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Obama Revitalizes Disaster Capitalism: The Shock Doctrine Receives a Make-Over
Sunday, 07 December 2008 20:19
by Carolyn Baker

Since many months before the November election, Truth to Power has been researching and informing readers regarding the fundamental underpinnings of Barack Obama's agenda and his likely appointments in the areas of economic, foreign policy, and energy issues. Not only have I written several pieces on the topic, so have a variety of other researchers. In reviewing our reporting, what has remained consistent and therefore validates it, is Obama's adherence to neoliberal, globalist policies couched in the rhetoric of "change" but offering no substantial departure from the ultimate strategies of imperialism, corporate capitalist supremacy, and almost total ignorance (or ignore-ance) of the energy and environmental suicide perpetuated by endless growth.

Some would argue that the United States government is somewhat like a sophisticated 747 airliner, the controls of which cannot simply be turned over to individuals who have no knowledge of flying but must be steered by experts who have only earned such a title by way of their expertise as former airline pilots. Thus, the argument goes, we should not criticize Obama for his appointments, particularly before he even takes office and concretely demonstrates his commitment to the perpetuation of the status quo. I will return to this notion below, but first, a look at what I consider one of the most stunning pieces of research so far in the twenty-first century, Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. I cannot recommend Shock Doctrine highly enough for a multi-layered understanding of the origin, evolution, and likely outcome of disaster capitalism.

Disaster Capitalism-Microcosm and Macrocosm


Disaster capitalism is according to Klein "...orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities." (6) It has its origins in the "Chicago School" of economics made famous and perpetuated for decades by University of Chicago economics professor, Milton Friedman, who actually coined the phrase "shock treatment" to describe the psychological pummeling of societies and individuals who might stand in the way of or could be made more useful to the advancement of corporate goals. One recent example was the dramatic use of shock and awe, including using those very words to describe it, against the nation of Iraq during the invasion by the U.S. in 2003. A more recent example to which Klein devotes a great deal of attention is the devastation of New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina.


The endgame of disaster capitalism is the total privatization of what have throughout American history been state services. Not surprisingly, the ultimate outcome of unbridled disaster capitalism will be the supplanting of government by corporations.

While these are examples of societal decimation, the book's first chapter focuses on the origins of the current forms of torture used by the U.S. in the incipient, CIA-funded experiments of Ewen Cameron, a Canadian psychiatrist who "believed that by inflicting an array of [electrical] shocks to the human brain, he could unmake and erase faulty minds, then rebuild new personalities" on what he believed would be a "clean slate." (29) I was quite familiar with Cameron as a result of a History Channel documentary called "Mind Control: America's Secret War" which I frequently show in my classes, but for the most part, progressives have been loath to discuss many of the CIA's early torture escapades and have minimized them as perhaps "borderline conspiratorial"-until Klein published Shock Doctrine. As a result, her research is now currently quite fashionable in progressive circles, but ten years ago, it was a bit "fringy" for the left-liberal establishment as many of us were exposing the MK Ultra mind control agenda of the CIA, only to be labeled "whacky."

The grotesque details of Cameron's electroshock experiments are a matter of public record and gave birth to many strategic forms of torture subsequently used and sanctioned by the U.S. government. Klein specifically cites the CIA's Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation manual authored by those who were profoundly impressed with Cameron and his focus on psychological regression. The principle idea was to deprive people of "their sense of who they are and where they are in time and space" and by so doing, converting them "into dependent children whose minds are a blank slate of suggestibility." (40) One desired outcome of this psychological battering was the manipulation of the subject in their regressed state to believe that someone or something (the torturers, the government) were in fact father figures who would eventually save them from further harm. In other words, the uncanny and diabolical intent was to cause the victim to unequivocally bond with his/her tormenters and experience them as saviors.

Disaster Capitalism Globalized


Those at the highest levels of government theorized that in the same way that Cameron achieved these objectives with countless individual patients, a similar result could be achieved with entire societies. Thus, writes Klein:

The terrorist attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon was a different kind of shock from the ones imagined in the pages of the Kubark manual, but its effects were remarkably similar: profound disorientation, extreme fear and anxiety, and collective regression. Like the Kubark interrogator posing as a ‘father figure', the Bush administration promptly used that fear to play the role of the all-protective parent, ready to defend ‘the homeland' and its vulnerable people by any means necessary. (42)

Klein goes on to point out that just as Ewen Cameron had a dream of taking people back to a state of "natural" health before human interactions created distorting patterns, that is to a "blank slate" status, Milton Friedman dreamed of de-patterning societies and returning them to a state of pure capitalism. Like Cameron, Friedman believed that in order to achieve this end, the deliberate inflicting of painful shocks (Friedman's words) in the form of economic adversity or natural disaster would provide the "bitter medicine" necessary to remove barriers to the desired result. (50)

Klein proceeds in Chapters 3-13 to explain how the shock doctrine was applied by the U.S. government around the world, but in Chapter 14, "Shock Therapy In The USA", she returns to 9/11 where she astutely notes that:

