Goodbye to 2010, Year of the Tiger, Hello to 2011, Year of the Rabbit

When it comes to journalistic achievements in 2010, the elephant in the room is Wikileaks. 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 doing his sworn duty by 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, best stated 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 8

Connoisseurs of the ritual known as “Accepting full responsibility” will surely grade Obama a mere B for his performance Thursday at his White House press conference.

“Ultimately, the buck stops with me,” Obama said, apropos Terror’s near Christmas Day miss on Northwest Flight 253. “As president, I have a solemn responsibility to protect our nation and our people, and when the system fails, it is my responsibility.”

First strike against Obama’s speech writer is the weasel-use of “ultimately”, not to mention the mawkish use of “solemn”.   Second strike is his habitual dive into “systemic failure”, as he termed it earlier in the week. . Everyone knows that systemic failure ? which Obama has been hawking all week ? spells out as “No one is to blame. This is bigger than all of us.”  That’s the phrase’s  singular beauty.

I give John Brennan low marks too. “I told the president today I let him down,” said Obama’s top counterterrorism aide, who followed his boss at the press briefing . Okay so far. Exciting, even. In medieval Japan he would have stuck a sword in his stomach at this point. Not Brennan.  “I am the president’s assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism and I told him I will do better and we will do better as a team.”

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 wo 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 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 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 10

There used to be a time when the CIA would go berserk at the merest suggestion that its executive actions included torture and assassination. This modesty has long gone but even so, it was astonishing to hear the director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, blithely tell a senate committee this week that “Being a U.S. citizen will not spare an American from getting assassinated by military or intelligence operatives overseas if the individual is working with terrorists and planning to attack fellow Americans.” Blair  added helpfully that “If we think direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that.”  Does that mean the President or one of his cabinet members issued an okay for the FBI to riddle Detroit Imam Luqman Ameen Abdulla on October 28, 2009,  with 21 bullets, some of them aimed at his testicles and at least one in his back. They say the Imam was handcuffed after this lethal fusillade.

February 22

Thirty years ago, driving across the hill country in the South, every 50 miles  I’d pick up a new Pentecostal radio station with the preacher screaming in tongues in  a torrent of ecstatic drivel ? “Miki taki meka keena ko-o-ola ka” ? the harsh consonants rattling the speakers on my Newport station wagon.  I had a friend, a  “shouter” ? whose trailer featured by way of cultural uplift  only the Bible and a big TV set tuned to the Christian Broadcasting Network, on which Pat Robertson used to denounce New Age paganism on an hourly basis.

Last time I visited, a few months ago, my friend’s nice house still featured the Bible. Next to it is a thick manual  of astrological guidance ? could Geminis pair up with Scorpios with any hope of success, and kindred counsel ? and  he and his wife surfed  through a big menu of channels. Out on the highway my radio picked up Glenn Beck spouting drivel, but the old Pentecostalists had vanished from the dial.   These days, my friend told me, he and his wife didn’t tithe to any particular church and pastor. “All crooks,” he said dryly. They stay home and hold their own Sunday service there.

James Cameron gives us Avatar and the planet Pandora, which is Gaia brought to life in the most savage denunciation of imperial exploitation?explicitly American?ever brought to screen. Now a huge hit, Avatar is the most expensive antiwar film ever made (at $200 million, about half the cost of a single F-22). “It is nature which today no longer exists anywhere,” a peppery German called  Marx  wrote in 1845. But Rousseau is having his revenge on Karl. The night I went to Avatar the audience cheered when Pandora, as a single Gaian organism, puts Earth’s predatory onslaught to flight and man’s war machines are crushed by natural forces. Against Genesis and the Judeo-Christian tradition, pagan mysticism is carrying the day, at the level of fantasy as it is in those astrological manuals down in the Bible belt.

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 4

I laugh when I read furious appeals by unbelievers that Pope  Benedict should quit, on the grounds he’s bringing the Catholic Church into disrepute. It’s like the progressives’ fury against Bush Jr for making America a laughing stock among the nations. Isn’t that what we want? For the mighty to be brought low?  There are noble, radical Catholic priests. Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (previous name: “Office of the Holy Inquisition”) has spent his career seeking to destroy, with kindred energies devoted to crushing overpowering testimony about Catholic priests abusing boys.  Does he not bear the marks of the classic closet case, savagely denouncing homosexuality while effectively protecting child abuse? The Italian press loses no opportunity to comment on the manly beauty and stylish apparel of his personal secretary and constant companion, Monsignor Georg Ganswein.

