Monday, December 04, 2006

The Practical Carbon Tax

The price of oil is looking to plunge again, and with it, most of the progress made thus far in the 'War on Carbon Fuel Consumption.'

Alright, the name's a lot less sexy, but seeing as our success on this front will decide our future foreign policy, trade deficit, and most importantly our ability to achieve energy independence and transition off of oil without resorting to coal or dirty oil (ie shale oil) and the environmental havoc that would wreak, I think it a much more important war to win.

We need to adopt an effective, comprehensive strategy for tackling our unhealthy oil habit if we are to win. That strategy is a carbon tax:

'Climate change is a real problem and the only way to tackle it is to reduce the gap between the price of fossil-fuel energy and alternative energy. But subsidies are not the best way to achieve that goal... A global carbon tax would be a more efficient way to close the gap between fossil and alternative fuels' -Economist, Nov. 18-24 2006.

It needs to achieve all the aims of a fuel tax (punishing consumption) while softening spikes, making gasoline prices predictable, and not giving the government ridiculous amounts of money.
Here's my proposal:

It has five points.

First, you decide (or more likely some skilled economist decides) the maximum rate at which the price of carbon fuels can rise to curb consumption without significantly impacting the economy.

Second, you define carbon-based fuels as all transportation fuels deriving more than 5% (can be a little more or less) of their energy from carbon fuels such as natural gas, coal, and oil. This ensures the taxation of second hand carbon fuels, such as coal-hydrogen, while allowing fuels like ethanol, which requires natural gas based fertilizers, some wiggle room.

Third, you take that rate of price increase, you pick a base price, and then you get target prices that will change every quarter, half year, or year (again depends on what the economist says). So, for example, you would say the price of carbon-fuels will be 3$ in 2008 and increase 10 cents every quarter thereafter.

Fourth, you achieve this target rate by, each month, taking the lowest retail price of carbon fuel and adding however much tax is necessary to raise it to the target price. Thus, with slight variations to ensure the market continues to take its course, the price of carbon-fuels will remain at the target price. This allows consumers in the market to plan fuel expenses years into the future, assisting them with decisions such as the purchase of a hybrid, and producers to do the same, allowing, for instance, ethanol producers to invest big without the fear of a sudden plunge in carbon fuel prices.

Fifth, you take all the revenue from the tax, which, because of it changes monthly, will be incredibly unpredictable, and you give it back. You simply take all the money, divide the revenue by the number of taxpayers, and mail each one a check. Because everyone gets the same check regardless of their fuel consumption, big consumers will be losing, and people who do not consume carbon fuels will be getting free money. Regardless, the American government will get nothing, the desired punitory effect of a gas tax will be achieved, and the money will remain in the private sector.

Fighting oil consumption is a subject of great interest of me, and this plan has come from many modifications. Please do tell me if you approve and/or have any more to make.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Its time to face up to the facts: not only has the war in Iraq been executed terribly, but we can hardly hope to have a decent outcome unless we chin up and put down the requisite resources:

More troops.

Perhaps, at the beginning of the occupation phase of the war, 150-200,000 might have cut it. There was still an army leftover from Hussein, and most of the institutions were intact. Then we fired all the Ba'athists, let those looters run free, slipped up a few more times... and now we're dealing with full-blown militias, a very effective insurgency, highly-developed terror organizations, sectarian strife and huge amounts of criminal activity.

Fortunately, we can cope. Using the right tactics and sufficient force one can bring about security. Unfortunately, you need to maintain that force while expanding the secure area until the insurgency, militia, criminals, terrorists, have nowhere left to run. That's not being done. The situation was recently aptly summarized in a NYT article:

"...counterinsurgency operations have taken on the quality of a whack-a-mole arcade game. Every time the Americans have massed force to put out one fire, they have created a vacuum elsewhere that the insurgents have rushed to fill. When the Marines gathered forces to clear Falluja in 2004, they drew troops from the Haditha area, where the insurgents promptly moved in and executed the defenseless local police near the town's soccer field. The Marines returned in strength to Haditha and established several forward bases, including the one at Barwana, but then many of the troops were sent to the far west when commanders decided to clear Al Qaim, near the Syrian border. And the insurgents filtered back to Haditha."

Once we've established security, economic activity and free-discourse can escalate to the point where Iraq can become a viable democracy, but we simply cannot establish security given our current manpower.

