Saturday, June 2, 2007

Putin's Critics: A Web Strategy

"We are banned from TV, so activists put videos of rallies on YouTube."
-Garry Kasparov

During my years as a hero of the chess-crazed Soviet Union, I appeared regularly on state-controlled television and in newspapers. What I would give for such access today! Since I retired from chess two years ago to enter a new fray, the fight for democracy in Russia against the increasingly authoritarian rule of President Vladimir Putin, traditional media have been closed to me. Instead, I've gained an appreciation for a less-traditional means of communication: the Internet.
Indeed, the Web is quickly becoming the last refuge of dissent in my country. With print, television, and radio almost entirely under state control, directly or indirectly, the Internet is a vital resource for communication and organization. But low Internet penetration means that many ordinary Russians cannot yet hear our pro-democracy message. And lately even the Web has become a target of the Kremlin, with its desire to control and monitor our every thought and deed.
Every politician knows that no matter how valuable your message, you can't succeed if you can't get that message out. In a free-market society with an independent media, that access depends on the quality of your message, the amount of money you have, and your public relations skills. In a totalitarian society, every message is directly shaped or thoroughly checked by the regime.
The current state of Russian media perfectly illustrates the famous A.J. Liebling quote: "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." Every significant media outlet is controlled by Putin's loyal band of oligarchs. Topics, people, even specific words, are banned from the airwaves.
Indeed, one of the first things Putin did after taking office in 2000 was to enact a law granting the government and the security forces broad powers of surveillance and, potentially, control over Internet traffic. Since then there have been occasions when negative news items have quickly disappeared from Russian news sites and access to opposition sites has been blocked, either by hackers or by Internet service providers. Still, Russia's 28 million Internet users enjoy relative freedom—at least for now.
Web penetration in Russia is under 20%, and a majority of those users live in the affluent Moscow and St. Petersburg areas, where many people are enjoying the luxuries accompanying the energy boom and have little interest in politics as long as the oil—and the cash—keep flowing. Relatively few surfers use the Internet to access political news. In fact, much of the Russian-language Internet, especially political content, is viewed outside the borders of Russia and the former Soviet republics. Of the 2.2 million weekly readers of the popular Russian LiveJournal blogs, only 1.2 million reside in Russia. Still, these pages have become such a force that topics such as the 2004 murder of journalist German Galdetsky forced their way into the mainstream news because they reached a critical mass on LiveJournal.
The Other Russia opposition coalition, which I co-founded in 2006, uses the Web to inform and organize. The Kremlin often targets local printers and harasses our activists when they attempt to distribute our newspapers and flyers. But if people know where to look, they can find out about our events online. We also publish coverage of our "Marches of Dissent," including videos of state security forces attacking our rallies. Since we are banned from TV, YouTube (GOOG ) provides improvised video coverage thanks to dozens of activists. What these citizen reports lack in production values, they more than make up for in honesty and immediacy. And our English-language Web site keeps pressure on Putin by educating the West, whose financial complicity is needed by his government.
Nonetheless, there remains the constant threat of being jailed for "extremist speech," the Kremlin's Orwellian justification for suppressing criticism. Individuals have been criminally charged for Internet posts. The security forces and their allies engage in online harassment as well. Our Web sites are under constant threat of coordinated hacker attacks, forcing us to look outside Russia's borders to establish a network that cannot be shut down by the government.
Even if we get our message out, we cannot make people read it, or care, or act. Our mission, then, is to present a message so powerful that it cannot be ignored. In this fight, the Internet is our best weapon to let the world know what's really going on behind Putin's 21st century Iron Curtain.

"Good Riddance Attention Whore"

Cindy Sheehan is an anti-war activist, whose son, Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, died in Iraq in April, 2004. Sheehan attracted the eyes of the world after she spent almost a month camped outside of president George Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, demanding to speak with the President.
Sheehan is a founder of Gold Star Families for Peace, an anti-Iraqi war group. On Memorial Day in 2007, Sheehan announced she was leaving the anti-war movement to rest and spend time with her family.
She is the author of "Peace Mom: A Mother's Journey through Heartache to Activism."

Prominent anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan tells NOW's David Brancaccio that she plans to rest, spend time with her family, and then continue her struggle against the Iraqi war. "We're going to pull back and regroup and figure out a better way to come at this," Sheehan said in a NOW on the News web-exclusive audio interview.

Listen to the interview with with Cindy Sheehan and David Broncaccio here.

