Politics and markets

Geoff and I are long-time blog buddies. He’s got a great post up at Ace’s place about how President Obama doesn’t quite seem to get the whole “business” thingy.

The President finally realizes that he can’t make it without support by, and support for, American businesses. But does he really get it? I don’t think so:

…in his post-“shellacking” news conference Wednesday, Mr. Obama came close to conceding the chamber’s main argument, that American businesses have concluded — wrongly, in Mr. Obama’s view — that his policies are antibusiness.

“And so I’ve got to take responsibility in terms of making sure that I make clear to the business community as well as to the country that the most important thing we can do is to boost and encourage our business sector and make sure that they’re hiring,” Mr. Obama said.

Emphasis mine. You see, Mr. President, there are two things wrong with your statement. First, it’s not your business as to whether they’re hiring – they’ll hire when they need to. Don’t micromanage our businesses.

Second, “boosting” and “encouraging” the business sector is only indirectly related to hiring, because success in business doesn’t necessarily depend on number of bodies. Successful businesses are profitable, stable, and strategically positioned to prosper in coming years. If hiring supports those goals, then they hire, but if downsizing, outsourcing, or freezing hiring supports those goals, that’s what they do instead.

So telling business that you’re now going to support them so that they can start hiring is like telling someone you’re going to start a restaurant so people can poop more. It’s a likely consequence of feeding them, but it has nothing to do with why you’re running a restaurant.

That’s a pretty good start, Geoff, but you missed an important item. What we’re talking about here is government interference with the markets. In effect, even if President Obama were to try to urge companies to hire, or even if Geoff’s preferred course were pursued, it would still be a government skewing the market. The policies would inevitably be in favor of supporting existing companies. There would be no support or incentive for new innovative companies to either outperform legacy firms, or to establish new niches in the market. Those companies are the ones that would truly need to conduct new hiring. The creative destruction of the market is the engine of job creation. Propping up legacy firms, or encouraging rentseeking behavior does not.

We’ve railed before against government picking and choosing who wins and who loses in the market. It’s sad to see lessons still aren’t being learned.

Time to cut some programs?

I’m always concerned when I find myself in agreement with Eric L. Palmer. The guy is such a curmudgeon. I know quite well what he dislikes, but I can’t for the life of me think of what he likes.

In any event, he’s calling on the next Congress to cut several programs from the defense budget.

What are the defense programs that should be killed right away?

Easy. No really; it is an easy decision when looking at the following failed programs.

Kill:

DDX
LCS
EFV
JSF

I think the only real quibble I have here is that I’d kill the F-35B, but leave the rest of the JSF program. It’s a terrible program, but it’s all we have. And I think the A and C models can be salvaged if we don’t waste time and money on the F-35B.

DDX is a boondoggle. An evolutionary design to follow on to the highly successful DDG-51 fleet makes sense.

LCS needs to die in a fire. Sadly, the Navy just doubled down on stupid. Instead of Little Crappy Ships, the Navy should build FFG-7 -The Next Generation. Replace the Mk13 launcher with a VLS with ESSM, and maybe swap out the SPS-49 with another radar.

Other than that, just get to building them quickly.

The Marines Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle is another “bridge too far” in terms of making a technological leap. Time to kill it.

As one of the commentors over at ELP suggests, it’s time for MV-22 to die as well. I’ve addressed that issue before.

What say you? What programs would you kill? Am I right, or am I wrong. Sound off.

Citizens Against Government Waste makes a bad call.

I’m generally very sympathetic to CAGW’s purpose. Indeed, I hate gold-plating programs with a passion. One of the best things SecDef Gates has called for is the “80%” solution- programs that are very good at doing 80% of all possible tasks, for far less money than you’d need to spend on a “perfect” program.

Comes now news that the Air Force is at long last looking to replace its fleet of UH-1N helicopters. These durable birds have been serving since the early 1970s, and are due for replacement.  Buying UH-60M Blackhawks from the Army seems straightforward. After all, the whole point of the UH-60 design was to replace the Huey.

