Punishing Anti-Nuke Protesters

A twisted part of modern America is that harsh punishments are given to people who stand for truth and justice, while torturers and war criminals go free. That’s the case for Bradley Manning who released secrets and anti-nuclear protesters who tied “crime scene” tape to a nuke site, as John LaForge says.

By John La Forge

Risking your personal freedom for a worthy cause is as American as apple pie. But nonviolently putting your life at risk in defense of others is so rare that the actor is sometimes dismissed as crazy.

Some people think the Transform Now Plowshares activists were crazy for sneaking into a nuclear weapons factory, the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in order to make a direct, unequivocal and crystal clear demand for an end to the expensive, poisonous, criminal and delusional self-destructiveness of building nuclear bombs.

Of course Sr. Megan Rice, 82; Michael Walli, 63; and Greg Boertji-Obed, 57, are anything but crazy, even if they and could have been shot and killed for daring to snip through the flimsy chain-link fences that surround Y-12, and then walk up to its new storage fortress for bomb-grade uranium. That’s what they did in the wee hours of July 28, after decades of conscientious peace and anti-poverty work prepared them for what would likely be the most dangerous protest of their lives.

At the wall they strung “crime scene” tape because dirty bomb conspiracies are criminal enterprises. They spray-painted disarmament messages, poured blood and hoisted banners. Not a single guard responded. Wackenhut, the contracted security company, was so discredited, and later humiliated by disclosures of its own internal corruption, that its contract was cancelled, heads rolled, a new agency was hired, and over $15 million was spent trying to reestablish some semblance of a defended nuclear weapons complex.

In January, President and CEO of Wackenhut (also called G4S Gov’t Solutions) Paul Donahue told the Knoxville  News Sentinel, “The enemy of today is not just organized Nation States, but vandals, activists and protesters looking not necessarily to harm material, or people, but clearly seeking to embarrass.”

All three are out of jail on conditional release preparing for trial, set for May 7, on three felony charges that together carry a maximum of 35 years on prison. Yes, 35 years for trespassing, spray painting and embarrassing.

But as the News Sentinel reported on Feb. 3, the bold intervenors know “that great change never comes easy.” Boertji-Obed told the paper, “People in other countries are frequently killed because of their struggle for justice.”


The three were back in federal court on Feb. 7 for a motion hearing before U.S. Magistrate Richard Shirley. They argued against the prosecuting U.S. Attorney’s attempt to exclude any testimony about, get this, “nuclear weapons,” or “international law,” or the defendants’ intention to practice crime prevention at Y-12.

The prosecutor’s motion “in limine,” or gag order, would, if granted, keep the jury from hearing a word about the outlaw status of the nuclear warheads. As with previous anti-nuclear cases, the defendants contend that binding U.S. treaties and military service manuals make nuclear weapons illegal because H-bombs can only produce uncontrollable, indiscriminate, toxic mass destruction using radioactive firestorms.

Considering the sociopathic turpitude of preparing the use of such devices, all Sr. Rice, Boertji-Obed and Walli are guilty of, they contend, is an attempt at citizen’s arrest. Of course, the government doesn’t want the jury to hear what the law says about planning and preparing massacres.

For his part, Magistrate Shirley said he wouldn’t exactly limit the discussions of the defendants’ intentions. But Shirley only presides over pretrial hearings. The trial itself will be run by a federal judge who will rule on the motion “in limine,” choose the jury instructions, and decide on questions of “contempt” in the event that forbidden words are uttered by lawyers, defendants or observers.

It’s a testament to the dominance of the H-bomb culture, that one of its judges can forbid defendants in a criminal case from explaining the basis for their actions, while wielding the power to impose 35 years in prison for nothing more than embarrassing that culture. The nuclear war system isn’t called “overkill” for nothing.

 John LaForge works for Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog group in Wisconsin, edits its Quarterly newsletter, and is syndicated through PeaceVoice.

Empire of Panic and Illusion

Americans have been sold on the promise of perfect security, whether protecting “the homeland” with gadgets of death or guarding “the homestead” with high-powered assault rifles firing 100-round magazines. But this “safety” is an illusion, making Americans less secure than if they engaged the world around them, as Phil Rockstroh observes.

By Phil Rockstroh

In the consumer paradigm, one is induced to exist by Eric Hoffer’s dictum: “You can never get enough of what you really don’t need.” Wherein: The individual exists in a state of perpetual adolescence, emotionally oscillating between life lived as a bliss ninny and evincing chronic dissatisfaction.

Ever shifting, inchoate compulsions and endless distractions define the days of the denizens of the consumer state. Text messages and tweets gibber like souls stranded in a limbo realm between the worlds of the living and the damned.

Craving and angst are interwoven. Held by the dazzle of light playing over the surface of a deep abyss, the consumer floats along on waxen wings of debt. The landscape does not seem solid.

Constant craving and callous disregard ascend to the throne room of consciousness in this empire of ephemera. The passions of the heart are circumvented by chronic discontent. In this manic mythos of the eternal moment, consumer items are collected, clutched, and discarded, like the idols and talismans of a dying cult.

But there is neither the time nor inclination to erect statues to these gods of the limbic system; the gods exist as ever-reconfiguring constellations of pixels. As noxious as nixies, they hold the senses enthralled as the global, capitalist paradigm sinks beneath a drowning tide of self-created illusion.

Beneath the endless obligation of debt servitude and the manic distractions of the consumer state, an amorphous dread gathers. Shunted aside, it is experienced as free-floating, low-grade paranoia.

As I place these words to pixel, members of the U.S military sit hunched before computer screens, enacting slaughter by means of predator drone strike. These cubicle-bound soldiers of the consumer state (who have spent their lifetimes within the mass media hologram of late capitalism) regard delivering death from across vast distances as a type of instant, consumerist gratification.

But their actions do not instill a sense of safety within the homeland. Incrementally, it increases the gathering dread, thus this war-by-remote-control is self-perpetuating: warfare experienced as consumer craving, the mode of mind of a shopping addict, but instead of possessing closets bloated with unneeded consumer items, the empire collects corpses.

Izzy Stone famously averred, “Governments lie.”

It is a given, government and corporate insiders scheme and plot. In the days before they had to create the illusion that government officials were responsive to the dictates of the electorate, rulers, their advisors and counselors created deceptive strategies in pursuit of holding and acquiring greater power, in secret, behind closed doors. Withal, their plots were not termed conspiracies; their machinations and attendant acts were called a day at work.

“Panic is the sudden realization that everything around you is alive.” — William S. Burroughs, from Ghost of Chance

The U.S. possesses a cheap-seats view of reality but skybox level self-deceptions.

A conspiracy-apprehending mode of mind attempts to find connections and detect affinities. In this respect, it is similar to a poetic sense of awareness. Although, this distinction is imperative: a habitually paranoiac perspective must have a tendency toward introspective self-awareness i.e., an ego-leavening element, or it tends to become pathologically self-centered.

Thus: An inner conspiracy is locked into place, confining the psyche of the sufferer in a mental realm of self reference whereby life itself, in its unknowable vastness, threatens to penetrate, causing the fragile ego-construct of the paranoia prone to erect even greater barriers of insularity, thus creating the effect of a psychical room of infinity mirrors.

The U.S. is a paranoid culture. The nation has no foreign enemies posing an existential threat, yet it swoons in collective fear and bristles with the apparatus of the national security state. The corporate/militarist government of the U.S. is paranoid by nature; therefore, the populace has good reason to be fearful.

It is not a lack of conviction that brings so much suffering to humanity; it is a lack of rigorous imagination. Rigorous imagination is not the same thing as a desperate need for belief or a tendency to become convinced of the reality of any notion that arrives in your head.

Rigorous imagination allows you to engage in democratic discourse with the disparate beings inhabiting the polis of your psyche, but not be swept away by mob rule or entranced by charismatic, neurotic, or paranoiac characters within you who have a monomaniacal agenda.

These inner characters, gods, animals, and monsters can be helpful to you; it is futile to attempt to repress them. But you must have a grip on them — or they will have a grip on you. Ergo, this is the difference between clinging to narrow convictions and a heart-opening, senses-awakening, mind-vivifying embrace of rigorous imagination.

Our convictions, beliefs, and motives have been formed from a mixture of apprehensions (sprung from seeds of bias) and misapprehensions (that contain a tiny measure of truth). Generally, what we term thinking and knowing is, more often than not, an autonomous process — an unconscious seeking of affinities — a mating dance of known quantities and recognizable possibilities allowing one to view the world as the unfolding of the plausible — a trek across recognizable, navigable terrain — and not a bewildering bog of proliferating novelty, lacking both familiar landmark and the lexicon of a known tongue.

As a people, what is our legacy to future generations? Depressing, isn’t it? Ecocide. Debt slavery. War without end. A social milieu in which privileged psychopaths not only thrive but decide the fate of the multitudes.

Let’s take a digressive scan of the known landscape of the late capitalist era where there exists a desperate campaign by the economic elite to have the floundering system be accepted as not only viable — but the only rational option available to all concerned. Yet a predominance of evidence stands to the contrary.

