Wednesday, August 30, 2006

"Disaster Capitalism"

Naomi Klein has an article today in the Guardian on Disaster capitalism: how to make money out of misery" (Called Pay To Be Saved: The Future of Disaster Response on her website). She is writing a book about it - due next Spring. Most of what she writes - nobody could disagree with - but it's the different point of view that this is not the rosy way to operate a government or a society that goes unsaid by the US press.


The Red Cross has just announced a new disaster-response partnership with Wal-Mart. When the next hurricane hits, it will be a co-production of Big Aid and Big Box. This, apparently, is the lesson learned from the US government's calamitous response to Hurricane Katrina: businesses do disaster better.

"It's all going to be private enterprise before it's over," Billy Wagner, emergency management chief for the Florida Keys, currently under hurricane watch for tropical storm Ernesto, said in April. "They've got the expertise. They've got the resources." But before this new consensus goes any further, perhaps it's time to take a look at where the privatisation of disaster began, and where it will inevitably lead.

The first step was the government's abdication of its core responsibility to protect the population from disasters. Under the Bush administration, whole sectors of the government, most notably the Department of Homeland Security, have been turned into glorified temp agencies, with essential functions contracted out to private companies. The theory is that entrepreneurs, driven by the profit motive, are always more efficient (please suspend hysterical laughter)....


I think that it is even more outrageous than how she puts it. Because not only do people have to "pay to be saved" - but they have to pay the right people!!! You may recall this account of the paramedics from New Orleans last year - they got their money together to hire a bus to come and get them - the bus was not allowed in.

We decided we had to save ourselves. So we pooled our money and came up with $25,000 to have ten buses come and take us out of the City. Those who did not have the requisite $45.00 for a ticket were subsidized by those who did have extra money. We waited for 48 hours for the buses, spending the last 12 hours standing outside, sharing the limited water, food, and clothes we had. We created a priority boarding area for the sick, elderly and new born babies. We waited late into the night for the "imminent" arrival of the buses. The buses never arrived. We later learned that the minute the arrived to the City limits, they were commandeered by the military.

It was the same case with the boats and helicopters that were turned away and the corpses that were left in the streets for weeks - people who were not contractors were often not allowed to infringe on the contractors area of operations. There were accounts of volunteers getting in there with boats and one thing and another to help - and there were also accounts where they were turned away. Also - at the hospital set up at the airport - people died because the people who were contracted controlled the situation and turned away volunteers.


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