July 15, 2008

(click on image to purchase book)

Ever have one of those metaphysical moments where you realize you'll never look at things the same again? For me, the first time I traveled abroad and saw life outside my heretofore sheltered existence changed me. So did falling in love and marrying my husband. Having children was a HUGE paradigm shift in the way I viewed the world. None of that is particularly surprising nor singular.

However, it's not only major life milestones that can rock your world and feel like a pair of metaphoric eyeglasses have been placed on your face, allowing you to see edges just a little sharper and distances a little clearer. Reading Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine definitely did just that for me. Boy, did it.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but The Shock Doctrine was the hardest book for me to get through in the last couple of years that I've been blogging. Not because of Klein's writing-far from it, her style is engaging and thorough. No, it took me so long to finish the book because I had to keep putting it down because it got me so upset with how much sense it made. Random puzzle pieces that I had noted on my own fell through the air and landed into place through Klein's prose to show a picture that was horrifying but undeniably true.

For those who do not know the basis of The Shock Doctrine, Klein introduces how the writings of Milton Friedman and his underlings at the Chicago School of Economics has writ large literally over all of the federal government's dealings both here and abroad. The key concept:

(O)nly a crisis -- actual or perceived -- produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.

What does that mean? That Friedman's free market (but not really) ideals-demanding deregulation, privatization of public services and the removal of trade barriers at a time when the populace is still reeling from some form of disaster, be it a natural one, like Katrina in the Gulf states; political upheaval, such as Chile under Pinochet, or here in the US after 9/11. And the population, normally resistant to these changes--which benefit so few and none of the victims--are too fearful to mount a protest, much less put up a fight. And so, taking advantage of our frayed sensibilities, we get the Patriot Act, we get unapologetic warrantless wiretapping and we get useless formaldehyde-filled trailers in a swamp for Katrina victims.

Companies such as Halliburton, Blackwater and DynCorp exist solely from the largesse granted to them through the implementation of the Shock Doctrine, "disaster capitalism," as Klein coins it. And it continues worldwide-in Iraq, most obviously, but elsewhere as well. Read the book and then watch stories coming out about Iran (remember, it need only be a perceived disaster), about China or even off shore oil drilling here in the States and ask yourself, who is benefiting? What are they trying to get away with?

I promise you, you'll never watch the news the same way again.

Naomi Klein's long time colleague and collaborator Debra Levy will also be answering questions during the discussion. Debra, a trained librarian, has been Naomi's research assistant for eight years and, among other things, she is responsible for the 60 pages of incredible endnotes that do so much to bolster the book's argument. She also runs www.shockdoctrine.org where many of the source documents for the book are now online, as well as breaking news on disaster capitalism.

So with that, please join me in welcoming Naomi Klein and Debra Levy to C&L to discuss disaster capitalism.

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