Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Basic Education ...

The Modern Era


Renaissance means rebirth. The term was coined by Giorgio Vasari in
1550, who used it in his book describing the lives of major Italian
artists. What he meant by this word was the revival of pagan
culture of classical antiquity after the long sleep of the Middle
Ages. This Renaissance found its expression in architecture,
sculpture and painting and created the magnificent Italian cities
we still admire today.

This was no coincidence: the vibrant cultural awakening was about
pleasure on earth, a celebration of sensuality, colors, light, the
beauty of the human body. It was man returning from the heavens to
discover paradise on earth. It was a paradise of shapes and colors.
And this discovery set off a fever of sorts. The Renaissance
celebrated itself, as overthe- top and excessive and sought
expression wherever the senses mattered: in architecture and
painting. What timeframe are we talking about? Usually the
Renaissance is described as having lasted about 130 years from 1400
to 1530.

What set off this celebratory awakening?

This was the beginning of modern economy pushing out feudalism with
the following outcome: Instead of becoming a feudal kingdom, Italy
developed into a network of city-states. So where did the money
come from? The trade routes to the Orient run through Italy.
Artisans and the textile industry too could benefit from the
capital that was thus amassed and which created an influential

The taxes levied on Christian Europe by the church pour
continuously into Rome where the popes begin to expand the city as
of 1450 and in the process employ more artists than any other
previous era. Attempts to tap and completely drain the Christian
hemisphere in order to build St. Peter.s Basilica unleash the
Reformation (1517).

Due to this explosive growth of the money economy, Italy becomes
the cradle of the banking and credit business (many expressions
used in banking are of Italian origin such as account, bankrupt,
credit etc.). The banking capital is Florence. The family that owns
the largest bank also becomes the ruling family in Florence: the

As the Medici steered the city's affairs, Florence grew to become
the new Athens and was the cradle of the Renaissance. The literary
precursors of the Renaissance came from Florence and Arezzo
respectively. They created literary Italian and assured that
Italian is today's language in Florence: Dante, Petrarch and
Bocaccio Dante offered a synthesis of the concept of the world for
the Middle Ages. With his description of Hell, Purgatory and
Paradise in his Divine Comedy he created a cosmology with a moral
order in which every reward and punishment held its proper place.

With his Sonnets to Laura, Petrarch invented modern love poetry
Bocaccio and his Decameron created the example for the novella and
set a standard for the sexual freedoms characteristic of the

In 1439 a council was assembled in Florence to unify the Catholic
and the Greek Orthodox churches, which brought a large number of
Greek scholars to Florence. When the Turks conquered Byzantium and
crushed the Eastern Empire, many Greek scholars escaped to
Florence. And that added to Florence becoming engulfed in a fever
of humanism. Humanists were scholars who topped each other in their
passion for the Greek and Latin texts of antiquity. And thus the
literature of classical antiquity grew to become the new ideal
style. This in turn led to the following rediscoveries:

Seneca on tragedy

Plautus and Tarrant on comedy

the Greek and Roman historians from Herodotus and Thucydides to
Livy and Sallust in poetry Horace, Catull and Ovid

in philosophy mainly Plato (Aristotle had already reigned in the
Middle Ages). Florence experienced a Platonian Renaissance and a
Platonic Academy was re-founded. The concept of platonic love was
seen as having major importance. (®Socrates;®Botticelli)

Before the Medici came to power in Florence there had been a
quasi-democracy with parties stuck in constant quarrels and
struggles. Because of that heritage, it was thought that it help
those seeking powers if they to assured the goodwill of the
citizenry through various lavish expenditures , arts patronage and
commissioning and to secure power by contracting large public
projects. That led to

--the Medici becoming the greatest arts patrons in all of history
and this activity triggered the Renaissance in Florence;

--the fact that most of the artists first came from Florence;

--the situation that other rulers realized that their insecure
posts of power could be legitimized by general displays of
splendor, by commissioning public buildings, and setting up
symbolic state theaters.

After many wars and conquests a group of five city-states emerged
that were more powerful than the others. In each of these regions
illegitimate leaders had putsched themselves into power with the
help of cunning, malice and money. The normal course of affairs was
to ascertain political support through presents of various sums of
money and nepotism. That created, just as in today's parties, large
networks of clientele (of cliques and connections of various types)
that permitted the rulers to stabilize their regimes and grow their
dynasties. The five most powerful city-states were:

--Florence: the Medici were in power here.

--Milan: where the Sforza were in control.

--the Papal States: where the popes reigned supreme; but their
methods to obtain power were the same as elsewhere: If you wanted
to be elected Pope you had to blackmail the Cardinals who elected
him. One pope from the Borgia family (his daughter was Lucrezia
Borgia) was quite the family man and tried building a dynasty of
this kind of his own.

--Venice: there was no dynasty here but an oligarchy (a governance
of a few). A number of senatorial families created a council that
elected a doge as the ruler (Venetian for Duce=leader). The
government set up a very efficient secret police; and thus Venice
became one of Italy's most stable powers (and most wealthy) and
survived long after the others had crumbled.

--Naples became an urban kingdom that included all of southern
Italy. The French House of Anjou and the Aragons fought over it.
That led the way for the foreign involvement in Italy (France,
Spain, the Emperor), the fall of the free city-states (with the
exception of Venice) and the end of the Renaissance in the 16th
century. Naples actually played a minor role in all of these

The centers were Florence, Rome, Venice and Milan. And then there
were small sub-centers such as Ferrara, where the Este family
ruled, Mantua with the Da Feltres and the court of Urbino where a
certain Baldassare Castiglione wrote an influential book on
etiquette, with good behavior recommendations for the courtier of
the Renaissance: Il Cortegiano (The Book of the Courtier). This
book held great sway throughout Europe.