What happened in the period of mass disorientation after the attacks was in retrospect, a domestic form of economic shock therapy. The Bush team, Friedmanite to the core, quickly moved to exploit the shock that gripped the nation to push through its radical vision of a hollow government in which everything from war fighting to disaster response was a for-profit venture. (298)

Creating a whole new framework for its actions, "the Bush team used the omnipresent sense of peril after 9/11 to increase dramatically the policing, surveillance, detention, and war-waging powers of the executive branch which some have called a ‘rolling coup'." (298)

Klein demonstrates that 9/11 resulted not only in the shredding of the U.S. Constitution and the launching of a permanent state of war that would reap unprecedented profits for the military industrial complex, not to mention the perpetual pursuit of fossil fuels, but also the creation of two burgeoning new industries, the security industry and the disaster industry, both of which have become as large and lucrative as the dot com phenomenon. Thus Klein documents and brilliantly defines corporatism as "big business and big government contributing their formidable powers to regulate and control the citizenry." (307) All of this, she argues, is a result of 9/11.

Throughout the book she posits that whether it is through the application of electroshock "therapy", military campaigns of shock and awe, or the pseudo-management of natural disasters such as Katrina to dramatically enhance corporate profits, individuals and populations are traumatized and manipulated to achieve the ends of disaster capitalism.

Conspiracy On Steroids


By the time one arrives at Page 300 of the book, one is riveted by the array of conspiracies-and I use that word intentionally, that Klein lays out. The genesis and evolution of disaster capitalism from her perspective are anything but coincidental. They are intentional, well-orchestrated, and brilliantly executed. It's almost like watching the 2001 film "Conspiracy" a dramatic recreation of the Wannsee Conference where the Nazi Final Solution phase of the Holocaust was devised. Nothing is spontaneous, accidental, or left to chance. Consequently, disaster capitalism's escapades constitute, in terms of lives lost and suffering perpetrated on humanity, the most horrific holocaust in human history.

Klein has put disaster capitalism under the microscope as no one else ever has, but she isn't quite ready to acknowledge it is the mechanism for achieving the consummate agenda of organizations such as the Bilderberg Group, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Trilateral Commission, namely the dissolution of nation states which will ultimately be replaced by global corporatocracy. For most progressive intellectuals, the mere mention of these organizations suggests "conspiracy theory" since progressives tend to minimize the role of elite organizations in international and domestic affairs. And yet, what Klein has given us in Shock Doctrine is conspiracy fact on steroids! Moreover, a number of left-liberal poster children are members of one or more of the ruling elite groups mentioned above-an inconvenient truth, so to speak, for true believers tethered to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party in search of salvation from all things Republican.

So What Does It Matter If Progressives Can't Go There?


It matters because not being able to go there fosters endless displays of the definition of insanity-doing the same thing that doesn't work, over and over again, each time expecting a different result. As David Kendall writes in his December 1 article, "Surprise!":

Every single election — every four years (or however frequently people participate in this fiasco) — everybody seems "SURPRISED" by the inevitable outcome. Candidate promises "change" — candidate gets elected — campaign promises are discarded — nothing changes for the better — so the electorate writes nasty editorials in his general direction for the next four to eight years.

What KIND of "change" are hungry "Americans" looking for?

"Gee, I'm tired of getting screwed-over. Seems like it's time for a CHANGE"?

The liberal left perpetuates not only everyone else's denial but the false hopes and pseudo-solutions of the American political chimera, the corruption of which is consummate and which serves no other purpose than choreographing a caricature of democracy and ensuring massive social control.

Chris Floyd in a post-election article "What If Bush Did It?". exposes the crux of left-liberal insanity:

WIBDI: What If Bush Did It?


This user-friendly analytical tool provides a quick and easy way of determining the value of any given policy while correcting one's perception for partisan bias. Simply take a particular action or proposal and submit it to the WIBDI test: If Bush did this, would you think it was OK? Or would you condemn it as the act of a warmonger, or a tyrant, or a corrupt corporate tool, etc.? The just-concluded campaign has already shown us how our hordes of our quondam dissidents have signally failed this test, excusing, countenancing, defending or even embracing the actions and positions enumerated below by Chris Hedges:


"Sen. Barack Obama's vote to renew the Patriot Act, his votes to continue to fund the Iraq war, his backing of the FISA Reform Act, his craven courting of the Israeli lobby, his support of the death penalty, his refusal to champion universal, single-payer not-for-profit health care for all Americans, his call to increase troop levels and expand the war in Afghanistan, his failure to call for a reduction in the bloated and wasteful defense spending and his lobbying for the huge taxpayer swindle known as the bailout..."

Post-Election Comments By Naomi Klein


Appearing on Democracy Now on November 25, Klein wasted no time taking to task Larry Summers, former Clinton Secretary of the Treasury, whom Obama has just appointed Director of the White House National Economic Council. According to Klein, Summers has embraced "the three ‘ations', and those were privatization, stabilization, and liberalization. So he has been preaching the [shock] doctrine. He is by no means an innocent bystander. He is a dyed-in-the-wool privatizer and free trader."

