Thursday, 16 November 2017

How do you solve a problem like Syria?

Syria's civil war has been going on for half a decade, but despite the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees and the seemingly endless suffering that the people of Syria have endured, neither the ruling Syrian regime under Bashar Al-Assad nor the various factions opposing him are backing down. As the war has dragged on, it has morphed into not just a civil war, but a proxy war between competing international powers. The Americans and Sunni Arab Gulf states support the rebel groups while Russia and Iran have backed Assad's regime. The only thing that they have been able to agree on during the course of the war has been the need to defeat the so-called Islamic State terrorist group. Now, at long last, the death cult of ISIL is all but defeated in Syria, but the war continues. Is there any end in sight? Not unless those party to the conflict can reach an agreement that gives all of them at least some of what they want.

I believe I know what the framework for such an agreement could potentially look like. It certainly isn't what I'd like to see happen, but based on the realities on the ground, I think it would be the best way of ending the conflict. The biggest issue of the conflict is, of course, who should rule Syria. Both the Russians and Iranians would like Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad to continue in power. They see him as a key ally in maintaining and advancing their interests. Russia in particular wants to keep its naval base in the region of Latakia,which borders the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Moreover, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin does not want to lose another ally in the Middle East after the fall of Libya's Moammar Ghaddafi. For its part, Iran seeks to expand its power sphere in the Middle East and wants to use Syria as a base from which to attack Israel, hoping to eventually annihilate the Jewish State. In fact, it has been reported that the Islamic Republic has begun building a base just thirty kilometers from the Israeli-Syrian border. Israel obviously doesn't want the Shiite regime on its doorstep, especially since they already have to put up with Iran's proxy militia, Hezbollah, on its northern border with Lebanon.

Both the Americans and their Sunni Arab allies would like to see Assad removed from power in Syria, thereby curbing Iranian influence in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia in particular is now battling Iran for the role of regional hegemon. Not only is the kingdom supporting rebel movements in Syria, but it is also heavily involved in Yemen's civil war as it attempts to destroy the so-called Houthi militia, which is backed by Iran and now controls the northern part of the country, including the capital, Sanaa.

I believe a solution can be found that accommodates the interests of the U.S. and her Israeli and Sunni Arab allies on the one hand and the interests of Iran and Russia on the other. No one will get exactly what they want, but everyone will get something. This solution would see the region of Latakia split off from the rest of Syria. As I mentioned before, Latakia is the home of Russia's naval base. It is also where Assad maintains the bulk of his popular support from his fellow Alawite Muslims, who form the overwhelming majority of the population in the Syrian coastal region. So part of the solution to the Syrian conflict would see Assad leaving Damascus to take up residence in Latakia and ruling over a new state therein. This would allow Russia and Iran to maintain their alliance with Assad and would also allow Russia to keep its all-important naval base in the region.

The rest of Syria would then be free of Assad and his regime. Israel would not face the threat of another front opened up against it and the U.S. and her Sunni Arab allies get what they want in the form of a government in most of Syria that is more favorable to their interests. But what would a new government of Syria look like? Taking into consideration Syria's multi-ethnic, multi-religious character, I believe the logical way forward for the country is a form of federalism or at least a governmental structure that would allow autonomy for minority communities, especially the Druze and the Kurds. The country's constitution would have to be re-written to reflect the country's diversity rather than giving Arabs and Islam supremacy in the way it does today.

In a nutshell, it is only through compromise by which the war in Syria will ultimately end. Indeed, the most powerful opposing parties to the conflict, the U.S. and Russia, have already agreed that there is no military solution.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Toronto Marks 20 Years of Amalgamation...And 20 Years of Decline

I was prompted to write this blog when I saw a Facebook post by Mayor John Tory commemorating 20 years since the different parts of Toronto were amalgamated into one "megacity" as it was then called. I honestly think that this is a grim anniversary, because ever since the amalgamation, which many if not most Torontonians rejected, Toronto has been in steady decline.

Before amalgamation, the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto was composed of several separate municipalities: North York, East York, Scarborough, Etobicoke, and of course, the old City of Toronto. Enter Ontario Premier Mike Harris. He decided to put all of them together, whether Torontonians liked it or not. Harris was hardly a friend to Toronto. In fact, I would say he had a big hate-on for this city. It's no surprise, then, that he downloaded a whole bunch of costs onto the city without downloading additional funds. He also removed the provincial subsidy for the TTC, which is now one of the least subsidized transit systems in North America.