The "formal resignation" from Cindy is posted in her blog Daily Kos, which is excerpted as follows:

I have come to some heartbreaking conclusions this Memorial Day Morning. These are not spur of the moment reflections, but things I have been meditating on for about a year now. The conclusions that I have slowly and very reluctantly come to are very heartbreaking to me.
The first conclusion is that I was the darling of the so-called left as long as I limited my protests to George Bush and the Republican Party. Of course, I was slandered and libeled by the right as a "tool" of the Democratic Party. This label was to marginalize me and my message. How could a woman have an original thought, or be working outside of our "two-party" system?
However, when I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same standards that I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started to erode and the "left" started labeling me with the same slurs that the right used. I guess no one paid attention to me when I said that the issue of peace and people dying for no reason is not a matter of "right or left", but "right and wrong."
I am deemed a radical because I believe that partisan politics should be left to the wayside when hundreds of thousands of people are dying for a war based on lies that is supported by Democrats and Republican alike. It amazes me that people who are sharp on the issues and can zero in like a laser beam on lies, misrepresentations, and political expediency when it comes to one party refuse to recognize it in their own party. Blind party loyalty is dangerous whatever side it occurs on. People of the world look on us Americans as jokes because we allow our political leaders so much murderous latitude and if we don’t find alternatives to this corrupt "two" party system our Representative Republic will die and be replaced with what we are rapidly descending into with nary a check or balance: a fascist corporate wasteland. I am demonized because I don’t see party affiliation or nationality when I look at a person, I see that person’s heart. If someone looks, dresses, acts, talks and votes like a Republican, then why do they deserve support just because he/she calls him/herself a Democrat?
I have also reached the conclusion that if I am doing what I am doing because I am an "attention whore" then I really need to be committed. I have invested everything I have into trying to bring peace with justice to a country that wants neither. If an individual wants both, then normally he/she is not willing to do more than walk in a protest march or sit behind his/her computer criticizing others. I have spent every available cent I got from the money a "grateful" country gave me when they killed my son and every penny that I have received in speaking or book fees since then. I have sacrificed a 29 year marriage and have traveled for extended periods of time away from Casey’s brother and sisters and my health has suffered and my hospital bills from last summer (when I almost died) are in collection because I have used all my energy trying to stop this country from slaughtering innocent human beings. I have been called every despicable name that small minds can think of and have had my life threatened many times.
The most devastating conclusion that I reached this morning, however, was that Casey did indeed die for nothing. His precious lifeblood drained out in a country far away from his family who loves him, killed by his own country which is beholden to and run by a war machine that even controls what we think. I have tried every since he died to make his sacrifice meaningful. Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives. It is so painful to me to know that I bought into this system for so many years and Casey paid the price for that allegiance. I failed my boy and that hurts the most.
I have also tried to work within a peace movement that often puts personal egos above peace and human life. This group won’t work with that group; he won’t attend an event if she is going to be there; and why does Cindy Sheehan get all the attention anyway? It is hard to work for peace when the very movement that is named after it has so many divisions.
Our brave young men and women in Iraq have been abandoned there indefinitely by their cowardly leaders who move them around like pawns on a chessboard of destruction and the people of Iraq have been doomed to death and fates worse than death by people worried more about elections than people. However, in five, ten, or fifteen years, our troops will come limping home in another abject defeat and ten or twenty years from then, our children’s children will be seeing their loved ones die for no reason, because their grandparents also bought into this corrupt system. George Bush will never be impeached because if the Democrats dig too deeply, they may unearth a few skeletons in their own graves and the system will perpetuate itself in perpetuity.
I am going to take whatever I have left and go home. I am going to go home and be a mother to my surviving children and try to regain some of what I have lost. I will try to maintain and nurture some very positive relationships that I have found in the journey that I was forced into when Casey died and try to repair some of the ones that have fallen apart since I began this single-minded crusade to try and change a paradigm that is now, I am afraid, carved in immovable, unbendable and rigidly mendacious marble.
Camp Casey has served its purpose. It’s for sale. Anyone want to buy five beautiful acres in Crawford , Texas ? I will consider any reasonable offer. I hear George Bush will be moving out soon, too...which makes the property even more valuable.
This is my resignation letter as the "face" of the American anti-war movement. This is not my "Checkers" moment, because I will never give up trying to help people in the world who are harmed by the empire of the good old US of A, but I am finished working in, or outside of this system. This system forcefully resists being helped and eats up the people who try to help it. I am getting out before it totally consumes me or anymore people that I love and the rest of my resources.
Good-bye America are not the country that I love and I finally realized no matter how much I sacrifice, I can’t make you be that country unless you want it.
It’s up to you now.

Source: Daily Kos and TruthOut

Friday, June 1, 2007

Is Water The Next Oil?

Motives behind the question vary, depending on who asks the question. But there are lessons to be learned from how we have managed oil on this planet over the past century and more.

-Rohini Nilekani

Is water the next oil? Motives behind the question vary, depending on who asks the question.Those who see water as a future core commodity – therefore as profitable a prospect as oil – pose the question to create the right market conditions for water trade. Those who see the potential for conflict arising from scarcity compare diminishing freshwater to oil’s depleting reserves. Those who see an environmental threat from mismanagement of water see parallels with the abuse and waste of oil.

So there are lessons to be learned from how we have managed oil on this planet over the past century and more.
The oil crisis confronting the world today is much like the looming crisis in water, with depleting supplies, unequal distribution and access, and the inevitable specter of rising costs and increasing conflict around the sharing of this vital natural resource. As with oil, water exploitation raises an inter-generational debt that will be hard to repay. The uncontrolled and rapacious exploitation of oil has led to unintended consequences, and if we continue on a similar trajectory with water, the oil crisis will seem like the trailer of some horrible disaster movie.
Ironically, our untrammeled use of oil fuels the crisis in water. Burning of fossil fuels has led to global warming, the melting of glaciers and ice caps, and the early snowmelts that will cause flooding in areas that can hardly bear another burden. And it may also cause the climate to fluctuate in a way that brings too much rain in some places and too little in others.
In addition, the move to replace oil with biomass-based fuels will intensify water use, not so much for sustaining our life and this planet as to sustain our lifestyles.
All this is worth thinking about at the individual level, because if change really happens, it must begin within the individual consciousness.

