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Klein writes: "The prize for shameless disaster capitalism, however, surely goes to rightwing economist Russell S Sobel."

Author and activist Naomi Klein. (photo: CharlieRose.com)
Author and activist Naomi Klein. (photo: CharlieRose.com)


Hurricane Sandy: Beware of America's Disaster Capitalists

By Naomi Klein, Guardian UK

07 November 12

 

The aftermath of the storm offers a chance to rebuild a fairer society. How can we seize it?

ess than three days after Sandy made landfall on the east coast of the United States, Iain Murray of the Competitive Enterprise Institute blamed New Yorkers' resistance to Big Box stores for the misery they were about to endure. Writing on Forbes.com, he explained that the city's refusal to embrace Walmart will likely make the recovery much harder: "Mom-and-pop stores simply can't do what big stores can in these circumstances," he wrote. He also warned that if the pace of reconstruction turned out to be sluggish (as it so often is) then "pro-union rules such as the Davis-Bacon Act" would be to blame, a reference to the statute that requires workers on public works projects to be paid not the minimum wage, but the prevailing wage in the region.

The same day, Frank Rapoport, a lawyer representing several billion-dollar construction and real estate contractors, jumped in to suggest that many of those public works projects shouldn't be public at all. Instead, cash-strapped governments should turn to public private partnerships, known as "P3s" in the US. That means roads, bridges and tunnels being rebuilt by private companies, which, for instance, could install tolls and keep the profits. These deals aren't legal in New York or New Jersey, but Rapoport believes that can change. "There were some bridges that were washed out in New Jersey that need structural replacement, and it's going to be very expensive," he told the Nation. "And so the government may well not have the money to build it the right way. And that's when you turn to a P3."

The prize for shameless disaster capitalism, however, surely goes to rightwing economist Russell S Sobel, writing in a New York Times online forum. Sobel suggested that, in hard-hit areas, Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) should create "free-trade zones – in which all normal regulations, licensing and taxes [are] suspended". This corporate free-for-all would, apparently, "better provide the goods and services victims need".

Yes, that's right: this catastrophe, very likely created by climate change – a crisis born of the colossal regulatory failure to prevent corporations from treating the atmosphere as their open sewer – is just one more opportunity for further deregulation. And the fact that this storm has demonstrated that poor and working-class people are far more vulnerable to the climate crisis shows that this is clearly the right moment to strip those people of what few labour protections they have left, as well as to privatise the meagre public services available to them. Most of all, when faced with an extraordinarily costly crisis born of corporate greed, hand out tax holidays to corporations.

The flurry of attempts to use Sandy's destructive power as a cash grab is just the latest chapter in the very long story I have called the The Shock Doctrine. And it is but the tiniest glimpse into the ways large corporations are seeking to reap enormous profits from climate chaos.

One example: between 2008 and 2010, at least 261 patents were filed or issued relating to "climate-ready" crops – seeds supposedly able to withstand extreme conditions such as droughts and floods; of these patents close to 80% were controlled by just six agribusiness giants, including Monsanto and Syngenta. With history as our teacher, we know that small farmers will go into debt trying to buy these new miracle seeds, and that many will lose their land.

In November 2010, the Economist ran a climate change cover story that provides a useful (if harrowing) blueprint for how climate change could serve as the pretext for the last great land grab, a final colonial clearing of the forests, farms and coastlines by a handful of multinationals. The editors explain that droughts and heat stress are such a threat to farmers that only big players can survive the turmoil, and that "abandoning the farm may be the way many farmers choose to adapt". They had the same message for fisherfolk occupying valuable ocean-front lands: wouldn't it be so much safer, given rising seas and all, if they joined their fellow farmers in the urban slums? "Protecting a single port city from floods is easier than protecting a similar population spread out along a coastline of fishing villages."

