Sunday, September 16, 2007

Book: Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine

Jim: As promised, another book discussion. The book is Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise Of Disaster Capitalism which is released Tuesday. Participating are The Third Estate Sunday Review's Dona, Jess, Ty, Ava and Jim, Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude, Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man, C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review, Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills), Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix, Mike of Mikey Likes It!, Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz, and Wally of The Daily Jot. Mike set us up. What you're reading is our 'rush transcript.'

Mike: This is Naomi Klein's third book. First up was No Logo, followed by Fences and Windows. The second book was a collection of her commentaries -- written and spoken -- some of which had been published in The Guardian of London, The Los Angeles Times, The Globe and Mail and elsewhere. The Shock Doctrine is her second book proper. It's a big book, over 400 pages, with end notes as well as some footnotes on some pages. In September 2004, Harper's magazine published Klein's "Baghdad Year Zero" which remains the strongest article about Iraq to be published in All Things Media Big and Small to date. The Shock Doctrine is an examination of the human forces that led for the push to "Year Zero" in Iraq and have led to the push before. "Year Zero" may be coming to your country next. It's a big book but the problem won't be finishing it, it will be putting it down.

Rebecca: Currently, a refugee from the Council on and for Foreign Relations and a baby of the Brookings Institute is promoting a lousy documentary entitled No End In Sight and some who see themselves as part of the peace movement -- at least today -- have taken to pimping the alleged documentary which ignores the reasons for wars and moves to the ground in Iraq after the war started to argue there wasn't a plan. That's a filthy lie and possibly some newbies in the peace movement tired their eyes analyzing for the government and don't see so well these days? That faux documentary ignores the earlier work of Klein, as well as Greg Palast, Antonia Juhasz and countless others as it attempts to preach the 'answer' of more illegal wars but let's see some serious planning! As Klein demonstrates in this book, not only was there planning but you can't divide the two.

Ty: Right, you can't argue, "Oh look at what went accidentally wrong after the illegal war started." Everything that is happening was planned. And it's been done on smaller scales before. But this is where the neos -- cons and libs -- were going to get their own playground in a way that they never had before.

Betty: Klein offers examples of where it has taken place before such as Argentina and Chile, offers examinations of where it took place before, I should say. And the difference in Iraq is that they were not going to be just imposing economic policies that destroy a people with the help of a junta or CIA backed leader, they, the US government, was actually going to be able to alter everything. They were creating the institutions and that's why it's from "Year Zero."

Wally: What they were creating was the land for neos. I don't want to say "lab" because I think they thought they'd already 'fine tuned' and were too far along into believing their own gospel. "The Chicago Boys" is a term that pops up in the book throughout. These are groupies of the psuedo-economist Milton Friedman -- no relation to Thomas Friedman outside of possibly a few intense wet dreams --who didn't believe in public anything. He wasn't for public schools, he wasn't for public housing, he wasn't for public spaces. He's dead and the world is better because of it. But while alive, he did a lot of damage and his beachhead was the University of Chicago's economics department. Following events such as the Great Depression and the rise of Nazi-ism in Germany, there was a concern about what brutal economies did to people. John Maynard Keynes was the chief economist and he favored things such as price controls. This was the FDR era and beyond. Milton Friedman was on the outs during that period while he worked on his crackpot theories about alleged 'free' markets.

Cedric: Along with disciples from US students, the department also made to indoctrinate students in other countries via exchange programs and then setting up departments in other countries. The corny crackpot ideas appearing today in the ditherings of Thomas Friedman, the rush to privatize everything, would have be seen as loony as it is if it had been offered in the forties. Klein explains how so-called 'think' tanks such as the Heritage Foundation were set up to give the veneer of respectability to these ravings and to popularize them.

Betty: I know Dona's serious about watching time so is it okay to jump in again?

Jim: Yes. And after you comment, let's go to Dona to let her get in a say to make sure that happens. We're all face to face for this book discussion, by the way, in DC.