Currently, the American army is trying to substitute for the shortage by beefing up the Iraqi military and police forces, but unless we pull off a miracle (if we do, I won't complain), that just is not going to work.


In chaotic situations, it is very difficult to impossible for a decentralized-democratic government to impose order.

Take, for instance, the Russian Civil War. In that war dozens of democratic rights-abiding governments rose from the chaos of Tsarist Russia, only to be crushed by terror-driven, highly disciplined conscripts from a centralized dictatorship. Ultimately this dictatorship was the Bolsheviks but Wrangel, Denikin, and Kolchak all also had their time in the sun as dictatorial White autocrats (of course all promising democracy as soon as the Reds were defeated, to be fair to their legacy).

So, if left to fight for itself, there is almost no way Iraq's government can establish order without resorting to dictatorial measures.

Which is why they need us. They need us to provide the security normally only a dictatorship can attain while their nascent democratic institutions find their feet. To provide that security, we need more soldiers.

The failure to do as much has been the Bush administration's ultimate fault in Iraq. And it's not like we cannot either. In the first Gulf War, we put forth 500,000 soldiers- and that was just to liberate Kuwait. In this war, yes, the sacrifice of our soldiers has been great, probably too great in light of the harvest we are reaping, but the sacrifice of our nation on the whole has been negligible if not laughable. No extra taxes have been imposed- in fact I believe we've enjoyed several tax cuts, nobody has been asked to put forth a little more, American society on the whole is operating on a peace-time basis- fighting this war with one hand behind the back, so to speak. I'm not saying that we should go into World-War total-war mode, but only that the resources we can bring to the table in Iraq are much more immense than what we have brought to bear.

So, Mr. President, get a spine and put in the troops. You won't get popular support- Americans don't trust you with military operations (I wonder why...?), but what does it matter? Your poll ratings are low anyway and you don't have to get re-elected. Chin up, belly in, and face the electorates wrath. If we upped the number to 500,000 and our military commanders don't suddenly lose their minds, we will see results. In fact, we might even get a viable democracy in Iraq.

Perhaps you're just waiting for December...?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Israel Is Losing

The incredible stupidity on display in the allied and Israeli handling of Hezbollah and southern Lebanon astounds me. I hope for the welfare of the Middle East and America that mine is a skewed perspective on the region.

From the beginning it should have been clear to Israel that the key to undermining Hezbollah lay not in bombs and missions.

Hezbollah is invincible so far as military action is concerned: they are an incredibly popular grass roots organization, they have a morally just cause (the defense of ones country) and they will have personnel so long as Lebanon has Shi'ites, thus Israel cannot shoot them all. They are militarily and financially supported by Iran, meaning they will have resources so long as the regime in Iran persists, thus Israel cannot bomb them all.

So military action is not where the struggle for Hezbollah's survival is and will be fought. Nay, rather it is the occupation: wresting control of southern Lebanon's society from the grips of Hezbollah.

This task is simply achieved first by occupying the place (check) then, more importantly, filling those civilian niches in which Hezbollah has always resided with institutions that promote a free and open society.

Not too difficult. Merely give the Lebanese government the overwhelming technical and financial aid to rebuild all roads, hospitals, schools, homes, infrastructure in general and then staff them all. Voila, the government is in, Hezbollah is no more than another political organization. This should not be too difficult an undertaking were it given the support of all those nations that are already sending their soldiers there.

Unfortunately, it would seem Hezbollah is already winning this second, much more important battle. With Iran's unlimited support, they have promised to rebuild the south, and seem to be moving quickly to it.

How could Israel fail to see that it is about to lose any shot it ever had at gaining popular support and strengthening the Lebanese government? How is it that our own government, whose interests lie very much so in neutering Hezbollah, is being outspent by Iran?

I dearly hope I am not seeing the whole picture, that as we speak Western bureaucrats are organizing a massive aid program, but I fear the contrary.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

On The Sources of Terrorists

Meet Khalid. He drives taxis in Italy. He is Morroccan by birth, and a practicing Muslim. He speaks three languages fluently: Italian, French, and Arabic, and speaks well enough English (he's learning it) that I could carry on a conversation with him on our brief taxi ride encounter. He thinks his town in Italy is the most beautiful place in the world, was anxious about the upcoming world cup match, and has finally earned enough money to pay for his parents to join him.