Withal, the present economic system can only maintain the illusion of viability — growing ever tenuous by the hour — by lurching from market bubble to market bubble, in combination with governmental infusions of trillions upon trillions of dollars, as well as the complicity of the corporate media and government officialdom in the swindle (swindles past and ongoing) by abandoning their roles as advocates for the many and assuming the position of operatives of a moneyed elite.

Whistleblowers, dissidents — all of those who harbor a proclivity to apprehend the true nature of the circumstances that the forces of self-serving power have wrought and ruthlessly strive to maintain — innately carry within and speak a language that is both alien and threatening to the status quo.

Opening oneself to one’s condition, even when the criteria is depressing, allows one to open a window to the verities of the heart and gaze upon a kind of beauty that is both awful and awe inspiring. Thus: One is called upon, regardless of the degree of success or the extent of failure, to attempt to align these visions as a corrective to culture.

Circumstances do not change unless perceptions change. Accordingly, the big lie promulgated by the elite of our corrupt era is … there is something wrong with an individual who will not or cannot accept their version of events.

On a personal basis, I am deficient in those qualities that would allow me to adapt to the conventions of our age. Yet, through it all, a mutant seed, nourished by the composting convictions of our culture, dreams within my soul, that contains a blueprint that will allow me to live my way into the unknowable future.

In the final years and the concomitant, violent death throes of the corporate/consumer paradigm, the compulsive pursuit of happiness brings the opposite effect: insatiable craving, chronic dissatisfaction, panic, paranoia, nettling resentment, burnout, and disillusionment. Instead, try this: embrace the inherent sorrow that comes at the end of things: The blank countenance of an indifferent winter sky; the spiraling dance of the ashes of prior convictions in a clashing cross breeze; the manner that trees, buildings, birds rise from the earth like musical notes.

You can attempt to check-out i.e., approach life, as people in the U.S. do, as virtuosos of reality avoidance — but reality knows your home address: the human psyche. Your psyche is with you for life. You cannot drop off your psyche at an Interstate rest stop, and drive away. Glance in the rear view mirror and it will be lounging in the backseat of your vehicle tapping its foot to the music swelling from the car radio.

You can no more discard the psyche than rid yourself of its organ of expression — the human heart — by storing it in a deep freeze. The images of the psyche pulse through your veins.

Neglect of the psyche causes it to become a thief in the night that, by stealth, steals back into consciousness, and is misapprehended as a home invasion of which, a private arsenal, no matter its degree of firepower, would prove of zero use in warding off.

It is anathema to the human heart for one to imagine oneself as being primarily an economic animal whose fate is yolked to the crackpot pragmatist’s bottom line-fetishizing mindset of late capitalist feudalism.

In contrast, by living among by conversing, collaborating, grappling being moved, mortified, and transfigured by the images dwelling in the polis and the ecosystem of my heart (also known as the imagination) — I become myself, by losing myself. The shackles of the first person singular have been lightened, allowing me to wend in the direction of my calling.

By means of rigorous imagination, one must seek collaboration with the figures populating the landscape of the psyche. Because: how is it possible to navigate the bewildering terrain of one’s fate alone?

“Handsomely equipped to fail, I went out into the world.” â€• John Fowles, from The Magus

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: phil@philrockstroh.com  And at FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/phil.rockstroh


Recycling Radioactive Metals Disputed

An Energy Department plan to allow the recycling of scrap metals emitting very low levels of radiation is drawing opposition because of concerns about potential health hazards. But the upside for U.S. atomic bomb-makers is that waste now requiring costly storage could be sold for a profit, reports William Boardman.

By William Boardman

In something of a stealth maneuver during the 2012 holiday season, the U.S. Department of Energy set about to give every American a little more radiation exposure, and for some a lot, by allowing manufacturers to use radioactive metals in their consumer products such as zippers, spoons, jewelry, belt buckles, toys, pots, pans, furnishings, bicycles, jungle gyms, medical implants, or any other metal or partly-metal product.

The Energy Dept. announced its plan in the Federal Register on Dec. 12 and invited comment for 30 days, through Jan.11. Citing its need to address environmental concerns under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), the agency said, in part, that its plan was: “to delegate authority to manage radiological clearance and release of scrap metal from radiological areas to each Under Secretary for sites under his or her cognizance.  

“ This Draft PEA for the Recycling of Scrap Metals Originating from Radiological Areas analyzes the potential environmental impacts associated with resuming the clearance of scrap metal, originating from DOE radiological areas, for recycling pursuant to improved procedures designed to assure that clearance for release is limited to metals meeting stringent criteria.”

Translated from the bureaucratese, this is a proposal to lift a ban on recycling radioactive metals left over from American bomb-making and other nuclear activities and allow them to be used commercially with “stringent” but largely unenforceable criteria for their use. The initial ban was ordered in 2000, by then Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson.

Largely ignored by mainstream media, the plan caught the attention of an alert member of Congress, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, who wrote a three-page letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu on Jan. 11, beginning:

“I write to convey my grave concerns regarding your December 2012 proposal to rescind the agency-wide suspension of the release of radioactively contaminated scrap metal from Department of Energy (DOE) facilities for purposes of recycling it into consumer products that could ultimately by utilized by pregnant women, children or other vulnerable populations.  This proposal is unwise, and should be immediately abandoned.”

Although Rep. Markey was writing on the date of the original deadline, the Energy Department had invited the public to respond to an email address that was non-functional during the first nine days of the response period, Dec. 12-20.  On Dec. 28, the department announced in the Federal Register that the comment period was extended to Feb. 11.

On Jan. 16, while taking note of Markey’s letter, the Wall Street Journal covered the story by starting this way: ”The Department of Energy is proposing to allow the sale of tons of scrap metal from government nuclear sites, an attempt to reduce waste that critics say could lead to radiation-tainted belt buckles, surgical implants and other consumer products.

“The approximately 14,000 tons of metal under review for possible initial release is only a fraction of the tens of millions of tons of metal recycled annually, it said. Smaller amounts could be eligible for release in future years. Selling the metals could bring in $10 million to $40 million a year, the DOE estimates.” 

Minimizing Radiation Dangers

As is common in nuclear industry proposals of all sorts, the Energy Department sought to assure readers of its proposal that any radiation exposure resulting from recycling radioactive waste into the commercial mainstream would have minimal impact on any given individual. The article in the Journal included a chart from the department that reinforced its claim that “would at worst expose a person to very low levels of additional radiation.”

This approach ignores the current scientific consensus that there is NO safe level of radiation exposure. Since there is already a measurable level of background radiation worldwide, and since worldwide radiation levels have increased as a result of nuclear weapons testing and nuclear accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima, the fundamental safety question is whether any additional radiation exposure is safe in any meaningful sense.

This approach also fails to deal with the reality that once the department has released radioactive materials for commercial use, it loses almost all control over how and where they’re used, and in what concentrations. The same material used in a ceiling light fixture will pose less risk than if it is used in a belt buckle of jewelry, worn close to the skin. These uses are less dangerous than material inside a human body, in a joint replacement or heart valve.

The issue is of global concern because other countries are recycling their radioactive waste as well, with uncertain control and safety. As Rep. Markey noted in his letter, “Just a year ago, Bed Bath and Beyond recalled tissue holders made in India that were contaminated with low levels of the radio-isotope cobalt-60 that were shipped to 200 of its stores in twenty states.

“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, when discussing the discovery of the contaminated products, said that, ‘There’s no real health threat from these, but we advise people to return them.’ “


While that may seem contradictory, it’s mainly because the choice of the word “real” is not very accurate. It’s true that there’s no threat of immediate injury from a low level of radiation, whereas a high enough level will be lethal. It’s also true that there may be no “realistic” threat from a radioactive tissue box, but that’s not the same as “no threat,” since harm from radiation exposure is cumulative.

Rep. Markey’s letter illustrates this concern, as he notes that the Energy Department is proposing to release contaminated metals into the market place, as long as, quoting from the document, it “can be shown that the release will result in less than 1 millirem (mrem) above background to a member of the public in any calendar year.” [One millirem is a tiny amount of radiation.]

Nevertheless, Markey expresses doubt about even this low standard: “I believe this standard, even it were the appropriate standard, will be impossible to assure or enforce.” [Emphasis added]

No One in Charge of Risk

There is no federal agency with responsibility for such oversight or enforcement. This regulatory vacuum was illuminated by the discovery in 2009 of thousands of contaminated consumer products from China, Brazil, France, Sweden and other countries, as reported by Mother Nature Network:

“The risk of radiation poisoning is the furthest thing from our minds as we shop for everyday items like handbags, furniture, buttons, chain link fences and cheese graters. Unfortunately, it turns out that our trust is misplaced thanks to sketchy government oversight of recycled materials.

“The discovery of a radioactive cheese grater led to an investigation that found thousands of additional consumer products to be contaminated. The source is recycled metals tainted with Cobalt-60, a radioactive isotope that can cause cancer with prolonged exposure.” 