But, you might wonder, isn't there a joblessness problem in most of these cities? Nothing a little "reform of labour markets" and free trade can't fix. Besides, cities, they explain, have "social strategies, formal or informal". I'm pretty sure that means people whose "social strategies" used to involve growing and catching their own food can now cling to life by selling broken pens at intersections, or perhaps by dealing drugs. What the informal social strategy should be when superstorm winds howl through those precarious slums remains unspoken.

For a long time, climate change was treated by environmentalists as a great equaliser, the one issue that affected everyone, rich or poor. They failed to account for the myriad ways by which the super rich would protect themselves from the less savory effects of the economic model that made them so wealthy. In the past six years, we have seen in the US the emergence of private fire fighters, hired by insurance companies to offer a "concierge" service to their wealthier clients, as well as the short-lived "HelpJet" – a charter airline in Florida that offered five-star evacuation services from hurricane zones. Now, post-Sandy, upmarket real estate agents are predicting that back-up power generators will be the new status symbol with the penthouse and mansion set.

For some, it seems, climate change is imagined less as a clear and present danger than as a kind of spa vacation; nothing that the right combination of bespoke services and well-curated accessories can't overcome. That, at least, was the impression left by the Barneys New York's pre-Sandy sale – which offered deals on sencha green tea, backgammon sets and $500 throw blankets so its high-end customers could "settle in with style".

So we know how the shock doctors are readying to exploit the climate crisis, and we know from the past how that story ends. But here is the real question: could this crisis present a different kind of opportunity, one that disperses power into the hands of the many rather than consolidating it the hands of the few; one that radically expands the commons, rather than auctions it off in pieces? In short, could Sandy be the beginning of A People's Shock?

I think it can. As I outlined last year, there are changes we can make that actually have a chance of getting our emissions down to the level science demands. These include re-localising our economies (so we are going to need those farmers where they are); vastly expanding and reimagining the public sphere to not just hold back the next storm but to prevent even worse disruptions in the future; regulating the hell out of corporations and reducing their poisonous political power; and reinventing economics so it no longer defines success as the endless expansion of consumption.

Just as the Great Depression and the second world war launched movements that claimed as their proud legacies social safety nets across the industrialised world, so climate change can be a historic occasion to usher in the next great wave of progressive change. Moreover, none of the anti-democratic trickery I described in The Shock Doctrine is necessary to advance this agenda. Far from seizing on the climate crisis to push through unpopular policies, our task is to seize upon it to demand a truly populist agenda.

The reconstruction from Sandy is a great place to start road testing these ideas. Unlike the disaster capitalists who use crisis to end-run democracy, a People's Recovery (as many from the Occupy movement are already demanding) would call for new democratic processes, including neighbourhood assemblies, to decide how hard-hit communities should be rebuilt. The overriding principle must be addressing the twin crises of inequality and climate change at the same time. For starters, that means reconstruction that doesn't just create jobs but jobs that pay a living wage. It means not just more public transit, but energy-efficient, affordable housing along those transit lines. It also means not just more renewable power, but democratic community control over those projects.

But at the same time as we ramp up alternatives, we need to step up the fight against the forces actively making the climate crisis worse. That means standing firm against the continued expansion of the fossil fuel sector into new and high-risk territories, whether through tar sands, fracking, coal exports to China or Arctic drilling. It also means recognising the limits of political pressure and going after the fossil fuel companies directly, as we are doing at 350.org with our "Do The Math" tour. These companies have shown that they are willing to burn five times as much carbon as the most conservative estimates say is compatible with a liveable planet. We've done the maths, and we simply can't let them.

Either this crisis will become an opportunity for an evolutionary leap, a holistic readjustment of our relationship with the natural world. Or it will become an opportunity for the biggest disaster capitalism free-for-all in human history, leaving the world even more brutally cleaved between winners and losers.

When I wrote The Shock Doctrine, I was documenting crimes of the past. The good news is that this is a crime in progress; it is still within our power to stop it. Let's make sure that, this time, the good guys win.

