America the Beautiful is a lie, and the American dream is a nightmare for all but the rich. So argues leftist journalist Parenti (Land of Idols, 1993, etc.) in this scattershot collection. As the long subtitle suggests, this book gathers occasional pieces--sometimes only a couple of pages long--on subjects connected only by the author's insistent Marxist analysis, ``the other great paradigm that haunts the bourgeois scholarly world like a specter.'' One out of every six Americans regularly uses emotion-controlling medical drugs; 150,000 young people are reported missing every year; 16 million Americans have diabetes, thanks in part to a diet of sugary junk food; and 12 million Americans are chronically malnourished due to poverty. This is so, Parenti maintains, because ``the goal of ruling interests is to keep this society and the entire world open for maximum profitability regardless of the human and environmental costs.'' None of this is new, of course; any number of similarly inclined social critics have been pressing the argument for years. Parenti has a penchant for flogging long-dead horses: ``The Nazi invasion of Poland is fascism in action; the American invasion of Vietnam is a `blunder' or at worst an `immoral application' of power.'' He also has a maddening habit of refusing to get down to cases; he may well be right, but he never sticks around long enough to argue his point, instead firing a volley and dashing to the next target: the JFK assassination, global warming. When he does settle in for an extended discussion, he often scores points, as when he examines the role of the corporate media in stifling left journalistic criticism. And Parenti's memoir of growing up in a working-class Italian family is warm and fully realized while keeping a radical edge, a real contribution to the ethnic-studies literature. Still, Parenti is mostly content to offer propaganda in the place of closely argued advocacy.