Saturday, May 29, 2010

Engineering A Humanitarian Crisis

Those who get their news from the Trough of the Times would be hard pressed to discover that Israel intends to forcibly intercept a flotilla bringing much needed humanitarian supplies to besieged Gaza. Instead, in a "Jews are Nice Guys After All" story, Elizabeth Kershner reports that Israel has opened up a road in the West Bank to Palestinians. Awwwww....

What the rest of the non-Times world knows is that the United Nations, the European Union, and scores of NGO's, including the International Red Cross, have all condemned Israel's siege of Gaza which has destroyed its infrastructure, degraded civil existence, subjected the inhabitants to chronic malnutrition and put them at heightened risk for disease.

Israel's Foreign Ministry, however, derided the relief convey calling it an absolute provocation" and a "cheap political stunt", as there was no shortage of humanitarian aid in Gaza.

Oh yeah?

FOUR years ago -- even before the Israeli Blitzkrieg known as Operation Cast Lead -- Israel initiated it's medieval siege of Gaza.

"The idea is to put Palestinians on a diet but not make them die of hunger"

Let me repeat that: when asked how Israel should deal with the new Hamas government, Dov Weisglass, senior advisor to Israeli Prime Ministers Sharon and Olmert, said: "The idea is to put Palestinians on a diet but not make them die of hunger,"

A year later, in 2007, Shlomo Dror, spokesman for the Israeli agency that oversees supplies to Gaza, stated: “We will allow in the minimum amount of food and medicines necessary to avoid a humanitarian crisis,”

What kind of "humanitarian crisis"? A crisis like the one that afflicted Jews in Nazi Occupied Poland and Russia?

The brutal cynicism of the Israeli government follows close on the heels of the humanitarian brutality of the Nazis or Soviets, both of whom starved helpless civilian populations. But you will not a hear a peep from the Times. No; instead you will be treated to jejeune callousness as when Steven Erlanger reported that Gazans who had broken through the wall to get urgently needed food stuffs in Egypt were going on a "shopping spree." (Times makes Light of Desperation (2008).)

Israel's layered sophistry needs to be peeled back so as to reveal the fetid core. A "crisis" is something that happens, either foreseeably or unexpectedly. By using the word "crisis" Dror and Weisglass duck the fact that the "crisis" is entirely within Israel's control. The word "crisis" also occludes the fact that the "crisis" in question constitutes a conscious violation of humanitarian law. What Israel is saying is that it will starve the Palestinians in Gaza but stop short of producing a holocaust; ergo there is nothing for anyone to complain about.

There sure is.

Bringing Back the Ghetto & the Medieval Siege

It is illegal under international law to shoot or starve civilians. The idea is basically simple. Whatever bloody nonsense governments and belligerents may engage in, it violates every sense of moral right to injure the weak, the infirm, the defenceless. It is bad enough that healthy young men on two sides of a line blast away at eachother sending their body parts flying into the air, but do we have to stomp on babies or blow away women and hobbling grandfathers? The humane answer is, No.

As a correlative, international law also holds that, once one power has taken control over a territory and its inhabitants, it is responsible for their welfare. Just as it cannot mow down civilians, it cannot herd them into a corral and watch them starve to death. "We're not killing them; we're just not feeding them" is not the sort of thing decent people with a minimal moral sense say.

As one last correlative, it follows that civilians cannot be taken hostage and used as political or military bargaining chips. In order to maintain law and order over occupied territory, the occupying power is allowed to take limited reprisals against civilians as a response to partisan or guerrilla tactics. But the law of reprisal does not translate into collective punishment, mass-bombing or mass-killing; nor does it turn into rations-blackmail in order to wrest political concessions.

During the World War, the Nazis flagrantly violated each of these tenets of international humanitarian law. Putting aside all the "collateral errors" that occur during actual warfare, the post-battle occupation of Poland and then Russia began with targetted arrests and killings of intellectuals, priests, politicians and ideological opponents. These killings numbered in the tens or hundreds of thousands.

To maintain law and order in the occupied territories the Nazis resorted to draconian reprisals. In perhaps a majority of cases, these reprisals were actually legitimate responses to partisan, guerrilla or terrorist actions by so-called "resistance fighters." What was criminal in a majority of these cases was that the reprisals were excessive and/or entailed collective punishments. The levelling of the town of Lidice is the most symbolic example. Less known examples (for which the perpetrators were later hanged) was the shooting of 50 hostages instead of a more "reasonable" 10 or 20.

But the greatest of Nazi war crimes began with food and corrals. Upon taking over Poland the Nazis: (1) reduced the entire population's food rations and then (2) proceeded to herd Jews into ghettos. It is important to understand how these two procedures inter-relate.

The essence of "ghettos" was simply segregation -- cutting off one group of people from another. The segregation began with a poisonous classification: them vs us. This is the kernel of the evil because once a distinction is posited, differences in treatment (i.e. discriminations) invariably ensue. With the Nazis, what ensued was a materialization of the classification; i.e. putting "us vs them" into practice by "concentrating" Jews into ghettos. Not all ghettos were the same. Some ghettos were sealed; others were open. In rural areas numerous quasi-ghettos were established. Some Jewish communities, such as Szydlowiec, were transformed into what were, in effect, ghetto towns. Elsewhere, ghettos were not formed at all. But the segregating principle remained the same.

Where ghettos were established the salient feature was delapidation and overcrowding.

"The districts chosen to house the ghetto were inevitably situated in the most impoverished parts of cities and towns. The housing was dilapidated, often with no piped water or electricity. The number of people packed into the ghetto produced staggering levels of population density. In Warsaw, 30% of the population were forced to live in 2.4% ... The Germans calculated a density of 6-7 people per room in the Warsaw Ghetto." (See Overview of Ghettoization of Jews)

Another salient feature of the ghetto was its economic dependency. Although the ghettos were administered by "self-governing" Jewish councils, they lacked the material basis for anything like self-sustenance. As a result, the denizens of these enclaves were dependent on (1) German-provided rations as supplemented by (2) trading with the local population and (3) smuggling.

In such a situation, the critical factor is the government provided ration. During the four and a half year occupation, no single ration applied everywhere and, of course, those only interested in making a propaganda will turn the worst case into a general rule. But what is clear, as a general rule, is that the Nazis did establish a feeding hierarchy with Germans at the top, Poles in middle and Jews on the bottom. Where Jews were "concentrated" the ration was set at "prison fare".

