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Saturday, May 30, 2009

The proof that class still rules by Mark Steel

Mark Steel

Labour can't blame thieving aristos when they deny class still exists

First published in The Independent on 27th May 2009

If Kim Jong-Il has an imaginative public relations office, he'll issue a statement that setting off another nuclear weapon was due to a simple mistake as he was confused about which missile he'd registered as his second one, and it was all within the rules but he's sorry if anyone's upset and it goes to show this ghastly system needs to be jolly well reformed.

This would be more plausible than the now famous interview by the MP who protested that complaints about his expenses were driven by "Jealousy" because his house "Looks like Balmoral" and "Does me nicely," ending with a flourish by snarling "What right has the public to interfere in my private life? NONE."

He was so absurdly beyond his own stereotype, if it had carried on he'd have said "I REQUIRE substantial grounds in order to carry out the annual event of hunting a farm-hand and roasting him on a spit, and no do-gooder of common stock will tell me otherwise."

But the most annoying thing when listening to these types is not their own arrogance, but that the mainstream view of modern Britain, including the idea on which New Labour was founded, is that class division belongs only in the past. So when you go past a housing office on a council estate that's full of disgruntled tenants, they must all be yelling "When are you bastards gonna come and repair my duck island? It's THREE WEEKS since I reported it was leaking, where are my bleeding ducks supposed to rest when they're half way across my pond, they're getting KNACKERED, now SORT IT."

And Job Centres will be packed with claimants crying "I can't survive on £68 invalidity benefit. Out of that I've got to pay for council tax, heating, food, moat cleaning, I've already got the portcullis going rusty I'm DESPERATE."

And if a single parent on housing benefit was questioned about why they hadn't declared a morning's work, they could say to the fraud officer "Do you know what this is about? JEALOUSY. I now own some cat food and a packet of biscuits which does me nicely and no member of the darned public has the right to interfere," and be allowed to carry on as normal.

The chances of someone moving a long way up or down the social scale from the one they were born into, are now less than they were in the 1950s. But somehow the Labour Party has come out worst from all this, partly because some of their lot has been on the fiddle as well, but mostly because they're driven by the idea that class is no longer an issue. They can hardly shout about thieving aristocrats when they've spent fifteen years insisting class no longer exists. So trends taking place now, that would once have made Labour popular, such as hostility towards bankers and contempt for the duck-island owning gentry, instead help make Labour less popular than ever.

But they could still rescue the situation. The bumbling landowning set are usually dismissed by people who insist class has disappeared, as a quaint and quirky hangover from British history, a bit of fun with no real power. So to prove this, they should be made to open up their houses so the public and groups of children can splash in the clean moats and frolic in the grounds, taking pictures of each other merrily throwing stones at Douglas Hogg as he stomps round the lawn muttering "Confounded bloody commoners," reminding us of the times when class still mattered.

Greens’ Fremantle win: Can the Greens challenge Labor? by Sam Wainwright, Fremantle

The victory for Greens candidate Adele Carles in the May 16 by-election for the WA state seat of Fremantle is a breakthrough for the progressive movement and a testament to the Greens’ consistent efforts to raise a left alternative to Labor.

Beyond the boundaries of that electorate, it is a reflection of the broader, growing popularity of the Greens.

As it becomes clearer to more people that PM Kevin Rudd is continuing many of the hated policies of the previous Coalition government, parties articulating progressive alternatives are getting more attention.

For the first time, the Greens won a higher primary vote than Labor.

With preferences from the Socialist Alliance and two independent candidates, the Australian Electoral Commission’s notional preference distribution gives Carles an emphatic 53.92%, while the ALP’s Peter Tagliaferri received 46.08%. This seat now gives the Greens party status in the WA parliament.

The result delivered a bloody nose to the ALP, which had held Fremantle for 85 years. In particular, it was a sharp rebuff for the party’s increasing tendency to parachute in “star candidates” over the objections of local branches.

