The self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing U.S. Embassy planted in the midst of war-torn Baghdad (see my previous blog of Oct. 20th)) embodies much more than a chilling disregard for ordinary Iraqis, or even its symbolic value signaling the truth about American ambitions in the Middle East. As Naomi Klein describes in her new book "The Shock Doctrine," places like the Embassy and the Green Zone are the new working prototypes for how to construct security bubbles for the rich, with state-of-the-art everything in the absence of a functioning public infrastructure. In Iraq, the same corporations that sell the bombs also sell prosthetic limbs for the victims, manage the evacuee camps, and rebuild the bombed-out bridges. You don't have to have a map to get you from here to there in order to figure out what's really going on. But just in case you can't connect the dots yourself, Naomi Klein has done it for all of us, and brilliantly.
Security bubbles exist "like a giant fortified carnival cruise ship parked in the middle of a sea of violence and despair," she writes in the October issue of Harper's magazine. If you can manage to get on board, you will find "poolside drinks, bad Hollywood movies, and Nautilus machines." If you are not among the chosen, however, "you could get shot for just standing too close to the wall."
Welcome to the new world of "disaster capitalism." The word "chosen" has, of course, rich religious overtones. In this case, however, it is clear who the "chosen" will be: those rich enough to afford, whether in Iraq or in America, protection for themselves when disasters strike. Klein's provocative thesis is that in the new economy of catastrophe, people's need for help is being harnessed for profit by mega-contractors eager to replace crumbling public infrastructures with emergency services that have been repackaged and privatized for public consumption in disaster situations. Iraq has been the pilot laboratory for test-flying and learning the ropes of disaster profiteering. Climate change is providing, along with preemptive wars, new lucrative markets in which corporatized industries such as Halliburton, Blackwater, Lockheed, Wal-Mart, etc. get their real economic momentum as the world realizes it is going to have to pay for its own survival.
Klein claims that what was once the former military-industrial complex has morphed onto a "disaster capitalism" complex, in which all conflict- and disaster-related functions, like waging war, securing borders, spying on citizens, rebuilding cities, treating the injured, are performed by private corporations at a profit. They are taking over many of the core functions of a weakened government, which has basically outsourced its responsibilities to these international companies. The Iraq war, according to Klein, is now being franchised over here, in places like New Orleans.
Consider, for instance, the Florida-based service which bills itself as "the world's first hurricane escape plan" that turns a hurricane evacuation into a spa vacation or a charter trip to Disneyland. The richest evacuees can be whisked out of the hurricane zone on a luxury jet, while those left behind and still stranded on rooftops await relief from the Red Cross, which has partnered up with Wal-Mart. Klein calls it the "new apartheid" of financial inequality.
It used to be that the forces of corporate globalization advanced through an alliance between the forces of the world's largest corporations and the world's most powerful governments. It used to be that government was there to make sure the free market works, and to provide a base of safety in misfortune to all its citizens, by promoting programs like Medicaire and Social Security. But now that is changing. That sort of government has all but disappeared. As we approach the tip of a very large iceberg, government and corporations have merged into a single, seamless, borderless entity that is creating wealth--not for the purpose of ending poverty or helping to save the environment, but rather to line the pockets of its own rich, corporate elite, using your tax money and mine. And if you're not convinced by what I've written, or don't quite understand my version of it, please read Naomi Klein in the original. She will give you the long shot, the medium shot, and the close-up of this latest, sonic Republican experience. Be warned: it's not pretty.