The challenges are immense. The first, of course, is that the earth has a finite amount of usable water, despite it being a beautiful blue planet. The 2.5 percent of usable planet water is in a precarious balance with glaciers and fossil groundwater remaining intact.

Another challenge is the inefficiencies and inequities in how water is used. Agriculture consumes 70 percent of the world’s water, much of it to produce what we eat. There is tremendous wastage in our agricultural processes, though the levels are somewhat stable or even improving slightly.
Demand for domestic water has risen sharply over the century, which again brings us back to questioning what we as individuals can do. The sectoral demand on water is increasing rapidly within both industry and domestic settings. Competing demand will create pressure on the agriculture sector, perhaps leading water-scarce regions to produce less food and outsource food production to water-rich countries, spurring concerns about the food security of individual nation states.
Poverty, power and inequality are at the core of the water issue and not scarcity, as the UN Development Programme Human Development Report 2006 powerfully argues.
And herein lies the rub. Since we have taken water for granted, we must face the alarming inequality in safe water. More than 1.5 billion people lack access to adequate water and sanitation. If poverty is bad, then poverty without water is hell on earth. Recently, the millennium development goals have supplied a normative framework for governments to prioritize how water is delivered.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Opiates of the Middle Classes


As a practitioner of science, I am opposed to teaching religious ideas in schools. But, it seems to me somewhat misplaced energy — more of a fight for principles than for any bottom line. As an empirical skeptic, I would like to introduce a dimension to the debates: relevance, consequence, and our ability to correct a situation — in other words the impact on our daily lives.

My portrait of the perfect fool of randomness is as follows: he does not believe in religion, providing entirely rational reasons for such disbelief. He opposes scientific method to superstition and blind faith. But alas, human skepticism appears to be quite domain-specific and relegated to the classroom. Somehow the skepticism of my fool undergoes a severe atrophy outside of these intellectual debates:

1) He believes in the stock market because he is told to do so. — automatically allocating a portion of his retirement money. And he does not realize that the manager of his mutual fund does not fare better than chance — actually a bit worse, after the (generous) fees. Nor does he realize that markets are far more random and far riskier that he is being made to believe by the high priests of the brokerage industry.

He disbelieves the bishops (on grounds of scientific method), but replaces him with the security analyst. He listens to the projections by security analysts and "experts"— not checking their past accuracy and track record. Had he checked them he would have discovered that these are no better than random — often worse.

2) He believes in the government's ability to "forecast" economic variables, oil prices, GNP growth, or inflation. Economics provide very complicated equations — but our historical track record in predicting is pitiful. It does not take long to verify these claims; simple empiricism would suffice. Yet we have confident forecasts of social security deficits by both sides (democrats and republicans) twenty and thirty years ahead! This Scandal of Prediction (which I capitalize) is far more severe than religion, simply because it determines policy making. Last time I checked no religious figure was consulted for long-term business and economic projections.

3) He believes in the "skills" of the chairmen of large corporations and pays them huge bonuses for their "performance". He forgets that theirs are the least observable contributions. This skills attribution is flimsy at best — there is no account of the possible role of luck in his success.

4) His scientific integrity makes him reject religion but he believes the economist because "economic science" has the word "science" in it.

5) He believes in the news media providing an accurate representation of the risks in the world. They don't. By what I call the narrative fallacy, the media distorts our mental map of the world by feeding us what can be made into a story that can be squeezed into our minds. For instance (preventable) cancer, not terrorism remains the greatest danger. The number of persons killed by hurricanes, while consequential, is dwarfed by that of the thousands of isolated daily victims dying in hospital beds. These are not story-worthy, implying; the absence of attention on the part of the press maps into disproportionately reduced resources allocated to their welfare. The difference between actual, actuarially defined risks and the perception of dangers is enormous — and, sadly, growing with the globalization and the media, and our increased vulnerability to visual stimuli.
Now I am not arguing that one should ignore the side effects of religion — given the accounts of past intolerance. But it was in these columns that Richard Dawkins, echoing the great Peter Medawar, recommended bright students to find something worthwhile "to be smart about". Likewise, I suggest exerting our skepticism "where it matters". Why? Because, alas, cognitively, our resource to doubt is rather limited.

We humans are naturally gullible — disbelieving requires an extraordinary expenditure of energy. It is a limited resource. I suggest ranking the skepticism by its consequences on our lives. True, the dangers of organized religion used to be there — but they have been gradually replaced with considerably ruthless and unintrospective social-science ideology.

Religion gives many people solace. On a personal note I have to admit that I feel more elevated in cathedrals than in stock markets — be it only on aesthetic grounds. If I were going to be gullible about a subject, I would rather pick one that is the least harmful to my future — and one that is rewarding to my thirst for aesthetics.