Tagliaferri is a millionaire property owner and the mayor of Fremantle. He has no history in the Labor Party, joining only in April to facilitate his nomination.

The result has sparked a lot of commentary about the threat posed by the Greens to similar inner-city ALP seats. However, the by-election was also shaped by factors particular to Fremantle that seriously undermined Labor’s campaign.

1. Carles is highly respected for her leading role in a campaign against a beachfront housing project approved by the previous Labor government in breach of its own planning regulations.

2. The Greens were desperate to win their first ever WA lower house seat, probably outspending the ALP on advertising and certainly running a more creative and appealing campaign.

3. The ALP machine cynically manipulated its own rules and the timing of the sitting MP’s resignation to ensure that local members had no say in the selection of its candidate. To rub salt into the wound, it emerged that Tagliaferri was a member of the Liberals’ “500 Club” of capitalists who make big donations in return for special access to the top.

Some local ALP members abstained from the campaign or called on people to vote Green or socialist.

4. The ALP how-to-vote card preferenced Family First second and the Christian Democratic Party fourth, while placing the Greens and Socialist Alliance second last and last respectively. The deliberate courting of the right-wing religious parties fuelled disgust.

5. The Australian Services Union campaigned against Tagliaferri at the Fremantle May Day march because his council has been pushing non-union contracts paying 10% less than the union agreement.

The ALP’s attempts to get unionists to march with its contingent instead of their union backfired and inflamed the anger.

6. Some unions refused even token endorsement of the Labor candidate, while others felt obliged formally to give the nod but did not mobilise for the election.

7. The Liberals decided not to run, splintering the conservative vote between three “independent Liberal” pro-business type candidates and three right-wing Christian parties. Undoubtedly, some former Liberal voters also went to the Greens.

8. A consortium proposing an enormous Dubai-style playground for the rich on the beach next to Fremantle Port threw a lot of advertising dollars around, hoping to stave off a Greens victory. If built, this would create pressure to close the port, angering maritime workers and people appalled by yet another proposal to, in effect, privatise a section of the beach.

Tagliaferri sensed the sharply polarised views and tried to sit on the fence, only angering people opposed to the project.

While a lot of Labor’s internal debate about the loss has spilled into the open, embattled leader Eric Ripper insists that Tagliaferri represented its best chance of winning. He has predictably tried to blame the electorate for the party’s loss.

First, Labor claims that, as wharfies and other blue-collar workers have moved out of Fremantle, the seat has gentrified and become more conservative.

Certainly the social composition of inner-city Fremantle has changed. It now includes more white-collar workers, professionals and university students. But the charge that its voters have become more conservative doesn’t stack up. In the September, 2008 state election the Liberals scored 30.2% versus 38.7% for Labor and 27.6% for the Greens.

In the by-election, the ALP scored 38.56%, the Greens 44.05% and Socialist Alliance 2.29%. The electorate has in fact shifted to the left.

Second, Labor claims the Greens won only thanks to Liberal voters who could not bring themselves to vote Labor. Certainly some of the Greens’ vote must have come from former Liberal voters, and it may be that these votes got Carles over the line. However, what Labor can’t bring itself to admit in public is that there is a swathe of Labor voters who shifted to the Greens and Liberal voters who voted Labor.

In the past the Liberals have preferenced the Greens over Labor in the hope of profiting from a Labor humiliation. However, more hard-headed conservative commentators can see that this short term gain is self-defeating.

In an opinion piece in the May 19 West Australian, conservative columnist Gerard Henderson said: “on policy matters, the Coalition is closer to Labor than the Greens. So it makes little sense for the Liberals to bring about situations where the Greens win seats at Labor’s expense.”

It may be hard for the Greens to hang on to the seat if the Liberals run next time, especially if the Liberals finish third and take Henderson’s advice to preference Labor before the Greens.

