Those who sow the wind?

This is perhaps the most disturbing post I’ve ever been moved to attempt. The next video, on BBC News, is for sure disturbing. “Viewer discretion is advised.” The video is the aftermath of an apparent napalm or firebomb dropped on a schoolyard in Syria.

It has been commented on (in the Star for example) that the apparent use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime a) does not make sense, and b) has killed maybe 1000 whereas conventional weapons have killed maybe 100,000 citizens.

It has been suggested that the chemical weapons were released by some mad rebel group to discredit the regime. Conceivable, eh?

However, it would appear that to drop a firebomb, one needs an aircraft. The rebels don’t, so far as I know, have any bombers. (Please advise by commenting on this post if you know differently.)

There is a precedent for attacking civilians. If you google ‘Nicaragua + “soft targets”‘ you will find this disturbing information. I’ll pull a few quotes for you here.

Notably, in 1987, the US, as part of its ‘war on terror’, ordered its forces in Nicaragua to go “after soft targets” and to avoid the Nicaraguan army.

I was aware of this possibly due to Noam Chomsky. Soft Targets meant, hospitals, schools, and markets. That’s how come I made the specific Google search I used. More quotes:

This decision was taken after the International Court of Justice had declared the United States’ use of force against Nicaragua unlawful, and after the Security Council had endorsed the judgement and called on all States to observe international law (the US vetoed the resolution) and the General Assembly had passed a similar resolution.

Nicaragua then went to the UN General Assembly, where there is technically no veto, but a negative US vote amounts to a veto. The General Assembly passed a similar resolution — with only the US, Israel, and El Salvador opposed. The following year Nicaragua took its case again to the General Assembly. This time the US could only rally Israel to the cause, so two votes opposed observing international law. At that point, Nicaragua had exhausted all available legal measures, concluding that they do not work in a world that is ruled by force.

This information is consistent with my memory of the incident. It turns out that if you add Noam Chomsky to the Google search, you’ll find this confirmation: There are many terrorist states in the world, but the United States is unusual in that it is officially committed to international terrorism, and on a scale that puts its rivals to shame.

The United States had interests in Nicaragua. (According to Peter Scowen, it was mostly on behalf of a fruit company.) Russia has interests in Syria: they have a small naval base there. It should not surprise us that Russia has from time to time delivered weapons to Syria. It should not surprise us if Russia vetoes any UN resolution to do anything in Syria; after all, the US and Israel thwarted the UN General Assembly in preventing Nicaragua from getting reparations.

I believe the use of soft targets was originated for Nicaragua. It is a US invention.

Those who sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind.

The US has, with its ‘red line’ statement, put itself in an awkward position. It is not reasonable to think that the Assad regime can be forced to yield power. It is not reasonable to think that the US can make anything much happen on the ground in Syria without massive intervention. It appears that President Obama will limit his ‘unblurring of the red line‘ with a couple of days of missile strikes. Clearly, no innocent civilians will be hit (cynicism deliberate) in this action.

Perhaps I should end this with some dumb questions.

Will any action be approved by the UN to stop the conflict in Syria?

Will a couple of days of missile strikes change the conflict in Syria? Tilt the balance of power?

Have we learned anything from confrontations with Iraq, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, have we learned anything at all?

They are all two-letter answers: NO.

So, Mr. Obama, owning a situation you cannot resolve and promised to fix (chemical red line), you now have no choice but to go and sow the wind yet one more time. May God have mercy on us all.

Lessons from the Past?

Dalton McGuinty made two interesting flip-flops which cost him dearly. He started work on two gas-electric generating plants, and then cancelled them to save four plus one seats. Since then, the flak has been unending, as the cancellation costs become increasingly revealed.

Kathleen Wynne is a savvy politician, as presumably is Mitzie Hunter. Hunter ran in the Scarborough by-election held in Ontario on August 1. Hunter was part of a city council-appointed panel that previously recommended that Toronto build an LRT rather than a subway along the Sheppard Avenue corridor. However, Hunter campaigned on a subway for Scarborough, and Wynne supported her. Now we find that there isn’t going to be enough money for a subway. (There was enough for an LRT, which would be longer, with more stations, serving more people, and about half-full by 2025.)