It was the same in occupied Russia where, in August 1941, Hinrich Lohse, the Reichskommissar, ordered: "In the ghettos the Jews are to receive only as much food as the rest of the population can spare, but not more than is required for their bare subsistence. The same applies to the allocation of other essential goods."

In other words, Heinrich Lohse might just as well have said that:

"In the ghettos the Jews are to be put on a diet but not to make them die of hunger"

Prison fare is nothing to cheer about, but people have served out long life-sentences on "prison fare". The problem with setting minimum subsistence levels is not that one cannot "sustain" life but that such rations do not leave any margin for error -- for an unexpectedly severe winter,or interruptions in food deliveries and other events that either require more food or result in the delivery of less food.

In early 1941, precisely such a crisis took place in Warsaw where the the military Oberfeldkommandant reported on 20 May 1941:

"The situation in the Jewish quarter is catastrophic. The corpses of those who have died of starvation lie in the streets. The death rate, 80% from malnutrition, has tripled since February. The only thing that is issued to the Jews is 1.5 pounds of bread per week. No one has yet been able to deliver potatoes, for which the Jewish council made a prepayment of several millions..."

Of course, at that rate, the population would have died off by the end of the year. What the report points to is a breakdown in otherwise permitted deliveries and the situation was ultimately rectified sufficiently to sustain the ghetto (minimally) for another two years. Once it is borne in mind that a situation in May 1941 does not equate with a general condition for all of four years, what the report really teaches us is that when no margin for error is allowed, any error will result in a "crisis".

Thus, once we put aside propaganda spectacles of the appalling end results, what history teaches us is that it is no excuse to piously claim, "We gave them enough to live on." The monstruousness of the Israeli government's stated policy is that it sets the stage for a crisis and then deprives the Gazans of the very means of self help to avoid that very denouement.

In other words: once one sets a ration that is just "sufficient to avoid a humanitarian crisis" a humanitarian crisis will ensue.

To say as much is not to loose sight of the fact that "subsistence" food levels themselves constitute a chronic crisis.

People in the West, rest assured that "something is being done" when they see starving babies slurping some corn-porridge handed out by U.N. relief agencies. But the fact is, "nutri-mush" is not very nutricious. The second problem with subsistence rations is that while they may keep you alive they do not keep you well. They are imbalanced and over time produce that kind of malnutrition which leads to disease and earlier than necessary death. Rafael Lemkin, the Polish Jew whose seminal studies defined the concept of "genocide, provided the follwing table for Nazi food rations.

-------------- Group ------------- Carbohyd.---Proteins---Fats

---------------Germans...................... 100............. 97........... 77
---------------Belgians......................... 79 .............73........... 29
---------------Poles............................. 77...............62........... 18
---------------Norwegians................... 69..............65........... 32
---------------French........................... 58............. 71............ 40
---------------Jews............................... 27............. 20........ 0.32

It is somewhat surprising to see racially kindred Aryans being ranked under Poles; so that the foregoing table provides an implicit caution against reducing the issue to a simplistic question of "how many calories" a target population is provided. Diets vary between regions and ethnic groups, and a sustainable diet can be achieved through different ratios. Nevertheless, it is generally true, as Lemkin wrote, that "The result of racial feeding is a decline in health of the nations involved and an increase in the death rate."

Nor is the health of a population only a question of rations and calories. Fuel, water, heat, sanitation are all just as important. – in the Lodz Ghetto 95% of apartments had no sanitation, piped water or sewers. One ghetto denizen recalled: "We were very cold as we could not get any firewood to heat the house, so we tried to sneak out at night to break up wooden fences, but if you were caught doing this the Germans would shoot you." Of course, the Germans would shoot them. After all, they were committing illegal acts of vandalism. No authority can condone lawlessness!

The cynicism of the Nazi regime -- even before it tipped over into publicly avowed mass murder -- is not to be underestimated. Resources includes more than food. It includes the plow to sow the wheat, the oven to bake the bread, the axe to cut the wood to heat the oven... in short the whole network of human socio-economic existence. The Nazi Generalgouvernment of Poland understood very well that, precisely because the ghettos were simply human warehouses with no economic viability of their own, whatever "trade" the Jews carried out with the local population it would soon deplete whatever meager assets the Jews had left. At that point, the denizens of the ghetto would not only have no money for food, but no wherewithall for a button, a blanket, or shoe leather. The Jews would be animalized.

What history teaches is that genocide is carried out by creating conditions of dependent adversity. In the Nazi controlled ghettos, the intolerable population density, inadequate sanitary facilities – absence of fuel for heating, starvation rations and almost complete lack of medical supplies, combined to produce conditions in which sickness and epidemics were inevitable -- and did in fact ensue.

For those who propagate history-as-soap-opera, something called Auschwitz is held up as the emblematic paradigm of Nazi genocide. Under this historiography, Hitler from the cradle and the Nazis from the start, set out with the singular intent and purpose of exterminating Jews and everything they did was calculated and calibrated to that end.

It follows that everything has to be interpreted accordingly, and the critical lynch-pin is, of course, the gas-chamber. From the occurence of an end result it is asserted that the result must have been specifically intended. This intentionalist theory of history is typified by comments such as the one in the New York Times which excoriated Bishop Williamson for saying "he did not believe that six million Jews died in the Nazi gas chambers" [ here ].

Of course, no serious historian of any sort, would assert that six million Jews were gassed. But the inevitable result of "intentionalist" theories is to reduce that point of fact to a mere quibble. The argument is: since it was intended to kill 6 million or more Jews, it is irrelevant how they were killed and the gas-chamber, which was most coldly calculated to kill mass numbers, serves as an appropriate symbol for the killing. This is the essence of the Zionist narrative and its purpose is not to learn from history but to provide a demonization that is so inherently unique as to be useless for anything else save victimized self-justification.

Although "intentionalist" theories of history have gained a certain respectability the fact is that intentionalism is childish garbage. None other than Tolstoy makes a mockery of the view that the wellspring of Napoleon's "intent" caused "this" or "that" geopolitical event to happen. (See Epilogue to War & Peace.) There are individual intents at work in any series of events, but what happens "in history" is the result of a functional convergence of factors.