These city-states became what you could essentially call a 150-year
long art contest. The contestants were: Sandro Botticelli of
Florence (1444-1510)

He received his commissions from the Medici. Two of his paintings
have become modern icons (works of cult status). The first one is
The Birth of Venus: The Goddess rises out of the frothy sea
standing on a shell and clothed only by her long blond hair. The
other painting is an allegorical vision (allegory=a visual
representation of a concept), called La Primavera, or spring. Since
Florence is the city of Platonism, La Primavera is an allegory of
platonic love. Here is a bit of an interpretation. Zephyr, the
wind, nears from the right as he exales the breath of a god; and
hugs the nymph Clori and fills her with spirit in a copulatory act.
This causes Clori to transform herself into the figure next to her:
Flora who in turn refers to the central figure who has given the
painting its name: Primavera. In its entirety this is also a love
painting. The sky passionately turns its attention toward the earth
and brings on spring. In contrast to that, on the left side of the
painting, Mercury, the mediator between Heaven and Earth, directs
his attention toward the skies. Between him and the central figure
of Primavera are the three Graces, Venus, Juno and Athena who
represent beauty, harmony and wisdom. They have joined their hands
to either float above their heads or join together lower, across
their thighs and yet the ones in the center garner attention and
they are placed exactly at eye level. Together , the linked hands
symbolize the path of the spirit. This is the platonic cycle of the
spirit flooding the earth and returning to the heavens creating a
kind of cosmological eroticism. All of this makes you realize that
in order to understand the paintings of the Renaissance you need to
know Greek mythology, philosophy and of course the personnel of

Leonardo da Vinci of Vinci (near Empolia, 1452-1519)

He probably painted the world's most famous painting, the Mona Lisa
(which is on display in the Louvre in Paris). He most clearly
embodied the ideal of the Renaissance man, a universal genius. He
was an architect, an inventor of devices and weapons, an accomplis
hed draftsman, a tireless natural scientist, an engineer full of
ideas and an ingenious painter. He designed costumes and jewelry,
painted frescoes and portraits, laid out aqueducts for the city,
devised bathrooms, painted horse stables and also created images of
the Virgin Mary as well as altars. In Milan he painted one of his
most famous works: The Last Supper. It shows the apostles in the
moment when Christ says to them, "One of you will betray me today."
Then Leonardo traveled on to Florence and where he accepted a
contest against his rival Michelangelo. Leonardo painted a fresco
on one wall of a large room and Michelangelo painted on the other.
Leonardo lost the bet because his colors ran. He spent three years
(1503-1506) with the wife of Francesco del Giocondo coming to his
studio in order for him to capture her woeful smile and the
puzzling facial expression on his canvas. He requested musicians
attend these sessions as well who appeared to have increased her
woefulness. And he thus managed to paint the most famous smile in
art history. People have shot themselves in fits of hysteria in
front of this painting. Oxford scholar Walter Pater thought that
her face mirrors humanity's entire experience. Maybe the Gioconda,
who has become more popular under the name Mona Lisa, was smiling
with irony about one of the painter's secrets: He was homosexual
and had a quirk that Freud was extremely interested in: he was
unable to finish a painting. He kept the Mona Lisa under the
pretext that she was not finished. Leonardo was a man of great
strength, he could bend a horseshoe with his bare hands, knew how
to ride and to fight with his sword, clothed himself elegantly,
wrote in a special way from right to left, loved curiosities and
was himself an eternally curious man. In his observations, he
remained detached and could thus capture the grotesque, the ugly
and the beautiful. All dynamic phenomena held great fascination for
him, eddies in the water, clouds, mountains, rocks, creeper plants,
emotions and air currents. He was always preoccupied with the idea
of flying. He designed or constructed various flying machines,
parachutes, a roller, a universal screwdriver, a mortar gun, a
submarine and a steam-powered gun. He studied thermodynamics,
acoustics, optics, mechanics and hydraulics, compared human and
animal anatomy and completed countless drawings of the inner
organs, blood vessels and nerve fibers. He was one of the most
universally talented people to ever have lived and is perhaps only
comparable to Leibniz or Goethe.

Michelangelo Buonarrotti (1475-1564)

Michelangelo's decisive career leap was most dramatic. As an
apprentice he was chiseling away at a faun when Lorenzo Medici
passed by and critically inquired how such an elderly faun could
have such a perfect set of teeth. Michelangelo banged at the faun's
mouth with a hammer and struck out a single tooth. Lorenzo was
enthusiastic about this combination of hot-blooded nature and skill
and he invited him into his household. Michelangelo got into a
fight there and got his nose broken in the process. After that he
went to Padua and Rome where he created the marble Pietà (a
grieving Mary holds the dead Christ across her lap), returned to
Florence where he struggled with a block of marble from which he
liberated the sculpture of David (there is a copy in front of the
Palazzo Vecchio and the original is at the Academy of the Arts in
Florence - a must see) and then Pope Julius II requested he paint
the Sistine Chapel. Lying on his back supported by a scaffold he
drew the famous scenes from the Old Testament, the Creation of
Adam, as the Father stretches out his right hand, and creates Adam
as he touches his limp finger; the Temptation and Fall of Adam and
Eve; Noah's drunkenness; and many more Old Testament subjects which
he renders not only prophetically, artistically but as a painting
with the quality of a sculpture. Michelangelo infuses into his
rendition of the Book of Genesis the energy of his own creative
power, dynamism, the forces that lead to the birth of the world and
the passions that are expressed in the bodies of the people he
painted. There are approximately 50 female and male nudes in the
Sistine Chapel but there are no landscapes and no plants.
Everything is the expression of athletic power; Michelangelo's
muscular bodies are not only sensual but also powerful. As a
painter he was a sculptor and as a sculptor he was a painter. For
four years Michelangelo worked on the ceiling painting in constant
dispute with the Pope who always pressured him to show him the work
or he would dismantle the scaffold. When he refused, the Pope
threatened to have him thrown him off the scaffold. When he finally
did see it, he gave himself permission to die. He had seen the most
magnificent work of art ever created. Michelangelo did without
picturesque elements, anything decorative, or ornamental, the
landscapes, the arabesques, architectural backdrops and
concentrated just on the human bodies. His images breathed the
spirit of the Old Testament or of the new Protestantism. They are
foreboding figures, untypical for the Renaissance, which is why
Michelangelo became one of that era's most famous artists. When he
worked, he was possessed with the task at hand. He neglected
himself, slept fully clothed. After completing the Sistine Chapel
he had aged prematurely. He still lived to be almost 90 years old.