Betty: Okay, as Wally and Cedric were pointing out this is a crackpot economic indoctrination system created by those on the outs of the very system that took the United States from the Great Depression into less economically severe times. But these are just hypothesis. They can only appear to be 'theories' if they can be tested. The beliefs are unpopular. Destruction of the minimum wage, pensions and other things that the bulk of citizens need to survive are never going to be popular with the people. Where can they be tested? Latin America. And, I'm adding, Africa. Dona?

Dona: Okay, I'm using two terms here to get across a point: "Developed countries" and "developing countries." I'm referring to the economic status in terms of the average level for people in those countries. In Latin America, leftist governments had begun making changes, such as purchasing back property from foreign corporations and turning it over to citizens --

Elaine: Land reform.

Dona: Thank you, yes, land reform. They had also begun taking back resources -- nationalizing -- that their governments should have never put in foreign hands. The chief effect in developing countries was an improvement in the quality of life for the people. The chief effect in developed countries would be the panic it sent Big Business into. Whether it's the Ford motor company or I.T.T. or United Fruit. And, in this country, they were able to get the ear of government which led to wars and slaughter. War was the tool and one of Klein's big points in the book is that these hostile actions don't just happen, I know Jess and Elaine plan to touch on that, they occur to further the goals of corporations, so you can't draw a line between the two. She demonstrates this vividly with the example of what happened in Chile and that there is a "why" to it. It had nothing to do with fears of communism -- fears that weren't true then and have been disproved since -- it had to do with the fear of a fair wage, the fear that Big Business wouldn't be able to prey on a population. Whether it's Ford being protected by the military in Chile -- scratch that. Ford wasn't being protected. It wasn't under threat. When the CIA backed coup put Pinochet into power in Chile, he immediately launched the war on the people.

Jim: Let me stop you long enough to note that the Chicago Boys had Pinochet's full attention.

Dona: Thank you. And Milton Friedman himself was fond of dashing there to offer his 'wisdom'. Pinochet dispatched the military to the Ford company where they not only openly kidnapped union leaders, they also had a torture room in the Ford plant to serve as an example to others who might step up to replace the leaders.

Kat: I wanted to make two points and if I can get them in, I'm happy. First of all, the two things go hand in hand. The repression, the attacks are meant to silence opposition to the economic policies. They go hand in hand, as they do in Iraq today. My second point I want to make is that Antonia Juhasz took part in a roundtable discussion on KPFA's Living Room and was speaking of the important of stopping the legislation that would guarantee the theft of Iraqi oil. The roundtable was made up with a lot of names. And Antonia was dismissed. As C.I. wrote about that back then, the attitude was that this legislation could be fixed in a decade or so and there were more important things to focus on. Antonia was correct, the daily violence from the war and the daily attempts to raid Iraq's assets are not two different things, the two go hand in hand. I would strongly urge the names participating in that roundtable to read Klein's book.

Jess: That was an infamous roundtable -- it still comes up. I'll back up Kat by noting that the male who cut off Juhasz declaring that there was time to worry about the oil law later on should especially read Klein's book. Elaine and I both wanted to note the issue on human rights because we think that's one section that will get ignored in book reviews -- in All Things Media Big and Small -- and I'm guessing, possibly wrongly, that Ava and C.I. plan to take up a sub-section. Augusto Jose Ramon Pinochet Ugarte was a brutal dictator who came to power in Chile via a CIA backed coup. The CIA worked with the Chilean military and police, at the behest of American companies including Ford, to engineer the overthrow. Salvador Allende had been democratically elected. The coup was planned ahead of time and involved the Chicago Boys and Milton Friedman. Friedman and his Boy Toys were convinced, and convinced Pinochet, that even though the people did not want to see their way of life destroyed, they would accept it if it was imposed on them all at once during the initial brutality. This wasn't a case of Pinochet taking power and then the 'economists' came running. The plans were already made. Pinochet rounded up people and slaughtered them in a stadium as he assumed power. In Indonesia, the CIA provided a list of people to target to the dictator Suharto. I'm going to toss over to Elaine due to time issues.