The leading historians of Nazi genocide, including Lemkin, Hilberg, Bauman, Broszat and Arendt, all maintain, despite differences on subsidiary issues, that the annihilation of European Jews was the result of a convergence of political, sociological and bureaucratic factors, none of which necessarily led to a particular result but all of which did produce the result. In other words, the outcome depends less on intents than on habits.

This form of analysis looks to see how factors tend to and do function together. It is an analysis based on propensities and risks concerning how things and humans operate. It is an analysis that requires an acuity of mind of which the intentionalists are, apparently, incapable. Above all, it provides a measure -- howsoever imperfect -- of human conduct and of what "signs" to look for.

By contrast, intentionalism in history is basically a prosecutors game. It coaxes out an accusation from a result. By the same token, it serves as a deflecting exculpation by arguing that, since a particular means is not employed, the same intention does not exist. It is by recourse to this line of sophistical argumentation that defenders of Israel, and the Israeli government itself, begs off doing anything wrong in Gaza.

Reduced to a nutshell, the argument goes: "We don't have gas chambers in Gaza, therefore, how can you possibly accuse us of genocide?" This is precisely the contrived indignation one routinely hears from Zionist apologists. Of course, Israel has not committed barbarities on the scale of the Nazis, but that is not the point. The point is rather that Israel has adopted tactics and policies which -- in addition to being callous and cruel -- are known precursors to genocide. At the time Rafael Lemkin wrote his seminal and defining study of genocide he had no knowledge of gas chambers. His entire focus was on social, economic, educational and material discriminations; and his argument was that genocide (a word he coined) was carried out primarily by means that fell short of actual mass killing.

A slightly more subtle apologetic is the Weisglass/Dror formula of: "...we will provide just enough food to avoid a humanitarian crisis...." In other words, Israel will starve the Gazans, but not enough to actually starve them to death. This line of sophistry crashes on the fact that precisely because Auschiwitz-Birkenau was set up as a labour camp, the food rations there were better than in the ghettos, at least until the last cataclysmic days of the war. But would anyone seriously argue that, because the rations were better for those deemed fit to work, Auschwitz was safe-harbour from a humanitarian crisis? The latest computations indicate that, in the end, the greater part of the casualties arose from starvation and disease rather than execution.

More salient than "just more than not enough" was Lemkin's point that when you corral a population, reduce its material conditions for sustenance, take away it's economic independence and make it dependent on a minimal dole of gruels, you are consciously and deliberately setting the stage for a humanitarian catastrophe. That you haven't "intentionally" crossed the line, is immaterial.

The conditions in Gaza are entirely attributable to the primary fact that Israel maintains the strip as a vast Ghetto, the conditions of which have been summarized in several Woodchip articles. (Let Them Light Candles ; It's not a Holocaust even when we Say it Is ; The Inns and Outs of Christmas .)

In addition to malnutrition, the imprisoned inhabitants of Gaza suffer degraded water and sewage system and suffer periodic shortages of electricity.

About half of Gazan households have access to running water for only one or two hours a day, and the area’s waste water system is only partially functioning, resulting in the dumping of 30 million litres of untreated sewage into the Mediterranean Sea (U.N. Report (Jan 2008) .)

In the Gaza Strip, 90 to 95 per cent of the water is contaminated and unfit for human consumption. Yet, Israel does not allow the transfer of water from the Mountain Aquifer in the West Bank to Gaza. (Amensty Interntational Report (Oct. 2009).)

Electricity outages are frequent - power came on Sunday for the first time in eight days. One typical family of five is reduced to eating lentils, beans, and canned foods. Tomatoes are available, but have tripled in price, to 75 cents a pound. (Boston Globe (Jan. 2009).)

Think about it. Loosing electricity for eight days in the middle of the winter is no small inconvenience. A seashore swimming in sewage and "degraded" water is typhus waiting to happen.

According to the Israeli government the flotilla bearing 10,000 tonnes of food-stuffs is a "stunt" that will not provide any real relief. The cynicism is beyond belief. It is true enough that the "stunt" cannot repair the sewage systems, cannot open the acquifers, cannot provide electricity to hospitals, and building materials to repair flattened homes. It can do none of those things. But it can call attention to the fact that Israel's siege prevents all of those things.

Apologizing for Evil

In addition to begging off on the grounds that it is an "affront" to Jews to compare Israel's conduct with that of Nazis, Zionist apologists seek to excuse what Israel is doing in Gaza on a variety of other spurious and cynical grounds.

The most spurious -- and intellectually insulting -- is that Israel doesn't "occupy" Gaza. No... they don't; just as no Aryans could be found occupying space in the Jewish Ghettos. But the fact is that Israel completely controls access to and conditions within Gaza. Not only have they built a wall around Gaza, they control access by air and sea as well. Not only does Israel control access they control the utilities and even the collection and dispersing of the revenues of the so called Gaza Governing Authority.... which was planned to be no more "autonomous" than a Ghetto Jewish Council.

Assured of the world's stupidity, after denying "occupational control" over Gaza, Zionist apologists then do a volte face and argue that Israel is "justified" in imposing a "blockade" in response to Hamas' "barrage" of "rocket" attacks. What were the Jews in the ghettos if not "blockaded"?

But this justification fails precisely because blockading food stuffs to non-combatants is a war-crime, whether it is the British who do it to Germans (1917), or Soviets who do it to Kulaks (1932) or Israelis who do it to Gazans. Under international law, it is permitted to blockade a belligerent opponent in order to prevent it from receiving arms and war-making materials ("contraband of war"). The problem with the rule, evident by 1914, was that, on account of technological advances, just about everything -- including cotton or corn -- could be used to manufacture something that was a "material for war." This provided a god-send excuse to the murderous Shylocks of the world: "We have no intent to deny the occupants corn for food; we merely embargo corn for ethanol!" In a sad and brutal way Nazi candour was almost a relief from the cunning, hypocritical, pieties of the British Foreign Office.

But there is a humanitarian safeguard of sorts against the carte-blanche of blockade; namely, that an occupying power is responsible for the welfare of the people under its control and it is not permitted to hold civilians at ransom to extort political or military concessions from a belligerent opponent. What could be more morally revolting than holding a bowl of gruel beyond a starving child's reach while declaiming that "the blockade will stop, when the rockets stop." War is a nasty and vile business but there is a line past which even those failing in decency dont go.