Titian (1477 or around 1487/90-1576)

He perhaps grew to be even older than that, perhaps close to 100
years old, but his date of birth is uncertain. He resided not in
Florence but Venice. In general he was Michelangelo's complete
opposite. He was perhaps the most representative painter of the
Renaissance. His specialty was the portrayal of female beauty--he
painted many Venuses and Aphrodites and the Virgin Mary as if she
wereVenus. In his work you see nothing of Michelangelo's protest
against the world and nothing about the darker sides of life.
Everything is color, light and sensual pleasure. He was the
unsurpassed master of nuance in coloring and portrayal of light.
Besides women, his second specialty was painting splendid
portraits. Because of the steely quality of his paintings he was
commissioned to paint the great leaders of the world and painted
kings (Charles V), popes, dukes and doges. When he died, Venice
paid him the honor of a state funeral. He is buried in the church
Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Friari.

Raphael (actually Raffaello Santi; 1483-1520)

He was born in Urbino but traveled from Perugia and Florence to
Rome where he was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint the room
in which the Holy Father signs the papal pardons (Stanza della
Signatura). The motifs of this monumental work almost seem to jump
right out of the art program of the Renaissance: it shows the
harmonization of religion and philosophy, of Christianity and
antiquity and of church and state. The church is represented by the
trinity, the apostles and the church fathers, philosophy is
represented by the group of three of philosophers and listeners:
Plato, the idealist, points toward Heaven, Aristotle, the realist,
points down to the ground, Socrates ticks off his arguments on his
fingers and Alcibades listens enraptured. The group also includes
other philosophers as well as the half-naked Diogenes, Archimedes
with his circles, Pythagoras with a harmony table, Heraclit
creating puzzles and among the listening students is a man who
looks like Raphael. Raphael's work shows this reconciliation most
prominently in his numerous paintings of the Virgin Mary where he
unifies the grace of antiquity with Christian religiousness. The
sweetness of his Virgin Mary paintings is unsurpassed. In this
synthesis he also incorporates other painters such as Leonardo,
Giorgione or Michelangelo. His most famous Mother of God, the
Sistine Madonna, has become the mother of all Mothers of God. In a
classic pyramidal arrangement her blue cape blows in the wind of
the Heavens and her red undergarments peek out. Her face is rosy
and she looks upon the world in a sad and surprised kind of way
holding in her arm the innocent child as the curtain opens behind
her opening the view to paradise. This is the most favorite Virgin
Mary in Christianity and is the model for innumerable devotional
objects, reproductions and postcards. Raphael was the jolliest of
all the artists. With him you do not feel the birthing pains
inherent to creating art, you cannot detect puzzles as in the case
of Leonardo and you are not scared by the demonic energies in
Michelangelo's work (which is why an English school of art found
him too superficial and consequently called themselves
"pre-raphaelites.). With Raphael there is no gap between body and
spirit or between feeling and intellect. His lover was probably the
model for the Sistine Madonna. As Vasari reports, he dove into
amorous adventures with abandon so that he one day "oversteppped
his borders" and died of overexertion when he was only 37.

The cities

These artists, along with countless architects, craftspeople and
master builders, built the treasure chest of Italy and then filled
it with so many pieces of art that the country is now the Mecca of
anyone who is educated in art or thirsty for the company of
beautiful objects. The cities of Italy were turned into luminous
islands of lavishness. The popes converted the ruins of antiquity
to a new baroque Rome of magnificence around St. Peter's Basilica,
the largest church of Christendom. Florence adored the dome of
their cathedral which Brunelleschi had erected and which defied the
laws of gravity and the millionaires like the Medici and the Pitti
filled their palaces on both sides of the Arno with the works that
were leaving the ateliers and workshops of Florentine artists by
the hundreds. In Pisa on any given day one could admire the victory
of the marble tower against the forces of gravity right up until
Galileo and his experiments unveiled the physical secrets behind it
all. Palladio decorated Vicenza and surroundings with his palaces
and villas built in the style of antiquity and which became the
model for all English country homes, the column -decorated palaces
in the US South and the White House in Washington. The coronation
of this era and the ones to follow was this very Fata Morgana over
the water, which took the shape of golden domes and palaces and
went by the name of Venice. With its singular backdrop the city on
the lagoon was the magical place that writers continued to pick to
stage their work: from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice to
Thomas Mann's Death in Venice right up to the mysteries by Donna

The long blossoming of this city set the stage for a culture of
celebration and which spread Venice's reputation throughout Europe:
the election of a new doge, celebration of women's day--the
Garanghelo--the birthday of a patron saint, St. Mark, and the
largest festival of the year, the Sposalazio del Mar, Venice's
ceremonial marriage with the sea: All of that offered the
opportunity for regattas with thousands of boats covered with
pennants and gondolas on the Grand Canal and in the sea facing
Piazza San Marco and the oriental fassade of St. Mark's Basilica
and Doge's Palace. Venice's carnival became legendary. And as time
wore on and Venice lasted, the city grew to become the city of
poetry, of yearning and of honeymoons. Venice was also responsible
for inventing a dubious urban construct: the Jewish ghetto, named
after the Italian word for foundry which is getto--and which lent
all ghettos around the world its name.

From the late 17th century onward these Italian cities were sought
out by young men eager to further their education. And these types
of trips can still be recommended today. If you want to educate
your eye and sense of taste you should leave the beaches of Rimini
and travel to Venice, Florence or Rome since Raphael's and Titian's
women are still more beautiful than the bikini girls in the colony
of Wanne-Eikel and Bottrop. Dietrich Schwanitz, All You Have to
Know © Eichborn AG, Frankfurt am Main, 1999

The end of the Renaissance

And why did the springs with all this beauty cease to flow after
130 years? Because an Italian and a German squelched them.

--In 1492, the Genoan Cristoforo Colombo discovered America and the
Portuguese found the sea route to India.

Henceforth, the merchants of northwest Europe chose to import and
export their goods via Antwerp and Lisbon. The Dutch inherited
Italy's role.

--In 1517, Augustinian monk Martin Luther nails 95 theses to the
door of the Wittenberg Castle Church which lent a public voice to
the widespread and latent (subliminal) dissatisfaction with the
church. What begins as a trickle of dissatisfaction quickly becomes
a dam-breaking torrent and split the church for good. When the
waters began to recede, the floods had left three separate camps.

