When it comes to journalistic achievements in 2010, the elephant in the room is Wikileaks. I’ve seen many put-downs of the materials as containing “no smoking guns,” or as being essentially trivial diplomatic communications to the State Department from US diplomats and kindred government agents around the world.
Now, it’s true that the cables were legally available to well over 1.5 million Americans, who had adequate security clearance. But trivial? Don’t believe it. The cables show the daily business of a mighty empire acting in manners diametrically opposite to public pretensions. The cables form one of the most extraordinary lessons in the cold realities of international diplomacy ever made public. Normally scholars have to wait for ten, 20, even 50 years to gain access to such papers.
The Wikileaks documents show that the picture of the international business of the United States offered by the major US media to the public is an infantile misrepresentation of reality. The efforts being made by US Attorney General Eric Holder to bolster secrecy and espionage laws show that the US government, led currently by a man who pledged “transparency,” wants the American people to remain in blissful ignorance of what its government is actually doing.
The alleged leaker of the Wikileaks files, Army Private Bradley Manning, currently being held in solitary confinement in sadistic conditions, should vigorously applauded and defended for exposing such crimes as the murder of civilians in Baghdad by US Apache helicopters.
Assange and his colleagues should similarly be honored and defended. They have acted in the best traditions of the journalistic vocation.
The US began the destruction of Afghanistan in 1979, when President Jimmy Carter and his National Security Advisor Zbigniev Brzezinksi started financing the mullahs and warlords in the largest and most expensive operation in the CIA’s history until that time. Here we are, more than three decades later, half buried under a mountain of horrifying news stories about a destroyed land of desolate savagery and what did one hear on many news commentaries? Indignant bleats often by liberals, about Wikileaks’ “irresponsibility” in releasing the documents.
The answer to that last question was given definitively in 1851 by Robert Lowe, editorial writer for the London Times. “The first duty of the press,” Lowe wrote, “is to obtain the earliest and most correct intelligence of the events of the time, and instantly, by disclosing them, to make them the common property of the nation… The Press lives by disclosures… For us, with whom publicity and truth are the air and light of existence, there can be no greater disgrace than to recoil from the frank and accurate disclosure of facts as they are. We are bound to tell the truth as we find it, without fear of consequences — to lend no convenient shelter to acts of injustice and oppression, but to consign them at once to the judgment of the world.”
And now… A glance back through 2010
January 29 — As campaign speeches go, albeit dressed up as a State of the Union, Obama delivered his with jaunty aplomb, sometimes light-heartedly, matching the open merriment of Vice President Joe Biden, sitting directly behind him, next to House Majority leader Nancy Pelosi. It wasn’t always clear exactly why Biden was laughing, though I assume it was the same reason that stirred many in the chamber to snigger when Obama started urging them to pass laws ending fiscal excess, along with deficits, earmarks, and undue lobbyist influence on lawmakers. Obama himself seemed to chortle at the manifest absurdity of requesting Congress to do any such thing, and the legislators felt thus empowered to chortle along with him, at the one of the oldest Washington sports of all: running against Washington
February 5 — If you want to draw a line to indicate when history took a great leap forward, it could be February 1, 1960, when four black students from Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina sat down at a segregated lunch counter in Woolworth’s department store in Greensboro, North Carolina. Three months later, the city of Raleigh, NC, 80 miles east of Greensboro, saw the founding of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), seeking to widen the lunch-counter demonstrations into a broad, militant movement. SNCC’s first field director was Bob Moses, who said that he was drawn by the “sullen, angry and determined look” of the protesters, qualitatively different from the “defensive, cringing” expression common to most photos of protesters in the South.
In contrast to that time, here are two important reminders about political phenomena peculiar to America today, which help explain the decline of the left: the first is the financial clout of the “non-profit” foundations, tax-exempt bodies formed by rich people to dispense their wealth according to political taste. Much of the “progressive sector” in America now owes its financial survival — salaries, office accommodation, etc — to the annual disbursements of these foundations which cease abruptly at the first manifestation of radical heterodoxy. In the other words most of the progressive sector is an extrusion of the dominant corporate world, just as are the academies, similarly dependent on corporate endowments.