According to a Scripps Howard News Service investigation in 2009, records of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission “ show 18,740 documented cases involving radioactive materials in consumer products, in metal intended for consumer products or other public exposure to radioactive material.

“The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates there are some 500,000 unaccounted for radioactively contaminated metal objects in the U.S., and the NRC estimates that figure is around is 20 million pounds of contaminated waste.

“In 2006 in Texas, for example, a recycling facility inadvertently created 500,000 pounds of radioactive steel byproducts after melting metal contaminated with Cesium-137, according to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission records. In Florida in 2001, another recycler unintentionally did the same, and wound up with 1.4 million pounds of radioactive material.” 

Nuclear engineer Arnie Gunderson echoed Markey’s warning in his Jan. 13 podcast, pointing out that the nuclear industry has been trying to do something like this for decades. The reason, he explained, was that radioactive materials are now liabilities for those who own them and are responsible for protecting them and eventually storing them safely. But if they can sell the material, the liability instantly becomes an asset.

NIRS, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, has come out strongly against the Energy Department initiative, noting the long history of the industry to unburden itself of its radioactive waste and any responsibility for it:

“We’ve fought this battle before. In the late 1980s, NRC adopted a policy it called ‘Below Regulatory Concern (BRC),’ that would have allowed about 30% of the nation’s ‘low-level’  radioactive waste to be treated as normal garbage and dumped in landfills, be burned in incinerators, and yes, be recycled into consumer products.

“NIRS and our allies responded with one of our largest organizing campaigns ever. 15 states passed laws banning BRC within their borders. Hearings were held in the House and in 1992, Congress officially overturned the BRC policy.”

The grassroots action contributed to Secretary Richardson’s ban on selling radioactive metals for commercial use, the ban that the current Energy Department proposal would overturn. The department has offered no new basis for its recycling program beyond streamlining what it proposed before. NIRS counters that:

“Nothing has changed since 2000 that would justify lifting its current ban. Rather, just the opposite: since then the National Academy of Sciences has acknowledged that there is no safe level of radiation exposure, and we’ve learned that women are even more vulnerable to radiation than men (while children have long been known to be more vulnerable than adults).”

NIRS and other advocacy organizations are currently engaged in a campaign to submit comments before the Feb. 11 deadline to ask the Energy Department to withdraw this proposal.

William Boardman runs Panther ProductionsReader Supported News is the publication of origin for this work.

Reality Bites Back

Exclusive: More than a Right-Left battle, the conflict for the world’s future is between empiricists and fantasists, those who are committed to reality and rationality and those who happily embrace propaganda as truth. It is a struggle with global implications, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The war for the world’s future pitting people anchored in reality against others free-floating in make-believe appears to have begun in earnest with the rationalists scoring some surprising early victories in what is sure to be a long and ugly fight.

In Israel’s recent election, Yesh Atid, a new party of secularists, surged to a second-place finish on a platform that challenged the power of the ultra-Orthodox who have sought to impose a fundamentalist version of Judaism on large swaths of the country, including forcing women to sit at the back of buses and driving secular Jews out of some neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, in the United States, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican presidential prospect for 2016, finally acknowledged the obvious, calling his GOP the “stupid party.” And Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, another Republican up-and-comer, signed on to a bipartisan plan for immigration reform that included a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, what the GOP’s nativist wing has long derided as “amnesty.”

These various moves suggest some new respect for the real world. But the ugliness of what lies ahead was underscored at a legislative hearing in Hartford, Connecticut, on Monday when Neil Heslin, the parent of a child massacred in Newtown on Dec. 14, was heckled by pro-gun activists who claimed, falsely, that the Second Amendment guaranteed them the right to own assault weapons. (Not even today’s right-wing-controlled U.S. Supreme Court says that.)

Republicans also haven’t given up on their racist arguments about the need to rig election rules in ways to devalue or suppress the votes of African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans and other urban dwellers and to exaggerate the value of ballots cast by rural whites. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Return of ‘Three-Fifths’ of a Person.”]

There is also no indication as yet that the Republicans will budge on other key elements of their “stupid” agenda, including their denial of the science on global warming, their pandering to pro-gun extremists and their resistance to pretty much anything that President Barack Obama is for.

Still, pro-rationalists have to take some encouragement from small signs that the anti-rationalism of the Republican Party is beginning to crack. Fox News parted ways with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as a commentator. The GOP’s vice presidential nominee in 2008 — known for her know-nothingism — went the way of the crazy Glenn Beck. It seems that even right-wing propaganda on Fox has its limits.

The even faster disappearance of the GOP’s chameleon-like 2012 standard-bearer, Mitt Romney, is another sign that Republicans want to forget the clown show of their last presidential selection process. It culminated in a national convention built on taking Obama’s “you didn’t build that” quote out of context. Any thinking person knew that Obama was referring to the broader national infrastructure of roads, bridges, etc., not to some individual’s small business, but Romney pretended otherwise.

The Republican Party had reached a point where it seemed to relish the process of ginning up its idiotic “base” around outright lies. If it wasn’t Palin yelling about non-existent “death panels,” it was mogul Donald Trump and Sheriff Joe Arpaio questioning the Hawaiian birth records proving that Barack Obama was born in the United States.

Treating Americans as Simpletons

Of course, the GOP’s decoupling from reality can be traced back many more years, at least several decades to the emergence of former actor Ronald Reagan who demonstrated how a casual relationship with the truth could work wonders politically. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “America’s War for Reality.”]

But the substitution of right-wing ideology for reason advanced dramatically last decade under the presidency of George W. Bush, who empowered a clique of clever intellectuals known as the neoconservatives. The neocons treated the American people as simpletons easily manipulated through techniques of “perception management.”

Aided by Fox News and abetted by a careerist mainstream news media, the neocons felt free to push any hot buttons that worked, scaring Americans with exaggerated stories of foreign threats and impugning the patriotism of anyone who got in the way. The invasion of Iraq to find non-existent WMD was one result.

Similarly, Republican presidents from Reagan through the two Bushes stocked the U.S. Supreme Court with ideologues who pretended to be “strict constructionists” on the Constitution but actually applied shoddy scholarship to reach rulings in line with their political preferences.

For instance, Antonin Scalia and the three other right-wing justices, in an angry dissent regarding the Affordable Care Act, cited constitutional Framer Alexander Hamilton in support of their concern about the alleged overreach of Congress in regulating commerce.

In their dissent on June 28, 2012, they wrote: “If Congress can reach out and command even those furthest removed from an interstate market to participate in the market, then the Commerce Clause becomes a font of unlimited power, or in Hamilton’s words, ‘the hideous monster whose devouring jaws  . . .  spare neither sex nor age, nor high nor low, nor sacred nor pro­fane.’” They footnoted Hamilton’s Federalist Paper No. 33.

That sounded pretty authoritative. After all, Hamilton was one of the strongest advocates for the federal powers in the Constitution and here he was offering a prescient warning about “Obamacare” from the distant past of 1788. The only problem was that Scalia and his cohorts were turning Hamilton’s words inside out.

In Federalist Paper No. 33, Hamilton was not writing about the Commerce Clause. He was referring to clauses in the Constitution that grant Congress the power to make laws that are “necessary and proper” for executing its powers and that establish federal law as “the supreme law of the land.”

And Hamilton wasn’t condemning those powers, as Scalia’s opinion would have you believe. Hamilton was defending the two clauses by poking fun at the Anti-Federalist alarmists who had stirred up opposition to the Constitution with warnings about how it would trample America’s liberties. In the cited section of No. 33, Hamilton is saying the two clauses had been unfairly targeted by “virulent invective and petulant declamation.”

It is in that context that Hamilton complains that the two clauses “have been held up to the people in all the exaggerated colors of misrepresentation as the pernicious engines by which their local governments were to be destroyed and their liberties exterminated; as the hideous monster whose devouring jaws would spare neither sex nor age, nor high nor low, nor sacred nor profane.”

In other words, Scalia and the three other right-wingers not only applied Hamilton’s comments to the wrong section of the Constitution but reversed their meaning. Hamilton was mocking those who were claiming that these clauses would be “the hideous monster.” [For details, see Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative.]

Legal Wording to Go

Though Scalia is typically hailed by the Washington press corps as a brilliant legal scholar, he really is more of an ideological hack who reaches his conclusions based on what he wants the outcome to be and then picks out some legal wording to wrap around his judicial activism.

He did the same in using the Fourteenth Amendment’s “equal protection under the law” principle to prevent a recount in Florida in Election 2000 and thus hand George W. Bush the presidency. He and four other Republican justices settled on their desired outcome and then went searching for a rationalization, no matter how ludicrous. [See the book Neck Deep for details.]

One of the motivations for the five partisan justices to make Bush the president despite the people’s electoral preference for Al Gore was that Bush would then appoint more right-wing Republicans to the high court and thus perpetuate their ability to redefine the Constitution.

Thus, in 2008 and 2010, the right-wing majority reversed longstanding precedents regarding the interpretation of the Second Amendment as a collective right of the states to organize militias. By a narrow 5-to-4 majority, the Republican justices made it a personal right, albeit one that could be restricted by local, state and federal laws.