The challenge for the Greens in this scenario would not be to try to keep fragile conservative voters, but to continue to carve out a space to the left of Labor, particularly establishing roots among blue-collar workers.

The Greens now plan to target safe Labor seats in inner-city Sydney and Melbourne. As the effects of the recession continue to bite working people, and Rudd’s dangerously weak stance on climate change angers many, it will be more important than ever that green, left, and socialist parties and activists continue to put forward pro-people, pro-environment solutions. People want to hear them.

[Sam Wainwright is co-convenor of the Fremantle branch of Socialist Alliance and was its candidate in the by-election].

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #796 27 May 2009.

Britain: the depth of corruption by John Pilger

John Pilger

In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger describes how the current scandal of MPs' tax evasion and phantom mortgages conceals a deeper corruption that is traced back to the political monoculture of the United States.

The theft of public money by members of parliament, including government ministers, has given Britons a rare glimpse inside the tent of power and privilege. It is rare because not one political reporter or commentator, those who fill tombstones of column inches and dominate broadcast journalism, revealed a shred of this scandal. It was left to a public relations man to sell the “leak”. Why?

The answer lies in a deeper corruption, which tales of tax evasion and phantom mortgages touch upon but also conceal. Since Margaret Thatcher, British parliamentary democracy has been progressively destroyed as the two main parties have converged into a single-ideology business state, each with almost identical social, economic and foreign policies. This “project” was completed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, inspired by the political monoculture of the United States. That so many Labour and Tory politicians are now revealed as personally crooked is no more than a metaphor for the anti-democratic system they have forged together.

Their accomplices have been those journalists who report Parliament as "lobby correspondents" and their editors, who have “played the game” wilfully, and have deluded the public (and sometimes themselves) that vital, democratic differences exist between the parties. Media-designed opinion polls based on absurdly small samplings, along with a tsunami of comment on personalities and their specious crises, have reduced the “national conversation” to a series of media events, in which the withdrawal of popular consent – as the historically low electoral turnouts under Blair demonstrated – has been abused as apathy.

Having fixed the boundaries of political debate and possibility, self-important paladins, notably liberals, promoted the naked emperor Blair and championed his “values” that would allow “the mind [to] range in search of a better Britain”. And when the bloodstains showed, they ran for cover. All of it had been, as Larry David once described an erstwhile crony, “a babbling brook of bullshit”.

How contrite their former heroes now seem. On 17 May, the Leader of the House of Commons, Harriet Harman, who is alleged to have spent £10,000 of taxpayers’ money on “media training”, called on MPs to “rebuild cross-party trust”. The unintended irony of her words recalls one of her first acts as social security secretary more than a decade ago – cutting the benefits of single mothers. This was spun and reported as if there was a “revolt” among Labour backbenchers, which was false. None of Blair’s new female MPs, who had been elected “to end male-dominated, Conservative policies”, spoke up against this attack on the poorest of poor women. All voted for it.

The same was true of the lawless attack on Iraq in 2003, behind which the cross-party Establishment and the political media rallied. Andrew Marr stood in Downing Street and excitedly told BBC viewers that Blair had “said they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right.” When Blair’s army finally retreated from Basra in May, it left behind, according to scholarly estimates, more than a million people dead, a majority of stricken, sick children, a contaminated water supply, a crippled energy grid and four million refugees.

As for the “celebrating” Iraqis, the vast majority, say Whitehall’s own surveys, want the invader out. And when Blair finally departed the House of Commons, MPs gave him a standing ovation – they who had refused to hold a vote on his criminal invasion or even to set up an inquiry into its lies, which almost three-quarters of the British population wanted.

Such venality goes far beyond the greed of the uppity Hazel Blears.