It is high time to worry about the opiates of the middle class.
Source: Edge

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Paradox of Power and Perception

Arlene Goldbard

I’ve been chewing on a thought for days: that nearly all the violence in our society is grounded in the perpetrators’ felt sense of powerlessness.

This speaks to an existential paradox: although our days are filled with choices and decisions, in an ultimate sense we are at the mercy of forces far larger than ourselves, forces over which we have little or no control. If you come in for a close-up, our lives are made of intention, overflowing with meaning. If you pull back far enough, you see tiny beings stuck to a giant rock hurtling through space, an anthill writ large. Are we in control or not? Yes to both.

It’s hard to resist quoting one of my favorite rabbinic stories to sum it up in a couple of sentences—so I won’t. They say that Rabbi Simcha Bunim always carried two slips of paper: in one pocket, a message with Abraham’s words from Genesis, “I am but dust and ashes,” and in the other a line from Talmud, “The world was created for my sake.”

Simcha Bunim toggled between the two, titrating doses of humility and self-love to balance an excess of ego or self-loathing arising from each moment. He was a brave man: mostly, my comfort comes when I have at least the illusion of power and control, of a world for my sake; my greatest comfort is when experience seems to offer proof.

When I feel out of control—which for me usually means feeling trapped—I am more volatile. Minor frustrations explode into tantrums or tears. I obsess over the presumed cause of my suffering. As I give it attention, it seems to expand. I become nothing, dust and ashes. I’m not a violent person, but those are the times I might fling something across the room or slam a door. I might fantasize revenge, sometimes vividly.

I’ve been hearing and reading reams of speculation about the psycho-social causes of violence, mostly following on the Virginia Tech shootings. Dave Cullen is a writer who often pops up on such occasions, because he an expert on the Columbine killings of 1999 the way some people are experts on JFK’s assassination or 9/11. In other words, it appears Columbine ate his life, and he will soon have a book to show for it. I’m looking forward to reading it, because he has some sensible things to say about useful subjects such as the perils of diagnosis via TV talk show, as in this piece from Slate.

Cullen’s Slate article pointed me to interesting research findings in a Secret Service/Department of Education report on the perpetrators of 37 school shootings between 1974 and 2000. None of the obvious pop-psych diagnostics are supported there: apart from all being male and most being white, the shooters have little in common. They cross socioeconomic lines, differ in their school achievement and participation, range from socially active to isolated. What they do have in common is less about demographics than experience:

Most attackers appeared to have difficulty coping with losses, personal
failures or other difficult circumstances. Almost all of the attackers had
experienced or perceived some major loss prior to the attack (98 percent, n=40).
These losses included a perceived failure or loss of status (66 percent, n=27);
loss of a loved one or of a significant relationship, including a romantic
relationship (51 percent, n=21); and a major illness experienced by the attacker
or someone significant to him (15 percent, n=6). In one case, the attacker, who
was a former student at the school where the attack occurred, was laid off from
his job because he did not have a high school diploma. The attacker blamed the
job loss on the teacher who failed him in a senior-year course, which kept him
from graduating. He returned to the school a year after leaving the school,
killed his former teacher and two students, and then held over 60 students
hostage for 10 hours.
For most attackers, their outward behaviors suggested
difficulty in coping with loss (83 percent, n=34). For example, the mother, the
brother and a friend of the attacker who lost his job each had commented that
the attacker became depressed and withdrawn following the lay-off. The friend
also reported that he knew that the attacker blamed his former teacher for his
problems and had begun planning how to retaliate.

What’s more, the attacks were all planned in advance, and all with a sense of grievance front and center. In other words, here’s what we can say about the attackers as a group: when loss or humiliation elicited strong feelings of their own powerless, they focused on a real or imagined cause, nursed their grievance, then planned and executed horrific revenge.

Surely it is not accidental that all the shooters were male. Perhaps the social impact of gender is diminishing in some ways, but this much is evident: in the ordinary run of things, men are conditioned to base their sense of self-worth and meaning on the extent to which they feel in control of their lives and circumstances, and often of everyone around them. When the sense that the world is made for them fractures, leaking dust and ashes into their deepest selves, the impact is profound.

No matter which category they might be slotted under in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, these school shooters were deranged; no one would say they reacted normally to what might be seen as commonplace losses. (I have experienced all the above-listed circumstances without going berserk, and so, probably, have you.) But their extreme reactions are suggestive of something more ordinary, that when men are trained to prize control to the point that loss is unbearable, society pays.

For the walking wounded whose upbringing was steeped in the love of power, ego expands far beyond the boundaries of the individual person, and the whole world becomes fodder for revenge. How much is George Bush’s belligerence rooted in his own past humiliations, his school and business failures, his repeated need to be rescued by his father’s friends from his own ineptitude? How much is he driven to avenge his father’s humiliation by Saddam Hussein, as some commentators have suggested? How much is Dick Cheney’s bloodthirsty rage rooted in the serial humiliations of his own early adulthood, wonderfully described by Joan Didion in the New York Review of Books last October:

It was in some ways predictable that the central player in the system of
willed errors and reversals that is the Bush administration would turn out to be
its vice-president, Richard B. Cheney. Here was a man with considerable practice
in the reversal of his own errors. He was never a star. No one ever called him a
natural. He reached public life with every reason to believe that he would
continue to both court failure and overcome it, take the lemons he seemed
determined to pick for himself and make the lemonade, then spill it, let someone
else clean up.