In 2003, the Liberals deposed the Tories as Ontario's governing party, but they didn't undo the damage that Premier Harris and his government did to the city. Quite the contrary, they did even more damage by giving the stiffs at City Hall more power to raise taxes and fees. Ever since then, the city's spendthrift mayors and councillors have been pigging out at the trough. Year after year, Torontonians see the fees and taxes they paid go up and the level and quality of city services go down as their elected officials recklessly spend taxpayer dollars on their own pet projects.

To make matters worse, amalgamation sewed the seeds of division between the old City of Toronto and its suburbs. To this day, folks in the suburbs complain about how they are shortchanged by "downtown elites", especially when it comes to public transit. Indeed, the further out from the downtown core you go, the worse public transit gets. Toronto's transit system remains stuck in the 1980's. At the same time, the city's population has grown tremendously. As a result, Toronto's buses, streetcars and subways are severely overcrowded and much of the city is under-served by the TTC.

I would say that Toronto is still a great city. But after twenty years of amalgamation, its people are divided, its transit system is woefully inadequate, home prices have skyrocketed and traffic is simply a nightmare.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

All Peoples Have the Right to Self-Determination, Not Just the Palestinians

I believe that all peoples have the right to self-determination. Unfortunately, this is not a sentiment shared by the overwhelming majority of the world's leaders. I just can't get over how hypocritical the international community is when it comes to deciding who is worthy of self-determination and who isn't. There are countless independence movements all over the world. Yet, the broad international consensus seems to be that only one group of people are worthy of a country of their own - the Palestinians.

Now I'm not saying that the Palestinians don't have a right to their own state, otherwise I would be the hypocrite. What I do wonder though is, why do they get preferential treatment from the international community? Why are the Palestinians more deserving of an independent country than say, the Kurds, the Catalans, the Tibetans, the Balochis, the Scots, the Welsh and so forth? What makes the Palestinians so special? Well, there is one characteristic that distinguishes the Palestinian independence movement from all the rest: the desire to gain independence by destroying another country, namely Israel. To the best of my knowledge, no other independence movement seeks the destruction of another country. The Kurds do not seek the destruction of Iraq, Iran, Turkey or Syria, the countries in which most of them now reside. The Catalans do not seek the destruction of Spain, nor do the Tibetans seek the destruction of China. So basically, the international community has decided that the only people worthy of independence are the people whose leaders are hell bent on gaining self-determination by depriving another people, the Jewish people, of the same fundamental right.

They've also concluded that most of the other peoples fighting for independence have no right to it. This is why the Kurds are currently under attack by the armies of several countries. It's why the leaders of Catalonia have been arrested by Spanish authorities. And it's why the pleas of peoples like the Tibetans and the Baluchis, both of whom are the victims of genocide, fall on deaf ears in international forums like the United Nations. If only the Tibetans and Balochis could blame Israel for the crimes against them. Then, they might actually get some attention from the likes of the U.N., whose members would undoubtedly pass a pile of resolutions against the Jewish state.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

The World After World War III

Those of you who have read my blog posts or who know me personally probably know that I have a very grim view of the future - at least the near future. I'm speaking of course about the upcoming Third World War, which I believe is inevitable within the next ten to twenty years. With Donald Trump at the head of the most world's most powerful military arsenal, I believe the war will take place sooner rather than later. But what I don't talk about a lot is how the post-WWIII will look like. Therefore, I am going to use this blog post to talk about what kind of world I think survivors of the impending Third World War and their offspring can expect to live in.

The Immediate Post-War Period

As anyone can imagine, WWIII will devastate our planet. But it won't destroy it. About a third of humankind will be wiped as will an equal portion of plant and animal species. In the first decade or two after WWIII ends, another billion people will perish from famine and disease as will more plant and animal species. The devastation that the war brings will take its toll on the world for a full generation after it ends. It will take that long for populations around the world to re-establish communications and trade links with each other, and to re-establish civil governance throughout the globe. By the end of this generation, a new, one-world government will be established that will oversee the rebuilding of planet Earth.

The Rebuilding Period

Upon pacifying all corners of the world, our new leaders will set about creating a new global society based on peace, sustainable growth, respect for each other and for the environment.

An End to the Use of Fossil Fuels

One extremely significant decision that the post-WWIII leaders of the world will make is to stop using fossil fuels in order to power the word's economy. In the decades after the immediate post-war period, Earth's environment will begin to recover rapidly as humans end the use of oil, gas, coal and other non-renewable sources of energy. Technological advancements made during WWIII will enhance humanity's ability to live without fossil fuels.

