Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

sculpture by Emily Young.
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The Shock Doctrine

The Must-Read Book of the Year

--maybe even the decade. THE SHOCK DOCTRINE : The Rise of Disaster Capitalism" by Naomi Klein has just been published in Canada, which means I can finally talk about it. I've been reading the galleys for weeks--which brings up a second ethical problem, because I've just turned in my review to the SF Chronicle, and I shouldn't scoop that. But my review won't be out for a few weeks, and I know I'm going to be blogging from the content of this book well before then.

Though THE SHOCK DOCTRINE will be officially published in the U.S. and Europe later in September, it may be in some bookstores soon. Naomi Klein is traveling and talking about it, starting today. And there's a short film about it, by Klein and "Children of Men" director Alfonso Cuaron, at the Toronto Film Festival this Friday, and she's showing it at some of her appearances.

Before I say a little more about the book, my disclaimers: I have no personal or business relationship with the author (I've never met her) or the publisher. I just think this is a very important book, and one that people should be aware of--and consider getting behind, in case corporte media ignores it (a good bet.)

Some of you (especially in Canada and Europe) probably know Naomi Klein as an activist, journalist and filmmaker, who writes for The Nation and The Guardian, often about globalization issues, and who wrote the book, No Logo as well as a collection of columns, Fences and Windows. Her writing career started in Canada, and here in the U.S. especially, she's not generally well known, and that's one reason I'm blogging on this book right now. Her interview in Publisher's Weekly said she didn't at that point have any firm media bookings in the U.S. I'd like to see that change. She deserves a hearing more than a whole lot of people we hear too much from.

As for the book, it puts together a lot of what you might know and suspect (and a lot most people missed or don't know) into a powerful framework based on a central idea that she believes has governed American foreign policy for decades, but particularly now: THE SHOCK DOCTRINE.

She relates neocon (also known as "neoliberal" outside the U.S.) economic theories of "free market fundamentalism" and the resulting economic "shock therapy" many nations endured, to the actual (and horrific) theories and practice of early actual electroshock therapy, and shows how they relate to torture, and the "shock and awe" bombing of Iraq, and an overall pattern of taking advantage of disaster or creating it, for corporate profit.

She shows for example that Iraq and New Orleans were not the result of incompetence, but examples of disaster capitalism, which requires the destruction and privatization of the public and non-profit sectors, replaced by crony capitalism. She shows that torture is not an accident, but a tool of economic and political shock therapy.

The book's web site has more information, including access to many of her sources. But the book is the thing--it's very well written, and very important. It begins with Milton Friedman and Pinochet in Chile in the 70s, and brings together most of what has happened since (in South America, Russia, Asia,etc.), culminating in Iraq and, in the U.S., the homeland security state and post-Katrina New Orleans.

This book has the potential to be Very Big. The Guardian has named it one of the ten must-reads of the fall. But it could also be overlooked--intentionally, because of its content.

Every book arrives with blurbs, but not necessarily like the ones for this book from
Arundhati Roy, John Le Carre, Howard Zinn and Sy Hersh. I join them in urging you to read and support this book. It could be one of those rare books that everyone reads and talks about, and that focuses the debate, and promotes needed change.

Now that I've said all that, I'll feel much more comfortable about blogging on topics within the book, and I hope to do that--several times--soon.

UPDATE: The Shock Doctrine short film is now viewable online. On its first day of publication, the book hit #1 on Amazon Canada.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

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Storm Update: Blowin' in the Wind

It's a day for history: two hurricanes made landfall on the same day. Felix was a Category 5 again when it hit a relatively unpopulated area of Central America, while the Pacific storm Henriette achieved hurricane status just before it hit Baja. They left several deaths and unknown destruction; their residual winds and rains are likely to cause still more damage over the next few days.

This morning's Wunderblog notes that there have been 27 category 5 hurricanes since reliable records began in 1944. Eight of them have been in the past five years, and now we're two for two this year. It's the first time that two
Category 5s have made landfall in the same year. Fortunately they did not hit highly populated or built-up places. When Katrina made landfall near New Orleans, it was a category 3.
Labor's New Public Role

The Labor Day holiday has come and gone, but the particular problems and opportunities for labor unions and for workers in America remain.

As American corporations hollow themselves into illusory vessels designed to game banks and fool the stock market, fewer jobs remain. Whether manufacturing's dive to the bottom can continue short of open slavery in some ninth world nation is a continuing question, but clearly a United States which makes nothing but buys everything is gambling with perishing from this earth. A nation of consumers with dwindling incomes can't be masked forever by phony numbers and deceptive averages pulled up by a few obscenely wealthy folks who can't buy fast enough to support an entire economy.

