The Depth of Corruption

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The American
soap Madmen
offers a rare glimpse of the power of corporate advertising. The
promotion of smoking half a century ago by the "smart"
people of Madison Avenue, who knew the truth, led to countless deaths.
Advertising and its twin, public relations, became a way of deceiving
on a scale imagined by those who had read Freud and applied mass
psychology to anything from cigarettes to politics. Just as the
Marlboro Man was virility itself, so politicians could be branded,
packaged, and sold.

It is 100 days
since Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. The
"Obama brand" has since been named Advertising Age’s
of the year for 2008
," easily beating Apple. David Fenton
of describes Obama’s election campaign "an
institutionalized, mass-level, automated technological community
organizing that has never existed before and is a very, very powerful
force." Deploying the Internet and a slogan plagiarized from
the Latino union organizer Caesar Chavez — Si se puede!
— "yes, we can," the "mass-level, automated
technological community" marketed its brand to victory in a
country desperate to be rid of George W. Bush.

No one knew
what the new brand actually stood for. So accomplished was the advertising
— a record $75 million was spent on TV commercials alone —
that many Americans actually believed Obama shared their opposition
to Bush’s wars. In fact, he had repeatedly backed Bush’s
warmongering and its congressional funding. Many Americans also
believed he was the heir to Martin Luther King’s legacy of
anti-colonialism. Yet if Obama had a theme at all, apart from the
vacuous "change you can believe in," it was the renewal
of America as a dominant, avaricious bully. "We will be the
most powerful!" he declared.

Perhaps the
Obama brand’s most effective advertising was supplied free
of charge by those journalists who, as courtiers in a rapacious
system, promote shining knights. They depoliticized him, spinning
his platitudinous speeches as "adroit
literary creations, rich, like those doric columns, with allusion
(Charlotte Higgins, the Guardian). San Francisco Chronicle
columnist Mark Morford wrote
that "many spiritually advanced people I know … identify
Obama as a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being who …
can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet."

In his first
100 days, Obama has excused torture, opposed habeas corpus, and
demanded more secret government. He has kept Bush’s gulag intact
and at least 17,000 prisoners beyond the reach of justice. On April
24, his lawyers won an appeal that ruled Guantanamo prisoners were
not "persons" and therefore had no right not to be tortured.
His national intelligence director, Adm. Dennis Blair, says he believes
torture works. One of his senior officials in Latin America is accused
of covering up the torture of an American nun in Guatemala; another
is a Pinochet apologist. As Daniel Ellsberg has pointed out, America
experienced a military coup under Bush, whose secretary of "defense,"
Robert Gates, along with the same warmaking officials, have been
retained by Obama.

All over the
world, America’s violent assault on innocent people, directly
or by agents, has been stepped up. During the recent massacre in
Gaza, reports Seymour Hersh, "the Obama team let it be known
that it would not object to the planned resupply of u2018smart bombs’
and other high-tech ordnance that was already flowing to Israel"
and being used to slaughter mostly women and children. In Pakistan,
the number of civilians killed by American missiles called drones
has more than doubled since Obama took office.

In Afghanistan,
the U.S. "strategy" of killing Pashtun tribespeople (the
"Taliban") has been extended by Obama to give the Pentagon
time to build a series of permanent bases right across the devastated
country where, says Secretary Gates, the U.S. military will remain
indefinitely. Obama’s policy, one unchanged since the Cold
War, is to intimidate Russia and China, now an imperial rival. He
is proceeding with Bush’s provocation of placing missiles on
Russia’s western border, lying that they are a counter to Iran,
which he accuses, absurdly, of posing "a real threat"
to Europe and the U.S. On April 5, in Prague, he made a speech reported
as "anti-nuclear." It was nothing of the kind. Under the
Pentagon’s Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program, the
U.S. is building new "tactical" nuclear weapons designed
to blur the distinction between nuclear and conventional war.

Perhaps the
biggest lie — the equivalent of smoking is good for you —
is Obama’s announcement that the U.S. is leaving Iraq, the
country it has reduced to a river of blood. According to unabashed
U.S. Army planners, as many as 70,000 troops will remain "for
the next 15 to 20 years." On April 25, his secretary of state,
Hillary Clinton, alluded to this. It is not surprising that the
polls are showing that a growing number of Americans believe they
have been suckered — especially as the nation’s economy
has been entrusted to the same fraudsters who destroyed it. Lawrence
Summers, Obama’s principal economic adviser, is throwing $3
trillion at the same banks that paid him more than $8 million last
year, including $135,000 for one speech. Change you can believe

Much of the
American establishment loathed Bush and Cheney for exposing, and
threatening, the onward march of America’s "grand design,"
as Henry Kissinger, war criminal and now Obama adviser, calls it.
In advertising terms, Bush was a "brand collapse," whereas
Obama, with his toothpaste-advertisement smile and righteous clichés,
is a godsend. At a stroke, he has seen off serious domestic dissent
to war, and he brings tears to the eyes, from Washington to Whitehall.
He is the BBC’s man, and CNN’s man, and Murdoch’s
man, and Wall Street’s man, and the CIA’s man. The madmen
did well.

1, 2009

was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been
a war correspondent, filmmaker and playwright. Based in London,
he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism’s
highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his
work in Vietnam and Cambodia. His new book, Tell
Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs
, will
be published by Jonathan Cape in June.

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