The Shock Doctrine 6: Crimes and Misdemeanors

by matttbastard

Chapter 5: “Entirely Unrelated” How an Ideology was Cleansed of its Crimes

(Previous posts here, Sarah’s posts here.)

Why is it that capitalism’s crimes are divorced from the ideology itself, while Marxism is joined at the hip to the atrocities of the USSR and Revolutionary China?

In Chapter 5, Klein examines how neoliberalism managed to wash itself of the many, many atrocities committed by its acolytes in the Southern Cone, ironically in the name of ‘cleansing’ polluted economic systems.  She contends that, by focusing on generalized ‘human rights violations’ rather than exploring the systemic and ideological foundations underneath, well-meaning organizations such as Amnesty International essentially played the role of useful idiots.  It wasn’t Friedman’s fault (much less neoliberalism’s)  that a few ‘bad apples’ went a bit too far with their security policies while trying to ‘reform’ their ‘impure’ economies.

So, the horrific human rights abuses perpetuated by the likes of Stalin and Mao are used to define and smear an entire political and economic school, while Pinochet or the Junta in Argentina are written off as isolated incidents, nothing to do with the drive to liberalize markets by any means necessary.

As the global economic crisis continues unabated, we find ourselves at a crossroads. Do we write off the current situation as the result of bad luck, incompetence, a few bad apples at AIG getting unearned taxpayer-funded bonuses, Bernie Madoff’s now-infamous Ponzi scheme? Or do we take the opportunity to honestly look at what REALLY brought us to this point?

Matt Taibbi believes we need to examine and come to terms with the deliberate, malicious systemic abuses and deficiencies that, for too many years, have allowed shady speculators to essentially roll the public, repeatedly:

So it’s time to admit it: We’re fools, protagonists in a kind of gruesome comedy about the marriage of greed and stupidity. And the worst part about it is that we’re still in denial — we still think this is some kind of unfortunate accident, not something that was created by the group of psychopaths on Wall Street whom we allowed to gang-rape the American Dream. […]

People are pissed off about this financial crisis, and about this bailout, but they’re not pissed off enough. The reality is that the worldwide economic meltdown and the bailout that followed were together a kind of revolution, a coup d’état. They cemented and formalized a political trend that has been snowballing for decades: the gradual takeover of the government by a small class of connected insiders, who used money to control elections, buy influence and systematically weaken financial regulations.

The crisis was the coup de grâce: Given virtually free rein over the economy, these same insiders first wrecked the financial world, then cunningly granted themselves nearly unlimited emergency powers to clean up their own mess. And so the gambling-addict leaders of companies like AIG end up not penniless and in jail, but with an Alien-style death grip on the Treasury and the Federal Reserve — “our partners in the government,” as [AIG CEO Edward] Liddy put it with a shockingly casual matter-of-factness after the most recent bailout.

The mistake most people make in looking at the financial crisis is thinking of it in terms of money, a habit that might lead you to look at the unfolding mess as a huge bonus-killing downer for the Wall Street class. But if you look at it in purely Machiavellian terms, what you see is a colossal power grab that threatens to turn the federal government into a kind of giant Enron — a huge, impenetrable black box filled with self-dealing insiders whose scheme is the securing of individual profits at the expense of an ocean of unwitting involuntary shareholders, previously known as taxpayers.

In other words, what got us here is a feature, not a bug.  The rot won’t be quelled by purging the barrel of rotten fruit; the barrel itself is befouled and corrupted. We can’t afford to allow the same greedy, sociopathic assholes who helped erect the current neoliberal economic structure to build a new framework that will inevitably lead to another future collapse.

After too many years of evading responsibility, unregulated capitalism must be held accountable, once and for all.

Next–Chapter 6: Saved by a War Thatcherism and its Useful Enemies

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The Shock Doctrine 5: Recurring Dreams

by matttbastard

(Previous posts here, here, here and here; Sarah’s posts here.)

Chapter 4: Cleaning the Slate: Terror Does its Work

In her post outlining Chapter 4 of The Shock Doctrine, Sarah highlighted the rush to conformity and, especially, normative gender roles in post-counterrevolutionary Chile, noting that “Men could be arrested for having long hair, while women were arrested for wearing pants.” Rather than providing a detailed outline of what Klein covers in this chapter (because, really, you all are supposed to be reading along, right?) I’m instead going to take a brief look at The Terror Dream by Susan Faludi, another recent text that explores the other 9/11.  Faludi looks at how the US, in a state of shock following the fall of the towers and the attack on the Pentagon, tried to embrace a false retro-patriarchal-paradigm of men-as-saviour/protector and women as helpless waifs in need of rescue.

