Op-Eds Speaking Truth to the Powers-That-Be
America is the leading merchant of death and destruction in the world. The billions in bombs and weapons of varying levels of destruction are our number one export. They have developed, though generations of advanced technologies, many of which do not see their way to civilian application for decades. Instead of incentivizing ground-zero start-ups with no resources, we need to look to our corps of advanced engineers, scientists, and builders that have decades of know-how in the military industrial complex to ramp up our civilian reconstruction.
Our defense contractors are second to none in the world.
We exported trillions and spent hundreds of billions on state-of-the-art technology that can deliver weapons of destruction that are surgically efficient. 109 countries have bought $10.66 Trillion dollars of weapons from the United States . $8.6T or 81% of that is sold to four countries: Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Israel and South Korea, with the Saudis at $4.3T, accounting for 50% of the top four and 41% of the total arms that we sell to other countries. Add the $663.7B that the U.S. spent in 2010, a 12.7% increase from the year prior.
Yet we still cannot, though, get someone from Madison to Chicago in 90 minutes without hours of lines and TSA checks at an airport, unless they spend thousands for access to a private aircraft.
We should not abandon our defense. We should not abandon selling a few trillion dollars of military goods to the Saudis either. It is the only balance of trade where we see the petro-dollars that we flush down our gas tanks. Here, though, are the forward-thinking companies which both Democrats and Republicans myopically are missing as a greater national resource than our coal pockets or our natural gas.
Companies that build the most advanced aerospace equipment in the world, who hire some of our brightest engineers, theorists, and scientists, can achieve almost any task that they are set to achieve. If they can make a bomb hover in air as it assesses its target, what could they do to help modernize our electrical into a smart, power-savvy, not power-consumptive system?
One reason that high speed rail has been a political football is because there aren’t enough big-dollar American companies on the receiving end of the money. Most of the technology would have to be bought from Germany or Japan. The Chinese re-engineered their own variations of high speed rail, to limited success. You can’t tell me, though, that there is no one at aerospace giants like Northrop or Boeing or Lockheed Martin, that, with the right incentives, can’t dream up a rail “Dreamliner” or even something more next-generation that bypasses rails altogether.
A significant concept in the redesign of mass transit has come by way of Google. Yes, that Google. The company is quietly applying in Nevada  for their driverless cars to become street legal beyond their experimental stage. They have operated sucessfully in tests around driven cars for months in a pilot program that stretched coast to coast. If the technology can gain a foothold, it could revolutionize the way that traffic moves through big cities. It could end gridlock, save hundreds of thousands of lives and conserve millions of gallons of whatever fuel that powers cars annually world-wide.
See the video from non-profit TED.com of Google developer Sebastian Thrun talking about and demonstrating the driverless car’s advantages. (Sorry, but WordPress does not support embedding of TED’s videos).
The problem: What manufacturer gets that technology? If it goes to the highest bidder, it is likely the only American auto maker not to have collapsed, Ford, would be able to afford the price.
Google has seen the imperative in technological innovation. The defense contractors, though, have generations of data on advanced military products that could have exceptional civilian application. Some of the technologies to make airplanes lighter, stronger, and faster, applied to mass transit, could make dramatic changes in how we live.
The Obama Administration has been on the track of funding start-ups that develop new technologies. It’s a great idea, save the fact that they don’t have the resources. You might get an Apple to emerge out of that woodwork, but, more likely, there will be a few modest solar success stories and a few wind farms that pop up, but little more.
President Obama needs to change gears. The deepest think-tanks and the deepest pockets are not being tapped to our advantage. Incentivize the military-industrial complex’s entry into civilian engineering. If we are going to be giving breaks to companies to innovate the future, why not start with the deepest talent pools, and decades of leading research?
The people who are working on the space station should be able to dream up more efficient solar collection. The people who can make an aircraft rise vertically and then take off horizontally can probably do wonders with wind turbines.
Their entry into those markets would also stimulate other big non-defense companies to become more competitive both on their offerings and their time to market. Involving the defense establishment also quiets the political road for innovation in D.C. How many Republican congressmen who have been bought and paid for by big defense firms in California, Texas, Seattle and elsewhere, are going to balk at a high speed rail contract that puts jobs in their back yard and keeps their biggest constituents profitable and happy?
It would ensure that the billions spent on infrastructure were going to a larger number of jobs in the U.S., helping the economy as we rebuild. Best of all, if we are to find our way out of the endless funded wars to a more peaceful world, what better thing to to than to create profit centers in peace that give these big firms big cushions to fall back on that actually benefit society should we be able to cut back defense spending.
The Obama Administration can take that lead. They should, and soon.
My shiny two.