As Mathew Fox, formerly a Dominican, kicked out by Ratzinger  for denying  the concept of original sin, and now an Episcopalian,  wrote in Tikkun, “Over the course of the last twenty-three years, Cardinal Ratzinger (with the complete approval of John Paul II) brought back the Inquisition. One prominent theologian, Father Bernard Haering, who was the first church thinker to be attacked by Ratzinger, had also been interrogated by the Nazis [ no doubt many of them Bavarian Catholics]  during the Second World War. He reported that his interrogations in Ratzinger’s office were far more scary.

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 lense 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.”

April 16

With the impending departure from the U.S. Supreme Court of Justice John Paul Stevens at the age of 89, we lose one of the nation’s last substantive ties to Great Depression and to the effect of that disaster on the political outlook of a couple of generations. Between the year  he went on the Court (put up by Gerald Ford in 1974 on the recommendation of Ford’s attorney general, Chicagoan Edward Levi), and 2010,  John Paul Stevens voted against the government in criminal justice and death penalty cases 70 per cent of the time. Only one justice ? William O. Douglas, whose seat Stevens took over ? served longer on the Court. When Justice Harry Blackmun retired in 1994, Stevens became the senior associate justice and, thus, able to assign opinions to the justice of his choice.

Who could the left put up, as an assertion of what a truly progressive justice might look like? How about Steven Bright, of the Southern Center for Human Rights, the country’s leading anti-Death Penalty litigator from Kentucky? Or, David Cole, professor of law at Georgetown? Or, Pamela Carlan, at Stanford, a former counsel for the NAACP  and openly gay? Or, Jonathan Turley, at George Washington, who is particularly strong on civil liberties and the environment? Turley defended Sami al-Arian, the Rocky Flats workers, attacked warrantless wiretapping. Or, within the administration, Harold Koh, Korean American and one of the principle legal appointments of the torture policies of the Bush years? Koh was originally a Reagan appointee to the Office of Legal Counsel. Turley says Koh is the closest we have to Justice Brandeis.

Don’t hold your breath.

May 7

Oil drilling is one of the dirtiest of all businesses, physically and politically. In recent years BP has spent many millions in the US, trying to winch its reputation out of the mud with bright advertising paeans to its green commitment. Along with its greenwashing ad campaigns it’s staked $500 million on a biofuel research center at the University of California’s Berkeley campus. Every gallon gushing from the holes in the ocean floor in the Gulf of Mexico sinks the company’s reputation back in the primal ooze of a reputation permanently disfigured by environmental havoc, political bribes and ruthless campaigns against those courageous enough to blow the whistle on the company.

Obama now wags his finger at BP and vows that it will pay for every penny of the clean-up. He actually took more campaign money from B-P than did his Republican opponent in 2008, Senator John McCain.

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 Pahlevi, 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 U.S.A. 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.

July 9

It’s the worst of times. America is plunging back into Depression. Only one out of every two Americans of working age has a job. Across the last two months, more than a million Americans simply gave up seeking employment, even as benefits are running out..

Somewhere near 10 million Americans without work aren’t getting any kind of check. One in every five children is living below the poverty line, sometimes by as much as 50 per cent ? classed as “extreme poverty”.

The stimulus has failed. The housing market is in free fall. A couple of months ago market analysts predicted there would be five million more foreclosures between now and 2011 and it looks like they’re on target. Forty per cent of delinquent homeowners have already loaded up the SUV, thrown the plastic chairs in the swimming pool and tossed the house keys back at the bank.

For tens of millions of Americans the house is as central and crucial a financial asset as a pig was for an Irish peasant family in the 19th century. The pig, as the old Irish saying goes, was “the man beside the fire”. It had the place of honor. The pig died, the family starved.

People are down. I meet young people every day who say they’ve simply given up watching the news. It’s all too depressing.

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.

The left ? or a substantial slice of it ? snatches defeat from the jaws of a victory over America’s plans for Iraq by proclaiming that America has  successfully established  what Milne calls  “a new form of outsourced semi-colonial regime to maintain its grip on the country and region.” Iraq is in ruins ? always the default consequence of American imperial endeavors.  The left should report this, but also  hammer home the message that in terms of its proclaimed objectives the US onslaught on Iraq was a strategic and military disaster. That’s the lesson to bring home.

September 10

By the end of the week, the air was so thick with pieties about the need for tolerance and respect for all creeds that one yearned for the Rev. Terry Jones, mutton chop whiskers akimbo, to rescind his last minute cave-in, stiffen his spine, then toss those Korans into the burn barrels outside his Gainesville church in Florida and torch them on this year’s anniversary of 9/11.