A second important reminder concerns the steady collapse of the organized Leninist or Trotskyite left which used to provide a training ground for young people who could learn the rudiments of political economy and organizational discipline, find suitable mates and play their role in reproducing the left, red diaper upon red diaper, tomorrow’s radicals, nourished on the Marxist classics. Somewhere in the late Eighties and early Nineties, coinciding with collapses further East — presumptively but not substantively a great victory for the Trotskyist or Maoist critiques, this genetic strain shriveled into insignificance. An adolescent soul not inoculated by sectarian debate, not enriched by the Eighteenth Brumaire and study of groups of Capital, is open to any infection, such as 9/11 conspiracism and junk-science climate catastrophism substituting for analysis of political economy at the national or global level.
February 26 — An orca whale — Tillikum, drowned 40-year-old Dawn Brancheau last Wednesday in the Shamu tank, at SeaWorld, Orlando, after grabbing her by her ponytail.
SeaWorld got its start in the mid-1960s, founded by four UCLA grads planning to run an underwater restaurant and marine life exhibit. After various ups and downs, in the late 1980s, the three SeaWorlds passed into the hands of the vast brewing conglomerate Annheuser-Busch, which pumped millions into upgrades, finally selling the theme parks to the Blackstone Group for $2.7 billion in 2009.
So, there’s a lot riding on the slave orcas toiling away (according to a SeaWorld official, as many as 8 times per a day, 365 days a year) as the star attractions in each of the Shamu stadiums. The first Shamu was put to work in the San Diego SeaWorld, now on its fifty-first “Shamu” — one of 20 enslaved orcas presently owned by Blackstone. Tillikum’s asset value is enhanced by his duties as a sperm donor. He’s a breeding “stud” often kept in solitary, away from the other orcas.
All the SeaWorld shows should be shut down, as should all kindred exhibits. If it’s judged by an independent panel that the artificially bred orcas simply couldn’t hack it in the wild blue yonder, let them laze around in their pools and toss them an occasional corporate executive, perhaps starting with slave-owner Pete Peterson, co-founder of Blackstone, a public pest who richly deserves an orca jaw clamped on his ankle.
April 9 — The 17-minute video recording the US military’s massacre from the air in Baghdad is utterly damning. The visual and audio record reveal the two Apache helicopter pilots and the US Army intelligence personnel monitoring the real-time footage falling over themselves to make the snap judgment that the civilians roughly a thousand feet below are armed insurgents and that one of them, peeking round a corner, was carrying an RPG, that is, a rocket-propelled antitank grenade launcher.
The dialogue is particularly chilling, revealing gleeful pilots gloating over the effect of their initial machine-gun salvoes. “Look at those dead bastards,” one pilot says. “Nice,” answers the other. Then, as a wounded man painfully writhes toward the curb, the pilots eagerly wait for an excuse to finish him off. “All you gotta do is pick up a weapon,” one pilot says yearningly.
Defense analyst Pierre Sprey, who led the design teams for the F-16 and A-10 and who spent many years in the Pentagon, stresses two particularly damning features of the footage. The first is the claim that Noor-Eldeen’s telephoto lens could be mistaken for an RPG. “A big telephoto for a 35mm camera is under a foot and half at most. An RPG, unloaded , is 3 feet long and loaded, 4 foot long. These guys were breathing hard to kill someone.”
June 4 — Israel regrets… But no! Israel doesn’t regret. It preens and boasts and demands approval — which it duly gets from its prime sponsor, the United States government, and most of the press.
The attack on the Mavi Marmara was carefully planned.
