Sunday, November 16, 2008

Old School Military Thinking


From The New York Times:

AMERICA’S automobile industry is in desperate trouble. Financial instability, the credit squeeze and closed capital markets are hurting domestic automakers, while decades of competition from foreign producers have eroded market share and consumer loyalty. Some economists question the wisdom of Washington’s intervening to help the Big Three, arguing that the automakers should pay the price for their own mistakes or that the market will correct itself. But we must act: aiding the American automobile industry is not only an economic imperative, but also a national security imperative.

When President Dwight Eisenhower observed that America’s greatest strength wasn’t its military, but its economy, he must have had companies like General Motors and Ford in mind. Sitting atop a vast pyramid of tool makers, steel producers, fabricators and component manufacturers, these companies not only produced the tanks and trucks that helped win World War II, but also lent their technology to aircraft and ship manufacturing. The United States truly became the arsenal of democracy.

During the 1950s, advances in aviation, missiles, satellites and electronics made Detroit seem a little old-fashioned in dealing with the threat of the Soviet Union. The Army’s requests for new trucks and other basic transportation usually came out a loser in budget battles against missile technology and new modifications for the latest supersonic jet fighter. Not only were airplanes far sexier but they also counted as part of our military “tooth,” while much of the land forces’ needs were “tail.” And in those days, “more teeth, less tail” had become a key concept in military spending.

But in 1991, the Persian Gulf war demonstrated the awesome utility of American land power, and the Humvee (and its civilian version, the Hummer) became a star. Likewise, the ubiquitous homemade bombs of the current Iraq insurgency have led to the development of innovative armor-protected wheeled vehicles for American forces, as well as improvements in our fleets of Humvees, tanks, armored fighting vehicles, trucks and cargo carriers.

In a little more than a year, the Army has procured and fielded in Iraq more than a thousand so-called mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles. The lives of hundreds of soldiers and marines have been saved, and their tasks made more achievable, by the efforts of the American automotive industry. And unlike in World War II, America didn’t have to divert much civilian capacity to meet these military needs. Without a vigorous automotive sector, those needs could not have been quickly met.

More challenges lie ahead for our military, and to meet them we need a strong industrial base. For years the military has sought better sources of electric power in its vehicles — necessary to allow troops to monitor their radios with diesel engines off, to support increasingly high-powered communications technology, and eventually to support electric propulsion and innovative armaments like directed-energy weapons. In sum, this greater use of electricity will increase combat power while reducing our footprint. Much research and development spending has gone into these programs over the years, but nothing on the manufacturing scale we really need.

Now, though, as Detroit moves to plug-in hybrids and electric-drive technology, the scale problem can be remedied. Automakers are developing innovative electric motors, many with permanent magnet technology, that will have immediate military use. And only the auto industry, with its vast purchasing power, is able to establish a domestic advanced battery industry. Likewise, domestic fuel cell production — which will undoubtedly have many critical military applications — depends on a vibrant car industry.

To be sure, the public should demand transformation and new standards in the auto industry before paying to keep it alive. And we should insist that Detroit’s goals include putting America in first place in hybrid and electric automotive technology, reducing the emissions of the country’s transportation fleet, and strengthening our competitiveness abroad.

This should be no giveaway. Instead, it is a historic opportunity to get it right in Detroit for the good of the country. But Americans must bear in mind that any federal assistance plan would not be just an economic measure. This is, fundamentally, about national security.

Wesley K. Clark, a retired Army general and former supreme allied commander of NATO, is a senior fellow at the Burkle Center for International Relations at the University of California at Los Angeles.
What is wrong with this article? Several things.
  • Gen. Clark is retired and old and white... he doesn't have a functioning brain anymore.
  • The vast majority of U.S. voters [52%] elected a president who sees the military budget as bloated and is dedicated to peaceful, diplomatic resolution of any future disagreements.
  • We have shown that it is not necessary to actually produce anything in the U.S. in order to have a vibrant economy... further, we can outsource our military transportation needs to China which can produce cheap Hummer knockoffs for much less than GM.
Besides, just how far do you think an electric powered military vehicle could go before it ran out of a charge? Where would they plug in the damn things in the middle of a desert?