Jones announced  on Thursday that he was canceling his Koran burning plan after getting a pledge  that the scheduled Muslim center near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan would be moved. When it turned out there was no such pledge Jones hinted he might just reach for the kerosene can after all. But in the end he wimped out.

October 1

Rahm Emanuel, is quitting the White House,  prelude to a bid to become mayor of Chicago.

By the time Obama hired him, Emanuel already had a proven record of  toadyism to corporate America and the neocon lobby, Emanuel’s political profile was scarcely a secret , and so the fact that Obama picked him as his chief of staff was  a painful kick in the stomach for all those foolish souls who thought Obama’s victory presaged exciting changes in America’s course.

What is it about these paste-board Svengalis, that prompts the press to close its eyes to their manifest incompetence?

Obama had Emanuel guiding him into one disaster after another. His predecessor in the White House,, George W. Bush, fared just as badly, if not worse at the hands of his political counselor, Karl Rove, to this day touted in the press and particularly on the left as a pastmaster in the dark arts of dirty politics.

The prime task of a political counselor is to keep his patron’s polling numbers high, and enhance his political clout. Rove left his employer with ratings in the low thirties, with almost zero political capital in the bank.

October 8

George Soros announced a few weeks ago that he is giving $100 million to Human Rights Watch?conditional on the organization to find a matching $100 million  a year from other donors for ten years. He’s been rewarded with  ringing cheers for his disinterested munificence.

With Soros’s extra money, HRW will be dangling big funds at its non-American recruits. Regarding the hefty salaries that will surely follow, it’s worth raising the experience of Eritrea, which immediately got into trouble with the NGO system after independence in 1991. Eritrea-based journalist Tom Mountain tells me, “For one, Eritrea won’t allow the NGOs to pay above civil service salaries. Why? NGOs come into a country and find the best and brightest and give them salaries ten or twenty times the local rate, buying their allegiance and often turning them against their country. Two, Eritrea has implemented a 10 percent overhead policy, and all the NGOs that couldn’t or wouldn’t comply with the documentation were kicked out, about the same time Eritrea kicked out the UN ‘peacekeepers’ here.”

NGOs endowed by the rich are instinctively hostile to radical social change, at least in any terms that a left-winger of the 1950s or ’60s would understand. The US environmental movement is now strategically supervised  and thus neutered as a radical force by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the lead dispenser of patronage and money.

Back at the dawn of the twentieth century Lenin and Martov were organizing their international Congresses and looking for grant money to this end. Martov, the Menshevik, told Lenin he must absolutely stop paying for the hotels and halls with money hijacked by Stalin from Georgian banks in Tblisi. Lenin reassured Martov, and then asked Stalin to knock over another bank  which he did, Europe’s record bank heist up till that time. It was one way, perhaps the only way, past the grip of cautious millionaires. Then as now.

October 29

The sun will rise next Wednesday on a new American landscape, the same way it rose on a new American landscape almost exactly two years ago.

That was the dawn of Obama-time. Millions of Americans had dined delightedly on Obama’s rhetoric of dreams and preened at his homilies about the inherent moral greatness of the American people.

Obama and the Democrats triumphed at the polls. The pundits hailed a “tectonic shift” in our national politics, perhaps even a registration of the possibility that we had entered a “post-racial” era.

The realities of American politics don’t change much from year to year. The “politics of division” which Obama denounced are the faithful reflection of national divisions of wealth and resources  wider today than they have been at any time since the late 1920s.

In fact the “dream” died even before Obama was elected in November 2008. Already in September that year Senator Obama, like his opponent, Senator McCain, had voted, at the behest of Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson (formerly of Goldman Sachs) and of Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, for the bailout of the banks. Whatever the election result, there was to be no change in the architecture of financial power in America.

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 surveyfinding 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?

Who says these days that in the last analysis, the only way to change the status quo and challenge the Money Power of Wall St is to overthrow the government by force? That isn’t some old Trotskyist lag like Louis Proyect, dozing on the dungheap of history like Odysseus’ lice-ridden hound Argos, woofing with alarm as the shadow of a new idea darkens the threshold.

Who really, genuinely wants to abolish the Fed, to whose destruction the left pledges ever more tepid support? Sixty per cent of Tea Party members would like to send Ben Bernanke off to the penitentiary, the same  way I used to hear the late great Wright Patman vow to do to Fed chairman Arthur Burns, back in the mid-70s.

