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.