D-Day, June 6, 1944 (he did squeeze Pegasus Bridge, June 6, 1944 in there, but it was more about a specific mission than the men.). In Citizen Soldier Ambrose tries to deal with the soldiers below the rank of Major, but the stories about the enlisted men and non-commissioned officers are often short, not very flushed out, and contain errors do to incomplete research and fact-checking.

A book with a bunch of short snippets does have the same feeling as the book by Sledge, or this book. If I had to tell anyone that hasn’t read any of the Band of Brothers material one book to read, it would be to read this one. Of all the books that I have read so far, it gives the best feeling of what it was like for a common foot soldier on the line during the Second World War in northern Europe.

Robyn Post didn’t real “write” this book, she was not really an author here, more of a transcriber and editor. It is very apparent that Guarnere and Heffron just talked away and then she transcribed and edited the material into a cohesive book. And I do thank her for that. I do thank her for getting it down in ink. But this story is basically just two WWII veterans telling their stories into a microphone.

This book is just two average joes just trying to get home from hell. You can tell the love that they have for each other, and I think having both of them telling the story back-and-fourth is what really works here. You don’t fall into a rut of one narrative, but bounce back of the pair playing off of each other.

So, I give this book five stars, and it should be required reading in both high school and college. Everyone should know what men like this went through, and this book gets you there as good as any. If you can only read one book about BofB this is the one. Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters by Winters with Kingseed would be second.

I want to finish by saying thank you to William "Wild Bill" Guarnere and Edward "Babe" Heffron for serving and getting their story out in print, and thank you for those who severed and didn't get the chance.


The other books in the Band of Brothers universe that I have read:

4-1/2 STARS - Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters by Richard Winters with Cole C. Kingseed

3-1/2 STARS - Band of Brothers: Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest by Stephen E. Ambrose

2-1/2 STARS - Biggest Brother: The Life of Major Dick Winters, The Man Who Led the Band of Brothers by Larry Alexander

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