--The Catholics. They remained loyal to the Roman Church or were
brought to their senses with interrogations of the less gentle
sort. This took place mainly in Spain, Italy, France, Poland and

--The Lutherans and the Anglicans. The Lutherans followed the
teachings of Martin Luther and created churches closely tied to the
governing princes. The Anglican Church was loyal to the King of
England but they combined Catholic liturgy (the form of worship)
with the Calvinist teachings of predetermination (God has
preordained the fate of every soul).

--The Calvinists and Puritans. The name Calvinists is based on the
reformer Calvin who set up a fundamentalist church state in Geneva;
in England the radical Protestants were called Puritans who mainly
sought to purge the liturgy of all Catholic remnants. Both of these
groups did not like the idea of a central church with priests and
bishops as Luther had also organized. They preferred the democratic
ideals of a free commune without priests or prelates: everyone was
to be their own pastor. Thus they split up into a myriad of sects,
which compensated their colorful diversity with fundamentalist
determination. They were active mainly in Switzerland, Holland,
Scotland, and England and then were pretty much undisturbed in
America. These are also the countries that invented democracy. The
Lutherans were the most loyal to the state, a characteristic that
was to have quite negative consequences as history unfolded. But
for Italy the break from the church mainly meant that the flow of
money from countless taxes and fees and which had fertilized Italy
in so many ways, dried up.

Because of the discovery of America and the Reformation Italy lost
two of its most important sources of revenue. The country never did
recuperate from that. Instead the central focal point of Europe
followed the sun and traveled west.

Doc: sample translation by Vivien Marx,

For further information on international rights for this title
please contact rights@eichborn.de

This excerpt is presented for informational purposes only.- Any use
or copying for commercial purposes is strictly prohibited.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

IRAN elections vs US elections - fraud

Iran Turmoil And Media Propaganda

By Partha Banerjee

24 June, 2009


"What point of view would you expect to come out of this? I mean without any further assumptions, what you'd predict is that what comes out is a picture of the world, a perception of the world, that satisfies the needs and the interests and the perceptions of the sellers, the buyers and the product."

-- Noam Chomsky.

In a 1992 interview on his seminal work Manufacturing Consent -- a treatise on how U.S. establishment functions with active aid from corporate media -- Prof. Chomsky said:

"It's basically an institutional analysis of the major media, what we call a propaganda model. We're talking primarily about the national media, those media that sort of set a general agenda that others more or less adhere to, to the extent that they even pay much attention to national or international affairs.

Now the elite media are sort of the agenda-setting media. That means The New York Times, The Washington Post, the major television channels, and so on. They set the general framework. Local media more or less adapt to their structure.

And they do this in all sorts of ways: by selection of topics, by distribution of concerns, by emphasis and framing of issues, by filtering of information, by bounding of debate within certain limits. They determine, they select, they shape, they control, they restrict -- in order to serve the interests of dominant, elite groups in the society."

Today, in June 2009, since the Iran turmoil broke out as an aftermath of the election results, Prof. Chomsky.s analysis seems more prophetic than ever before. In the post-9/11 days, when the U.S. govt. was preparing for a brutal and immoral war on Iraq, we saw similar mass manipulation on the now-trashed excuse of Weapons of Mass Destruction. It.s eerie to realize how quickly many people forget about the not-so-distant past!

In 2000, when I was a student at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, a few friends and I had organized a lecture of Noam Chomsky at the journalism school; at my insistence, Prof. Chomsky came to speak at the department for the first time. The lecture hall was packed, but with not too many students from the journalism department. Nonetheless, I remember how he brought up New York Times. then-journalist Judith Miller whose series of WMD stories de facto validated the war Bush, Cheney, Rove and Rumsfeld had already orchestrated to wage on Iraq.

There were many corroborations of Chomsky on the above. In March of 2004, when the Iraq war was full-blown, Antony Loewenstein wrote in Sydney Morning Herald:

"In the run-up to the Iraq War, [Judith] Miller became a key reporter on that country.s supposedly documented WMDs. She wrote many articles relayed around the globe on the Bush administration.s doomsday reading of Saddam.s regime. She painted a terrifying picture of his arsenal with apparently sound intelligence sources to back her claims.

However, it emerged that the vast majority of her WMD claims came through Ahmed Chalabi, an indicted fraudster and one of the leading figures in the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the group keen to militarily overthrow Saddam. Miller relied on untested defectors. testimonies (usually provided by Chalabi) to write several front-page stories on this information. Michael Massing from Columbia Journalism Review suggests her stories were "far too reliant on sources sympathetic to the (Bush) administration".

"Those with dissenting views -- and there were more than a few -- were shut out."

In the 1992 interview, Prof. Chomsky said:

"The New York Times is certainly the most important newspaper in the United States, and one could argue the most important newspaper in the world. The New York Times plays an enormous role in shaping the perception of the current world on the part of the politically active, educated classes."

In today.s globalized communication when the politically active, educated classes all the over world check out the name-brand media outlets such as the Times, BBC, CNBC or CNN before they form their opinions on important issues, it.s all the more relevant to understand the nature of the propaganda, or for those that would rather opt for a less harsh phraseology, advocacy journalism. In fact, some Columbia Journalism professors always complained that I was practicing too much of advocacy journalism at the school: at that time I was telling people that the stock market hype was a made-up bubble, destined to crash.

With the above thoughts in mind and lessons I learned from my own experience at the elite Columbia Graduate School of Journalism -- a select incubator for would-be-journalists working for U.S. and global media organizations alike -- I came up with the following thoughts on the current Iran fallout, and shared them with a few friends. I wrote (in verbatim):

1. Western media including the Times, CNN and BBC are portraying Iran vote as fraud, even though the first election story that came out in the Times had a line that Ahmedinejad enjoyed wide popularity in the villages where the majority of Iranians live. So, why so much raucous?

2. Notwithstanding the fact that the Ahmedinejad regime is neither democratic nor transparent, it conducted an open election where at least four major candidates ran with wide press coverage (unlike the U.S., where we basically don't hear about candidates outside of the two big parties).