“Normalising the unthinkable”, Edward Herman’s phrase from his essay The Banality of Evil, about the division of labour in state crime, is applicable here. On 18 May, the Guardian devoted the top of one page to a report headlined, “Blair awarded $1m prize for international relations work”. This prize, announced in Israel soon after the Gaza massacre, was for his “cultural and social impact on the world”. You looked in vain for evidence of a spoof or some recognition of the truth. Instead, there was his “optimism about the chance of bringing peace” and his work “designed to forge peace”.

This was the same Blair who committed the same crime – deliberately planning the invasion of a country, “the supreme international crime” – for which the Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop was hanged at Nuremberg after proof of his guilt was located in German cabinet documents. Last February, Britain’s “Justice” Secretary, Jack Straw, blocked publication of crucial cabinet minutes from March 2003 about the planning of the invasion of Iraq, even though the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, has ordered their release. For Blair, the unthinkable is both normalised and celebrated.

“How our corrupt MPs are playing into the hands of extremists,” said the cover of last week’s New Statesman. But is not their support for the epic crime in Iraq already extremism? And for the murderous imperial adventure in Afghanistan? And for the government’s collusion with torture?

It is as if our public language has finally become Orwellian. Using totalitarian laws approved by a majority of MPs, the police have set up secretive units to combat democratic dissent they call “extremism”. Their de facto partners are “security” journalists, a recent breed of state or “lobby” propagandist. On 9 April, the BBC’s Newsnight programme promoted the guilt of 12 “terrorists” arrested in a contrived media drama orchestrated by the Prime Minister himself. All were later released without charge.

Something is changing in Britain that gives cause for optimism. The British people have probably never been more politically aware and prepared to clear out decrepit myths and other rubbish while stepping angrily over the babbling brook of bullshit.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Perhaps it would be better if all MPs were sponsored...They will sit in the 'Cornhill Insurance Parliament' and swig on Lucozade by Mark Steel

Mark Steel

First published in The Independent on 20th May 2009

Can there ever have been a time when so many people were so furious? You can be walking your kids to school and the lollipop lady will say "There you go, dear, now always remember to look both ways before crossing. Unless you're an MP, in which case you DESERVE to get splattered into mush by a bloody great lorry, the thieving bastards. Have a lovely day at school, dear."

So the Speaker resigning is hardly likely to change that. News reporters get excited, gasping that this is the most dramatic event since the Battle of Hastings – but most people didn't even know who Michael Martin was. I doubt whether many people have said: "First it was Jade, then Peter and Jordan and now it's the Speaker of the Commons – well, they SAY these things come in threes."

What they are aware of is the almost admirable arrogance of the MPs who've been caught. Douglas Hogg, for example, seems utterly bemused as to why anyone would object to his expenses claim for cleaning his moat. He looks as if he's about to splutter: "Because of these shenanigens, I've had to lay off three of my archers – are you SATISFIED?"

And they make the most wonderful excuses, such as: "This situation is merely down to a mistake. I claimed for the mortgage payments on my second home because I simply forgot that I already own another house half a mile away. I'm a busy man and in these circumstances the odd bungalow easily slips the mind." Or: "Although it's true that I've been receiving payments for the last five years for a mortgage that was paid off in 1978, this was in no way due to deceit on my part, as throughout this time I've been unaware of who I am."

The elaborate nature of some of these claims are inspired. You expect the next one to go: "The MP claimed £7,000 for a carpet, and then another £9,000 for the same carpet, saying he'd employed it for nine months as his personal secretary."

But in some ways the ones who say sorry are worse. What do they mean – sorry? So they've been claiming this money for years, then suddenly they become sorry on the same day their fiddle's reported in the newspaper, well what a coincidence.

Perhaps this is a result of a strain of dyslexia, in which the sufferer mixes up the word "sorry" with the word "caught". What they mean to say is: "I'm giving back some of the money because I feel truly, truly caught."

Maybe this will be the trend, and if a burglar's caught climbing out of a window with a television, he'll say: "Doesn't this show how we have to reform this dreadful system. Look what it's made me do."

