24 July, 2014

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: the Heretics Speak Truth to Power

In my pre-libertarian years, I have to admit that despite my complete ignorance about the issue of violence in the land of Palestine, back then I still would have not hesitated to give my opinion about it if asked.  It was as if I somehow knew with confidence what was going on in Palestine and who the good and the bad guys were.  I guess it was  my subconscious memory at work, the information that was fed to me by the Western media over many years without me even asking for it and without ever giving it a second thought.  It was like second nature, things that I had heard accidentally over and over for so many times have become the truth.  Perhaps this is a solid example and a proof that media propaganda can be so effective, whether we are paying attention to it or not?

Having been inspired by the Ron Paul Revolution over the years, I have encountered the issue of Palestine on many occasions and it naturally became a part of my long libertarian educational journey.  There is a wealth of information and disinformation about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict online.  Much of it is pure propaganda from both sides.  However, I have found that the best and most truthful sources come from whistle-blowers and other individuals and groups, who at some point had a change of heart and are just going against the prescribed conventional wisdom prescribed by their national leaders.

My main intent with this post is to share some of the sources that I have come to trust when it comes to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  I hope that everyone will give them a chance and find out what these people have to say, and then, combined with the usual everyday propaganda on this issue, decide for yourself what to believe.

Let me begin by recommending Miko Peled, the General's Son, whose deeply sad personal story and an excellent but shocking historical presentation had completely changed my conventional understanding of the conflict.  Not only that, but it also presented me with the solution which I have fully embraced ever since.  But more on that a little later.  His one hour long video presentation is definitely a must watch.

Next, there is nothing more credible than a growing number of Israeli soldiers and veterans (such as here, here, here, and here) who, having had participated in brutal oppression of Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza, now condemn actions of their government, and join in a peaceful cause by the name Breaking the Silence for exposing the Israeli public to the harsh realities of everyday life in the occupied territories of Palestine.  You can see more photos of their educational work on their Facebook page.

Mosab Hassan Yousef is a Palestinian and son of the Hamas leader and founder Sheikh Hassan Yousef, who having had been presented with evidence of violence of his organization, had a change of heart.  He then betrayed Hamas and spied for Israel in order to help prevent dozens of suicide attacks and saved countless lives of innocent people, and is now working on exposing the Hamas as the evil organization it really is.  He wrote a book titled Son of Hamas, and his highly recommended YouTube presentation exposing the truth about Islamic extremism of Hamas can be seen here.

Gideon Levy, an Israeli journalist on a lifelong mission of reporting about the Israeli occupation to Israeli readers who have no idea about what is happening in the occupied territories.  This most hated man by his own people in Israel says: "Terrorism is a weapon used by the weak.  It is a terrible weapon and I am completely against it.  But I understand where it comes from.  It comes from despair." ...  "I often feel ashamed of what is being done in my name.  I feel really guilty towards the Palestinians.  I think we are doing terrible things to them."  ...  "There should be a new intifada.  To remind the world and the Israelis there is a problem.  I'd completely understand the Palestinians if they started and intifada.  Israel has left them with no other option.  I can't imagine what the Israelis would do if they were under such an occupation.  The Palestinians have got nothing without fighting for it. They must fight."  Please watch the Al Jazeera documentary of Gideon Levy titled Going Against the Grain here.

Jewish peace organization Neturei Karta - the Orthodox Jews whose protests (such as here, here, and here) and educational rallies (such as here, here, and here) in major cities around the world remain completely unreported in the media.

All these so called heretics and traitors of their own kind speak truth to power, and are naturally disowned and ignored by their own sides.

So what did I learn from these muzzled, hated, and ignored voices?  One thing that I learned is that what people are usually arguing about when they are discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about which of the two sides is more evil, according to whatever recent or past action they had done.  I find myself drawn in this blame game by both the pro-Israeli and the pro-Palestinian opposition, every time I get to talk about it.  However, counting points on which side did what evil thing yesterday is like talking about symptoms of a disease rather than about its cause, and this tit for tat countering of each other's actions by Israelis and Palestinians only furthers the conflict and does nothing to resolve it.

The root cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as so many of Israeli whistle-blowers have said on camera and are campaigning for to end, is the military occupation. Therefore they all agree that the bare minimum solution is for Israel to act unilaterally by ending the military occupation of Gaza and West Bank.  This means lifting the Gaza siege, bringing to an end building of Jewish settlements in West Bank, letting the Palestinians determine their own destiny, and working with them politically in establishing a permanent peace through a one or a two state solution.

But what of the evil Hamas?  Will they not then come out freely and destroy Israel as they vowed?  By Israel acting unilaterally and giving Palestinians back their dignity and a chance to determine their own future, Hamas would lose its purpose and would quickly become marginalized by the honest and peaceful Palestinians, first to a point of a small gang, and then eventually to the point of disappearance.

