Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Shock doctrine: the case of New Orleans

New Orleans police 20 Dec 2007. photo: BBC
What has been happening in New Orleans offers proof of what Naomi Klein calls disaster capitalism, first developed in the Third World by structural adjustment plans and now increasingly applied in the First World. She describes three stages:
1. natural disaster, war or social-financial-environmental collapse
2. economic shock applied before the populace is aware, after which the new economy is presented by government and media as "inevitable"
3. brutal repression of protesters and the poor.
Among the facts about New Orleans:

1. "natural disaster": much of the natural ecosystem had been bulldozed, the levees were known risks in a Force 5 hurricane but underfunded and unrepaired, FEMA disaster planning had been privatized at enormous profit to consultants but with no funds for action. There was no evacuation for the 120,000 too poor to have cars. Shock Doctrine ch.20

2. Two weeks after Katrina hit NO, the rightwing Heritage Foundation came up with a wish list of Pro Free Market Ideas: suspend minimum wage laws, cut corporate taxes to make the city a FEZ, raise corporate subsidies, replace public with charter schools. So-called $8.75b "reconstruction" brought in without competitive bids all the Iraq gang (Fluor, Shaw, Bechtel, Halliburton) and Blackwater armed guards for FEMA. The state capitol swarmed with lobbyists. Huge profits were made: the Kenyon funeral company billed $12,500 per body recovered. Immediately after Katrina, the US government refused emergency finances to the city, forcing it to fire 3000 employees including city planners, teachers, court workers and public transit (just like Third World SAPs). Later that fall, Congress cut Medicaid and food stamps. Two years later, half of the dispossessed had not returned (I met some New Orleans homeless on the streets of San Francisco -- they had been evicted from cheap motels when the feds ended disaster payments); the public Charity Hospital is still closed, replaced by private hospitals for the rich; electric power was privatized and only partly restored; 12000 in the city were still in temporary shelters (though 1/3 still had jobs) because public housing was not repaired; rents had risen from $450 to $950 a month; in fact HUD wanted to bulldoze 4500 public housing structures, to be replaced by condos; after this "nigger removal", key coastal strips were open for resort development. In 2006, the Business Roundtable (30 of the biggest CEOs) complained that non-profits were competing unfairly with business by donating supplies; the Red Cross was forced to sign a disaster response PPP with Wal-Mart.

3. Remember Blackwater was hired to protect FEMA. A wealthy NO suburb had imported Israeli mercenaries, Instinctive Shooting International, to keep out intruders (NYT 28 Nov 04, as cited by Klein). In December 2007, two and a half years later: NO City Council votes to send in the bulldozers, a black coalition protests, NO police pepper spray and Taser the protesters. Courts are too overloaded to hold demolition hearings. Actor Brad Pitt pledges $5m to buiild 150 storm-proof green homes and appeals hopefully for charitable donations: there's "no reason we can't build 10,000". The Katrinahelp wiki reports that DHS-FEMA "emergency response teams have been reduced substantially in size, are inadequately equipped, and training for these teams has been all but eliminated."

But $2.5b (says Klein) has been promised to DHS for border security, including the Great Wall of Texas to stop hispanic illegals. Google "racism border wall" to see the motives. Contractors include Boeing, Lockheed, Magal and Elbit (Israeli wall & surveillance co's), Golan Group (ex-Israeli military) Lucent, L3 Communications, Perot Systems and Unisys.

The Fortress Scenario: the future as seen by a former Delta Force counter-terrorism expert, now a private "security" consultant, John Robb, in Fast Company 103 (March 2006) :
Security will become a function of where you live and whom you work for, much as health care is allocated already. Wealthy individuals and multinational corporations will be the first to bail out of our collective system, opting instead to hire private military companies, such as Blackwater and Triple Canopy, to protect their homes and facilities and establish a protective perimeter around daily life. Parallel transportation networks -- evolving out of the time-share aircraft companies such as Warren Buffett's NetJets -- will cater to this group, leapfrogging its members from one secure, well-appointed lily pad to the next. Members of the middle class will follow, taking matters into their own hands by forming suburban collectives to share the costs of security -- as they do now with education -- and shore up delivery of critical services. These "armored suburbs" will deploy and maintain backup generators and communications links; they will be patrolled by civilian police auxiliaries that have received corporate training and boast their own state-of-the-art emergency-response systems. As for those without the means to build their own defense, they will have to make do with the remains of the national system. They will gravitate to America's cities, where they will be subject to ubiquitous surveillance and marginal or nonexistent services. For the poor, there will be no other refuge.
In Latin America and the more corrupt parts of Africa and Asia,where state violence reinforces the shaky "security" of the elite (thereby increasing arms sales profits) this is not a scenario; it is already reality.

Further reading: Race Poverty & Environment and on Katrina profiteering; previous posts on Los prisioneros and the military-industrial lobby; Wikipedia on the Washington Consensus; Sourcewatch on the Heritage Foundation, Blackwater, and IPOC; blacks rebuilding NO neighbourhoods.
Future scenarios of the UNU Millenium Project; Ivana Milojević on Gender, peace and terrestrial futures; a NYT article on Fiji's rent-an-army; Blackwater hiring of ex-Central American and Chilean death squads; Custer Battles hiring of Ghurkas; Wikipedia survey of mercenary PSCs, and their history up to 1999 by Daniel Isenberg of DynCorp.

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