F. William Engdahl
April 8, 2008
American Presidential politics are at best a cynical business. The outcome is typically determined, at least since the ill-fated campaign of George McGovern in 1972, by major corporate lobbyists and behind-the-scenes money interests who have little interest in national issues other than their own. Now, with the sudden departure of Hillary Clinton’s main campaign strategist, Mark Penn, it is clear that the powerful interests originally backing Clinton have decided to end the game with her.
On the surface the issue was a discovered conflict of interest between Penn and Hillary over Penn’s outside consulting for the government of Colombia on a policy which Hillary stated she opposed. Penn had agreed to be hired as a high-price lobbyist by Colombia to help secure Congressional passage of a bilateral US-Colombia free trade bill that US unions claim would cost American workers hundreds of thousands of jobs. Hillary desperately needed trade union support to win the primary in Pennsylvania, and unions are strongly opposed to the US-Colombia trade deal.
The curious career of Mark Penn
The figure of Mark Penn is revealing as to what the machine of Hillary Clinton represents in terms of power politics. Penn had been a political adviser of the Clintons since managing Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election fight. His firm ran the election polls that helped define Clinton’s campaign strategy, itself a cynical modern US electoral innovation, updating with high tech means the motto, “tell the people what they want to hear.” Penn’s polling firm, Penn, Schoen and Berland (PSB) has been used by Britain’s Tony Blair, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, by Menachim Begin in Israel and Senator Joe Lieberman to shape election strategy.
PSB has played a pioneering role in the use of polling operations, especially "exit polls," in facilitating various US-backed “Color Revolutions” in Serbia and elsewhere. Its primary mission is to shape the perception that the group installed into power in a targeted country has broad popular support. The PSB group began work in Serbia during the period when Mark Penn, was President Clinton’s top political advisor.
Manipulating exit polls
The PSB website boasts that they, “have played critical roles behind the scenes of the elections in Serbia and Zimbabwe, helping the opposition parties craft strategies, messages and organize a credible and effective campaign that has enabled them to weaken the dictator, his political party, and eventually throw him out of power. The introduction of cutting edge political and communications techniques is as well as the advice of the best Western political consultants and image makers, is as potent a weapon as the planes, bombs, and intelligence technology used in such conflicts as the Persian Gulf War, Bosnia, Kosovo, and, most recently Afghanistan.” In short, PSB is at the cutting edge of the modern politics of images.
In 2004 it was PSB which ran the “exit polls” in Venezuela asserting even as voting was still open, that their polls showed “major defeat for Chavez.” The opposite was the case with Chavez winning an overwhelming 59%. Investigation revealed that Penn’s PSB had emailed and faxed their poll results to international media four hours before polls were to close proclaiming, on the basis of the fraudulent polls that Chavez had lost. That was in violation of Venezuelan election law and was intended to rally international support behind a campaign to declare Chavez guilty of vote fraud and organize a recall. It backfired and PSB came under public fire as a result.
Referring to Mark Penn, the influential Washington Post once referred to him as “the most powerful man in Washington you’ve never heard of." According to PSB’s website, Penn helped elect 15 overseas Presidents in the Far East, Latin America, and Europe. Clients include heads of state or opposition politicians in Greece, Turkey, Israel, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, Bermuda and Yugoslavia.
About the “permanent establishment”
Mark Penn is exemplary of what US political insiders refer to as a person of the “permanent establishment,” the shadowy institutions and insiders behind the curtains who really determine critical policy issues and shape the choices gullible voters then are given to “democratically choose among.”
It has been referred to by strategists since the time of Edward Bernays as the “illusion of choice.” Penn is above political party, serving the interests of what some call the permanent establishment. As a case in point, he also is CEO of the influential global public relations firm, Burson-Marsteller, which includes among clients the largest US mortgage lender, Countrywide Financial and Blackwater Inc. the Republican led mercenary security firm that has been accused of repeated killings of innocent Iraqi civilians. Penn’s firm was to make sure the “image” of such clients remained positive to the US public.
More interesting is that “Democrat” Penn’s Burson-Marsteller Worldwide owns BKSH & Associates, a major political lobbying firm run by Charles R. Black, Jr. counsellor to Republican Presidents. Black now works full time for the campaign of Republican John McCain. In other words, Black heads a firm whose boss is “Democrat” Clinton top strategist, at the same time Black is Republican opponent John McCain’s top strategist.
In turn, Penn’s firm, Burson-Marsteller is owned by British advertising and Public Relations giant, WPP Group which employs as lobbyists a former Republican National Committee chairman, Ed Gillespie; a former House of Representatives Republican leader, Robert S. Walker, top Republican fundraiser, Wayne L. Berman and the former media adviser to George W. Bush, Mark McKinnon.
In the wake of the resignation of Mark Penn, reports in Washington are that James Carville, former 1992 campaign adviser to Bill Clinton, to Tony Blair and Israel’s Ehud Barak, will assume the role of campaign strategist. It is worth noting that Carville is also deep in Washington political incest. While Carville was running the 1992 Clinton strategy, Carville’s fiancee, Mary Matalin was running the campaign strategy of President George Herbert Walker Bush. As the old expression goes, US politics at least, has indeed strange bedfellows.
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