3. Iran govt. has not banned massive opposition rallies, like the ones we just saw in Tehran. How many media reporting have we seen of such opposition rallies in Saudi Arabia? Or, for that matter, in other U.S.-blessed autocratic regimes such as Burma?

4. Media is not showing us the real political interests we have in Iran: such as Israel.

5. Media is not showing us the real economic interests we have in Iran: such as oil.

In that email communiqué, I also said that I have no special love for the secretive and heavyhanded Iran regime. However, the media propaganda is pathetic. And this is happening at a time when the entire economy in the U.S. is collapsing, with people losing jobs, houses and health care (and the govt. is bailing out failed corporations). It's often the case that under these circumstances, the people in power, including corporate media, need serious diversion. Iran and North Korea could be some of those diversions.

Some young Iranian men and women were angry at my insistence that the media propaganda could be deemed as politically motivated diversions. These friends are of course fiercely anti-Ahmedinejad and mostly West-educated. However, I think we have an obligation to explain to them our points of view. The protest is real: Iranian people have lost their lives.

In the context of the WMD propaganda Judith Miller style, the other question I later asked was, is Ahmedinejad our new bogeyman just the way Saddam Hussain was before he was destroyed along with his entire family? And just to remember one more time, during the decade-long Iran-Iraq war in the 1980.s, wasn't it the fact that the U.S. govt. had supported Saddam with tons of money and weapons? Just to remember, wasn't it true that Saddam was invited to the U.S., and was presented with an honorary citizenship with a ceremonial key to the city of Detroit?

Well, to be fair, Ahmedinejad was never given a similar honor in the U.S. even though not very long ago, he was invited by Columbia University to speak to the faculty and students, much to the opposition of certain groups. To make up for his "error," the president of the university gave a "welcoming speech" for the invited guest using a language that was anything but welcoming. In fact, it was very unwelcoming.

Now, in the light of what I wrote, let.s come back to some more observations Prof. Chomsky made in his 1992 interview.

"The major agenda-setting media -- after all, what are they? As institutions in the society, what are they? Well, in the first place they are major corporations, in fact huge corporations. Furthermore, they are integrated with and sometimes owned by even larger corporations, conglomerates -- so, for example, by Westinghouse and G.E. and so on.

So what we have in the first place is major corporations which are parts of even bigger conglomerates. Now, like any other corporation, they have a product which they sell to a market. The market is advertisers -- that is, other businesses. What keeps the media functioning is not the audience. They make money from their advertisers. And remember, we're talking about the elite media. So they're trying to sell a good product, a product which raises advertising rates. And ask your friends in the advertising industry. That means that they want to adjust their audience to the more elite and affluent audience. That raises advertising rates. So what you have is institutions, corporations, big corporations, that are selling relatively privileged audiences to other businesses.

Well, what point of view would you expect to come out of this? I mean without any further assumptions, what you'd predict is that what comes out is a picture of the world, a perception of the world, that satisfies the needs and the interests and the perceptions of the sellers, the buyers and the product."

In fact, in several articles during the 2008 election campaign when I was actively working for Barack Obama, I observed that corporate media were keeping the so-called election tension alive and making up a false neck-to-neck competition between Obama and McCain even when people -- Democrats and Republicans alike working on the ground -- already knew that McCain.s chances, even with Sarah Palin and the far-right-wing coming together, were remote. I wrote that big media, for the sake of making big profit out of the elections selling the campaign "news" and "predictions," kept the high-tension wire alive.

Keeping the above in mind, I keep asking some follow-up questions:

1. Is it possible to accept the relentless media blasting of the Ahmedinejad govt. and the so-called election fraud without a discussion of history? Do we really know what his U.S.-supported rival Moussavi really stands for? Or, our knowledge and perception don't matter?

2. Keeping in mind how the U.S. govt. always used such turmoil in other countries (many say, actually fomented major problems with the use of CIA and other instigating and funding agencies), how credible is the current reporting on Iran?

3. Who really benefit if the Ahmedinejad regime is more discredited, and perhaps eventually falls? Who despises Ahmedinejad the most: is it the right-wing Israeli groups and their U.S. counterparts, and/or is it the so-called free-market enterprises (including oil and arms industries such as Halliburton) that are greatly upset at the non-compliance of the Iran regime?

4. For powerful media such as CNN, BBC, New York Times and Washington Post with their 24/7 time and space, is it objective reporting when they measure Iran and its theocracy narrowly by one standard and those in Saudi Arabia with another? After all, in Saudi Arabia, there.s not even an iota of market-driven Western democracy that U.S. is so desperate to impose!

5. For that matter, is it fair and balanced reporting (and I.m not even talking about right-wing Fox TV or GE-owned NBC) when media puts one type of spin on "rogue" countries such as North Korea, yet excludes from that discussion U.S.-blessed authoritarian, repressive regimes such as Burma, Pakistan, Turkey or Colombia?

Therefore, in the current context of Iran, it.s important to know the similarities of the various media spins and propaganda we.ve seen over the history. It.s important to find similarities between extremely rich, corrupt and abhorred-by-people puppet personalities such Chalabi of Iraq, Karzai of Afghanistan and Rafsanjani of Iran. It.s important to know what they've done before, and what connections they have had with groups both in the U.S. and elsewhere.

It.s not just enough to be content that Barack Obama has so far kept his balanced and measured stance against all the pressures and provocations from the anti-Iran forces. It.s important for us -- the politically active and educated class that Prof. Chomsky talks about -- to understand indepth what.s going on, and expose the hidden political agenda of the people in power.

And it.s not enough to find parallels between the voting fraud in Iran 2009 and voting fraud in Florida 2000. Or, the fact that big media in U.S. never even told us the whole story about Florida.

Most importantly, you don.t need to support a secretive regime with history of human rights abuses to criticize the barrage of lies, half-truths, exclusions and double standards that pass by the name of elite journalism.

In fact, challenging them on the above is the essence of a true democracy.

End-note: Paraphrasing Chomsky, "it's extremely important if history is going to be shaped in an appropriate way, that certain things appear, certain things not appear, certain questions be asked, other questions be ignored, and that issues be framed in a particular fashion."

It.s upon us -- small people -- state establishments and corporate media neglect, undermine and exclude from the conversation -- to shape the history. We.ll do it our way.

