I used to worry that the United States was in the grip of extremists who sincerely believed that the Apocalypse was coming and that they and their friends would be airlifted to heavenly safety. I have since reconsidered. The country is indeed in the grip of extremists who are determined to act out the biblical climax--the saving of the chosen and the burning of the masses--but without any divine intervention. Heaven can wait. Thanks to the booming business of privatized disaster services, we're getting the Rapture right here on earth.
Just look at what is happening in Southern California. Even as wildfires devoured whole swaths of the region, some homes in the heart of the inferno were left intact, as if saved by a higher power. But it wasn't the hand of God; in several cases it was the handiwork of Firebreak Spray Systems. Firebreak is a special service offered to customers of insurance giant American International Group (AIG)--but only if they happen to live in the wealthiest ZIP codes in the country. Members of the company's Private Client Group pay an average of $19,000 to have their homes sprayed with fire retardant. During the wildfires, the "mobile units"--racing around in red firetrucks--even extinguished fires for their clients.
One customer described a scene of modern-day Revelation. "Just picture it. Here you are in that raging wildfire. Smoke everywhere. Flames everywhere. Plumes of smoke coming up over the hills," he told the Los Angeles Times. "Here's a couple guys showing up in what looks like a firetruck who are experts trained in fighting wildfire and they're there specifically to protect your home."
On a recent visit to Calgary, Alberta, I was taken aback to see my book on disaster capitalism selling briskly at the airport. Calgary is ground zero of North America's oil and gas boom, where business suits and cowboy hats are the de facto uniform. I had a sudden sinking feeling: did Calgary's business class think The Shock Doctrine was a how-to guide - a manual for making millions from catastrophe? Were they hoping for tips on landing no-bid contracts if the US bombs Iran?
When I get worried about inadvertently fueling the disaster complex, I take comfort in the response the book has elicited from the world's leading business journalists. That's where I learn that the very notion of disaster capitalism is my delusion - or, as Otto Reich, former adviser to President George Bush, told BBC Business Daily, it is the work "of a very confused person".
'We didn't want to get stuck with a lemon." That's what Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said to a House committee last month. He was referring to the "virtual fence" planned for the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada. If the entire project goes as badly as the 28-mile prototype, it could turn out to be one of the most expensive lemons in history, projected to cost $8 billion by 2011.
Boeing, the company that landed the contract -- the largest ever awarded by the Department of Homeland Security -- announced this week that it will finally test the fence after months of delay due to computer problems. Heavy rains have confused its remote-controlled cameras and radar, and the sensors can't tell the difference between moving people, grazing cows or rustling bushes.
But this debacle points to more than faulty technology. It exposes the faulty logic of the Bush administration's vision of a hollowed-out government run everywhere possible by private contractors.
The tall graduate student, visiting the United States from Sweden, would not be satisfied with a quip. He wanted answers.
"They cannot only be driven by greed and power. They must be driven by something higher. What?"
Don't knock power and greed, I tried to suggest--they have built empires. But he wanted more.
"What about a belief that they are building a better world?"
Since I began touring with my book The Shock Doctrine, I have had a number of exchanges like this, revolving around the same basic question: When hard-right political leaders and their advisers apply brutal economic shock therapy, do they honestly believe the trickle-down effects will build equitable societies--or are they just deliberately creating the conditions for yet another corporate feeding frenzy? Put bluntly, Has the world been transformed over the past three decades by lofty ideology or by lowly greed?
Recently, as protesters gathered outside the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) summit in Montebello, Quebec, to confront US President George W. Bush, Mexican President Felipe Calderón and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Associated Press reported this surreal detail: "Leaders were not able to see the protesters in person, but they could watch the protesters on TV monitors inside the hotel.... Cameramen hired to ensure that demonstrators would be able to pass along their messages to the three leaders sat idly in a tent full of audio and video equipment.... A sign on the outside of the tent said, 'Our cameras are here today providing your right to be seen and heard. Please let us help you get your message out. Thank You.'"
Yes, it's true: Like contestants on a reality TV show, protesters at the SPP were invited to vent into video cameras, their rants to be beamed to protest-trons inside the summit enclave. It was security state as infotainment--Big Brother meets, well, Big Brother.
Gaza in the hands of Hamas, with masked militants sitting in the
president’s chair; the West Bank on the edge; Israeli army camps
hastily assembled in the Golan Heights; a spy satellite over Iran and
Syria; war with Hezbollah a hair trigger away; a scandal-plagued
political class facing a total loss of public faith.
At a glance, things aren’t going well for Israel. But here’s a puzzle:
why, in the midst of such chaos and carnage, is the Israeli economy
booming like it’s 1999, with a roaring stock market and growth rates
The invasion of Iraq has set off what could be the largest oil boom in history. All the signs are there: multinationals free to gobble up national firms at will, ship unlimited profits home, enjoy leisurely "tax holidays" and pay a laughable 1 percent in royalties to the government.
This isn't the boom in Iraq sparked by the proposed new oil law—that will come later. This boom is already in full swing, and it is happening about as far away from the carnage in Baghdad as you can get, in the wilds of northern Alberta. For four years now, Alberta and Iraq have been connected to each other through a kind of invisible seesaw: As Baghdad burns, destabilizing the entire region and sending oil prices soaring, Calgary booms.
After a group of Mohawks from the Tyendinaga reserve blockaded the railway between Kingston and Toronto two weeks ago, a near unanimous cry rose up from the editorial pages of Ontario newspapers and talk radio: Get Shawn Brant. On Thursday, Mr. Brant, a beanpole of a man, walked into a packed Napanee courtroom with his wrists and ankles shackled after handing himself over to the Ontario Provincial Police.
According to court testimony, the arrest warrant on charges of mischief, disobeying a court order and breach of recognizance violated an agreement between police and demonstrators, who were given immunity when they peacefully ended the blockade. But Mr. Brant worried that the warrant for him would be used as a pretext for raiding a gravel quarry that he and several other community members from Tyendinaga have been occupying for the past six weeks. “We don’t want to bring that into the camp,” he told me.
It's not the act itself, it's the hypocrisy. That's the line on Paul Wolfowitz, coming from editorial pages around the world. It's neither: not the act (disregarding the rules to get his girlfriend a pay raise) nor the hypocrisy (the fact that Wolfowitz's mission as World Bank president is fighting for "good governance").
First, let's dispense with the supposed hypocrisy problem. "Who wants to be lectured on corruption by someone telling them to 'do as I say, not as I do'?" asked one journalist. No one, of course. But that's a pretty good description of the game of one-way strip poker that is our global trade system, in which the United States and Europe--via the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization--tell the developing world, "You take down your trade barriers and we'll keep ours up." From farm subsidies to the Dubai Ports World scandal, hypocrisy is our economic order's guiding principle.
During the jury selection process at the Conrad Black fraud trial in Chicago, the judge polled potential jurors on their impressions of Black’s home, Canada. “Socialist country,” one replied. According to press accounts, Black, once the third-most-powerful press baron in the world, turned to his wife, Barbara Amiel, and they shared a smile. At last, a juror after their own hearts—the couple had been redbaiting Canadians for years.
The Black trial is an odd beast: A Canadian who gave up his citizenship to be a British Lord is on trial in the United States for allegedly pocketing tens of millions that belonged to the shareholders of Chicago-based Hollinger International. Every twist is front-page international news, but most Americans have no idea who Black is. In his opening remarks, Black’s lawyer Edward Genson assured the jury, “In his native Canada and England, he’s a household name.”