 

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+64 # dkonstruction 2012-11-07 14:05
Thank You, Naomi Klein for bringing this to people's attention. I am a New Yorker and I had not heard about these "privatization" and "free trade zone" schemes though they don't surprise me. These strike me as being very similar to some of the things that were implemented in New Orleans after the Shock of Katrina. Given our $25 billion dollar mayor who sees business as the model for running the world it would not surprise me if he wholeheartedly embraced these ideas though i haven't heard him speak to them yet though maybe i have missed these.

The battle against privatizing basic resources we all need to survive and thrive needs to continue and we need to be vigilant (along with fighting the plans to bring fracking to upstate New York's watershed region that supplies drinking water to millions).

Thanks again for being on top of such developments and for sharing and bringing them to the rest of us.
 
 
+6 # Skyelav 2012-11-07 16:38
Unfortunately something came up that needs to be addressed. Apparently (I wasn't there) a group of construction workers came to help rebuild something in either New York or New Jersey. They were non union from Alabama. They were met with a negative response by one of our locals and apparently they went home. Legislation is needed for emergency problems or something even better.
 
 
+27 # jane6pack 2012-11-07 23:42
This is a viral piece of misinformation fomented at least in part by Fox News. There is NO union requirement of any electrical crew providing assistance in emergency situations, NO non-union crews have been rejected, met with negative response, or otherwise turned away, and MANY non-union crews are here in in my home state of NJ now, welcome and working hard alongside IBEW members, providing much needed and greatly appreciated assistance to all of us who need it.

The case in question stems from a crew of six non-union electrical workers from Decatur Utilities in Huntsville Alabama who had set out to lend assistance to Seaside Heights, NJ. At some point, the utility cooperative in their home state of Alabama provided the Alabama crew with a copy of a union contract, suggesting that "NJ is a heavy union state, and this is what you MIGHT encounter there."

Apparently, the Decatur crew interpreted receipt of the document from their own cooperative as notification that they would be required to unionize if they intended to provide assistance. It was due to this misconception that they decided to return home to Alabama from a staging area in Virginia.

Surely if the rejection of unaffiliated workers in this time of crisis were a legitimate claim, we would be met with a hue and cry from more than just a half-dozen crew members.

http://www.waff.com/story/19981857/some-nonunion-ala-crews-turned-away-from-sandy-recovery
 
 
+11 # dkonstruction 2012-11-08 08:31
thanks for the comment, clarification and for correcting the FOX disinformation campaign jane6pack.

In any case, if this were true progressives should take the position that non-union labor would of course be welcomed in such an emergency situation but that they should be paid the local union/prevailin g wage so that they are not simply being used as union busting cheap labor in such a crisis and thus very much a part of the process/practic es that Klein talks about in The Shock Doctrine in which capital uses such "shocks" to put forward all manner of regressive/repr essive changes that they would never have been able to get away with during more "normal" times.

thanks again for your very helpful and informative comment.
 
 
-32 # Bev 2012-11-07 17:06
I also heard, but can't verify, that teams of electrical workers from here in Florida, were rejected because they weren't unionized.
 
 
+19 # AndreM5 2012-11-07 18:10
So then your RUMOR is WHAT, exactly? And WHY?
 
 
-33 # Skyelav 2012-11-07 19:22
If this is true it may be time for unions to get some humanity into their repitoire. At first blush.
 
 
+14 # erogers 2012-11-08 09:58
Quoting Skyelav:
If this is true it may be time for unions to get some humanity into their repitoire. At first blush.


I repeat. NOT true. New Jersey Governor Christie is bringing in every electrical worker he can get his hands on. The workers are being provided with room and board and per Christie will remain until the job is done. Who starts these damned false rumors?
 
 
+7 # erogers 2012-11-08 09:57
Quoting Bev:
I also heard, but can't verify, that teams of electrical workers from here in Florida, were rejected because they weren't unionized.