But CAGW sees the larger price tag, per unit, of the Blackhawks:

Citizens Against Government Waste — a non-partisan watchdog group — also has taken issue with the Air Force’s pursuit of the Black Hawk to replace the Huey.

“Instead of having an open competition for a helicopter that meets the CVLSP requirements, the Air Force wants to cut corners and buy a bigger, more expensive helicopter from the Army. This would be like buying Humvees to replace mail trucks,” the watchdog group wrote on its website.

CAGW is taking a very near-sighted look at this issue. Yes, the Air Force is pretty clearly trying to do an end-around the normal contracting procedure. Why? Because it is badly broken. The Air Force can’t run a competition without being sued by the loser of the competition. See “KC-X” or the “CSAR-X” programs. That takes time, and time is money. Let’s suppose the Air Force decided they wanted to buy the AW319, which is nominally a cheaper aircraft. What would the hidden costs be? Well, they’d have to run the new chopper through the entire Operational Test & Evaluation rigmarole, something they won’t have to do with UH-60s. They’d have to establish an entirely new training pipeline, from aircrews to mechanics. They’d have to establish and manage an entirely new logistics pipeline for thousands of unique parts. They’d have to establish entire libraries of maintenance and operations manuals. With the UH-60, a basic platform they already use, they’d have to make only minimal changes.

Buying the UH-60 comes with a fixed, known cost, and can be done now. But buying any other aircraft, or even just running a competition, even if the Blackhawk wins, introduces both delays into the program, and price uncertainties. Further, does anyone think that if there was an open competition for the CVLSP, the Air Force wouldn’t succumb to the temptation to load the requirements up with goodies that should really be in the “nice, but not needed” category?

We see a classic case of a simple solution to what is frankly a very simple problem. And yet, people are determined to make it complicated. 

Go to war? There’s an app for that.

I’m a low tech guy. My phone makes calls. Barely. But smart phones are all over the place, and the iPad is quickly becoming ubiquitous. Not surprisingly, a lot of smart people have figured out that there is potential for a lot of cheap, simple apps that can support the warfighter.

The SoldierEyes Common Operating Picture, for instance, is like a mini Blue Force Tracker, explains Evan Cormin, who works on the project: a real-time way for soldiers to monitor where friendly forces are at any given time, represented by little blue boxes. And not just friendlies: Plug in an enemy’s position, and the cloud shares it with anyone else running SoldierEyes, whether out on patrol or back at the command post. Its GPS components allow soldiers to use the map for navigation while they see where their friends and foes are.

Load Augmented Reality, another SoldierEyes sub-app, ditches the map. Instead, it uses your handheld’s camera to give you a picture of what’s in front of you — but with the colored boxes of friendlies and enemies in position on the screen. The idea is make sure that soldiers getting out of their vehicles don’t lose a sense of their surroundings once the Humvee doors swing open and they aren’t behind a computer screen anymore.

These are exactly the kinds of things our troops need, and they are being invented without a multi-billion dollar, multi-year development program that gives the OSD staff a chance to build empires. Moar, please. Faster, please.

More on the Defense Budget

I’m a little under the weather, and haven’t gotten around to a follow up on this post. Fortuitously, The Daily Mail has an article that addresses that very topic.

But Chief of Staff General George Casey told the annual Association of the U.S. Army conference that cuts had been reached by instead trimming overheads and low-priority programs over the next five years.

Casey and Army Secretary John McHugh told the military trade show they were keenly aware of the strains that two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had put on soldiers.

They said they would not cut programs that are aimed at slowing an alarming rate of suicides among troops, and will help soldiers deal with injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder.

‘For us the most important thing is we get through the next several years without having to cut force structure,’ said Casey.

We’ve already got a very small army. But with budget cuts coming, there’s only going to be two options: cut the size of the force, or cut back the number of commitments the Army has.

H/T: War News Updates, which you really need to be reading on a daily basis.