But in one sense you can see the source of the MPs' frustration. The Tories, and for the last 15 years Labour, have made it their philosophy that acquiring wealth is not only beneficial for the individuals who acquire it, it's the force that keeps society going.

They encouraged the city bonuses, congratulated the super-rich on their extravagances, and befriended characters who moved billions offshore to avoid paying tax. We would all benefit, so the politicians argued, from this gluttony.

For New Labour especially, it became almost a matter of principle to be seen enjoying wealth, as it made a statement they were no longer old-fashioned class warriors from the 1970s. And for politicians of either party, the sums emerging from their expenses claims must seem tiny. When you've helped create an environment in which Philip Green can shift over a billion pounds to Monaco to avoid tax, a couple of grand for a few chairs must seem like fiddling a bus fare.

So their solutions to the expenses system will probably be that MPs should be sponsored, so they'll sit in the "Cornhill Insurance Parliament" and promise that, during every speech, they stop to take a swig of Lucozade, then say: "Following the Minister's report on worsening relations between this country and the government of Burma, is it not the case that the Wickes bathrooms springtime sale offers prices that are crazy, crazy, crazy.

"We'd ALL wish we were under house arrest if it meant spending more time in a Wickes bath. So come on Mr Speaker, don't just say order order, say order order a Wickes bathroom today."

But the most disturbing lesson that can be taken from all this, is things must have got pretty rotten when to sort out your code of ethics you depend on the Daily bloody Telegraph.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Cure for Layoffs: Fire the Boss! By Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis

Naomi Klein

In 2004, we made a documentary called The Take about Argentina's movement of worker-run businesses. In the wake of the country's dramatic economic collapse in 2001, thousands of workers walked into their shuttered factories and put them back into production as worker cooperatives. Abandoned by bosses and politicians, they regained unpaid wages and severance while re-claiming their jobs in the process.

As we toured Europe and North America with the film, every Q&A ended up with the question, "that's all very well in Argentina, but could that ever happen here?"

Well, with the world economy now looking remarkably like Argentina's in 2001 (and for many of the same reasons) there is a new wave of direct action among workers in rich countries. Co-ops are once again emerging as a practical alternative to more lay-offs. Workers in the U.S. and Europe are beginning to ask the same questions as their Latin American counterparts: Why do we have to get fired? Why can't we fire the boss? Why is the bank allowed to drive our company under while getting billions of dollars of our money?

Tomorrow night (May 15) at Cooper Union in New York City, we're taking part in a panel that looks at this phenomenon, called Fire the Boss: The Worker Control Solution from Buenos Aires to Chicago.

We'll be joined by people from the movement in Argentina as well as workers from the famous Republic Windows and Doors struggle in Chicago.

It's a great way to hear directly from those who are trying to rebuild the economy from the ground up, and who need meaningful support from the public, as well as policy makers at all levels of government. For those who can't make it out to Cooper Union, here's a quick round up of recent developments in the world of worker control.


In Argentina, the direct inspiration for many current worker actions, there have been more takeovers in the last 4 months than the previous 4 years.

One example:

- Arrufat, a chocolate maker with a 50 year history, was abruptly closed late last year. 30 employees occupied the plant, and despite a huge utility debt left by the former owners, have been producing chocolates by the light of day, using generators.

With a loan of less than $5,000 from the The Working World, a capital fund/NGO started by a fan of The Take, they were able to produce 17,000 Easter eggs for their biggest weekend of the year. They made a profit of $75,000, taking home $1,000 each and saving the rest for future production.


- Visteon is an auto parts manufacturer that was spun off from Ford in 2000. Hundreds of workers were given 6 minutes notice that their workplaces were closing. 200 workers in Belfast staged a sit-in on the roof of their factory, another 200 in Enfield followed suit the next day.

Over the next few weeks, Visteon increased the severance package to up to 10 times their initial offer, but the company is refusing to put the money in the workers' bank accounts until they leave the plants, and they are refusing to leave until they see the money.