Is Khalid a soldier, the first wave of what is a coordinated Islamic attempt to subvert and takeover Europe? Or is he just another man making his way in the world?

I'm going to take the latter. Unfortunately, there are people and forces who would have him, and the millions of other Muslim immigrants in Europe who have not reached his level of integration, be the former.

As explained in the previous essay, there is a very powerful and influential structure devoted to the reinforcement of radical Islam and the idea that the impoverished and politically disenfranchised masses of the Middle East have not their oppressive and downright greedy governments to blame but rather America and the West.

There are three groups, "armies" within Islam that this very propaganda combines with to create anti-Americanism at the least and terrorists at the worst.

First, the masses of the Middle East. They are the principle target, for they are the most capable of toppling the elites and governments who create the propaganda.

Second, the immigrant masses. They are a more indirect target but a target nonetheless. Most fall back on Islam and at worst radical Islam after having been economically denied and discriminated against in their new societies. Iran actually actively targets these immigrants through its financial support of radical mosques and schools towards the end of increasing its influence abroad.

Albeit it is difficult, almost impossible to bring the first group out of its propaganda bubble without solving the root problem by reforming their societies, the societies in which this group resides are already in an optimum state and need only end discrimination and deliver economic aid to battle discrimination in their ranks.

Finally, there are the well-to-do Muslims. Not the elites, those that run the propoganda institutions (Mosques, schools, media) and profit enormously from the Middle East status quo. No, these come from the "bourgeouis", the middle class. These are the most indirectly affected targets and yet also the most dangerous.

As explained in the previous essay, the radical Islamic movement is really operating on the same forces of a revolution: a large segment of society (the Arab Muslim societies of the Middle Eastern oil states, principally) has no economic or political stake in the system, and is thus inclined towards the destruction of the "nemesis" that is denying them said stakes. Thanks to the propaganda efforts of the elites, that nemesis is the United States. The problem? Our very way of life runs contrary to radical Islam, and thus "spoils" their society. The solution? Impose radical Islam on the world. Thus as the Russians once fought for communism, as the French once fought for "liberte, fraternite, et egalite", now these educated Muslims fight for the sharia.

That being re-established, if one examines most revolutions in the past, their most dangerous members, their leaders, are not from the masses themselves, but rather the middle class. Lenin, Trotsky, Marx, Robespierre, and many other revolutionary leaders (and philosophers) all enjoyed a fair degree of both comfort and education and were not affected by those maladies which they sought to cure, yet all the same were emotionally moved by the perceived plight of the masses and decided to take up arms in their name.

Thus it is easy to see that many middle class Muslims, well educated and well off, have, as in all revolutions, taken up (in their minds) the cause of their brethren to fight their nemesis (the West & the United States). Into this last category fits Osama Bin Laden, most of the 9/11 terrorists, and, most recently, most of the would-be plane bombers.

This last category is the most dangerous and almost impossible to stop without going after the root problem. So long as the forces of this global "revolution" remain in play, it will find "heros" in the middle classes. We can do our best to counter the propaganda and beef up airport security, but these misdirected "heros" will continue to fight us so long as we have not addressed the plight of their masses.

Thus albeit it may seem at first bizzarre to blame the plight of a poor Arab in Saudi Arabia for the actions undertaken by Bin Laden and the homegrown English terrorists, such is entirely the case. The root of the problem remains the same: despotic societies in the Middle East whose states beg revolution and yet redirect those deadly forces, through radical Islam, towards the West so as to tender their own salvation.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Treatise On Radical Islam

Know your enemy before you go out to fight him.

Our enemy is certainly not Islam as a whole. Yet neither is is it the radical Islam that most our enemies espouse. Were it, it would be invincible. There is no way you can defeat a person a people imbued with radical Islam. As Kevino said, no conventional police force may defend against the suicidal.

Then it is fortunate radical Islam is not the enemy. Nay, rather it is those factors that bring about the circumstances under which radical Islam thrives. Namely, the desperate conditions enjoyed by most in the Middle East: their economies are going nowhere, almost all the power, political and financial, is held by an elite few, and the populace, the majority of which are youth under 25 years of age, are going crazy at their inability to improve their lives and take control of their future. Normally, when a large segment of society loses faith in its institutions' abilities to accomadate them, they lash out at those in charge of the institutions, attempting, in an often violent and disorganized manner, to fix the system by transforming it: they revolt.