Elaine: Okay, Jess has set up the start of Pinochet. As the brutality continued and outraged the world, human rights became a concern. The problem is that human rights do not exist in isolation. Amnesty, among other groups, insisted upon dividing the two. In doing so, they simplified or distorted the realities of what was going on. Chile was doing well prior to Pinochet and making advances. Those advances were a threat to foreign corporations. The plans Pinochet implemented after, the disappearances the murders, didn't just happen because he was in a grumpy mood. This was a plan. The brutality was supposed to shock and silence the society. This was . . . help me out somebody.

C.I.: Ideology.

Elaine: Thank you, this was ideology being put into practice. This was the hypothesis being tested. This was not random violence, it was planned. The human rights movement ignored that and, as Klein points out, ignored who was targeted and why they got targeted. I should probably clarify that no one here is 'redeeming' Pinochet. This isn't, "Poor Pinochet, tricked into using an ideology he thought would work." I think that's a really important point to make because the same ideology is at play today and it needs to be called out, as Klein does in the book, because it's an ideology that depends upon violence.

Jess: I'm grabbing again and I'm watching Dona for the wrap up signal. But Elaine's talking about the point that's been made before which is no people would say, "Oh, yeah, destroy our country, destroy our way of lives." That's why violence is needed for it to be implemented. That can be the brutality of Pinochet or it can be the "I don't believe in society" Margaret Thatcher using a war to push forwards the programs domestically or this administration using the fear following the 9-11 attacks and the anthrax letters to push through their assaults on the people. With Latin America, they proved it could be implemented -- it never works, so I'm using implemented -- under a brutal regime. Thatcher would demonstrate that it could be forced on a people in a democracy as well when war was used.

Trina: Can I speak?

Jim: Sure. Trina of Trina's Kitchen who wanted to hear the book discussion and is more than welcome to speak.

Trina: This is a huge book. And to pick up on Wally's point about labs, Latin America served as the lab for the theft to be tested. The Chicago Boys were able to implement these economic assaults because the leaders weren't concerned about democracies. What Margaret Thatcher did, via the Falkland Wars and the tendency to 'rally round the flag' moment, was demonstrate that the crackpot theories could become policies in a democracy when an opportune moment was seized. Leaders in Latin America sometimes express skepticism that these economic assaults can be forced on a people and the Chicago Boys would stress that it was possible if done all at once. Thatcher and Ronald Reagan demonstrated that you could bring in elements of the crackpot theories within a democracy if you seized on key moments. The 'think' tanks churn out papers preparing for these moments. That's why the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina found money handed out to the needy -- if you consider Big Business "the needy." The crackpot policies cannot be implemented in a society where the people aren't shocked. Mike's point about coming to you is that these vultures do not give up easily. The move, in this country, to privatize Social Security has been ongoing for decades. Klein is demonstrating how you cannot divorce this crackpot ideology from violence, it needs violence to be shoved through onto a people. My point is, it's not just happening "over there" and just because they fail in one go round doesn't mean they stop. I'm done.

Jim: Dona's doing the windup motion. Ava and C.I.?

Ava: Okay, I'll go. I'm picking up on Trina's point about them not being done. This is ongoing. And a key reason it is ongoing is because the criminals are not held accountable for their actions. Milton Friedman, like Henry Kissinger, never got tossed in jail. He minimized the violence necessary for his policies to be implemented -- the crimes necessary. Big media has aided in that. Although the recent soft crush on Jeffrey Sachs from some in small media indicates little media isn't averse to getting caught up in the hype. But big media continues to paint these stories as successes when they aren't. Long after an installed dictator is overthrown, big media refuses to report the truth. And not only do they refuse to report the truth, they do like the human rights activists and draw a line between the horrors and crimes imposed on individuals and the all out assault on the people.

