Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Naomi Klein on Katrina

Someone once said that the global justice movement doesn't have leaders, but we do have rockstars. Naomi Klein is one of them. Like all rockstars, there's glamor and reality and a difference between them, but incisive critiques of capitalism are hard to come by in the corporate media. Maybe that's why she's at the Guardian, which is a non-profit.

Disaster Capitalism: how to make money out of misery is one of those critiques.

The first step was the government's abdication of its core responsibility to protect the population from disasters. Under the Bush administration, whole sectors of the government, most notably the Department of Homeland Security, have been turned into glorified temp agencies, with essential functions contracted out to private companies. The theory is that entrepreneurs, driven by the profit motive, are always more efficient (please suspend hysterical laughter).

We saw the results in New Orleans one year ago: Washington was frighteningly weak and inept, in part because its emergency management experts had fled to the private sector and its technology and infrastructure had become positively retro. At least by comparison, the private sector looked modern and competent.

This is what happens when you get people who hate governing into government. This is what happens when the political and media system are under the control of a group of highway bandits who are waging vicious class war on behalf of the rich. Welcome to the neo-neo world; neo-liberal economics with neo-conservative foreign policy.

I call it the Disaster Capitalism Complex. Whatever you might need in a serious crunch, these contractors can provide it: generators, watertanks, cots, port-a-potties, mobile homes, communications systems, helicopters, medicine, men with guns.

This state-within-a-state has been built almost exclusively with money from public contracts, including the training of its staff (overwhelmingly former civil servants, politicians and soldiers). Yet it is all privately owned; taxpayers have absolutely no control over it or claim to it

This is all funded by the huge debt gift that the neo-neos have been preparing for us when we graduate from this hellish period. The gift that keeps on giving. With the public services gutted, the infrastructure will be privately owned.

Here's a snapshot of what could be in store in the not-too-distant future: helicopter rides off rooftops in flooded cities at $5,000 a pop ($7,000 for families, pets included), bottled water and "meals ready to eat" at $50 a head (steep, but that's supply and demand)

Can't happen? We would never let such important things as disaster relief slip into the hands of the greedy capitalists? Think again.

The model, of course, is the US healthcare system, in which the wealthy can access best-in-class treatment in spa-like environments while 46 million Americans lack health insurance.

They used to defend our inequitable distribution of wealth by claiming that a rising tide lifts all boats. Well, Naomi suggests that we think again...

One year ago, New Orleans's working-class and poor citizens were stranded on their rooftops waiting for help that never came, while those who could pay their way escaped to safety. The country's political leaders claim it was all some terrible mistake, a breakdown in communication that is being fixed. Their solution is to go even further down the catastrophic road of "private-sector solutions."

Unless a radical change of course is demanded, New Orleans will prove to be a glimpse of a dystopian future, a future of disaster apartheid in which the wealthy are saved and everyone else is left behind.

BONUS LINK: Big Daddy of Fundie Mormonism Arrested
Under Mr Jeffs' reign, a culture of abuse thrived at the FLDS. The fundamentalist sect broke away from the mainstream Mormon church in 1890 when it renounced polygamy. Warren Jeffs formally inherited command from his father, Rulon, in 2002 but he had run it for several years before. In that time, hundreds of teenage girls were allegedly shared out among Mr Jeffs and his male lieutenants. The 50-year-old leader is reported to have fathered more than 50 children by 40 wives.

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