[HT George Lowe]

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There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.
Henry Louis Mencken (1880–1956)
“The Divine Afflatus,” A Mencken Chrestomathy, chapter 25, p. 443 (1949)
... and one could add "not all human problems really are."
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Tracking Interest Rates

Tracking Interest Rates


SEARCH BLOG: FEDERAL RESERVE for full versions... or use the Blog Archive pulldown menu.

February 3, 2006
Go back to 1999-2000 and see what the Fed did. They are following the same pattern for 2005-06. If it ain't broke, the Fed will fix it... and good!
August 29, 2006 The Federal Reserve always acts on old information... and is the only cause of U.S. recessions.
December 5, 2006 Last spring I wrote about what I saw to be a sharp downturn in the economy in the "rustbelt" states, particularly Michigan.
March 28, 2007
The Federal Reserve sees no need to cut interest rates in the light of adverse recent economic data, Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday.
The Fed chairman said ”to date, the incoming data have supported the view that the current stance of policy is likely to foster sustainable economic growth and a gradual ebbing in core inflation”.

July 21, 2007 My guess is that if there is an interest rate change, a cut is more likely than an increase. The key variables to be watching at this point are real estate prices and the inventory of unsold homes.
August 11, 2007 I suspect that within 6 months the Federal Reserve will be forced to lower interest rates before housing becomes a black hole.
September 11, 2007 It only means that the overall process has flaws guaranteeing it will be slow in responding to changes in the economy... and tend to over-react as a result.
September 18, 2007 I think a 4% rate is really what is needed to turn the economy back on the right course. The rate may not get there, but more cuts will be needed with employment rates down and foreclosure rates up.
October 25, 2007 How long will it be before I will be able to write: "The Federal Reserve lowered its lending rate to 4% in response to the collapse of the U.S. housing market and massive numbers of foreclosures that threaten the banking and mortgage sectors."
"Should the elevated turbulence persist, it would increase the possibility of further tightening in financial conditions for households and businesses," he said.

"Uncertainties about the economic outlook are unusually high right now," he said. "These uncertainties require flexible and pragmatic policymaking -- nimble is the adjective I used a few weeks ago."

December 11, 2007 Somehow the Fed misses the obvious.
[Image from:]
December 13, 2007 [from The Christian Science Monitor]
"The odds of a recession are now above 50 percent," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's "We are right on the edge of a recession in part because of the Fed's reluctance to reduce interest rates more aggressively." [see my comments of September 11]
January 7, 2008 The real problem now is that consumers can't rescue the economy and manufacturing, which is already weakening, will continue to weaken. We've gutted the forces that could avoid a downturn. The question is not whether there will be a recession, but can it be dampened sufficiently so that it is very short.
January 11, 2008 This is death by a thousand cuts.
January 13, 2008 [N.Y. Times]
“The question is not whether we will have a recession, but how deep and prolonged it will be,” said David Rosenberg, the chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch. “Even if the Fed’s moves are going to work, it will not show up until the later part of 2008 or 2009.
January 17, 2008 A few days ago, Anna Schwartz, nonagenarian economist, implicated the Federal Reserve as the cause of the present lending crisis [from the Telegraph - UK]:
The high priestess of US monetarism - a revered figure at the Fed - says the central bank is itself the chief cause of the credit bubble, and now seems stunned as the consequences of its own actions engulf the financial system. "The new group at the Fed is not equal to the problem that faces it," she says, daring to utter a thought that fellow critics mostly utter sotto voce.
January 22, 2008 The cut has become infected and a limb is in danger. Ben Bernanke is panicking and the Fed has its emergency triage team cutting rates... this time by 3/4%. ...

What should the Federal Reserve do now? Step back... and don't be so anxious to raise rates at the first sign of economic improvement.
Individuals and businesses need stability in their financial cost structures so that they can plan effectively and keep their ships afloat. Wildly fluctuating rates... regardless of what the absolute levels are... create problems. Either too much spending or too much fear. It's just not that difficult to comprehend. Why has it been so difficult for the Fed?

About Me

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Michigan, United States
Air Force (SAC) captain 1968-72. Retired after 35 years of business and logistical planning, including running a small business. Two sons with advanced degrees; one with a business and pre-law degree. Beautiful wife who has put up with me for 4 decades. Education: B.A. (Sociology major; minors in philosopy, English literature, and German) M.S. Operations Management (like a mixture of an MBA with logistical planning)