Disaster Capitalism

You may recall a blog we posted on January 18 entitled  “Infrastructure Dollars Might Divert to the Very Rich.” It was written by Norm Alster for the New York Times and, as the title clearly implies, his fear is that the President’s promise of a $13 billion infrastructure repair program, rather than being the hoped-for relief for our struggling out-of-workers, be simply another boondoggle to line the pockets of rich industrialists with taxpayers’ money. 

Now comes another warning, more worrisome than the first, from Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Ms Klein sees a prevalent pattern reaching back to the Iraq war and before where unscrupulous politicians and capitalists work together to either create new or make use of existing disasters  in order to release billions of public dollars, “disaster money,” which will eventually find its way into their pockets. In an interview published in the newsletter The Intercept  she discloses to Jeremy Cahill her fears  for how this administration may handle the $13 billion infrastructure repair program  based on how an earlier administration handled the Katrina disaster in New Orleans.

Remember—to succeed at Disaster Capitalism you must first establish clearly that a disaster exists, something our president is good at and has done well. The blog that follows is condensed from the original article:

trump-pence-disaster-capitalism-1485210840-article-headerIn this 2005 photograph, a man watches a house burn on Napoleon Street as helicopters try to extinguish the fire in Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans.

At the time Katrina hit New Orleans, [Mike] Pence [now Vice-President] was chairman of the powerful and highly ideological Republican Study Committee. On September 13, 2005 — just 14 days after the levees were breached and with parts of New Orleans still underwater — the RSC convened a fateful meeting at the offices of the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

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 policies in all.

What stands out in the package of pseudo “relief” policies is the commitment to wage all-out war on labor standards and on the public sphere. . . Also notable is the determination to use any opportunity to strengthen the hand of the oil and gas industry.

The first three items on the RSC list are “automatically suspend Davis-Bacon prevailing wage laws in disaster areas,” a reference to the law that required federal contractors to pay a living wage; “make the entire affected area a flat-tax free-enterprise zone”; and “make the entire region an economic competitiveness zone (comprehensive tax incentives and waiving of regulations).”. . .

All these measures were announced by President George W. Bush within the week. Under pressure, Bush was eventually forced to reinstate the labor standards, though they were largely ignored by contractors. There is every reason to believe this will be the model for the multibillion-dollar infrastructure investments Trump is using to court the labor movement. Repealing Davis-Bacon for those projects was reportedly already floated at Monday’s meeting with leaders of construction and building trade unions.

Back in 2005, the Republican Study Committee meeting produced more ideas that gained presidential support. . . . from calling on Congress to repeal environmental regulations on the Gulf Coast, give permission for new oil refineries in the United States, and to greenlight “drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”

All these measures . . . were immediately championed by the president under the guise of responding to a devastating storm.

The oil industry wasn’t the only one to profit from Hurricane Katrina, of course. . .

The companies that snatched up the biggest contracts were the familiar gang from the invasion of Iraq: Halliburton’s KBR unit won a $60 million gig to reconstruct military bases along the coast. Blackwater was hired to protect FEMA employees from looters. Parsons, infamous for its sloppy Iraq work, was brought in for a major bridge construction project in Mississippi. Fluor, Shaw, Bechtel, CH2M Hill — all top contractors in Iraq — were hired by the government to provide mobile homes to evacuees just 10 days after the levees broke. Their contracts ended up totaling $3.4 billion, no open bidding required.

And no opportunity for profit was left untapped. Kenyon, a division of the mega funeral conglomerate Service Corporation International (a major Bush campaign donor), was hired to retrieve the dead from homes and streets. The work was extraordinarily slow, and bodies were left in the broiling sun for days. Emergency workers and local volunteer morticians were forbidden to step in to help because handling the bodies impinged on Kenyon’s commercial territory.

AshBritt, a company paid half a billion dollars to remove debris, reportedly didn’t own a single dump truck and farmed out the entire job to contractors. . . .

After all the layers of subcontractors had taken their cut, there was next to nothing left for the people doing the work. For instance, the author Mike Davis tracked the way FEMA paid Shaw $175 a square foot to install blue tarps on damaged roofs, even though the tarps themselves were provided by the government. Once all the subcontractors took their share, the workers who actually hammered in the tarps were paid as little as $2 a square foot. “Every level of the contracting food chain, in other words, is grotesquely overfed except the bottom rung,” Davis wrote, “where the actual work is carried out.”

In Mississippi, a class-action lawsuit forced several companies to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in back wages to immigrant workers. Some were not paid at all. On one Halliburton/KBR job site, undocumented immigrant workers reported being wakened in the middle of the night by their employer (a sub-subcontractor), who allegedly told them that immigration agents were on their way. Most workers fled to avoid arrest. . . .

NEW ORLEANS - AUGUST 31: People wait for assistance after being rescued from their homes a day earlier in the Ninth Ward as a small fire burns after Hurricane Katrina August 31, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Devastation is widespread throughout the city with water approximately 12 feet high in some areas. Hundreds are feared dead and thousands were left homeless in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida by the storm. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)People wait for assistance after being rescued from their homes a day earlier in the Ninth Ward as a small fire burns after Hurricane Katrina August 31, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Devastation is widespread throughout the city with water approximately 12 feet high in some areas. Hundreds are feared dead and thousands were left homeless in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida by the storm. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

In the Katrina aftermath, the attacks on vulnerable people, carried out in the name of reconstruction and relief, did not stop there. In order to offset the tens of billions going to private companies in contracts and tax breaks, in November 2005 the Republican-controlled Congress announced that it needed to cut $40 billion from the federal budget. Among the programs that were slashed were student loans, Medicaid, and food stamps. In other words, the poorest people in the United States subsidized the contractor bonanza twice: first, when Katrina relief morphed into unregulated corporate handouts, providing neither decent jobs nor functional public services; and, second, when the few programs that directly assist the unemployed and working poor nationwide were gutted to pay those bloated bills. . . .

God spare us that the above scenario should stand as a model to our present administration  for the repair of the broken infrastructure in this country!

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