[Partha Banerjee is a human rights, labor and media activist in New York. He is the author of In the Belly of the Beast: Hindu Supremacist RSS and BJP of India. Email: banerjee2000 --at---hotmail.com .]


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Friday, June 12, 2009

US government and the stalinist junta methods...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009
The Current Battle against State Secrets Privilege

‘Sanitization’ is not the answer -- by Sibel Edmonds

During the past few months I have been actively following the latest activity on the state secrets privilege (SSP). First, I was pleasantly surprised to see that this issue of extreme importance to our civil liberties and constitutional rights was finally getting long-over-due and deserved attention from the media. After all, the memories of fighting SSP in the federal courts all the way up to the Supreme Court, holding press conferences together with the ACLU to bring needed media attention to this draconian abuse, making the rounds in Congress to have them address this ‘privilege’ through legislation to restrict its misuse and abuse, are still fresh and vivid for me.


Then I started detecting some troubling common trends showing up in media reports and subsequently in discussions and statements within Congress. The most suspicious of these came in the form of sanitizing major SSP abuse cases from reports put forth by both the mainstream media and some in alternative publications. The first invocation of the SSP by the Bush Administration was in my case. Back then, if you had done a Google search on ‘state secrets privilege’ you would have come up with only ‘7’ results; three of them repeats. After successfully getting away with SSP invocation in my case, the administration opened the flood gates for others. Now I invite you to search all the archived news reports on SSP in the last year or so. As you will see, in every single report in which the abuses of SSP and its history are cited, you will not find this first case; my case. Further, if you were to look for other major abuses of SSP, such as the Barlow Case, you will find none. The valid cases cited are mainly limited to:

Khalid Al-Masri, Maher Arar, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, Binyam Mohamed

With a note here and there on ‘NSA’ related information and the historical Reynold’s Case from 1953.

Finally, I decided to dig further and explore the reasons behind these significant omissions and the accompanying information spin that seems to be packaged with the intention of fulfilling Washington’s objective - seeing the related campaign and activities fail. Of course, based on my own case and experience with SSP, I had my own theories as to why the issue was being narrowed down to certain ‘selected’ cases and interpretations; counterproductive to the objective shared by SSP recipients and organizations who have been truly active in seeking to have it abolished or reformed through congressional legislation. But I was also interested in getting the opinions of those who have been actually involved with these cases, either as plaintiffs or attorneys representing SSP cases, or even a few trusted insiders in Congress with direct knowledge. So I contacted several and include their views and interpretations here.


The Congressional Angle

A well seasoned congressional staff member connected to a well-known ‘Centrist’ office active in the current SSP debate, who ‘insisted’ on being granted anonymity, had the following to say:
    “Contrary to what they may claim in order to pacify the recent ‘Anti State Secrets Privilege’ movement, the Congress does not want to deal with this issue. And this applies to members of both parties…of course we will hold a couple of hearings and show we have investigated and reviewed cases...”
He then went on to list several enlightening points regarding the ‘real’ factors driving the current position on SSP:

  • We are being told that the president [Obama] will veto any proposed legislation dealing with State Secrets Privilege…that and that no one in Congress really wants to touch this area. Having the press limit the information to ‘War on Terror Suspects’ [Emphasis added] helps both: the President and the reluctant Congress.

  • The cases before us are ‘selectively’ [Emphasis added] related to the War on Terror. A few Arab guys with their claims will not bring sympathy from the majority in this country. Not in Iowa, not in Utah…you catch my drift?

  • …I am talking about cases where there are no questions of ‘Criminality’ being involved or covered up. We won’t touch those cases. No one will go for that. The reasons…obvious… Being unfair or making the wrong call to determine if someone is a terrorist does not constitute ‘criminal.’ [Emphasis Added]. As for the NSA related case, well, the new legislation took care of that…

  • By the way, we don’t expect to see any cases of abuses of SSP by the Clinton Administration cited anywhere. Holder’s office in the background and the majority leaders up on the front lines are ensuring this through the media and the NGOs.

Let me recap what is being said, the reality ‘on the ground’ here:

Like any other president before him, and probably those who’ll come after him, President Obama is not going to limit his presidential powers when it comes to this draconian absolute executive power. He has made it clear to his now the majority party members and they are set to follow his guideline on this. It is a slam dunk position with a guaranteed ‘win’ since the minority in Congress also encourages and backs this position.

Somehow the Executive Branch and the Congress have managed to accomplish their objectives on SSP through the U.S. media. They want the reporting massaged and messaged in such a way that the publicity on SSP is limited to only ‘select’ cases where ‘executive criminality’ and or ‘covering up executive criminality’ will not be an issue. Those SSP cases where the executive branch used this level of secrecy to cover up criminal deeds would make the need for Congressional action on SSP far greater. After all, we even have an Executive Order that currently prohibits secrecy and classification from being used by the Executive Branch in order to conceal violations of law. Of course with the case(s) involving NSA warrantless wiretapping, as quoted by the congressional source above, they no longer have to worry, since they took care of it through retroactive legislation.


With cases involving wrongful detention and abuse of those ‘wrongfully accused’ in the government’s war on terror, it has been set up so that these cases can be written off as ‘egregious labeling, handling and treatment’ committed immediately following the September Eleven Attacks. Excuses such as ‘extraordinary’ circumstances, ‘bureaucratic bungling,’ and the previous administration’s ‘excess’ have been all lined up to be used if or when SSP makes it’s way into Congress. Further, the government also counts on bigotry to insure that there will be no major public pressure, since the involved victims are not (at least most) Americans, have Arabic names, and are of Muslim background. They believe that the majority of Americans will not be sympathetic to these plaintiffs, so there will be no problem killing any chance of restraining the long-abused SSP through meaningful legislation.

Richard Barlow and the State Secrets Privilege

Richard Barlow, an intelligence analyst and a former senior member of the Counter-Proliferation unit at the CIA lost his job when he objected internally to the George H.W. Bush Administration’s misleading Congress over Pakistan’s nuclear program. Following Congress-ordered investigations, the inspector-general at the State Department and the CIA concluded that Barlow had been fired as a reprisal. Further, a final investigation by Congress' own Government Accountability Office completed in 1997 largely vindicated Barlow. The Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees concluded that Barlow was due Congressional relief in light of unjustified DOD actions against him and cover-ups with Congress. A relief bill was introduced but the Senate Judiciary Committee referred the bill the Court of Federal Claims for more "fact finding" in what is known as a Congressional Reference, in which the Congress still remains the deciding body. For more detailed background and related official documents on Barlow see here.