Paradoxically, being steeped in powerlessness can produce the same result, albeit on a very different scale. Do I really have to ask how much of the violence that has swept up so many young men in our inner cities is rooted in the steady beat of losses and humiliations doled out by nearly every social institution many of them encounter during their formative years?

Here’s the thing that has me sighing hardest: our society proposes putative remedies that only make the problem worse. I’m reading and listening my way deeper and deeper into the realities of our prison industrial complex (click here, then scroll down to the right and click on the blog category “Incarceration Nation” to read prior posts about it). Over and over again, my mind buckles under the weight of this realization, that our prisons prescribe humiliation and loss as punishment for men whose lives have already been distorted beyond recognition by just those experiences. How crazy is it that our notion of how to address the culture of violence that has filled us with sadness and dread is to pour gasoline onto the fire?

I am filled with admiration for those who can survive loss and humiliation without self-destructive revenge. Not just the great souls who are sustained by an abiding conviction, like Nelson Mandela or Václav Havel, but everyone who finds a way to spin the straw of ultimate humiliation into the gold of possibility. Two obvious changes would increase their number: teaching boys to roll with the ordinary losses and humiliations is one, no matter how much they hurt. Completely rethinking prison is another. Isn’t thousands of years of failed punishment enough? What if the purpose of confinement were to earn a grounded sense of self-worth through real education, real opportunity?

Or we could just keep watching humiliation and loss ricochet through schoolyards, neighborhoods and battle-torn cities, and try to keep out of the way.

Source: Arlene Goldbard

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

India denies passage to Bhutan| Refugee death toll reaches 2



KATHMANDU, May 28 - While violence in the Bhutanese refugee camps that started on Sunday took a nasty turn a day later with one more death and dozens more injuries, the turmoil has only been exacerbated as India was on Monday directly dragged into the refugee crisis.

With the death of a refugee, Purna Bahadur Tamang at Beldangi-II camp, the toll reached two on Monday. Tamang, who was injured seriously after he being hit on his back by a police-fired plastic bullet, succumbed to his wounds while undergoing treatment at Amda Hospital. Police had resorted to opening fire after refugees staging demonstrations defying the curfew didn't budge an inch. Eighteen each from the police and demonstrators were injured in the clash.
The condition of two of the 18 injured policemen - DSP Krishna Raj Pathak and assistant head constable Prem Chaudhary - is critical, according to Superintendent of Police Naresh Karki of the Armed Police Force, Pathibhara Battalion. Four of the 18 refugees were injured by rubber bullets. On Sunday, Narapati Dhungel, an eighth grader, had died after being hit by bullets fired by police to disperse the demonstrators pelting stones at them.

Though refugee activists have accused police of "provoking" refugees assembled for Dhungel's funeral procession, police said the situation turned tense when they stopped refugees from marching toward an office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) by defying curfew orders. In a statement in Kathmandu, UNHCR has appealed to the refugees to abide by the laws of the host country.

Police resorted to firing in the air and also fired dozens of teargas shells to disperse the refugees pelting stones at them. Gunshots were heard for around two hours in the area, according to locals. More police reinforcements were mobilized in the area from Kankalini battalion Pakali, Siddhakali battalion Itahari and Urlabari Base Camp after Pathibhara battalion was unable to bring the situation under control.

UNHCR Representative Abraham Abraham said the turmoil in the camps was "a disturbing state of affairs". All humanitarian activities couldn't be carried out in the camps, Monday.

The whole crisis had started on Sunday after some "Maoist refugees", who have been pushing for respectful repatriation to Bhutan while vehemently opposing third country resettlement offers from the US and other countries, thrashed a pro-resettlement refugee activist (Hari Bangale). When police reached there to rescue Bangale, the refugees attacked them, prompting the former to start firing.

India's attempt to stop refugees turns violent

More fuel was added to the flame after Indian security forces' attempt on Monday to stop hundreds of refugee activists trying to march toward Bhutan via India turned violent. Over a dozen refugees sustained injuries as Indian forces deployed along Nepal-India border resorted to baton-charge and fired tear gas shells at Mechi Bridge. Indian forces have arrested 28 refugees, of whom 26 are women.

Accompanied by Indian lawmakers (Dr Sunalim Mishra and Brijbhushan Tiwari, among others) and Nepal's political party leaders, the refugees had reached there on the first day of their "Long March" toward home, but to be returned and arrested by SSB forces. Those being returned have been staging a sit-in protest on the Bridge.

Thinley Penjore, chairman of National Front for Democracy Bhutan which was the organizer of the campaign; Balaram Poudel, DB Rana Sampang and Gup Khilla, all vice chairmen of the organization; and human rights leader DP Kafle, were among those injured in India's crackdown. The injured have been admitted in hospitals in Kakarbhitta, Birtamod, Dhulabari and Bhadrapur.