C.I.: And the Ford Foundation. Ford Motor Company has always denied knowledge or involvement in the violence that has benefited them in so many countries. Even when their own plant has a high visibility torture chamber in it. Human rights activists benefited from grants from the Ford Foundation. After the Indonesian slaughter the Foundation and the Motor Company began their slow separation. It wasn't to their interest to note the connections between the crimes against individuals and the crimes against society. Because they controlled a huge sum of grant money, they were able to influence the way these wars would be seen which was "Look at the bad things that happened here" and ignore that theft of the people's resources and the destruction of their way of life. Although the Foundation is independent of the Motor Company today, it's connection to these crimes goes beyond profit share. The Ford Foundation funded the transfer of mis-knowledge. It provided grants that allowed for students to travel to this country and 'learn' the ravings of the Berkeley Mafia -- think cousins of the Chicago Boys. It is not simply that the Foundation and the Motor Company had a connection and some reviewers might imply that's the case Klein makes -- if they even bother to cover that section. Now they can argue that they had good intentions. They may very well have. Often these actions result from 'good intentions'. Those good intentions are based on the notion that democracy is doing what we tell you.

Ava: Exactly. And people should apply that to today, whether we're thinking of Our Modern Day Carrie Nation Samantha Power or the War Hawk Feathers on display in the Univision Democratic forum. The basis for some may be 'good intentions' but it quickly moves to 'we know the best' and, once that settles, it becomes we can force it on people. The issue of these crackpot ideas and democracy is that people do not support these programs and they can't win on a fair playing field. The field has to be tilted or blown up for these policies to be implemented -- they crash after -- and this isn't academic although they've taken over many economic institutions. Academic inquiry depends on honesty -- and there's no honesty in the rah-rah history that paints increasing the number of people in poverty as a 'success story' -- and it depends on the ideas being able to compete. You can read, to give an example, our ideas here. You can then run over to a right-wing site or maybe Junior Miss Nation -- nod to Elaine for that phrase -- to find out what the squishy thought is. You can ignore any of the three or even more. If something grabs support of the people it can be implemented. You or I may disagree about the effects it will have or the rightness of it, but it competed fairly. That's how it's supposed to work in academia and it's how it's supposed to work in a democracy.

C.I.: And when someone starts thinking "I know best and it will be done!" there is a disrespect. It's a disrespect that allows crimes to be committed. You can tell yourself the lie that it's 'for the greater good'. In terms of Friedman and his Boy Toys, and there precursors who physically shocked individuals in the so-called name of medical science, you can justify it. And it has been jusified. The kooks from the economic department of the University of Chicago, as Klein points out, were obsessed with 'purity'. When that concept is bought into, be it in terms of women or any other category, it's a very short step over to brutality. Because when you are noble and "the other" isn't and needs you to return it to a state of purity, you're a missionary doing noble work. Popular culture has always been filled with portrayals of the mad scientist. It's past time that we saw some 'mad economists.' The policies the Chicago Boys forced on people around the world are far more threatening than any monster terrorizing a village. To return to the human rights aspect. It was to the benefit of the Ford Foundation that human rights activists not ask why the torture and murders were taking place or who was being targeted. It was to the benefit of many organizations -- I support Amnesty so I have no problem signaling them out -- to receive those monies. Who didn't benefit? The victims. The victims of physical and mental torture and murder do not benefit in divorcing the whys and whos from that abuse. The victims who lived under fear and intimidation -- but were never tortured themselves -- are rendered invisible by such a narrative.

Jim: I don't know how this will look typed up but Ava and C.I. rattled off their comments quickly and probably took less time than many. That may not transfer over to those reading the transcript. But I want to toss out a question to C.I. about the benefits and losses.

C.I.: Of?

Jim: The approach. You talked about it in terms of the victims. Talk about it in terms of the organizations.