November 19

As Obama reviews his options, which way will he head? He’s already supplied the answer. He’ll try to broker deals to reach “common ground” with the Republicans, the strategy that destroyed those first two years of opportunity.  Even many of Obama’s diehard fans are beginning to say that the guy hasn’t a backbone, no capacity to stand and fight.

The left must abandon the doomed ritual of squeaking timid reproaches to Obama, only to have the counselors at Obama’s elbow contemptuously dismiss them, as did Rahm Emanuel, who correctly divined their near-zero capacity for effective challenge. Two more years, of the same downward slide, courtesy of bipartisanship and “working together”? No way. Enough of dreary predictability. Let’s have a real mutiny against Obamian rightward drift.  The time is not six months or a year down the road. The time is now.

The White House deserves the menace of a convincing threat now, not some desperate intra?Democratic Party challenge late next year. There has to be an independent challenge.

We have a champion in the wings.

This  champion of the left with sound appeal to the populist or libertarian right was felled on November 2, and he should rise again before his reputation fades. His name is Russ Feingold, currently a Democrat and the junior senator from Wisconsin. I urge him to decline any job proffered by the Obama administration and not to consider running as a challenger inside the Democratic Party. I urge him, not too long after he leaves the Senate, to raise ? if only not to categorically reject — the possibility of a presidential run as an independent; then, not too far into 2011, to embark on such a course.

Why would he be running? Feingold would have a swift answer. To fight against the Republicans and the White House in defense of the causes he has publicly supported across a lifetime. He has opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His was the single Senate vote against the Patriot Act; his was a consistent vote against the constitutional abuses of both the Bush and Obama administrations. He opposed NAFTA and the bank bailouts. He is for economic justice and full employment. He is the implacable foe of corporate control of the electoral process. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in January was aimed in part at his landmark campaign finance reform bill. He broke with his party in Senate votes 93 times. At the end, he voted against Obama’s “compromise” on extending the Bush tax cuts.

Run, Russ, run.

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.

And now?On to the Next Great Awakening

Wadded up in our intellectual backpacks, ideas that should be explosive get damp and moldy.  Too often, we leftists slog along history’s highway with stale, uncombustible stuff.

Heading into 2011 we give over this issue of our newsletter to Mason Gaffney’s bracing excursion through America’s Great Awakenings.  To many on the left the topic of religion these days is explored overwhelmingly in terms of quavering alarums about the Christian Right. Gaffney challenges this patronizing perspective.

Remember the first five Awakenings? Gaffney takes us through them.

The First Great Awakening led after many years to the American and Jeffersonian Revolutions.

The Second Great Awakening led, after many years, to the Civil War and Abolition.

The Third Great Awakening led, after setbacks, to the Populist and then Progressive Movements.

The Fourth Great Awakening led to the New Deal

The Fifth Great Awakening led to the second Reconstruction, the Great Society, Feminism, and social upheavals.

When and whence will come the Sixth  Awakening? Will it come soon?  Read Gaffney’s absorbing history and predictions.

History springs endless surprises. Jeff Halper suggested as much in this newsletter two issues ago, apropos Israel and Palestine. Now Gaffney challenges us to think freshly about the intellectual and religious motors of our history and future. On into 2011 with fresh stuff in our backpacks!

Subscribe to CounterPunch and read Gaffney’s piece, have it your inbox, prontissimo, as a pdf, or ? at whatever speed the US Postal Service first-class delivery system may muster ? in your mailbox.

I urge you strongly to subscribe now!

And once you have discharged this enjoyable mandate I also urge you strongly to click over to our Books page for your Christmas gifts, most particularly our latest release, Jason Hribal’s truly extraordinary Fear of the Animal Planet ? introduced by Jeffrey St Clair and already hailed by Peter Linebaugh, Ingrid Newkirk (president and co-founder of PETA) and Susan Davis, the historian of Sea World,  who writes that “Jason Hribal stacks up the evidence, and the conclusions are inescapable. Zoos, circuses and theme parks are the strategic hamlets of Americans’ long war against nature itself.”

Happy New Year to all of you from all of us, here at CounterPunch.

ALEXANDER COCKBURN can be reached at


Is the Next Great Awakening At Hand?

The First Great Awakening led after many years to the American and Jeffersonian Revolutions.

The Second Great Awakening led, after many years, to the Civil War and Abolition.

The Third Great Awakening led, after setbacks, to the Populist and then Progressive Movements.

The Fourth Great Awakening led to the New Deal

The Fifth Great Awakening led to the second Reconstruction, the Great Society, Feminism, and social upheavals.

Is The Sixth Great Awakening now due? What quarter will it come from? Read Mason Gaffney’s extraordinary history and predictions.

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Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.