Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘transportation


Its Mass Transit Plan Dead, Car-Obsessed Beirut Plans More Highways

In Lebanon, there is one car for every two people. Photo credit: objectivised via Flickr (More likely two cars for a single adult person)

Arranging a meeting in Beirut is a complicated affair. With few street addresses, directions are often given according to proximity to major landmarks, usually taking at least one or two phone calls as you close in the location.

Coordinating an exact time is also an art; depending on the day and time — or just dumb luck — the unpredictability of the city’s traffic could mean you arrive an hour late, an hour early, or sometimes, not at all.

There’s a very simple reason for all this gridlock: an insane number of cars.

For a developing country, Lebanon’s car-ownership rates are off the charts, with approximately one car for every two individuals, according to a Harvard University study.

Compare that to Turkey, where there’s one car for every seven people, or South Africa, where there’s one for every five.

All these cars spend hours jammed onto a single north-south artery that runs the length of the 200-kilometer Mediterranean strip connecting Beirut to the cities of Tripoli and Jounieh to the north, and Saida and Tyre in the south.

More than 250,000 make the commute into Beirut for work daily, (in a country of less than 4 million) adding stress to the already overstretched grid. The congestion, found the Harvard study, causes $2 billion per year in lost productivity.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Dr. Tammam Nakkash, a managing partner at TEAM International, an engineering and management consultancy, was one of the original architects of a proposal for a comprehensive Greater Beirut Transport Plan.

The proposal, originally drafted in 1994 amid a flurry of government initiatives to rebuild the city after Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, hinged on a public transport scheme that included bus rapid transit lines and a revival of the city’s destroyed tramways. The plan was divided into short- and long-term phases, and addressed traffic management, corridor improvement and parking.

That plan is now collecting dust in the bowels of the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation.

After a series of amendments and a promise from the World Bank for funding that was ultimately redirected, the project lost steam, eventually hobbling its way into parliament in 2011 and stalling at the cabinet level, where it effectively died.

There was a very myopic vision for public transport,” says Nakkash. “Buses are very easy to procure, but they didn’t think about the difficulties in having the right institutional frameworks — in terms of having private operators, but a public regulator thinking about safety, fair competition, service provision, etc.”

With little hope for a public transport overhaul anytime soon, smaller scale ideas are being floated.

One involves utilizing the country’s system of shared taxis, called “service” cars, which operate sort of like a cross between a bus and a cab, picking up customers according to the route others are already taking.

Passengers hail the taxis and tell the driver their destination; they are then accepted on the basis of whether the other passengers already on board are going that way.  (Mostly in Beirut and large cities such as Tripoli)

The system is widely used and without it life on Beirut’s streets would be worse than it already is.

Fees are set at a flat fare of 2,000 LL ($1.30) for one trip, making it affordable and democratic.  (Compare this fare for half a dollar 2 years ago)

The highly informal service is unregulated, with drivers neither registered as public transport providers and cars not subject to any safety standards or checks. Nakkash says the system could work as a “feeder” network to a broader public transport system if properly regulated.

“The great thing about this service is it increases vehicle occupancy,” he says, “but it follows fixed routes so passengers know where the trip starts and ends, and there should only be specific areas for passenger stops, which again needs enforcement.”

Another option, road widening and the construction of new highways, seems to be getting faster approval for development, but it’s not without controversy.

One new arterial, the Fouad Boutros Highway, already undergoing a feasibility study and set for approval this summer, will see a 13-kilometer, four-lane highway run through the northeastern Achrafiyeh area, and according to Beirut Mayor Bilal Hamad, will alleviate traffic by opening up the northern entrance to the city and in the inner streets of the neighborhood.

Some 3,000 people have signed an online petition against the development, arguing that it will increase traffic and destroy some 30 local heritage buildings, cutting through some of the city’s rare green spaces and groves.

“It is a missing link in the network, it’s true, but that’s the only argument I have heard for the project,” said Nakkash. “But you don’t achieve anything by expanding highways except putting more people on them.”

Resilient Cities is made possible with support from The Rockefeller Foundation.

USA attacked by drones: Sooner than expected…

By 2020, it is estimated that as many as 30,000 drones will be used in US domestic airspace

Drones on domestic surveillance duties are already deployed by police and corporations. In time, they will likely be fitted with missiles and weapons, and hovering over US skies

I have a question. What operations are far less complex and cheaper to execute:

1. Sending kamikazes in commercial airplanes, or

2. Dispatching drones fitted with powerful missiles, and controlled from outside US territories, and targeting  sensitive sites like nuclear centers, depots of chemical weapons, depleted uranium bombs, electrical communication centers….

If your answer is that the second option is far easier to plan and execute, then why Obama is intent on giving ideas to these extremist jihadists, by targeting their potential leaders with drones every week, and using double tap tactics to kill the rescue teams?

 published in the, on Dec. 21, 2012 under: ”

The coming drone attack on America”

“People often ask me, in terms of my argument about “ten steps” that mark the descent to a police state or closed society, at what stage we are.

With the importation of what will be tens of thousands of drones, by both US military and by commercial interests, into US airspace, with a specific mandate to engage in surveillance and with the capacity for weaponization – which is due to begin in earnest at the start of the new year – it means that the police state is now officially here.

In February of this year, Congress passed the FAA Reauthorization Act, with its provision to deploy fleets of drones domestically. Jennifer Lynch, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, notes that this followed a major lobbying effort, “a huge push by […] the defense sector” to promote the use of drones in American skies: 30,000 of them are expected to be in use by 2020, some as small as hummingbirdsmeaning that you won’t necessarily see them, tracking your meeting with your fellow-activists, with your accountant or your congressman, or filming your cruising the bars or your assignation with your lover, as its video-gathering whirs.