Indian forces had used force after the refugees forcibly attempted to make their way. The Nepal-India border was sealed from Sunday, while a huge number of security personnel were deployed to foil the refugees' attempt.

Though the organizers "Long March" campaign aimed to assemble over 15,000 refugees at Mechi Bridge, violence in the camp made it impossible.

Most of the 106,000 refugees of Nepali-origin, evicted from Bhutan in the early 1990s in an ethnic cleansing, blame India - which has a huge amount of influence over the Druk regime - of not doing anything to ensure their voluntary repatriation.
A disturbing state of affairs: UNHCR
Expressing "grave concern" over the violence that has "alarmed" him, UNHCR representative Abraham has termed the violence "a disturbing state of affairs" while earnestly calling upon all refugees and concerned parties to resolve the matter peacefully.

"The situation continues to be tense in the camp which seems to have spilled over to other refugee camps in the eastern region," said the statement, adding that UNHCR is reviewing its daily presence in the camps, until the situation stabilizes, for security of staff and UN property.
The UN refugee agency also expressed its concern that prolongation of the deteriorating security situation in the camps could affect its humanitarian operation, as well as the smooth delivery of food in the camps by the UN World Food Program (WFP).

Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the only implementing INGO of UNHCR, said it couldn't carry out any activity inside the camps on Monday. "LWF's Eastern Region Coordination Unit couldn't carry out any 'normal care and maintenance activities' inside the seven camps," said Beena Kharel, LWF's Communications and Documentation Manager. "We are waiting and watching and we hope that the situation improves and we will be able to carry out normal activities."

Besides UNHCR and LWF, Caritas and WFP are other agencies providing humanitarian support to refugees.
Posted on: 2007-05-28 20:57:12

Monday, May 28, 2007

"Human Rights" as Property Rights

By Murray N. Rothbard

[This article is excerpted from chapter 15 of "The Ethics of Liberty".]

Liberals generally wish to preserve the concept of "rights" for such "human" rights as freedom of speech, while denying the concept to private property.[1] And yet, on the contrary the concept of "rights" only makes sense as property rights. For not only are there no human rights which are not also property rights, but the former rights lose their absoluteness and clarity and become fuzzy and vulnerable when property rights are not used as the standard.

In the first place, there are two senses in which property rights are identical with human rights: one, that property can only accrue to humans, so that their rights to property are rights that belong to human beings; and two, that the person's right to his own body, his personal liberty, is a property right in his own person as well as a "human right." But more importantly for our discussion, human rights, when not put in terms of property rights, turn out to be vague and contradictory, causing liberals to weaken those rights on behalf of "public policy" or the "public good." As I wrote in another work:

Take, for example, the "human right" of free speech. Freedom of speech is supposed to mean the right of everyone to say whatever he likes. But the neglected question is: Where? Where does a man have this right? He certainly does not have it on property on which he is trespassing. In short, he has this right only either on his own property or on the property of someone who has agreed, as a gift or in a rental contract, to allow him on the premises. In fact, then, there is no such thing as a separate "right to free speech"; there is only a man's property right: the right to do as he wills with his own or to make voluntary agreements with other property owners.[2]

In short, "a person does not have a "right to freedom of speech"; what he does have is the right to hire a hall and address the people who enter the premises. He does not have a "right to freedom of the press"; what he does have is the right to write or publish a pamphlet, and to sell that pamphlet to those who are willing to buy it (or to give it away to those who are willing to accept it). Thus, what he has in each of these cases is property rights, including the right of free contract and transfer which form a part of such rights of ownership. There is no extra "right of free speech" or free press beyond the property rights that a person may have in any given case.

Furthermore, couching the analysis in terms of a "right to free speech" instead of property rights leads to confusion and the weakening of the very concept of rights. The most famous example is Justice Holmes's contention that no one has the right to shout "Fire" falsely in a crowded theater, and therefore that the right to freedom of speech cannot be absolute, but must be weakened and tempered by considerations of "public policy."[3] And yet, if we analyze the problem in terms of property rights we will see that no weakening of the absoluteness of rights is necessary.[4]

For, logically, the shouter is either a patron or the theater owner. If he is the theater owner, he is violating the property rights of the patrons in quiet enjoyment of the performance, for which he took their money in the first place. If he is another patron, then he is violating both the property right of the patrons to watching the performance and the property right of the owner, for he is violating the terms of his being there. For those terms surely include not violating the owner's property by disrupting the performance he is putting on. In either case, he may be prosecuted as a violator of property rights; therefore, when we concentrate on the property rights involved, we see that the Holmes case implies no need for the law to weaken the absolute nature of rights.