Klein has also spoken out loudly about Obama's new Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner and Robert Rubin who, although not appointed to a cabinet post in the Obama administration will continue as an economic advisor. We shall consider the backgrounds of Geithner and Rubin below, but first, a troubling statement by Klein in the Democracy Now interview regarding the role of Clinton administration Democrats in the origins of the current economic collapse:

Part of what causes the situation that seems to be very disappointing appointments is the fact we of not been honest about the legacy of the Clinton years. So much misinformation was spread during the election campaign, because it was a nice message to present the nineties as these wonder years in contrast to the Bush years. That is exactly what created the situation where you could have Summers being presented as the wise man instead of going down with Alan Greenspan. When Alan Greenspan's reputation was raked over the coals, it should have Rubin and Summers along side him.

In an October 16 interview, Klein exposes the role of Robert Rubin standing beside Alan Greenspan in promoting the de-regulation that helped create financial meltdown. In fact, summarizing her rant, Klein blatantly states, "I want him thrown under the bus."

And so once again we must ask: What if Bush did it? And like Chris Floyd, Klein has had the courage to ask the question, albeit using different language.

University of Ottawa Economics Professor, Michel Chossudovsky's November 9 article asks "Who Are The Architects of Economic Collapse" and offers a litany similar to Klein's of the key players in Obama's economic entourage. Chossudovsky notes that:

Timothy Geithner is CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which is the most powerful private financial institution in America. He was also a former Clinton administration Treasury official. He has worked for Kissinger Associates and has also held a senior position at the IMF. The FRBNY plays a behind the scenes role in shaping financial policy. Geithner acts on behalf of powerful financiers, who are behind the FRBNY. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)

Of Paul Volcker, now heading Obama's economic team, Chossudovsky states:

Paul Volker was chairman of the Federal Reserve Board in the l980s during the Reagan era. He played a central role in implementing the first stage of financial deregulation, which was conducive to mass bankruptcies, mergers and acquisitions, leading up to the 1987 financial crisis.

Another significant player in the Obama economic team is Jon Corzine, current governor of New Jersey and former CEO of Goldman Sachs.

In summary, Chossudovsky asks:

Where are Obama's "Main Street appointees"? Namely individuals who respond to the interests of people across America. There are no labor or community leaders on Obama's list for key positions.

The President-elect is appointing the architects of financial deregulation.

Meaningful financial reform cannot be adopted by officials appointed by Wall Street and who act on behalf of Wall Street.

Those who set the financial system ablaze in 1999, have been called back to turn out the fire.

The proposed "solution" to the crisis under the "bailout" is the cause of further economic collapse.

There are no policy solutions on the horizon.

What we are witnessing is continuity.

We should not take Obama's appointments to task? We should wait until the actions of his administration demonstrate a commitment to the status quo? Such reasoning, I believe, is not only counter-intuitive but an insult to any intelligent mind. What ever happened to "if it slithers, hisses, and strikes like a snake, it probably is"?

Meanwhile, back at the 747 airliner mentioned above and the argument that only insiders know how to fly it-an absolutely valid assertion, if one is unwilling to consider alternatives to the 747 as a means of transportation. However, if one understands that the 747 has been designed to destroy everything in its path and blow up everyone on board, it is not difficult to pursue other options. Or as Richard Moore states in "Obama: Beware of Elites Bearing Gifts",

Humanity is the patient, and capitalism (ie, rule by capitalist elites) is the disease. The agenda of our leaders, and Obama will be no exception, is to sacrifice the patient so that the disease may survive. The agenda will include an expansion of genocide in the third world, assisted by the biofuel market and runaway food prices, and it will most likely include a nuclear confrontation with Russia and perhaps China. As Kissinger says, you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. Final consolidation of global power is an omelette worth many a sacrifice, particularly if you get to eat the omelette and aren't the one making the sacrifices....

James Howard Kunstler puts it another way:

My own starting point for this is the belief that in the years just ahead any sociopolitical entity organized at the giant scale will flounder — this includes everything from the federal government to global corporations to factory farms to centralized high schools to national retail chains. So even expecting Mr. Obama's government to act effectively may be asking too much in a situation that will require mostly local action.

What Kunstler is talking about is the collapse, not only of corporate capitalism, but of industrial civilization itself. Anyone who seriously "hopes" that Barack Obama and a cadre of recycled Clinton administration insiders can affect anything remotely resembling significant change does not understand civilization's collapse. That collapse by definition means the end of centralized, large-scale systems based on unlimited economic growth. It also means that increasingly, as those systems collapse, individuals must organize locally to supply all of their own needs, or their needs will not be met.

Most likely, dear reader, you are asking: What can we do? It's really quite simple, and so very, very challenging: Withdraw your time and effort from the larger, centralized system, and invest it in your local economy in the areas of food security, energy, alternative healthcare, education, the arts, and other vital aspects of your local infrastructure. You want leadership? Then lead by joining with others who share your concerns?

None of this will change anything in the macrcosm-it will not bring forth a mass consciousness change or avert the collapse of civilization. It will, however, plant the seeds of a new paradigm of life lived for and with the earth community. Now that's change I can believe in!

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