- A factory where workers make legendary Waterford Crystal was occupied for 7 weeks earlier this year when parent company Waterford Wedgewood went into receivership after being taken over by a US private equity firm.

The US company has now put 10 million Euros in a severance fund, and negotiations are ongoing to keep some of the jobs.


As the Big Three automakers collapse, there have been 4 occupations by Canadian Auto Workers so far this year. In each case, factories were closing and workers were not getting compensation that was owed to them. They occupied the factories to stop the machines from being removed, using that as leverage to force the companies back to the table - precisely the same dynamic that worker takeovers in Argentina have followed.


In France, there's been a new wave of "Bossnappings" this year, in which angry employees have detained their bosses in factories that are facing closure. Companies targeted so far include Caterpillar, 3M, Sony, and Hewlett Packard.

The 3M executive was brought a meal of moules et frites during his overnight ordeal.

A comedy hit in France this spring was a movie called "Louise-Michel," in which a group of women workers hires a hitman to kill their boss after he shuts down their factory with no warning.

A French union official said in March, "those who sow misery reap fury. The violence is done by those who cut jobs, not by those who try to defend them."

And this week, 1,000 Steelworkers disrupted the annual shareholders meeting of ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steel company. They stormed the company's headquarters in Luxembourg, smashing gates, breaking windows, and fighting with police.


Also this week, in Southern Poland, at the largest coal coking producer in Europe, thousands of workers bricked up the entrance to the company's headquarters, protesting wage cuts.


And then there's the famous Republic Windows and Doors story: 260 workers occupied their plant for 6 world-shaking days in Chicago last December. With a savvy campaign against the company's biggest creditor, Bank of America ("You got bailed out, we got sold out!") and massive international solidarity, they won the severance they were owed. And more - the plant is re-opening under new ownership, making energy-efficient windows with all the workers hired back at their old wages.

And this week, Chicago is making it a trend. Hartmarx is a 122-year old company that makes business suits, including the navy blue number that Barack Obama wore on election night, and his inaugural tuxedo and topcoat.

The business is in bankruptcy. Its biggest creditor is Wells Fargo, recipient of 25 billion public dollars in bailout money. While there are 2 offers on the table to buy the company and keep it operating, Wells Fargo wants to liquidate it. On Monday, 650 workers voted to occupy their Chicago factory if the bank goes ahead with liquidation.

To be continued...

- May 14th, 2009

Here's what filthy rich really means-One MP will have claimed for panda food, another for a Rembrandt by Mark Steel

Mark Steel
First published in The Independent on 13th May 2009

By now, Jacqui Smith's husband must be preparing a new apology that goes: "I am now TRULY sorry for fiddling porn films on expenses. What was I thinking of? Compared to the rest, I could have claimed for King Dong and Chesty Morgan to perform live on the lawn and not seemed out of place."

How do you top Douglas Hogg, who claimed £2,000 for the cost of clearing his moat? Presumably he thinks, "No politician can represent their constituents properly if they've got a dirty moat." Whenever there's a debate in Parliament about housing estates with squalid conditions, he must think, "Oh how dreadful, these poor blighters must make do with a communal moat."

Or Oliver Letwin, with his £2,000 claim for a pipe under a tennis court. Maybe this isn't the main issue, but why does a tennis court need a pipe under it anyway? Is he having Hawkeye installed? So he'll make a statement saying: "As a member of the Shadow Cabinet, I might be asked to entertain senior businessmen with a game of tennis, and if that was to end in a vicious fight over a disputed line call it would be highly damaging to Britain's interests."

And there's all the Hazel Blears types, who see nothing wrong in claiming that, on becoming an MP, they moved into a new residence in a litter bin, which meant the home they had been living in for 20 years was now their second home, and it was essential for their kids they employed a full-time snooker referee.