Hope in Afghanistan?

The Washington Times has an article out that says some folks in the military are starting to see progress from the troop surge.

“What is happening is, the Taliban’s freedom of movement,” he said. “We are literally taking away from them things they are used to. We are denying them some of the safe havens that they have in the south. We are denying them the support zones they’ve been operating out of with impunity.

“Support zones are up in the mountains, where they use villagers to help hide their weapons caches. Safe havens are up there, too, usually away from everybody, and we are denying them the use of those. We are interdicting and disrupting their operating areas, which had a tendency to focus on the roads quite a bit, and we’re interdicting what they’re doing there.”

But all is not sunshine and puppies:

Gen. Petraeus is on a schedule to show positive results by July 2011, when President Obama’s war strategy calls for the beginning of a troop exit.

The four-star general’s job may have gotten tougher last week, when James L. Jones, a retired four-star Marine Corps general, quit as Mr. Obama’s national security adviser. He will be succeeded by Thomas Donilon, a Democratic Party operative and lawyer who served as Gen. Jones’ deputy and who opposed more troops for Afghanistan, which puts him at odds with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

GEN Jones successor, Tom Donilon, has virtually no qualifications in the national security field other than being wrong as often as Joe Biden (hence his elevation in this administration). He’ll be at loggerheads with Gates. I won’t be a bit surprised when Gates elects to “spend more time with his family.” The next SecDef will probably be another clueless functionary.

Here’s the problem- the military is trying to  find a way to win this war. The Obama administration is trying to find a way to quit. But the administration is also leery of being accused of cutting and running. So they put on a show of a surge, set preconditions that effectively doom it (hello, July 2011!) and then will say the war is unwinnable. Well, here’s the thing. No war is unwinnable. But you can take a tough fight and work to lose it.

Let’s face it, in 2006, all the Democratic Party establishment, and a pretty fair portion of the GOP thought Iraq was hopeless. But Jack Keane, mentioned early in this article, managed to get President Bush’s ear, and convince him that there was indeed a path to victory. Keane was, more than Petraeus, the real architect of the surge in Iraq (he was the idea guy, Petraeus was the guy who had to make that idea work).

A similar operational concept is being employed in Afghanistan right now. It is NOT a carbon copy. The theaters are very different, and so are the players. The challenges of the terrain, and the fact of Pakistani duplicity are real problems. But as you can note from the article, there is real cause for optimism. Sadly, I’m not at all convinced the President will seize this initiative and continue a tough road. After all, he’s never done things the hard way before.

H/T: WNU

Segway Company Owner saves uncounted lives.

I saw the bit in the news about the owner of the company that currently makes the Segway, James Heselden, fell to his death off a cliff while on his personal Segway. Other than a chuckle about the irony of it. But what I didn’t realize was that Mr. Heselden invented a product has saved untold numbers of American and British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Hesco barrier is the modern replacement for the sandbag. A simple open box reinforced with wire, the Hesco is versatile, cheap, reusable, and very good at stopping bullets, RPGs, car bombs, fragments and virtually every other direct fire threat to troops.  It is somewhat amazing that no one thought up the Hesco Barrier before, but they are ubiquitous now, and saving lives every day. Their light weight (before you add dirt, of course) and low cost has allowed our outposts to be fortified to a level that was previously unheard of. We’ll never know just how many lives have been saved by Hescos, but it is surely hundreds, and probably thousands.

Set up for failure?

Via NepLex, the Washington Post has an editorial that says that Obama’s minimal addition of troops to the surge in Afghanistan may not have been so much a strategy of minimalism, but a check-the-box exercise intended to generate an excuse to cut and run.

Perhaps the most damning assessment of the president comes from Gen. Lute, who Mr. Woodward says concluded that “Obama had to do this 18-month surge just to demonstrate, in effect, that it couldn’t be done . . . the president had treated the military as another political constituency that had to be accommodated.”

Apparently, being Commander-in-Chief is a distraction for golf and driving the economy into the ditch.