What these summary considerations show is that, in tandem with its blockade, Israel has erected a wall of spurious legal technicalities the substance of which is that it is not an "occupying power" responsible for the Gazan's welfare and that is justified to "blockade" civilians within its tightened grip in order to stop a so-called barrage of so-called rockets "raining down" on defenceless Israelis. The projectiles are in fact little more than jumbo firecrackers that have killed a grand total of 7 people over five or six years. For this, Israel keeps 1.3 million people on the edge of starvation and disease. The Security Council has demanded an end to the blockade and virtually every agency that is not in the pay or control of Israeli apologists has concluded that Israel is in flagrant violation of humanitarian law.

To which the last and ultimate response of Zionist apologists is: "life is tuff". Yes it is. Might often asserts itself as right. It is perfectly true that in the chronicle of the "crimes, vices and follies of mankind" unjust wars have been unjustly waged. At the dawn of the Christian Millenium, Cicero called for the sparing of civilians. A thousand years later, the Pax Dei movement again sought to regulate the depradations of war by imposing an excommunication on those who abused civilians during hostilities. Five hundred years later, building on those precedents Vittoria (Spanish) and Grotius (Dutch), began the modern process of confining the ravages of war to those who actually fought in it. It is fair to say, that four hundred years of patient legal labours were blasted away -- by all parties -- in the cataclysm of the World War. But that fact hardly means that humanity has or ought to give up on trying to be -- if not "good" -- at least "better".

We all understand, that should there be another World War, there is no chance that it will be fought "justly". It is precisly the spectre of such a catastrophe that has resulted in a diminution of war to lesser conflicts over the past half century. That very diminution of the scale of war has in fact allowed for renewed efforts to strengthen the humanitarian restrictions on the way such wars are fought. We cannot control a tsunami; but we can contain lesser tides.

By no stretch of the imagination can Israel be regarded as fighting off a tsunami. It is engaged in a simple and classic war over disputed territory. There is, in short, no true necessity which impells dispensing with international humanitarian law. Given that fact, Israel's ultimate response that "life is tuff" is simply brutal cynicism. To this it may be answered that, yes, the struggle toward fulfilling our humanity is halting and hard, but it is important to know where each of us stands.

©WCG, 2010.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Rand, Rachel and the Heart of Atlanta

Libertarianism could be dismissed with a single word: Robinsonade. Alas, as most people -- oddly enough -- haven’t a clue as to what the word signifies, several more words are required.

Individuals producing in Society—hence socially determined individual production—is, of course, the point of departure. The individual and isolated hunter and fisherman, with whom Smith and Ricardo begin, belongs among the unimaginative conceits of the eighteenth-century Robinsonades, ... [Such conceits are not simply] a return to a misunderstood natural life ... but are rather, the anticipation of 'civil society', in preparation since the sixteenth century ... In this society of free competition, the individual appears detached from the natural bonds etc. which in earlier historical periods make him the accessory of a definite and limited human conglomerate. .... [T]his eighteenth century individual—the product of the new forces of production developed since the sixteenth century—appears as an ideal, whose existence they project into the past.” -- Karl Marx, Grundrisse.
No, Virginia, there is no Natty Bumpo. There never was such a thing as an isolated hunter-gatherer and the notion that there was is simply a retrofitting -- in hides and feathers to be sure -- of an 18th century phenomenon: the “individual” capitalist putting his labour pool to work.

The disastrous thing, in so far as the formation of American political consciousness is concerned, is that the vast expanse of a primeval continent that stretched before the Colonists’ eyes gave the Robinsonade every appearance of reality.

But it was an illusion. For every “Pilgrim’s foot whose stern impassioned stress, a thoroughfare of freedom beat through the wilderness!” (America the Beautiful), there was an industrially produced axe, back in England, which felled the tree in America.

“Production by an isolated individual outside society—a rare exception which may well occur when a civilized person in whom the social forces are already dynamically present is cast by accident into the wilderness—is as much of an absurdity as is the development of language without individuals living together and talking to each other.” (Marx, op. cit.)
And so we are brought to the absurdity of Rand Paul and Rachel Maddow  arguing with one another --- through one of the most technologically and socially networked means imaginable -- about go-alone individualism.

For those who may have missed the spectacle -- which is now the source of much commentary in the press -- the fracas arose over the rumour that Rand Paul, the Republican nominee for Kentucky’s Senate seat, was opposed to that portion of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibited racial discrimination by private businesses, such as Ollie's Family Barbecue. Did he truly believe, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow wanted to know, that "Walgreens" had a right to decline service to Negroes?

What close to 20 minutes of to’ing and fro’ing proved was that Rachel had jaws to rival a pitbull and Rand was supremely adept at not saying “yes”.

But anyone with a brain could see that the monkey was out of the sack: speaking for Libertarians, Rand Paul does not believe that Gubmint has a “right” to tell private businesses with whom they must and must not “associate”.

Of course, the proposition sounds bigger than the actual sliver of principle on which it was based. Paul agreed that there could no discrimination in Gubmint. Not only that, he agreed that there could be no discrimination by any business or organization that accepted public monies. What was left? if not some “a priori private” individual enterprise that was about as mythical as Natty Bumpo? To top off the absurdities, Paul reassured Maddow that “as an individual” he, personally, was utterly opposed to discrimination which he found totally abhorrent and despicable.

For her part, it is highly doubtful Maddow had ever heard of Ollie's Barbecue. It was certainly the case, that no one ever conducted a sit-in at a “Walgreen’s lunch counter” as she thought. Maddow belongs to a generation which has never drunk from a Whites Only water fountain and for whom segregation exists as some sort of politically correct shiboleth. For Maddow, speaking for “Progressives”, it was simply self-evident that no one has a right to discriminate, because, because...

What all this boiled down to was yet another tug-of-war over America’s favorite Tar Baby. Do you or do you not believe it is “OK” to not like African-Americans and, if so, how far are you going to take it? Once again we were left with the game-without-end of personal value judgements and freedumb of choice. Yes you do. No I don’t. That’s not right. Yes it is.