In an interview with TIME Magazine, Faludi explores how women in the US were repressed in the dream-like aftermath of the assault:

You had a 40% drop of women guests on the important Sunday morning talk shows. You had dramatic declines on all the Op-Ed pages of all the important newspapers, and even women who would seem like obvious guests for the Sunday morning talk shows, like Diane Feinstein or Barbara Boxer who are both chairpersons of subcommittees on terrorism, there was this feeling that this was the time for men and women should take a back seat. There was one place where there were plenty of women’s faces on TV, and that was the 9/11 widows, as long as they played the role of helpless homemaker victims. In the absence of female victims in the planes or rescued from the events of 9/11, the TV shows trotted out 9/11 widows as the substitute victims. Then, the Larry Kings and Bill O’Reillys acted like daddy saviors towards them…There was this need to assert the protective authority role of men, particularly after a trauma in which every aspect of the male protective system failed. Our government ignored warnings that we were about to come under attack. Our 9/11 dispatch system did not warn people properly. Our military did not protect our skies.

The trauma perpetuated by Pinochet and his backers greatly differs from the 9/11 assault in many ways, especially in that the overthrow of Allende was, by and large, an internal matter rather than an external breach of security (CIA complicity in Santiago notwithstanding).  Still, it’s still interesting to note in both instances how gender roles were impacted by the shock of political instability and insecurity. Embracing ‘tradition’ following drastic upheaval was almost a means of centering, reunifying a fractured nation–even if the return to ‘old’ values are largely a fictional construct.

As Sarah notes, “we see [Friedmanite markets] again and again coupled with militarism and cultural conservatism, coming in on a wave of torture, death, terror, and strictly enforced gender roles.”

Indeed, who could forget Bush’s infamous ham-fisted attempt to sooth a shattered nation’s fragile collective psyche:

On September 20, in his first lengthy national address after the attacks, Bush told the citizens of the United States what they personally could do: “Live your lives and hug your children,” he said. Be patient with FBI investigations and travel delays, and “your continued participation and confidence in the American economy” would be greatly appreciated.

Apparently the terror dream is one that recurs.

Sunday–Chapter 5: “Entirely Unrelated” How an Ideology Was Cleansed of Its Crimes

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The Shock Doctrine 4: Parallel Lines

by matttbastard

Chapter 3: States of Shock: The Bloody Birth of the  Counter-revolution

(Previous posts here, here and here; Sarah’s posts here.)

I think those programs were absolutely essential to the success we enjoyed of being able to collect the intelligence that let us defeat all further attempts to launch attacks against the United States since 9/11. I think that’s a great success story. …

former US vice-president Dick Cheney

Infamous Chilean despot General Augusto Pinochet died in December of 2006. His passing came one month after Milton Friedman, the man whose faithful acolytes, as Naomi Klein outlines in Chapter 3 of The Shock Doctrine, helped lay the ideological groundwork for the bloody counter-revolution undertaken by Pinochet and his right-wing brethren. (For the grim details, see Trend over at Alterdestiny).

As Klein notes:

For the first year and a half, Pinochet faithfully followed the Chicago rules: he privatized some, though not all, state-owned companies (including several banks); he allowed cutting-edge new forms of speculative finance; he flung open the borders to foreign imports, tearing down the barriers that had long protected Chilean manufacturers; and he cut government spending by 10 percent — except the military, which received a significant increase.  He also elimiated price controls–a radical move in a country that had been regulating the cost of necessities such as bread and cooking oil for decades.

But, as Klein further notes, despite assurances from the Chicago Boys that these radical ‘market reforms’ would (somehow) spur a decrease in inflation, inflation in Chile jumped to 375 percent in 1974, “the highest rate in the world and almost twice the top level under [former president Salvadore] Allende.” Sensing a shift among both the public and, most disturbingly, Chile’s business elite, the Chicago Boys “decided to call in the big guns,” enlisting Friedman himself to use his “rock star” presence to sell economic shock-therapy by sheer force of will.

And it worked:

In his letter of response, Chile’s supreme chief expressed “my highest and most respectful regard for you,” assuring Friedman that “the plan is being fully applied at the present time.” Immediately after Friedman’s visit, Pinochet fired his economic minister and handed the job to Sergio de Castro, whom he later promoted to finance minister.  De Castro stacked the government with his fellow Chicago Boys, appointing one of them to head the central bank.

[…]

Freed of the naysayers, Pinochet and de Castro got to work stripping away the welfare state to arrive at their pure capitalist utopia. In 1975, they cut public spending by 27 percent in one blow–and they kept cutting until, by 1980, it was half of what it had been under Allende.

