Sunday, June 12, 2005

We have two modern examples of presidents who won major wars. Is the current president following those examples? I've compared him to FDR before, but haven't tried to ask what Reagan would do. In fact this is a better question, because the war Reagan won is more like our current war. Chronic, not acute, and based more on ideas than territory.

Reagan hated the stalemate of Mutually Assured Destruction because it forced both sides to remain essentially Sovietized. His strategy was twofold: (1) Use uniquely American strengths to show the Russians that victory was impossible; (2) Concentrate on actual protection for American territory in the form of Star Wars. Both of these lines would help us win this war, and would also improve our self-sufficiency in the future.

Back to FDR for a moment: In 1939, several major American auto companies were on the ropes. Even Ford was running on vapors. Thanks to stupid Hoover-Roosevelt economic policies, unemployment was still near 20%. Fighting World War 2 solved those problems by converting auto companies to defense contracts. By 1946, most companies were in good shape and had developed new engineering and production techniques by building unfamiliar products.

Now to the present: In 2005, we are suffering from a different (admittedly milder) brand of economic idiocy. Bubble Boy Greenspan protected us against inflation by shoveling trillions of excess dollars into the Wall Street Casino, and then used zero interest rates to give us the same effects as inflation: reward borrowers, punish savers. We have "free-market" health care which is for all practical purposes run by the government, and which takes 60% of total government expenditures. In that realm we have hyperinflation while the gov't assures us that "core inflation" is low. (You can make any measurement low by picking the right things to measure, for heaven's sake!)

Thanks to this combination of tendencies, major American industries are on the ropes again. GM is nearly bankrupt. Airlines and aircraft makers are in trouble. Actual unemployment is not high nationally, but industrial workers are out of work in many places and wasting their skills in others.

WW4 is not a war of disposables. We don't need billions of bullets, millions of guns, and thousands of aircraft. But we do need some heavy industrial action for protection, which can only be triggered by the government. Three major programs are needed: all will help in the long run, and in the context of the current war, they are both urgent and strategic. (1) If we're going to turn away from dependence on Arab and Communist oil, we need much more nuclear power and more hydropower. (2) If we want to keep transportation running, we need to rejuvenate the railroads. (3) We need to protect our electric grid and communications systems against Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) and hackers.

None of those solutions will happen spontaneously; at the very least, all need to be 'seeded' by government action and research, and encouraged by huge changes in laws and regulations. Taken together, they meet the Reagan criteria: using our advantages and protecting our people.

One more thing: I think Reagan would have understood that we are fighting a war between religions. He would not have turned apologetic when captured enemy combatants accused us of desecrating their Manual of Military Doctrine; in fact he wouldn't have let the combatants have their Manual in the first place. I can't imagine Reagan whimpering that we can only find a few instances where our interrogators desecrated the enemy's source of inspiration. I can imagine him saying: "The war has started. In five minutes we air-drop the missionaries and bibles."


Footnote: I've smooshed together three symbolic icons in the picture. Two are painfully obvious, but the third might not be. The vacuum tube symbolizes protection against EMP, which is now a more likely danger than a huge nuclear strike. A small fission bomb, carried by a primitive missile, can explode in midair, disrupting all electrical activity for a large region of the country; something like a widespread lightning strike. Our power grids have already been taken down by sunspots, which are a vastly weaker version of the same effect. EMP has been understood and researched since the '70s. Tube-type equipment is disrupted but can be restarted; modern solid-state equipment is simply destroyed. The Russians kept tube-type electronics in their aircraft and military for this reason. This applies to cars as well; pre-1980 cars with strictly mechanical ignition systems will be OK, while newer cars with computer controls will be useless pieces of crap. (Think we can replace the computers in 300 million cars at once?)

A similar analysis applies to railroads. They're not perfect ... obviously a terrorist can explode a train. But he can't hijack it, and he can't put it where he wants it to be at the time of the explosion. More importantly, locomotives are 'hybrid' machines, with their wheels turned by electric motors, and diesel-powered generators on board. This means they can be easily converted to run partly or entirely from nuke-generated electricity instead of oil; many have always been purely electric.


UPDATE 6/21: Bush has finally come out loud and clear for expanding nuclear power, after tippy-toeing around the question for too long. Yay!!! Now he needs to do something about it, by executive order if necessary. New plants don't need twenty years to come on line; most of that delay is caused by federal regulations and local NIMBY disputes, which could be eliminated by the well-known "stroke of the pen". This is what executive orders are meant for: cutting through red tape in time of emergency. Yes, Clinton misused them, but that doesn't require Bush to shy away from using them properly!


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Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.

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