The elites in the Middle East are atleast partially if not fully aware of the situation, but they have devised a devious system of avoiding said disorder (and the fate it would bring them): they've passed the buck. Through direct support of Islam and indirect support of radical Islam, they have successfully redefined the situation in the eyes of their desperate society.

The people in charge are no longer the elites who are hogging the oil while repressing reform and political dissent. Nay, it is the United States. The case that we are in charge is understandably easy to make. In many ways we are. We intervene continuously militarily, support Israel, and are always telling them what to do. The case that we are thus responsible for the woes of their society is made easy once religion is mixed in: our culture is "wrong" and thus by merely having power over them taint their society, causing social problems, which in turn is why you, Joe Muslim, are dirt poor, don't have a future, and feel hopeless & desperate. In such a way the oil elites of the Middle East have successfully deflected that malcontent that has in the past been at the root of revolts from France to Russia to Iran. Most Joe Muslims subsequently fume at the United States and cheer when the footage of Hezbollah comes up. A crazy few find the resources or provide the resources to "revolt" against the United States through acts of terror and many many delusional diatribes about how Islam will rule us all.

Thus the enemy is not radical Islam. No, that is just a weapon, a particularly dangerous idea that has been manipulated as deftly as we may manipulate planes and armor in our wars. The enemy is those that have decided the satisfaction of their greed is more important than the welfare of the societies they control. An example: Those Iranian Mullahs who fund Hezbollah, rail against the United States, and advocate their nuclear program are also some of the biggest Iranian propertyholders.

Thus now that we understand the root of radical Islam and the terrorism, anti-Americanism, and, occasionally, sharia it in turn spawns, we understand also the extent and capabilities of the threat.

First, in most open societies, radical Islam cannot endure. If a populace is to support it, they must not have an economic or political stake in society (thus be poor & without a vote) and be surrounded by an institutional & media presence that supports radical Islam. Impressively, through their negligence and the hard work of Iran, such a state has nearly been achieved in many European countries, yet were they to organize politically (begin voting) they would then have a stake (but take note: not control) in society and thus no longer interested in its destruction.

Second, the elites whose greed gives radical Islam its power, being motivated by greed, are also limited by it. Thus we can be assured that Iran, upon nuclear acquisition, will not use the nukes against us, as outlined by JEM. They know that were they to do such a thing, they would lose all power at the hands of an enraged America. Indeed (granted we would never want such a thing to happen for our love of life) the use of a nuke would ultimately be the most positive possible development for the US. We would instantly gain full unwavering support from all other Western nations and would use our military capabilities in such a callous fashion that we would soon effectively rule the Middle East. That is not what the elites want. Like smart drug-dealers, they never buy their own product. They are not suicidal. No, the Iranian elites (they are the best example) use radical Islam and war-mongering only as a tool to control their populace (and use it effectively, as noted by Kevino, Iranian malcontent with the government has dropped dramatically since 2003, the same year they announced the nuclear program), not to actually fight the United States. They will only push it as far as they think it safe and no further. Of course, should they gain the bomb, that "safe" limit may be extended enormously, which is why we need to work against such a thing happening.

Obviously we will continue to fight terror and call radical Islam wrong wherever it crops up. But that's just playing defense. To solve the problem we need to attack the root.

So how do we fight those elites that are spawning terror & anti-Americanism so that they might safeguard their own greed?

The most obvious method is to kill off the elites and institute a free society. We're trying that in Iraq. Unfortunately, that requires enormous resources and, if improperly executed (as has happened in Iraq) might have more negative than positive consequences, atleast in the short term (I still hope for success).

A more practical approach would be to use economic & limited military pressure to force the elites to reform their society so as to redress the desperation of their citizens. In this endeavor we are limited by our dependence on oil, which makes us more dependent on them than they are on us (and prevents us from, for instance, air-striking Saudi Arabia to make a point), and that economic sanctions can be ineffective if unilateral (the case with Iran).

We can also wage a propaganda war. Again, though, we are severely limited as their elites control all mainstream means of propaganda, and they have more experience. Iraq could become a platform for a much more effective propaganda campaign, but again, that hinges on establishing a stable free society there, by no means a certainty.