An End to the Killing of Animals for Food

Another significant development that will emerge in the post-WWIII world will be an end to animal agriculture and the killing of animals for food. Again, technology developed during the war will allow humanity to make this change. But no, all of us won't suddenly decide to go vegan. Rather, technology will exist that will allow us to grow meat by simply using animal proteins and cells. In fact, this technology is being developed today, though it is still in very early stages. After WWIII, however, we will have mastered the ability to supply ourselves with meat without needing to hunt animals or raise them only to slaughter them for their flesh.

A New Era of World Government

What I think will be the most important change to our world after the devastation of the Third World War will be an end to an era in which nation-states act both internally and externally with impunity. Shortly after the end of WWIII, all of humanity will be united under one global government. This is not to say that nation-states will no longer exist. Rather, they will each become units of a global confederation whose mandate it will be to create and enforce international law and keep the peace between the world's nation-states. Now of course, we've already had organizations with similar mandates, such as the League of Nations, which was created after WWI, or the United Nations, created after WWII and still in existence. So what will be so different about the network of nation-states that emerges after WWIII? The simple answer is that unlike previous attempts at keeping nation-states in line, the new world government will have a military force of its own that it can use to enforce international law. It will no longer have to depend on the armies of nation-states. In fact, national military forces will eventually cease to exist as will military conflict altogether.

Humanity's New Golden Age

After a number of generations, Earth and its people will have fully recovered from the devastation of WWIII, culminating in a new golden age of world peace and prosperity. Global poverty will have been eliminated, and although capitalism will still exist and some will still have more than others, no one will be in a situation in which they cannot meet at least their basic needs. Disease will still exist, but no one will go without necessary and appropriate care. No more will humanity harm the environment. By the time of the golden age, Earth will be in the best shape it's ever been in since before the age of fossil fuels. In fact, by this time new technology will have been developed that will be able to resurrect the plant and animal species that were rendered extinct because of humanity's lack of respect for the environment. And for the first time in human history, democracy will span the entire globe. No longer will dictators be able to rule over the masses, because anyone who attempts to impose tyranny over a population will be almost immediately crushed by the forces of international law, enforced by the world's first global government - a government that is itself faithful to the rules of democracy.

The coming of the golden age will also usher in a new era of expansion for the human race. Humans will migrate throughout our solar system and beyond, and I have no doubt that by this time, we will discover that we are not alone in the universe. To sum it all up, we will probably come as close to a utopian world as we'll ever get.


Saturday, 21 October 2017

Kurds Need Support, NOW!

What is happening to the Kurds in Iraq as I write this is absolutely disgusting, to say the least.  This past week, the Iraqi army, supported by Shia militias, overran the province of Kirkuk. Once again, Kurds are being driven from their homes, deprived of their possessions and stripped of their liberty. Once again, they've been abandoned by their allies. Worse, their supposed allies have turned against them. Yet, if it weren't for the Kurds and their Peshmerga forces, the so-called Islamic State could never have been defeated in Iraq. Kurdish forces are also responsible for all but vanquishing ISIL in northeastern Syria, culminating in the recent fall of Raqqa, the terrorist group's proclaimed capital.

Leaders all over the Middle East and especially in Iraq should be kissing the feet of the Kurds, not stepping on them. Without the sacrifices the Kurds made to defeat ISIL, the same leaders who are now pulling out all the stops to prevent the establishment of an independent Kurdish state might themselves have been burned alive or had their heads chopped off at the hands of the Islamic State. But instead of being grateful, the whole region seems to have ganged up on the Kurdish people, while the Kurds' western allies sit idly by and do nothing but blame the victim, criticizing the leaders of Iraq's Kurdish autonomous region for holding a referendum on whether their people should exercise their inalienable right to self-determination by breaking away from the European colonial construct we now know as Iraq.

My question at this point is, who in the international community will come out and support the Kurds' legitimate struggle for independence? Unfortunately, only one world leader has come out in support of the Kurds - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone as Israel has had clandestine ties with the Kurds of Iraq for decades. But this is first time I know of that an Israeli prime minister has publicly come out in support of Kurdish independence. Indeed, Prime Minister Netanyahu has even said that he is encouraging world leaders to support the Kurdish cause. It's nice know that the Kurds have someone rooting for them. But Israel is but one small country and although it punches way above its weight in many respects, it is not a superpower. It cannot, for example, enforce a no-fly zone the same way the U.S. did over Iraqi Kurdistan for many years when Saddam Hussein was still in power. Hence, the Kurds of Iraq will need more support than Israel can give in order to win their struggle for independence. If only they had the kind of support that the Palestinians have managed to garner from the international community.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Stop the War on the Car!

