Sunday, January 13, 2013




By Jack Random

Another year has passed, another tick on the celestial clock, another moment to reflect on where we’ve been, another crossroad on the endless highway of life on the planet earth. In many ways the past twelve months have been unremarkable, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing.

We have retained a moderate Democratic president. We have elected a congress that remains intractable. We have steadied our course on the path to austerity. Our economy continues to regain its balance at a painfully slow pace. Our workers remain underemployed and underpaid. Our homes remain undervalued and far too many of our people are struggling. Our foreign wars, though winding down, have not yet ended. We have survived catastrophic natural disasters and human-made tragedies.

There were positive changes initiated by the people but the government remained stagnant at best and regressive at worst. Advances in the civil rights of the lesbian and gay communities were countered by the erosion of civil liberties (habeas corpus, due process and the right to assemble in protest). Legalization of marijuana at the state level ran counter to inconsistent federal enforcement policies.

Yes, it could have been worse but in so many ways we ended the year as we began.

Those of us who believe in change often use this occasion to reflect on opportunities lost. Those of us who follow the media often focus on what was not covered as much as what was. Every year an organization called Project Censored offers its selection of the most under-reported stories of the year. What follows is mine.

An under-reported story is one that received significantly less coverage than it deserved. By that standard one story is a perpetual holdover on the list. For while it may receive significant coverage it always falls well short of what it deserves.

1. GLOBAL WARMING. This year we learned that the polar ice caps have melted at a more rapid pace in the last twenty years than they had in the previous ten thousand years. Moreover, a comprehensive study using satellite data confirmed that the great melting and consequent rise in sea levels is occurring at an accelerating rate. The implications of this acceleration are worthy of the kind of coverage that predictions of doom based on the Mayan calendar received as the year drew to a close. Instead, such stories appeared in the back pages of newspapers and rarely made an appearance beyond the print media.

The Mayan calendar apocalypse came and went with a shrug and a chuckle. The Global Warming apocalypse delivered Hurricane Sandy, devastating the northeast with unprecedented destruction. Mother Nature cried out: Can you hear me now?

The media answered: No, we cannot. We will continue to burn fossil fuels until we can no longer breathe the air. We will continue to pretend that the debate is ongoing, that the best we can do is stand back and report both sides of the story, and that we cannot say that this storm or that catastrophe is caused by global warming. We can only infer. We can only speculate.

Fair enough. The air belongs to all of us and we will all live or die with the consequences of our neglect. The earth will abide.

2. DRUG LORDS OF MEXICO. Six years ago President Felipe Calderon pledged to crack down on the drug lords who effectively rule his nation. Unable to trust the local or national police, he used the military in a full throttle assault on the well-armed and well-established cartels in every region of the country. As a result an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 people were slaughtered in escalating violence.

In December 2012 Enrique Pena Nieto replaced Calderon and soon after pledged a new approach to the on war drugs. He’s calling off the dogs. Nieto learned what Calderon should have known: You cannot win a war on drugs any more than you can win a war on terror.

Now the cartels are facing a new challenge. An estimated forty percent of their profits come from the marijuana market and that profit is threatened by the legalization of marijuana north of the border (Washington and Colorado). This is how you fight back effectively against the illegal drug trade: by making the product legal, controlled and regulated. Now let’s talk about other drugs: Legalize, control, regulate and the cartels will fold.

3. DRONE WARS. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness can be ended in the blink of an eye without trial, without due process, and apparently without consequences, as long as it happens on foreign soil. Welcome to the age of the drone wars. Initiated during the tenure of George W. Bush, drone warfare has accelerated under the leadership of Barrack Obama.

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, beyond the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, of an estimated 358 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004, 306 have occurred during Obama’s presidency. Those strikes have killed somewhere between 2,613 to 3,422 individuals, including anywhere from 473 to 889 civilians. Drone strikes have been employed a minimum of 43 times in Yemen and at least three times in Somalia, all with deadly results and civilian casualties.

Clearly, drone warfare has supplanted traditional war and covert operations as the method of choice for eliminating terrorist suspects. Reminiscent of the Bush administration, unless presented with overwhelming evidence (pictures of women and children in the rubble, for example), the Obama administration describes all casualties as Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda affiliates. When the evidence is incontrovertible, we accuse the terrorists of using civilians as shields and issue a muffled apology for collateral damage.

Media coverage of these events have been isolated and minimalist. Even those who strongly criticized the Bush administration’s war policies have held back. Why? Perhaps because we fear that the alternatives would be even more deadly. At least drone strikes come without the cost of American lives.