Others will be as big as passenger planes. Business-friendly media stress their planned abundant use by corporations: police in Seattle have already deployed them.

An unclassified US air force document reported by CBS (pdf) news expands on this unprecedented and unconstitutional step – one that formally brings the military into the role of controlling domestic populations on US soil, which is the bright line that separates a democracy from a military oligarchy.

(The US constitution allows for the deployment of National Guard units by governors, who are answerable to the people; but this system is intended, as is posse comitatus, to prevent the military from taking action aimed at US citizens domestically.)

The air force document explains that the air force will be overseeing the deployment of its own military surveillance drones within the borders of the US; that it may keep video and other data it collects with these drones for 90 days without a warrant – and will then, retroactively, determine if the material can be retained – which does away for good with the fourth amendment in these cases.

While the drones are not supposed to specifically “conduct non-consensual surveillance on on specifically identified US persons”, according to the document, the wording allows for domestic military surveillance of non-“specifically identified” people (that is, a group of activists or protesters) and it comes with the important caveat, also seemingly wholly unconstitutional, that it may not target individuals “unless expressly approved by the secretary of Defense”.

In other words, the Pentagon can now send a domestic drone to hover outside your apartment window, collecting footage of you and your family, if the secretary of Defense approves it. Or it may track you and your friends and pick up audio of your conversations, on your way to protest or vote or talk to your representative, if you are not “specifically identified”, a determination that is so vague as to be meaningless.

What happens to those images, that audio? “Distribution of domestic imagery” can go to various other government agencies without your consent, and that imagery can, in that case, be distributed to various government agencies; it may also include your most private moments and most personal activities. The authorized “collected information may incidentally include US persons or private property without consent”. Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation told CBS:

In some records that were released by the air force recently … under their rules, they are allowed to fly drones in public areas and record information on domestic situations.

This document accompanies a major federal push for drone deployment this year in the United States, accompanied by federal policies to encourage law enforcement agencies to obtain and use them locally, as well as by federal support for their commercial deployment. That is to say: now HSBC, Chase, Halliburton etc can have their very own fleets of domestic surveillance drones. The FAA recently established a more efficient process for local police departments to get permits for their own squadrons of drones.

Given the Department of Homeland Security militarization of police departments, once the circle is completed with San Francisco or New York or Chicago local cops having their own drone fleet – and with Chase, HSBC and other banks having hired local police, as I reported here last week – the meshing of military, domestic law enforcement, and commercial interests is absolute. You don’t need a messy, distressing declaration of martial law.

And drone fleets owned by private corporations means that a first amendment right of assembly is now over: if Occupy is massing outside of a bank, send the drone fleet to surveil, track and harass them. If citizens rally outside the local Capitol? Same thing.

As one of my readers put it, the scary thing about this new arrangement is deniability: bad things done to citizens by drones can be denied by private interests – “Oh, that must have been an LAPD drone” – and LAPD can insist that it must have been a private industry drone. For where, of course, will be the accountability from citizens buzzed or worse by these things?

Domestic drone use is here, and the meshing has begun: local cops in Grand Forks, North Dakota called in a DHS Predator drone – the same make that has caused hundreds of civilian casualties in Pakistan – over a dispute involving a herd of cattle. The military roll out in process and planned, within the US, is massive: the Christian Science Monitor reports that a total of 110 military sites for drone activity are either built or will be built, in 39 states. That covers America.

We don’t need a military takeover: with these capabilities on US soil and this air force white paper authorization for data collection, the military will be effectively in control of the private lives of American citizens. And these drones are not yet weaponized.

“I don’t think it’s crazy to worry about weaponized drones. There is a real consensus that has emerged against allowing weaponized drones domestically. The International Association of Chiefs of Police has recommended against it,” warns Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the ACLU, noting that there is already political pressure in favor of weaponization:

“At the same time, it is inevitable that we will see [increased] pressure to allow weaponized drones. The way that it will unfold is probably this: somebody will want to put a relatively ‘soft’ nonlethal weapon on a drone for crowd control. And then things will ratchet up from there.”

And the risk of that? The New America Foundation’s report on drone use in Pakistan noted that the Guardian had confirmed 193 children’s deaths from drone attacks in seven years. It noted that for the deaths of ten militants, 1,400 civilians with no involvement in terrorism also died. Not surprisingly, everyone in that region is traumatized: children scream when they hear drones. An NYU and Stanford Law School report notes that drones “terrorize citizens 24 hours a day”.

If US drones may first be weaponized with crowd-control features, not lethal force features, but with no risk to military or to police departments or DHS, the playing field for freedom of assembly is changed forever. So is our private life, as the ACLU’s Stanley explains:

“Our biggest concerns about the deployment of drones domestically is that they will be used to create pervasive surveillance networks. The danger would be that an ordinary individual once they step out of their house will be monitored by a drone everywhere they walk or drive. They may not be aware of it. They might monitored or tracked by some silent invisible drone everywhere they walk or drive.”

“So what? Why should they worry?” I asked.

“Your comings and goings can be very revealing of who you are and what you are doing and reveal very intrusive things about you – what houses of worship you are going to, political meetings, particular doctors, your friends’ and lovers’ houses.”

I mentioned the air force white paper. “Isn’t the military not supposed to be spying on Americans?” I asked.

“Yes, the posse comitatus act passed in the 19th century forbids a military role in law enforcement among Americans.”

What can we do if we want to oppose this? I wondered. According to Stanley, many states are passing legislation banning domestic drone use.

Once again, in the fight to keep America a republic, grassroots activism is pitched in an unequal contest against a militarized federal government.





January 2023

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