Finally, we can give them the hug of death. Were we to broker a permanent peace in Israel and affected areas and tone down all other policies that may be twisted to justify radical Islam while stepping up aid programs, encouraging trade (like we have with China), condemning all Islamic rulers that do wrong, and taking advantage of opportune moments to prove our goodness (the tsunami aid is an excellent example), then we might make it impossible for them to denounce us as evil (for we do nothing but good, bring nothing but prosperity) and free the Muslim societies against their rulers will (as is happening in China).

Certainly there is no straight arrow solution, but the fourth mixed in with the other three according to the situation will probably get the trick done. To summate: radical Islam is not the enemy, rather is only the shield of greed. The elites (the rulers, politicians, bureaucrats, clerics, royal families) of the Middle East are the true enemy, for their placement of their own welfare before their societies' is what has created such perfect breeding grounds for radical Islam. As such we need not fear a global war but the anti-Americanism, terrorism, and threat to our oil supplies radical Islam produces merits our effort towards a solution. Any such solution must concentrate on the elites and reforming their societies, and although I'll hear suggestions, it promises to be complicated.

If anyone has made the journey, yes, this is the same as a comment I left on vodkapundit.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Worst of All Possible Worlds

May 15, 2006- Presidential Address On Iran

Over the last seventeen days, negotiations stalled at the Security Council as China stonewalled. In the meantime, Iran stepped up its nuclear program, coupling the re-opening of the Natanz enrichment facility with a nuclear technology export deal with Sudan. Enraged at the Iranian's refusal to talk, their increasingly radical rhetoric toward Israel, and the inability to bring about cohesive international action, yesterday afternoon the American delegation walked out of the UN. This morning Americans were jolted awake by news from Iran of massive bombings, and civlian casualties. Speculation and rumors swirl while reporters eagerly awaits information from the government. The room hushes as the President enters, a solemn _expression fixed on his face.

Ladies and Gentlemen, People of America and Iran. Yesterday, after the breakdown of negotiations and failure to persuade the security council to take action, I was forced to order the initiation of our last resort: a military strike. Faced with the eminent development of an Iranian nuclear capability and their refusal to back down, much less negotiate, we were given no other alternative. After having consulted NATO and our allies in the Middle East, the United States Air Force and Navy commenced operations at sundown last night. The strikes were surgical yet overwhelming. All twelve known nuclear sites were struck, along with approximately two dozen suspected sites and the residences and laboratories of prominent scientists involved in the program. Additionally, various airfields, radar installations, and other air-defense facilities were bombed toward the end of neutralizing Iranian defenses. Finally, submarine facilities and missile pads were destroyed so as to eliminate Iran's ability to lash out at American forces stationed in the Middle East. American casualties were minimal. Iranian casualties are unknown, but in all likelihood substantial.

People of Iran, we are sincerely sorry. We know you mean us no harm, and the needless waste of human life that comes with military action pains us deeply. Furthermore, I apologize and take full responsibility for the grievous wrongs the United States has committed against the people of Iran in the past. In 1954, we took political power away from you, replacing a democratically elected government with a repressive, corrupt, and despotic one. Today, I am committing our full resources to doing just the opposite. Today, I am committing America to giving Iranian political power back to the Iranian people.

Towards that end, leaders of Iran, you are given two roads:

One allows you to join the modern world if you will abide by the rules. The first condition is that you must renounce terror and the organizations that support it. The second is that you must renounce attaining a nuclear bomb and open yourselves up to full inspections. Finally, and most important, you must hold free, internationally monitored, open, elections for both your Majiles (the Iranian Parliament) and Presidency, while giving the newly elected Majiles the authority to amend the Iranian constitution as they see fit. If you take these steps, we will embrace the proud nation of Iran's return to the modern world. The United States will drop all sanctions, pay for the damages you suffered last night, and allow you to proceed with your nuclear energy program, on the condition that the weapons geared parts of the process occur in some outside nation under international supervision, such as Russia. Furthermore, we will provide you with substantial economic aid and work toward your inclusion in various world organizations, such as the World Trade Organization

Yet if, leaders of Iran, if you refuse such an option, instead insisting upon wreaking havoc on both the outside world and your own people, we will have little option left but that of coercion. If you take this second road, starting in 48 hours a new, sustained, bombing campaign will be launched. It will be aimed first at those leaders that repress the Iranian people, second at those institutions they utilize to repress the Iranian people, and finally at those institutions, such as your military, that you might utilize against non-Iranian and Iranians alike. If, leaders of Iran, you continue to put your own wants and needs above those of the nation, then, in two weeks, we will broaden the campaign from the political to the economic spectrum. At that time, we will impose a complete blockade. Every plane will be intercepted, every outward leading road, railroad, and pipeline bombed, and every ship sunk. The actions and behaviour of your regime have rendered its continued existence in its present form intolerable to the United States and the world community.