In 2010, the right-wing court also by a 5-to-4 vote unleashed the power of wealthy individuals to dominate the U.S. political process through unlimited financing of TV ads and other propaganda. The underlying motivation was that right-wing billionaires could then, in essence, buy elections for Republican candidates.

So, the nation’s predicament in 2013 is that the Republican practice of using sophistry and spin to control the American political/media system is deeply rooted in the judicial, political and media structures. Millions of Americans having watched too much Fox News and listened to the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck believe strongly in a faux reality and get angry when their illusions are challenged.

Of course, it’s not just the Republicans and the Right that are to blame for this mess. They, after all, have been doing simply what works for them politically. It is also the fault of the Democrats, the Left and the professional news media for largely abandoning this field of battle over reality, retreating in the face of well-funded propagandists and angry right-wing activists.

Yes, there also have been cases in which some elements of the Left and the Democratic Party have opted to fight fire with fire, i.e. making up their own fact-free conspiracy theories to discredit Republicans. But the preponderance of this behavior has been on the Right.

Indeed, the emerging backlash against right-wing fantasists could represent an important turning point in the fight for the world’s future. If thoughtful people will plant their flag in the firm ground of rationality and empiricism, they could create a rallying point for a new brand of politics, one based on pragmatism, realism and mutual respect.

Within such a political framework, there would still be vigorous debates over how best to address the world’s problems including how big a role for government versus the private sector but those discussions would be based on facts, not nonsense. To build that future, however, rationalists must be as tough and determined as the ideologues.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

Overcoming the Great Dismal

The core challenge facing today’s U.S. political process is whether the daunting threats to the planet and its people can be addressed, responsibly and cooperatively. Another hope is that in building these solutions, America can break loose from the chains of soulless mediocrity, as Phil Rockstroh explains.

By Phil Rockstroh

The repercussions of our acts the constructs that we create endure well past the dissolution of our convictions and desires. Our actions exist as living architecture that surrounds the breathing moment. Future generations will dwell in the world we erect, thought by thought, deed by deed.

And what if we construct an architecture of evasion and deception? What does such a place look like? If you live in the current-day U.S., take a perusal around you.

Take in our culture’s shoddily constructed, ugly, prefab, commercial structures its archipelago of strip malls, fast-food outlets, suburban, shit-box housing developments from gaudy McMansions to cookie-cutter track-houses. Glance at its corporate-state media, a self-perpetuating, self-referential dominion devoted to hype and hustle a 24/7, enveloping sales pitch contrived to evoke the misplaced fear and manic compulsion required to create an unquestioning desire to consume ever proliferating arrays of unneeded, commercial products, as, all the while, its soul-defying criteria is internalized and the system’s byproduct climate chaos roils land, sea and sky of our besieged planet.

This is the world we have made. We tend to believe that our present-day actions will pass into the shadow of memory, but they will remain in the world as ghostly architects of the future.

And this is where we stand, at present: We are transmigrating through a cultural landscape showing significant evidence of decline a collective, psychical wasteland, defined by media mirages, political legerdemain, and ecological devastation. We find ourselves in an era in which arrogance and cupidity are enthroned while the veracities of the heart wander in the wilderness.

Presently, cunning is lauded as a virtue, yet steadfast compassion is viewed as weakness. Our ancestors would have regarded our predicament as catastrophic a loss of soul thus making it imperative that the gods be appeased or else travail will follow travail. We know these spurned and vengeful gods as alienation, as displaced rage, desperate anomie, as cultural atomization, inertia and decay.

The latest electronic gadget will not bring you balm; your guns will not preserve you; and it is evident the nation’s political class will not assist us. How does one avoid being drowned in dumbness?

An inner conviction a deep-dwelling knowledge akin to grace exists within when your opinion on a matter aligns with the realities at hand. Often, one must stand against rising currents of worldly, wrongheaded opinion a cacophonous flood of stupid; a raging torrent of collective pathology.

This is when your own inner idiot and delusion-prone maniac can be of service to you. Ergo, you can think like your adversaries e.g., Smart can envisage Stupid and Crazy, but Stupid and Crazy cannot comprehend what is intelligent and sane. Thus, as surging tides of stupid crash upon you, you can breathe, with amphibian-like mutability, in the rarefied air of wit and knowledge, and you can breathe, as well, when immersed beneath the floodwaters of surging stupid and inundating insanity.

There are times when a bauble-bedazzled idiot can serve as a role model, because he knows how to surrender to the joys of his heart. But, because you are not an idiot, there is no need to surrender to idiocy. This evokes the question: What is it that I should give myself over to with idiotic abandon?

There is a vast difference between going supine before one’s oppressors and surrendering to the vast, ineffable order of the heart of creation. The task is ongoing and arduous, even, at times, terrifying.

It involves a drowning a baptism of sorts, but of the poetic (not fundamentalist) variety a washing away of calcified habit and a rebirth by an immersion in the embracing waters of a larger order one that is not defined by a compulsion for domination of the things of the world one cannot control.

“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” ― Aristotle

Subject to the status quo politics of late-stage capitalism, we find ourselves stranded in the era of The Great Dismal. Because a small cadre of elitist elements own the means of manufacturing and control of imagery and storyline, it is difficult to envisage the epic drama inherent to our circumstance.

As an example, the fate of the earth’s biosphere and its capacity to sustain human life is being subjected to an unfolding, desperate campaign craven as it is noxious in its intentions, scope and side effects, by the elite of an arrogant order to maintain their grip on privilege and power. By propaganda and coercion, they proceed, with cult-like conviction, on a course of catastrophic folly involving a race to secure and exploit the remaining resources of our ecologically taxed planet (the only planet available to us). If their agendas remain unchecked, the biosphere will be rendered unviable to our species.

In an era of urban alienation, suburban atomization, corporate-state domination of the public realm, and electronic-media saturation of the human psyche, in an era when desire is defined by consumer impulsiveness, individual liberty is circumscribed by debt, and freedom monitored by the dehumanizing apparatus of the national security state panopticon, one hears the lament I don’t even know how to go about embodying the truths of my heart How do I even begin to glide along the pollen path of my soul?

First ask yourself, how powerfully does the longing live with in you? Does it blaze through your blood? Does it bestow a love of life itself? Does it provide you with a love so potent that it allows you to even love the obstacles in your path? Do you love your adversaries like a Delta bluesman who wails in lamentation about the treachery of a dirty, lowdown betrayer?
Notice this: It is the obstacles along your way that have given impetus to inspiration. The antidote is contained in the dragon’s venomous bite. Passion’s path winds through the monster of the world.

“I feel the beautiful, beating heart of God in the monster of the world.” — Federico García Lorca

What did you expect a perpetual glide across eternal pools of bliss while lounging upon some kind of cosmic pool toy? There would only be a tinkling top to such music; it would be devoid of the heartbeat of an earthbound bottom the vital rhythm section of the monster’s heart.

Here at the crossroads of Eternity and the Living Moment, and near the last exit ramp of Empire’s End, the roadside attractions have become more than a bit empty and garish i.e., a Cracker Barrel of the bottomless cravings attendant to the marketing of counterfeit desires.

“What we speak becomes the house we live in.” — hafiz

Is it any wonder then, in the U.S., enmeshed as we are in the consumer paradigm of late capitalism, that we exist within a Landscape of Nada that is reflective of an inner Architecture of Nowhere? Sterile malls and ugly strip malls, big-box stores, fast-food outlets, convenience stores and agora-devoid subdivisions these flimsy, banal structures, we have conjured into existence by our hollow, poetry-devoid incantations.

Wasteland within. Wasteland extant. The word and the landscape are one.

So what is the Grail that will restore the dry, sterile landscape to fecundity? And whom does the Grail serve? And where can it be located? The question pertains both to where and to whom. The who in question is you. And the where is: the living landscape of your stalwart heart. The first step in allowing the wasteland to bloom is a reclamation of empathy and the embrace of imagination. Or else, all you hold dear will be rendered dust and ash and find dismal dominion in the indifferent winds of fate.

“Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.”– Rene Magritte

We must sing the world back into vital and vivid being. The heart will awaken once the task has begun. Art bestows flesh on phantoms; music spins garments for reborn flesh.

“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” — Plato

The Imagination is a charming seductress, an enchanter of harsh Verities. Baudelaire averred that when we love we have found a means of subsisting on the essence of invisible flowers. A sublime forgetting and relearning takes hold, as lovers take up residence in redolent air.

The act of looking upon the world as if it is the face of your beloved can serve to lift life’s burdens over grim landscapes, like Chagall’s lovers wafting over dour, quotidian rooftops, beneath which squat the compulsive folly of foolishly earnest men.

Bring an end to the Empire of Endless Burgers by giving voice to inspiration. Bring down the walls of airless, gated subdivisions of the mind with the heart’s reverberant soundscape. Without your voice, nothing is possible, and nowhere is where you are bound. Therefore, the only sound choice becomes … to arrive singing.