C.I.: Oh. Jim heard Ava and I going on about the ridiculous idea of 'respectability' early Saturday morning. We don't link to Human Rights Watch -- to give one example -- community wide. That's because Rebecca finds their 'tracking' offensive in terms of the Occupied Territories. That's Rebecca's issue and it's been her issue for decades, the Occupied Territories. No one questioned her on that request. But, since we don't link to them, let's use them as an example, what did we see after the assaults in the summer of last year? All that striving towards respectability didn't stop the attacks on them. As an organization, they behave timidly and try to play the 'respectability game'. How's that worked out for them? Not very well at all. They have a really bad reputation on the left because of the way they handled themselves and the right still attacked them. And, just to clarify, we -- in this community -- don't attack them, we just ignore them.

Jim: I'm going to explore this a little further and toss to Ava.

Dona: And Ava and C.I. take the notes during these. The transcripts are typed up from their notes, which I asked Jim to note before we started this, and I'm jumping in to note it to give Ava time to get everything C.I. said down because C.I. was talking a mile a minute to make the time deadline.

Ava: Thank you, Dona. Okay, Human Rights Watch. It doesn't speak to us. It minimizes the deaths of Palestinians and works too hard to create false comparisons where they don't exist. Another example is Amnesty which every community site that links to organizations links to. But when we see or hear someone from Amnesty interviewed by Amy Goodman and try to play the respectability game, it really grates. Dalia Hashad, speaking for herself and not the organization she works with, can come off very strong. She works for Amnesty. So it's not that people working for Amnesty don't grasp reality, it's that there is a game played. The Respectability Game. It leads to a lot of things that need calling out not getting called out. I'm going to get off Amnesty because I despise the president of the American branch and I don't want to go into all of that. But 'respectability' or a desire for grants isn't changing the world. And had human rights activists been more concerned with telling the story of Chile, for instance, than they were with focusing on individual crimes, Klein wouldn't need to write her book. We'd all know the story very well. Today, at this site, we will be delinking from United for Peace and Some Justice. That's the group Elaine supports and we had honestly decided that unless Elaine was opposed to the delinking, we'd be doing it. She's not opposed and you'll see that taking place throughout this week as people have time to go into their links. The only thing that will halt that and get the links back is United for Peace and Some Justice apologizing for undercounting the number of Iraqis who have died in their allegedly 'high' estimate. We're sick of the respectablity games, we're sick of people who can't speak truth. We know our readers share that feeling and I would strongly urge that they read The Shock Doctrine. Calling out the Ford Foundation or Amnesty isn't an easy thing to do or everyone would. Naomi Klein's written a brave book that you won't be able to put down but if you're reading this site, you shouldn't want to.

Jim: Okay, C.I.'s still writing down what Ava said so I'm going to go to Mike and Kat -- and to clarify, Ava's already got pen to pad and jotting down this section. Mike usually gets the introductions to the books. If there are two books, it's him and Wally. Mike and Kat both spoke the least according to Dona's calculations so I'm going to toss to them.

Mike: The thing I would stress about this book is that we've tried to give you a feeling for it, but probably haven't. That's because there's so much detail to it. We could talk about the example of the mall in Argentina and how torture chambers were found in its basement. We could give any number of examples. I think my mother's the only one who brought up Ronald Reagan but clearly he's in the book as well. What's going on in Iraq today is a continuation of the Milton Friedman policies. Klein's calling them out and you really need to read this book because it's putting it all together.

Kat: I'd agree with that. It would easily make my top five books for the year. Ava and C.I.'s points about what a reviewer is going to focus bears noting because there are any number of ways to go with this book. Some readers may learn of Pinochet for the first time and, therefore, that may stand out to them. Some may not know much of the eighties and that may stand out. But even if you know your global history, what will stand out to all is the way that Klein synthesizes it to tell the story of corporatism and its efforts to advance Big Business while destroying the people. This is a really powerful book.

Jim: Anyone else before we start winding down?