Indeed, Justice Hugo Black, a well-known "absolutist" on behalf of "freedom of speech," made it clear, in a trenchant critique of the Holmes "shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater" argument, that Black's advocacy of freedom of speech was grounded in the rights of private property. Thus Black stated:

I went to a theater last night with you. I have an idea if you and I had gotten up and marched around that theater, whether we said anything or not, we would have been arrested. Nobody has ever said that the First Amendment gives people a right to go anywhere in the world they want to go or say anything in the world they want to say. Buying the theater tickets did not buy the opportunity to make a speech there. We have a system of property in this country which is also protected by the Constitution. We have a system of property, which means that a man does not have a right to do anything he wants anywhere he wants to do it. For instance, I would feel a little badly if somebody were to try to come into my house and tell me that he had a constitutional right to come in there because he wanted to make a speech against the Supreme Court. I realize the freedom of people to make a speech against the Supreme Court, but I do not want him to make it in my house.
That is a wonderful aphorism about shouting "fire" in a crowded theater. But you do not have to shout "fire" to get arrested. If a person creates a disorder in a theater, they would get him there not because of what he hollered but because he hollered. They would get him not because of any views he had but because they thought he did not have any views that they wanted to hear there. That is the way I would answer not because of what he shouted but because he shouted.

Some years ago, the French political theorist Bertrand de Jouvenel similarly called for the weakening of free speech and assembly rights in what he called the "chairman's problem" — the problem of allocating time or space in an assembly hall or newspaper, or in front of a microphone, where the writers or speakers believe that they have a "right" of free speech to the use of the resource.[6] What de Jouvenel overlooked was our solution to the "chairman's problem" — recasting the concept of rights in terms of private property rather than in terms of freedom of speech or assembly.

In the first place, we may notice that in each of de Jouvenel's examples — a man attending an assembly, a person writing to a letters-to-the-editor column, and a man applying for discussion time on the radio — the scarce time or space being offered is free, in the sense of costless. We are in the midst of what economics calls "the rationing problem." A valuable, scarce resource has to be allocated: whether it be time at the podium, time in front of the microphone, or space in a newspaper. But since the use of the resource is free (costless), the demand for obtaining this time or space is bound greatly to exceed the supply, and hence a perceived "shortage" of the resource is bound to develop. As in all cases of shortages and of queueing up caused by low or nonexistent prices, the unsatisfied demanders are left with a feeling of frustration and resentment at not obtaining the use of the resource they believe they deserve.

A scarce resource, if not allocated by prices, must be allocated in some other way by its owner. It should be noted that the de Jouvenel cases could all be allocated by a price system, if the owner so desired. The chairman of an assembly could ask for price bids for scarce places at the podium and then award the places to the highest bidders. The radio producer could do the same with discussants on his program. (In effect, this is what producers do when they sell time to individual sponsors.) There would then be no shortages, and no feelings of resentment at a promise ("equal access" of the public to the column, podium, or microphone) reneged.

But beyond the question of prices, there is a deeper matter involved, for whether by prices or by some other criterion, the resource must, in all cases, be allocated by its owner. The owner of the radio station or the program (or his agent) rents, or donates, radio time in a way that he decides; the owner of the newspaper, or his editor-agent, allocates space for letters in any way that he chooses; the "owner" of the assembly, and his designated agent the chairman, allocates the space at the podium in any way he decides.

The fact that ownership is the ultimate allocator gives us the clue to the property solution of de Jouvenel's "chairman's problem." For the fellow who writes a letter to a newspaper is not the owner of the paper; he therefore has no right to, but only a request for, newspaper space, a request which it is the absolute right of the owner to grant or to deny. The man who asks to speak at an assembly has no right to speak, but only a request that the owner or his representative, the chairman, must decide upon. The solution is to recast the meaning of the "right to freedom of speech" or "assembly"; instead of using the vague, and, as de Jouvenel demonstrates, unworkable concept of some sort of equal right to space or time, we should focus on the right of private property. Only when the "right to free speech" is treated simply as a subdivision of property right does it become valid, workable, and absolute.

This can be seen in de Jouvenel's proposed "right to buttonhole." De Jouvenel says that there is a "sense in which the right of speech can be exercised by each and everyone; it is the right to buttonhole," to talk and to try to convince the people one meets, and then to collect these people in a hall, and thus to "constitute a congregation" of one's own. Here de Jouvenel approaches the proper solution without firmly attaining it. For what he is really saying is that "the right to free speech" is only valid and workable when used in the sense of the right to talk to people, to try to convince them, to hire a hall to address people who wish to attend, etc. But this sense of the right to free speech is, in fact, part of a person' s general right to his property. (Provided, of course, we remember the right of another person not to be buttonholed if he doesn't want to, i.e., his right not to listen.) For property right includes the right to one's property and to make mutually agreed-upon contracts and exchanges with the owners of other properties. De Jouvenel's "buttonholer," who hires a hall and addresses his congregation, is exercising not a vague "right of free speech," but a part of his general right of property. De Jouvenel almost recognizes this when he considers the case of two men, "Primus" and "Secundus":

Primus …has collected through toil and trouble a congregation of his own doing. An outsider, Secundus, comes in and claims the right to address this congregation on grounds of the right of free speech. Is Primus bound to give him the floor? I doubt it. He can reply to Secundus: "I have made up this congregation. Go thou and do likewise."

Precisely. In short, Primus owns the meeting; he has hired the hall, has called the meeting, and has laid down its conditions; and those who don't like these conditions are free not to attend or to leave. Primus has a property right in the meeting that permits him to speak at will; Secundus has no property right whatever, and therefore no right to speak at the meeting.