Words, Phrases, Sentences they are more than simply verbal constructs. They are living things the progeny of the union of the image-plangent soul of earth and sea and the holy spirit’s lambent, inhuman illuminations. We know them as the dance of affinities attendant to the mating rituals of eros and logos the Word and Flesh made one.

At paradigm’s end, buffeted and shaken yet held enthralled within the maelstrom by the vast and sweeping scope of unsolvable governmental/cultural forces we feel the pull of a gravity that feels akin to love. We yearn for some remedy, like lovers whose blazing love threatens to burn away all their moorings and upend all they know.

Thus, rejoice in this: There is rebirth, dwelling deep, in the irreparable problem we know as the world. Find solace in the knowledge that poets (who should not be imagined as an elitist covenant of the elect but those who have chosen to avail their hearts to the art of living in a poetic manner) are out there now: wounded by beauty; indentured to logos.

And even when exploring our current day wilderness of alienation, poets are laboring to limn a psychical map of its terrain of terror and beauty. All who live pass through this soul-plangent landscape. Know this: It is an illusion that you have ever been alone, even within the nadascape comprising The Great Dismal of the current era.

“Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present.”  — Albert Camus:

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: phil@philrockstroh.com  Visit Phil’s website http://philrockstroh.com / And at FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/phil.rockstroh

What to Make of Barack Obama?

Exclusive: In his Second Inaugural Address, President Obama offered a powerful rejoinder to the Right by arguing that progressive reform fits firmly within the Founders’ vision of a strong country advancing the “general Welfare” and securing “Blessings of Liberty.” But does his rhetoric reflect the real Obama, asks Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

American progressives tend to have two conflicting views of President Barack Obama: one that he had good intentions but inherited a poisonous mess from George W. Bush and then faced partisan, even racist obstructionism, or two that he was always a phony with a great smile who turned out to be “worse than Bush.”

Of course, there is much middle ground in assessments of Obama among progressives as from other political perspectives, but some prominent critics on the Left have opted for the latter point of view and berate anyone who takes the more forgiving position as an Obama “apologist.”

In particular, critics of Obama’s foreign policy have viewed it as an extension of Bush’s endless “war on terror” and only a slight redesign of U.S. imperialism, rather than a struggle by Obama to change the direction of America’s militaristic state, albeit gradually, deescalating wars and elevating diplomacy.

For instance, Oliver Stone’s Showtime documentary, “The Untold History of the United States,” likened Obama’s expansion of Bush’s lethal drone program against suspected terrorists to President Harry Truman dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki near the end of World War II, both presidents inviting a reckless arms race, according to Stone. But is that a fair comparison?

Surely, the drone program raises troubling policy and moral issues, including the acceptance of targeted killings (or assassinations) as a routine practice of U.S. statecraft, an issue that Obama will have to address in his second term. (And one would have to be naive to think that assassinations have not been used by many presidents over the years, whatever euphemisms or middlemen were deployed.)

But drones simply don’t represent the qualitative change in warfare that nuclear weapons did. Indeed, the idea of standoff attacks by a military, i.e. firing from remote locations outside the range of an enemy’s reach, is as old as the catapult and has advanced through history from the longbow to artillery to aerial bombing to Cruise missiles fired from aircraft carriers far offshore.

It’s true that drones may be the most extreme application of this age-old military tactic with strikes launched from the other side of the globe but drones don’t compare with the introduction of nuclear warfare with its indiscriminate slaughter of civilians and the potential to exterminate all life on Earth. To put the two weapons advances in the same sentence is a bit like comparing Obama to Hitler, an extreme example of hyperbole.

Obama’s ‘Team of Rivals’  

But there are other criticisms of Obama’s foreign policy that have more merit, such as why he failed to break decisively from Bush’s foreign policy after winning election in fall 2008. Still, that choice can be read in different ways: that he was too accommodating to the Establishment out of a sense of insecurity or that he shared its outlook.

The political reality that Obama confronted as a new President was that — even though Bush had been discredited in the eyes of most Americans — the Establishment, which had shared Bush’s eagerness for war in the Middle East, remained in place.  The editorial writers who had promoted Bush’s Iraq War still dominated the opinion pages of the Washington Post and the New York Times, from the Post’s editorial page editor Fred Hiatt to the Times’ Thomas Friedman.

The major Washington/New York think tanks had padded their staffs with high-profile neocons, from Robert Kagan at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to Michael O’Hanlon at the Brookings Institution to Max Boot at the Council on Foreign Relations. Mainstream Democrats, like former Sen. David Boren and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, mostly urged Obama to opt for continuity over change, and more often than not, the mainstream media, even liberal-oriented outlets like MSNBC, followed the lead of the pro-war pundits.

So, after winning election, Obama bowed to these paragons of conventional wisdom who were then abuzz about the need to apply the lessons from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2005 book about Abraham Lincoln, Team of Rivals. Official Washington’s takeaway from the book was that the ever-wise Lincoln had surrounded himself with political rivals so he could benefit from their strongly held alternative viewpoints. And, in late 2008, Lincoln’s supposed blueprint was hailed as the way to build Obama’s new administration.

In the real history, however, some of Lincoln’s Cabinet appointments were political payoffs promised at the Republican Party’s Chicago convention of 1860 so Lincoln could secure the presidential nomination. Yes, Lincoln did cut political deals. And the national crisis of the Civil War may have tamped down the fires of ambitions within other “rivals.”

In 2008, the danger of applying that ancient governing template to a very different era wasn’t taken into account. The idea of Obama surrounding himself with powerful people who had profoundly different policy prescriptions was a recipe for trouble, since these “rivals” could and would sabotage him with leaks and other bureaucratic warfare if he veered off in his own direction.

But Obama with very limited management experience went along. To the applause of Washington’s pundit class, he retained Bush’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates; he kept on Bush’s military stars like Gen. David Petraeus; and he named neocon-lite Sen. Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State.

Faced with this line-up of heavy hitters, Obama predictably got shelled in 2009 when he wanted only a limited escalation and withdrawal plan for the Afghan War but was pushed into signing off on a broad counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, an approach favored by Gates and Petraeus with Clinton’s support. The Pentagon denied Obama the more limited options he requested and then facing leaks about his “indecisiveness” he acquiesced to the Gates-Petraeus plan. He reportedly regretted his decision almost immediately. [For details, see Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative.]

Focusing on Bin Laden

Also recognizing the longstanding Democratic vulnerability of being labeled “soft on defense,” Obama authorized the CIA under his close ally, Leon Panetta, to refocus U.S. counterterrorism efforts on eliminating al-Qaeda’s top leadership, most notably Osama bin Laden.

That led to an expanded use of Predator drones hovering in the skies over Pakistan and other countries where al-Qaeda operatives were seen as mounting terrorist attacks against the U.S. mainland. Drone missiles killed U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen as well as other al-Qaeda operatives (though bin Laden was slain by U.S. commandos airlifted deep into Pakistan).

The drones raised a variety of serious concerns, such as the risk of making war seem easy and cheap. U.S. boots could be kept on the ground at home with “pilots” handling “joy sticks” thousands of miles from the actual war zones. But this tactic of targeting groups of suspected terrorists did create political space for Obama to finish withdrawing from the war in Iraq and winding down the war in Afghanistan — despite harsh criticism from neocons and other pundits.

Belatedly, Obama also began replacing his initial Team of Rivals. Gates went into retirement in 2011; Petraeus departed amid a sex scandal in 2012; and Clinton is slated to be gone early in 2013.

So, there are two ways to view Obama’s foreign policy: one is that he let himself be hoodwinked by the hawks in his Team of Rivals but is now quietly extricating the United States from a decade of imperial wars, slowing steering the ship of state toward a more peaceful harbor, or two, he is just the latest manager of American imperialism with plans to reduce military operations in the Middle East only to expand them in Africa and Asia.

A similar duality of opinion persists about Obama’s domestic policies. In 2008-09, was he so terrified of tipping the world into a global depression that he swallowed his anger and acquiesced to bailing out Wall Street, or was he simply the latest Wall Street tool to become President with the singular goal of protecting Wall Street’s financial interests?

Did he get all that was politically doable on economic stimulus, the auto rescue and health-care reform in the face of intractable Republican and right-wing opposition or did he throw the fight on behalf of special interests?

If you wish to be generous toward Obama, you might add that just as the inexperienced president was entranced by the Team of Rivals illusion on foreign policy, he stuck way too long with another Inside-the-Beltway fantasy: the notion that he could somehow woo “reasonable” Republicans into putting aside partisanship and help him address a moment of grave economic crisis.

His courtship of Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine was particularly painful as he kept thinking he had a chance with her on health-care reform when she obviously was just stringing him along. Yet, to this day, Obama gets hectored by the likes of the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd for not schmoozing enough with Republicans, as if playing poker with them on Wednesday nights would somehow lead them into bipartisan camaraderie the rest of the week.

The mainstream media continues to peddle this myth that bipartisanship is possible if only Obama tried harder, even when all the evidence indicates that the Republicans set out from the start to destroy his presidency and to deny him any achievements regardless of the toll that would take on the U.S. and world economies.