On February 10, 2000, in the Barlow Case before the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, CIA signed a declaration and a formal claim of SSP. Separately, in another declaration, Michael Hayden, Director of NSA, also formally invoked SSP. The decision by the Court to accept the government’s broad invocation of SSP prevented Barlow from obtaining needed facts and evidences. With the court proceedings closed to the public, without the ability to present numerous official reports and evidence due to the court’s acceptance of the blanket SSP, Barlow’s case lost in 2002. For more legal background and facts on the court case see the memo by Louis Fisher of the Congressional Research Service.

-On ‘executive criminality & cover up’:

    Top U.S. officials were allowing Pakistan to manufacture and possess nuclear weapons, and the A.Q. Khan nuclear network was violating U.S. laws. Not only that - the same officials were also lying to Congress. They were hiding these activities because the truth would have legally obligated the U.S. government to cut off its overt military aid to Pakistan.
-On Partisan Focus & Excluding other Administrations’ abuses:

    Barlow’s SSP case involved four administrations: Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush.

    The case involved both parties; Democrats & Republicans.
-On Congress’ bigoted view of Public Sympathy:
    The invocation of SSP in Barlow’s case can not be easily written off as extreme measures for extreme situations under the ‘war on terror.’

    Mr. Barlow was and is an exemplary U.S. citizen, was awarded the CIA's Exceptional Accomplishment Award in 1988, and was considered a patriot for serving America’s interests by Congress and even by the executive branch who went after him.
When I contacted Mr. Barlow and asked for his view on the troubling trend by the media and Congress in packaging SSP related information to mislead the public and destroy any chance of reform, this is what he had to say:

    "Long before the Congress even begins to address issues relating to the use of SSP in court cases involving private charities, foreigners, suspected terrorists, or any private parties, it clearly needs to first address the use of SSP by the Executive Branch to conceal crimes, abuses, or fraud by the Executive Branch against the Congress itself or against federal intelligence officers or other federal employees [who] are the victims, and especially when it involves issues [of] Congress being lied to or willfully misled regarding intelligence information.”
He then added the following:

    "The media must go further than merely reporting the actions and inactions of Congress and the courts: we need investigative reporting on why the Congress has failed to address cover-ups of illegal activity by the Executive Branch and what Members of Congress are responsible for this abdication of Constitutional responsibility, particularly if Obama continues to break his campaign promises on SSP and follow in the footsteps of Bush on this and other national security matters.”

Sibel Edmonds & the State Secrets Privilege

I am not going to re-visit the many-times-repeated details of the SSP invocation in my case. The legal outline of SSP abuse by the Bush Administration invoked to cover up ‘criminal’ activities and subsequent cover up of these criminal activities can be found on the ACLU site. According to Ann Beeson, former legal director at the ACLU:

    “The state secrets privilege should be used as a shield for sensitive evidence, not a sword the government can use at will to cut off argument in a case before the evidence can be presented. We are urging the Supreme Court, which has not directly addressed this issue in 50 years, to rein in the government's misuse of this privilege."
In my case the government also used the privilege to exclude members of the press from covering the court proceedings:

    “The ACLU is also asking the Supreme Court to reverse the D.C. appeals court's decision to exclude the press and public from the court hearing of Edmonds' case in April. The appeals court closed the hearing at the eleventh hour without any specific findings that secrecy was necessary.”
How does this case fit the Congress’ criteria to exclude?

-On ‘Executive criminality & Covering it Up by invocation of SSP & abuses of classification:
    In addition to the Dickerson Case, which was characterized by Senator Grassley as “a very major internal security breach, and a potential espionage breach," and later confirmed by the DOJ-IG (investigation [PDF]), my case also involves espionage activities by several high-level U.S. officials, both elected and appointed. Several elected officials, an official at the State Department, and a few high-level officials in the Pentagon were involved in passing highly classified information to foreign entities connected to Turkey, Pakistan and Israel. Along with the confirmed Dickerson case involving Lt. Colonel Douglas Dickerson - who worked for Douglas Feith and Marc Grossman - other connected officials’ espionage activities were also covered up by invoking SSP.
-On Partisan Focus & Excluding other Administrations’ abuses:
  • The information involved in my case covered the time period 1996-2002. It involved two administrations and two political parties.
  • Similarly, information implicating several elected officials in major corruption cases also involved both parties.
-On Congress’ bigoted view of Public Sympathy

  • My case does not fit the ‘War on Terror’ excuse.

  • The case didn’t involve a ‘mistaken’ suspect terrorist or suspect organization.

  • I, as the plaintiff, was and am a United States Citizen, thus my constitutional rights were directly violated by invocation of SSP.
I believe providing background on and an overview of these two relevant and major SSP cases will suffice to establish the reasons behind the intentional sanitization of SSP media coverage and other reports - so far successfully achieved by the executive branch and the Congress.

The recent ‘supposed’ leak of a report by the Congressional Research Service on SSP under the title of “The State Secrets Privilege and Other Limits on Litigation Involving Classified Information” is a very appropriate example:

“The Congressional Research Service has prepared a new account of the state secrets privilege, which is used by the government to bar disclosure of certain national security information in the course of civil litigation. While the CRS report contains nothing new, it is a detailed, dispassionate and fairly comprehensive account of the subject. A copy was obtained by Secrecy News.”
Assuming that this report in fact was leaked (my congressional sources claim otherwise, but I couldn’t substantiate it definitively.), I invite the readers to review the ‘analyzed’ and ‘cited’ cases. Please carefully review the citations, and take note of the cases taken into examination, especially those since 2000. Here is the list:


Al-Haramain Islamic Fund v. Bush, El-Masri v. US, Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan

Not surprisingly, the ‘leaked’ report intended for Congress based on the ‘latest’ anti State Secrets Privilege movement’s pressure on Congress to act, meets the ‘qualification’ criteria.