Israel is plunging into deeper darkness. As the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy recently told one interviewer: “In the last year there have been real cracks in the democratic system of Israel.… It’s systematic — it’s not here and there. Things are becoming much harder.” And Levy also wrote in Ha’aretz, “When Israel closes its gates to anyone who doesn’t fall in line with our official positions, we are quickly becoming similar to North Korea. When right-wing parties increase their number of anti-democratic bills, and from all sides there are calls to make certain groups illegal, we must worry, of course. But when all this is engulfed in silence, and when even academia is increasingly falling in line with dangerous and dark views…the situation is apparently far beyond desperate.”
June 11 —Aggrieved British politicians denounce the Obama administration for throwing heavy emphasis on the formally discarded “British” in BP. What do they expect? Here in Petrolia, California (site of spec oil drilling back in 1864) someone asked me at the post office yesterday, was it true the Queen owned BP.
What goes around comes around. One of the greatest bailouts in history came in 1953, when the Eisenhower administration authorized a CIA-backed coup in Iran. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, owned by the British government, had been expropriated and nationalized in 1951 by unanimous vote of Iran’s parliament. The ’53 coup evicted prime minister Mohammed Mossadeq and installed Shah Reza Pahlavi, the creature of the West’s oil companies, with full tyrannical powers. The AIOC got back 40 per cent of its old concession and became an internationally owned consortium, renamed… British Petroleum.
July 2 — There’s been ripe chortling about the spy network run in the USA by the Russian SVR — successor to the KGB in the area of foreign intelligence. The eleven accused were supposedly a bunch of bumblers so deficient in remitting secrets to Moscow across nearly a decade that the FBI can’t even muster the evidence to charge them with espionage.
All of the defendants who appeared in the New York court except one, the fetching Anna Chapman, are also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years of prison. Assuming their lawyers don’t get them off, a doubtful proposition, we can assume the Russians will round up 11 Americans, accuse them of spying and then do a trade. Then both sides will start again, the Russians training fresh sets of agents to spout American baseball records, burn hamburgers over the backyard grill, jog and do other all-American things like have negative equity on their houses and owe the IRS money, and the Americans forcing their agents to read Dostoevsky.
August 6 — It took a gay Republican judge with libertarian leanings to issue from the bench, in a US District courthouse in San Francisco, one of the warmest testimonials to the married state since Erasmus. Last Wednesday Vaughan R. Walker, struck down California’s ban on gay marriage, prompting ecstatic rejoicing among a mostly gay crowd outside the courthouse. His ruling was the first in the country to strike down a marriage ban on federal constitutional grounds.
A final judicial verdict is years away, because appeals will now wend their way slowly through the system until they reach the US Supreme Court, six of whose nine current members are Catholics.
Judge Walker marshals the testimony mustered by the plaintiffs, those challenging Prop 8, into a veritable thesaurus of the miracles wrought by the marriage ceremony. At the mere overture of “Wilt thou take..” it seems that anxieties about self-worth, the burdens of low self esteem, the shadows of social ostracism dissipate in the warm glow of the marriage contract.
In fact the drive for gay marriage is against the trend of the times, which is the single state, or people increasingly united - depending on the state they live in - by some form of civil union for the purpose of benefits, pensions, health care, wills, inheritances and so forth. Across America, on the last Census, there were 100 million unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and voters who headed up a majority of households in 22 states, more than 380 cities.
Gays are crowding to board a sinking ship. Married couples with kids, who filled about 90 per cent of residences a century ago, now total about 20 per cent. Nearly 30 per cent of homes are inhabited by someone who lives alone — no doubt awaiting foreclosure. The 2010 Census should show further dramatic changes.
If he’s for civil union, Barack Obama should give marriage, straight or gay, the coup de grace by pressing for a revision of federal laws to allow those in civil unions — straight and gay - to inherit their due portion of Social Security benefits of their deceased partners. That really would be a gamechanger.