Leaders of Iran, I beseech you, do not push us down the second road. Let us put our differences behind us, so that we all may enjoy the fruits and freedoms of life, and the prosperity the world has to offer.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Iran Solution #1, Regime Change

If regime change were to happen in Iran, effectively solving the second problem by bringing the reformist faction to power in Iran, the first problem would be solved because reformists would likely see reason and abandon the nuclear program in exchange for better international relations. Unfortunately, that isn't going to happen.

We certainly cannot force regime change through military action. After our performance in Iraq, the Iranians probably wouldn't trust us, regardless of the fact that we don't have the resources to do so anyway.

We cannot do it through covert action. We were responsible for an Iranian coup d'etat in the 50's, and ever since Iranians have have held to a paranoid fear of American covert action that has kept the CIA out of Iran.

That leaves reform within the system, but that's already failed as well. The hardliner system that keeps hardliners winning the President and Majile elections was overwhelmed once, in the 1996 election of reformist Khatami, when the popular vote so favored this obscure candidate that the harldiners let him win fearing a revolution. He proceeded to make some cautious reforms and reach out to America, but the hardliners fought back, using thuggery to intimidate reformists, the still harldiner Majiles to censor them, and even going so far as to assassinate prominent reformists. In 1999 the conflict peaked, when students took the streets in protest to a new law that would ban most reformist newspapers. The hizbollah and other hardliner thug groups showed up to beat the students into submission, but the students fought back. The riots escalated, and students went so far as to make statements denouncing not just the law, but the entire government. They were ready for a revolution. Unfortunately, Khatami was not. Faced with preparations for a violent hardliner reprisal (military units were being moved into position near rioting cities), he caved, denouncing the riots. The hardliners had regained control, and by his 2000 re-eleciton, Khatami was nothing more than a puppet President without any real power. Since their brush with revolution, the hardliners have consolidated their position, liberalizing the economy like China and social restrictions to vent the rage of Iran's youthful population. Additionally, with oil prices at record highs, there's no reason to believe the Iranian government cannot deliver economically most everything their populace wants, effectively bribing their populace into submission.

Thus military action will not work, covert action won't do the trick, and a spontaneous revolution is not going to happen until the price of oil goes down, and probably a while after that. We can improve conditions for regime change keeping pressure on the current regime through embargoes and harsh diplomatic statements, perhaps also work to increase our covert action capabilities in Iran, but not much more. Regime change is something to hope for, and we should support such a goal, but its nothing we can count on toward solving more short-term problems with Iran.

On Iran...

With Iran achieving the status of US threat #1 , it's time to make some discussion on the problem.

To give credit where credit's due, I've just read the Persian Puzzle, a book discussing the history of US-Iranian relations as well as the author's (former Clinton ME advisor) recommendations for the future, so his thoughts are bringing some influencing this discussion.

First, the problem, or problems, Iran presents to the United States:

First, the short term threat. Iran is obviously developping nuclear weapons, a bad thing in view of its stated intentions to wipe Israel off the map, its aggressive foreign policy in the past, and the possible nuclear arms race it could spark in the Middle East.

Second, the long term, and ongoing, problem. Iran is (surprise), something of an anti-American dictatorship. Its hodgepodge government consists of an all powerful religious leader who rules for life, currently Khameini, a parliament, called the Majiles, and the President. The latter two are democratically elected, but the pool of candidates is vetted by the Council of Guardians, a hardliner stronghold. Additionally, votes are slanted through hardline use of thug groups (more advanced versions of Iraq's nascent militias), state controlled media, and outright fraud to insure that hardline candidates win. Although it still calls itself a theocracy, recent moves to liberalize the religious guidelines (what you wear, what music you listen to, couples can now hold hands in public) so as to address social unrest demonstrate that above all power, not religious zeal, is what matters most to Iran's leades. This dictatorship is a problem because they are self-pronounced anti-American, they pump enough oil to render themselves essential to the world economy, they have supported and instigated terrorism in the past, they are the largest supporters of extremist Islam, and they work counter to American goals in the Middle East, such as the Israeli peace process through, among other actions, their support of Hamas and the Lebanese Hizbollah.