Cedric: Friday C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" included a section of the book which focused on the destruction of Iraq's cultural history and these policies depend upon that. That's part of the 'purity' aim, where they want you to be so shocked that you are a clean slate for them to impose their wills on you. Like Mike and Kat just said, there are any number of things you could highlight from this book. I don't think Klein's wasted a page in the entire book. Each pages is a revelation.

Jim: Okay, Dona's doing the wrap up sign. I'm tossing to C.I. for a quick thought.

C.I.: Along with what everyone's already noted, Klein also covers who is getting rich off today's illegal war and how they get shocked when anyone points out the obvious. In Iraq today, the US aim is the privatization of the oil -- taking the state-owned oil, the people's oil, and handing it over to foreign companies who will reap 75% of the profits while Iraqis continue suffering in poverty. When we were at a campus in North Dakota this summer, a student explained that he sometimes wished they would just pass the oil law -- the Iraqi parliament would pass the law written by foreign corporations -- because it seemed like if Bully Boy got that, troops might be withdrawn. I'm not bringing him up to insult him or make fun of him. The chaos and violence continues day after day -- even when unreported -- and it is tempting to think it might stop if the US got what is wanted. But whether it's the oil or the other things stolen in the tag sale, the damage will continue. That's a point Naomi Klein's making in the book. The chaos and the violence goes on to shock the people. She references the military plan being used in Iraq that was drawn up in the nineties. The result of the Chicago Boys' 'tests' is the knowledge that if you can throw a population off balance or grab onto an event that throws them off balance, they'll be too disoriented to respond in the manner they would normally. So the student in North Dakota is correct to make the connection that when all the thefts have taken place, it is possible that some US troops would leave Iraq. Permanent bases make it unlikely that all would leave. But -- and this is why Anthony Arnove and Howard Zinn, among others, stress the necessity of self-determination for the Iraqi people -- if that happens after the thefts take place, the illegal war will have achieved its goals. Who is being attacked and why are key questions throughout Klein's book. The destruction that is ongoing in Iraq is only part. Allowing the theft of Iraqi oil will cause many more victims. The illegal war was about resources which include markets. There was a plan for what to do after Baghdad was seized. The plan was followed. Iraqis have proven far more resistant than the planners had estimated. The Iraqi oil union, which Nouri al-Maliki is demonizing and criminalizing, is only one example. Even members of the parliament have thus far refused to hop on board with the theft of oil. al-Maliki was installed making a lot of promises. One of the things he promised in the spring of 2006 was that he would deliver the oil law the US government wants. The fact that he's been unable to thus far is a testament to the strength of the Iraqi people. And, just to add one more thing, Dalia Hashad -- Ava mentioned her earlier -- is a co-host of WBAI's Law and Disorder which airs Monday mornings at 10:00 a.m. EST and that's where you can hear her speaking for herself and not the organization she works for.

Jim: And she does speak for herself very strongly which is why she's been quoted for "Truest statement of the week" here more than any other person. Reading from Friday's snapshot: "The Shock Doctrine is released in the United States this coming Tuesday (September 18th). The book will be launched this Monday (September 17th) in NYC at an event with Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) acting as moderator at the New York Soceity for Ethical Culture, 2 West 64th Street." You can purchase an advance copy at the event and Klein will be signing the book. It's a free event, by the way. She and Goodman will be speaking so don't stay away just because you don't have money for a book. The book comes out on Tuesday. Naomi Klein will be on Democracy Now! Tuesday, correction Monday, as well, according to a message C.I. just passed. How much is the book? $28.00? Everyone's nodding. In addition to purchasing the book, you can also utilize your public library system. I'll also add that the book provides a serious look at torture through the stories of many victims and one short passage, on a torture victim who was sensory deprived and could no longer remember what colors looked like is what still stands out to me. For you, it may be something else. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism will not leave you bored or indifferent.
[Added: Click here for Klein discussing the book on Democracy Now!]
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