So, the fact that there has been almost no accountability in the Washington pundit class for a long train of failures has to be taken into account when evaluating Obama’s first term. If Obama had struck off in a radically different direction on foreign or domestic policies, he would have encountered intense resistance not only from the Republicans, the Tea Party and the neocons but also from the mainstream media and other parts of the Establishment. Whether he could have maintained his political viability in such circumstances is debatable.

Perfection vs. Pragmatism

In that regard, the long-term decline of the American Left also must be factored in. A common refrain that I hear from folks on the Left is that America has no Left, at least nothing that compares to the power on the Right to reach out to millions of sympathizers via a sophisticated media apparatus and rally them into action.

Instead of having the capacity to mobilize supporters to fight for politically achievable reforms, the Left now even shies away from offering specific policy ideas, as happened with the Occupy protests in 2011. Long-term marginalization from practical politics has contributed to the Left’s tendency to adopt the role of critic, acting as the avatar of perfection.

Giving his Second Inaugural Address, President Obama may have been speaking as much to the Left as to the Right when he declared: “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.”

Indeed, the answer to the question who is the real Barack Obama may not present itself until this second term plays out and possibly not even then. Even though his speech on Monday was the most ringing defense of liberal government that the American people have heard in decades, there will still be those on the Left who doubt his sincerity and will surely find evidence of inconsistencies in his compromises.

But the truth may be that Obama actually does believe in progressive governance, that he saw his Second Inaugural as his last big opportunity to make that case to the American public. In his heart, he appears to be a reformer, yet also a pragmatist, recognizing the many impediments and obstacles in the political terrain where he finds himself.

Yet, after a first term in which he seemed to cede too much ground, Obama took the rhetorical fight to right-wingers in his Second Inaugural, challenging their claim to be the true protectors of America’s Founding principles, that they alone understand American “exceptionalism” and that they might even have to resort to armed insurrection against the constitutionally elected government of the United States to stop “tyranny” and “take back” the country.

To those delusions, Obama said: “Each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names.

“What makes us exceptional, what makes us American, is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’

“Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed. For more than two hundred years, we have.”

Obama then made his case for continued reform within the constitutional framework: “Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together. Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.

“Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play. Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune. Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise; our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, are constants in our character.

“But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action. For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias.

“No single person can train all the math and science teachers, we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.”

Reversing Reagan

Thirty-two years ago, when Ronald Reagan declared in his First Inaugural Address that “government is the problem,” the United States began a radical shift away from the lessons of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the post-World War II “GI Bill” and Dwight Eisenhower’s constructive Republicanism the key elements that built the Great American Middle Class and achieved an unprecedented level of financial security for many Americans.

Behind Reagan, a resurgent Right sped off in a new direction, convincing many white middle- and working-class men that their interests lay more with the rich plutocrats than with struggling minorities and underpaid women, that the real victims in America were Ayn Rand’s supermen whose economic dynamism needed to be “unchained.”

Thus, for most of the ensuing three decades, through lower taxes on the rich and deregulation of industry, the nation’s wealth shifted dramatically to the top 1 percent, the financial speculators prospered, the middle-class shrank and finally the economic “bubble” burst.

While Obama’s First Inaugural and indeed his first term concentrated on addressing the economic crisis, his Second Inaugural warned that now the United States must begin facing other crises, from global warming to gun violence to rebuilding the middle class to protecting important social programs for those in need. He said:

“For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship.

“We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own. We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.

“We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other: through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.

“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it.”

Some pundits on the Right and Center immediately criticized Obama for taking shots at Ayn Rand acolytes like Rep. Paul Ryan, the former Republican vice presidential nominee who complained about a nation of “takers, not makers” and the global-warming deniers who see a socialist conspiracy behind scientific warnings of climate change.

Skepticism and Rejection

But Obama also has encountered skepticism and criticism when he talked about finally bringing the last decade of war to an end. He said, “We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.”

Then, in a reference to World War II and the Cold War, Obama added, “we are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends, and we must carry those lessons into this time as well. We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law.

“We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully, not because we are naive about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.” It was a message that the neocons disdained and that many on the Left doubted.

Obama then wrapped up his Second Inaugural with possibly its most memorable promise, a commitment to advance the cause of justice and equality:

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths, that all of us are created equal, is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

“Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we will all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time. For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay.”

Obama then called on American citizens to create the political space so these necessary reforms can be achieved: “You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course. You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time, not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.”

The final measure of Obama and his presidency may not be just how well he lives up to the commitments of his Second Inaugural but how forcefully the American people insist that those commitments become real.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

New Hope for a Second Term

President Obama’s Second Inaugural Address surprised some pundits with his strong messages on climate change, immigration reform, gun safety and other social issues. But whether real action follows will depend on a shift in public consciousness, says Robert F. Dodge.

By Robert F. Dodge

This year’s presidential inauguration on Martin Luther King Day finds us as a nation and people at a remarkable crossroads. We have the same daunting issues we have faced for years before us; and yet there is something different.

There is a developing shift in our consciousness and responsibility. We are witnessing a new awareness of the challenges and necessity of addressing them. What is needed is the collective will and steadfastness of effort to realize the opportunities that are upon us.

This year commemorates profound social events in history, from the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech 50 years ago. That dream and challenge is alive and vital today, and recent events have made the need to realize it ever more apparent.

From Hurricane Sandy to Sandy Hook, the challenges we face loom large. They range from climate change, gun control, immigration reform, to mass incarceration, war and social and environmental justice. On our shared planet, there is a demand for environmental sustainability, social justice and spiritual fulfillment. We must recognize that these issues are all connected. Not one can be had without the others. The tipping point on these issues is at hand.

Daily we witness the devastating effects of climate change, from year after year record temperatures and 2012 being the warmest year on record for the lower 48 U.S. states. We see the catastrophic global storms and record melting of the Arctic Sea ice. People are making the connection of extreme weather and climate change. The storms affect everyone, though poor and underdeveloped communities and civilizations feel a disproportionate brunt with resultant environmental injustice.

Gun violence is a public health threat and national disgrace. Averaging 87 gun-related deaths per day, the United States saw more than 30,000 of our citizens die last year from gunshot. Gun-related deaths are the leading cause of death among inner city black children and teens.

This “war” rages on everyday right here on our soil. According to Bloomberg News, deaths from these weapons of mass destruction will soon overtake annual auto fatalities. This public health threat has gone on for far too long.

As with any public health threat, prevention is key. A sad and paradoxical outcome of the Sandy Hook shootings and the loss of innocent white school children and teachers is that previous congressional adversaries to gun control are starting to evolve, recognizing that there is no “safe” population. They are seeing the need for some sensible control of our current insane gun policy.

Immigration reform has long been ignored or used as a divisive political issue. Yet immigration is a reality in our society and how we respond will address social and economic justice. Our economy is dependent on the labor of these “non-recognized” people whom we so often overlook and treat as non-entities. This is a complex and international issue that demands compassion and leadership to resolve.

Mass incarceration that flows from the “War on Drugs” finds 2.3 million people in the U.S. behind bars. With 5 percent of the world’s population the U.S. has 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated, making the U.S. the “incarceration nation.” Fifty percent of this population are men of color; this has been referred to as the new “Jim Crow.” This institutionalized racism tears apart the social fabric of our communities.

Finally, as the U.S. prepares to withdraw combat forces from Afghanistan it is imperative that we look closely at addressing and eliminating the root causes of war. All war has the possibility of going nuclear, either by intent or mistake. In a world that remains wired for instantaneous nuclear annihilation stemming from outmoded Cold War thinking, the time at long last has come to make real progress in abolishing these weapons.

The cost of war and the military-industrial complex to our society and world in lives, treasure, natural resources, brainpower, and missed opportunities is incomprehensible. The entire war economy demands a complete review as we face the finite fragile future of our planet. It is inaugural time time to inaugurate some key necessary changes.

Robert F. Dodge, M.D., serves on the boards of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Beyond War, Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, and Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions, and writes for PeaceVoice.

America’s War for Reality

Exclusive: The United States has been on a three-decade binge of unreality, imbibing delusions that began with Ronald Reagan and have continued through the Tea Party. The challenge now is for rational Americans to show they have the toughness and tenacity to fight for the real world — and to save it, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The real struggle confronting the United States is not between the Right and the Left in any traditional sense, but between those who believe in reality and those who are entranced by unreality. It is a battle that is testing whether fact-based people have the same determination to fight for their real-world view as those who operate in a fact-free space do in defending their illusions.

These battle lines do relate somewhat to the Right/Left divide because today’s right-wing has embraced ideological propaganda as truth more aggressively and completely than those on the Left, though the Left (and the Center, too) are surely not immune from the practice of ignoring facts in pursuit of some useful agit-prop.

But key elements of the American Right have set up permanent residence in the world of make-believe, making any commonsense approach to the real-world challenges nearly politically impossible. The Right’s fantasists also have the passions of true-believers, like a cult that gets angrier the more its views are questioned.