Final irony. The Tea Party howls that communist sodomites are destroying America. Judge Walker, one of two openly gay federal judges in America, was given his first appointment to the bench by Ronald Reagan, advanced by George Bush Sr. and, as a libertarian, avers that selection of lawyers judging financial and drug cases should be governed by public auction. He’s no Commie. Anyway, Commies were often notable for their enormously long marriages. In the old days I was always being asked along to some spry Red couple’s golden or diamond anniversary, the premises invariably wreathed in cigarette smoke. There are some no doubt still out there, heading for the granite anniversary, which is the 90th — which surely must take the physical form of the tombstone at their heads, cigarettes extinguished at last.
August 29 — If the attack on Iraq was a “war for oil,” it scarcely went well for the United States.
Run your eye down the list of contracts the Iraqi government awarded in June and December 2009. Prominent is Russia’s Lukoil, which, in partnership with Norway’s Statoil, won the rights to West Qurna Phase Two, a 12.9 billion — barrel supergiant oilfield. Other successful bidders for fixed-term contracts included Russia’s Gazprom and Malaysia’s Petronas. Only two US-based oil companies came away with contracts: ExxonMobil partnered with Royal Dutch Shell on a contract for West Qurna Phase One (8.7 billion barrels in reserves); and Occidental shares a contract in the Zubair field (4 billion barrels), in company with Italy’s ENI and South Korea’s Kogas. The huge Rumaila field (17 billion barrels) yielded a contract for BP and the China National Petroleum Company, and Royal Dutch Shell split the 12.6 billion-barrel Majnoon field with Petronas, 60-40.
Throughout the two auctions there were frequent bleats from the oil companies at the harsh terms imposed by the auctioneers representing Iraq, as this vignette from Reuters about the bidding on the northern Najmah field suggests: “Sonangol also won the nearby 900-million-barrel Najmah oilfield in Nineveh.… Again, the Angolan firm had to cut its price and accept a fee of $6 per barrel, less than the $8.50 it had sought. ‘We are expecting a little bit higher. Can you go a little bit higher?’ Sonangol’s exploration manager Paulino Jeronimo asked Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani to spontaneous applause from other oil executives. Shahristani said, ‘No’.”
So either the all powerful US government was unable to fix the auctions to its liking, or the all powerful US-based oil companies mostly decided the profit margins weren’t sufficiently tempting. Either way, “the war for oil” doesn’t look in very good shape.
October 29 — Contrary to a thousand contemptuous diatribes by the left, the Tea Party is a genuine political movement, channeling the fury and frustration of a huge slab of white Americans running small businesses — what used to be called the petit-bourgeoisie.
The World Socialist Website snootily cites a Washington Post survey finding the Tea Party to be a “disparate band of vaguely connected gatherings.” The WSW sneers that the Post was able to make contact with only 647 groups linked to the Tea Party, some of which involve only a handful of people. “The findings suggest that the breadth of the tea party may be inflated,” the WSW chortles, quoting the Post. You think the socialist left across America can boast of 647 groups, or of any single group consisting of more than a handful of people?
December 24 — The prime constant factor in American politics across the past six decades has been a counter-attack by the rich against the social reforms of the 1930s.
Twenty years ago the supreme prize of the Social Security trust funds — the government pensions that changed the face of America in the mid-1930s - seemed far beyond Wall Street’s grasp. No Republican president could possibly prevail in such an enterprise. It would have to be an inside job by a Democrat. Clinton tried it, but the Lewinsky sex scandal narrowly aborted his bid.
If Obama can be identified with one historic mission on behalf of capital it is this — and though success is by no means guaranteed, it is closer than it has ever been.
As with Clinton, we have a opportunistic, neoliberal president without a shred of intellectual or moral principle. We have disconsolate liberals, and a press saying that Obama is showing admirable maturity in understanding what bipartisanship really means. Like Clinton, Obama is fortunate in having pwogs to his left only too happy to hail DADTell as the rationale for continuing to support this spineless slimeball. The landscape doesn’t change much, as evidenced by the fact that Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and George W’s brother, looks as though he’s ready to make a bid for the Republican nomination.
Happy New Year to all of you.
(Alexander Cockburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)