Both Rand and Rachel seemed to accept that the Supreme Court had decided it was “wrong” not to serve Blacks at the lunch counter, and the “argument” -- such as it was -- was whether the Court was right.

Well, what about Ollie’s?

“Ollie's Barbecue is a family-owned restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama, specializing in barbecued meats and homemade pies, with a seating capacity of 220 customers. It is located on a state highway 11 blocks from an interstate one and a somewhat greater distance from railroad and bus stations. The restaurant caters to a family and white-collar trade with a take-out service for Negroes. It employs 36 persons, two-thirds of whom are Negroes. In the 12 months preceding the passage of the Act, the restaurant purchased locally approximately $150,000 worth of food, $69,683 or 46% of which was meat that it bought from a local supplier who had procured it from outside the State.” (Katzenbach v. Mcclung, (1964) 379 U.S. 294.)

The Court went on to remark that “There was an impressive array of testimony that discrimination in restaurants had a direct and highly restrictive effect upon interstate travel by Negroes. This resulted, it was said, because discriminatory practices prevent Negroes from buying prepared food served on the premises while on a trip, except in isolated and unkempt restaurants and under most unsatisfactory and often unpleasant conditions. This obviously discourages travel and obstructs interstate commerce for one can hardly travel without eating.” (Ibid)

At the same time the Supreme Court was examining the “burger stream” at Ollie’s, it was looking under the bedsheets of the Heart of Atlanta Motel.

“Appellant owns and operates the Heart of Atlanta Motel, which has 216 rooms available to transient guests. The motel is ... readily accessible to interstate highways 75 and 85 and state highways 23 and 41. Appellant solicits patronage from outside the State of Georgia through various national advertising media, ... it accepts convention trade from outside Georgia and approximately 75% of its registered guests are from out of State. Prior to passage of the Act, the motel had followed a practice of refusing to rent rooms to Negroes, and it alleged that it intended to continue to do so. In an effort to perpetuate that policy, this suit was filed.” (Heart of Atlanta v. United States (1964) 379 U.S. 241)

The Supreme Court ruled that Heart of Atlanta had to bed, and Ollie’s had to sit, Negroes. But this had little to do with it being the “right” thing to do. The Court very ostensibly side-stepped that can of “personal value judgement” worms. Instead, the Court explained that the purpose of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was “to promote the general welfare by eliminating discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin in . . . public accommodations (Heart, supra, at p. 245.)

“The power of Congress to promote interstate commerce also includes the power to regulate the local incidents thereof, including local activities in both the States of origin and destination, which might have a substantial and harmful effect upon that commerce. One need only examine the evidence which we have discussed above to see that Congress may -- as it has -- prohibit racial discrimination by motels serving travelers, however "local" their operations may appear.” (Id. at p. 258.)

As for Ollie’s....

“It goes without saying that, viewed in isolation, the volume of food purchased by Ollie's Barbecue from sources supplied from out of state was insignificant when compared with the total foodstuffs moving in commerce. But, as our late Brother Jackson said for the Court in Wickard v. Filburn (1942): "That appellee's own contribution to the demand for wheat may be trivial by itself is not enough to remove him from the scope of federal regulation where, as here, his contribution, taken together with that of many others similarly situated, is far from trivial." (Katzenbach, supra, at p. 301.)

Ah yes... Wickard v Filburn ....

Nothing is better suited to prove the delusional nature of America’s love-fest with individualism than Wickard; for one could not possibly have been more Crusoe like than Roscoe Filburn, an Ohio back-country farmer who practiced “self-sustainable” living and whose extent of “intra-state commerce” consisted in dropping off some extra home-lain eggs for sale at a local General Store 10 miles down the dusty country road. Apart from that, he grew 10 acres of winter wheat from the harvest of which he baked his own bread. According to Filburn, he was as removed from inter-state commerce as one could possibly be, and therefore did not have to comply with the Agricultural Adjustment Act which set quotas on wheat production.

Not. The Supreme Court ruled that Roscoe Filburn was in fact “in” interstate commerce because by not buying inter state wheat (say from Nebraska), he affected the level of interstate commerce as much as if he had sold his wheat in interstate commerce.

"The reach of [Congressional] power extends to those intrastate activities which in a substantial way interfere with or obstruct the exercise of the granted power. (Id., at p. 124)

“But even if we assume that [Filburn’s wheat] is never marketed, it supplies a need of the man who grew it which would otherwise be reflected by purchases in the open market. Home-grown wheat in this sense competes with wheat in commerce.” (Id. at p. 128)
Accordingly, Filburn’s crop was subject to lien and a penalty of 15 cents per bushell in excess of his alloted quota. (Id, at p. 116) The Court had ruled: There will be no Robinsonades!!

Although the discussion in Wickard, Heart of Atlanta and “Ollies Case” is cast in terms of “local” versus “interstate” commerce, what the Supreme Court recognized was the truth of Marx’s critique of “individual production”.

“The more deeply we go back into history, the more does the individual, and hence also the producing individual, appear as dependent, as belonging to a greater whole: in a still quite natural way in the family and in the family expanded into the clan and then later in the various forms of communal society.... Only in the eighteenth century, in 'civil society', do the various forms of social relations [appear ]as mere incidental means towards his private purposes... But the epoch which produces this standpoint, that of the isolated individual, is also precisely that of the hitherto most developed social , general relations.”
To illustrate: The car which speeds along interstate 75 gives the impression of utmost disconnected individuality. What connection has it to Ollies or Heart of Atlanta Motel when it doesn’t even have to be driving on interstate 75 in the first place? But Ollies and the Negro’s Chevy that speeds by are in fact integrated in the most complex and inextricable ways imagineable. A motel could not exist without the motorists who drive by and the General Motors company could not exist without suppliers at one end and motorists at the the other.

What Heart of Atlanta and Ollies Case did was not to affirmatively create an “artificial” integration but rather to remove a contradiction to an integration that already existed in actual fact.

The plain fact is that the United States is an immense economic engine on integrated producing and consuming parts. The machine -- and the benefits it produces for all generally -- simply will not work when 12% of the population is half in and half out. (And this appplies whether the 12% is racially segregated or economically segregated as when unemployed.)