As a nation we have not yet addressed the implications of drone warfare. It is apparent that our technology is out front in this area. What happens when other nations, nations like Yemen, Pakistan, Iran and Somalia acquire such weapons? Can a drone fly silently and undetected across the oceans to strike a target thousands of miles away? How many civilian casualties are acceptable? How fallible are these weapons? What limitations should be placed on their deployment?

It is certain that the nature of warfare, itself, has changed with this technology. We need to explore the topic fully rather than bury it beneath an innocuous headline.

4. BENGHAZI: A CIA OPERATION. The killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three employees of the Central Intelligence Agency on September 11, 2012 set off a firestorm of political protest. We were in the final months of a presidential election and Republicans were determined to extract political payment. In spasmodic leaps and bounds Republicans and their media spokespersons charged the State Department and by extension the White House with gross ineptitude and a cover up.

Respectfully, they asked all the wrong questions. The great mystery of the Benghazi attack was solved when the Wall Street Journal issued a report that the diplomatic annex in Benghazi was primarily a CIA front. It had no diplomatic status and the vast majority of officials who worked there worked for “the company” under diplomatic cover.

Given that central fact, it follows that the “cover story” centering on Libyan outrage over an offensive video on social media originated with the agency. It follows that the CIA was responsible for the ambassador’s safety. It follows that the cover was blown and the mission failed.

Some of the questions not asked and therefore never answered were: Why was the ambassador there if the annex had no diplomatic function? How common is the practice of using our embassies as cover for the CIA? Will this revelation endanger other embassies? Will it damage our relations in the region and throughout the world?

Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham were not interested in these questions. They were only interested in scoring political points. The truth is: When the CIA is involved, we will never know the full and unvarnished story. Former Commanding General and Director of Central Intelligence David Petraeus got off easy. That he was ultimately responsible for the failure in Benghazi is all but certain. The truth is: The CIA needs to be reigned in and it is not likely to happen until the commander in chief is willing to stand up to the military-industrial complex. But that’s a long and tortured story.

5. EROSION OF CIVIL LIBERTIES. The principle of habeas corpus holds that a person cannot be arrested, detained, tried or convicted without a compelling body of evidence that he or she committed a crime. Habeas corpus is one of the founding blocks of western justice predating the Magna Carta circa 1215.

The principle of habeas corpus served our nation well until the reign of King George the Lesser and the USA Patriot Act of October 26, 2001. With the signing of that legislation, all rights deferred to the suspicion of terrorism and that suspicion requires no compelling evidence, no due process and no trial by jury. When we allow the foundation of our justice system to be weakened, all rights begin to erode. Freedom of speech is curtailed. Freedom from unwarranted search and seizure is effectively eradicated. It seems the only provision in the Bill of Rights that remains untouchable is the right to bear arms without regard to a well-regulated militia.

Many of those who marched on the streets of protest during the Bush administration believed that the erosion of civil liberties would end with the election of Democrat Barrack Obama. Many believed that Obama would keep his promise to close Guantanamo Bay, a glaring violation of international law and a disgrace to the American government. Many assumed that the president would keep his promise to roll back the Patriot Act and restore the rule of law. Many should be outraged now that the president has failed to keep his promises. Moreover, when congress passed and the president signed into law legislation designed to stomp out the Occupy Movement (H.R. Bill 347), he sanctioned the effective end of the first amendment right to assemble in protest.

We have reached a new low in the protection of our individual liberties yet few have noticed and fewer have raised their voices in protest. In the name of security, in the endless pursuit of our enemies, the people and the media have given the president a pass. But when we lose our basic liberties, they are not easily restored.

The through line of these under-reported stories is clear. We focus our attention on the crisis of the moment and the tragedy of the day. We consistently fail to see the forest for the trees. The media dutifully entertains us with images of disaster, human suffering and displays of partisan rancor while neglecting to connect the dots.

We cannot continue down this path without irreparable harm to future generations. The politicians constantly warn us that we are handing our debts to our children and theirs and they are right. But it is not the monetary debt that poses the greatest threat. That debt is eminently manageable. The greater debt is the legacy of neglect and willful ignorance we are handing down. The greater harm is that they may never know the rights that were lost while we were sleeping. The greater harm is the toxic waste we continue to spew into the atmosphere even as we know the consequences. The greater shame is that we turned our heads when the world was spiraling out of control and we chose not to notice.

Perhaps it is not our fault. We turn on our televisions and we are told what to think, what to know, what to think about and what to ignore. We learn that there are two sides to every issue and the best we can do is to choose sides and vote accordingly.

If we train ourselves to become intelligent observers, sooner or later we will begin to notice what our media of choice does not report or what they cover without the depth and focus the subject requires. When we begin to peer behind the curtains, to see what is hidden in plain sight, to connect the timeline of events and to understand the greater truths, only then we will be able to affect real and substantive change.