The Guardian

The Guardian November 14, 2001


Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Flying the flag

Imperialist leaders have always "wrapped themselves in the flag" to gain 
popular support. They have to: their anti-people policies are hardly going 
to get it for them.

Whether it's George Bush, Tony Blair or John Howard, flag-waving 
belligerence is their favoured way of distracting people, of providing a 
cover under which they can continue to attack people's rights and living 
standards.

Since September 11, flag sales in the US have been booming, encouraged by 
every sector of the Establishment. But while crowds at sporting events 
spontaneously and mindlessly chant "USA, USA, USA" when the loudspeakers 
announce that bombs are falling on Afghanistan, the realities of life have 
not changed.

As the old saying goes, "You can fool some of the people some of the time, 
but ...". The people of the US still live under the reality of capitalism; 
they still face layoffs, lack of full-time jobs, anti-union laws, 
homelessness, poverty, urban decay, lack of health care, etc, etc.

The flag just isn't big enough to obscure all those things for too long. In 
fact, it had stopped being big enough a long time before September 11. Way 
back during the Vietnam War, in fact.

Remember the ingenious variations on the US flag that appeared then, with 
swastikas replacing the stars in the "Stars & Stripes"? It was a potent 
propaganda tool that connected in people's minds with remarkable clarity.

That particular flag appeared again at demonstrations in Europe during the 
US/NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.

Last June, US anti-corporate group based around the magazine 
Adbusters produced an alternative US flag in readiness for 
Independence Day celebrations on July 4. This time the new flag replaced 
the stars with corporate logos, for Shell, Nike, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, 
IBM, etc.

Claiming that "a blast of symbolic disobedience" would force US citizens to 
consider the meaning of the American Revolution in the light of the 
country's "subservience to corporations today", Adbusters posed the 
questions: "What counts as independence? And when will we win it back?"

Kalle Lasn, the magazine's editor, said at that time: "The flag is emerging 
as a symbol of what is wrong with America."

It's been rather successfully obscured just lately, but just as life in the 
US is returning to normal, so is the realisation that "what is wrong with 
America" has not changed. It's still there, it's still wrong and the 
struggle to overcome it is still on.

I predict that we shall continue to see a lot of flag waving from the 
leaders of imperialism and those they manage to influence or fool. But I 
think we shall also see a growing number of alternative flags.

Some of these will be red, of course. In the US, I think we shall also see 
plenty of "Stars & Stripes" flags with the stars replaced by corporate 
logos. The real flag of the US ruling class, you might say.

* * *
Drug trafficking
Whenever the government wants to chop the pharmaceutical benefits scheme and make people pay even more for medicines, they complain about the high cost to the taxpayers of maintaining the subsidy. They don't say it's caused by the greed of the giant pharmaceutical companies, although it is. To say that would be to attack the pursuit of profits, and no one in the Howard Government would ever consider doing such a bolshie thing. Curiously, The Washington Post has no such qualms. According to the Post, the pharmaceutical industry is by far the most profitable in the US. (It probably is here too.) The pharmaceutical giants always plead in defence of their price gouging that they have to spend so much on research and development (R&D), but the Post points out that in fact they spend "two or three times as much" on marketing and administration as they do on R&D. The paper also observes that the pharmaceutical industry's profits are roughly double their R&D costs. As if that isn't enough, in the US at any rate the drug companies can also deduct their R&D costs and their marketing expenses from their income tax. That's a form of state corporate subsidy, to the most profitable business sector in the country! No wonder drug companies have the biggest lobby in Washington and spend enormous sums promoting their interests, including generous donations to political campaigns. Another industry that makes a lot of money pushing a drug is the tobacco industry. A little while ago, Bill Lockyer, the Attorney General in California, made a rather telling observation about that particular industry. Lockyer was discussing the way the tobacco companies had resumed targeting youth in advertisements, despite having agreed in a court settlement in 1998 not to do that any more. "They kill their customers every year and they need to recruit new ones", he said. Empirical evidence here in Australia suggests that smoking is on the increase, among teenage girls in particular. Peddling a potentially lethal, addictive drug to teenagers isn't that "drug trafficking"? Should private companies be allowed to continue to profit from that trade? Or should it be taken over and controlled in the interests of public health?

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