The second problem is an ongoing one that, although a solution would be wise, we can afford to ignore. The first requires urgent attention. I'll run through some solutions in coming posts.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Another Practical Solution for Iraq

Sorry, could not help myself, but there's one more good idea I've had banging about.

A 1% profits tax on American corporations to pay for military expenses in Iraq, with a loophole. The loophole is that if you instead invest the money in Iraq's economy, you don't need to pay the tax. The tax would be in effect for 10 years.

Thus, either our government finallys starts paying for this war, or Iraq starts getting rebuilt by America's private sector. It boggles the imagination to think what it would be like. Trusts would be set up to invest in Iraq, allowing small businesses to simply put their money there to avoid the tax, and perhaps even make a profit. Iraq would be flooded with thousands of American business men from these trusts. Any time an Iraqi company gets launched, or an oil field needs building, or an infrastructure project needs financiering, there would be an American waiting, willing to assess the contract, efficiently execute it, and try and turn a profit. Maybe even Ford would set up a plant, or Wal-Mart would make some stores, but that's unrealistic.

The Iraqi government would be bombarded with lobbyists offering advice on how to best regulate the economy to fit their needs. More stable regions, like Kurdistan, would at first enjoy a flood of investment, provoking a competition that would lead other regional governments to enact measures so as to lure investments. Iraq's overall economy would boom with the investment, providing the ultimate deterrent to terrorists. Long term relationships would be formed between Iraqi and American business men, laying the basis for the ultimate long term alliance: an economic one.

Really I can think of few better ways to insure a successful outcome in Iraq.

A Practical Idea For America

Two energy problems we have right now: our cars our consuming too much oil (everybody knows that), and our power plants are incredibly inefficient (that one ain't so well known). I won't explain the former, but the problem with the power plants is that you cannot store electricity. You use it or lose it. Because powering up and down most powerplants (NG is the exception) often takes hours if not days, powerplants thus have to produce enough electricity to sate demand when it is at its highest, its "peak", leading to enormous wastsed over-production.

The solution? Plug in hybrids. This new technology combines hybrids with electric batteries. By plugging in the car every night, fuel economy is increased enormously, often times upwards of 100 mpg (and the technology is still in its opening stages). The key proposal here is to create a device, should be fairly straightforward, that can both put energy into our cars and take it back out again, according to market conditions. The device can then "buy" energy, filling up your battery, when demand is low, sopping up all that wasted energy. Then, when demand is high, it can sell it, probably at a marginal profit, giving the grid extra capacity and allowing powerplants to produce less electricity. The device could even allow for turning on the car's engine to create electricity, were the demand high enough. Basically our cars, which already have atleast twice (I've heard up to five times) the power capacity of our nation's power plants and lay idle for most of the day anyway, can act like a huge national battery, even power plant, mediating supply and demand.

Of course, plug-in hybrids are still in an embryonic state, but the technology's there, the methods are there, and it's not ridiculously expensive. Already, without any sizable research commitment or economies of scale to back it up, there are companies that will upgrade hybrids to plug in hybrids for approx. 3,000$. Were the government to require that all new garages include the plug in devices and heavily subsidize plug-in hybrids (the best method is always through gas taxes), this solution could become the reality for the United States within ten years. Were a majority of cars to become plug-ins, we could realistically cut our oil consumption by 5 mbd. Furthermore, by reducing the strain on power plants, we could cut our consumption of natural gas (a fuel that shares many of oils problems) by shutting down NG powe plants, although the main point is the system would be more efficient.

Oil demand reduction and electricity production reduction. Sounds like a plan to me. If only there were some politicians with enough spine to make such a thing come true. Perhaps California...

A Practical Idea For Iraq

Iraq is currently suffering from both terrorism and sectarianism. Often enough, the former is provoking the latter, as has been demonstrated by the escalating mosque bombings. The worst aspect of terrorism: well, all of it, but the mosques are where they're inflicting most of the casualties, and inciting most of the strife. The worst aspect of sectarianism: those illegal militias that impose religious law and threaten to sweep the nation into civil war.