A couple of days ago, I read an article written by the Toronto Sun's Antonella Artuso about how the folks at the City of Toronto intend on shutting down subway parking lots in order to force commuters onto transit (see: City eyes shutting subway parking lots to drive commuters onto transit). It's yet another salvo fired by Toronto City Hall in their seemingly neverending war on the car. I just don't get it. Why can't the stiffs who govern Canada's biggest city and commercial capital get it through their thick skulls that people are going to drive no matter how inconvenient politicians make it for them. How do I know this? Because as long as public transit is slow, inefficient and overcrowded, people who are fortunate enough to have private vehicles will always use them to get where they're going.

The fact of the matter is that people who have the choice would rather get wherever they want to go in a nice, cozy private automobile instead of a smelly, overcrowded bus, streetcar or subway that doesn't take you to your destination without stopping at a bunch of places you don't need to be. So it's very unlikely that these people will switch to public transit no matter how bad the traffic is. And even if some of them do, it'll just make public transit worse by adding more people to an already overcrowded system. I have just about had enough with politicians who worry more about how people get from point A to point B than what they should be worrying about - making it easier to get from place to place in Toronto no matter what means of transportation people use. Besides, if the so-called progressives and social engineers want more people to use public transit, they should concentrate on making that public transit better, not making driving worse.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

I Stand With Kurdistan and Catalonia

Yesterday, the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq held a referendum asking people if the region and adjacent Kurdish territory should become an independent state. On October 1st, people in the Spanish-ruled region of Catalonia will vote in their own referendum on independence. Both the Kurdish and Catalan people face overwhelming odds in their quest for self-determination. In fact, it seems that everyone is dead set against either of these peoples having a country of their own.

The Kurds are being threatened with sanctions and even military force if they attempt to secede from Iraq. Indeed, if the Kurds were to declare independence, they would be surrounded by hostile enemies on all sides. Gee, where have I seen this scenario play out before? Well, 69 years ago, a little country called Israel declared independence. For the first time in two thousand years, the Jewish people had a country to call home. But almost immediately, the neighbouring states attacked the nascent Jewish state, seeking no less than its utter annihilation. The Kurds are basically facing the same almost insurmountable odds that Israel's founders did nearly seven decades ago. Actually, one could argue that the Kurds face even greater odds. Israel ultimately had to fight for its independence and still fights to maintain it to this day, but its establishment had at least been sanctioned by the international community in the form of the United Nations resolution to partition the then British Mandate of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. Moreover, on the eve of declaring independence, Israel received diplomatic recognition from the United States. In contrast, there has never been a resolution at the U.N. calling for the establishment of an independent Kurdish state, at least to the best of my knowledge. And unlike in the case of Israel, the U.S. has come out against Kurdish independence, calling on the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq to cancel the referendum on independence. The only meaningful international support the Kurds have received has been from, guess who? The State of Israel, both officially and unofficially. As a matter of fact, leaders in countries neighbouring the KRG have recently referred to an independent Kurdistan as a "second Israel" (see: Turkey warns Kurds 'Israeli flags won't save you'). In a way, I think they're right, because the rise of an independent Kurdistan would effectively be the second instance in history in which an indigenous people in the Middle East throws off the chains of their Arab, Islamist conquerors and takes back what is rightfully theirs.

Meanwhile in Europe, the Catalans are hoping to achieve their right to self-determination. Fortunately, the Catalans don't face the threat of military force like the Kurds, though it doesn't mean that they don't face consequences for their efforts. Indeed, pro-independence leaders in Catalonia have been threatened with criminal prosecution for trying to bring the independence referendum to fruition, and the Spanish government is doing everything it can to disrupt the vote and prevent it from taking place. But as with the Kurds, the Catalans have very little support from abroad. No country in Europe wants an independent Catalonia, because it could bolster support for an independent Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Brittany, Corsica, etc.

I find the lack of international support for the independence of Kurdistan and Catalonia distressing, not to mention the lack of support for other peoples deserving of independence, like the Tibetans or the West Papuans. Right now, it seems that the only people the international community has deemed worthy of self-determination are the Palestinian people. It should be no surprise, then, that more international attention is paid to the aspirations of the Palestinians than to anyone else seeking self-determination, even if those aspirations include the destruction of another people's state, namely the Jewish people's State of Israel. The drive to annihilate another state is actually unique to the Palestinian national movement, because no other credible movement for self-determination calls for the destruction of another people's country. The Kurds do not call for the destruction of Iraq or any other country in which large Kurdish populations reside. The Catalans do not call for the destruction of Spain. The Tibetans are not intent on eliminating China as a country, nor do the people of West Papua seek the annihilation of Indonesia. And yet, it is the Palestinian movement, the only movement that promotes the extinction of another people's independence, that gets all the love and respect of the international community. I don't know about you, but I see something seriously wrong with this picture.