We should also understand that Israel's running of Gaza concentration camp and keeping and expanding of Jewish settlements in West Bank by taking even more Palestinian land and separating their communities by high walls and roads for Israelis only to travel on, only benefits Hamas as the military occupation by Israel is the sole reason for the existence of Hamas in the first place.  Hamas thrives on Israel's oppression of Palestinians, enabling it to wield greater political power and oppress and radicalize the innocent people living in Gaza and West Bank.

It is equally important to understand that this arrangement also benefits the Israeli militarist government and its military industrial complex, as the Israel's politicians are able to wield more political power, manipulate the propaganda machine to keep honest and hard working Israelis in line, and continue to give out new weapons orders and award arms contracts to their corporate cronies.  It should therefore be no wonder that Israeli government was instrumental in financing the establishment of Hamas.  Hamas on one side and the Israeli militarist government and its military industrial complex on the other, is like a marriage made in heaven.  Weaken or bring one down, the other is sure to suffer from loss of power and influence.

So in order to really address the root cause of occupation and bring a lasting peace in Palestine, there must first come a change of attitude in Israel's government.  The only way to bring that change is by creating both an internal and an external pressure on Israeli regime.  The internal pressure on Israeli government must come from the Israeli public and prominent professionals from all walks of life within their society.  To nurture and grow this pressure, it requires continual and tireless efforts of activists, like the people that were mentioned above, to continue educating the public and provide leadership in organizing and delivering pressure on the Israeli government.

Such significant internal action by the Israeli people will also help in bringing the Israeli-Palestinian issue to the world's attention and help put pressure the international community, especially on vital Israeli allies, to condemn and pull away their financial and political support from Israeli militarist government, eventually forcing it to reevaluate its Zionist policy towards Palestinians.

I would like to see this eventually go a step further, where the Israeli government would in time be made to also correct the injustices of the past.  Contrary to what we hear today that Israelis and Palestinians cannot live together in one country, the overwhelming historical evidence proves otherwise.  Palestinians and Israelis have lived next to each others for many centuries, and it can all happen again.  For that reason I am in favor of the view espoused by the General's Son that it is only fair that Palestinians should eventually have their right of return to their entire homeland of Palestine fulfilled.  After ending the occupation and allowing the two peoples to communicate, learn from each others, trade, and learn to trust each others again, there should come a time when Palestinians and Jews will begin to move around freely and settle wherever they desire in all of Palestine.

Theirs is a struggle which is not unique in the world.  The history of the world is full of examples of essentially the same problem.  Of mixed up people living on a stretch of land, with various slight differences that are barely distinguishable, having had fought countless wars for domination through rivers of blood, enslavement, and expulsion.  In this 21st century the humanity owes itself to learn from the mistakes of the past and begin resolving differences through peaceful means.  But we may only become capable of accomplishing such feats once when we evolve enough to respect and value individual human life and so much so that we will keep the powers away from those who desire to make decisions on individual's behalf.

14 July, 2014

Public vs Private Land Ownership: The Case for More Affordable, More Abundant, and More Efficient Land Use in Hong Kong

One of my ongoing personal frustrations about Hong Kong has been in regards to my inability to start my own property development firm here, despite the fact that this industry is highly lucrative in the territory.  Yes, I too quickly figured out where the best money is!  Over time I have learned the reasons for this situation, as is perhaps most prominently detailed in the now famous book titled "Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong" written by a local industry expert Alice Poon and also in "Uneasy Partners: The Conflict Between Public Interest and Private Profit in Hong Kong" by Leo Goodstadt.  A short review of these two books with insights as to the inner workings of the property development cartel can be read here.

What, in my view, many people in Hong Kong continually and erroneously identify as the solution to the territory's high property prices, is the need for government to make more land available for development.  However, this has not been a successful strategy thus far, as the property cartel is keeping a firm grip over the land procurement in Hong Kong.  Government works in collusion with the cartel, so that land lease is done in such ways so that it benefits the cartel and ensures that in most situations no other players can enter the game.  This kind of arrangement of government in bed with big business is clearly detailed the above mentioned books.  It is also summed up in this 2013 post.  However, in my view, it too still fails to spell out the right solution, by concluding that the Hong Kong government should end the collusion with developers and reduce high land price with which it jacks up its revenues.  Why is this solution wrong?  It is wrong because so long as the politicians have the power to sell favors to the highest bidders it is destined to keep happening, and no amount of legislation will be able to prevent it.

In my earlier post, I have already written about the right solution to this problem, through addressing a related problem of ever growing waiting lines for subsidized public housing, despite scores of empty public housing units being available and offered for habitation, all allegedly due to existence of choice (three apartment choices).

The following segment of my recent video interview with professor David Friedman during his recent visit to Hong Kong is an expert's confirmation that what causes Hong Kong's high property prices cannot be remedied by tinkering with symptoms, but only by eliminating the cause.