NOT true. New Jersey Governor Christie is bringing in every electrical worker he can get his hands on. The workers are being provided with room and board and per Christie will remain until the job is done. Who starts these damned false rumors?
 
 
+37 # cordleycoit 2012-11-07 17:39
As usual Kline is spot on. The problem with Shock Capitalism is that these shills for the think tank run out screaming the sky is falling at the MSM which gives them a lot of ink. They are political operatives who work mainly behind closed door but they use the press as their hand maiden. They remind me of the Billionaire who is building plum off Alaska to change the climate. He is rich so he gets to screw up the Eco-system with iron filings. How much damage should these privateers get away with before they are placed under adult supervision?
 
 
-1 # Carol Sterritt 2012-11-08 23:38
Well it is not just people using iron fillings who are destroying the eco-system. There are also the HAARP, chem trail activities. Chem trail activities are going on 24/7 at a cost of ten billion bucks per county, but are depleting resources faster than any consumers can offset such jet fuel usage.
 
 
+35 # tbcrawford 2012-11-07 18:01
Thanks for mentioning the drought-resista nt seeds...a pipe dream so stop drinking the KoolAid...Such seeds have been developing naturally for years in drought stricken areas...traditi onal organic farming methods must be respected and developed for today's needs if we are to have global a future for food. And if we don't....
 
 
+8 # John Steinsvold 2012-11-07 18:50
An Alternative to Capitalism (since we cannot legislate morality)

Several decades ago, Margaret Thatcher claimed: "There is no alternative".
She was referring to capitalism. Today, this negative attitude still persists.

I would like to offer an alternative to capitalism for the American people to consider. Please click on the following link. It will take you to an essay titled: "Home of the Brave?" which was published by the Athenaeum Library of Philosophy:

http://evans-experientialism.freewebspace.com/steinsvold.htm

John Steinsvold

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."~ Albert Einstein
 
 
+6 # Douglas Jack 2012-11-07 22:42
John, I've read your article about building a world without money. I've included my response to Naomi's article with reference to some of the original role of 'money' as a system of 'memory' (Greek 'mnemosis'). You're right about the problem of money in today's mismanaged system, but rejecting money or other components of economy is not the answer. Its more about putting money in its proper complementary context. The Kibbutz & other co-ops of the world for example have good intentions but in angry reaction to the capitalist world deny important human realities. We can understand Israel's on-going violence as arising from their ideal of the kibbutz & self-righteous reaction against rather than pro-action for. Humanity needs to go much deeper than the colonial period back to our 'indigenous' (Latin = 'self-generatin g') heritage, to understand abundance & sustainable economy. www.indigenecommunity.info
 
 
+27 # Reductio Ad Absurdum 2012-11-07 19:35
The right-wing corporatocracy wants to turn America into their own national "Company Store," and this is how they're doing it — acre by acre, town by town, road by road, bridge by bridge...
 
 
+34 # reiverpacific 2012-11-07 19:44
I've worked on many projects as a construction manager in different regions and states some, if large enough, with different entries for union and non-union workers, and from my experience around the country, the union workers (Davis-Bacon) were with few instances, more competent, reliable, cost, schedule-consci ous and willing to collaborate with and comprehend, design and management professionals than the non-union, wild-card prone and less secure employees with few to no benefits other than (required) Worker's Comp', mostly sub contractors.
Another aspect that is not addressed in any discourse on this subject that I've seen (although I sure that Ms Klein would get around to it eventually in her normal, deeply researched way), is that Davis-Bacon has a "Made in America" clause which states that any and all materials and equipment on a state or federally-funde d government project, should be sourced nationally before any foreign-based component is considered meaning only very specialized imported items be specified and used.
Just a li'l offering from considerable experience in the US for those rabidly anti-government , anti-regulation types who at the same time shout "Ame-r-i-CA, Ame-r-i-CA!!!" through their gaping cake-holes with nothing behind them.
You can't have it both ways.
 