So, it doesn’t matter that scientific evidence proves global warming is real; the deniers will insist the facts are simply a government ploy to impose “tyranny.” It doesn’t matter how many schoolchildren are slaughtered by semi-automatic assault rifles or what the real history of the Second Amendment was. To the gun fanatics, the Framers wanted armed rebellion against the non-violent political process they worked so hard to create.

On more narrow questions, it doesn’t matter whether President Barack Obama presents his short or long birth certificates, he must have somehow fabricated the Hawaiian state records to hide his Kenyan birth. Oh, yes, and Obama is “lazy” even though he may appear to an objective observer to be a multi-tasking workaholic.

The American Right’s collective departure from reality can be traced back decades, but clearly accelerated with the emergence of former actor Ronald Reagan on the national stage. Even his admirers acknowledge that Reagan had a strained relationship with facts, preferring to illustrate his points with distorted or apocryphal anecdotes.

Reagan’s detachment from reality extended from foreign policy to economics. As his rival for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination, George H.W. Bush famously labeled Reagan’s supply-side policies of massive tax cuts for the rich which would supposedly raise more revenues as “voodoo economics.”

But Bush, who knew better, then succumbed to Reagan’s political clout as he accepted Reagan’s vice presidential offer. In that way, the senior Bush would become a model for how other figures in the Establishment would pragmatically bend to Reagan’s casual disregard for reality.

Perception Management

The Reagan administration also built around the President a propaganda infrastructure that systematically punished politicians, citizens, journalists or anyone who dared challenge the fantasies. This private-public collaboration coordinating right-wing media with government disinformationists brought home to America the CIA’s strategy of “perception management” normally aimed at hostile populations.

Thus, the Nicaraguan Contras, who in reality were drug-connected terrorists roaming the countryside murdering, torturing and raping, became “the moral equivalent” of America’s Founding Fathers. To say otherwise marked you as a troublemaker who had to be “controversialized” and marginalized.

The remarkable success of Reagan’s propaganda was a lesson not lost on a young generation of Republican operatives and the emerging neoconservatives who held key jobs in Reagan’s Central American and public-diplomacy operations, the likes of Elliott Abrams and Robert Kagan. The neocons’ devotion to imperialism abroad seemed to motivate their growing disdain for empiricism at home. Facts didn’t matter; results did. [See Robert Parry’s Lost History.]

But this strategy wouldn’t have worked if not for gullible rank-and-file right-wingers who were manipulated by an endless series of false narratives. The Republican political pros manipulated the racial resentments of neo-Confederates, the religious zeal of fundamentalist Christians, and the free-market hero worship of Ayn Rand acolytes.

That these techniques succeeded in a political system that guaranteed freedom of speech and the press was not only a testament to the skills of Republican operatives like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. It was an indictment of America’s timid Center and the nation’s ineffectual Left. Simply put, the Right fought harder for its fantasyland than the rest of America did for the real world.

There were a number of key turning points in this “info-war.” For instance, Reagan’s secret relationship with the Iranian mullahs was partly revealed in the Iran-Contra scandal, but its apparent origins in treacherous Republican activities during Campaign 1980 contacting Iran behind President Jimmy Carter’s back were swept under the rug by mainstream Democrats and the Washington press corps.

Similarly, evidence of Contra drug-trafficking and even CIA admissions about covering up and protecting those crimes were downplayed by the major newspapers, including the Washington Post and the New York Times. Ditto the work of Central American truth commissions exposing massive human rights violations that Reagan aided and abetted.

The fear of taking on the Reagan propaganda machine in any serious or consistent way was so great that nearly everyone looked to their careers or their personal pleasures. One side dug in for political warfare and the other, too often, favored trips to wine country.

Distrusting the MSM

As this anti-empiricism deepened over several decades, the remaining thinking people in America came to distrust the mainstream. The initials “MSM” standing for “mainstream media” became an expression of derision and contempt, not undeserved given the MSM’s repeated failure to fight for the truth.

National Democrats, too, showed little fight. When evidence of Republican misconduct was available as in the investigations of the early 1990s into Iran-Contra, Iraq-gate and the October Surprise case accommodating Democrats, such as Rep. Lee Hamilton and Sen. David Boren chose to look the other way. [See Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative.]

The Democrats even submitted when the Right and the Republicans overturned the electoral will of the American people, as happened in Election 2000 when George W. Bush stole the Florida election and thus the White House from Al Gore. [For details, see the book, Neck Deep.]

In the decades after the Vietnam War, the American Left also drifted into irrelevance. Indeed, it’s common in some circles on the Left to observe that “America has no Left.” But what was left of the Left often behaved like disgruntled fans in the bleachers booing everyone on the field, the bad guys who were doing terrible things as well as the not-so-bad guys who were doing the best they could under impossible conditions.

This post-modern United States may have reached its nadir with George W. Bush’s presidency. In 2002-03, patently false claims were made about Iraq’s WMD and virtually no one in a position of power had the courage to challenge the lies. Deceived by Bush and the neocons with the help of centrists like Colin Powell and the editors of the Washington Post the nation lurched off into an aggressive war of choice.

Sometimes, the Right’s contempt for reality was expressed openly. When author Ron Suskind interviewed members of the Bush administration in 2004, he encountered a withering contempt for people who refused to adjust to the new faith-based world.

Citing an unnamed senior aide to George W. Bush, Suskind wrote: “The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ …

“‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality, judiciously, as you will, we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’”

Reality Bites Back

Despite this imperial arrogance, real reality gradually reasserted itself, both in the bloody stalemate in Iraq and in the economic crises that Bush’s anti-regulatory and low-tax policies created at home. By Election 2008, the American people were awaking with a terrible hangover from a three-decade binge on anti-reality moonshine.

In that sense, the election of Barack Obama represented a potential turning point. However, the angry Right that Ronald Reagan had built and the corresponding crippling effects on the Center and the Left didn’t just disappear.

The Right counterattacked ferociously against the nation’s first African-American president, even intimating violent revolution if Obama acted on his electoral mandate; Obama often behaved like one of those accommodating Democrats (in retaining much of Bush’s national security team, for instance); the mainstream press remained careerist; and the Left demanded perfection regardless of the political difficulties.

This combination of dysfunction contributed to the rise of the Tea Party and the Republican congressional victories in 2010. But Election 2012, with Obama’s reelection and a general rejection of Tea Party fanaticism, has created the chance of a do-over for American rationalists.

After all, the United States continues to see the consequences of three decades of right-wing delusions, including high unemployment; massive deficits; self-inflicted financial crises; a degraded middle class; poor health care for millions; a crumbling infrastructure; an overheating planet; costly foreign wars; a bloated Pentagon budget; and children massacred by troubled young men with ridiculously easy access to semi-automatic assault rifles.

Yet, if rational and pragmatic solutions are ever going to be applied to these problems, it is not just going to require that President Obama display more spine. The country is going to need its conscious inhabitants of the real world to stand up with at least the same determination as the deluded denizens of the made-up world.

Of course, this fight will be nasty and unpleasant. It will require resources, patience and toughness. But there is no other answer. Reality must be recovered and protected if the planet and the children are to be saved.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

Keystone Pipeline’s March to the Sea

Progress continues on the Keystone XL pipeline as it overcomes creative protests and legal challenges in East Texas. But opposition also is building with big-name environmentalists, like Robert Redford, urging the Obama administration to stand up against global warming, reports William Boardman.

By William Boardman

Construction of the southern leg of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline continues to march through East Texas toward the sea with the implacability of Sherman’s army through Georgia in 1864, although with less scorched earth and a lot fewer casualties (at least if one doesn’t factor in the future impact on global warming).

So far, the Canadian pipeline corporation has faced and overcome opposition all along the way from protesters, blockaders and court challenges and as of Jan. 4, TransCanada reported that the 485-mile construction projectwas roughly a third complete and pretty much on schedule for completion before the end of 2013.

Despite setbacks as recently as Jan. 3, when a police-supervised cherry-picker collected a tree-sitter from the pipeline right-of-way, the Tar Sands Blockade and other opposition groups kept their actions going with a non-violence training camp over the weekend.

This led to the Tar Sands Blockade’s largest demonstration so far, on Jan. 7, when about 100 protesters occupied the lobby in the TransCanada office building. After about an hour, police cleared the building almost peacefully, with little more than some pushing and shoving. There were few arrests.

Most of the evicted demonstrators gathered in a greenspace across the street, where they performed street theatre featuring a “pipeline dragon,” as some 40 police looked on, some on horseback quietly drinking their Starbucks coffee.

A potentially much more important struggle goes on mostly out of sight in Washington, DC, where the Secretary of State is officially responsible for accurately assessing the environmental impact of the whole Keystone XL, all 1,100-plus miles of it.

This assessment was ordered almost a year ago, when President Obama resisted congressional pressure and denied the pipeline a permit to cross from Canada into the U.S. until the evaluation was done making the final decision a clear indicator of the President’s seriousness about climate change.

This was the subtext of environmentalist and moviemaker Robert Redford in a  recent piece that doesn’t mention President Obama by name, but calls in quietly measured tones for his government to deny the pipeline a permit:

“This is a time for climate leadership. So, instead of a shoddy Keystone XL environmental review, the first major climate action for this Administration’s second term should be to set limits on climate change pollution from power plants. That is the kind of action that makes sense.