Elsewhere, in Brazil and Argentina, other right-wing juntas perfected the Chilean model, waging a dirty war on those whose left-wing ideological leanings were in opposition to the wave of corporatist economic and social reform underway within the nations of the Southern Cone. But behind the counter-revolutionary action in Central and South America lurked a covert American presence, one that provided both training and materiel to the military arbiters of radical neoliberal ‘reform’ under the dubious auspices of  Operation Condor.  According to Klein, as part of the infamous program “the intelligence agencies of the Southern Cone shared information about “subversives”–aided by a state-of-the-art computer system provided by Washington–and then gave each other’s agents safe passage to carry out cross-border kidnappings and torture, a system eerily resembling the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” network today”.

The justification for the dirty work was the same then as it is now: a war on ‘terror’, in which it was deemed necessary to sometimes skirt the boundaries of human rights and dignity in order to serve a higher purpose.  Whether that purpose was the spread of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ or neoliberal doctrine is, of course at the heart of both Klein’s book and this series. Regardless, as Klein notes, the parallels between what occurred in  the 1970s and 80s and the post-9/11 era are striking.

Sarah outlines these parallels in further detail:

Warrantless wiretapping certainly isn’t mass disappearances of citizens, but it is a tool that keeps everyone in fear that they are next. It suppresses dissent and keeps people in fear for their basic safety, while around them their economic safety net is dismantled. America hadn’t undergone enough of a shock to allow, for instance, Social Security privatization, but in Chile and the other Friedmanite regimes, torture and repression left people unable to fight back.

In a NY Times op-ed (adapted from a lengthy essay published in the New York Review of Books), Mark Danner shows in stark detail just how far the Bush administration was willing to go in order to fight its contemporary “war for freedom and against tyranny”, as Argentinian Junta leader Admiral Massara at the time justified his nation’s embrace of the dark side:

Shortly after Abu Zubaydah was captured, C.I.A. officers briefed the National Security Council’s principals committee, including Vice President Dick Cheney, the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, in detail on the interrogation plans for the prisoner. As the interrogations proceeded, so did the briefings, with George Tenet, the C.I.A. director, bringing to senior officials almost daily reports of the techniques applied.

At the time, the spring and summer of 2002, Justice Department officials, led by John Yoo, were working on a memorandum, now known informally as “the torture memo,” which claimed that for an “alternative procedure” to be considered torture, and thus illegal, it would have to cause pain of the sort “that would be associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure, or permanent damage resulting in a loss of significant body function will likely result.” The memo was approved in August 2002, thus serving as a legal “green light” for interrogators to apply the most aggressive techniques to Abu Zubaydah:

“I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck; they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room.”

The prisoner was then put in a coffin-like black box, about 4 feet by 3 feet and 6 feet high, “for what I think was about one and a half to two hours.” He added: The box was totally black on the inside as well as the outside…. They put a cloth or cover over the outside of the box to cut out the light and restrict my air supply. It was difficult to breathe. When I was let out of the box I saw that one of the walls of the room had been covered with plywood sheeting. From now on it was against this wall that I was then smashed with the towel around my neck. I think that the plywood was put there to provide some absorption of the impact of my body. The interrogators realized that smashing me against the hard wall would probably quickly result in physical injury.”

After this beating, Abu Zubaydah was placed in a small box approximately three feet tall. “They placed a cloth or cover over the box to cut out all light and restrict my air supply. As it was not high enough even to sit upright, I had to crouch down. It was very difficult because of my wounds. The stress on my legs held in this position meant my wounds both in the leg and stomach became very painful. I think this occurred about three months after my last operation. It was always cold in the room, but when the cover was placed over the box it made it hot and sweaty inside. The wound on my leg began to open and started to bleed. I don’t know how long I remained in the small box; I think I may have slept or maybe fainted.

“I was then dragged from the small box, unable to walk properly, and put on what looked like a hospital bed, and strapped down very tightly with belts. A black cloth was then placed over my face and the interrogators used a mineral water bottle to pour water on the cloth so that I could not breathe. After a few minutes the cloth was removed and the bed was rotated into an upright position. The pressure of the straps on my wounds was very painful. I vomited.

“The bed was then again lowered to horizontal position and the same torture carried out again with the black cloth over my face and water poured on from a bottle. On this occasion my head was in a more backward, downwards position and the water was poured on for a longer time. I struggled against the straps, trying to breathe, but it was hopeless.”

After being placed again in the tall box, Abu Zubaydah “was then taken out and again a towel was wrapped around my neck and I was smashed into the wall with the plywood covering and repeatedly slapped in the face by the same two interrogators as before.

“I was then made to sit on the floor with a black hood over my head until the next session of torture began. The room was always kept very cold. This went on for approximately one week.”