In general, those problems where rights seem to require weakening are ones where the locus of ownership is not precisely defined, in short where property rights are muddled. Many problems of "freedom of speech," for example, occur in the government-owned streets: e.g., should a government permit a political meeting which it claims will disrupt traffic, or litter streets with handbills? But all of such problems which seemingly require "freedom of speech" to be less than absolute, are actually problems due to the failure to define property rights. For the streets are generally owned by government; the government in these cases is "the chairman." And then government, like any other property owner, is faced with the problem of how to allocate its scarce resources. A political meeting on the streets will, let us say, block traffic; therefore, the decision of government involves not so much a right to freedom of speech as it involves the allocation of street space by its owner.

The whole problem would not arise, it should be noted, if the streets were owned by private individuals and firms — as they all would be in a libertarian society; for then the streets, like all other private property, could be rented by or donated to other private individuals or groups for the purpose of assembly. One would, in a fully libertarian society, have no more "right" to use someone else's street than he would have the "right" to preempt someone else's assembly hall; in both cases, the only right would be the property right to use one's money to rent the resource, if the landlord is willing. Of course, so long as the streets continue to be government-owned, the problem and the conflict remain insoluble; for government ownership of the streets means that all of one's other property rights, including speech, assembly distribution of leaflets, etc., will be hampered and restricted by the ever-present necessity to traverse and use government-owned streets, which government may decide to block or restrict in any way. If the government allows the street meeting, it will restrict traffic; if it blocks the meeting in behalf of the flow of traffic, it will block the freedom of access to the government streets. In either case, and whichever way it chooses, the "rights" of some taxpayers will have to be curtailed.

The other place where the rights and locus of ownership are ill-defined and hence where conflicts are insoluble is the case of government assemblies (and their "chairmen"). For, as we have pointed out, where one man or group hires a hall, and appoints a chairman, the locus of ownership is clear and Primus has his way. But what of governmental assemblies? Who owns them? No one really knows, and therefore there is no satisfactory or non-arbitrary way to resolve who shall speak and who shall not, what shall be decided and what shall not. True, the government assembly forms itself under its own rules, but then what if these rules are not agreeable to a large body of the citizenry? There is no satisfactory way to resolve this question because there is no clear locus of property right involved. To put it another way: in the case of the newspaper or radio program, it is clear that the letter writer or would-be discussant is the petitioner, and the publisher or producer the owner who makes the decision. But in the case of the governmental assembly, we do not know who the owner may be. The man who demands to be heard at a town meeting claims to be a part owner, and yet he has not established any sort of property right through purchase, inheritance, or discovery, as have property owners in all other areas.

To return to the streets, there are other vexed problems which would be quickly cleared up in a libertarian society where all property is private and clearly owned. In the current society for example, there is continuing conflict between the "right" of taxpayers to have access to government-owned streets, as against the desire of residents of a neighborhood to be free of people whom they consider "undesirable" gathering in the streets.

In New York City, for example, there are now hysterical pressures by residents of various neighborhoods to prevent McDonald's food stores from opening in their area, and in many cases they have been able to use the power of local government to prevent the stores from moving in. These, of course, are clear violations of the right of McDonald's to the property which they have purchased. But the residents do have a point: the litter, and the attraction of "undesirable" elements who would be "attracted" to McDonald's and gather in front of it — on the streets.

In short, what the residents are really complaining about is not so much the property right of McDonald's as what they consider the "bad" use of the government streets. They are, in brief, complaining about the "human right" of certain people to walk at will on the government streets. But as taxpayers and citizens, these "undesirables" surely have the "right" to walk on the streets, and of course they could gather on the spot, if they so desired, without the attraction of McDonald's. In the libertarian society, however, where the streets would all be privately owned, the entire conflict could be resolved without violating anyone's property rights: for then the owners of the streets would have the right to decide who shall have access to those streets, and they could then keep out "undesirables" if they so wished.

Of course, those street-owners who decided to keep out "undesirables" would have to pay the price — both the actual costs of policing as well as the loss of business to the merchants on their street and the diminished flow of visitors to their homes. Undoubtedly in the free society there would result a diverse pattern of access, with some streets (and therefore neighborhoods) open to all, and others with varying degrees of restricted access.

Similarly, the private ownership of all streets would resolve the problem of the "human right" to freedom of immigration. There is no question about the fact that current immigration barriers restrict not so much a "human right" to immigrate, but the right of property owners to rent or sell property to immigrants. There can be no human right to immigrate, for on whose property does someone else have the right to trample? In short, if "Primus" wishes to migrate now from some other country to the United States, we cannot say that he has the absolute right to immigrate to this land area; for what of those property owners who don't want him on their property? On the other hand, there may be, and undoubtedly are, other property owners who would jump at the chance to rent or sell property to Primus, and the current laws now invade their property rights by preventing them from doing so.

The libertarian society would resolve the entire "immigration question" within the matrix of absolute property rights. For people only have the right to move to those properties and lands where the owners desire to rent or sell to them. In the free society, they would, in first instance, have the right to travel only on those streets whose owners agree to have them there, and then to rent or buy housing from willing owners. Again, just as in the case of daily movement on streets, a diverse and varying pattern of access of migration would undoubtedly arise.