 
+1 # reiverpacific 2012-11-08 11:51
Quoting reiverpacific:
I've worked on many projects as a construction manager in different regions and states some, if large enough, with different entries for union and non-union workers, and from my experience around the country, the union workers (Davis-Bacon) were with few instances, more competent, reliable, cost, schedule-conscious and willing to collaborate with and comprehend, design and management professionals than the non-union, wild-card prone and less secure employees with few to no benefits other than (required) Worker's Comp', mostly sub contractors.
Another aspect that is not addressed in any discourse on this subject that I've seen (although I sure that Ms Klein would get around to it eventually in her normal, deeply researched way), is that Davis-Bacon has a "Made in America" clause which states that any and all materials and equipment on a state or federally-funded government project, should be sourced nationally before any foreign-based component is considered meaning only very specialized imported items be specified and used.
Just a li'l offering from considerable experience in the US for those rabidly anti-government, anti-regulation types who at the same time shout "Ame-r-i-CA, Ame-r-i-CA!!!" through their gaping cake-holes with nothing behind them.
You can't have it both ways.

I meant of course, "with few EXCEPTIONS" of course in paragraph 1; 'again, 'scuse dyslexic typing.
 
 
+18 # Hasmenés fiú 2012-11-07 21:09
This is just one more illustration of how spurious capitalism really is. Not necessarily the japanese form or the European form of modern (controlled) capitalism, but the uncontroled 16th Century archaic form of capitalism as practised inte United States.

The sole driving force ofcapitalism is not the betterment of humanity, no altruistic motivation, no social or common good for the planet, but only individual insatiable element of greed, pure and simple.

So long as the consciousness of Americans remained fixed through corporate media indoctrination (or the so-called 'educational' system) this will pose not only a serious threat to America as a whole, but the planet as a whole (meaning the environment with the other 200+ independent Sovereign States!

This runaway form of unconstrained capitalism will eventually and not so far off in the distant future either, but more immediate become4 the demise of the 'HumanExperimen t? and the biosphee in toto!

This is why it is so imperative to move away from this unconstrained form of capitalism and move to a sustainable form of life that reinfranchises everyone, and preserves and repairs the current damage man has done to this planet.The time is NOW! Yes, this is an ecological and economic EMERGENCY!
 
 
0 # readerz 2012-11-09 00:21
I agree. That is why Japan must immediately seek international help to fix the rest of the problems of radiation leaks and the like at Fukushima. No amount of cover-ups will be able to save the Pacific Ocean if there is further meltdown. A more enlightened monetary system must go hand in hand with freedom of the press and the will to fix problems.
 
 
0 # Kootenay Coyote 2012-11-07 21:22
On Pest Control.
 
 
+6 # Douglas Jack 2012-11-07 22:22
Curriculum Vitae for captain of 'space-ship-ear th' must contain strong experience & understanding of planetary operating-instr uctions for biosphere-based ecological-econ omy. As Naomi points out, disaster-capita lists should carry 'beware' signs. Dis.cap's have 2-dimensional linear minds, which believe that life starts with money. In 'game-theory' one can understand them as simply getting life's rules out of order.

Human's are integral parts of nature tied in life's purpose & meaning. Example 'Money' from the ancient Greek 'mnemosis' means 'memory'. 'Capitalism' from Latin 'cap' = 'head' or 'wisdom'. Everything humans develop is meaningful when placed in the right order with other complementary parts. Knowledge of this balance is complex & therefore imbedded in humanity's ancient 'indigenous' (L 'self-generatin g') heritage. www.indigenecommunity.info /home/indigenous-circle-of-life

Eg. 3-D indigenous polyculture orchards of humanity's ancestors such as Celtic peoples of Europe or First Nations here are 100 times more productive for food, materials, energy & water cycles. https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/design/1-indigenous-welcome-orchard-food-production-efficiencies. Yet students are taught the opposite in agricultural schools. Food is the foundation/temp late of the economy & all social structures. 'Exogenous' (L 'other-generate d') colonial practices arise from insult, resulting violence & patterns of self-imposed ignorance.
 