Danner concludes:

The use of torture deprives the society whose laws have been so egregiously violated of the possibility of rendering justice. Torture destroys justice. Torture in effect relinquishes this sacred right in exchange for speculative benefits whose value is, at the least, much disputed.

As I write, it is impossible to know definitively what benefits — in intelligence, in national security, in disrupting Al Qaeda — the president’s approval of use of an “alternative set of procedures” might have brought to the United States. Only a thorough investigation, which we are now promised, much belatedly, by the Senate Intelligence Committee, can determine that.

What we can say with certainty, in the wake of the Red Cross report, is that the United States tortured prisoners and that the Bush administration, including the president himself, explicitly and aggressively denied that fact. We can also say that the decision to torture, in a political war with militant Islam, harmed American interests by destroying the democratic and Constitutional reputation of the United States, undermining its liberal sympathizers in the Muslim world and helping materially in the recruitment of young Muslims to the extremist cause. By deciding to torture, we freely chose to embrace the caricature they had made of us. The consequences of this choice, legal, political and moral, now confront us. Time and elections are not enough to make them go away.

Klein estimates that the number of individuals tortured in the Southern Cone during the 70s and 80s was “probably somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000, tens of thousands of them killed.” Though the numbers of so-called ‘enemy combatants’ who faced torture in CIA black sites represent a mere fraction in comparison, the willingness to throw away stated values in the name of a greater goal is borne of the same moral limbo, where ends justify all means, no matter what. And, as Sarah noted, even though the numbers are far from comparable, the effect remains the same:  keep the populace “in fear for their basic safety, while around them their economic safety net is dismantled.”

Tomorrow: Chapter 4: Cleaning the Slate: Terror Does its Work

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The Shock Doctrine 3: From Chicago to Santiago

by matttbastard

Chapter 2: The Other Doctor Shock: Milton Friedman and the Search for a Laissez-Faire Laboratory

(Series intro here, Sarah’s posts here, my previous two installments here and here)

In the first installment of this series, I noted that shock was “a theme Klein continually examines and reexamines throughout the book–and not simply  in a metaphorical sense.”  Last week we saw just how literal–and visceral–Klein’s thesis could be, as she recounted in agonizing detail the infamous CIA-sponsored McGill University shock therapy experiments. In the second chapter, Klein finally shines the spotlight on the key villain of the book who will eventually tackle shock therapy on a macro level: noted economist Milton Friedman of the highly influential Chicago School of Economics.

As Sarah notes in her examination of Chapter 2, “there’s a thread of commonality with religion running alongside the development of radical capitalism–not just through the uneasy relationship that the two formed with the rise of the religious right in the Republican party, but in the religious devotion to markets as a good in themselves.” Their mission was chilling in both its simplicity and, at the time, its revolutionary audacity: “stripping the market” of U.S. government ‘interference’–price-fixing, minimum wage legislation, public education–they believed “were actually doing untold harm to the market.” To save the integrity of the world economic system would require nothing less than, in the words of Klein, “a capitalist Reformation: a return to uncontaminated capitalism.”

Klein notes that Friedman’s charismatic ambition helped drive the efforts,  that it was his “energy that gave the school its revolutionary fervour” in its collective drive to return the world  economy “back to a state of “natural” health, when all was in balance, before human interferences created distorting patterns.” As an expression of their radical devotion, Friedman and his then-largely-marginalized acolytes made a concerted effort, with the financial assistance of government and corporate patrons, to quietly evangelize the global South, where in most nations the prevailing system was “developmentalism”–a nationalistic economic theory anathema to free-market fundamentalists so righteously preaching the doctrine of laissez-faire capitalism.  A number of Chilean citizens were eventually recruited and trained in Chicago in what became known as the Chile Project, later returning to staff high-level government positions that would eventually allow them to shape economic policies in directi0ns prescribed by Friedman in his book Capitalism and Freedom:

First, governments must remove all rules and regulations standing in the way of the accumulation of profits. Second, they should sell off any assets they own that corporations could be running at a profit.  And third, they should dramatically cut back funding of social programs.

The born-again laissez-faire faithful came back to Chile fully indoctrinated, as Klein observes, quoting economist Mario Zanartu,”more Friedmanite than Friedman.”  They began to establish themselves within local government and academic circles, quietly lying in wait as Nixon ascended to the presidency and the CIA began to work in concert with the Chilean opposition to plot the overthrow of the democratically-elected socialist regime of Salvador Allende.  Recent coup d’etats in Brazil and Indonesia would provide a template for violent, shocking regime change in Chile that would allow the vaunted tabula rasa so long desired by the Friedmanites to be established–by any means necessary, as we will soon discover.

Next Week: State of Shock The Bloody Birth of the Counter-Revolution

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