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Bush's Sickening Super Bowl Propaganda

During America's most jingoistic sporting event, Bush spent $3.2 million to convince us that drug use = terrorism. It would be laughable nonsense if it wasn't so horribly wrong.
 
 
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The Super Bowl, played last weekend (a week later than originally scheduled, due to September 11), is notable among major American sporting and culture events for the extent to which it has always warmly embraced America's wars.

Beyond the usual martial metaphors of the game itself (avoiding the blitz by throwing the long bomb from a shotgun formation while the offensive line kills them in the trenches), the National Football League's premier game has gone out of its way in the past to promote and glorify the nation's military.

The 1991 Super Bowl, played in the opening days of the Gulf War, used its pre-game and halftime ceremonies (and assorted other festivities) to plant wet fat kisses on the war that was at that very moment massacring hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, with a few dozen Americans lost. (The real toll came later -- illness and suicide among U.S. soldiers, disease and privation among Iraq's families.)

And yesterday brought more of the same. From Fox TV's repeated camera shots of U.S. troops watching the game from Kandahar (at 4 a.m. local time?), to Budweiser ads with the Clydesdale horses bowing to the Statue of Liberty, patriotism and warfare and corporate branding were very much considered interchangeable, all part of a spectacle suffused with smarmy jingoistic bullshit.

Even the Irish rock band U2 -- whose lead singer, Bono, was fresh from hanging out with the world's corporate and political elite at the World Economic Forum in New York -- was in the spirit. U2 first rose to fame off a breakthrough album in the early '80s called "War" -- the band, born of a country plagued by war and terrorism, was against it, and later songs like "Bullet the Blue Sky" specifically ripped U.S. military adventurism and its impact on poor countries. Yesterday, Bono finished the band's short halftime show with the inevitable tribute to 9-11 victims, literally wrapping himself in the American flag, as though honoring 9-11's dead -- many of whom weren't Americans -- somehow required solidarity with the U.S. flag and with the waging of yet another war, or three, or five. Permanent war, reduced to emotional spectacle and a brandable moment.

The Super Bowl is the premier annual spectacle not just in professional football, but in the world of advertising. A 60-second TV ad during the game is the priciest air time in the world, costing more than the GNP of some of the world's smaller countries. Ad agencies and trade publications buzz for weeks with anticipation over the wildest, flashiest, most expensive commercials of the year, which the world's biggest companies unveil during The Game to the estimated 130 million people that are watching in the U.S. alone.

Enter your tax dollars.

It's one thing for Budweiser to spend a small fortune waving the flag; it's another for we taxpayers to foot the bill for ads touting controversial public policies. In an unprecedented move, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (home of the "Drug Czar") spent over $1.6 million each for two 30-second ads airing during the telecast of yesterday's game. That's over $50,000 a second, by far the largest single-event advertising buy in U.S. government history.

And what did we get for our money? Blatant propaganda -- specifically, an argument closely linked to the Bush Administration. The Drug Czar's ads focused on the idea that fighting the War on Drugs also helps stop terrorism, because the money your local pusher makes eventually finds its way into the pockets of Osama bin Laden and his various terrorist colleagues. ("Where do terrorists get their money? If you buy drugs, it might come from you.")

Now, this particular argument is nonsense on several levels. If you put gas in your car, some of the money might wind up in the pockets of a Middle Eastern terrorist, too. (Or, more destructively, in the pockets of Big Oil.) But concerning drugs, in Afghanistan, specifically, it was the Taliban who after decades of futile Western efforts were largely successful at wiping out poppy (and thus heroin) production in Afghanistan -- so successfully that only last spring the Bush Administration was paying the Taliban as a reward for their stellar anti-drug works.

By contrast, in the two months since the Northern Alliance and their various brutal warlords have assumed power, rural farmers have rushed to replant their poppy crops, and an enormous new wave of heroin for Europe and North America will be on its way in a few months. So far, the War on Terrorism has caused more drug production, not stopped it.

At a larger level, it's not drugs that fuel political violence throughout the world -- it's their prohibition, and the forcing of drug transactions into the black market. There, as the CIA well knows, lies the world's most efficient system for funneling large amounts of untraceable money.

From Afghanistan to Southeast Asia to Latin America, the CIA has for decades been accused (often irrefutably) of reaping huge profits from illicit drugs, money which -- as with its illegal arms sales in the '80s that went to anti-Nicaraguan contra operations -- has tended to go directly into funding our terror campaigns. If the U.S. does it, it's no surprise that al Qaeda et al would, too. The effort to eradicate certain popular drugs -- including the War on Drugs touted by yesterday's TV ads and the Drug Czar office that paid for them -- has literally created, and perpetuated, the very black market now accused of being a source of cash for al Qaeda's jihad. Ending drug prohibitions would do far more to thwart terrorism than the War on Drugs ever could.

Other ironies abound. The War on Drugs is also being used as the excuse for U.S. military involvement around the world, particularly in the Andean region of South America. There and elsewhere, U.S. liaisons with paramilitary thugs (including a hundred American mercenaries for every John Walker), with their peasant massacres and other human rights atrocities, is helping to breed new generations of anti-American terrorists. And two fruitless decades of War on Drugs propaganda, complete with two million people in U.S. prisons, erosion of civil liberties, and neither an end in sight nor a vision of what victory would look like, eerily evokes how the Bush Administration has envisioned the War on Terrorism.

Lastly, as with the War On Terrorism -- where it's only particular kinds of terrorism (theirs, not ours) that we object to -- the War on Drugs is a selective affair, too. Some drugs are profitable and OK, even though they kill thousands each year; some are worth life sentences or worse. Hence, year after year, part of the Super Bowl spectacle is the highly anticipated Budweiser commercials. Use -- er, drink -- responsibly.

But hey, it's the Super Bowl, entertainment, a time to suspend belief. A perfect setting for an administration whose rhetorical excesses have been veering lately into the absurd. (E.g., Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as some new form of World War II fascist "Axis of Evil," when none of them have any proven links to September 11, and probably, among all three of them, don't have enough money to afford calling each other long distance.)

George Bush is free, of course, to say ridiculous and nonsensical things, even when they piss off allies and commit soldiers to battle; heck, it's what he does best. That, too, is entertainment. But spending $3,200,000 of our tax dollars on Super Bowl propaganda is neither entertaining nor appropriate.

Oh, and the game? The Patriots won. Go figure.

Geov Parrish writes for WorkingforChange, which urges readers to take action against these misguided Super Bowl ads.