“And then it will make sense to reject this dirty energy project. With extreme weather taking its toll on communities all over America, we can’t afford another major dirty energy project such as the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.”

The Alberta tar sands in Canada, like tar sands everywhere, do not contain oil, per se. The near-solid bitumen in tar sands can be turned into a high-sulfur content oil by treatment with toxic chemicals, heat and pressure.

The Keystone XL pipeline is designed to transport over 700,000 barrels of hot tar sands oil under pressure every day, from Canada across the heartland of the United States to Gulf Coast refineries, from whence it will mostly go to overseas markets, especially China.

In contrast to Redford’s polite demurrer, NASA scientist James Hansen has looked at the very same set of facts and concluded that Canadian tar sands “contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history” and that exploitation of this “resource” would mean, effectively, “game over for the climate.”

Hansen was critical of President Obama for taking the attitude that the Canadians would exploit their tar sands no matter what the U.S. does. Redford suggests this may not be true, that “Canadians know better – they haven’t let new tar sands pipeline be built yet to either of their own coasts. In fact, the proposed Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline to the west coast is considered dead by many.”

Resistance Spreads

With completion of Keystone XL, this point would become irrelevant. With Keystone blocked, it remains, at least, wishful thinking. There is already serious resistance in British Columbia and Nebraska and Vermont as well as Texas and other points along likely pipeline routes.

And resistance appears to continue to grow, as noted in CounterPunch in discussing the rise of Idle No More, a coalition of indigenous people in Canada in recent months, who are now joining the tar sands protest in Texas:

“In the coming days a new blockade will be set up in Texas as the resistance to Tar Sands grows. Plans are afoot across the country and the world for solidarity actions with Idle No More movement and direct actions targeting these industries and governments that continue to push our health, the environment and the existence of future generations aside for the profits of the transnational corporations defining the global political regime.

“Let’s hope that 2013 brings a needed awakening in the United States and that the Obama liberals and progressives shake off their shackles to a system that is plodding along in the wrong direction and decide to be Idle No More!!!”

The Lufkin Daily News posted a video of a non-violent but nevertheless odd arrest on Jan. 3 of a man asking for an explanation of why he had to move out of a public right of way. Tar Sands Blockade described the sheriff’s behavior this way: “Escalated police harassment of supporters along public highway continues. Angelina County sheriffs continue to push the limits of their legal authority with their harassment of supporters trying to observe the blockade from the side of a public highway. Supporters have been detained under the pretense that they were ‘witnesses to a felony investigation’ and ordered to produce ID.” 

Later the group reported that six blockaders were being held in jail, with bail set at $10,000 each. To deal with one person of color who was arrested without ID, the sheriff’s department called immigration authorities.

William Boardman lives in Vermont, where he has produced political satire for public radio and served as a lay judge.

Al Gore’s ‘Current TV’ Debacle

Exclusive: Current TV’s core failure was the choice by its founder Al Gore to avoid political conflict in 2005 when President George W. Bush was near the height of his powers. That act of cowardice made the “progressive” network largely irrelevant to the biggest battles of the last decade, says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Al Gore’s soon-to-be-defunct Current TV should serve as a case study for American progressives on how not to construct a media outlet. It was a failure in nearly all respects, with possibly its only lasting contribution the fact that its sale to Al Jazeera may finally give that important media voice from the Islamic world a foothold in the United States.

The biggest error committed by Gore and his partner Joel Hyatt occurred at Current’s founding in 2004-05 when the project intentionally ducked what was then the most important fight underway for the future of America, whether President George W. Bush’s strategy for a permanent Republican majority would go unchallenged.

Gore specifically swore off any political leanings for the new network, vowing that it would be an “independent voice” focused on the 18-to-34 demographic by giving them “a voice they recognize and a view they recognize as their own.” The idea was to present an MTV with a little more social conscience.

Gore and Hyatt also located their new network in San Francisco, a pleasant place to live but, frankly, a news backwater, 3,000 miles away from and three hours behind the news centers of New York and Washington. In placing its headquarters in the Bay Area, Current TV followed the tendency of other progressive outlets to choose that gentler location at the rear rather than to fight it out in the trenches on the front lines.

So, as the American people were facing one of the most severe threats to their political future a brazen strategy by Karl Rove and other Republican operatives to seize total control and to veer the country off in a violent and cruel right-wing direction the former Vice President and Democratic standard-bearer from 2000 consciously sought to avoid political conflict for his fledgling network.

Even if that had been a sound business strategy, which it wasn’t, it represented an act of cowardice. In 2005, when Current went on the air, the American people desperately needed a courageous voice to challenge Bush’s abuses of power, including his neoconservative war of aggression in Iraq and his assault on fundamental constitutional protections, such as the right of habeas corpus and prohibitions against “cruel and unusual punishments,” i.e. torture. Bush and the Right also were contemptuous about the science of global warming and other reality-based threats.

Not only could Gore’s network have engaged aggressively on those political battle fronts, it could have provided important historic information, including evidence about broader Republican abuses of political power, from the days of Sen. Joe McCarthy through President Richard Nixon to the crimes of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, such as their tolerance of cocaine trafficking by the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.

Gore also could have demonstrated a meaningful independence by showing how Democrats contributed to those and similar offenses during the post-World War II years by commission and omission. [For details, see Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative.]

Indeed, a youthful audience might have found such evidence revelatory and useful in assessing what is needed to put U.S. politics back on a sound course. Certainly, these young people would have gotten a better sense of the battle they’re in, against a power structure that won’t simply budge because of some idealistic mini-documentaries about caring for the planet.

The All-Powerful Bush

It may seem odd today, since President George W. Bush is widely reviled as a dismal failure, a politician not even welcome at the Republican National Convention. But eight years ago, he headed a fearsome political juggernaut that scared many people into silence, especially anyone who wished to maintain “credibility” within the mainstream.

So, it was left to a handful of underfunded Internet sites, including our own Consortiumnews.com, to explain what was happening within the U.S. political structure, to challenge the conventional wisdom on the Iraq War, and to provide the necessary historical context on how the country had lost its way. In those crucial years, Gore’s Current TV siphoned off millions of dollars in scarce media money while producing very little that was cutting edge regarding the fight for America’s political future.

Ironically, it was an outlet of General Electric, a founding member of the Military-Industrial Complex, that seized on the media opening that Gore had disdained.

MSNBC, another struggling cable outlet, had tried for a while to out-fox Fox News from the Right. In the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003, MSNBC dumped the popular Phil Donahue, who had dared to allow some anti-war voices on his talk show. Then, during the invasion, MSNBC produced glowing propaganda videos of American troops “liberating” Iraq, just like Fox was doing.

MSNBC, like other mainstream outlets, carefully censored out images of dead Iraqi civilians and wounded children at overflowing hospitals, so as not to dampen the jingoistic hysteria that was considered ratings gold. However, MSNBC executives soon learned that Fox had cornered the market on conservative viewers, leaving the wannabe super-patriots at MSNBC looking for another strategy.

That strategy emerged through the singular voice of Keith Olbermann, a former sports broadcaster who transformed his MSNBC show “Countdown,” which premiered almost at the same time as the Iraq War, into must-see TV for Americans uneasy about the direction that Bush was taking the country.

Though a temperamental personality, Olbermann demonstrated the courage to take on the Bush administration and Fox News and showed that his pugnacious though erudite style could work even amid the political conformity that dominated the early-to-mid part of the last decade. Every night, Olbermann chided Bush’s triumphant “Mission Accomplished” declaration by counting how many days the war had continued after that moment of bravado.

Olbermann’s ratings success convinced NBC Universal to expand its liberal-oriented evening programming, making MSNBC a counterpoint to Fox News and leaving CNN’s attempts at “even-handedness” looking wimpy and irrelevant.

Repeated clashes with management led Olbermann to depart MSNBC in January 2011, but his legacy was lasting and profound. By then, Bush was considered one of the worst presidents in U.S. history, the Iraq War was acknowledged to be a disaster, and MSNBC was the clear choice for millions of Americans tired of Fox’s right-wing propaganda and CNN’s phony “balance.”

It was only after Olbermann left MSNBC and after the ugly trench warfare with the Bush-Rove-Fox machine was largely over that Gore and Current TV decided to abandon their MTV-with-a-conscience format and opt for more hard-edged political programming. Current hired Olbermann to head its news division and to continue hosting his show, but he quickly grew alienated by the poor production values and left in a huff in March 2012.

The hard truth about Gore’s Current TV is that it missed its historic moment, a chance to truly fight for America’s political future. Gore and the network thought they could do good by not engaging the powerful forces that were intent on crushing the nation’s progressive tendencies and its democratic principles.

The idea was that Current could distance itself from such nastiness both politically and geographically, getting as far from the Washington Beltway as possible and focusing on the positive, not the negative.

That was a gross miscalculation, a failure of political courage and business acumen. Current will now disappear from America’s media landscape having accomplished very little and with very few lamenting or even noticing its departure.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).