 
+11 # WestWinds 2012-11-07 23:55
Disaster Capitalism? Is that what they call it these days? I thought it was good, old fashioned theft. Pat Robertson's outfit was the only other group that was allowed to put up a donation center (along side the Red Cross). There were complaints afterwards that Robertson's group never disseminated any of those donations; they went missing like Dubya's 20 million or billion or whatever it was. Robertson had no diamond mine in Africa before Katrina, but suddenly had one after Katrina... go figure. I guess that's the Lord working in his life; lol.
 
 
+6 # Smokey 2012-11-08 06:58
FIRST: Keep Hurricane Katrina in mind. Local capitalists have used the rebuilding effort as an excuse to promote all sorts of sleazy schemes.... African-America n working people have suffered.... "Let no crisis be wasted" is the slogan for local developers.

SECOND: As the climate change problem develops, progressives need to pay more attention to the disaster response and rebuilding efforts.... The climate change discussion has changed. The
impact of climate change is "here and now." Long-term planning to prevent the problem may be nice, but, gosh, the
damage has already been done in lots of
towns. Passing out a few energy-efficien t lightbulbs won't save New Jersey from the winter storms.

LAST: Ken Burns has a new television documentary about the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s... The biggest man-made "natural disaster" in American history.... Watch the documentary and learn.
 
 
0 # aj616 2012-11-08 10:15
For those of you talking about electric and unions and electric workers from Alabama: In order to perform electric work in New Jersey and New York, you need to be licensed in each of those states. An electrician licensed in Alabama cannot use that license to work in NY, they would need a NY State electricians license. Furthermore the NYC electric code is stricter than codes in other areas and tailored to the existing conditions in the area, if you are not familiar with the NYC code then the work won't be done properly or up to code. They should have been sent away, they would not have performed the electrical work properly, were probably not licensed in NJ, and that could more problems repairing the electric system. The people familiar with the local electric service know how to fix it best.
 
 
+2 # JSRaleigh 2012-11-08 13:20
Instead of "free-trade" zones, I suggest "free-fire" zones where you're allowed to shoot the rapacious assholes.
 
 
0 # rosaleee 2012-11-08 21:06
FYI for people who wan to help on an immediate level:

http://www.amazon.com/registry/wedding/32TAA123PJR42

Help donate to the victims of Hurricane Sandy by shipping items to the Occupy Sandy relief outpost at the Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew in Clinton Hill (520 Clinton Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238). Our team: John Heggestuen, Alex Nordenson, and Katherine Dolan. We are Brooklyn residents and are in touch with the Occupy Sandy team who will receive the shipped items and organize daily deliveries to priority response areas. We are the updating the registry as we get updates on what is needed most in affected areas. PLEASE pay for the most expedited shipping - these items are needed ASAP! PLEASE NOTE the registry does not update automatically. Your purchases may not be reflected for 24-48 hours, but you will receive a purchase confirmation right away. **
 
 
+1 # Kathymoi 2012-11-09 09:57
There is a small town in Missouri or maybe it's Kansas that was destroyed by a tornado. It rebuilt itself with completely solar and wind energy and green construction. It's possible, and now is the time to do it, as you point out in this article. New yorkers, Americans! Don't settle for cheap.
 
 
+1 # Kathymoi 2012-11-09 10:06
Chicago offers a simple example of how it works to privatize a government function. Parking regulation was formerly handled by the city, but the mayor a while back decided to sell the righ to collect parking meter tolls to a private company. The tolls immediately doubled or tripled. The fine to overstay in a metered spot also doubled or tripled. There was no improvement in the "parking meter service". ---
Another fine example of how the republican dream of smaller government works.
 

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