The solution? Legalize the militias as "Holy Protection Forces", or something like that. They would be allowed to act as an-almost police within a certain distance, say 200 yards, of religious buildings, principally mosques. Naturally, there would be a few stipulations. First, each one would have to be associated with and approved by its particular religious site and the residents of the surrounding area, and obtain a license from their local and national government. Second, they would be regulated. They would have to publish salaries, number of "guards", and other information that comes in handy when trying to keep small armies in line. They would only have the power to make arrests, and would have to prove to a court that they killed in self defense, should the occasion arise (which it will). Finally, these HPF's would have to immediately forward any and all cases to the real police as fast as possible.

Thus you have the ultimate solution. The militias become regulated (or atleast the groundwork would be laid for regulation, Iraq is in no shape to enforce many laws right now), and they would serve a purpose, legally defending the most vulnerable and most strife-inducing targets.

Then perhaps the situation experienced last week would have been different. Instead of twelve commando type terrorists walking into an abandoned mosque with four asleep guards in a back room, subsequently provoking the blind rage of thousands of militia men against Sunnis everywhere, some of those thousands could have instead been defending that mosque, stemming the problem at its source rather than exacerbating it.

Just a thought.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

“I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it”

As many readers are no doubt aware, a series of cartoons depicting Mohammed published in the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, has brought about a great deal of outrage in the Muslim world. It’s easy to understand why the Muslims might be upset: the cartoons were offensive and in poor taste. Simply said, they allegedly broke a religious tenet of Islam by depicting Mohammed. But although I criticize the newspaper and stand firmly opposed to its views, the virulent reaction in the Muslim world has brought to issue an ideal in more dire need of defense and a problem far more in need of critique.

The ideal is free speech. Yes, we do not agree with what the Danish xenophobes who published the article are trying to say, but we should still defend their right to say it. The notion that they might be censored because they offend someone is a notion running directly contrary to the successful ideals upon which much of the Western world has been built, and a notion that leads to situations such as the one in Iran, where their leader calls the holocaust a sham, advocates the extermination of the Jews, blames all their problems on the Americans and eliminates those who disagree by calling them heretics. In fact, were I in the business of publishing materials offensive to society, I would re-publish the cartoon to display our free speech solidarity with the Danish newspaper, but I am not, and that is no longer the primary issue anyhow.

The primary issue, the problem in dire need of critique, is the extent to which the Muslim world, and popular opinion, is manipulated by various dictators and elites. Indeed, the current “outrage” is not at all indicative of popular Arab sentiment. To the contrary, it is a carefully manipulated, manufactured response born from the highest corridors of power in the Muslim world. The articles themselves were published in October. Since then, Western Muslims have calmly expressed their outrage by not buying the newspaper, circulating a petition, and telling people that they find it offensive. Arab Muslims hardly responded at all until after the 56 members of the Organization of Islamic Conferences, which consists almost entirely of dictatorial Islamic states, met and decided to create an outrage. This might sound ridiculous, but they’ve done it. They created and circulated new, doubly offensive cartoons. Utilizing a vast network of media outlets such as Al-Jazeera and a religious system dominated and funded by various Islamic oil-states, they further fanned the flames. In Dubai, the leaders even bussed in protesters to strengthen their Muslim credentials. In Iran and Syria the governments allowed for otherwise illegal mobs to gather. Now all across the Muslim world, the Islamic dictators have brought about violence which has led to the burning of embassies, the creation of embargoes, the murder of a Catholic priest in Turkey, and the death of dozens in rioting.

Why? Denmark is about to become the head of the UN security council, the same body that is to consider sanctions on Iran next month. These riots effectively delegitimatize it while rallying Muslims around their leaders when they most need public support.

Therein lies the real offense in this whole affair, the extent to which Islam and the Muslim world is being manipulated by those who are using religion to further their own agendas. The scarier thing is that the cartoon incident, in which many have already died, is the least of their crimes. They use the same system that has turned this non-issue into an outrage to incite terrorism, to pilfer their countries’ oil wealth, and to oppress their people. Thus, although we condemn the cartoon, the Danish violation of Islam pales in comparison to the crimes committed against the religion every day by the Muslim elites.