I contacted Mark Zaid, a Washington attorney who has represented many plaintiffs in SSP cases, including me, and this is what he had to say:

"The abuse of the privilege extends beyond protecting Bush Administration policies; it is often focused on covering up institutional misconduct and embarrassment that transcend political lines."
Regarding the latest media coverage, mainstream and alternative, and their either naïve or agenda-driven case selections Mr. Zaid states:

“This provides an incomplete portrait of the dangers of the invocation of the privilege and in some ways fosters further abuse."

Based on the ‘sanitization’ criteria as explained by the quoted congressional staff member, it is obvious why the major SSP cases provided above ‘could not’ be included in any potential/future congressional discussions and or hearings. These cases cannot be quickly written off under the excuses of ‘war on terror’ or ‘bureaucratic bungling.’ The inclusion of them would make it difficult, if not impossible, for Congress to shrug off SSP and let its abuses continue. The coverage of these cases would likely garner outrage by the public majority regardless of political partisanship.

What is not obvious is how the press, both mainstream and alternative, has come to implement these shrewd political objectives, serving both the Congress and the executive branch. As for the mainstream media it doesn’t come unexpected. We have gotten used to it; whether from their record and coverage in leading us to war in Iraq, or the latest revelations of their inner workings when it came to the NSA warrantless wiretapping of Americans.

However, I am not ready to attach the same cynical but realistic agenda to the alternative press. The reasons may be as simple as pure ignorance, naivety, myopic partisanship, or simply stupidity. Whatever the reasons, the likely consequences of them playing into the hands of the political establishment and their agenda is to help us lose the battle against SSP when we seem to finally have momentum and a strong movement to address this draconian abuse once and for all through sound legislation with teeth.

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Chomsky on Obama Mid East Speech

Chomsky on Obama Speech
By Noam ChomskyImage

Chomsky, whose recent books include "Interventions" and "The Essential Chomsky," sent the following to the Institute for Public Accuracy this morning: "A CNN headline, reporting Obama's plans for his June 4 Cairo address, reads 'Obama looks to reach the soul of the Muslim world.' Perhaps that captures his intent, but more significant is the content hidden in the rhetorical stance, or more accurately, omitted.

"Keeping just to Israel-Palestine -- there was nothing substantive about anything else -- Obama called on Arabs and Israelis not to 'point fingers' at each other or to 'see this conflict only from one side or the other.' There is, however, a third side, that of the United States, which has played a decisive role in sustaining the current conflict. Obama gave no indication that its role should change or even be considered.

"Those familiar with the history will rationally conclude, then, that Obama will continue in the path of unilateral U.S. rejectionism.

"Obama once again praised the Arab Peace Initiative, saying only that Arabs should see it as 'an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities.' How should the Obama administration see it? Obama and his advisers are surely aware that the Initiative reiterates the long-standing international consensus calling for a two-state settlement on the international (pre-June '67) border, perhaps with 'minor and mutual modifications,' to borrow U.S. government usage before it departed sharply from world opinion in the 1970s, vetoing a Security Council resolution backed by the Arab 'confrontation states' (Egypt, Iran, Syria), and tacitly by the PLO, with the same essential content as the Arab Peace Initiative except that the latter goes beyond by calling on Arab states to normalize relations with Israel in the context of this political settlement. Obama has called on the Arab states to proceed with normalization, studiously ignoring, however, the crucial political settlement that is its precondition. The Initiative cannot be a 'beginning' if the U.S. continues to refuse to accept its core principles, even to acknowledge them.

"In the background is the Obama administration's goal, enunciated most clearly by Senator John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to forge an alliance of Israel and the 'moderate' Arab states against Iran. The term 'moderate' has nothing to do with the character of the state, but rather signals its willingness to conform to U.S. demands.

"What is Israel to do in return for Arab steps to normalize relations? The strongest position so far enunciated by the Obama administration is that Israel should conform to Phase I of the 2003 Road Map, which states: 'Israel freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements).' All sides claim to accept the Road Map, overlooking the fact that Israel instantly added 14 reservations that render it inoperable.

"Overlooked in the debate over settlements is that even if Israel were to accept Phase I of the Road Map, that would leave in place the entire settlement project that has already been developed, with decisive U.S. support, to ensure that Israel will take over the valuable land within the illegal 'separation wall' (including the primary water supplies of the region) as well as the Jordan Valley, thus imprisoning what is left, which is being broken up into cantons by settlement/infrastructure salients extending far to the East. Unmentioned as well is that Israel is taking over Greater Jerusalem, the site of its major current development programs, displacing many Arabs, so that what remains to Palestinians will be separated from the center of their cultural, economic, and sociopolitical life. Also unmentioned is that all of this is in violation of international law, as conceded by the government of Israel after the 1967 conquest, and reaffirmed by Security Council resolutions and the International Court of Justice. Also unmentioned are Israel's successful operations since 1991 to separate the West Bank from Gaza, since turned into a prison where survival is barely possible, further undermining the hopes for a viable Palestinian state.

"It is worth remembering that there has been one break in U.S.-Israeli rejectionism. President Clinton recognized that the terms he had offered at the failed 2000 Camp David meetings were not acceptable to any Palestinians, and in December, proposed his 'parameters,' vague but more forthcoming. He then announced that both sides had accepted the parameters, though both had reservations. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Taba, Egypt to iron out the differences, and made considerable progress. A full resolution could have been reached in a few more days, they announced in their final joint press conference. But Israel called off the negotiations prematurely, and they have not been formally resumed. The single exception indicates that if an American president is willing to tolerate a meaningful diplomatic settlement, it can very likely be reached.

"It is also worth remembering that the Bush I administration went a bit beyond words in objecting to illegal Israeli settlement projects, namely, by withholding U.S. economic support for them. In contrast, Obama administration officials stated that such measures are 'not under discussion' and that any pressures on Israel to conform to the Road Map will be 'largely symbolic,' so the New York Times reported (Helene Cooper, June 1).

"There is more to say, but it does not relieve the grim picture that Obama has been painting, with a few extra touches in his widely-heralded address to the Muslim World in Cairo on June 4."

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posted by u2r2h at 1:12 PM 1 comments