Civil Rights activists have always been a tad embarassed by Heart and Ollies. What they wanted to hear was something in overcoming and Kingesque tones about human dignity and the promised land. What they got instead was “levels of interstate flow”. But in a sordid kind of way the Supreme Court was even more profound. It recognized, as Marx put, that

"The human being is in the most literal sense a Ξωον πολιτιξον not merely a gregarious animal, but an animal which can individuate itself only in the midst of society." (Marx, op. cit.)

Marx did not mean “individuate” in the sense of “human potential” pscho-babble. Although in an ultimate sense Marx would probably agree with Feuerbach that “the essence of man is contained only in the community, in the unity of man and man," the focus of the Grundrisse was economic activity and, in that context, Marx was saying that so called “individual entrepreneurship” is, a fortiori, a social activity -- not "circumstantially" but "essentially".

There is in fact simply no form of economic activity that can be regarded as “private”. When one thinks about it, “private economic activity” is and always has been an oxymoron since there is no point in selling to one’s self. What there can be is privately managed activity; but commerce is necessarily social and hence political.

If there was a time, 200 years ago, when -- like a child camping in the back yard -- we could play at being Robinson Crusoe, that time was over. Ollie’s Case and Heart of Atlanta, simply gave judicial recognition to the fact that in a mass-industrial consumer society all business is public inter-state business.

With this in mind, it can be seen that the “debate” between Maddow and Paul was in fact a totally false dialectic. Neither of them questioned the neo-liberal premise of "general welfare through hope and a prayer". Instead, both used the same ol’, same ol’ race card to side-step the grotesque absurdities of economic laissez faire.

While Maddow did not expound a particular point of view, the stance implicit in her focus was explicated the day following by an opinion piece in the New York Times which engaged in a two steppin shuffle worthy of the best Vaudeville blackface.

In “advancing the autonomy of private businesses” the Times intoned, Paul is “is reviving libertarian thought in its peak period” as expounded in Milton Friedman’s 1962 book “Capitalism and Freedom.”

Milton, you say? Having thus clued everyone in to the connection between “libertarianism” and “neo-liberalism” (the Time’s own economics of choice), the Times then obscured: Friedman himself, the Times said, acknowledged that an individual choice to discriminate was a simply a reflection of his community’s values. Alas! These values were at war with Negroes. Thus, "Paul’s championing of private businesses, ignoring the rights of just about everyone else, places him on the wrong side of history” And of course the right side of history is that Negroes should be allowed to sit at lunch counters.

The problem with Maddow and her think-alikes at the New York Times, is that they take refuge in racially manichean rhetoric about white choice “warring” against blacks while ignoring the fundamental social irresponsibility of neo-liberal economics which is then papered over with politically correct "responsible" behaviour. There is nothing “progressive” about this; it is simply a species of charity toward the “deserving” Negro.

The problem with Paul and his Libertarian supporters is not simply that they are mired in a rued for reality that is actually passed but that they fail to grasp the real libertarian challenge.

During his interview, Ron Paul fairly desperately tried to tie-in a right to economically discriminate with First Amendment rights to believe what you want and hate whom you will. His mistake was precisely in trying to make a tie-in where the connection should in fact be cut.

The real challenge is how to preserve Robinsonades in terms of personal rights and political freedom, while acknowledging that there is no such thing as “private economic life” on the material level. This is the dilemma that that gave rise to so-called “Libertarian-Socialists”.

The sorry upshot of it all was that whereas Maddow’s political correctness has little problem with government dictating how a person is not allowed to think, Rand's libertarianism has little with problem with government not controlling how a person makes money. It is just the other way round.

©WCG -2010

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Lies in the Service of Neo-Liberal Villainy

Led by the Associated Press and the New York Times, the American-sourced media, continues its anti-Catholic kulturkampf by creating false and spurious news. The AP blared:

“Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday called abortion and same sex marriage some of the most "insidious and dangerous" threats facing the world today...”

Actually not. Speaking to assembled Catholic charity workers what the Pope said was,

“Initiatives aimed at protecting the essential and primary values of life, beginning at conception, and of the family based on the indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman, help to respond to some of today's most insidious and dangerous threats to the common good.”
Nowhere did Benedict make the absurd statement that gay marriage represented one of the “most” dangerous threats to the world.

The AP’s twisted logic went like this:

1. The phrase “indissoluble marriage between man and woman” is “the Vatican's way of expressing its opposition to divorce and same-sex unions.”
2. Thus, what the Pope really urged was initiatives aimed at protecting against abortion [sic] and gay marriage, and
3. Therefore, the word “some” in the last phrase refers to gay marriage.

The New York Times didn’t quite have the heart to explicate this ratio decidendi. Instead, it simply proclaimed as a Fiat from Forty Second Street that “Pope Decries Gay Marriage in Portugal Visit”. Nonsense.


There is no question that Catholic moral teaching decries abortion and divorce. There is also no question that the Church is opposed to same-sex marriage. But that does not equate with calling gay-marriage the greatest threat to civilization. If name-calling is to be wrung from the statement, it would have to be that the greatest threat to “indissoluble” marriage is “divorce”. But “Pope Decries Divorce” hardly makes for “news” -- much less a bold headline.

The AP, the Times, and the entire gaggle of western media that feed from their troughs, had simply re-arranged words and conjured up codes, to suit their own nefarious purposes.

They do this in order to obscure and if possible obliterate the more challenging aspects of Benedict’s address which was more concerned with the source and calibration of the Church’s charitable activities in a world whose dominant political-economy is fundamentally opposed to Catholic spirituality.

Taking his theme from the parable of the Good Samaritan, Benedict stressed that “The unconditional love of Jesus which has healed us must now become a love bestowed freely and generously, through justice and charity, if we want to live with a good Samaritan's heart.”

This, he said, was a task with “a variety of faces, all one in concern for social issues and, above all, in showing compassion to the poor, the infirm, prisoners, the lonely and abandoned, the disabled,children and the elderly, migrants, the unemployed and all those who experience needs which compromise personal dignity and freedom.”

One might have thought that if the Pope had “decried” anything it was the existence of poverty, loneliness, infirmity and helplessness. You know, all those Jeremiah thingies. But such a headline would hardly have colour coordinated with a New York Times, whose front page (web edition) included articles entitled “What half a million will get you in Austria...”