There's nothing that could now be surprising. By next week it will turn out one of them claimed for an original Rembrandt, insisting they lived under it as a second home. Another will have claimed for £20,000 of panda food, or a time machine, or £3,000 to have a light bulb changed by Elton John. David Davis, the Conservatives' former law and order spokesman, claimed £2,000 for mowing his paddocks. Maybe that's why he was so angry with teenage criminals – he was appalled by their lack of ambition. What he meant to say was: "These thugs should be ashamed of themselves. Instead of mugging people for a mobile phone they should grab them and say, 'Don't move, bruv, you're surrounded, innit. Now mow my paddock or I'll mash you up'."

And so many of these MPs have harrumphed with approval at the clampdowns on false claims for housing and invalidity benefits. They've gone along with campaigns such as "Rat on a rat" and "Benefit cheats, we're closing in". And then they object, as Luton's MP Margaret Moran did, that they had to claim for a house in Southampton (nowhere near her work) because "I can't do my job without somewhere to be with my family". So that's what to say if you're caught fiddling the dole. Tell the fraud officer you were saving up for a house in Southampton, because these days a house in Southampton is clearly a basic human necessity like toilet roll. Surely the Labour Party must set a target that by 2013 every family in Britain will have a house in Southampton.

But, of course, these people don't think they've done anything wrong because both parties now stand for the values of big business. Lord Peter Mandelson declared famously that New Labour was "relaxed about people being filthy rich". Politicians move in those circles. Their heroes are Murdoch, Branson and Berlusconi. They inhabit a world of clean moats and mowed paddocks. Bit by bit, I get the impression the way this country is run is not quite right.

Obama's 100 days - the mad men did well by John Pilger

John Pilger

In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger describes the power of advertising - from the effects of smoking to politics - as he reaches behind the facade of of the first 100 days President Barack Obama.

The BBC's American television soap Mad Men 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 dreamt up by those who had read Freud and applied mass psychology to anything from cigarettes to politics. Just as Marlboro Man was virility itself, so politicians could be branded, packaged and sold.

It is more than 100 days since Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. The “Obama brand” has been named “Advertising Age’s marketer of the year for 2008”, easily beating Apple computers. David Fenton of describes Obama’s election campaign as “an institutionalised mass-level automated technological community organising that has never existed before and is a very, very powerful force”. Deploying the internet and a slogan plagiarised from the Latino union organiser César Chávez – “Sí, se puede!” or “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 $75m was spent on television 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 often declared.

Perhaps the Obama brand’s most effective advertising was supplied free of charge by those journalists who, as courtiers of a rapacious system, promote shining knights. They depoliticised him, spinning his platitudinous speeches as “adroit literary creations, rich, like those Doric columns, with allusion...” (Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian). The San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford wrote: “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 24 April, his lawyers won an appeal that ruled Guantanamo Bay prisoners were not “persons”, and therefore had no right not to be tortured. His national intelligence director, Admiral Dennis Blair, says he believes torture works. One of his senior US intelligence officials in Latin America is accused of covering up the torture of an American nun in Guatemala in 1989; another is a Pinochet apologist. As Daniel Ellsberg has pointed out, the US experienced a military coup under Bush, whose secretary of “defence”, Robert Gates, along with the same warmaking officials, has 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 ‘smart bombs’ and other hi-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 US missiles called drones has more than doubled since Obama took office.

In Afghanistan, the US “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 US 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, justifying it as a counter to Iran, which he accuses, absurdly, of posing “a real threat” to Europe and the US. On 5 April in Prague, he made a speech reported as “anti-nuclear”. It was nothing of the kind. Under the Pentagon’s Reliable Replacement Warhead programme, the US 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 US is leaving Iraq, the country it has reduced to a river of blood. According to unabashed US army planners, as many as 70,000 troops will remain “for the next 15 to 20 years”. On 25 April, 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 $3trn at the same banks that paid him more than $8m last year, including $135,000 for one speech. Change you can believe in.

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.