So, did Wynne and Hunter, and the Ontario Liberals, do a flip-flop to win a by-election? This article seems to say that they did. Is the entire Scarborough transit situation now at a dead stop? This article says it is, and that all the money needed isn’t going to be there. And, that that was clear right from the beginning: if Scarbourough gets a subway, some of that money gets diverted to the Eglinton LRT.

The dumb question is this: have we just had demonstrated that, even with a new leader, the Ontario Liberals have not learned this lesson from the past? Will the damage continue, as costs come out and delays to transit improvements go on and on?

Bixi: debts, anyone?

In this news article, the Bixi bike system’s owner “has provided the City of Toronto with a network of bikes throughout the downtown core.” Apparently, trips of less than thirty minutes will be free. One picks up a bike, prepares to pay (credit card), and drives to another Bixi station. There are 80 locations, 1000 bikes, and 1500 slots to put them in.

Frequent users have more convenient options. Details are in the above-linked web page.

Apparently, everywhere Bixi runs, it is subsidized. “In cities across North America — New York, Minneapolis and Chattanooga among others — Bixi was launched and continues to run through government subsidies and grants.” However Toronto was told that “it could break even — and maybe turn a profit — with 1,000 bikes and 80 stations without a dime of city money. All the city had to do was guarantee a start-up loan.” You can find this promise here. In this article you will also find that the city is being urged to take Bixi over, as it is losing money and has not repaid its (actually our) loan. We, the city of Toronto, guaranteed a $3.9 million loan.

Now Bixi wants us to pay for an expansion to 3,000 bikes, and seems to think Toronto will pay for this, even though council has made it clear that we will not. Allowing the company to fail is an option; the assets in Toronto are estimated in the order of a million dollars. We’ll be stuck with the rest of the loan, I guess.

To make this more interesting, Bixie now wants the TTC to partner with it. You can find the details here. As any Torontonian knows, the TTC is absolutely strapped for cash, trying for transit expansion, changing its mind re LRT versus subway. Which is a subject for another post.

Now for the dumb questions. Exactly how did we get into this mess? Bixi is subsidized everywhere else, and losing money here. Could this not have been predicted? Bixi wants us to triple-down on our bets, by multiplying up the number of bikes, and presumably stations, by three. Is there any reason to believe in economies of scale here, or will the losses simply multiply up as well? Should the TTC scrape money away from other projects, badly needed extensions, for Bixi bikes? Want to lend them more money? Debts, anyone?

When is a Peace Initiative not an initiative?

I must remind all readers: criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism. Praise of Israel isn’t Semitism, either. I have little stomache for what’s happening in Palestine, and that is not a secret.

Recent developments include Benjamin Netanyahu indicating he is willing to consider an Arab 2002 peace plan. You will note that this is about ten years of settlement building too late.

As part of this, it was announced that some 104 Palestinian prisoners would be released. In fact, the first bunch, to be released August 13, will only include 26 pisoners.

Just to make sure there are no misunderstandings, the Palestinians have been told that there will be no preconditions to the talks. Ceasing settlement building has always been a precondition.

Just to be sure there is no progress, the Israeli government has decided to make legal three new settlements, which means they get subsidies. Click here to read this.

To quote BBC News, About 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. ‘Settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this‘.

So, now for the first dumb question’s answer. When is a Peace Initiative not an initiative? When it is self-sabotaged by those who claim to be initiating it.

Second dumb question: given the progress to date, what is the likely future evolution of Palestine?

The Final Solution for Palestine has been underway for ages. Roadblocks. Occasional invasions. Prevention of importation of repair materials afterward. Withheld taxes. Power outages. Checkpoints. Settlements. Shortages.

I can be forgiven for concluding that the intended end result is a jail- or slum- ghetto-like existence for those Palestinians condemned to remain in what is laughably called their ‘country.’