From a Catholic point of view, Benedict’s evocation of the Option for the Poor, was less a striking call than a long accepted and well understood sine qua non. Of greater concern to Benedict was how this option is to be carried out. His address broke this down into two subsidiary issues: (1) the Church vis a vis itself and (2) the Church vis a vis Society.

With respect to the first question, Benedict expressed the view that,

“In its social and political dimension, this service of charity is the proper realm of the lay faithful, who are called to promote organically justice and the common good, and to configure social life correctly.”

In other words, while it may be the job of priests to consercrate bread, it is the job of the laity to do the other half of Christ’s work by healing the wounds of the poor with “the oil of consolation and the wine of hope."

In Benedict’s view, this division of labour (or more precisely, this division of liturgies) correlated with a division of intuitions. Catholics accept that the formal contours of doctrine are, ultimately, the province of the clergy; and, as Catholics know, Pope Benedict recently published his encyclical on social justice (Veritas in Caritate). That doctrine provides the guidelines for charity-in-action. But, in Benedict's view, guidance is not a one way street because that social doctrine itself “takes charity as its principal strength and guide.” In other words, as Truth is found in Charity, true Charity is found in Truth.

Thus, the Pope went on to stress that lay participation in the work of charity “is not simply a matter of intellectual knowledge, but of a wisdom which can provide creativity, a sort of flavour and seasoning, to the intellectual and practical approaches aimed at meeting this broad and complex crisis.” In so saying, Benedict echoed the theme he expressed the day before, at mass, when he said, “Perhaps we have placed an excessive trust in ecclesial structures and programmes, in the distribution of powers and functions; but what will happen if salt loses its flavour?”

In other words, the Church's Good Samaritan mission contains a dynamic between objective doctrine and subjective seasoning; between clerical guidance and grass-roots shaping. Objective formalism and structures are only half the picture, the other half is the “salt of the earth” -- case by case application guided by subjective wisdom.

This dynamic in turn reflects the second problem; namely the often tense relationship between the Church as a whole and society. Those who have been following Benedict will not surprised to hear that he did not begin his discussion of this question in structural and institutional terms. No. More subtly, he began at the level of “how we think about things.”

“[I]t is not easy to arrive at a satisfactory synthesis between spiritual life and apostolic activity. The pressure exerted by the prevailing culture, which constantly holds up a lifestyle based on the law of the stronger, on easy and attractive gain, ends up influencing our ways of thinking, our projects and the goals of our service, and risks emptying them of the motivation of faith and Christian hope which had originally inspired them. The many pressing requests which we receive for support and assistance from the poor and marginalized of society impel us to look for solutions which correspond to the logic of efficiency, quantifiable effects and publicity.”

Throughout his career Ratzinger has warned against seeing the Church as simply another social-service agency. In his view, the Church doesn’t simply deliver services, it offers salvation. Speaking to social workers in Portugal, Benedict warned that both the sheer volume of desperate cases as well as a society which has, on the whole, espoused a culture of neo-liberal hedonism and power undermine the spiritual and catholic nature of liturgical charity. Once we begin to think like scientists, managers, and PR consultants we become indistinguishable from any other state or secular organ. Worse yet, we loose our Christian subjectivity and become ensared in what a Marxist would call the Fetish of the Commodity -- the mindset that explains and reduces everything to material and market-value terms.

From this intellectual differentiation, it followed that, on an institutional and structural level, it was necessary to “ensure that Christian charitable activity is granted autonomy and independence from politics and ideologies even while cooperating with state agencies in the pursuit of common goals.” But it was by now typical Benedict that this rather commonplace call for institutional autonomy was almost an aside to the more fundamental call for spiritual and intellectual freedom from the dominant secular mode of thought. It was in this context that Benedict alerted to the insidious threats to the “common good”, viz:

"The services you provide, and your educational and charitable activities, must all be crowned by projects of freedom whose goal is human promotion and universal fraternity. Here we can locate the urgent commitment of Christians in defence of human rights, with concern for the totality of the human person in its various dimensions. ... Initiatives aimed at protecting the essential and primary values of life, beginning at conception, and of the family based on the indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman, help to respond to some of today's most insidious and dangerous threats to the common good. Such initiatives represent, alongside numerous other forms of commitment, essential elements in the building of the civilization of love.”

There is no question that Benedict located the core of Catholic freedom in the primary values of life and heterosexual unions. After all, it is hardly a novel proposition that strong and loving families are the essential "building block" of harmonious and flourishing societies. But it is clear, in context, that the “insidious and dangerous threats” he was referring to was not “gay marriage” or even “divorce” per se, but rather “a culture, which constantly holds up a lifestyle based on the law of the stronger, on easy and attractive gain...” In fact, the culture and ideology espoused by the New York Times itself

Let there be no mistake about it. The Times is a neo-liberal bastion and bacillus. It daily promotes a culture based on individuation in pursuit of glittery and toney “style”. But that is simply the pogey bait for the well heeled and would-be heeled. Behind the glitter and “What a cool half million will get you in Austria” is the grinding mechanism of a political economy based on unfettered social irresponsibility and the exploitation of man, beast and rock for profit -- all excused with some noxious mantra of “market freedom”.

Is it any surprise that the propaganda organs of this devouring Saturnian system would turn their spew and wrath on a man who assails their villany?


Saturday, May 15, 2010

How the New York Times Wages War on Catholicism

On Thursday, “[n]early half a million people flocked to hear Pope Benedict XVI celebrate a Mass at the shrine of Fatima in Portugal, one of Christianity's holiest sites.” (Deutsche Welle ; BBC AOL ) . During the antecedent Rosary, Benedict alluded to the Burning Bush and spoke of the light which burns without consuming. The Pope reminded his listeners that,
“We are merely a bush, but one upon which the glory of God has now come down. To him therefore be every glory, and to us the humble confession of our nothingness and the unworthy adoration of the divine plan which will be fulfilled when “God will be all in all”.”
Benedict took note of the “devotion and affection of all ... the faithful” who had come from all around the world to attend the centenary of the Virgin’s apparition.

“I bring with me the worries and hopes of our times, the sufferings of our wounded humanity and the problems of the world,” he said, “and I place them at the feet of Our Lady of Fatima ... so that the family of nations ... may live in peace and harmony, to the glory of the most holy and indivisible Trinity.”