Son of famous economists Milton Friedman and Rose Director and famous in his own right as a renowned libertarian thinker, David Friedman is also an author, economist, physicist, and legal scholar, and he is currently a professor of law at university of Santa Clara.  He has written several books, most notable of which is “The Machinery of Freedom” and which talks about his version of free society, the so-called consequentialist anarcho-capitalism.

Upon my question of possible effects of private land ownership in Hong Kong, professor Friedman responded:

"It would be less scarce, because you would have multiple owners, and there would first be an incentive to make more land – which has happened in Hong Kong, of course. Noticeable parts of Hong Kong are land, where they filled in the water. And in addition to that if you add people competing for land, you would tend to get more efficient uses of land, and so forth. I don't know much about Hong Kong, but you were telling me earlier that in practice almost all the development is done by a small number of firms that worked together and have an effective cartel over the industry. And if that's right, it's unlikely that they are using the land in its most efficient fashion."

Watch the video segment below or see it on YouTube here.

So the remedy to Hong Kong's high property prices lays in private land ownership.  To paraphrase the words of Milton Friedman, government should only own the land its buildings are standing on, nothing else.  If all land in Hong Kong is private, then there would be no obstacles for all sorts of property development firms to arise and compete with their products and services, delivering abundance of best housing at most affordable and most competitive prices that a free market could offer.

10 July, 2014

Hong Kong's Public Housing Waiting Problem: Freedom is the Answer

Background information:

Public housing in Hong Kong is a set of mass housing programmes through which the Government of Hong Kong provides affordable housing for lower-income residents. Learn more on Wikipedia.

Not only are the low income people offered subsidized housing, but they are given choices in doing so.  While waiting for public housing to be available, they are given up to three offers to choose from.  If a family is not happy with the first available choice offered (usually due to bad location or due to being an old housing that was occupied before), they may choose to wait for the second and third public housing offers to become available, so that they can pick the one choice that suits them best (hopefully a shiny new apartment in a brand new housing estate with fine facilities, close proximity to subway, shopping malls, parks, playgrounds, and their workplace).  All that at taxpayer's expense.  Isn't that nice!

The problem presented before the Hong Kong Legislative Council (LEGCO):

The problem in this kind of multiple choice public housing scheme naturally becomes the fact that many older and less desirable flats in public housing remain empty, despite the fact that there is an ever growing list of low income families on the waiting list, all waiting for more housing to be built by the government so that they can have their two or three choices to choose from, especially if the first offer was shabby and old like this one.  So LEGCO has recently assembled a Panel on Housing meeting for submissions of ideas by public and business sector for consideration in dealing with this growing problem of long waiting lines and increasing numbers of empty public housing.

Freedom solution:

Had I been present in the Panel on Housing meeting, my speech (limited to just 2 minutes) would have been something along the following lines.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are here to discuss the problem of accepting waiting offers in subsidized public housing.  This problem is caused by and exists solely because of government meddling into housing by keeping tight land supply through collusion with property developers.  A couple of very popular books amongst local readers have shed a light on this chronic problem in Hong Kong.
The effect of this practice of crony capitalism in housing has been the sky high property prices and armies of low wage earners who are unable to afford decent affordable housing.  Therefore, what is being considered here today is the treatment of the unwanted effects, instead of addressing the underlying disease.  When you subsidize something, you are destined to get more of it.  Worse still, when you subsidize something and provide choices, you are also destined to create vast amounts of unwanted waste.
While the solution to this waste in public housing can be remedied by a reduction in public housing choices or by building more housing in order to allow for more choices (to an even greater pleasure of developers laughing all the way to the bank and of politicians securing their cushy seats), the problem of the continual growth in number of families sitting on the subsidized public housing waiting list is bound to remain.  Therefore, the real subject for discussion in these fine cushy chambers should be the elimination of the underlying disease by phasing out the collectivized public housing and allowing the free market to operate.
Existence of public housing is also wrong on the moral level as well.  People are not born with rights to housing. Each individual has a right to his life, right to the fruits of one's own labor, and liberty to do with his life as he so choose. Understanding and accepting this universal and moral truth of humanity, helps one to properly determine and act in the accordance of what the proper role of government ought to be. The purpose of government in that respect is to secure the basic rights of life, liberty, and property, nothing else! The Hong Kong government has failed its people in many of these areas, and its determination to take on even more roles in people's lives, such as that of continuation of running the subsidized housing scheme, instead of focusing on securing the essential liberties, only perpetuates HK people's problems.  Let's return freedom and fruits of individual labor back to their proper owners by abolishing the Hong Kong Housing Authority and taking power away from politicians to award contracts to their crony special interests.
So long as the free market mechanism - that wonderful system which enabled the creation and widespread consumption of glorious wealth amongst all segments of HK society - so long as it continues to be prevented to operate in housing, and therefore as the people of Hong Kong continue to remain un-free, the lines for subsidized housing will continue to grow longer and longer, politicians will continue to gain more and more political powers to act on people's behalf, bringing more and more people closer to the point when standing in line for free stuff is better than working for it.