Americans are increasingly left with servant sector jobs, and they face fights and their own prejudices when they have to compete for even those. But as bad as the labor market is, there's a glimmer of hope in organized labor.

E.J. Dionne had an
interesting column on this. He offers the same gloomy facts that after a unionization rate of 26% of the workforce in 1974 (around the time the steel mills started to close in Pittsburgh), the 2006 figure is but 12%. But he also points out that while unionization in the public and private sectors was roughly equal in the 70s, now it's just 7% in the private sector, and a whopping 36% in the public sector.

Dionne also notes that organized labor had a lot to do with the Democratic victories in the 2006 congressional elections, and the Democrats know it. If 2008 is really going to be a Democratic year, the unions will be a big part of it. But what especially interests me is that their new-found power is more clearly identified with issues affecting the public sector--with teachers, firefighters, municipal employees--and with the public sector itself.

If this country is going to undergo renewal and revival of its politics, its economy and its soul, then it's going to involve the renewal and revival of public institutions and serving the public good.

The neocon call for government and public institutions to disappear has resulted in disaster and a weakened country, just when we need so much common effort to meet the very serious challenges of our immediate common future. Privatization has done little but enrich a few and enfeeble everything else, and it has failed at virtually everything except creating suffering and tragedy. The health insurance system, which in any other civilized country would be considered a criminal enterprise, is the most conspicuous case in point.

When unions back universal health care, they do so for the public good, the common good, as well as their workers. When unions partner with public and private institutions to promote the Apollo Alliance for sustainable and renewable energy, they do so for the country's good, the world's survival. They don't stop at self-interest, because the common good is the bedrock of all our self-interests, and our ability to pursue happiness as individuals and families. The same is true of education, public health and safety, infrastructure, and justice.

It's time as well to understand that despite their excesses, unions have contributed to prosperity as much as businesses have. And for that matter, so have non-profit and public institutions. Anyone with common sense can see this in their daily lives, if they just look around for themselves. Let's return a sane balance to the enterprise we share.

Monday, September 03, 2007

by Gino Severini, circa 1908
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Two Storms, Two Fives

At about 1 AM Eastern Time, Hurricane Felix, which had been a relatively weak storm 24 hours before, was declared a Category 5 hurricane. This is the "rare" designation for the most powerful storms. But this year there have been two named Atlantic hurricanes, and both have reached Category 5.

According to a Reuters report, "Forecasters at the hurricane center said Felix was strengthening at one of the fastest rates seen..." It seems headed towards the Honduras, where the earlier report at Weather Underground warned, it could have catastrophic effects even if it passes within 100 miles of the coast on Monday, if it grows in size as well as intensity. Felix is on track to hit the Yucatan, and depending on interaction with a low pressure center, it could make landfall in Mexico or Texas.

Meanwhile, tropical storm Henrietta in the Pacific could strengthen to hurricane status Monday, forecasters said, threatening Baja California.

These storms are strengthening because of very warm ocean water, likely a product of the Climate Crisis, which is one of the reasons--along with the record of severe storms in the past decade--that some climate scientists believe that global heating is leading to a greater number of the more intense hurricanes.

And last week, NASA issued a study that says global heating will also contribute to more severe weather over land, including more frequent and intense thunderstorms and tornados.

Also this past week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that the near-record high temperatures in the U.S. in 2006 were primarily due to greenhouse gases, not El Nino. A British study suggests that flooding will be more severe in the Climate Crisis future than previously predicted.

STORM UPDATE: As of Monday afternoon, Felix has been classified as a Category 4, heading for Honduras. According to the Wunder Blog on Weather Underground, the good news is that while incredibly powerful, Felix has remained small in area, so Honduras may well escape catastrophe, though there will be destructive effects. Also good news: if the storm continues on its predicted track, it will miss highly populated areas in central America and Mexico, and isn't currently headed for Texas. The bad news is the strength of this hurricane. According to Jeff Masters at Wunder Blog, Felix holds the record for the fastest intensification to category 5 strength, and incredibly it was at that strength longer than any lesser strength or classification. If a hurricane this powerful were to hit populated areas directly, the destruction could be unprecedented.

In the Pacific, though Henriette remains a tropical storm, it could bring hurricane conditions to Baja Tuesday.