The New York Times did not report the event... at least not anywhere apparent. This was strange because just a few weeks ago, the Times’ public editor, responded to criticism of his paper’s prominent and unrelenting reportage on 30 and 40 year old pedophilia scandals, by assuring readers that, “Painful though it may be, the paper has an obligation to follow the story where it leads, even to the pope’s door.”

Ah yes... the journalist’s dogged and fearless pursuit of the truth.

Public Editor begged off not “giving equal effort to sex abuse in the public schools, or in other religions” on the grounds that it was “perfectly appropriate for The Times, with a worldwide audience, to pay far more attention to the handling of a sexual-abuse case under the jurisdiction of the prelate who would eventually become pope.”

Surely Portugal is part of the world-wide audience? Surely half a million from around the world is not a parochial event?

Evidently not. Evidently, the Times thinks it is far more appropriate to focus on a supposed theological crisis in a Bavarian village with a population of 5, 364 people.

Thus, while the Times ignored the in-gathering of half a million faithful at Fatima, the day following it gave prominent play to a story entitled Church Crisis Shakes Faith of German Town

The story, which is actually an exercise in cunning incoherence, serves to illustrate how The Queen of Forty Second Street rubs pieces of fact to spawn a reality it desires to bring about.

Ostensibly the report is about Oberammergau’s famous Passion Play; and, indeed, random facts about this play, in every other paragraph, provides the construct for what the Times really wants to foist.

Taking note that the play has been criticised by Jewish groups (plus ça change), the report quickly pivots to the sex-scandal: “This year though, ... it was the players who were registering the criticism... Villagers were shaken by revelations of past sexual and physical abuse...” at a monastery “a few miles” down the road.” What makes this “shake” global is anyone’s guess, but never mind,

Point 1: Don’t forget the “abuse” in the Church.

From here, the Times goes on to do an in depth analysis of this supposed crisis-of-faith among 5,000 Bavarian villagers. Of course, the Times doesn’t work off of anything resembling a poll. Instead it quotes the opinions of the play’s “iconoclastic director” Christian Stückl. The word “iconoclastic” is designed to help us over the inconvenient fact that Stückl is rather an "apostate" who has left the Church, so that his own opinion tells us little of Catholics are thinking. But never mind, Stuckl provides the Times with quote worth shuffling for

Point 2: “The church has to get away from its dogmas and laws.”

How one manages a leap from scandal to articles of faith is not demonstrated. But never mind. Done with Stuckl, the Times journeys to Morningside Heights and quotes one James Shapiro -- “a literature professor at Columbia University who wrote a book about the Oberammergau play -- for his pronouncement that,

Point 3: “Many, many Catholics are disenchanted,”

On what literary analysis Shapiro bases this sociological opinion is never explained. But never mind, it provides a good leap off for the next point. Back to Bavaria.

Among the “disenchanted”, we are told, was one of the actors, Frederick Mayet, who portrayed Jesus. The Times quotes Mayet as informing us that “rehearsals were rife with discussions of what happened in Ettal.” One might wonder when they had time to practice their lines. But never mind again. We are informed that the actor is thinking of leaving the Church because,

Point 4:I didn’t want to be a member of a church that welcomed Holocaust deniers with open arms,

Not only is this a complete non-sequitur, it is also an outright lie, as the Times very well knows. Bishop Williams was not welcomed back because of his historical views but as part of a general reconciliation over theological issues with a schismatic group. But that distinction is of no concern to the Times.

Of course, being the type of outfit it is and given its rather particular ideological bent, the Times can’t mention “Oberammergau” without working up the usual and predictable Nazi tie-in, noting that “Hitler was enthusiastic about the 1934 production....” But putting aside an irrelevant Hitler obsession, what the Times wants us to “know” is that: the “Church” commits pedophilia; it welcomes so-called “holocaust deniers”; has to give up its dogmas and even Catholics are turning away.

There is no easily apparent connection between these points. The fact that a handful of priests committed various kinds of sexual or non-sexual “abuse” has nothing to do with dogma and “holocaust denial” has nothing to do with either. It can be supposed for the sake of argument that the hierarchy’s handling of sexual abuse cases has led to disapproval and at least some disenchantment among the laity. But what have “dogma” and “denial” to do with this?

More specifically, one might ask, what dogma should be renounced? That Christ was the spotless Lamb of God through whose sacrifice the world (all of it) earns forgiveness and salvation? Having given that dogma up, is it being suggested that something called “denying the Holocaust” should be declared some kind of heresy?

Of course the Times is not so stupid as to venture such offensive absurdities. The best propaganda is that which leaves the inference at the tip of what is actually said. The Times is tilling the ground, or better put, tunnelling under the ramparts of the City of God.

The total bad-faith cheat in the Times’ article can be seen once one knows that throughout his visit to Portugal, Benedict repeatedly called for greater reliance on the role of the laity, which is at the heart of his desire to revive the Benedictine ethic of ora et laboro (work with prayer). Rather than report on that, the Times article quotes villager Mayet as saying “The leaders should think less about hierarchies and institutions and more about Jesus and how to reach the people again.” That’s nice. But surely, the Times’ Public Editor, who has avowed the global newsworthiness of the Before-He-Was-Pope’s handling of the scandal cases, would also admit the global newsworthiness of the actual Pope’s views on the matter? Surely Benedict’s remarks on May 11th were of passing interest?

“[The] local Church has rightly concluded that today’s pastoral priority is to make each Christian man and woman a radiant presence of the Gospel perspective in the midst of the world, in the family, in culture, in the economy, in politics. ...

“Perhaps we have placed an excessive trust in ecclesial structures and programmes, in the distribution of powers and functions; but what will happen if salt loses its flavour?

“In order for this not to happen, it is necessary to proclaim anew with vigour and joy the event of the death and resurrection of Christ, the heart of Christianity ... [to]... fully satisfy the profound longings of every human heart and give answers to its most pressing questions concerning suffering, injustice and evil, concerning death and the life hereafter.”

Evidently not. Evidently, more globally newsworthy were the opinions of an actor, in a small Bavarian village of 5,000 souls.

It is all very clear, however, once it is borne in mind, that what Benedict stated was the heart of the dogma the Times would rather see renounced (with “deniability” to be sure). In response to a barrage of letters excoriating the Times' sex-scandal reporting, Public Editor piously denied that the Times was "anti-Catholic". Bullshit.