July 6th, 2017

There are two ways to deal with repeated shocks: become numb or become tougher for the fight. In 2017 America, President Donald John Trump and his Republican sycophants, hope for the former; we must deliver the latter.

Naomi Klein, reporting in How Power Profits From Disaster for The Guardian, writes:

This strategy [of using the public’s disorientation following a collective shock–wars, coups, terrorist attacks, market crashes or natural disasters—to push through radical pro-corporate measures, often called shock therapy] has been a silent partner to the imposition of neoliberalism for more than 40 years. Shock tactics follow a clear pattern: wait for a crisis (or even, in some instances, as in Chile or Russia, help foment one), declare a moment of what is sometimes called “extraordinary politics”, suspend some or all democratic norms—and then ram the corporate wishlist through as quickly as possible. The research showed that virtually any tumultuous situation, if framed with sufficient hysteria by political leaders, could serve this softening-up function. It could be an event as radical as a military coup, but the economic shock of a market or budget crisis would also do the trick. Amid hyperinflation or a banking collapse, for instance, the country’s governing elites were frequently able to sell a panicked population on the necessity for attacks on social protections, or enormous bailouts to prop up the financial private sector—because the alternative, they claimed, was outright economic apocalypse.

Klein details how President Trump’s cabinet, his shock troop, is designed to create, exploit and profit (both politically and privately) from implementing a Shock Doctrine. The government’s No. 2 man, the man only a heartbeat (or an impeachment) away from the oval office, is the most threatening of the cabal.

[T]hen there’s vice-president Mike Pence, seen by many as the grownup in Trump’s messy room. Yet it is Pence, the former governor of Indiana, who actually has the most disturbing track record when it comes to bloody-minded exploitation of human suffering.

When Mike Pence was announced as Donald Trump’s running mate, I thought to myself: I know that name, I’ve seen it somewhere. And then I remembered. He was at the heart of one of the most shocking stories I’ve ever covered: the disaster capitalism free-for-all that followed Katrina and the drowning of New Orleans. Mike Pence’s doings as a profiteer from human suffering are so appalling that they are worth exploring in a little more depth, since they tell us a great deal about what we can expect from this administration during times of heightened crisis.

At the time Katrina hit New Orleans, Pence was chairman of the powerful and highly ideological Republican Study Committee, a caucus of conservative lawmakers. On 13 September 2005—just 15 days after the levees were breached, and with parts of New Orleans still under water—the RSC convened a fateful meeting at the offices of the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC. Under Pence’s leadership, the group came up with a list of Pro-Free-Market Ideas for Responding to Hurricane Katrina and High Gas Prices—32 pseudo-relief policies in all, each one straight out of the disaster capitalism playbook.

What stands out is the commitment to wage all-out war on labour standards and the public sphere—which is bitterly ironic, because the failure of public infrastructure is what turned Katrina into a human catastrophe in the first place. Also notable is the determination to use any opportunity to strengthen the hand of the oil and gas industry. The list includes recommendations to suspend the obligation for federal contractors to pay a living wage; make the entire affected area a free-enterprise zone; and “repeal or waive restrictive environmental regulations … that hamper rebuilding”. In other words, a war on the kind of red tape designed to keep communities safe from harm.

And, of course, billionaires from exploding their obscene profits.

The 32 pseudo-relief policies, detailed in a 13 September 2005 email from from chief of staff for Ted Cruz and fired executive director of the House Republican Study Committee and now President Trump’s Special Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs, Paul Teller, serve as a blueprint for how Trump’s Stosstrupp intend to achieve their objectives. The entire list is vitally instructive, but just consider the first three:

—Automatically suspend Davis-Bacon prevailing wage laws in disaster areas;
—Make the entire affected area a flat-tax free-enterprise zone; and
—Make the entire region an economic competitiveness zone.

This is the Shock Doctrine laid bare.

Then there was that silly debate over fake news global warming:

Though climate scientists have directly linked the increased intensity of hurricanes to warming ocean temperatures, that didn’t stop Pence and his committee from calling on Congress to repeal environmental regulations on the Gulf coast, give permission for new oil refineries in the US, and green-light “drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge”.

It’s a kind of madness. After all, these very measures are a surefire way to drive up greenhouse gas emissions, the major human contributor to climate change, which leads to fiercer storms. Yet they were immediately championed by Pence, and later adopted by Bush, under the guise of responding to a devastating hurricane.

Hurricane Katrina turned into a catastrophe in New Orleans because of a combination of extremely heavy weather – possibly linked to climate change—and weak and neglected public infrastructure. The so-called solutions proposed by the group Pence headed at the time were the very things that would inevitably exacerbate climate change and weaken public infrastructure even further. He and his fellow “free-market” travellers were determined, it seems, to do the very things that are guaranteed to lead to more Katrinas in the future.

Post-Katrina New Orleans is the blueprint for Trump America.

New Orleans is the disaster capitalism blueprint – designed by the current vice-president and by the Heritage Foundation, the hard-right think tank to which Trump has outsourced much of his administration’s budgeting. Ultimately, the response to Katrina sparked an approval ratings freefall for George W Bush, a plunge that eventually lost the Republicans the presidency in 2008. Nine years later, with Republicans now in control of Congress and the White House, it’s not hard to imagine this test case for privatised disaster response being adopted on a national scale.

Including, and not surprising in hindsight, militarized police forces.

The presence of highly militarised police and armed private soldiers in New Orleans came as a surprise to many. Since then, the phenomenon has expanded exponentially, with local police forces across the country outfitted to the gills with military-grade gear, including tanks and drones, and private security companies frequently providing training and support. Given the array of private military and security contractors occupying key positions in the Trump administration, we can expect all of this to expand further with each new shock.

The Guardian article is an edited extract from Klein’s No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics; a book you should be reading. I am.

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